Originally published in Arthur No. 15/March 2005
D: [to tape recorder] Hello. We are back!
C: [very formally] It is time to exchange views once again, after our brief vacation from these pages. A vacation, I might add, that was not entirely voluntary—
D: But we will speak of that some other time.
C: Everything was going well until they caught you putting the potato in that Hummer’s exhaust pipe in front of the military recruitment center.
D: I told them I was removing the potato that I had just witnessed some crazy anarchist put there. I was actually de-vandalizing their truck—
C: But, strangely, they were not convinced. Especially after they found the grater in your jacket.
D: Yes, well…
C: [Yawns.] Please remind me to forget to call you next time something is going down, because I can’t afford any more of these “vacations.”
D: Soooo, Nina Simone’s 1974 album Baltimore has been reissued.
C: Apparently she didn’t want to make this record. She didn’t like making the record. She didn’t like the finished record. And it’s such a good record!
D: The title track is the greatest Randy Newman cover of all time. I mean, Randy Newman done in a loping funk mode? If you’ve ridden the Amtrak through Baltimore, the route it takes gives you an unobstructed view of a horribly blighted ghetto, and her voice here really captures that sadness.
C: I’m guessing she thought the more pop-orientated /songs were beneath her, that it was somehow undignified for her to sing Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl,” and maybe she was right on that count. But this is really a unique Nina Simone album, and frequently magnificent.
Antony and the Johnsons
I Am a Bird Now
D: Give me that. [looks at sleeve] I was happier when I didn’t know what he looks like.
C: Hey man, everyone looks like something.
D: It’s like if you heard Pavarotti singing and then turned out he looks like Pee-Wee Herman!
C: Well, how hard is it to just listen to the music? My goodness.
D: I’m just saying.
C: This guy’s voice is known to have moved Lou Reed to tears. I might be wrong, but I don’t think Lou Reed cries very often. The tracks of Lou’s tears…
D: …could not extinguish torch songs this strong. So very beautiful. [towards end of album] Yet here we have instance number eighty-seven-thousand-four-hundred-and-two of a greaseball, cheeseball Saturday Night Live style saxophone solo ruining another otherwise faultless song.
C: Clarence Clemmons, so much to answer for.
D: They still don’t have a drummer? Another incomplete band…
C: That means that each get an entire half of the proverbial pie! Great opening salvo, it’s the drum beat equivalent of a strobe light in the face. They have a song about asking if you got the real good cigarettes from the store like I asked.
D: A frequently posed question around my house.
C: There’s that chugalug thing they do so well, on the chorus of “I Hate the Way You Love.” You can ride that into the sunset. By taking instruments away, rock’n’roll has reminded us that at it’s core it’s dance music. Fewer instruments means the sound has room to breathe. And breath plus beat equals boogie. Even if the beat is that of a machine. See? Drum machines do have soul.
D: I am more enamored with their human qualities. Speaking of which, I’d like to give a hearty salute to VV for being that rarest of regional species: the untanned Floridian.
D: [end of “Rodeo Town”] That is so Velvets! She is fearsome yet vulnerable, a potent combination.
C: The fella in the group goes by the nom de rock Hotel. I think Motel would be more appropriate. Someplace where rooms can be rented by the hour.
D: [Listening to the three note piano riff on “Ticket Man”] They should use piano on more songs. And they should use more of the piano, period. I think there’s 85 more keys to be precise. It’s like the music has been shaved to an inch of its life.
C: I’ve always said there’s two types of people: the shaves and the shave-nots.
D: Not as catchy as the first album, but The Kills aren’t dead yet.
D: [listening to “One Life Away”] He actually says, “I’m visiting my fraulein”! An inspired approach to breaking into the hofbrau circuit. How sweet is this…you could whistle or hum along to this entire album without feeling stupid once.
C: This guy seems unassuming. I’d like to hang out with him in an Airsteam trailer crossing the country. Easygoing, but clever. He’s making lyrical origami out of the sad history of rock on “Fuel For Fire”: “I’ve dug beneath the wall of sound/the song is always the same/I’ve got lonesome fuel for fire/And so my heart is always on the line.” This album is genius. For fans of Dylan, Red House Painters/Sun Kill Moon, even Chris Isaak aficianados feeling frisky.
D: I have seen M. Ward. He has curly hair. And if the hair is curly outside your head, it means there is something curly going on inside too.
C: This song “Big Boat” is the dis track of the year! All about how this guy who says he’s got a big boat really only has a tiny dinghy! HAHA!
D: “I’ll Be Yr Bird” – a bird reference, just like Antony. The whole lot are ornithology-crazed.
C: What do you think the M in M. Ward stands for?
D: Megamensch. Obviously.
D: Ween covering Kraftwerk?
C: It’s like they’re playing the zaniest parts possible. Zappa plus Sandy Shaw plus Miami bass plus Peter Frampton talkbox plus “Da Funk”-era Daft Punk. [as song builds] You can hear why this band has such a good live rep. And there’s the Disneyland Electrical Parade. Geniuses, pushing it forward: a band mashing itself up. And dig those fistfulls of piano notes!
D: Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger, I salute you. Or I would, except I am sitting on my hands in an effort to behave.
C: Somewhere, Neil Hagerty doesn’t feel so lonesome anymore.
D: Todd Rundgren looks up, with interest.
C: Friedberger & Frampton has a certain ring to it. The law firm that rocks!
D: That’s very similar to an Echo & Bunnymen song, “Killing Moon.” [tries singing along]
C: You can’t sing along with this record. How you going to do “fireman Frank friendly fed fee-free/daznk dusty doughnuts den da dribble drank”? Can you imagine Fiery Furnaces karaoke?
D: Only after multiple pitchers of margaritas.
C: Pace yourself, please.
D: You may call me Margarita Friedbergerhead from now on.
C: I may not.
Illegal Tender EP
C: More complex melodic pop, lotsa cool elements. One song goes into a violin and horn shuffle! Uptempo, Fall-Stones swagger.
D: “Are you ready Steve?”
C: Especially the garage-glam stomp here. I love the theatricality of these guys. Brian May type clipped, melodic, strutting guitar. What a tone.
D: You know, it cannot be coincidence that Brian May and Louis XIV, I mean the historical figure Louis XIV, have the exact same hairdo.
C: There may be something to your curly hair theory after all.