Reviews by C and D (Arthur No. 20/Jan. 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 20 (Jan. 2006)

C AND D: Two guys bicker about new records.

TV on the Radio
“Dry Drunk Emperor”
(Touch and Go)
D: I’ve listened to this probably a hundred times by now, and I still find it overwhelming. It’s a devastator.
C: For those out there who haven’t heard it yet, this is the song TV on the Radio released in the wake of Katrina, free to everyone via the Touch and Go website [go here]. This is what they said at the time: “we were back in the studio thinking and feeling again and made this song for all our everybody… in the absence of a true leader we must not forget that we are still together…. hearts are sick … minds must change … it is our hope that this song inspires, comforts, fosters courage,and reminds us… this darkness cannot last if we work together. let us help each other… heal each other …. look after one another … the human heart is our new capitol…. this song is for you…. us…..we….them… it is free. pass it on. TO THOSE AFFECTED BY HURRICANE KATRINA: NEW YORK CITY’S HEART IS WITH YOU… STAY STRONG! WE LOVE YOU.”

We don’t usually do this sort of thing, but this is a special case. Here are the song’s lyrics:

DRY DRUNK EMPEROR
baby boy
dying under hot desert sun,
watch your colors run.

did you believe the lie they told you,
that christ would lead the way
and in a matter of days
hand us victory?

did you buy the bull they sold you,
that the bullets and the bombs
and all the strong arms
would bring home security?

all eyes upon
dry drunk emperor
gold cross jock skull and bones
mocking smile,
he’s been
standing naked for a while!
get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!
and bring all the thieves to trial.

end their promise
end their dream
watch it turn to steam
rising to the nose of some cross legged god
gog of magog
end times sort of thing.
oh unmentionable disgrace
shield the children’s faces
as all the monied apes
display unimaginably poor taste
in a scramble for mastery.

atta’ boy get em with your gun
till mr. megaton
tells us when we’ve won
or
what we’re gonna leave undone.

all eyes upon
dry drunk emperor
gold cross jock skull and bones
mocking smile,
he’s been standing
naked for a while.
get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!!
and bring all his thieves to trial.

what if all the fathers and the sons
went marching with their guns
drawn on Washington?
that would seal the deal,
show if it was real,
this supposed freedom.

what if all the bleeding hearts
took it on themselves
to make a brand new start.
organs pumpin’ on their sleeves,
paint murals on the white house
feed the leaders LSD
grab your fife and drum,
grab your gold baton
and let’s meet on the lawn,
shut down this hypocrisy.

C: The harmonies they get on this are just shattering. And the chorus…
D: This is soul, with zero retroism. That’s not supposed to be possible anymore and yet here it is. Pure righteousness.
C: I find this song overwhelming too. Not just for the song itself, but for the spirit in which was recorded and offered to the public, and the immediacy and selflessness involved. That’s what being an artist is about, in times like these. They get to something really tragic about the current situation: all those poor idiots who have been buying the Bush balderdash since 9/11… because they did that, now we are all paying for their mistakes, and will do for decades. And I’m broke, man. My pockets are empty. And I’ve got it easy. Think of all the unnamed, uncounted dead civilians in Iraq, all the dead and mistreated in New Orleans, all those detained in the secret torture prisons in Poland…
D: This song is so good I can’t believe somebody made it. The build and release, the chorus, the singing, the lyrics, the fife and drum…
C: It’s a call to imaginative action, for less talk and more walk. This is prime Fela Kuti-level stuff, seriously: talking truth directly to power, giving comfort and uplift to the powerless. I’ve never heard this song on the radio, yet it’s exactly the kind of song radio was made for.

Cast King
Saw Hill Man
(Locust Music)
C: Debut album from 79-year-old white fella. Recorded in a shack in Alabama.
D: Seniors rock. Look at this guy. I think our friend T-Model Ford might have some new competition!
C: He recorded eight songs for Sun Records in the ‘50s. He he had a touring country and bluegrass band, Cast King and the Country Drifters, but it didn’t work out and he never released an album.
D: Sweet baby Jesus, what is wrong with this country?
C: I find myself wondering that often these days…
D: The first line of this song is “I don’t care if your tears fall in my whiskey.” What more do you need?
C: The guy’s voice is so rich, it’s a pleasure just to hear his singing. The sadder the lyrics, the brighter the music. The songs are clever, catchy, simple. How could nobody care for three decades? This nation is so cruel to its artists.
D: There’s some Johnny Cash here for sure.
C: To our modern ears, of course. But I’m starting to wonder. Who came first? Not that it matters as much as, well, just how many other guys are out there still who are this good, who we’ve never heard? Maybe it’s a lot more than we think. People who got skipped over by accident of history or circumstance. That’s the lesson of the reissue culture that’s so strong right now—the Numero Group label’s releases, the stuff they talk about in Wax Poetics, all the rediscoveries of people like Vashti Bunyan and Gary Higgins and Simon Finn—all of this teaches us that actually the cream doesn’t always rise to the top. It often sinks to the very bottom.

Nina Simone
The Soul of Nina Simone dual disc
(Legacy/RCA/Sony BMG)
C: You’re not going to believe this, either. A new dual disc release: one side is a greatest hits run, the other side is vintage live footage. Deep vintage.
D: [looking at track listing] Whoa! None deeper vintage. Pure black power, 1960s. Look at this!!! [Reading aloud scrolling text on screen] “By the end of the ‘60s, the civil rights movement was in a shambles; its key leaders were dead, and race riots had erupted in several U.S. cities. ‘It felt like the shutters were coming down on anyone who dared to suggest there was something seriously wrong with the state of our country,’ said an angry Nina Simone. A ray of community hope appeared in the sammer of ’69, when the Harlem Festival—called ‘a black Woodstock’ by its producer, Hal Tulchin—came to Central Park. Crowds of up to 100,000 flocked to six free concerts. The stars included Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, Gladys Knight and the Pips and Simone. These excerpts from Simone’s performance have never before been shown in America.”
C: I’ve never even heard of this festival.
D: Me neither.
C: How is that possible? I thought we knew our shit. My god. Are they saying this footage has just been sitting there since 1969? Listen to her go. Listen to this band. Look at that set, look at this audience. Look at the songs she’s playing—“Revolution,” “Four Women,” “Ain’t Got No—I Got Life” and “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” Look at the setting. Look at the situation is which this was performed.
D: This is right before she went into self-imposed exile.
C: She looks absolutely purposeful. There is a resolve in her voice, in her comments to the band and the audience, in that gorgeous face of hers as she sings that is just absolutely… She looks like a woman about to leave, because she’s been wronged. You know she’s gonna slam that door.
D: No whining. “My life has been much too rough,” she sings. [Listening to “Ain’t Got No—I Got Life”] Listen to the band swing! Unbelievable.
C: She’s holding back tears for the entire performance… She finally breaks—just a bit—on “To Be Young Gifted and Black.”
D: I think this is the greatest single live performance I have ever seen.
C: Especially when you consider the context. This is just extraordinary. Le Tigre and other no-skill apologists who say technique is irrelevant would do well to watch this. The reason people are listening to what she has to say is because she had skills beyond even her conviction.
D: It’s an absolute travesty that the American public hasn’t seen this footage until now.
C: Can you imagine what the rest of this festival must have been like? Look at that lineup. Sheesh. We’ve got to ask again: WHY HAVEN’T WE HEARD OF THIS UNTIL NOW? Where are our cultural historians? Why do we know about Jimi liberating the national anthem and not taking the brown acid and all that other Woodstock jive but not about this? It’s criminal.

Niger: Magic & Ecstasy in the Sahel dvd
by Hisham Mayet
(Sublime Frequencies)
C: And now for somebody who knows how to document and distribute important stuff immediately, rather than waiting for 36 years…
D: [spills beer in joy] YES! The mighty Sublime Frequencies strike AGAIN!
C: 70 minutes of footage of hot blast from the streets of Niger, one of the quote poorest unquote nations in the world. Oil can drum duos, one-stringed instrument maestros, harmonizing ululators, invocation dances. Divination ceremonies and informal nighttime initiation rituals, Taureg trance funk at the end.
D: Absolutely riveting.

OOOIOO
[Untitled]
(Thrill Jockey)
C: New album from project featuring Yoshimi who is in Boredoms. Don’t really understand the provenance of this album—recorded in 2000 but only released this year? Weird vocal calisthenics, big tribal drum thrusters, chimes and flutes and birds and trumpets, synthesizers, tablas, loopage and harmony chants, Sean Lennon and Yuka Honda amongst the guests, the best album booklet I’ve seen in 2005—it seems to illustrate a place directly midway mushroom wonderland of the Allmans’ Eat A Peach album centerfold and the post-toxic landscapes of Lightning Bolt—and check it out, here on Track 7: straight-up female Tuareg ululations!
D: Sometimes I think Bjork gets all the attention for trying to do what Yoshimi is already doing.

Pearls and Brass
The Indian Tower
(Drag City)
C: We really shouldn’t be reviewing this til next issue cuz it’s not out til January 24. But excuse me, I think I need to turn this up.
D: Cream covered by Kyuss?
C: Yeah, kind of, huh? It’s actually three dudes from Pennsylvania.
D: These are some pretty knotty riffs. Quite a brush. A hedgerow.
C: Thorny stuff, but they still give you a riff. Here, have one.
D: Why thank you.
C: Total air guitar and drum practice CD. “The Face of God” is the face they make when they play, I bet. And there’s the vocal harmonies, and the fingerpicked acoustic blues.
D: This is bigrig truck driving music.
C: Forty-wheeler stuff—for the poor dudes trying to forget about the price of gas as they drive the nation’s clogged freeways. If it’s time for a Convoy remake, then this is the soundtrack.
Continue reading

Reviews by C and D (Arthur No. 11/July 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 11 (July 2004)

REVIEWS BY C and D

Fiery Furnaces
Blueberry Boat
(Rough Trade)
D: [extremely puzzled] Is this the Residents?!?
C: It’s Fiery Furnaces. Second album in one year. Usually when you say “difficult second album,” you mean it was hard for the artist. But this is actually hard on the audience!
D: [grimacing] I am not sure if I like this much.
C: It’s… it’s… it’s completely nuts. But: interesting nuts.
D: I remember them now! They were interviewed in Arthur. Brother and sister. But I thought they were blues-rocking New York people? What is all this synthesizer-ragtime stuff?!?
C: It’s like low-key prog. [looking at CD player] We’re in the ninth minute of the first song here… 13 songs, 75 minutes… The whole thing is a wigged-out concept album, man. I dig it.
D: [irritated] I do not have time for concepts! I am a ramblin’ man, that’s what I am.
C: Don’t spill your Dr. Pepper, Popeye. There’s a lot of good stuff on here, it’s just sorta tucked away in pockets within pockets in a large spangled coat of many prog colors.
D: This is too wacky and too wordy. [Brightens, listening to riff midway through second song] I like that, though. I think these guys may be too smart for their own good.
C: A singles-only edit of this album would be nice for the Short Attention Spanners out there…

Comets On Fire
Blue Cathedral
(Sub Pop)
C: The new one from Comets On Fire, full-on super-rock five-piece from the Bay Area. They keep the demons at bay.
D: Yes! Big super-blaster balls-nailed-to-the-wall heavy power rock from a space cannon!
C: Amazing, visionary wizardstuff. And they give you a break in the middle of songs—there’s these lighter sections, they’re even choogling here and there, mellowing the crunchy harsh.
D: [listening to keyboard-heavy “Pussy Footin’ the Duke.”] There is a taste of the prog here, too! But I don’t mind because the riffs are deep canyons and the singer is a yowler and the drums are mighty!
C: It’s like the best of Japanese power-rock plus Quicksilver Messenger Serivce or Meddle-era Pink Floyd plus Kiss. Album-of-the-year contender.
D: I am going to make a pilgrimage to this Blue Cathedral.
C: Which is right next door to the Acid Mothers Temple, no doubt.

The Reigning Sound
Too Much Guitar!
(In the Red)
D: The Reigning Sound! Mister Greg Cartwright! Long may he reign. I doff my beer in his general direction. Heartfelt thrashing songs with a zest for life!
C: [nodding head] The is one of those records that gives garage rock a good name. Which is pretty hard, considering there’s like 45,000 bands out there who are trying to do the same thing over the last three decades.
D: I am getting old. But I will get out my leather jacket for these guys. And stitch their name on it, as is my duty.
C: They’ve got actual songs, it’s not just the two-chord mono-grind smear. And listen to this ballad [“Funny Thing”]. If you’re not a connoiseur of this sort of stuff, it sound like something between the Stones and the Hives. And the Hives are taking them on the tour, so there you go.
D: Giving them that big Swedish stamp of approval!

The Concretes
The Concretes
(Astralwerks)
C: Speaking of the Swedes. A girl band…
D: They have the big Spector beat. A little Mazzy Star, don’t you think? [the chorus comes in on “Say Something New”] The Ronnettes! It cannot be! I am 9 years old again…
C: Yeah. A little Cardigans, perhaps: she doesn’t have the most unique voice, she’s not the greatest singer. But it’s pretty. A lot of this is pleasant music for cleaning house or driving with no traffic and the windows open on warm summer nights… And by coincidence “Warm Night” is my favorite song. It has a waltz rhythm and all these harmonies…
D: [listening] It has a sea chanty quality. Beautiful and SUPER-romantic. Ah, what goes on in the Swedish woods…
C: If there had been an ecstasy scene in the The Muppets Movie this is what it would have sounded like, and I mean that with all respect and seriousness.

Martina Topley-Bird
Anything
(Palm)
C: This reminds me of Morcheeba, and I know that isn’t fair, cuz Martina was with Tricky and they were first, but… Lady can sing okay, a hint of blues pain, acoustic guitars, brushed drums, ‘70s keyboard, lush strings. Yep, this is ad agency music.
C: Totally! I see the car commercial now. Volkswagen?
D: BMW, maybe.
C: Okay, let’s skip to the track with Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age and Mark Lanegan.
D: [listening] Eh. It’s Okay.
C: Well, at least this song has more energy…
D: [thinking deeply] I must say, I always preferred Portishead.
C: The texture of trip-hop stuff is just…worn out. Do we need another record of this stuff? Even Beth Gibbons has moved on.
D: That album she did last year was the most…
C: Yes! Out of Season, Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man, on Sanctuary. Arthur readers, just buy that instead. I weep openly when I listen to that record. But here…
D: I yawn openly.

The Obsessed
Incarnate
(Southern Lord)
D: [Looking at High Volume track listing] Stoner rock, but no Kyuss…? Hmm…
D: Gas Giant are gaseous. Hello, Monster Magnet?
C: They’re not on here either. But Clutch and Orange Goblin and Nebula are, and a ton of other longhaired stoner rock lifers.
D: [looking at the sleeve] Hidden Hand and High On Fire are on here!!! Let’s skip to those. High On Fire march on like warrior kings of peace!
C: Some of it’s like speedmetal but then there’s these weird chord sequences and that six-limbed drumming the dude does. Everything they do smokes. [smugly] And where there’s smoke, there’s High On Fire, ha ha.
D: You make yourself laugh. Now for Hidden Hand, “Falcon Stone.”
C: Your basic Hidden Handiwork. Solid riffage, a firm construction.
D: Wino’s new band, bringing the master pummeller once again! [opening record sleeve, with picture of girl with clothes falling off] Hmm, I like this centerfold, I mean record sleeve.
C: There’s some cool stuff on here, like the Suplecs track, but…
listen: Stoner rock lyrics are like the male versions of girls’ bad high school poetry. It would be cool if they’d trade lyric sheets. Then we’d get stoner rock with lyrics by Jewel. And adult contemporary with lyrics by Bad Wizard.
D: [distracted, gazing longingly at record sleeve] I really like this centerfold. I’ll be right back, I’ve got to to take care of something. [leaves room, taking sleeve with him]
C: Oh geez. I don’t believe this. Anyways… If Arthur readers want some classic heavy rock, the kind of stuff that begot this High Times comp, check out Incarnate, the new Obsessed archive job that compiles a gobload of ‘90s Wino & Company stuff that went lost or mal-released. Music for driving a bulldozer down Main Street to. Heavy is as heavy does…

Wolf Eyes
“Stabbed in the Face/Rat Floods” 12-inch
(Sub Pop)
C: [to tape recorder] Well, we’ve lost D to…um… Let’s just say… Um… Pornography claims another victim. Erotic imagery. [yelling] Tits ‘n’ Buds, bro! Whatever. Fortunately I am prepared to solider on alone. Arthur readers will recognize Wolf Eyes as a Bull Tongue perennial—well, they’ve somehow made it on to Sub Pop despite being pretty brutal and weird and just generally artfuck. For some reason I am reminded of Killdozer. Anyways “Stabbed in the Face” is angry vampire rock on a disco tape loop. Forget the Dead, this is the real skullfuckery. Beware! There’s blood in the grooves of this 45rpm record, which is why on Side 2 the thing locks into a repeater groove, sending the listener down the Wolfhole into a negatory dimension where one is bed-fed codeine by the leering nurse-corpse of Ronald Reagan.

The Fall
The Real New Fall LP…Formerly Country on the Click
(Narnack)
C: There’s little to be said here besides: the Fall are on a full-forward-rock mission again and your surrender is imminent. The guitars are propulsing, broken hip priest Mark E. Smith sounds wonderfully surly and declamatory, almost drifting into dreamtalk sometimes, the other cats in the band are singing some refrains and choruses and this is very important: you can dance to almost every song. It’s full of WFMU-world hits! You people know what I mean. If this were a young band, rather than one that’s been around since 1848, this would be the now-shit of rockcrit and fashion magazines and art schools across the planet. This is as much a return-to-form as Wire or Mission of Burma have done in the last few years: these original post-punk artniks are back on the trail, it can’t be rationally explained. [listening to “Sparta 2”] Shit’s positively magestic! [sighing] We are Fallstruck, once again.

Black Dice
Creature Comforts
(DFA Records)
C: Never really dug these guys and their electro-spazz-randomonica-epic trip before for some reason, although it sounded good in theory. This, though, I dig. I am a digger. I mean, “Cloud Pleaser” is a great title. People who dig early Tangerine Dream, and I mean very early, will dig this. Also some of the more out-there Popul Vuh stuff. It’s a strange mix of electronic stuff and abstracted organic noises with forward motion, enough rhythm for you to keep it on while you’re doing dishes, but enough weird noises and soundfloods and collagework for you to pay attention to it. Kinda meditative, actually… [To D, who has re-appeared] So, everything work out okay?
D: Yes, yes. [irritated, listening to “Treetops”] Do people get paid to do this?

M83
Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts
(Mute)
C: Mostly instrumental compositions with occasional sighs. Big and grand and emotional and beautiful. Sounds like it was fabricated by Tokyo-made cyborgs with tearducts, on vacation in France.
D: Like a darker Air… Dark Air should be their name!
C: Reminds me a bit of Casino Versus Japan, and Spiritualized too. Really lovely, hugely evocative, cinematic stuff.
D: Somebody alert Sofia Coppola!

Legendary Pink Dots
The Whispering Wall
(ROIR)
D: Hmm. Creepy creepy! Music for creepy crawling in dismal English towns.
C: Sort of a psychedelic haunted disco thing, yeah. Very stylish, but melodic too. They’ve been around forever but somehow I’ve never cottoned to them until now.
D: [listening to “A Distant Summer”] I like this. Such a strange, dislocated feel.
C: It’s ominous, sinister pop. Again, something that very much has its own feel. Crushed velvet, light rain, spooky carnivals…
D: A new record for all the pale people.

SUNN O)))
White2
(Southern Lord)
C: [reading the sleeve] It says here, “Maximum volume yields maximum results.” We better turn it up.
D: [smiling] Ahh. You can always count on SUNN 0)) for that maximum slow throb ambient guitar doom. They are the legendary black dots.
C: The first track is 14 minutes long! No drums, no vocals… Sonic qualudes. It’s so slow it isn’t even there. Totally enveloping.
D: It’s doom-bliss for your needy skull!

Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label
(Numero Group)
C: 19 tracks from an an obscure Columbus, Ohio soul record label who put out a dozen 45s, one album and had a few regional hits during the early ‘70s. Normally I wouldn’t care, there’s got to be a zillion compilations like this out there, right? But…
D: [listening to Bill Moss’s “Sock It To ‘Em Soul Brother”] This is really something. This is as good as the JB’s!
C: When you hear stuff like this, it makes you realize how much luck plays a role in what songs make it into general public’s consciousnsess. Some of this stuff, you can tell why it didn’t go beyond being a regional hit—the voice isn’t unique enough, or the lyrics are prosaic, or whatever. But there’s no reason that most of these songs weren’t big hits, other than that they were recorded and released in Ohio rather than Detroit or New York or L.A. It’s tragic that this is all we’ll ever hear from these folks, because of an accident of geography and timing. Just listen to this: Ronnie Taylor’s “Without Love” is a stone cold church-organ classic from the opening second. What a riff, what a voice.
D: [listening to “Hot Grits!!!” by Elijah & the Ebonites] Incredible! Instant dance floor groove sensation! [very seriously] Listen to me when I tell you this: This is the best soul compilation I’ve heard in 20 years.
C: [dancing] I know what you mean. Damn!