The Dead played “Run Rudolph Run” seven times between December 4th and 15th, 1971. Pigpen sang. The tune was a #69 hit for Chuck Berry in 1958, written by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie. Unquestionably the best Dead version is the second-to-last, from December 14th at the Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor. They played it twice in Chuck Berry’s hometown of St. Louis on December 9th and 10th, and it’s too bad not one of those, but the first night in Ann Arbor has the best mix of any of them. Keith Godchaux’s strident Johnnie Johnson-style piano is full and rich, like the familiar warm balance of Europe ’72, Garcia’s lines darting around it. Besides the following night, where he’s too loud, Godchaux is buried in most of the other recordings, Garcia and Weir’s guitars clanging against each other.
It’s a showcase for Pigpen, returning to the band after sitting out the fall tour, the first sign of weakening for the 26-year old alcoholic, who would die less than two years later. At times on the December east coast run, 11 shows from Boston to Ann Arbor, Pig is spotty. In Boston, the band pulled out his show-stopping “Turn On Your Lovelight,” and he faltered, unable to martial the gang into the weirdly psych-funk nooks they were often able to improvise behind semi-improvised patter about “box back knitties and great big noble thighs,” and they only revisited it one other time on the trip.
But by the end of the run, he seems almost back to form, though the big closers wouldn’t return with regularity until the band shuffled off to New York and then Europe the next spring. One lesson of my Dead listening project–revisiting every show close to its 40th anniversary, #deadfreaksunite, etc.–has been a constant reevaluation of the Dead as a working, aggressively evolving band, often marked by the unrelenting, constant expansion of their songbook. Most lately, this involved an appreciation of Pigpen’s still very active role in ’71 and ’72. Even for Deadheads, Pig is sometimes easy to write off in these later years, so often relegated to un-mic’ed sidestage congas.
While he didn’t exactly crank out tunes like Garcia and Weir, he had two new numbers to do for the December run, “Run Rudolph Run” and a new original, “Mr. Charlie,” which would go along fine with “Empty Pages,” introduced earlier in the year, had he not already abandoned that. Early ’72 would see two more Pig tunes go into rotation, “Chinatown Shuffle” (whose pick-up would get jacked for “U.S. Blues”) and the lost masterpiece “The Stranger (Two Souls in Communion).” Even after he left the road following the Europe ’72 tour, he continued to write, producing a set of home demos, which has circulated as Bring Me My Shotgun.
With its “Love & Theft”-like cadences on half-sensical tumbles about some heretofore unknown reindeer named Randolph (?!) and archaic constructions like “girl-child” and “boy-child,” it’s sort of mystifying that avowed Chuck Berry freak Bob Dylan didn’t record “Run Rudolph Run” for his Christmas in the Heart. But it’s a nice little novelty from the Dead’s brief two-keyboard lineup, where Pigpen and Godchaux got a nice Hudson/Manuel-like B3/piano blend on some of the recordings from those tours. Though Pig doesn’t play organ here, Godchaux’s presence gives him the chance to belt over straight-up boogie-woogie piano, a rare pleasure in itself only possible during these few tours.
All of which totally ignores the song’s holidayness, which really has no narrative and is, in an admirably teen-pop way, more about describing the apparent giddiness of the Christmas season in the post-War years. “Shopping is a feeling,” David Byrne said later in True Stories, and there’s maybe some of that in here (infused with holiday spirit, no doubt), with the subtle ’50s consumerism behind lyrics like “all I want for Christmas is a rock & roll electric guitar” and the girl-child’s wish for “a little baby doll that can cry, scream, and wet” (plus perfectly period automotive dreams about Santa speeding down a freeway). Not that Pigpen was signifyin’ or anything. He was–and thanks to the perpetual present tense of the recording is–just singing. The Dead may’ve been hippies, but by late 1971, they were mostly just a rock band.
“Run Rudolph Run”–at least the fifth or sixth Berry tune in rotation–is Pig in his element, and a vibrant little tick in Dead history. But it’s something maybe even more unique than that. In the Dead’s massive unofficial catalogue, it’s one of the very few versions of anything I’d happily call “definitive” with any measure of confidence. And, hey, that’s something to feel good about this holiday season.
One of my more half-surprising favorite reissues this year was the Neil Diamond collection, The Bang Years, comprising his first two solo albums, when he was a Brill Building songwriter. It features his original version of “I’m A Believer,” among others. I’ve always abhorred most of Diamond’s later hits that I was familiar with, give or take a soft spot for “Beautiful Noise,” because it appeared in a favorite Mets highlights video when I was a kid.
In fact, there’s one specific section of “I’m A Believer” that belongs to a peculiar sub-set of my memory, a slight turn in the melody in the phrase “the more I gave the less I got” that immediately connects me, via some direct and thorough current, to a familiar emotional tinge from my childhood. As far as I can tell, the tinge is unattached to any one point in the past. More, it’s that it is precisely the same primal response–in the present tense–that I had when I was 6. There’s a particular acoustic guitar strum on “We Can Work It Out” (1:09) that does the same thing. In the case of “I’m A Believer,” it is actually a product of the songwriting–something present both in The Monkees’ hit that I first heard and Diamond version from The Bang Years–and not merely a production flourish, as it frequently turns out to be with other songs in this category. And, in a peripheral way, the whole collection carries that same personal time-track residue in its songwriting. Whatever it is, Diamond’s thumbprints in the melody and changes, it seems entirely intended. Which makes sense. He was a professional songwriter.
We have a friend’s pretty great LP collection on semi-permanent loan, since she’s moved into a smaller apartment, and I recently dug out Velvet Gloves and Spit, the first after those represented on The Bang Years, and holy sweet merciful motherfuck is it square. That’s pretty much obvious from the Bang material, too, but it’s aspirations towards teen-pop carry the day. Velvet Gloves, though, is from 1968, and it’s easy to tell which side of the castle gates Diamond is positioning himself on, musically and otherwise. The music is all dense chintziness, the aural equivalent of candelabras. No idea if Mr. D. ever used stuff like that in his stage sets, but that’s what I see. The folksinger/Elvis get-up he sports on the cover the live album Hot August Night probably informs this. Also, Velvet Gloves’ “The Pot Song,” which would be a pretty good slab of stoner folk if not for the interspersed monologues of recovering drug addicts talking about the gateway aspects of herbal jazz cigarettes.
And on top of that, an inscription in the liner notes: The American Popular goes on and on…. Just like that. In italics. In curling fancypants heavily seriffed script, centered, about two-thirds down on an ever-so-stately Dodge Dart brown sleeve. It’s an odd divide in time, historically and in popular music, and it’s a little discombobulating to actually hear the divide as clearly and cleanly as Neil lays it out. The textures aren’t even that far off from The Bang Years stuff, bouncing organs and hand-claps, but the forward motion of the Brill Building is gone. It’s powered by something else, moves off in a different direction into a sophistication without rebellion. So that’s going back on the shelf for a while, unless somebody presents some compelling evidence otherwise. There’s some typical nostalgia at play, of course, in listening to these recordings from the mid-60s. But mostly it’s just listening to transparently great songs. Um, thumbs up.
Here’s The Monkees, Neil Diamond, and (of course) Robert Wyatt’s versions of “I’m A Believer,” in which his man-child yip-croon seems to blow up each one of those memory-rubbing melodic details.
The Apollo Sunshine’s “Money” sounds like Simon and Garfunkel, but I think it’s really “Imagine” for 2008 — an idyllic take on the world’s corruption du jour. “War is over! If you want it,” John and Yoko proclaimed, shorthanding the 1971 single. Apollo Sunshine’s take on impending global economic meltdown is the same, existentially: fahgetaboutit. “I wonder what I’d do, if everybody forgot what money was,” they harmonize, a slightly more complex task than disregarding religion. In Lennon’s world, peace comes immediately. For the Sunshine, it’s a little more personal. “With all that’s happened, would we still play guitars?” they ask. “Yeah, we’d play guitar!” they reaffirm, voices rising into subdued falsetto glee. It’s easier to imagine such things when you can hum along so easily.
Product that has expired as product, rx too good not to mention.
Lothar and the Hand People – Lothar and the Hand People (1968)
I sometimes think I could only download psych LPs from 1968 and never run out. That’s not to say that they’re all really good. Some are mad generic. But Lothar and the Hand People’s self-titled debut is really good. Incredibly catchy (sounds like the Velvets sometimes), plenty weird (theremin, electronics). Top notch.
What Is!? – King Khan and His Shrines (2007)
Likewise, ’68 garage-psych revival bands seem a dime a dozen (or less, if one’s jacking wifi from the neighbors), but pretty much every song on What Is!? is a total winner. The organs are exactly right, the choruses even more so.
Stardust – Willie Nelson (1978)
I’m beginning what I imagine will be a long, fruitful relationship with the music of Willie Nelson. Besides the spare Crazy demos from ’59, this is what’s grabbed me most: Willie doing Tin Pan Alley standards. A stoned sweetness in the cosmic neighborhood of Ray Charles and Jerry Garcia and Richard Manuel (see below). Jah bless.
Whispering Pines: Live at the Getaway 1985 – Richard Manuel (rec. 1985, rel. 2002)
Been on a Music From Big Pink lately, fueled heavily by John Niven’s entry in Continuum’s 33 1/3 series, whose central haunt is provided by the late Richard Manuel. Whispering Pines was recorded in a Florida club, six months before Manuel hung himself in a motel room. Played on a cocktail hour synth, the music is as distant and sweet as ever. Love the Ray Charles covers.
In My Own Time – Karen Dalton (1971)
Unfathomable loveliness. Billie Holiday with a banjo. Though Dalton despised the schmaltzed up studio arrangements—she was a Village folkie, after all–I think I love them. Her voice practically calls out for syrupy strings, for redeeming fantasias.
“As I Went Out One Morning” – Why? (download) (buy)
from Our Unusual Animals, v. 4 7-inch (2008)
Every time I tried to imagine Why? leader Yoni Wolf doing Bob Dylan, as was announced a few months back, my brain started to hurt. It’s not that I thought it would be bad–I didn’t–so much that I just couldn’t conceive of Dylan’s melody parceled by Wolf’s metrics. But, here it is, a 7-inch b-side in Asthmatic Kitty Our Unusual Animals series, and it makes sense, of course: a nice addition to the contemporary Dylan cover canon. It’s an interesting little window into Wolf’s singing in general, too. He manages to fully articulate the melody while creating the illusion that he is speaking, never singing at all. It is casual, even conversational, and all in the annunciation. Sleight-of-hand. Or sleight-of-tongue, I suppose. The arrangement helps immeasurably, shifting the chords with lush authority, and doing much of the work.
“What Kind of Friend Is This?” – Stephen Malkmus and Lee Ranaldo (download) (buy)
from I’m Not There OST (iTunes-only) (2007)
“Bessie Smith” (live) – The Crust Brothers (download) (buy)
from Marquee Mark (1999)
“Visions of Johanna” – Lee Ranaldo (download) (buy)
from Outlaw Blues, v. 2 (1993)
“Goin’ To Acapulco” – Bob Dylan and The Band (download) (buy)
from The Basement Tapes (1967/1975)
(files expire September 9th)
This is an expanded version of my October 2007 Paste profile of I’m Not There director Todd Haynes, intended for the web, but which somehow never made it there. A year later, I still love the movie, maybe even more. Though, I suppose, I’m also the target audience. Of all the things the film did, it reintroduced The Basement Tapes to me–the official, cleaned-up two-disc version–as a concept album about running away to a weird, self-isolating internal place.
And some INT-related tunes to go with: an iTunes-only Stephen Malkmus/Lee Ranaldo cover of “What Kind of Friend Is This?” (from the ’66 hotel room tape) left off the official soundtrack, Malkmus’s piss-take version of The Basement Tapes‘ Band-penned “Bessie Smith” with Seattle’s Silkworm live in ’97, Ranaldo’s reading of “Visions of Johanna” from 1993′s Outlaw Blues, v. 2 compilation (with Mike Watt, Steve Shelley, and the late Robert Quine), and–finally–the Dylan version of “Goin’ To Acapulco,” pretty much the theme song for my summer.
The Thick, Wild Mercurial Movie: Todd Haynes and the Weirdness of Bob Dylan
by Jesse Jarnow
(originally published in shorter form in Paste #38)
Todd Haynes is affable, enthusiastic, and forthcoming — in other words, the complete opposite of Bob Dylan, the subject of the 46-year old director’s recently released I’m Not There. This, of course, does not mean that the six different Bob Dylans that occupy his film’s non-linear plot (none of which is named ‘Bob Dylan’) and two-plus-hour running time are any easier to grok than Dylan’s work, nor — for that matter — any less dense with magpies’ bags of allusion and theft. Haynes is just more willing to talk about his than Dylan.
“Ray Charles’ music couldn’t be further from Johnny Cash’s, so why put them in the same-shaped box?” asks the former semiotics major, who rendered Karen Carpenter’s anorexic demise with Barbie dolls in 1987′s Superstar. Though he expresses admiration for Ray, Haynes says, “Dylan is more like dropping acid than reading a Cliff’s Notes, and that should be true for all these artists at one level or another, if it’s possible to find a cinematic language to get to the core of what their music is about.
“All biopics combine fact and fiction, and this one does it, but lets you in on the process,” continues Haynes, who turned David Bowie into Brian Slade in 1998′s Velvet Goldmine. “You know [Dylan] wasn’t really a black kid who called himself Woody Guthrie” — as sweet-voiced newcomer Marcus Carl Franklin does in the film — “so then you have to think ‘why are they doing it this way?’ That’s saying something about what Dylan was at this time.
“What was so remarkable is the unstated joke in all the accounts of him is how none of these unbelievable tales of his past made any calculable sense to anybody listening, but the sheer performance was so compelling that no one cared. That idea, of projecting yourself so passionately that nobody added it all up, I thought to take that one step further, and make the joke a visual joke where he’s also a black kid and nobody mentions his color through the whole time.”
Todd Haynes has never met Bob Dylan, though — in the fall of 2000 — the songwriter approved a two-page proposal titled “Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan” which quoted French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud and declared a “strategy” of “refraction, not condensation.” Haynes’ Dylans are amnesiacs all, Cate Blanchett’s thin, wild Jude Quinn trapped in a lush Felliniesque black-and-white and unable to reach Richard Gere’s heavy-handed Billy, exiled in Riddle, a town comprised of Dylan’s characters and indebted to Greil Marcus’s Old Weird America and Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (in which Dylan appeared).
For all of its flaws, and it has many, it is obvious that Haynes is a stone Dylan freak, a fact that lends a certain charisma to the proceedings. He gets Dylan right, to the point where one could imagine a mash-up integrating I’m Not There with sequences from 1978′s Renaldo and Clara and 2003′s Masked & Anonymous, Dylan’s own garbled autobiopics. As an anthology of myths fashioned from interviews, liner notes, song lyrics and hearsay, I’m Not There might be daunting to non-fetishists, but it’s exactly this half-knowledge that Haynes wants to play from.
“People probably know more about Dylan than they know they know,” Haynes argues. “Whether it’s songs that we grew up singing and thinking ‘was that a traditional or did somebody write that?’ to literal things like ‘right, there was a crash! That sounds right!’ or how that echoes James Dean’s crash. And that’s fine. That’s actually so correct to see a repercussion of events in these very self-conscious anti-heroes that they themselves were the key architects of.”
For all of its shattered intentions, I’m Not There remains a series of a storylines, each character driven by his own boundaries, personal and cinematic. Some, like Blanchett’s Jude, ring with enough emotion to keep the runes of Dylan’s cryptic life aligned. Others are kind of hilarious, like Ben Whishaw’s Zoolander-like reading of the weary Dont Look Back-era press conference surrealism.
“I’m a consumer of biopics,” Haynes says, “and I think mostly what they offer as their raison d’être, and it’s a good enough one, is an extraordinary vehicle for performances, where an actor gives you something unique to bowl you over or frustrate you. That’s true for all those films. The performance Sissy Spacek gives in Coal Miner’s Daughter is one of the most astounding performances on film and makes whatever limitations the genre has, the formula has, pale at the power of that extraordinary performance.” But even if it is a good enough reason to exist, Haynes has his sights aimed much higher.
Like Dylan’s catalogue, I’m Not There frustrates. As Haynes points out, though, as experimental as it might be, it does deliver the “hit songs, the hit moments.” It gives enough of the songwriter that it makes perfect sense to talk about the film in the same breath as Martin Scorsese’s equally flawed No Direction Home, though in many ways the two semi-official features are opposites — Scorcese’s the Approved Baby Boomer Myth, Haynes’s a more gleefully modern and imploding deconstruction.
“He’s yours,” the Weavers’ Ronnie Gilbert introduced Dylan onstage at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964, and he has been for over 40 years now. While Dylan might miss himself, as he suggested in his 2004 autobiography Chronicles, his listeners probably don’t. One can keep discovering bootlegs, session tapes, outtakes, rehearsals, film clips, interviews and miles of other musical arcana from a functionally infinite body of work, all capable of yielding something seemingly new.
I’m Not There does exactly this, its name calling attention to one of the great, lost basement tape ballads recorded with The Band in 1967. The film plays by Dylan’s rules and is enjoyable for many of the same reasons his music is. Finding the real Bob Dylan isn’t the point. There’s probably a song or two about that. “It’s not all in there,” Haynes says. “It’s not all there.”
“Rory Rides Me Raw” – The Vaselines (download) (buy)
from Son of a Gun EP (1987)
(file expires August 12th)
It’s rare that indie rock is straight dirty. Romantic, sure. Coy, frequently. Sexy, almost never. And, no two ways about it, the Vaselines’ “Rory Rides Me Raw” ain’t about horses, despite the lyrics about galloping through the morning dew. Oddly, I think it’s the just-off double-tracked guitars that add to this impression as much as the lyrics, as if the singer knowing that “I’m gonna do it soon” is making it a bit hard to focus.
“Ed Is A Portal” – Akron/Family (from Love is Simple)
“Blessing Force” – Akron/Family (from Meek Warrior)
“Lazy Suicide” – Megafaun (from Bury the Square)
“Centermost” – Greg Davis (from Somnia)
“Peacebone” – Animal Collective (from Peacebone)
“Jugband 2000″ – Jackie O Motherfucker (from Wow/The Magick Fire Music)
“For Every Field There’s A Mole” – Bonnie “Prince” Billy (from Lie Down in the Light)
“The Party’s Crashing Me” – Of Montreal (from The Sunlandic Twins)
“Preteen Weaponry, part 1″ – Oneida (from Preteen Weaponry)
“The Diamond Sea” – Sonic Youth (from Washing Machine)
“Stella Blue” (live) – Ween
“Brokedown Palace” – Bonnie “Prince” Billy (from Pebbles and Ripples)
“Cream Puff War” – Oneida (from Heads Ain’t Ready 7-inch)
“Turn On Your Lovelight” (live) – Akron/Family (11/2007 UK)
“We Bid You Goodnight” (live) – Animal Collective
“Shakedown Street” (live) – Kevin Barnes (15 March 2008 South by Southwest)
“Ripple” (live) – Yo La Tengo (19 October 2007 Landmark Theater)
“Attics of My Life” – Megafaun (29 April 2008 Union Pool)
“Franklin’s Tower” – Meat Puppets (from Meat Puppets I bonus)
“I Saw A Hippie Girl on 8th Ave” – Jeffrey Lewis (from It’s The Ones Who’ve Cracked That the Light Shines Through)
“Drug Test” – Yo La Tengo (from President Yo La Tengo EP)
“So Long Jerry” – Ween (from 12 Golden Country Greats sessions)
“Tangled Up In Blue” – Bob Dylan (download)
“Silvio” – Bob Dylan (download)
recorded 30 June 1988, Jones Beach, Wantagh, NY
“Tangled Up In Blue” – Bob Dylan (download)
“Silvio” – Bob Dylan (download)
recorded 19 May 1998, San Jose Arena, San Jose, CA
(files expire June 12th)
Bob Dylan’s so-called Never-Ending Tour launched 20 years ago this week, on June 7th, in Concord, California. Though Dylan claims in Chronicles that he’d been inspired to hit the road by figuring out a new way of singing, the tapes don’t bear this out entirely. For the most part, Dylan’s singing was still the insanely caricatured tweeting that made Real Live and Dylan and the Dead such bummers. It would take a few years for him to relax into the new mode of phrasing. Compare the above versions of “Tangled Up In Blue,” recorded in June 1988 and May 1998, respectively. The older version is just bloody awful, all kinds of rubbery, nasal melodrama. The ’98 rendition is typical of the period, totally confident.
All of which is to explain why “Silvio” — a fairly minor Dylan tune, lyrics by the Grateful Dead’s Robert Hunter, from 1988′s Down in the Groove — was such a Never-Ending staple. On the ’88 version, the grating upper register yawls that mar the rest of the show are entirely absent. The take from a decade later is slower and clearly improved, but the difference in strategies is almost negligible. Minor as it was, “Silvio” was maybe the template for the gentleman-on-the-skids persona Dylan developed during the Never Ending Tour, and picked up officially on 1997′s Time Out of Mind — all of which informs the excitement bubbling beneath Dylan’s voice as he stops rushing the phrases in the second verse, a new pleasure for him in a decade of dead ends.
Though songs from these albums — all older stuff I’ve been digging — have and will likely continue to turn up in Frow Shows and various blog posts, the albums don’t easily lend themselves to mp3ification. Mostly, they’re just brilliant vibes.
And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’ – Michael Nesmith (1972)
The former Monkee, singing and playing acoustic guitar, is accompanied only by pedal steel legend Red Smith. The humor is wry, a backcountry depot in the land of Head and Elephant Parts.
Rev. Louis Overstreet with his sons and the congregation of St. Like’s Powerhouse Church of God in Christ (rec. 1962, rel. 1995)
Great gospel from Arhoolie, found in the FMU archives. There’s a lot here: some beautiful blues (“Two Little Fishes”), ecstatic chants (“Yeah Lord! Jesus Is Able”), and amazing vocals by Overstreet. The warm recording quality puts it totally over the top.
Wow/The Magick Fire Music – Jackie O Motherfucker (2000-2001)
Like a perfectly melodic middle ground between SYR-era Sonic Youth and ’72-’73 Dead jams. I suspect this is the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship. So much more to be had. Hooray for prolific collectives. (Word, Sancho.)
Quarteto Em Cy – Quarteto Em Cy (1972)
Apparently a pre-tropicalia vocal group, this self-titled disc from ’72 is damn well sublime, just endlessly pleasurable: girl group/Beatles harmonies and strange, lush arrangements. Not coming out of the rotation any time soon.
Valborgmassoafton – Yukio Yung (1991)
Wikipedia sez that dude is a crazy prolific mofo, and — from the sound of this disc alone — I believe it. It’s like Devo meets the Mothers. Delicious use of synths, adventurous at every turn, and never predictable: jazz solos with doubled kazoos, fuzzy baroque interludes, Residents-like dance breaks, alien chants… and somehow it all holds together. Maybe it’s the cassette hiss. (Thx, Mutant Sounds, check it there.)
“Creep” – Prince (download)
recorded live at Coachella, 26 April 2008
(file expires June 8th)
And, so an act of civil disobedience against His Purple Dudeness: Prince Rogers Nelson covering Radiohead’s “Creep” at Coachella. At first, I was bummed to find out that the alleged soundboard circulating was a fairly audiencey audience recording, but — besides Prince’s performance itself, which Clappy so bitchingly deconstructed — what unfolds is that it’s not Prince’s song, it’s not even Radiohead’s. It belongs entirely to the crowd.
A few people seemingly recognize it at first, and there is a smattering of definite cheers. Somebody mentions James Brown. Somebody else repeatedly chants “whoo” or maybe “booooo.” Hard to say. There’s another wave of cheers at 1:10, but the music still sounds like a vaguely generic Prince arpeggio (though it’s also obviously “Creep”) and it doesn’t compare to what happens at 1:45, when Prince actually starts singing.
Then, a wave of noise rolls over the crowd. “Awesome!” somebody says almost immediately. People go, predictably, apeshit, and a dozen conversations spark up in mic range. Presumably, there’s some fierce texting going down, too. After the first big peak, the band passes through the opening changes again. Except now the crowd knows what it is, and begins clapping along — and with extraordinary dullness, as if they bought the hype and are already being ironic about it — which continues through the next verse before fading. The dull clapping continues, a little quieter, as Prince busts out his falsetto. Somebody even laughs.
But then Prince shreds fucking balls again, in an old-fashioned, gas-guzzling wank, and it’s awesome, despite a weird sinking feeling in a crowd that’s not sure if it’s ready to be as wistful as they feel, nostalgic for a time when Radiohead was simply another post-grunge guitar band with a genuine summer hit, but already preparing to yearn for the present moment, surely to immortalized in Flickr sets, text messages, viral videos, and blog postings. If His High Exalted Mothersquonking El Purple Duderino (if you’re not into the whole brevity thing) doesn’t have them all purged first.
“Take Me” – Karen Dalton (download) (buy)
from In My Own Time (1971)
“Take Me” – Jerry Garcia and David Grisman (download) (buy)
from Been All Around This World (2004)
(files expire May 19th)
I’m a sucker for songs that send the singer to some specific utopia, like “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” or Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou,” or Patsy Cline’s “You Belong To Me,” or any of the Mountain Goats’ “Going to…” numbers. George Jones and Leon Payne’s “Take Me” is a neat variation, a catalogue of desolation — an impossibly dark room, Siberia in winter — twisted into sunshine. But it is mostly imagined sunshine, the singer in a state somewhere closer to the darkened room than the springtime California promised in the final verse.
The desolation is clearly present in Jones’ original with Tammy Wynette, but that’s probably more reflex than anything. Jerry Garcia and Karen Dalton amplify it to the song’s front. Garcia’s junk-decayed voice cracks as it needs to, his delivery all resignation, though David Grisman’s mandolin is perhaps a little too airy for the proceedings (at least until his solo). One-time Village folkie Dalton, meanwhile, is perfect, her own junk-cracked voice unbearably hopeful over a quietly lush combo, like a feminine Ray Charles.
“Roll With the Flow” – Michael Nesmith (download) (buy)
from And the Hits Just Keep On Comin’ (1972)
(file expires May 14th)
It’s hippie-country heartache week here in the wunderkammern, and former Monkee Mike Nesmith’s And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’ is a remarkable, hook-filled beaut.
Country tunes don’t often speak, word for word, to the specifics of one’s particular heartbreak. But even narratives that are the 180-degree opposite of the use they’re serving can still stand-in just fine. Break-up songs sung from the perspective of the one leaving, like Nesmith’s “Roll With the Flow” can be of use to the broken. (In this case, perhaps through contrarian, pissed-off empowerment.) It is almost as if the sound of country — here stripped close to absolute simplest: acoustic guitar, pedal steel, and voice — acts like a welcoming arm. Warmed in its embrace, country veritably promises that even if this singer doesn’t address your problem with this song, it will most assuredly come around sooner than later. That faith hums warmly through the genre, like the anticipatory minutes after one has fed money into a crowded bar’s jukebox but before the sound in his head has made itself manifest in a room full of strangers.
“Honey in the Rock” – Blind Mamie Forehand (download) (buy)
from Goodbye Babylon (1927/2003)
(file expires May 8th)
Burkhard Bilger’s recent New Yorker piece, “The Last Verse,” is excellent — the type of typically sprawling think-piece/profile that could end up in a future Da Capo Best Music Writing edition. But it also bummed me out. “Is there still any folk music out there?” the subhead asked. It’s an endlessly fascinating question, but — if you limit “folk” to its literal definition — the answer becomes equally limited.
For his own recordings, Rosenbaum laid down only a few ground rules. The musicians could come from anywhere and play almost anything: fiddles, guitars, washboards, or spoons; harmonicas, Jew’s harps, or accordions. (In one recording, a broomstick kept time; in another, a pick-axe.) But the songs had to be traditional, the music learned from relatives or local musicians. He wanted folksingers, as he puts it, not just singers of folk songs.
And, thus, another story about dudes driving the South around looking for old performers and older records. But folk music is more alive than that, pulsing from car stereos and ringtones in the centuries-old rhythms at the core of reggaeton, or in the magpie strategies of the bootleg/mash-up world. Even if hip-hop is the very definition of mass culture — see, for example, the ridiculous Jay-Z/Soulja Boy feud being played through the NBA — it still requires an intricate constellation of references to understand it, many of which can only be passed person to person. While there’s plenty that comes through media, there’s still plenty of slang that can trace back decades, if not more.
The answer to Bilger’s question is unquestionably, “yes.” A truly oral culture is no longer possible, but we have something else — a world where text is so plentiful it becomes both meaningless and ephemeral. How does one collect it?
“Air” – Greg Davis (download) (buy)
from Curling Pond Woods (2003)
(file expires May 5th)
Greg Davis’s cover of the Incredible String Band’s “Air” has me from the first keyboard tone, which simultaneously seems like it should be some kind of thrift store organ, but is too warm and rich to be so. Soon enough, though, come harmonies and a strum that lands somewhere between Western swing and uke-driven exotica. The verses are mostly mood — way more so than the original version — something more forceful than the wordless mmmming and just enough to gently nudge the tune along. But they’re beautiful, too. After a fairly New Agey beginning (“breathing, all creatures are”) it drops down to ominous folk mystery: “you kissed my blood, and the blood kissed me.” “Air” is a sunset in unfamiliar colors.
“Agnes B Musique” – Sonic Youth (download) (buy)
from SYR7: J’Accuse Ted Hughes (2008)
(file expires April 30th)
One testament to the productivity of Sonic Youth is the insane and amazing bootleg site Kill Yr Idols, which posts at least one album/cassette/7-inch by Sonic Youth or its members pretty much every day. Totally illegal, fersure, but an exception should be made for the nobility of the cause. (“Downloading keeps the links alive: please link this site on blogs, forums,” they proudly proclaim.) The territories keep growing. The newest ephemera, an entry in the venerable and psychedelic SYR series, and released on vinyl only earlier this week, isn’t up yet, but it surely will be soon.
In some ways, both jams on SYR7 — “J’Accuse Ted Hughes” (from All Tomorrow’s Parties in April 2001) (2000, according to KYI) and “Agnes B Musique” (from the band’s Murray Street studio in 2001) — could be drawn from almost anywhere in the musicians’ vast collective/solo/side-project output. In theory. In practice, it’s the Jim O’Rourke-era lineup, demonstrating why they’re Sonic Youth. On “Agnes B Musique,” Steve Shelley hangs quietly behind an improv begins genially, the sheets of glittering noise coming later, drones within pulses within drones. Good with the lights off and the headphones on.
“Small Shape” – Akron/Family (download)
recorded live at Tonic, NYC, 15 July 2005
from Yeti #5
“They Will Appear, Behold” – Akron/Family (download)
recorded live at KVRX, Austin, TX, 12 March 2008
Two new Akron/Family tracks. The first, “Small Shape,” comes from a live set at Tonic in July 2005, and was recently included on the disc accompanying Yeti #5. From the bottomless catalogue of the band’s two-guitar era, it begins with a lush double-strum, a xylophone doubling the bassline as Seth Olinsky’s vocal begins. The structure is slow, if such a thing could be said of a structure, its movement beginning when the xylophone changes allegiance and begins to double a vibrating guitar as harmonies pile up and, eventually, Dana Janssen begins a marital beat. (Can’t wait ’til the issue gets to the top of the reading queue. It looks amazing, and the rest of the disc definitely is: Sublime Frequencies outtakes, excerpts from Jeff Mangum’s record collection, deep cuts from editor Mike McGonigal, etc.)
The second, “They Will Appear, Behold,” is more recent, from a South by Southwest radio session by (I’m pretty sure) just the core trio. With Afro-pop inspired guitar, and an equally slow-structured pulse, it even sounds a little like The Slip at first. Though the lyrics are a bit, shall we say, crunchy (even before they tap Sioux holy man Black Elk for the title refrain), they are hardly didactic, and unfurl over a patient, potent melody/chant.
“Here No More” – The Breeders (download) (buy)
from Mountain Battles (2008)
(file expires April 25th)
I’m going to say it anyway, because it’s right under our noses and it might get missed: Kim and Kelley Deal’s harmonies are what make the Breeders so lovely, even in 2008. There are (possibly apocryphal?) stories about the twins singing country duets for truckers in their native Dayton that I remember reading in Circus circa Last Splash. Until bootlegs surface, “Here No More,” from the new Mountain Battles, will suffice. The melody is decent, really just serving as a vehicle for their sweetly decaying singsongs to make something nice between them, pleasing genetic harmonics in full effect. Hardly radical, but it doesn’t need to be.
“Thinking For Now” – Mark David & the Nightly Lights feat. Don Helms (download)
(file expires April 18th)
That Mark David‘s “Thinking For Now” is an uncommonly decent contemporary country tune — vintage without sounding overtly nostalgic, with a great bridge — is kind of beside the point, though its escape of nostalgia is remarkable, given the ghost that powers it. More than anything, Hank Williams’ lonesomeness found emotional form in the swelling steel guitar of Don Helms who — holy Moses — is still alive and recording in 2008, playing his original 1949 double neck Gibson Console Grand with Mark David and company, an Ohio concern. Helms’ voice is as clean and pure now as 60 years ago, cutting through its surroundings with a dignified mourn. More than any lost Hank tracks or flown-in ProTools duets (or even trios) between three generations of singing Williams, these are the true adventures of Hank Williams’ still blue, still lonesome heart in the 21st century.
The additive process aptly represents the gradual process of the runner. If the initial Db that begins each measure symbolizes first base, then each added note tracks the runner’s progress toward third. The skipped additions (moving directly from five to seven and from seven to eleven notes) seem to depict the runner’s increased speed as he builds up momentum heading for third. Finally, the complete pattern is repeated once more, running as fast as he can, before the whole process is reversed beginning with an extra two measures of the final undecatuplet, as the runner returns to first base in the same way that he traveled in the first place — rapidly at first, then easing up as the base is reached.
At first glance the symbolism of the baserunner, speeding up as he rounds the bases and then slowing down as he returns, seems to be lost in this palindromic reversal, since a runner presumably might easily trot back to first base after a foul ball. However, the rule that determined how quickly one must return to the base after a foul ball changed over the years. The rules of 1883 state that “a baserunner who fails to return to his base at a run following a foul ball is liable to be put out by being touched by the ball while off his base.”
“Mountains of the Moon” – The Grateful Dead (download)
from Aoxomoxoa original mix (1969)
High on the list of Dead tunes likely to convert freak-folkers is Aoxomoxoa‘s “Mountains of the Moon.” With Tom Constanten’s swirling harpsichord and Robert Hunter’s oblique, mythical lyrics, it’s a bauble that didn’t sustain in the Dead’s repertoire, whose most tender songs required (for better or worse) a certain machismo to survive the ‘heads. While “Mountains” served as a perfect prelude to at least 11 “Dark Stars” in 1969, its modal (1) melody couldn’t even last long enough for the band’s abundant acoustic sets the following year. Drag.
I love how Hunter’s lyrics get down with the folk mythos — Tom Banjo, Electra, etc. — but also find a moment of psychedelic focus, the hallucinations parting for a brief second like ascending angels: “hey, the city in the rain.”
It is perhaps the aforementioned angels who hummm and ooooh behind the original 1969 version on Aoxomoxoa, removed by Jerry Garcia himself in a 1971 remix. On first listen, I wished there were more of them, but I think they’re in just the right proportion to last the duration of the track’s four minutes without grating. Like the Blood on the Tracks demo acetate, the Aoxomoxoa mix comes bundled with the vinyl warmth of its source. (Big ups to SeaOfSound for the music.)
“Side A” – Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley, and Jim O’Rourke (download)
from Melbourne Direct (2004)
(file expires March 31st)
Not quite part of the SYR series, and not quite even Sonic Youth (Kim Gordon is missing), the Melbourne Direct double-LP credited to Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley, and Jim O’Rourke contains some of the most straight-up Dark Starry jams in the Sonics’ catalogue. Four to be exact, each exactly one album side — not coincidental given that the Sonic dudes cut direct to vinyl. Shelley lays out for most of Side A (or is drumming the supreme sublime), and everybody else is deep beneath the Diamond Sea from the first note.
“Osorezan” (excerpt) – Geinoh Yamashirogumi (download)
from Osorezan/Do No Kenbai (1976)
(file expires March 29th)
Searching for Jim O’Rourke’s Osorezan (soon to be “re”-released by Drag City, even though it was only issued in 2006 and only in Japan), I came across Osorezan by Geinoh Yamashirogumi. Labeled “1970s Japanese psych” or something, and translated as “ghost mountain,” I naturally stole it. The band, according to Wikipedia, “[consisted] of hundreds of people from all walks of life: journalists, doctors, engineers, students, businessmen,” which is tantalizing, but completely confusing. Likewise, the page’s description of the band’s “faithful re-creations of folk music from around the world” bears little or no resemblance to the music itself. At least as I hear it.
I downloaded it as two complete album sides, so I’m not sure where the song breaks are supposed to go, but these seven-and-a-half minutes slice out easily: a bassline, a building guitar solo, and chanting. The choir in the first minute portends something, and it’s not the fairly run-of-the-mill soloing that follows. Clearly, there is something lurking. As such, I like the way all the other elements slide back in, including — eventually — that choir. It’s these last two minute of chaos (give or take the cutsey/jambandy bassline) that are the payoff: a musical place unworldly just as much on its own terms as it is for the fact that it’s ’70s Japanese psych.
“A Sign of the Times” – Petula Clark (download) (buy)
b/w “Time For Love” (1966)
(file expires March 3rd)
Like the Beverly Hills Teens theme, Petula Clark’s “A Sign of the Times” is a random melody that got stuck in my head as an adolescent, and waited like a latent dopamine trigger for literally decades until I remembered the song and downloaded it. My introduction to it was a cheesy Banner Day montage in the same Amazin’ Era Mets video that yielded Dick McCormick’s “79 Men on Third,” and which was also my first exposure to “Changes” by David Bowie, whose chorus illustrated several dramatic trades in Mets’ history (like the Midnight Massacre that sent Tom Seaver to the Reds in 1977). Somebody could sample the big horn fanfare, but unlike the Chi-Lites’ “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So),” which yielded “Crazy In Love,” I don’t spend the whole song waiting for the part to return. It serves its function, introducing the “Sesame Street”-like progression and getting to Clark’s sweet, lovely vocal. I’m totally in love with the “maybe my lucky star” chorus, which wasn’t included in the video, and could be the basis for a perfectly serviceable tune itself.
“Eighth of January” – The Kentucky Colonels with Scott Stoneman (download) (buy)
(file expires February 27th)
Thanks to Rev for turning me onto this recording of Scott Stoneman and the Kentucky Colonels performing “Eighth of January” at the Ash Grove in Los Angeles in 1965. In the audience that night was Jerry Garcia.
I get my improvisational approach from Scotty Stoneman, the fiddle player. [He's] the guy who first set me on fire — where I just stood there and I don’t remember breathing. He was just an incredible fiddler. He was a total alcoholic wreck by the time I heard him, in his early thirties, playing with the Kentucky Colonels… They did a medium-tempo fiddle tune like ‘Eighth of January’ and it’s going along, and pretty soon Scotty starts taking these longer and longer phrases — ten bars, fourteen bars, seventeen bars — and the guys in the band are just watching him! They’re barely playing — going ding, ding, ding — while he’s burning. The place was transfixed. They played this tune for like twenty minutes, which is unheard of in bluegrass. I’d never heard anything like it. I asked him later, ‘How do you do that?’ and he said, ‘Man, I just play lonesome.’ (Garcia, c. 1985, via Blair Jackson’s Garcia: An American Life)
By the time the music made it to tape — which is to say, in reality — it was five and a third minutes, proving Garcia’s memory to be about as blown as any Deadhead’s. He’s not wrong either, though. (See also “Cleo’s Back” for the further secret history of the Grateful Dead.)
For fear of jinxing anything, I resisted the urge to post this on Super Tuesday Eve, but I like the implications of this Obama reggaetón tune. For starters, credited to the organization Amigos De Obama, it’s instantly historical novelty, sung to the absolute rhythm of its time. More, it highlights another, less devious, musical aspect of the Illinois Senator: his name.
Last week, Mom wondered if Obama would be the first President whose name ended in a vowel. He wouldn’t be (see: Fillmore, Monroe, Pierce, Coolidge), but her point about Presidential homogeneity is well taken. There certainly haven’t been any men of Kenyan descent in the Oval Office, and consequently none whose names roll from the tongue quite like Obama’s. Hence, the genuinely new music. (Yeah, it came out last June, but who’s counting? See http://guanabee.com/2007/06/amigos-de-obama-grind-to-catch.php">translation.)
And, while we’re on the topic: There’s something reassuring but also a bit cognitively dissonant about a silk-screened Obama “The Time is Now” poster in the front window of a tarot card reader.
“79 Men on Third for the Mets” – Dick McCormack (download)
from An Amazin’ Era video
(file expires February 17th)
The baseball stories are increasing with the imminent reporting of pitchers and catchers to spring training this week. Today brings us a Times profile in which we discover that third baseman David Wright actually refers to himself as “D-Wright.” Uh, right on?
Relatedly, I spent some late night hours over the weekend revisiting An Amazin’ Era, the delightfully cheesy Mets retrospective produced just before the 1986 season. Included therein is the above song, “79 Men on Third for the Mets,” folksinger Dick McCormack’s novelty tribute to the nearly 80 players who’d covered the corner for the Mets between 1962 and 1985. (Though the video doesn’t include the ’86 season, McCormack manages to fit in the newly acquired Tim Teufel, who played one game at third later that year.) It’s super toe tappin’.
Anybody got info on this Dick McCormack dude? The infranet reveals the existence of a “We Didn’t Start the Fire”-style number he wrote summing up the 1987 season, though it looks like some lawyers nastygrammed it. Oh, bother.
“Diamond Day” – Vashti Bunyan (download) (buy)
from Just Another Diamond Day (1970)
“Spit on a Stranger” – Pavement (download) (buy)
from Terror Twilight (1999)
Vashti Bunyan, at least pre-rediscovery, seems exactly the type of obscurantist reference point tailor made for Stephen Malkmus. Whether or not he had her 1970 single “Diamond Day” anywhere near his bedheaded skull when he wrote “Spit on a Stranger,” the lead cut from 1999′s Terror Twilight, I’ve got no idea. Either way, given the autumn-burnt originality of “Stranger,” it’s not to accuse the Pavement leader of anything, except maybe getting a melody stuck in his head, and repurposing it for contemporary circulation.
“Coloris” – Cornelius (download)
from Coloris OST (unreleased) (2006)
“Mixed Bizness (Cornelius remix)” – Beck (download)
from Mixed Bizness EP (2000)
“Music (Japanese version)” – Petra Haden (download) (buy)
from Gum EP (2008)
(files expire January 28th)
Super-dooper-like-whoa psyched for the Cornelius gig at Webster Hall next Saturday. And you should be, too. As such, here’s some arcana from the shibuya-kei bitmaster.
First up is part of his contribution to the soundtrack to the Gameboy Advance game Coloris (thanks to Dessgeega for the YouTube vid). I’d love to hear more of this stuff! I like the idea of writing loops and algorithms and standalone pieces of music for video games as a formal challenge to create music that is economical, simple, and satisfying.
Cornelius’s take on Beck’s “Mixed Bizness” is probably my single favorite remix of all time, let alone in the deep catalogues of both Hansen and Oyamada. If there were ever any doubts about one being the Oriental/Occidental counterpart to the other, the mind-blowing singularity of this cut should blow them like so many oblique paper creatures.
My major problem was last year’s Sensuous was its seeming abandonment of the acoustic side of the electro-acoustic equation. On the new Gum EP, vocal acrobat Petra Haden’s take on “Music,” Sensuous‘s penultimate cut, re-humanizes the hyper-organized bleeps. (Also included is Haden’s English language version of the same.)
File No Kids’ “Four Freshmen Locked Out as the Sun Goes Down” with Grizzly Bear and Asobi Seksu’s recent Phil Spector tributes, Dr. Dog’s “California,” and any number of other indie odes to pre-Beatles pop. It almost doesn’t matter what the Vancouver trio are singing about. In fact, I’m not even sure if I know myself, other than vague hints of a break-up, framed in the sonic guise of Brian Wilson’s vocal heroes. The title and the arrangement — both novelties on Come Into My House — are all they need to sell me on the song, which powers through on sheer vibe, the type of thing I’m happy to listen to just for the sound of it until it means something more.
I love this Mollusk outtake before Gener even starts to sing, the endlessly airy keyboard melody that’s warm ‘n’ synthy all at once. When the vocals come in, the genre is implicit immediately: the wizened rock tune filled with maximum meaningless cliché. “Take it easy, walk with a light step, baby,” Gener sings. But without breaking voice, the song turns weird. “Walk amongst the life forms in your day,” is one piece of advice. “Swim around ’til the fish float out of the socket in your skull,” is another. While it might sound like parody, by blowing the song into the psychedelic nether-regions, Ween imbue the clichés with their original power: they’ve been through the weirdness, come out the other side, and now have something to offer. “Marinate a good piece of beef, understand the mind of belief” reminds me of the Americana of “Roses Are Free.”
“Texas” – Jeffrey Lewis with Jack Lewis and Anders Griffin (download) (buy)
from It’s the One’s Who’ve Cracked That the Light Shines Through (2003)
“The Murder Mystery” (Velvet Underground) – Jeffrey and Jack Lewis (download)
recorded 2002 July 31 Peel Session
“Don’t Be Upset” – Jeffrey and Jack Lewis (download) (buy)
from City and Eastern Songs (2005)
(files expire January 18th)
Besides the press release for the forthcoming Mountain Goats album, which he illustrated, I have never seen any of Jeffrey Lewis’s comics. Nonetheless, they seem such a vivid way to understand his music. On “Texas,” speech balloon call-and-response (“How’s the pizza?” “Fucking awful!”) spirals methodically into imagistic madness, ala the Velvet Underground’s “Murder Mystery” (covered by Lewis on a Peel session in 2002), or a one-sheet comic in an alt-weekly. Elsewhere, it comes through in alternatingly hilarious and narcissistic autobiography — at it’s best, both simultaneously, as on “Don’t Be Upset” — where Lewis appears, like a self-illustrated post-hippie narrator, ala Kim Deitch’s Alias the Cat. Or maybe it’s just the power of suggestion. Just knowing that Lewis is a visual artist almost makes one forget the anti-folk cuteness that marbles his urban chronicles. Whatever it is, it’s a voice, and one that’s been absurdly prolific over the past few years, with a lot to discover. (And don’t neglect his legit cartoon classic, “Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror.”)
“Box of Rain” – The Grateful Dead (download) (buy)
from American Beauty (1970)
The Lorimer/Metropolitan station connects the L train to the G train, or Williamsburg to Park Slope. It is, needless to say, a Brooklynite hub. After discovering Grateful Dead graffiti there last year, I had another late night Dead encounter, this time with a drunk hipster.
At around 2 in the morning, over Thanksgiving weekend, he wandered onto the Brooklyn-bound side, carrying a mostly empty bottle of wine, and singing at the top of his lungs. His bellows slapped off the tile, making the lyrics that much more indistinguishable as he sang along with his iPod. I slipped off my headphones, curious to hear what he was singing: “Box of Rain.” Needless to say, I started singing along.
Dude had owned American Beauty in high school but was recently inspired to dust it off thanks to the concluding episode of Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks, in which Lindsay Weir discovers the Dead and skips out on a summertime academic summit to head off on Dead tour.
“Mr. Tambourine Man” – Bob Dylan (download)
recorded 30 July 1999, Jones Beach Amphitheater, Wantagh, NY (download whole show)
(file expires December 24th)
(And… reentry complete.) A friend of mine once negatively characterized Bob Dylan’s live vocals as “UPdownUPdownUPdown.” And not inaccurately. But, Dylan’s too ornery to alternate so blandly (except when he is). It’s like Mike Gordon said — speaking of criticisms that the Grateful Dead just ran up and down scales together — you have to know when to go down and when to go up. Given Dylan’s gnarled voice — part affected, part acquired — even the up/downs sometimes get blurred, which is why I’m so frabjously psyched about this summer ’99 soundboard, in which Dylan cuts through completely.
In Chronicles, Dylan spins a probably bullshit yarn to describe his improvised vocal melodies, taught to him by Lonnie Johnson, involving “an odd- instead of an even-numbered system” and “a highly controlled system of playing [that] relates to the notes of a scale, how they combine numerically, how they form melodies out of triplets and are axiomatic to the rhythm and the chord changes.” Which is where the UPdownUPdown comes from. And the fastSLOWfastSLOW, and all the layered combinations.
At its best, though, it all congeals into melody, as it did during shows I saw in 1999 and 2000, when Dylan’s Larry Campbell-dominated band blew both Paul Simon and Phil Lesh’s genial revues off the summer shed stages. This “Mr. Tambourine Man” resists singalongs and stumbles, almost surprised at itself, around a new melody, with all the revelation that entails. Dylan never quite sings it directly — which is sort of the point, like an improvisation unresolved — but still delivers appropriate drama. This is what I love about live Dylan. It can be elusive, and I’m glad I finally have a solid example I can point to. If you don’t like it, well, there it is.
So, who’s got the awesome Never Ending Tour soundboards? Sendspace that shit up. (Thx to Ace Cowboy for digging this one up.)
“I Wanna Be Your Partner” – Bob Dylan (download)
from Dimestore Medicine bootleg, c. 1966
“Fourth Time Around” – Yo La Tengo (download) (buy)
from I’m Not There OST
(files expire December 21st)
(Re-entry continues…) Yo La Tengo’s two Bob Dylan covers on the soundtrack to Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There — “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Fourth Time Around” — constitute a tiny sub-category in Dylan’s work: response songs to the Beatles. The former lifts its chorus from Lennon/McCartney so-cast-off-they-let-Ringo-sing “I Wanna Be Your Man” (supplanting Dylan’s earlier draft, the proto-PC “I Wanna Be Your Partner”). “Fourth Time Around,” meanwhile, is Dylan’s rewrite of “Norwegian Wood,” with a similar plot (cheekily oblique conversation about an affair) set to a similar melody in a similar mood. Dylan’s version is way more sly, of course, with its wry put-downs (“your words are not clear, you better spit out your gum”) and the snotty/Britty crutch/crotch double entendre at its end (“I didn’t ask for your crutch, now don’t ask for mine”). Intentional choice on YLT’s part to mirror Haynes’ meta-textual orgy? Only the nose knows for sure. The nose being Ringo.
“I’ll Keep It With Mine” – Yo La Tengo (download)
recorded 30 December 2005, Maxwell’s, Hoboken, NJ
(file expires December 20th)
Sleep. Soon. In the meantime, to aid in the ever-so-gradual reentry, the Georgia-sung “I’ll Keep It With Mine” from the stunning sleeper show the night before New Year’s, 2005. Purdy Nico arrangement (superior to Dylan’s clunkier demo, oddly), aided by Rolling Thunder/sessionman stringdude David Mansfield. Sleep. Now. But first, maybe headphones. (Thx to Neil & Brandon for the tunes.)
“Walcott” – Vampire Weekend (download)
from Blue CD-R
(file expires December 10th)
Gak, there are so many reasons why I wanna hate Vampire Weekend. Despite my love for Graceland and Remain in Light, the idea of nostalgia for ’80s world-pop sung seems kinda repellant, let alone revived by a buncha Ivy Leaguers singing about being Ivy Leaguers. Plus, they seem a perfect embodiment of the indie archipelago’s shift towards what once would’ve been considered totally goddamn bland/lite. There are times when Vampire Weekend might as well be the Gin Blossoms. Geeze, fuck me in the beard.
At first, “Walcott” was a perfect summary of all that. I mean, how entitled do you have to be to sing about being bored at Cape Cod?
But it’s such a winning hook — “outta Cape Cod, outta Cape Cod tonight” — that it becomes the sonic equivalent of a recklessly charming preppy, all windswept hair and big smile and kinda creepily Aryan. Really, though, bling is in, and there’s a certain cross-cultural egalitarianism in the concept. For that, Vampire Weekend communicate it in a different way than their hip-hop equivalents. For them, instead of strife and drugs and violence and struggle, it’s about safety and warmth. Fuzzy, even. Certainly, the channeling of the ’80s — childhood for the band’s presumed 20something listeners — doesn’t hurt. All that comes part and parcel with the songs, though, which linger, linger, linger.
“Julia” – The Beatles (sped up & slowed back down by Editor B) (download)
“Tomorrow Never Knows” – The Beatles (sped up & slowed back down by Lee R.) (download)
(files expire October 26th)
So, Steve McLaughlin compressed the entire Beatles’ catalogue into a single, one-hour mp3. Cute. But then some other dudes, Editor B and one “Lee R” (hmm), took out chunks and reconstituted them back to normal speed. The result is one of the most literally psychedelic remixes ever, a technological approximation of the tricks the acid-enhanced ear plays when listening to even the most familiar music. It’s gorgeous, like watching an image gradually decompose on a xerox machine. Or, more accurately, a xerox of a xerox of a xerox, or even the granular decay of Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting In A Room” or David Wilson’s “Stasis.” Thing is, though, while it’s a pretty academic experiment, there are Beatles melodies’ in the middle, rising out of the noise, already complete in most listeners’ minds.
The breaks in the middle of “Tomorrow Never Knows” are fantastic, the famous backwards guitar almost indistinguishable from John Lennon himself. On “Julia,” Lennon’s voice practically pixilates, but it is no less evocative of the subject’s seashell eyes and windy smile, though the beach might now be the silvery landscape glimpsed in William Gibson’s Neuromancer:
The city, if it was a city, was low and gray. At times it was obscured by banks of mist that came rolling in over the lapping surf. At one point he decided that it wasn’t a city at all, but some single building, perhaps a ruin; he had no way of judging its distance. The sand was the shade of tarnished silver that hadn’t gone entirely black. The beach was made of sand, the beach was very long, the sand was damp, the bottoms of his jeans were wet from the sand… He held himself and rocked, singing a song without words or tune.
“Get You Down” – Super Monster (download) (buy)
from Super Monster EP (2007)
(file expires October 24th)
Said it before, story but I was reminded tonight during the Industrial Park Records CMJ showcase at the Tank: steal global, buy local.
That is: download/appropriate/pilfer whatever music you need by any means necessary, so long as you support local musicians when you can by going to their gigs, buying their tour CDs, a tee-shirt, or whatever. The locality, a slippery term in this age, is whatever neighborhood/karass/clique/scene you choose to define.
“Smear” – Jonny Greenwood (download) (buy)
from The Jerwood Series, v. 2 (2006)
“Arpeggi” – Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke (download)
recorded 27 March 2005, Ether Festival, London
Skip through Jonny Greenwood’s “Popcorn Superhet Receiver” at random — dropping the cursor here or there — and it could be an orchestra, it could be an electro-acoustic collage. Perhaps it’s the anything-goes approach of Bodysong, perhaps it’s the lonely Ondes Martenots of “Smear,” perhaps it’s the fact that he’s a member of frickin’ Radiohead, but “Popcorn” seems like it could disintegrate to fuzz and bleeps and chiming Rhodes at any moment. Really, though, it’s just an orchestra, even if it blurs into sonic mirages.
The fact that Greenwood sustains it for 10 minutes before the ambient chords swell to Hitchcock thriller trills and explode into another world is impressive enough. Meanwhile, “Smear” — taken from a compilation of new music performed the London Sinfonietta — is a more unpredictable, though lacks the dramatic scope of “Popcorn,” which will receive its US premiere in January as part of the Wordless Music Series.
Are they right and proper formal compositions? Are they just a rock musician dabbling in archaic tropes? Are they boring string excursions? Do they matter except as a research prelude to (say) this version of Radiohead’s forthcoming “Arpeggi”? No answers here, of course. And though I’m excited to hear “Popcorn” performed live, I probably won’t listen to it as much as “Arpeggi” or In Rainbows.
As Dylan obscurities go, his one-off 1968 Woody Guthrie tribute gig with the Band (billed as the Crackers) at Carnegie Hall is pretty fantastic. There’s no reason for its rarity, given the fact that it is on an official release from a major label. Though it’s the Band behind him, not the amazing Nashville session cats who populated the then-new John Wesley Harding, the sound still recalls a stately and tantalizing outgrowth of that just-released album, coupled with all the grace found during the long, lazy sessions in the Big Pink basement, concluded a few months earlier. “Dear Mrs. Roosevelt,” especially, sounds drawn from the same landscape as the Biblical parables of JWH. The amphetamine urgency of the thin, wild mercury period is mellowed, not yet shot through with the anti-hope reflected through his mirrored sunglasses that marked his next tour, still six years away. (Thanks to Dr. Mooney for posting.)
“Summer Turns To High” – R.E.M. (download) (buy)
from Reveal (2001)
released by Warner Brothers
“Summer Turns To High” has lingered on a few summer playlists, and I’ve been meaning to post about it for a while. The season being what it is, though, I figure I better hop to it.
In his most excellent contribution regarding Stereolab’s Transient Random Noise Bursts With Announcements to the recent Marooned anthology, Douglas Wolk made a sadly unattributed reference to an academic study that somehow proved that one hears the most meaningful music of his life at the age of 22-and-a-half. While that makes perfect sense for a discovery of Neutral Milk Hotel (as occurred roughly that month for me), it probably also goes a long way in explaining my undying attraction to R.E.M.’s generally reviled Reveal (which I’ve posted about before).
So many of the song’s sins are circumstantial, like the sterile folktronica washes, which seems a totally understandable type of cutting edge to adopt for guys of R.E.M.’s age and could just as easily be reimagined with a Glenn Kotche-like narrative drumbeat (hinted at, for example, beneath the line “hopes and dragonflies”). Beyond that, it’s R.E.M.: Michael Stipe’s obtuse transformations, and — especially — that twangy Peter Buck guitar fill at the end of the chorus. What makes it compelling is that there is a song in there, like a shape in the shifting heat. What makes it divisive is how arbitrary the production is. It could be set in front any of those backdrops. It’s beautiful, but — for that — feels spineless, musically speaking, only able to be appreciated properly by a 22-and-a-half year old wanting an R.E.M. album of his own.
“Summer Turns To High” hung around in morningtime with me for a good chunk of late summer, and was quite useful, nestled between the Beach Boys and John Fahey. I love the way the drums come in, the baroque arrangement under the verses, the subliminal high percussion part that comes in. And, in the fall, it will linger, too, as if it’d absorbed extra warmth to last as the fall arrives.
“End of an Era” – Yo La Tengo (download)
from Old Joy OST (2006)
(file expires September 23rd)
I’m not sure what the proper name of this tune is, but it’s one of a few extended Yo La Tengo instrumentals in Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy. The voice at the top is Bonnie Prince Palace himself, Will Oldham, playing the role of Kurt with perfectly burnt detachment. With little overt drama, just submerged tensions rippling the surface, the picture plays like a short story — no surprise, given that it was based on one by Jonathan Raymond. Like this YLT’s contributions to the score, Old Joy is an extended mood piece, the whole reflected patiently in each of its parts. Absolutely worth seeing.
“Sometimes A Pony Gets Depressed” – Silver Jews (download) (buy)
from Tanglewood Numbers (2005)
released by Drag City
(file expires August 21st)
“That guy’s a better songwriter than Bob Dylan,” my friend, an aggressive and renowned contrarian, once said of the Silver Jews’ David Berman. “I bet you didn’t know that, did you?”
“No,” I admitted. “I didn’t.” And, even having been informed, I’m still not sure if I do. Nonetheless, it’s something to consider. The argument is not to take anything away from Dylan, or — for that matter — to even say that Berman is the greatest songwriter of his generation. If it is not about standing on the shoulders of giants and all that (which it might be), then it is at least about how pop audiences have evolved over the years and what they are prepared to accept in a song.
Berman might be a more interesting formal songwriter than Dylan, but an artist is only as exciting as the limits he’s transcending. Again, not to take anything away from Berman, but it’s all about context. “Sometimes A Pony Get Depressed” is in no ways a revolutionary song. But it’s great, and I can see what my friend was getting at: Berman is simply a more modern songwriter, unencumbered by the properties of music grounded in folk and blues.
An argument about David Berman being a better songwriter than Bob Dylan is stupid if one expects to come up with a victor. If one just wants it to use it as a crowbar into a discussion of songwriters’ trickbags then I’ll bite: David Berman is a better songwriter than Bob Dylan.
“Piggy in the Middle” – The Rutles (download) (buy)
from The Rutles (1978)
released by Rhino
One should never feel guilty about the music he enjoys, but I’ve been feeling mildly guilty at how much happiness the Rutles have given me of late. I’ve had the desperate urge for songs: stuff that I can sing in the shower, or play quietly on guitar when my roommates are asleep. I sometimes go through minor life crises where I think I’ll never find one of those again. Maybe on account of that, and because the Rutles are a literally formulaic reimagining of the Beatles (who will probably always remains the most irreducible source of aural pleasure for me), I’m just a pushover for the stuff. Who knows? (I also kinda dig that even when Neil Innes is trying to parody Paul, like on “Let’s Be Natural,” he still comes out sounding like John.)
“Piggy in the Middle” doesn’t approach “I am the Walrus” as a technical achievement, but it also doesn’t rely on anything but its songwriting wits for its momentum. It’s got lots of the stuff I love about certain tunes: random resonance with intimate inside jokes (“talk about a month of Sundays”), mysteriously pleasing phrasings (“toffee-nosed wet weekend,” with the emphasis on the “week”), and changes that can be strummed almost as a ballad (which is more than one can say for “I am the Walrus” itself). It’s funny, too. I mean, “do a poo-poo” instead of “goo goo gajoob,” but even that seems somehow Lennonesque.
“Ouch!” – The Rutles (download) (buy)
from The Rutles (1978)
released by Rhino
(file expires July 16th)
Ostensibly parody, Bonzo Dog Band leader Neil Innes’ songs for the Rutles are more like what the Beatles themselves might’ve written under slightly different circumstances. Sure, repurposing “Help!” into “Ouch!” is silly, especially with those extra-long verse phrasings, but the sentiment is just as sincere. Why should “Ouch, don’t desert me, ouch, please don’t hurt me!” be any less emotional or effective than “Help, I need somebody, help, not just anybody”? It’s just that John Lennon chose the latter. Innes’s version, really, is just as naked and direct. That’s not to say that Innes is a better songwriter than Lennon, but the whole original soundtrack is great stuff. Like top grade Nuggets faux-fabs, Innes nails the Lennonesque wistfulness repeatedly. In fact, I might even prefer Innes’ “I know you know what you know/But you should know by now that you’re not me” to Lennon’s “I am he as you are me as you are she and we are all together.”
“Arrival in Mas” – recorded by David Baker (download) (buy)
from Pitamaha: Music From Bali (2000)
released by Amulet
(file expires July 4th)
There’s lots of gamelan music to be had besides Amulet’s Pitamaha: Music from Bali, and I’ve had some of it, but David Baker’s compilation of field recordings was my first exposure. “A thousand toy pianos twinkling madly,” is how I described it before I knew anything about the genre, about how each “instrument” is actually an individually tuned set of sub-instruments. And, to be honest, I still don’t know much about it, give or take a few shadow puppet traditions. It is not that the rhythms sound foreign to me. They sound as instantly natural as ever, as does the tone. They sound like another dimension, like the alternating consciousnesses of Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World, a place I’ve been all along.
“Sad and Lonesome” – RANA (download) (buy) [live versions only on iTunes]
from Here in the USA (2002)
released by Bonesaw
(file expires July 2nd)
Man, after five years (!), RANA’s “Sad and Lonesome” is still so perfectly languid. Though they sometimes played at being an indie band, the New Jersey quartet never quite mastered the hipster, er, edge. But when they played to their strengths — chemistry, mainly, and berserker lead guitar — they sounded fantastic. Though “Sad and Lonesome” references both blues (a pair of harmonica solos) and country (the title, and a twangy solo from guitarist Scott Metzger), the song is decidedly neither of those. But it’s definitely sad, and it’s definitely lonesome. A lot of the mood comes from songwriter Matt Durant’s Rhodes, a naturally sleepy instrument that simulates warm, nocturnal air. On paper, the lyrics are an ambiguous jumble — Durant claims, “It’s such a nice night to be married” before he declares that he’s gonna “find [him]self a bride” — but it’s no matter and (in practice) makes exactly enough sense as it needs to.
“Goodnight Irene” – Little Richard (download) (buy) (1951ish)
(file expires June 28th)
There is nothing ethereal about Little Richard’s Ray Charles-like take of “Goodnight Irene” — at least, not like the Leadbelly origination, or even the white bread version Pete Seeger & the Weavers rode to #1 in the summer of 1950. But it is remarkable nonetheless, mostly because of a drummer I can’t identify. In his hands, it doesn’t matter that the song is a murder ballad. The melody is there alright, but it is almost as if it only exists to give an arc to the utterly liquid groove. It sounds like there’s a conga player, too, but the meat of it is in the snare shuffle beneath Richard’s vocal, which dives in and out of the rhythm guitar. Like Glenn Kotche’s parts in Wilco’s “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” the drummer remains in freefall, as if he is always about to start the song’s real drum part. It never arrives, and the singer never quite says goodnight proper.
“I Wish It Would Rain” – The Cougars (download) (buy)
from Jamaica to Toronto, 1966-1974 compilation
released by Light in the Attic
(file expires June 20th)
Apparently, this is a Temptations cover, though I only know the Cougars’ version from the Jamaica to Toronto, 1966-1974 soul/reggae compilation. The vibe amazes me every time, which simultaneously nails the heartache of the lyrics (“raindrops will hide my teardrops, and no one will ever know”) and the feeling of swampy, unbearable humidity. Part of that is in the particular crackle of the recording, but a good deal of it is the arrangement: the alternating notes between the guitar and the heartbeat kickdrum, the atmospheric organ. Of course, it has a hook, which reminds me of Hendrix’s “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” (a song I haven’t heard in probably 13 years, when I learned a mongrelized version for a summer camp band, so maybe I’m totally misguided). But it is the conflation of weather and emotion that does it. Not that it’s gotten too humid yet this summer, but I’ve been feeling “I Wish It Would Rain” lately, wanting to watch sheets of flamboyant storms come crashing across the basketball court outside.
“Mountains of the Moon” – the Grateful Dead (download) (buy)
recorded 1 March 1969, Fillmore West, San Francisco
(file expires June 6th)
As I’ve been saying all along, the Dead are hip and getting hipper. With the publication of The Fader‘s Jerry Garcia issue (download it fer free!), the circle is complete. It’s official: Jerry’s cool again. And it’s about fucking time.
It is interesting to see Garcia liberated from the thin, crammed pages of Relix and splashed gorgeously across the thick glossy sheets and high modern layouts of The Fader. The editors present a very specific version of Garcia that is far from the genial, bearded fat dude he was for his last 15 years, and who is often still celebrated by the jamband scene. Titled “Jerry Garcia: American Beauty,” only two of the nine photos of Garcia (including full-sized front & back cover shots) feature the iconic beard. Instead, we get the doe-eyed beatific boy from San Francisco.
Arranged as an oral history/appreciation, the spread features quotes from the usual suspects (Bob Weir, Mountain Girl, David Grisman), but also pontificatin’ from various hipster musicians, including Devendra Banhart, Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, Craig Finn of the Hold Steady, duder from Animal Collective, and others. Though they missed a few good quotables (no Lee Ranaldo?), they all present alternative readings on how to listen to the Dead. Alternative to the Deadhead mainstream, that is.
What happens now that the Dead are seemingly back in the dialogue, I have no idea.
“Blue Bayou” – Roy Orbison (download) (buy)
from Mean Woman Blues 7-inch (1963)
released by Monument Records
(files expires June 5th)
Along with Depression-era standard “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” is a semi-secular utopia fantasia. It is a most pleasant subgenre, which also includes Bob Dylan’s “Beyond the Horizon” and countless others. Just as the opening shot of “Big Rock” is lit by “the jungle fires… burning” in a hobo shantytown, “Blue Bayou” begins under the spotlight of any ol’ C&W bar. “I’m so lonesome all the time,” Orbison croons over a plain kickdrum heartbeat before the cooing back-up singers, lazy harmonica, and an airy clavichord (?) transport the listener to a more pastoral scene, a place “where you sleep all day and the catfish play.” Who doesn’t like a good utopia now & again? It really works. Hope everyone got good and lost in their own blue bayous over the long weekend.
“Wave Backwards to Massachusetts” – Hallelujah the Hills (download) (buy)
from Collective Psychosis Begone (2007)
released by Misra
(file expires May 24th)
It was the song titles — “It’s All Been Downhill Since the Talkies Started To Sing,” “To All My Scientist Colleagues I Bid You Farewell” — that got me to listen to Hallelujah the Hills. Historical accuracies aside (the first talkie, Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer, sure sung) I’m glad I did, because the music is every bit as original. I love the first 30 seconds of “Wave Backwards to Massachusetts,” and like the rest a great deal. In some ways, it sounds like smart, vintage ’90s power pop as arranged by Neutral Milk Hotel, or some other ragged-but-right indie outfit. That is, pretty much every instrumental part here could be played by some combination of clean & dirty electric guitars, carefully layered. Instead, we get acoustic, trumpet, cello, and distorted vocal. It’s all oversaturated emotion, that particular trait of turn-of-the-century indie rock, and it’s really enjoyable. Besides having a trumpet player and a cellist (and who doesn’t these days?), Hallelujah the Hills don’t seem to have a particular gimmick. And that’s awesome. They’re just a really good band. I’m not sure if that really flies anymore, but maybe the existence of their Collective Psychosis Begone debut, out next month on Misra, is gimmick enough.
What with Trey Anastasio beginning his court-ordered dry-out, it seems a fine time to post a profile I wrote for RS.com last summer that got killed when RS instead ran an Austin Scaggs Q&A where Trey admitted to freebasing and, er, listening to Neutral Milk Hotel.
Also, “Empty House,” while not a terribly original sentiment, is one of the few cuts from last year’s Bar 17 that (I think) is unequivocally rather good, a solid Paul Simon-like ballad in a sea of acoustic tripe.
by Jesse Jarnow
Trey Anastasio could be having a nervous breakdown. Either that, or everything is just really funny. Anastasio laughs a lot.
The 42-year old ex-Phish guitarist laughs about the label he has just started, Rubber Jungle, which released his own Bar 17 in early October, and how he found the term on a website for hot air balloon enthusiasts. He laughs about touring with yet another version of his solo band, as he will for most of this autumn. He laughs about how the album’s two year creation was one of great catharsis, so much so that he’s not even sure if the songs are good or not.
And he laughs when asked about the decidedly dark tenor of the recording, which features titles like “Let Me Lie,” “What’s Done,” and — during one particularly uplifting stretch — “Empty House,” “Gloomy Sky,” and “Shadow.”
“Did you ever see Mighty Wind?” Anastasio asks. “When Mitch and Mickey break up, [Eugene Levy's Mitch] puts out those three albums?” While Bar 17 isn’t exactly Songs From A Dark Place or Cry For Help, the comparison isn’t unwarranted.
Begun during the disintegration of Phish in 2004, and temporarily shelved for the buoyant summer-pop of 2005′s Shine, Bar 17 is part expansive modern rock and part mid-life crisis. Elaborate big band breakdowns (“Cincinnati”), playful orchestral epics (“Goodbye Head”), and earnest horn-driven head-bobbers (“Mud City”) are liberally distributed, but so are a half-dozen acoustic numbers with exquisitely representative titles.
As the veteran Vermont jamband closed up shop, Anastasio fled Burlington, first for Atlanta, where he recorded Shine (working title nixed by then-label Columbia: A Circular Dive), and then Brooklyn, where he decamped at collaborator Bryce Goggin’s Trout Studios.
“Everything is good now,” says Anastasio, who is again spending time in Vermont, and recently toured with ex-Phishmate Mike Gordon. “But for a year there, it was hard to see clearly, not to mention the fact that I was such a wreck, to top it all off. Probably virtually everybody else I knew was waking up from six years of raging, or ten, all at the same time.”
“It was some shit to go through. It becomes cathartic to write this stuff, and there’s no value judgment about whether you’re writing good music or bad music. You’re writing just to clear your head.”
Following the souring of Anastasio’s relationship with Columbia — which included both Sony’s digital rights management debacle and Shine‘s poor reception by Phishheads — Anastasio spent his time on Bar 17. Anastasio clearly enjoys company with his catharsis. Either that, or he just hates being alone. “I really like collaborating,” he says. “It doesn’t make any difference if they’re a musician or not.”
In fact, one common trait of the scattered sessions that produced Bar 17 was their spontaneity. Even when jamming with world-class instrumentalists, the work was sudden, such as when Anastasio and Goggin roused Phish bassist Mike Gordon and indie-jam upstarts the Benevento Russo Duo late one Brooklyn night. For the man who piloted the country’s foremost jamband for two decades, this should come as no surprise.
Non-musicians included Anastasio’s 10-year old daughter Eliza (lyricist on “Goodbye Head”), and a sailboat captain named Kevin Hoffman (who was unaware Anastasio was demoing “A Case of Ice and Snow” into his cell phone at two in the morning in a St. Martin hotel room).
Anastasio says he is fond of the “fly-by-night” approach. And though Phish were known for their improvisation, Anastasio often describes how hard it was to maneuver them as their popularity grew. It is likely not coincidental that he describes the quick writing and recording of 2005′s Shine as “reactionary.”
“In 1996, we were already talking about how huge the scene had become, and the sense of entitlement around Phish. It’s virtually impossible not to get sucked up into it yourself. I’m completely guilty of that. It never stopped. It just kept going and going and going. Same old story.
Anastasio grows philosophical. “You’re surrounded by people who have an interest, everybody has an interest, and you lose yourself. Any kind of art is an attempt to point at something bigger than human beings. That’s what art is. It’s always a failure, it’s destined to fail, all art. But sometimes people can point a little bit, and sometimes people can get a glimpse of something beyond humans. But if you start celebrating the human who’s doing it, you have a problem, ’cause it’s not supposed to be about the person.”
He sighs again. “It just got so big, so many people, so much money, so many expectations, that we just lost our bearings.”
Part of Anastasio’s attempt to regain his footing has been a return to one of his first loves: composition. Though Phish started partially as an outlet for Anastasio’s fugues and mini-musicals, they rapidly evolved into their own beast. After releasing Seis de Mayo in 2004, a collection of string quartets, Dixieland fantasias, and bursting prog-rock, Anastasio met Don Hart while preparing for a Bonnaroo performance with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra.
“Before I started [Bar 17],” Anastasio remembers, “we started having lunch in New York City, and talking about ways we could integrate the string thing, into the rock music I do, improvised music. He did the arrangements on this album, and he did a great job.
“Sometimes, it sounds like the strings are riffing off the guitar solo, and sometimes it sounds like the guitar solo is riffing off the strings,” Anastasio says, describing the construction of “Shadow.” “We spent a lot of time talking about how to accomplish that. I like the sound and I like the emotion it can bring, but it can get real cheesy, if you’re not careful. Whoa, here comes the orchestra!” Anastasio laughs again.
“Dangerous Match #1″ – Scientist (download here)
from Scientist Wins the World Cup (1982)
released by Greensleeves (buy)
(file expires May 21st)
It never ceases to amaze me how many genres were invented almost entirely by accident:
Given the heavy demand for dub mixes from sound systems preparing for weekend dances, it is important to realize that these mixes were improvised on the spot, with a mimimum of pre-planning. Most dub mixing was done on Friday evenings, when producers deposited their master tapes with engineers, and sound system operators gathered at the studio so that each could be given a unique mix of a currently popular tune. (via Michael Veal’s Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Culture)
That and the dub tracks that we hippies mellow-out to were intended to be blasted at massive volume, with DJs toasting on top of them — still tripped-out and all, but in a very different way. Accidents will happen.
(I recommend this Scientist cut — and the whole album, for that matter — with a tall glass of chocolate milk. Speaking of which…)
“One True Vine” – Wilco (download here) Sky Blue Sky b-side (2007)
(Not sure what this is the b-side to, exactly. Just a free-floater, mayhaps.)
(file expires May 18th)
What lite! If “One True Vine” sounds Jesus-y, it’s because it is. “I am the true vine,” sez John 15:1. This stands to reason, of course, because the Walrus was Paul and Jeff Tweedy, ergo, must write more mid-tempo ballads. Goo goo gajoob. What’s funny — though maybe not ha-ha funny — is that the lyrics are fairly consistent with a born again confession. “You set me free from this mighty, mighty fire,” Tweedy sings. That doesn’t mean it’s not a love song, too, though it lacks the songwriter’s usual self-deprecating sadness. If it’s a sturdy image — and a good chunk of those Biblical ones are, nice poets them prophets — I’m not as sure about the song itself. It seems like straight testifyin’, but there’s nothing majestic about its delivery. No gospel organ solo/whatever. Perhaps it was slotted before “What Light” on the Sky Blue Sky and scratched because it was redemption overload.
“Huck’s Theme” – Bob Dylan (download here)
from Lucky You OST (2007)
released by Columbia Records (buy)
(file expires May 10th)
Here’s the newest Dylan tune, “Huck’s Theme,” from the soundtrack to Lucky You, a movie I don’t know anything about and — given Dylan’s previous soundtrack contributions — probably don’t need to. I’m not sure how I feel about the song. I like how it begins, with an arrangement that at least aims for the transcendent in the drone of steel guitar and organ even if the synthiness of the organ prevents it from getting there.
But then the drums kick in, and — my God — do I hate what they do here: the big, plodding beat doesn’t add anything, just sort of serves as a default tempo. But I do like the melody, and the lyrics seem like a perfectly serviceable catch-all of Dylan couplets, even if they don’t cohere into any one mood. Still, there’s some good stuff: “When I kiss your lips, the honey drips, I’m gonna have to put you down for a while,” is a pleasant, tender thought. And “all the merry little elves can go hang themselves, my faith is as cold as can be” plays like a scroogey Christmas version of Dylan’s late-period Southern gentleman on the skids.
I do wonder if Dylan’s gonna ever try reinventing himself again. Of course, that’s what makes the reinventions compelling: they all seem like the “real” Dylan at the time. Unfortunately, “Huck’s Theme” doesn’t seem quite weird enough to be worth considering all too seriously.
“Thou Shalt Always Kill” – Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip (download here)
from Thou Shalt Always Kill EP (2007)
released by Lex (buy)
Yeah, “Thou Shalt Always Kill” is novelty hip-hop, British, and dorky, but it also feels like an achievement, or at least something I’ve been listening to over and over and over. Sure, there are all kinds of clever pop references (“thou shalt not wish your girlfriend was a freak like me”), but there are just as many moments that just feel real (“thou shalt not fall in love so easily”). It’s one popped balloon after another, keeping it real as real, in the highly relatable dialect of music geekdom. I likes.
“Backwater” – Meat Puppets (download here)
from Too High To Die (1994)
released by London (buy)
(file expires April 23rd)
It’s amazing how genres disappear with time. A few weeks ago, I caught a bit of the Kids In the Hall movie, Brain Candy, at a friend’s house, which I hadn’t seen since college. I couldn’t tell if Death Lurks, the faux-band fronted by Bruce McCullough’s Grivo, was supposed to be parodying grunge or metal. Likewise, a bunch of months ago, I put the Meat Puppets’ Too High To Die on my iPod. Nearly every time a track came up on shuffle, I thought “what vintage jamband is this?”
“Backwater” — their only charting single, not coincidentally, #47 on the Hot 100 — is still the best. It’s filled with sweet double-tracked vocals and rubbery/crunchy guitars that might launch into a Jersey Shore cover band version of “St. Stephen” at any moment. Plus, the album is called Too High To Die. Of course, the Meat Puppets were always hippies, and Meat Puppets II is at least as psych-country as it is punk. But they worked on the proto-indie circuit, and got a huge boost when Kurt Cobain featured them on MTV Unplugged, so they got lumped in with the alt-rockers, and people heard them differently. Whatever you wanna call it, “Backwater” still makes me happy.
“Nega (Photograph Blues)” – Gilberto Gil (download here)
from Gilberto Gil (1971)
reissued by Water (buy)
(file expires April 20th)
For all the complexities offered to American listeners by tropicalia — musical, conceptual, cultural, and political — the pleasure of Gilberto Gil’s “Nega (Photograph Blues)” is its near-bubblegum bliss. It is simple, catchy, and doesn’t leave much to talk about. It’s just a song. Recorded during his early ’70s London exile, Gil’s second self-titled album was his first in English. Really, “Nega” is a silly love song, but Gil’s likeability is boundless, his voice open and joyous. Reissued by Water this spring, with a handful of live cuts, the album radiates good vibrations.
“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (a capella) – Bob Dylan (download here)
from Theme Time Radio Hour, ep. 04: Baseball
(file expires April 12th)
I think baseball’s slowness, exactly what most people seem to hate about the game, is exactly what I love about it: being able to watch characters develop slowly, over (if we’re lucky) eight months, both in action and in repose, in micro (at bat by at bat) and macro (the story arc of an entire career), and having plenty of time between pitches to boggle about it all.
Of course, whenever I try to boil down why I love baseball and not other sports, it’s all sort of arbitrary — which isn’t to say unimportant, just more akin to a religion one is born into, and accepted as meaningful many moons ago. Except for the fact that baseball begins with the spring, and ends as the leaves die. Anyway, it’s April, and the Mets are 3-and-0, so here’s Bob Dylan singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” from the fourth episode of his Theme Time Radio Hour.
Lester Bangs called “Flying” “McCartney’s first venture into FM musak.” While there’s a ring of truth to that, even bad genres occasionally start off with good intentions (see: the appropriation of Brian Eno’s ambient explorations into New Age). Me? I dig the vibe. A few years back, my dear comrade Spacefuzz dubbed “Flying” into “Destination Imagination” with his theramin and a solid collection of bleeps, and floated outwards. I like the way it holds out on the initial beat ’til — just after my ear has convinced itself it’s not the Beatles — it finally resolves to the main melody halfway through. It’s like when I used to repeat a word so many times it became nonsense. Here, meaning returns.
“Mississippi Half-Step” – the Grateful Dead (download here)
recorded 20 October 1974
Winterland Arena – San Francisco, CA
from The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack (2005)
released by Grateful Dead Records (buy)
Even in deepest Williamsburg, Deadheads survive, here leaving their mark on the Brooklyn-bound platform of the Lorimer Street L-train station. Definitely a WTF?, but I’m glad the Deadheads are taking back the streetz. Or, as Boomy reminds: Dead Freaks Unite!
“Stick Your Tail in the Wind” – Summer Hymns (download here)
from Voice Brother and Sister (2000)
released by Absolutely Kosher (buy)
Y’know, I don’t even know if I like this song. That’s not to say anything bad about it, either. We just met. But we definitely had a moment, there, in the subway. It was damp there, and cold, while I was waiting for the train in Greenpoint. Then, this song came on, and brought me somewhere, briefly, completely. Florida, maybe, or someplace like it. It didn’t keep me there, though. It was a flash, followed by three perfectly lovely minutes, that — as I was saying — I may or may not like. To be honest, I don’t even know its name yet. Ah, yes. Nice to know you.
“1999″ – Dump (download here)
from That Skinny Motherfucker With the High Voice? (1998)
released by Shrimper
(file expires March 29th)
Yo La Tengo’s James McNew reimagines “1999″ as an oddly grooved drum machine chill-out. It works, too, mostly thanks to McNew’s boyishly sweet voice. His album of Prince covers, That Skinny Motherfucker With the High Voice? (note the question mark) was sued out of existence by the Purple One himself. I wonder if he ever listened to it. I hope so, if only because I dig the idea of Prince feeling threatened by James McNew. Apparently, Amazon Japan has copies.
(Oh, yeah: and YLT will be on WFMU tomorrow night doing their annual request-a-thon/benefit, though it probably won’t be as good as this.)
There was something about the way the instruments entered into it in a kind of free-for-all way, and there were little holes and these neat details in it — we studied that motherfucker. We might have even played it for a while, but that wasn’t the point — it was the conversational approach, the way the band worked, that really influenced us.
“I Love How You Love Me” – The Paris Sisters (download here)
from Back To Mono, 1958-1969 (1991)
released by Abkco (buy)
(file expires March 20th)
The murder trial repackaging/revision of Mark Ribowsky’s Phil Spector bio, He’s a Rebel, has been a good subway companion this week. On Spector’s arrival at Manhattan’s Brill Building:
Implying that he couldn’t afford to go elsewhere, Phil was allowed to crash that night on the couch at the rear of the office, and would do the same in following days. The truth was, Spector had money in his pocket, but part of his New York music assimilation was to assume the guise of bohemian deprivation.
…Hanging around at the restaurants and other haunts where the music crowd congregated, he ran into many of the working and aspiring songwriters who covered the canyons of Broadway like locusts…
Getting to town just months before Dylan, Spector worked the same game, albeit uptown and across a cultural divide. The differences are legion, mainly in their methods of distribution, but the Village folk scene where Dylan came up and the Tin Pan Alley songwriters of the Brill Building had a lot in common, despite the latter becoming a strawman enemy of the former. Besides, they were both kinda corny. Likewise, they both matured: Dylan made Blood on the Tracks, Spector produced All Things Must Pass.
Spector’s 1961 production of the Paris Sisters’ “I Love How You Love Me” sure remains pretty, though. With no disrespect to Phil Ochs, I’ll take that most days.
“Rats” – Sonic Youth (download here)
from Rather Ripped (2006)
released by Interscope (buy)
(file expires March 14th)
Yeah, it’s gauche to cross-post, but it’s pretty gauche to be reviewing for JamBands.com to begin with, so wtf. Mostly, I just wanted to enter this one into the blogologue…
NYC ROLL-TOP: Sonic Curfew
It’s too bad Webster Hall is killing rock music in Manhattan, ’cause (in theory) it’s kind of a cool place to see shows. “It’s good to be back at the Ritz,” Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore cracked not long after his 26-year old band hit the stage on Friday, February 16th. Known by that name during the glitzy glitzy ’80s (when Sonic Youth were making their name in dingier quarters a bit down Broadway in SoHo), the club is currently where Bowery Presents, the city’s largest indie promoter, puts on their big rock shows. It’s got beautiful marble floors and cool reliefs on the walls, and — on good nights — almost feels grand.
For Sonic Youth, it was a homecoming. Besides a night at the soon-to-be-defunct CBGB last summer, it was their first major gig in Manhattan proper in two years, and they were their usual art-punk selves: the 6’6″ Moore careening around his side of the stage, bassist Kim Gordon in the middle like a displaced gallery goddess, and grey-haired Lee Ranaldo gracefully attacking his guitars like an avant-statesman. Moore addressed the entire crowd as “man.” As in, “thanks for coming, man.” Laconically jovial, he sounded like he was happy to be home. But what home were Sonic Youth coming back to?
It was city officials who banned smoking in bars a few years back. In one fell swoop they removed the proverbial (and fairly literal) vaseline on the lens of the rock experience, as well as a convenient mask for pot smoking, eliminating both social and ritualistic elements of live music’s allure. But it was Bowery Presents who started booking major weekend shows that had to be over by 10 pm so the place could be cleared out for a dance club, even more tightly regulating the idea of a rock show. What hopes of transcendent chaos could one possibly have at that time of night?
Sonic Youth were great. They did their best. Focusing mainly on 2006′s Rather Ripped, in places, they were even majestic. On Moore’s “Do You Believe in Rapture,” the band moved at a silken, relaxed clip. “Do you believe in sweet sensation? Do you believe in second chance?” Moore sang, almost tenderly, over the noise. “City streets so freezing cold,” Ranaldo exclaimed (quite accurately) on “Rats,” working from his usual fantastic formula: half-spoken poetry erupting into full-blown melody. Moore played “Or,” his ode to DIY-era fanzine life, for comedy. It worked, though missed the sublimity of its closing slot on Rather Ripped.
With former Pavement bassist and touring SYer Mark Ibold playing along with Gordon, and holding it down when she took off her instrument to front the band, the quintet sounded lean, if never exactly gnarly. Beginning and ending with older numbers (1988′s “Candle” and 1986′s “Expressway To Yr Skull”) and sprinkling a few others throughout, everything ran like a polished road show. Perhaps too tight at times, the occasionally jam-happy Sonics’ improvisation was limited to one song, and only at the tail end of the final encore.
When Sonic Youth closed a show at Brooklyn’s Northsix with “Expressway To Yr Skull” in 2005, it stretched for a half-hour, Gordon leaving the stage while Moore, Ranaldo, drummer Steve Shelley, and Jim O’Rourke, urged out quieter and quieter spirals of noise. That the same segment at Webster Hall was a quarter of the length, the band dutifully filing offstage at 10:07, would seem to be a result of the environment.
As I do after most Sonic Youth shows, I do believe in rapture, but almost definitely not at Webster Hall, where the dance beats start pounding up from the lower floors as the shows run to their end. Music isn’t dying in New York City. After all, at least at Webster Hall, the indie crowds are just being replaced by different kinds of music fans. But, for heaven’s sake, there’s gotta be a better place to do it. I also believe in rapture and unpredictability being closely related. Subsequently forced to go find alternative means of chaos for my Friday night, and having plenty of time to do it, the Sonic Youth show lingers like something less than the real deal. Which is too bad. Because it probably was.
“excerpt from Dogbirthed Brother in Eggsack Delicious” – Korena Pang (download here)
from AUX (2005)
released by Ideas for Creative Exploration (buy)
(file expires March 13th)
Jeff Mangum’s only released post-Aeroplane composition was nestled on last year’s AUX, a literally handmade collection of Athens’ musical adventurers (also including fellow Elephant 6 conspirators Will Hart, Heather McIntosh, and Hannah Jones). Extreme concrété, it might be more original than Neutral Milk Hotel, if accessible to exponentially fewer people. Beginning with a rolling barrelhouse piano, “Eggsack Delicious” tumbles rhythmically into belches, grunts, robotics, cackles, yodels, yowls (Mangum himself/), accordion, church bells, train whistles, surreal recollections, and bleeps. The utterly musical splicing has the effect of creating a narrative, though it plays more like a lucid dream than a story.
“I Get A Little Taste of You” – Z-Rock Hawaii (download here)
from Z-Rock Hawaii (1997)
released by Nipp Guitar (buy)
(file expires March 7th)
Even now, some 10 years after they recorded, Z-Rock Hawaii — a one-time collaboration between Ween and The Boredoms — seems like an impossible supergroup, both in theory and practice. But I guess weirdness crosses international boundaries. Hey, those post-Nirvana alt-rock years were heady times, nyet? Z-Rock Hawaii fares better in the accessibility department than TV Shit, the yowl-happy 1993 crossing of The Boredoms and Sonic Youth. But so would most free jazz.
That said, the good parts of “I Get A Little Taste of You” seem to be all classic Ween — which is to say, except for Yamantaka Eye’s bug-outs during the middle eight, it’s just a great semi-lost brown nugget. “Sometimes I feel so good, sometimes I feel so bad,” Gener rhymes in a infectious sing-song. “Often I get mad, even when I’m glad,” he croons, in a 20th century love ode that’s so right that it (almost) doesn’t matter when some dude starts tweaking for no apparent reason. (Eye makes much better contributions elsewhere, like the orchestral noise of “The Meadow” and the gas fumes electronics of “Hexagon.”) For the bottom of your iTunes library, Z-Rock Hawaii.
“Moment” – Akron/Family (download here)
recorded 15 November 2005
Brick House, London, UK
(file expires 23 February)
Saw a great show in Greenpoint last night: Akron/Family, who I’ve been keen to catch for at least a year. Acting on my new resolution to steal global and buy local, I walked away with the A/F’s latest $10 tour CD, a live set recorded in London in November 2005. It pretty well captures the spirit of last night, too.
The third main thing I love about “Moment” is that its structure is reversed: it begins with chaos, resolves into a verse, and — eventually — gets to the simplest, most stripped down statement of the song. The second thing I love is that the arrangement — both on the CD and live, last night — is still at the stage where everything is tight enough to be blistering but still new enough to implode. Of course, that’s the main effect of Akron/Family, controlled chaos, underscored by their all-hands-on-deck vocals. If they keep going (and it seems like they’ve got all the proper momentum), I’ll be curious to see if they can keep up this particular energy.
And, really, what I love about “Moment” is all the different sections. They fit together in a most pleasing way, especially the drop from the wall-of-noise intro to the first verse. Then, more chaos, a noisy jam-jam (and, man, there’s nothing post- about this jam) and that lovely coda. It’s just dramatic. I’m not sure if I can really get behind the hippie-dippy lyrics (about, y’know, the Moment), but they recover quickly with a line about old friends and new clothes, and glide out on the indie-brand Beach Boys harmonies. It’s all the fun of Animal Collective, without (most of) the foreboding inaccessibility. Dig it.
“Toc” – Tom Ze (download here)
from Estundando o Samba (1975)
reissued by Luaka Bop (buy)
(file expires February 22nd)
Here, just in time for Presidents’ Day, is the second installment of Dad’s animation, Face Film, which is all about resolution. Literally. I’ve posted Tom Ze’s “Toc” before, but it makes such a swell alternate accompaniment to this that I’m posting it again. Go on, try it!
For those whose ganglia were formed pre-TV, the mimetic deployment of pop-culture icons seems at best an annoying tic and at worst a dangerous vapidity that compromises fiction’s seriousness by dating it out of the Platonic Always, where it ought to reside.
In the fall, I read Bruce Wagner’s Memorial, which is full of passages like this:
After the make-out session in Griffith Park, Chess shared some memories of his dad. Laxmi enthusiastically echoed how The Jungle Book was a favorite of hers too, from girlhood. (She meant the version with John Cleese.) A few days later, she brought over a Netflix of the original Disney.
Memorial was a thicket of references, both high and low. Dutch theorist Rem Koolhaas, art-rockers the Fiery Furnaces, and David Wilson’s Center for Land Use Interpretation all got name-checked, but so did plenty of McDonald’s slogans, Oprah episodes, and Viagra side-effects. Reading it, I picked up on some, and missed a ton of others.
One’s experience of a book comes in two main parts: the actual real-time reading, and the long-tail memory of it. That is, although I remember Wagner’s methods, what really sticks with me when I think about the book are the peculiar emotional climaxes and plotlines that had nothing to do with the dressings. Though I was involuntarily disgusted by the abundant pop culture references, and didn’t really dig much about the book in general, my brain still filtered it down to the Platonic Always.
I think, maybe, we automatically look for this when we read. In fact, the idea that a given story has a broader meaning to people besides its characters is basically the unspoken contract we have when we begin to read a story. Regardless of pop culture references, then, we fit it into some world that makes sense for ourselves. You know, the imagination. It would take a critical density of allusions to derail that. But it still feels wrong to me.
“Basically Frightened” – Col. Bruce Hampton (download here)
from Arkansas (1987)
reissued by Terminus (buy)
(file expires February 19th)
For all his ballyhooed weirdness, Col. Bruce Hampton’s two albums with the Aquarium Rescue Unit sound remarkably straight in retrospect. His four ’80s records on Landslide, reissued a few years ago by Terminus, are anything but. Like a lo-fi Captain Beefheart, a good deal of it is virtually unlistenable to most, however fun to others, but 1987′s Arkansas is a masterpiece. Many of the bizarro orchestrations are lashed to the decade by excessive synth use, but the studio rendering of Hampton’s perennial staple, “Basically Frightened,” is gloriously unadorned. Though it would later be a jazz boogie for the ARU, here it’s just existential blues: acoustic guitar, bass, and cosmic lamentations. Some make no sense. Hampton, for example, is basically frightened of “Young men in helmets who are occupied for women in–” and Hampton coughs. But, his surreal index occasionally strikes notes that are, well, real: “I’m afraid of losing bookmarks and, of course, politicians with no hobbies,” Hampton moans. Aren’t we all?
“Metal Machine Music, part 1″ – Lou Reed (download)
from Metal Machine Music (1975)
released by RCA (buy)
(file expires February 15th)
Being time for the annual, brain-cleansing airing of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, I got to thinking about a passage from Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach:
Achilles: …If any record player — say Record Player X — is sufficiently high-fidelity, then when it attempts to play the song “I Cannot Be Played on Record Player X”, it will create just those vibrations which will cause it to break… So it fails to be Perfect. And yet, the only way to get around that trickery, namely for Record Player X to be of lower fidelity, even more directly ensures that it is not Perfect. It seems that every record player is vulnerable to one or the other of these frailties, and hence all record players are defective.
If there was any piece of music in the universe that might be subtitled “I Cannot Be Played on Record Player X,” it’s Metal Machine Music. In that regard, maybe MMM is less effective now that the easily-disruptable turntable has been supplanted by the quietly humming mp3 box. Certainly, it sounds less scary now, its standing as a piece of music with overtones and melodies and movement a little more obvious.
But its actual musical effect, delirious overload, is no different, and that is because the “Record Player X” in question isn’t a record player at all, but the listener’s brain. MMM still can’t really be played, at least if the listener is trying to do anything else while listening to it — like, say, writing a blog entry. Or probably reading a blog entry, too. This means, of course, that it’s time to turn it up.
“Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (download here)
from Lay & Love EP (2007)
released by Drag City (buy)
(file expires February 13th)
Maybe Gardner is right. Maybe B-sides aren’t as interesting when they’re not actually on the other side, and don’t have to tracked through shops and mail order catalogues. In some ways, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Duder’s exceedingly lovely cover of Bob Dylan’s “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” is the same as any of the songs on The Letting Go, the album for which it’s nominally an addendum. That is, they’re all just files on my computer.
At the same time, though, the songs become way more modular: both “Señor” and the album’s title track have made it onto some of my playlists, where the album’s other songs haven’t. There, the ever-ephemeral digitizations have become more personalized than fetishized, more than they ever could be merely as industrially produced physical objects, no matter how rare.
But de-fetishizing something isn’t always bad. No matter how obscure or obvious a recording, as a listener, there will always be the moment before you heard a song, the moment you actually heard it, and the moment after, and — in those moments — the experience of newness. That’s what counts, right?
“Señor” adds to Bonnie ‘Prince’ Mofo’s catalogue of boomer covers, including Dylan’s “Going to Acapulco” (also on the Lay & Love EP), the Dead’s “Brokedown Palace,” and — as Gardner randomly informed me tonight — the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” And that’s really what makes them special: a sub-narrative available only to those who want to read it.
“Social Studies” – David Byrne (download here)
from Music for the Knee Plays (1985)
released by ECM (never released on CD)
(file expires February 12th)
I saw David Byrne revive his music from The Knee Plays at Zankel Hall on Thursday evening. As usually happens when a rock dude performs at a traditionally classical venue, a screamer or two came with. “Make some noise,” came the voice from the balcony, early in the show. Or maybe it was “bring the noise.” Either way, being a night of brass band charts derived from New Orleans music, gospel, and Bulgarian folk (mixed, of course, with Byrne’s wry spoken word), it wasn’t happening. How obnoxious, I thought/sighed/judged.
Later, though, after Byrne asked for the audience to “cut us some slack,” the voice returned: “we cut you some slack!” It was a nice little moment, and Byrne cracked a smile. It occurred me that, so long as the screamers weren’t screaming during the music, why should it matter? Not only that, but it seemed to add to the performance, zapping a tiny tinge of electricity into what felt like an otherwise staid routine: a concert hall, ushers, a program listing the songs to be performed, etc..
Byrne’s series at Carnegie Hall was subtitled “No Boundaries,” but — given the mechanism of Carnegie Hall itself — that obviously wasn’t literally true. There might be surprising music, yes, but it would all occur at a certain place, in a certain time, in a certain manner, and the audience was expected to behave as such. I liked the shout. As for the music, The Knee Plays is far from my favorite extracurricular DB project, though there are a few great True Stories-like observations, including the above-uploaded “Social Studies.”
“Hey Bulldog” – The Beatles (download here)
from Yellow Submarine OST (1968)
released by Capitol Records (buy)
For whatever reason (soundtrack cut, etc.), the Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog” totally eluded me, and that’s rather awesome. There’s no reason to validate my love for the Beatles, or even to analyze what I love about “Hey Bulldog.” But it was pretty rad to discover, for me, what was essentially a new Beatles tune. If you’ll forgive me the rockist gushing, it reminds me of a Nick Hornby quote from Songbook, the warm ‘n’ fuzzy type of rock criticism that makes somebody like Hornby just as necessary as somebody like the Beatles.
In Victorian London they used to burn phosphorous at séances in an attempt to see ghosts, and I suspect that the pop music equivalent is our obsessions with B-sides and alternate versions and unreleased material. If you can hear Dylan and the Beatles being unmistakably themselves at their peak — but unmistakably themselves in a way we haven’t heard a thousand, a million times before — then suddenly you get a small but thrilling flash of their sprit, and it’s as close as we’ll ever get, those of us born in the wrong time, to knowing what it must have been like to have those great records burst out of the radio at you when you weren’t expecting them, or anything like them.
Hyperbole, I guess, but Cosby sweater/feel good hyperbole, and not entirely wrong. Beneath that, though, there is something a bit sad. The quest for b-sides, I think, can often be an attempt not to find out what something sounded like new, but to find something that might approximate an experience that one has worn out. It grows from the most atavistic of pop impulses: to want to hear more of what one liked before except, y’know, different. It’s not often that anything about the Beatles sounds new to me. Eventually, though, “Hey Bulldog” will dull, too. It will still be wonderful, of course, but that internalized, well-understood wonderful instead of that cue-and-recue-that-opening-groove wonderful. That’s maybe a little sad, because then I’ll (maybe) have no more Beatles songs to discover. For now, though: rawk.
“The Language of Stationary Travelers” – The Olivia Tremor Control (download here)
from Jumping Fences EP (1998)
released by Blue Rose (buy)
(file expires February 5th.)
Finally, some more of Dad’s animation on YouTube! Here, in the first of what will hopefully become a regular series, is “Cosmic Clock,” one my personal faves. Originally aired on PBS’s 3-2-1 Contact, “Cosmic Clock” is to linear time what the Powers of Ten was to physical space. For an alternate soundtrack, try the above “Language of Stationary Travelers” by the Olivia Tremor Control. (When the animation ends just, y’know, start the Olivias again.)
“Okie From Muskogee” – the Grateful Dead with the Beach Boys (download here)
recorded 27 April 1971
Fillmore East, NYC
(file expires February 2nd)
“We’ve got another famous California group here,” Jerry Garcia announced without much drama midway through the middle night of the Grateful Dead’s five-night run to close out the Fillmore East in April 1971. “It’s the Beach Boys.”
And out they came, or the post Brian Wilson incarnation anyway, to join the Dead for five songs, and to play two of their own in the middle. Like many sloppy superjams before and many since, it didn’t quite add up, but remains rather amusing. There are some great moments, from Carl Wilson’s fucking baked-ass “hello” as he arrives onstage to the Deadheads’ cries of “bring back the Dead” between Deadless renditions of “Good Vibrations” and “I Get Around” (the former introduced by Bruce Johnston as “a song that reflects these really fucked-up times”) (wha?).
The most musical artifact of the set, though, is a rendition of Merle Haggard’s still-newish redneck classic “Okie From Muskogee” which finally gets down to business: hearing Garcia’s guitar dart between the Boys’ harmonies. The Dead had been grooving on Haggard all month (indeed, a lovely Garcia reading of “Sing Me Back Home” would be the encore that night), and the ease with which they play matches the laid back Californicana of the BBs’ severely underrated albums from that period. There, ever so briefly, the great straights from the south and the great freaks from the north clicked, and over what? Some tongue-in-cheek twang. Go figure.
“Come to Butt-head” – Beavis and Butt-head (download here)
from The Beavis and Butt-head Experience (1993)
released by Geffen (buy)
(file expires January 22nd)
The arguments that Mike Judge’s absolutely fucking hilarious Idiocracy is classist are probably correct. But, as a reason for not distributing the film (it never opened in New York) it seems far more cynical a statement than Idiocracy itself. In the film, Luke Wilson, utterly average dude, wakes up 500 years in the future to discover he’s the smartest man on the planet, the population having devolved owing to the fact that dumb people have more babies than smart people. Hilarity, of course, ensues.
Idiocracy‘s main problem, then, seems to be its form: a cheap-looking CGI comedy. Imagined on the printed page, the story is nothing more than dystopian political parable, connected to vicious satire like Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and H.G. Wells’ own classist sci-fi devolution tale, The Time Machine. (Imagined as pop music it’s, uh, Devo.) That is, it puts the issue on the table. But were Fox really that afraid that the movie wouldn’t play in middle America? Isn’t that itself an insulting assessment of middle America? Or maybe the whole classism argument is a strawman, and the assholes in charge still just don’t get how brilliant it is (even after they did the same effing thing to Office Space)?
’cause, man, it’s brilliant: a whole nation of Beavis and Butt-heads, with Wilson and Maya Rudolph as the only sensible folks around. Indeed, much of the humor is drawn from the same wellspring as MTV’s preeminent cartoon meta-critics, from fantastic perversions of language (“we seem to be experimenting some techmerlogical differences”) to nearly Zen arguments (no spoilers, but watch for a joke about electrolytes). Like any dystopian fantasy, maybe it’s right. I don’t know which possible world is scariest: Judge’s vision, or the fact that it slipped through the cracks as it did.
Likely, it’s not a tragedy at all, and Idiocracy is simply a film built the age of the Long Tail, and it’ll just become a huge NetFlix hit. Speaking of which: it’s out now and, yeah, you should probably go put it in your queue.
“Puzzlin’ Evidence” – Talking Heads (download here)
from True Stories (1986)
released by Sire (buy)
(file expires January 20th)
Watching 20-year old baseball games is way more fun that I’d suspected. In the case of Game 6 of the 1986 National League Championship Series, a 16-inning epic between the Mets and the Houston Astros, the overarching drama yielded dozens of miniature entertainments. Framed by the hyperreal green of the Astrodome’s Astroturf and its roof’s impressionist light slats, there was the simple pleasure of watching the 1986 Mets operate. There were small moments: Keith Hernandez making a routinely amazing grab deep in the hole, and flipping effortlessly to Roger McDowell, covering first. And there were the crowd shots, flickering portraits of the same characters that populated David Byrne’s True Stories, shot and set in Texas that same year.
The first picture, perhaps, is titled: the Starting Pitcher’s Wife in the Top of the 9th. In this case, the starting pitcher was Bob Knepper, working on a two-hit shut-out against the Mets who — moments after this shot — pinch-hit with Len Dykstra, who would triple to deep center, thus beginning a three-run rally that would result (seven innings later) in the Mets’ clinching of the pennant. But she didn’t know that.
“Brokedown Palace” – the Grateful Dead (download here)
recorded 11 April 1972
Newcastle City Hall, Newcastle, UK
from Steppin’ Out with the Grateful Dead (2002)
released by Grateful Dead Records (buy)
(file expires January 24th)
It’s hard to find an excuse to publish a two-and-a-half year-old review of a show by a band I don’t like very much. But I’m going to, anyway, because it involved a pleasantly bizarre excursion to Central Park, and this thing has stewed on my harddrive for way too long. At one point, it was supposed to have run in the Interboro Rock Tribune, though — if it did — I sure never saw a copy.
And “Brokedown Palace”? Well, why not? Consider it a spoonful of honey for all the theorizing about Dave Matthews. Or maybe it’s just honey because honey is fucking delicious. Anyway, I came across this version tonight, recorded in Newcastle on April 11th, 1972, and I love it. For some reason, I can’t remember ever hearing a version from ’72 (or ’73 or ’74, my fave Dead period), though DeadBase swears there are plenty. Except for the high harmonies near the end, it’s all so perfectly assured, maybe even more than the American Beauty rendition, especially Garcia’s monstrously concise solo.
America On Line
by Jesse Jarnow
When guitarist Warren Haynes took the stage with the Dave Matthews Band during their massive free concert at Central Park on September 24th, few cheered. That was to be expected. Though Haynes is revered in some quarters as the ever-active guitarist for the Allman Brothers Band, Gov’t Mule, and Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s eponymous quintet, he’s mostly unknown in the mainstream.
After dueting with Matthews on a rendition of Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer,” Haynes ripped into a soaring solo. It was typical Big Rock fare, Haynes’s fingers flying impassioned up the fretboard in a show of bluesy virtuosity, face scrunched in anguish and splayed across the nine jumbo screens to underscore the point. The solo blew to a volcanic climax, the tension released from Haynes’s body, and he stepped back.
And, again, few cheered.
This raises some questions. Likely, it wasn’t a show of displeasure. Nobody was booing, nor were people offering up any particular show of criticism. And it wasn’t abject boredom. Around me, on the fringe of the crowd, people seemed to be having a grand evening under the stars, laughing and smiling in all directions. So, what was it? Why hadn’t that old reliable, the Big Solo, ignited them?
On the surface, the Dave Matthews Band appear to have inherited the stadium rock mantle once held by bands like Led Zeppelin and, more recently, U2: an old-fashioned rock outfit (give or take) capable of creating best-selling records and filling impossibly large halls wherever they choose to roam. But, as the crowd’s reaction to Haynes indicated, perhaps not all is what it seems.
Beneath the same ol’, same ol’ exterior of the rock concert as suburban coming of age ritual, the practices of young concertgoers have subtly mutated. To say that they are having shallower experiences at the shows they attend because, say, their experiences are apparently non-musical is to miss the point. They’re still having a good time and they’re still, like it or not, coming of age. So, what is it that they latch onto?
Given the truly epic surreality of the event, from its conception to is execution – light years removed from the uncomplicated cause-and-effect of liking a band, hearing about their show, buying a ticket, and going (and even further from the vaunted free concerts of yore) – it’s right boggling to conceive of the AOL Concert For Schools as a teenager’s first rock show. Rock concerts have always been theaters of the absurd, but the dramatis personae seem to be changing of late. In Manhattan, anyway, ads had plastered subways and buses for several weeks. Typical copy depicted a picture of a row of school desks, the AOL running man logo branded onto the corner of each (a frightening thought), and the caption “Life needs a music lesson.”
Waiting on line, the acquisition of tickets seemed to be the most popular topic of discussion. Officially, they had been distributed for free via white AOL vans that parked at various Manhattan street corners throughout the week. But, being free and pretty much indiscriminately passed out – in a relatively mysterious way, at that, some seemingly arbitrarily, some after participating in contests – they quickly fell into other hands. We heard tales of a temporary black market that had sprung up to accommodate the distribution of tickets, funneling them out to the suburbs via EBay and co-workers and friends of friends with favors to call, sometimes free, but mostly not.
The line coiled through the park, a human Great Wall of China drudging in slow motion through Frederick Law Olmstead’s Arcadian landscaping, disappearing into the greenery at one end, stretching out onto Central Park’s bordering avenues on the other. On the east side, we had followed it south from the park’s entrance at 72nd Street with no end in sight, as Jon looked for somebody to bestow his spare ticket on.
A kid overheard us. “Do you have an extra?” he asked, with a slight accent.
“Maybe,” Jon replied
“Ya, I came from Germany,” he said.
“Oh yeah?” I replied, glancing at his Ithaca College hoodie.
“Ya,” he confirmed. “I’m from Munich.”
“Okay, you got it,” Jon said.
“Oh, danke!” Munich Boy grinned, and scurried off, ducking under a barricade and cutting into the line.
“Do you ever get the impression that the way these kids act on line might be a good metaphor for the way they’ll turn out later in life?” I asked Jon.
He paused. “Nah, that’s stupid.”
We pressed onward. Near 70th Street, past a row of port-o-lets, the line suddenly changed directions, as if we had passed the equator.
“The line doubles back somewhere down there,” a girl groused.
“This sucks, I wanna go home,” a nearby cop grumbled. “I could be in class right now.”
“Down there” was 65th Street, just north of the Central Park Zoo. “Screw this,” Jon announced, and turned into the park, following the sidewalk along the thru-road. A hundred yards into the park, we hopped the small stone wall, climbed a grassy embankment, and looked down on the line, which we could see in the distance. We could see dozens of other dissidents, looking for alternate paths into the concert. I wondered how many of them were first-time concertgoers.
We cursed Munich Boy as we clamored through the underbrush after the hillside we were following suddenly dropped away. We roamed the Ramble, occasionally catching sight of the line. It was a lovely evening for a stroll, and we wandered up paths and down stairs and past the pond and the gondolas and rowboats peacefully adrift. At the Boathouse, men in white linen suits dined, seemingly unaware of the horde of teenagers milling on the other side of the treeline.
We slipped into line. “Hey, good idea, man!” a guy said, unbothered by the fact that we were blatantly cutting in.
“How long have you been here?” I asked a girl next to us.
“Five hours,” she replied.
“Man, I got here three hours ago,” said a kid standing next to her.
“Really?” said somebody else. “We walked up, like 45 minutes ago. Didn’t even cut.”
The line had broken down their sense of time, it seemed. Mine, too. I have no recollection of how long we were there. People talked. Besides how they got their tickets, they rarely spoke about the band they were there to see (unheard of at show by Phish or the Grateful Dead, two bands the DMB is frequently lumped with). They didn’t even speak with particular frequency about other bands, but mostly about movies or television shows.
While this might not seem worth remarking on at first, it seems some indication of the way the Dave Matthews Band (and, thus, the rock concert as an entity) might now be viewed by young fans: music as something undifferentiated from other pop culture mediums, as opposed to an autonomous experience that exists outside of the mainstream of American life. In other words: rock not as rebellion at all, but as a completely sanctioned experience. Though this has probably been the norm for some time, the concert form has seemingly transformed around this ideal.
We passed a row of ticket takers, a pile of confiscated lawn chairs and blankets (for a day in the park, at that), a thoroughly crouch-mauling patdown (hands placed and suddenly jerked UP), and a bag search (though, officially, they weren’t allowing bags in at all; terror, etc.). Though our tickets had been ripped, and word had come that the show had started, we still couldn’t hear any music. Abruptly, two girls in front of us shrieked, charged up a small hill in the vague direction of the concert field, and disappeared into the woods. There was a rustling, then silence.
The lush green of the Great Lawn sprawled before us, the stately regency of Belvedere Castle and the midtown skyline at our back. The music ricocheted between speaker towers in an echoed maze, bearing strange sonic resemblance to an avant-garde multi-channel sound installation. Six giant screens stood in V-formation, pointing towards the distant stage, which was adorned by its own screen. Though the field was half-empty (presumably, most were still on line), clumps of people gathered around each of the screens.
Each was mounted on an elaborate scaffolding which also included several banks of lights, and a smoke machine. The former flashed constantly, moreless indiscriminately (which didn’t matter, since the images were hardly synched with the music coming from the speakers). The latter, positioned below the screen, jetted smoke straight upward, thanks to industrial fans just beneath the chute. The lights and the smoke both came between one’s sightline and the broadcast images, which simultaneously drew the eye in and created the impression that one was, indeed, watching something real at the center. Crowds sat cross-legged at the bases of the scaffolding, goggling upwards.
A camera mounted on a crane swept over the crowd. Another camera stood on a smaller scaffolding that rose from the midst of the throng. With the exception of a few songs in the middle of the band’s set, the operator trained the camera away from the stage for the entire night, presumably for the DVD of the concert, already set to be released on November 4th. There was no shortage of striking images. A girl holding a bouquet of heart-shaped balloons of silver mylar wandered by, the balloons momentarily framed by smoke billowing from the screen.
Instead of the usual between song pandemonium, the air vacuumed to near silence after a brief smattering of applause. Despite this, the music was not an unimportant part of the event. There was dancing, though it was frequently directed at each other in clusters, like a school dance, as opposed to at the stage. There were singalongs, though only at preset moments, as opposed to when the mood struck. There were giddy screams when favorite songs were played, though they were usually followed by cell phone calls, as opposed to intent listening.
So, why is the Dave Matthews Band the premier party band of the early 21st century? Surely, part of their appeal is in their Joe Rockband quality. Matthews is, as Rolling Stone’s David Fricke called him, “the ultimate Everyman.” Their music maps to that description, too. Despite several long instrumental excursions, there was little extreme about the band’s performance. They played at comfortable tempos with no distortion. All of this accounts for the band’s accessibility, for the college following that was Matthews’ bread and butter in earlier years, but doesn’t explain why listeners seem to be applying different standards to Matthews’ music than previous generations.
Or does it?
Despite its size, despite the screens, the show in Central Park was as close to a non-spectacle as one could get at that magnitude. When soloing, bandmembers would make a point of stepping close to each other and making eye contact. Again, it was an old rock trick (e.g. Robert Plant drawing the crowd’s attention to Jimmy Page by moving near and watching him solo), but effective. But, when Plant looked at Page, he frequently did so with awe, putting the guitarist on a pedestal for the audience by temporarily playing low status.
By contrast, the Dave Matthews Band’s gestures were far more humble. By design or happenstance, each revealed the band as six men playing music in real time. In an age where jump cuts are the norm and linear performances are practically unknown in popular culture, that can be powerful good. It is well possible that the Dave Matthews Band appeals for the same reason that country music suddenly found itself in vogue in the late ’60s. There is not so much an authenticity to the Dave Matthews Band as there is an undiluted simplicity — which is a helluva thing to say about a rock and roll band playing music in front of an estimated 100,000 people at a concert sponsored by one of the biggest corporations in the world.
In this case, it’s not what the guitars are doing, but that there are even guitars at all. Through all, Matthews inspires a certain comfort level. And, hey, as an audience member, that feels great. It is precisely because the rock concert has become such an ingrained ritual that the Dave Matthews Band thrives: simply, at a Dave Matthews Band show, one doesn’t have to behave like he’s at a rock concert.
There are no pretensions of revelation, no high art or inflatable pigs, not even any obvious attempts to get the crowd riled up. Nobody was beat over the head being told that they were having the time of his or her life. Is that rebellion? Maybe so, maybe not. It’s definitely a “to each his own trip” philosophy, minus the drugs and writ large. Like every Everyman, Dave Matthews is a blank slate. Life needs blank slates.
Around us, boys approached girls awkwardly, smoking the second or third cigarettes of their lives, as the new template for a rock show burned itself into their heads. They had meaningful experiences.
“This is the place to be!” a guy in a turquoise Alligator shirt bellowed as he stumbled by. “These guys are the bomb, right?”
A moment later, he held his head and staggered towards the scaffolding, where he vomited. He removed his shirt, revealing a lacrosse uniform, wiped his mouth, and lurched back into the crowd.
“Less Then You Think” (droneless edit) – Wilco (download here)
from A Ghost Is Born (2004)
released by Nonesuch (buy)
(expires January 23rd)
I’ll be the first to defend the migraine-mimicking ambient construction tacked to the end of Wilco’s “Less Than You Think.” In its own way, it can be quite a cleansing listen (and when they opened their New Year’s show at Madison Square Garden with it, the noise became a wonderfully patient jam that resolved into “Spiders”). But, I also love “Less Than You Think” a lot — especially the Morse code-like piano tap-tap-tapping behind Jeff Tweedy — such that I might wanna put it on playlists and the like. This becomes a bit more of pain in the arse when there’s 12 minutes of drone affixed. For my (and your) convenience, here it is without.
“You Enjoy Myself” – Phish (download here)
recorded 26 October 1989
Wetlands Preserve, NYC (soundboard)
Man, y’know, I hate to be negative & shit, but sometimes life requires it and this story is too good to pass up. Carole De Saram is the President of the Tribeca Community Association. As I found out when I saw the final cut of Wetlands Preserved, a documentary I worked on a few years ago, she was one of the prime movers in forcing the Wetlands Preserve out of Tribeca in September 2001. Call it gentrification or something else, but she displaced a very real community in the name of making her own newer, richer community a little blander. That it happened during a month when communities in Manhattan were needed more than ever only made it shittier.
But then there’s karma. Or, more accurately, there’s Borat.
Carole De Saram, as it turns out, is also a member of the Veteran Feminists of America, a group Sacha Baron Cohen interviews in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. When I saw the film, it was one of the few times where I groaned and thought, “gee, does he really have to fuck with these people?” And the answer, as the universe has pointed out to me, is: hell yes. My new theory is that anybody in Borat who appears innocent is actually atoning for some bad juju he or she previously unleashed on the world.
Anyway, there’s something positive to go along with it: a nicely mixed soundboard of Phish playing “You Enjoy Myself” at the Wetlands in October 1989. For non-Phishies open-eared enough to try, this is as good a place to start as any. If you don’t enjoy “You Enjoy Myself,” you probably won’t enjoy Phish. They’re not the story here, anyway, Wetlands is: a club that allowed this bizarre music to happen in New York.
Here’s a 12-story feature I edited, and partially wrote, about Wetlands on the occasion of its closing.
“The Weakest Part” (slow version) – Yo La Tengo (download here)
from iTunes Session EP (2007)
released by iTunes (buy
(expires January 17th)
Though you wouldn’t know it by checking YLT.com (at least, as of tonight), there’s a new four-song Yo La Tengo EP this week, available for $4 via the iTunes store. Along with a vaguely surfy instrumental, “El Es Gay” (like “El Es Dee”?), a by-the-books rerecording of “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind,” and a delighted cover of Love’s tribute to LBJ’s daughter (and “Twist and Shout” rewrite) “Luci Baines,” there’s also a rearrangement of Beat Your Ass‘s “The Weakest Part.”
Sufficently damn understated in its original incarnation, “The Weakest Part” is now practically invisible. As a solo piano ballad (with dab of feedbacky guitar), the slow motion melody stretches to a near flatline. It’s just atmosphere, Georgia Hubley’s voice disappearing into the sound of itself. It’s not much to sing (or even hum) along with, but it is lovely nonetheless.
Well worth the $4 (if only to burn to CD & re-rip to mp3), the iTunes Session EP is a nice addition to the twob-sides Yo La Tengo put out last fall.
“Go Where I Send Thee” – Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet (download here)
from Gospel Music (2006)
released by Hyena Records (buy)
(file expires January 12th)
We can talk all we want about popcraft, but the most genuine hooks are those in folk music — real folk music, that is, the type that existed before recordings. In fact, after a song has been passed from generation to generation and continent to continent, all that’s left is what people can remember: hooks.
Like the Beverly Hills Teens theme song, “Go Where I Send Thee” — performed here by the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet — has been lodged in my head for most of my life without me ever owning a proper recording. I suspect I learned it from a lily-white Pete Seeger rendition, but I’m not really sure. (The 1937 GGJQ version is from Joel Dorn and Lee Friedlander’s awesome Gospel Music mix.)
In Folk Songs of North America, where it is labeled “The Holy Baby,” Alan Lomax traces it as such:
Versions of this ancient mystic song have been recorded everywhere in Europe. Archer Taylor (Journal of American Folklore, LXII, p. 382) suggests that its origin may be found in Sanskrit, but that all European versions are probably derived from a Hebrew chant for Passover (Echod mi Yodea, first printed in Prague in 1526). The earliest known English translation of the Jewish religious folk song appeared in the seventeenth century, but a number of distinct forms soon developed.
To my ears, “Go Where I Send Thee” — the melody at its core, anyway, the specific part that never left me — doesn’t sound particularly like any of these cultures, the American South included. The refrain, the little drop between “send” and “thee,” just sounds like something I remember, everything whittled away except for its exact emotional effect. To paraphrase Frank Zappa: Folk isn’t dead. It doesn’t even smell funny.
“New Year’s Eve” – Stephan Mathieu and Ekkehard Ehlers (download here)
from Heroin (2001)
released by Orthlorng Musork (buy)
“New Year” – The Breeders (download here)
released by 4AD
from Last Splash (1993) (buy)
I like the contrast of these two takes on New Year’s. Stephan Mathieu and Ekkehard Ehlers’ field-recorded fireworks are literally kinetic energy. Though they are violent chemical reactions, they are also soft, as if muffled by a snowfall. Certainly, the swelling organ helps — a fantastic exercise of bare melody finding form in chaos.
“New Year,” meanwhile, is the sun-blinded morning after and all (conceptual) potential energy. The lead track from Last Splash, it is two minutes of indie-surf glee whose main purpose is to set up what follows. Like slowly remembering the impossible resolutions made in the ecstasy of revelry, its ending is profoundly unsatisfying without a dramatic statement to follow. Below the lyrics, in the liner notes, there is a literal parenthetical clarification: “(stage direction: suspenseful point).” The Breeders came up with the classic bass-drop intro to “Cannonball.” If only every year could start so well.
(Thanks to the too-oft-neglected-but-still-bloody-awesome ‘buked & scorned for introducing me to “New Year’s Eve” last December. I should probably check out the rest of Heroin now, huh?)
I have a playlist of all the quiet songs I can listen to late at night or right when I wake up. Usually, it’s a matter of finding one or two tracks on a given album. As such, sometimes I wonder if I automatically devalue (say) Iron & Wine’s music because I can drop nearly any song from Sam Beam’s catalogue arbitrarily into the shuffle. Likewise, the ultra-prolific Akron/Family’s forays into the big purdy — like the ambiguous and beautiful “Gone Beyond” from Meek Warrior — sometimes seem too easy. The untitled last track from their self-circulated radio session demos for their next album (produced by Ween collaborator Andrew Weiss, out in spring, can’t wait to hear it, etc), falls into this category.
Besides the lovely rising turn on “moonlight” and “in the daytime,” it doesn’t make much of a case for being something besides a generic psych-folk ballad. The images are even a little hackneyed (“all we see is moonlight drifting from dream to dream”), but somehow it all adds up and makes me want to listen to it repeatedly. Especially in the context of A/F — whose typically ambitious demos also include their usual ecstatic chants (“Ed Is A Portal”), ragged Americana (“Sophia”), and oddball/handclap grooves (untitled no. 1) — it is an inevitable coda. As a single track, almost anybody, in almost any genre, in any decade of the 20th century could have written it. That’s all well and good. Mostly, I like it — especially the woozy faux-Hawaiian slide interlude — because it sounds fucking fantastic when I’m almost asleep.
“Omstart” – Cornelius (download here)
from Sensuous (2006)
released by Warner Japan (buy)
(file expires December 14th)
I used to have this theory that Beck and Cornelius sounded like the zeitgeist. Odelay‘s junkyard pastiches sounded like 1996, Fantasma‘s fantasias like 1997, Midnite Vultures‘ neon disco like ’99, and Point‘s electro-acoustics like 2002. I’m not sure if that theory extends to Sensuous, Cornelius’s new album, currently only out in his native Japan. It certainly doesn’t sound like any 2006 I’ve experienced, anyway.
For an album titled Sensuous, “Omstart” is one of the few tone poems. With Point‘s alien organics (somewhat disappointingly) mostly supplanted by terrestrial synthetics elsewhere, “Omstart” is a stereo-panned palette cleanser. Keigo Oyamada’s voice rises, transforming into texture as if, owing to some mythological justice, it must become a bird. Besides that movement, the drama is spare, all branches empty. Maybe it sounds like 2007.
UPDATE, Thanks to the benevolent Dean, who has graciously offered server space, all things should be go again. Sorry again to any trouble I caused on other peeps’ servers.
Wilco has been playing an album’s worth of new material over the past year or so. Here they are, in no particular order.
My early favorites are “What Light” (mostly for the crystalline, Band-like sound of it) and “Rafters and Beams” (because I’m a sucker for ballads). Also, some people seem to be labeling it “Rafters and Dreams,” but I like “Beams” better so I’m gonna stick with that, until someone learns me good.
Thanks to netZoo and rbally and probably some other blogs. (Now that this has been picked up by Pitchfork & all, I s’ppose I should thank the original tapers/posters once again, apologize for the sexytime bandwidth explosion, give big ups to Wilco for their taping policy, and remind everybody that the complete shows are available by following the previous links.)
“If You Rescue Me” – the cast of Science of Sleep (download here)
from Science of Sleep OST (2006)
released by Astralwerks (buy)
(file expires January 22nd)
Hearing “If You Rescue Me” in the middle of Michel Gondry’s Science of Sleep threw me for a loop. Like trying desperately to recall a dream, appropriately enough, I knew the melody that Gael Garcia Bernal and the cast were singing, but couldn’t place it until the performance was almost over: the Velvet Underground’s “After Hours” (one of the loveliest of the all-time lovelies).
I have no idea where the new lyrics came from, but I love the mood they create, of being lost in a grotesque adult world: “all the cars drive so fast, and the people are mean, and sometimes it’s hard to find food.” Like Cat Power’s approach on her Covers Record, the rewrite is something like a literal interpretation: a verbal articulation of the song’s emotional content that somehow happens to also fit the constraints of the original melody. Pleasant coincidence, eh?
“Naomi” – Neutral Milk Hoel (remix by Joe Beats) (download here)
from the Joe Beats Experiment Presents Indie Rock Blues (2005)
released by Arbeid
(files expire December 4th)
I’m certainly fascinated by the increasingly frequent crossings of hip-hop and indie rock, and what each brings out in each other. Neutral Milk Hotel even turns up in a few places, including Joe Beats’ complete remix of On Avery Island‘s “Naomi,” and a sampled “2-1-2-3-4″ count-off from “Holland, 1945,” dropped in the middle of Girl Talk’s “Minute By Minute” (from the super-fun super-mash-up Night Ripper).
It’s nice that indie rock has been effectively pulled into the conversation, but it does make me wonder about the value of all these mash-ups. Girl Talk is a blast, an endless parade of pleasing hooks, but I’m still not sure how far it extends past novelty. Can a mash-up ever get to the point where I need to hear it, like I need to hear, say, “Two-Headed Boy”?
Though I react more instinctively to Girl Talk, I think I like Joe Beats’ approach a little better. His version of “Naomi” sounds like a complete song, the new beat somehow natural. It is something I could get into, beyond the initial shock of the new context. I’m not sure where the conversation is headed, but it’s most entertaining.
“Wizard’s Sleeve” – Yo La Tengo (download here)
from Shortbus OST (2006)
released by Team Love (buy)
(file expires November 28th)
The second post-Beat Your Ass b-side is from the soundtrack to John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus, and is really quite groovy: two minutes of sweetly wordless space age exotica that sound like they could’ve been crate-dug on some Numero release, possibly http://www.numerogroup.com/catalog_detail.php?uid=00216">French. There are faint strings, but mostly just atmosphere and a nearby ocean (and likely a view from a stucco balcony).
Haven’t seen the movie yet, so maybe there’s some context there, but the title seems a conceptual sequel to the ironic anti-shock of Beat Your Ass and its contents. Or perhaps they’re just incidentally meme surfing: I think Borat uses the phrase to describe his wife.
“Alice’s Restaurant” – Arlo Guthrie (download here)
from Alice’s Restaurant (1967)
released by Warner Reprise Records (buy)
(file expires November 27th)
On one hand, the film adaptation of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” directed by Arthur Penn, can be written off as a period piece. Starring a ridiculously young-looking 22-year old Arlo, there are confrontations between rednecks and longhairs, a dude playing Woody Guthrie in his deepest sickness, and a gaggle of super-stereotyped hippies.
On the other hand, though, it also shows remarkable foresight. Released in 1969, the same week as Woodstock, it is also brutal. There are overdoses, spotty runaway groupies, and domestic abusers. There is, in short, a complete collapse of the ’60s idealism that wouldn’t crumble on itself — at least in the fashionable terms of mainstream perception — for quite some time.
The story of the Alice’s Restaurant Thanksgiving Day Masacree — presumably what earned Guthrie the right to make a movie of it — takes up only a small chunk near the end. It’s great, for sure — it’s even got the real officer Obie as himself! — but it’s also quite striking how the song and the film hit totally different tones.
Anyway, it’s Thanksgiving week, and I figured people’d be searching for Alice. Here, once again, is the shitty-ass mp3 I downloaded in college. Enjoy.
“In a Different Light” – The Bangles (download here)
from Different Light (1986)
released by Columbia Records (download here)
(file expires November 2nd)
My first exposure to the Bangles came through the radio show Kids America that my mother and I listened to, and where — being a kid-friendly novelty — “Walk Like An Egyptian” was a ceaseless hit. Not long after that, we bought a tape of the album. The songs disappeared into my memory until this summer, when my friend Paul convinced me to grab them from his iPod. The title track, whose chorus was one of the few bits of the album I remembered (along with Prince’s “Manic Monday” and “Walk Like An Egyptian”), remains awesome. Give or take a little bit of the production sheen, it doesn’t even sound too dated.
I can imagine walking into a bar on the Lower East Side and hearing some sub-Strokes band covering this. It’s garage-pop of the first order: pounding wah guitar intro, a chorus/hook that drops immediately, and — eventually — lyrics that run just deep enough to be meaningful as lyrics, but don’t strive to be anything deeper. The first verse, to me, is just plain effective: “I wanna make a movie / I wanna put you on the silver screen / Sit in a darkened room / and study you from a distance.” There’s no attempt at a backstory, it’s just an observation — an unrhyming one, too, which makes it even kinda elegant. (Funny that the other two verses do rhyme, but it’s really the first one that sets the tone.)
All the lyrics are about making some kind of art to explain the subject — a movie, a novel, a painting — but, in the end, it’s just a song, and not even one that really explains anything. It only gets at the feeling of wanting to explain — which is not only a more modest goal, but a more evocative one, and certainly more mysterious. Not everybody needs to be John Darnielle, y’know?, and “Bob” bless ‘em for all that.
“California” – Dr. Dog (download here)
from Takers and Leavers EP (2006)
released by PTV Records (buy)
(file expires November 1st)
Been taking a leisurely slog through Writing Los Angeles, order an anthology of great writing about the place. Here, vialis 40mg in an essay titled “Paradise, recipe ” Double Indemnity writer James M. Cain writes about what he thinks of as the shallowness of L.A.:
But what electric importance can be felt in a peddler of orange peelers? Or of a dozen ripe avocados, just plucked that morning? Or a confector of Bar-B-Q? Or the proprietor of a goldfish farm? Or a breeder of rabbit fryers? They give me no kick at all. They give themselves no kick. The whole place is overrun with nutty religions which are merely the effort of these people to inject some sort of point into their lives; if not on earth, then in the stars, in numbers, in vibrations, or whatever their fancy hits on.
Thing is, all those things do have kick: what a weird, mystical place southern California must have been in 1933, between the wars. Dr. Dog evokes it perfectly on this Western Swing-on-a-soundstage number from their Takers and Leavers EP.
Post-Smile Beach Boys tends to get a bad rap, and maybe rightly so, but some of it is quite excellent — Wild Honey, especially. It doesn’t really fit the popular Smile narrative that Brian should still be making great, current music after the collapse of his concept album, but Wild Honey is a completely Beach Boys take on the back-to-the-roots thing that Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones, and everybody else was doing after a few years of psychedelic blow-outs (see: John Wesley Harding, the White Album, Beggars’ Banquet, etc.).
The lyrics are the stuff of everyday (“I washed the dishes, and I rinsed up the sink, like a busy bee”), but are positively liberated by BB standards. “I wouldn’t mind if I could get with you right away,” Brian sings. (That’s not say they’re entirely liberated. “When’s the last time you baked me a pie?” Brian also asks.) The composition is laced with the same tricks to be found all about Pet Sounds and Smile, here applied to something modest and adult, instead of high school melodrama or teenage symphonies to God. The arpeggiated 12-string figure behind the bridge melody wouldn’t be out of place on “Cabinessence,” and — of course — there’s some lovely harmonized bah-bah-bahing.
But really, the song is all about the punchline at the end: “I’d love just once to see you, I’d love just once to see you, I’d love just once to see you…” — pause– “…in the nude.” Hot. (Kinda is, right?)
“I’m Your Puppet” – Yo La Tengo (download here)
from Mr. Tough 7-inch (2006)
released by Matador
1. Here’s the newest obscura, a literal B-side from the “Mr. Tough” single: a cover of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham’s “I’m Your Puppet.” Presumably a Beat Your Ass leftover, it’s got lovely strings (David Mansfield?), and is a welcome addition to the late-night playlist.
2. To reach the resources of the old YoLaTengo.net, one now has to use the Wayback Machine at archive.org to consult a mirror of the old YLT.net via the now-old version of sunsquashed.com. The URLs get pretty hilarious. It is http://web.archive.org/web/20040214114501/www.sunsquashed.com/net/">here (no graphics, so just, like, wave your arrow over the links to find what yer looking for).
Yo La Tengo at the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre
29 September 2006
Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind
Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1)
The Weakest Part
Sometimes I Don’t Get You
Winter A Go Go
I Feel Like Going Home
I Should Have Known Better
Watch Out For Me, Ronnie
The Story of Yo La Tango
I Heard You Looking
Oklahoma USA (The Kinks)
Rocks Off (The Rolling Stones)
Cast A Shadow (Beat Happening)
Did I Tell You?
“Soul Master” – Edwin Starr (download here)
released by Motown (1968)
(file expires October 6th)
In a perhaps misguided attempt to derive some truthiness (listening to lotsa shitty hippie bands’ll do that to a fella), I once posited that anybody who sings literally about having a soul (especially one that, uh, “shines”) simply doesn’t have one, at least for the duration of the time he’s singing about it. In the case of Edwin Starr’s “Soul Master,” which I found on the MoistWorks blog over the summer, I am perhaps willing to make an exception — partially because maybe it is as Starr claims, that he’s “the guy they named soul after.” And, well, partially because it’s such a ludicrous rhyme — “I’m the soul master / I’m the guy that they named soul after” — and it somehow works.
“Soul Master” is, no doubt, a silly song, but I love the shit outta the chorus, and love even more singing it to myself in the most honky voice I can muster (which, given my general demeanor, is quite a lot, dankyouvedymuch). It’s fun, especially in public, to take this chorus for my own: I’m the soul master. I’m the guy that they named soul after. Me! It’s a good feeling. Try it some sunny afternoon.
“ﬂ° – Trap Door (download here)
from International Psychedelic Mystery Mix
released by Dis-Joint (2006)
available via Turntable Lab
(file expires September 19th)
Like many of the mixes my friend Joey has turned me onto, Trap Door’s International Psychedelic Mystery Mix has no track list — just beautifully lettered album art and, in iTunes, cryptic ASCII symbols. Much of the material feels like it could be drawn from the distant corners of Alan and Richard Bishop’s Sublime Frequencies project and carries much the same message: that people plug in, freak out, and fall down across whole small world after all.
The lack of performance information triggers all kinds of alarms in my brain’s obsessive quadrants: how can I understand something if I don’t even know what to call it? Regardless of how I feel about a crossing it, I think there’s an unquestionable line between liberating the content of a piece of music via mp3s (“I’m gonna copy this great, obscure song for all my friends”) and liberating the intellectual ownership of the work entirely (“I’m gonna deliberately not give credit to the person who wrote it, even though I know who he is”). These are not just samples, mind you, but entire songs.
Obviously, the tracklisting is absent for legal reasons. Still, it’s a big line to cross — obscuring intellectual property, I mean, not bootlegging, which is quite well-trodden — and crossing it can be oodles of fun. It is incredibly freeing as a listener. “ﬂ°” is the first real song on the disc, and I’ve no idea where it’s from. It grooves like Jamaican dub, but the melody sounds positively West African (but, then, that guitar sounds a bit Middle Eastern).
Here, crossing that line is potentially terrifying. The exploration of music is a dialogue, the discovery of albums, bands, and songwriters naturally leading one to the discovery of related albums, bands, and songwriters. In that way, the Trap Door mix is seemingly a dead end in a hedge maze. Maybe that’s the trick: that they found an end at all. Of course, Google can help with the vocal cuts, but the instrumentals remain elusive. It’s either an end, or the music becomes the property of the curator, the only one with the key. None of this is to complain — I’ve been thoroughly digging the bejeezus out of this mix — just to wonder aloud about what it all means, maaaan.
“NYC’s Like A Graveyard” – the Moldy Peaches (download here)
from The Moldy Peaches (2001)
released by Rough Trade (buy)
(file expires September 5th)
Like “I Don’t Wanna Leave You on the Farm,” the Moldy Peaches’ “NYC’s Like A Graveyard” might first be construed as a novelty anthem. And it kind of is. Certainly, the anti-folk Peaches — who wore bunny suits, among other costumes, during their performances — eventually broke up rather than trying to shrug off the stigma of humor.
I remember hearing this song everywhere during the summer of 2001. I think it got played between nearly every set at Wetlands, and RANA covered it once or twice. It made me buy the album, just before a solo road trip I took to New England during the first week of September. Driving through rolling green hills, none of the other songs on the album — all novelties (or at least mutants) — took, but “NYC’s Like A Graveyard” was every bit as good as I thought it was. The recording hisses, almost literally, between the abrasive guitar and crummy-sounding hi-hat. Listened to as a single, between songs by other artists, my ears cringe whenever “NYC’s Like A Graveyard” begins.
Then 9/11 happened, and the song twisted into vapor. It’s not that the Moldy Peaches were prophetic, like Dylan’s “High Water (For Charley Patton),” their song was just true. “NYC’s Like A Graveyard” is a utopian summer anthem (“all the rock stars double datin’”), and one of those random thoughts one has sometimes when looking at the skyline (“all the tombstones skyscrapin’”), but mostly it’s about being young in New York (“we’ve got it! we’ve got it!”). In that period of post-attack murmur, though, it went away, not censored so much as willed out of people’s minds. RANA certainly never covered it again. Five years later, the song now a playlist footnote, New York City has changed considerably, though it is still — among many other things — a graveyard.
“I Don’t Wanna Leave You on the Farm” – Ween (download here)
from 12 Golden Country Greats (1996)
released by Elektra (buy)
(file expires September 4th)
My friend Bubba Love once pointed out that — slowed and stripped down — Ween’s “I Don’t Wanna Leave You on the Farm” could be an Elliot Smith song. He’s totally right. Specifically, it’s the chorus: that mournful, mournful change and the lyrics themselves (“days go by and I’m still high,” “leaves fall to the ground, it’s a sound that reminds me of you”). Since then, I’ve wanted to hear it played that way. It’s completely typical Ween, able to set real emotion (there are days I can’t get enough of the chorus) inside this wholly absurd frame (Ween doing a country album to begin with) with self-consciously juvenile brushstrokes (“I’m alone… on the throne”). That’s pretty much Ween at their best.
“Freckle Wars” – Ecstatic Sunshine (download here)
from Freckle Wars (2006)
released by Car Park (buy)
(file expires August 28th)
Maybe my favorite moment on Sonic Youth’s Murray Street is at the very end of “Rain On Tin,” when the drums and the bass drop out, leaving only Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, and Jim O’Rourke’s guitars. For about 30 seconds, transcendent electric guitar arpeggios wrap around one another. The Baltimore duo Ecstatic Sunshine — just two dudes with axes, man — take that moment and derive an entire sound. Their MySpace page declares them to be “Black Metal / Trance / Jam Band,” which isn’t too far from the truth, either. .
The delirious two minute title track from their joyously slim debut, Freckle Wars is probably all one need know about Ecstatic Sunshine. From the first beat, it’s busy and chiming, like the Allman Brothers without all the extraneous drummers, bassists, organists, and predilections towards sounding soulful. Notes scamper and dive, chase one another through the air, and drop into rhythm parts when necessary, all while forging a sense of movement. Mixing the psychedelic punk jams of Television and Sonic Youth with post-White Stripes minimalism and hippie goodness, Freckle Wars is one of the most refreshing debuts of the year.
“Wait For You” – The Mountain Goats (download here)
from Babylon Springs EP (2006)
released by 4AD (buy)
(file expires on August 4th)
The closer from the Australia/iTunes-only Babylon Springs EP, “Wait For You” is a quiet John Darnielle gem. Instead of the lighter-and-liter full-band arrangements Darnielle has favored lately (including the other tracks of the EP), “Wait For You” opts for the straight-up acoustic guitar/bass of the Mountain Goats’ live gigs. Done right, the guitar/bass combo is one of my favorite sounds in the world, warm and rich, and part of what makes a lot of Blood on the Tracks such a joy for me.
Here, Darnielle whispers his narrative with all authority. “When it came time to wait for you, I took the bus to Malibu,” he begins, simultaneously precise (bus, Malibu) and vague (you? wait?). The chorus hook is gorgeous, its combination of image (“and a rainbow in the west wrapped its coils around the earth like a serpent”) and delivery (quieter and quieter and quieter) making for a little moment of transcendence.
“Bat Macumba” – Os Mutantes (download here)
from Os Mutantes (1968) (buy)
(file expires on July 31st.)
Since Os Mutantes rickety, joyous reunion show at Webster Hall on Friday, Gilberto Gil’s “Bat Macumba” — played by the Mutantes to open their encore — has been lodged in my head; the soundtrack to a very nice weekend, indeed. I’m surprised no hippie band has yet attempted to cover this. It’s perfect: an infectious groove, a playful musical structure (a syllable gets dropped from the chanted title phrase each time around, changing the meaning slightly), and equally playful lyrics that (on account of the dropped syllables) reference, among other things: Batman, Afro-Brazilian religion, and — according to a friend who speaks Portuguese — a command to smoke dope. My kinda tune. It’s been stuck in loop in my brain all weekend, despite seeing a bunch of other performances. When I arrived home at 5 in the morning last eve to a roommate-less loft, I put on “Bat Macumba” and danced.
So, basically, I have no idea what’s going on here, but it’s fucking awesome (which pretty much describes what I love about Japanese psychedelia in a nutshell). In this case, it’s a bunch of women screaming/chanting/calling-and-responsing/doing-somethin’ pretty dang gleefully. My attraction to The Boredoms (OOIOO is a side project), Cornelius, and Acid Mothers Temple involves a pungent toke of exotica, fer shizzle, but there really is some core idea that is totally compatible with me as a listener. While it’s a stretch to call that something “universally transferable” (universally transferable to record geeks being tantamount to being world famous in Poland), there is still enough of a continuity to make the foreign language and hints of Asian folk music seem almost understandable, which is actually way cooler than literally understandable. It’s as if the song’s visceral meaning is forever on the tip of my tongue. Plus, it’s called “UMA.”
“Frosted Ambassador Suite” – The Olivia Tremor Control (download here)
from Those Sessions EP, recorded 18 March 1997 with John Peel
“Through My Tears > Oh Comely > Now There Is Nothing” – Neutral Milk Hotel (download here)
recorded 14 September 1997, Broad River Outpost, Danielsville, GA
“Trombone Dixie” – The Beach Boys/Marbles (aka Robert Schneider) (download here)
via Optical Atlas
(non-Marbles files expire on June 29th)
Ah, Jah bless Brewster Kahle and archive.org. Via their most rocking Wayback Machine, I recovered the Signal To Noise article I wrote, er, way back about a trip to Athens, Georgia to “find” Elephant 6. In a lot of ways, I was pretty naive and a few years too late. In other ways, I wasn’t. Maybe they’re not putting out records as furiously as they once did, but that’s life, and the facts of that make this group of people no less extraordinary. If anything, it makes them more so.
Here’s an E6 sunshine fix for while you read, a pair of live suites from Neutral Milk Hotel and the Olivia Tremor Control, and an obscurity from Apples in Stereo leader Robert Schneider. “Through My Tears > Oh Comely > Now There Is Nothing” is pure psych-punk joy, hot from the soundboard, shortly after the band returned to Georgia after recording In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. The Olivas’ “Frosted Ambassador” suite — this version is from a John Peel session — is considerably more considered, and (to me) perfectly captures the feeling of watching the sun rise after a long, strange night. “Trombone Dixie,” meanwhile, is http://www.opticalatlas.com/marbles3.html ">a young Schneider’s bedroom attempt to finish one of Brian Wilson’s incomplete instrumental beds from the Pet Sounds sessions.
“Clementine” – The Decemberists (download here)
from Castaways and Cutouts (2002)
released by Hush (buy)
(file expires on June 27th.)
At first, I thought I liked The Decemberists because they http://archive.salon.com/ent/music/review/2003/09/16/decemberists/index.html">sounded like Neutral Milk Hotel. As Colin Meloy’s surreality transformed into theatricality, though, I realized that it wasn’t Meloy’s Magnumtude that did it for me (though it was a fine entry point), but — on Castaways and Cutouts, anyway — the understated loveliness with which he delivered. “Clementine” is weary and beautiful. It’s folky and plain and uncheeky in a way that seems increasingly foreign to The Decemberists’ recordings. But forget what they’ve become, ’cause this is just great. Meloy sounds tired, and the song comes out a lullaby, as much as for the singer as for the audience. The pedal steel is well used, avoiding staid country tropes, and blending warmly with the accordion to create something unique. I think it is time for bed.
“Woman” – Devendra Banhart (download here)
from Cripple Crow (2005)
released by XL (buy)
(file expires on June 23rd)
Drunk dial from an old flame today. Those things happen in this type of weather, this glorious post-spring warmth before the reality of summer arrives like a smothering veil. The nights have been particularly generous, cool cross-breezes rolling into my room and over my bed. It lures me into staying up later and later to enjoy it. Sleep comes perfectly on nights like this, and I want to prolong the pleasure of that as long as possible, and try to forget the direct sunlight, magnified by the windows, that will burn me like a bug come morning. I won’t think of the cruel half-sleep I am forced into long before alarm rings. I won’t think of that at all.
It being summer and all, I’ve been cranking the summer jamz. This weekend, I dug on The Breeders, whose indie-surf-punk masterpiece Last Splash is top-to-bottom great. It’s heretical, I suppose, but I actually like The Breeders a good bit more than The Pixies (at least if one measures “like” by how often he actually listens to the music).
At the same time that I love Last Splash and find choruses like “summer is ready when you are!” to be absolutely irresistible, I also acknowledge that it falls oddly in the pantheon. There are certain albums that I hold very dear that could hardly be called groundbreaking; they’ve just burned themselves into my consciousness, somehow, and become special, despite being generic in some way or another.
It is safe to say that there are few albums like Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. It creates a unique space. By contrast, I suspect that there are probably a half-dozen albums that’ve been made this year that could’ve grabbed me in much the same way as Last Splash (or The Raconteurs’ Broken Boy Soldiers). But they didn’t, or haven’t yet, likely because I didn’t cross paths with them when I was looking for an album like that. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea I think I would have found no matter what.
But Last Splash‘s atmospheric distorto-slide guitars, and “Saints” (with the awesome aforementioned chorus), have traveled with me for some time now. “Saints” goes particularly well on a mix before or after “Snail Shell” by They Might Be Giants.
There’s so much very-good music out there that finding something really remarkable becomes a surprisingly difficult task. Sometimes, I fret that my inner harddrive has filled up, and that I’ll never fall in love with a new album again, and have it — most every song — be part of me. I’m honestly not sure how long The Raconteurs’ Broken Boy Soldiers will stick with me. But, if one function of an album is to be a collection of little moments that I remember (and hopefully smile at) when I’m not listening to it, then — this season, anyway — Broken Boy Soldiers is pure sugar. There are parts that are pure fluff, but catchy-ass, immensely likeable fluff.
“Yellow Sun” isn’t my favorite song on the album (that’d probably be “Intimate Secretary”), but two separate hooks have sunk their teeth into me of late. The first is the way Brendan Benson sings “the phase of the moon,” with a little melodic swoop on the “of the.” I went around for days trying to figure out what song it was from. The second is the way the Rhodes sounds against the strummed acoustic guitar. It’s just a really pleasing, appropriate combination.
Oddly, the parts of the song I really love and remember all take place in the first minute-and-a-half. After that, Benson and Jack White dismantle the innocence of the first two verses (“and if the sun should follow us into your room, the courage would be robbed from me, to tell you the truth”), which is a totally clever way to introduce a narrative, just neat songwriting, but not what releases the happy stuff into my brain. And that’s okay, because when I think about the song, I — by definition — rarely remember any of the things that aren’t hooks, and when I actually listen to it, it’s clever enough to sustain.
Much of Broken Boy Soldiers is imperfect, but much of it isn’t, especially when the sun is out.
Since quitting the Aquarium Rescue Unit in 1994, Col. Bruce Hampton (ret.) has sort of lost himself in translation. While successfully elucidating his doctrine via Mike Gordon’s 2001 film, Outside Out, it’s been a while since Hampton’s music has been as weird as it’s often made out to be — which, in turn, makes a lotta people wonder what the big deal is. Smaller chunks of the Big Deal involve Hampton’s waaaaay-underground ’80s cassettes under band names like “The Late Bronze Age” (http://www.jambands.com/mar01/monthly/cdreviews.html#cd5"> reissued by Terminus in 2001).
But the main chunk of the Big Deal was, and remains, the Hampton Grease Band, whose 1971 Music To Eat was purportedly the second-worst selling double-LP in Columbia Records’ history. The two brilliant discs are a treasure trove of Southern avant-hippie wankery of the first order, somewhere between Frank Zappa and the Allman Brothers’ jazzier moments.
The occasion of this post was, initially, the 40th anniversary of the events described in the Grease Band’s “Six.” Frankly, though, the album opener, “Halifax,” is just much better: a “focused” 19-minute tour through Hampton’s inner Halifax (“six thousand six hundred and thirty eight miles of grated road! And a lot of gravel, too!”) while the band epically freaks out in multi-sectioned bliss. It is a blueprint for jam-prog strangeness that not even Phish ever matched.
In some ways, Hampton is only icing on his bandmates’ performances. He doesn’t play an instrument, he only sings (if one can call it that). And that’s basically what he’s done for his whole career. There is a temptation to call him a charlatan — which, of course, he is — but he is a charlatan who, for a very long period of time, seemed to consistently catalyze extraordinarily talented individuals to create something distinct and, well, Bruce-like. Hampton’s been brandishing the “retired” suffix for well over a decade. Appearing on only one cut on the forthcoming Codetalkers album, though, it looks like he actually might be. Maybe.
I busted out Soul Coughing’s Ruby Vroom while doing the dishes tonight, and re-fell in love with an old favorite, “Screenwriter’s Blues.” The album version, of course, is the proverbial Platonic motherfucker. That is, it’s good and definitive. I love Doughty’s mythical descriptor, “and men built a Los Angeles,” as if there could be more than one. Mark de Gli Antoni’s cyclical horn sample is the sonic equivalent of “the imperial violet” cast when “the sun has charred the other side and come back to us.” The whole song boils down to that, and the way Doughty sounds the word “luminous,” disappearing into a wispy, baubled L.A., like a city encased in a raindrop.
The jammy-jam 10-minute live version, recorded in Tokyo in 1997 (and released as part of Kufala’s great Soul Coughing archival series), expands on this vibe. Doughty launches into the spoken word over an ambient noir-groove. Imperceptibly and impeccably, the band snaps from their sparse weirdness into a complete reimagining of the song that occasionally calls on elements of the original recording, but is mostly just its own unique entity.
A mostly unformed rendition from an early Knitting Factory gig, in June 1992, reveals exactly how much work went into the song. The idea is there, clearly. “You see the grid of light below the plane descending on the airport,” Doughty recites during one of the song’s better excised lines, but it clearly needed some editorial attention — which it thankfully got — not to mention some music beyond a drum groove. Nearly all of the song’s final lines are present in some variation. The creative process in action, though only really relevant as a footnote to the other two versions.
“Meet the Mets” – Yo La Tengo (download here)
from Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics (2006)
released by Egon
(file expires on May 31st.)
Every one of the 30 tossed-off covers on the terrible-by-any-objective-standard Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics will be endearing to somebody; the only question is which one. It’s kind of a neat effect, and it makes the band seem that much more personal. For me, it’s “Meet the Mets,” the closest the team (from whose lore YLT drew their name) ever came to a theme jingle. Though it was recently replaced — officially, anyway — by the metallic shit-pop production “Our Team, Our Time,” “Meet the Mets” still gets an early inning airing and sing-along. Young Manhattanite recently posted a delightful mp3 history of the Mets’ various songs over the years.
(Visible under the 7-train tracks is the Casey Stengel bus depot.)
(“Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” 7th inning stretch.)
“Feels Blind” – Bikini Kill (download here)
from Bikini Kill EP (1991)
compiled on The C.D. Version of the First Two Records (1994)
released by Kill Rock Stars (buy)
(file expires on May 30th.)
Sometime during junior high school, at summer camp, my friend (a girl, it should be noted) played me Bikini Kill’s “Feels Blind.” I was just learning to play guitar, and the three-note riff was irresistible. I loved how it started off clean with the nice neat martial beat, and then the band just went apeshit. The intro verse was lovely, I thought: a clever melody and cool lyrics, and then it just disappeared into the full-throttle punk-rawkness of it all — and that was awesome, too! And then Kathleen Hanna was screaming something about how “as a woman, I was taught to be hungry.” Then, the climactic chant: “I eat your hate like love.” Needless to say, we played it in our summer camp band (we were called “Umlaut” that year). She played bass. I was part of the unnecessary army of guitarists. It was fun.
And sometime after that, while visiting the aforementioned girl in DC, I bought myself Bikini Kill’s The C.D. Version of the First Two Records on a label called “Kill Rock Stars” (which seemed plenty provocative to the 15-year old me). When I showed off my purchase, I was told, basically, that I wasn’t allowed to listen to Bikini Kill. They were a riot grrl band, and — as a guy — it wasn’t for me. That bummed me out a lot. At the same time that Bikini Kill intended to create an inclusionary safe-space for girls, I was genuinely hurt by being excluded from this music that my friend herself had introduced me to. It was the first and last riot grrl CD I bought. Our friendship didn’t last much beyond that.
A few things happen when a favorite artist doesn’t put out an album for a few years. The first is that the already-existing catalogue ossifies into what seems like a closed canon. The second, and basically inverse, reaction is the lingering fear that the next project is going to be the shitty one, the one where the star ratings in the AllMusic.com discography suddenly jag downwards. Hearing new songs in advance of a new record can be exciting, if scary. What may’ve seemed like a perfectly balanced body of work suddenly needs to admit something new; and one must make room in whatever his conception of the band is.
This week, both Yo La Tengo’s “Beanbag Chair” and Wilco’s “Is That The Thanks I Get?” made the cyber-rounds. I am still assimilating, though I have happily listened to “Beanbag Chair” many times, but have been semi-afraid to take a second glance at “Is That The Thanks…,” for fear it might confirm my initial impression. Likewise, a friend directed me towards a page of live recordings from the current Radiohead tour, including much of their new material. I have not yet had a chance to listen (see above).
“John Wesley Harding” – Wilco (download here)
“I Shall Be Released” – Wilco (download here)
recorded 5 March 2005, Vic Theater, Chicago, IL
(files expire on May 24th.)
I love when I listen to a good live recording so often that I know it as well as an album, accidentally have the banter memorized, can identify its sound instantly when it comes on shuffle, and the likes. One of my favorites is a Jeff Tweedy solo gig from last March, which concluded with Wilco joining him onstage for the final encore. It is paced perfectly with a vibe all its own, perfect for long Sunday mornings. It doesn’t hurt that the recording is a rich and beautiful soundboard. During the encore, Tweedy & co. played a pair of reverent Bob Dylan covers, “John Wesley Harding” and “I Shall Be Released” that I am extraordinarily glad to have in my collection. Especially in the case of the former — the title track from Dylan’s stark, well-aged masterpiece — Tweedy picked well.
RANA played long and late and raucous at the Knitting Factory on Saturday. Three-quarters of the way through the set, back to back, they jammed their great lost/unrecorded double-A-side 7-inch: Comin’ Correct (Metzger) b/w Buy, Sell or Break (Durant). I’m not sure how the world would be different had it ever been released, let alone recorded, but these two songs live together in my mind. Here are the two songs, in marginally less than Platonic form.
“Ragtime Nightingale” – David Boeddinghaus (download here)
from Crumb soundtrack (1995)
released by Rykodisc (buy)
(file expires on May 17th)
Even without an inch of vinyl crackle, ragtime pioneer Joseph Lamb’s “Ragtime Nightingale” sounds mysterious and old. One gets the sense, though, that the song has exactly the same emotional impact as it did when it was first composed; that it is not simply the nostalgia of listening to ragtime in the early 21st century, but an objective emotional effect of the music. It’s just beautiful. The genre’s signature rhythmic force gives shape to the melody, which is so closely entwined that it is almost elusive, a shadow turning within a shadow.
Pete Seeger was my first hero, plain and simple. My parents played me a lot of his records when I was very young, most especially his American Favorite Ballads series. I have distinct memories of their tinted, block-printed covers on the big, mysterious record sleeves. He was probably the first professional musician I saw perform. I got to interview Pete two months back, and it was one of the most deeply satisfying experiences I’ve ever had. It’s been nice to see him get some attention lately, with Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions disc, and the subsequent New Yorker profile of Pete. Seeger’s music is lily white. When, on the elegiac “Down in the Valley,” he sings, “write me a letter, send it by mail, send it in care of Birmingham jail,” one wonders what the hell somebody so mild-mannered could possibly be jailed for. Seeger was jailed, though, for refusing to name names before Joseph McCarthy’s House un-American Activities Committee.
I didn’t know any of that when I was a kid, though, nor did I even question Pete’s authority about being jail. It seemed so obviously a song, a play of some kind. There is no authenticity to Pete Seeger’s performances of American folk ballads, at least in the sense that — owing to his ridiculously button-down voice, his earnest presentation — Seeger is so obviously presenting songs. That, Seeger implicitly says, is what one should be listening to anyway. There is a backwards transcendence to Pete’s version of “Down in the Valley.” It’s as corny as it comes, but there’s no mistaking the beautiful, lingering melody at the center. Seeger is not interpreting the song, he is simply singing it. And, while he may have political reasons for doing so, he’s still doing so, and that’s something still rare and wonderful.
On “Three Woman Blues,” The Wowz set their hootenannic anti-folk over a beat that recalls Brazilian baile-funk (especially the recurring two-note electro-whistle melody). The verses are pure amphetamine-era Dylan (“Jet Pilot,” specifically), but the dropped chorus is all Wowz: “I wouldn’t be a misogynist, if my heart didn’t hurt as bad as this.” The ragged harmonies are ace, as are their musical equivalent in the sloppy/ecstatic lightning-shot guitar break that leads to the middle-eight. My favorite line, sung good ‘n’ dry, is there: “She moves in a stupid way / and she’s, like, obsessed with putting things away.” Not ready to be manic yourself? Well, dig the upswings vicariously through the Wowz.
“The Mountain Low” – Palace Music (download here)
from Viva Last Blues (1995)
released by Drag City (buy)
(file expires on May 9th.)
I’m a sucker for a good first line anywhere, be it a novel or a newspaper or a song, and — holy “Bob” — does Will Oldham’s “The Mountain Low” have one. “If I could fuck a mountain,” Oldham sings, “Lord, I would fuck a mountain.”
“There are so many ways you can go at something in a song,” Bob Dylan told Robert Hillburn last year. “One thing is to give life to inanimate objects. Johnny Cash is good at that. He’s got the line goes, ‘A freighter said, “She’s been here, but she’s gone, boy, she’s gone.”‘ That’s great. ‘A freighter says, “She’s been here.”‘ That’s high art. If you do that once in a song, you usually turn it on its head right then and there.”
Oldham twists it from the start. After that, the song settles down into lyrics and a fantastic melody that are basically folk music (or anti-folk or whatever you wanna call a boho duder with an acoustic guitar these days). But that first line just hangs over the song, and informs what’s essentially just a lovely strum with a general sense of dirty, surreal unease.
“Every Grain of Sand” (demo) – Bob Dylan (download here)
recorded in 1980
from Bootleg Series box set (1991)
released by Columbia Records (buy)
(file expires April 26th)
Given the quality of the work, it might not say a lot that “Every Grain of Sand” is easily my favorite Bob Dylan tune from the ’80s. Shot of Love, from 1981, is called Dylan’s first post-Christian album. But “Every Grain of Sand,” is still very much a religious song, albeit in a more nuanced, less evangelical way than his previous three records. “I hear the ancient footsteps, like the motion of the sea,” Dylan sings, “sometimes I turn, there’s someone there; other times, it’s only me.”
With its reverb-heavy guitars, the official Shot of Love version sounds a bit like a prom ballad, or maybe one of David Lynch’s attempts at noir pop. The demo, released on the inaugural Bootleg Series box set, is more palatable (and a bit faster). The sparse arrangement of Dylan’s piano and Fred Tackett’s guitar is just right. For reasons both topical and musical, I can easily imagine Sufjan Stevens covering this rendition of “Every Grain of Sand,” whispering the lyrics over Kermit-style banjo.
“The Lifting” – R.E.M. (download here)
from Reveal (2001)
released by Warner Bros. (buy)
(file expires on April 24th.)
Being warm out and all, I got some quality roof/sunset time in this weekend. It made me want to listen to Reveal, by R.E.M.. Post-Automatic For the People R.E.M. tends to get a raw deal, I think. Admittedly, the last album wasn’t great (though I owe it another listen), but I think Up and Reveal are legitimate — if modest — records. There are no anthems, but that’s not their place. “The Lifting” is Reveal‘s opener. As soon as Michael Stipe comes in and the chord changes become obvious, it is unmistakably R.E.M.. The whole album is like that: virtual orchestras and noise washes, but there’s never any confusing the band. It’s a unified, unique sound, I think, often hard to place individual instruments.
Like most of my favorite R.E.M. songs (as well as Astral Weeks by Van Morrison), I’ve rarely stopped to think about the lyrics. I can sing along to “The Lifting,” I think (ditto for most of Automatic), but with few exceptions the songs have never cohered into complete thoughts or stories. Key words and phrases get lodged in my head: “seminar,” “sunken cities,” “the air was singing.” I have always associated this song with transcendence in the Sprawl. I think of gorgeous, late afternoon light hitting strip malls, chain restaurants, and parking lots. There is absolutely nothing in the lyrics to support this idea, but that’s what I love about Michael Stipe’s words: they tend to provoke nonsensical interpretations in me. They’re good carriers.
“Strange Invitation” – Beck (download here)
from Jack-ass single (1997)
released by DGC (buy)
(file expires on April 20th.)
Like “Brazil,” “Jack-ass” is also a durable song. Besides the Odelay version, based on Van Morrison’s cover of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” there’s “Burro,” the mariachi arrangement, and this, “Strange Invitation.” Given that Beck has since made it one of his trademarks, it’s also worth noting that this is probably first string-heavy space-pop ballad. (David Campbell, Beck’s father, arranged the strings in question.)
Like both other versions, “Strange Invitation” is gorgeous. For me, the center of the song is the phrase “we will rise in the cool of the evening.” It conjures up something out of One Hundred Years of Solitude, of seeking respite from an oppressive, exotic heat and finding it in the transcendent nighttime shade.
“April Showers” – Marcos Fernandes (download here)
from phonography.org, vol. 1 (2001)
released by phonography.org
(file expires on April 14th.)
Good field recordings are deceptively hard to make, especially of things that are simple, like rainstorms or waves crashing. At least when I’ve tried, unexpected noises have always sullied the result: people talking in the next room, sudden gusts of wind at odd angles to the microphone, etc..
Marcos Fernandes’ “April Showers” is the Platonic rainstorm. Water pounds in sheets on the porch roof, its tempo and intensity changing subtly, and — midway through — dramatically. A sparser sub-network of percussive drips plays in oblique counter-rhythm to the main drone. Airplanes (I think) cut through the atmosphere far above, issuing parallel rumbles like enormous pieces of construction paper ripping in extreme slow motion.
Sometimes, even if it is April and supposed to rain, it’s good to listen in advance to the music you are about to hear.
“Some Clouds Don’t” – Fred Frith (download here)
from Cheap at Half the Price (1983)
released by East Side Digital
reissued by ReR Megacorp/Fred Records (2004) (buy)
(file will expire on April 12th.)
Matt turned me onto avant-guitarist Fred Frith’s frickin’ fantastic Cheap at Half the Price several years back. I finally got my own unscratched copy in today’s post. It’d be cheap (at less than half the price) to compare the disc-opening “Some Clouds Don’t” to Brian Eno’s ’70s pop excursions (to which Frith himself contributed)… but I think I just did anyway. Like those albums, Cheap is a rare trip into vocal-based music. Frith’s ragged voice, lo-fi complexity, and tweeting keyboards are all cheekily charming. The harmonies are nice, and there’s something willfully naïve about the lead guitar playing that I like (especially coming from somebody as nimble as Frith). The whole album — recorded on a four-track with Frith playing most of the instruments and assembling all of the sound collages — is extraordinarily personable.
Once Upon A Time – Kahimi Karie with the Olivia Tremor Control
released by Polydor Japan (2000)
(file expires on April 9th.)
I’m a pretty big Olivia Tremor Control fan, but somehow — until this past weekend — I totally missed the existence of Once Upon a Time. Yet, there it is, nestled in the discography over at elephant6.com. Recorded in 2000 backing Japanese singer Kahimi Karie and released on Polydor in her native country, the Olivias serve up five tracks of spaced-out psychedelia replete with concrété chaos, horns, violins, cosmic blurps, and everything else one might expect (save for the giant Beatles choruses).
In an odd convergence, a few months ago, I asked my now ex-neighbor to give me the strangest music on her iPod. She gave me some tracks by Kahimi Karie that she’d lifted from a Japanese teen’s mp3 collection. And, lo, they were strange. Funny to find out now that she’s both a protégé of Cornelius (another fave), and has worked with the Olivia Tremor Control. Bizarro headphone candy, for sure. Once again, a peculiar noise called the Olivia Tremor Control…
(I’m pretty sure this EP/mini-album was never released in the States. It sure doesn’t turn up on Amazon. If anybody’s got any beef with me circulating it, let me know.)
“Walking With the Beggar Boys” – Elf Power (download here)
from Walking With the Beggar Boys (2004)
released by Orange Twin (buy)
(file expires on April 6th.)
“Walking With the Beggar Boys” uses the simple tools of rock — a circular guitar lick, a chorus that compares love to a dream, call and response — to create something ecstatic. There is nothing remotely progressive going on, but Andrew Rieger and the Elves go for it anyway. The refrain is perfect pop logic — “love was just a dream, you know I never got no sleep” — that comes at an oblique angle to the verses, which are about pretty much about what the title suggests. A brief Eno-circa-Warm Jets guitar solo gives way to the song’s moment of being: a breathless call and response between Rieger and Vic Chesnutt that recalls “I am the Walrus”: “I was you ” (“You were me.”) “He was she.” (“She was he.”) “They were us.” (“We were they.”) Crank it.
Last year’s Another Day on Earth, Brian Eno’s first solo collection of songs since 1977, is far from perfect. There’s almost no way to get around the fact that it’s synth-heavy New Age pop. Still, that core melodic gift that made his ’70s music special is present somewhere in nearly all of the tracks. After getting the album, I listened to it a bunch and tucked it away. Whenever one has come on lately, I’ve realized that I remember it and most of the words. He had to have been doing something right.
What “Just Another Day” has going for it is the fact that — on headphones, with one’s eyes closed — its first minute sounds and feels remarkably literally like the first rush of a psychedelic experience. The texture Eno chooses to express this breathtaking stereo-trickery recalls, for better or worse, a sonic approximation of a planetarium laser light show. After that, the song settles down into semi-trite (but, as I said, perfectly memorable) Eno-pop. Still, take a minute, put on your headphones, close your eyes, and zone. When was the last time you were at a laser light show, anyway? Do it ironically, if you need to, but do it.
“Tropicália” – Caetano Veloso (download here)
from Caetano Veloso (1968)
released by Elektra (1990) (buy)
Yesterday, Os Mutantes announced that, following their May performance in London, they will come to the United States for two gigs, in New York and Los Angeles, respectively. Though it wasn’t on the collective concept album/manifesto that announced the tropicália movement that included the Mutantes, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and others, Veloso’s “Tropicália” might as well have been. It’s as fine a template for Brazilian psychedelic music as one could ask for: textural, sophisticated, and beautiful. It’s the chorus that got me. It’s, y’know, toe tappin’.
Not that I understand a lick of them, but the verse lyrics (in translation, via Charles A. Perrone’s Masters of Contemporary Brazilian Song) are pretty boss, too, with phrases like “Its heart swings to a samba’s tambourine / It emits dissonant chords / Over five thousand loudspeakers.” The choruses, especially, are filled with references to Brazilian culture, such as Carmen Miranda and bossa nova, and the verses recall various songs, as well as (according to Perrone) “‘The Letter of Pero Vaz Caminha,’ the first literary document in colonial Brazil.” Heady shit.
“Fille ou Garcon (Sloop John B)” – Stone (download)
from Femmes de Paris, v. 1 (2002) (buy)
released by Wagram
(file expires March 24th.)
I don’t know much about this French version of “Sloop John B” except a.) it’s awesome and b.) it was introduced to me by wunderkammern27 correspondent Michael Slabach. Michael has just launched a blog as a homebase for his photography and his weekly podcast, The Sea of Sound. “Fille ou Garcon” is exactly the kind of eclectic and otherwise ginchy shit he’s great at turning up. A new edition — brimming with a bunch of tantilizing looking tracks, plus some old faves of mine — just went up today. I can’t wait to check it.
As for the song’s awesomeness, I guess I’m just a straight sucker for ’60s sounds. I love the sugar-coated bounce. It reminds me a little bit of Os Mutantes. But the real treat is the horn part, which is another sample waiting to happen. In the grand scheme of French pop, this is probably cookie-cutter stuff, cranked out in a quick session by some bored arrangers and on-staff musicians. Sophisticated it’s not, but man is it sunshiny.
A friend sent this to me very late at night over the weekend (thanks!), and it’s made me happy continuously since then. It’s not seasonal, forgive me, but Cassandra Wilson’s version of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” is the most luminescent bauble of a recording I’ve heard in recent memory. It’s long been one of my favorite Young songs, mostly because of its perfect melody, though I’ve always had to get by the semi-hokey Harvest Moon-era production.
Craig Street’s setting for Wilson transmogrifies the song from a campfire strum to a transcendent tone poem of chirping crickets (or a fine simulation), spare ambient percussion, a bowed bass, and — I think — a metallic dobro. There is a perfectly dulcet acoustic guitar lurking there, too, and mixed quite presently, at that. Given the Daniel Lanois-like weirdness of the rest of the voices, though, I didn’t notice it until giving the song a close listen. That’s a good thing, I’m pretty sure. All of these effects subliminally trace the changes, liberating the melody to drift dreamily.
What’s funny and unexpected is that, despite Young’s traditional Nashville-style backing, it’s Wilson’s avant-garde rearrangement that makes the song feel timeless and mysterious to me, like it was lifted from a 78 by a lost chanteuse who recorded four sides in an Oklahoma hotel room sometime between the World Wars. And that’s not to diss Neil Young’s version, ’cause it’s real purdy. But, this…
I vaguely remember my friend Paul playing me an Elliot Smith rendition of this tune back in college. Something to look for another day…
Proto-spring came to Brooklyn in a very real way over the weekend: those first days going out in only a tee-shirt because I can, sleeping with the bedside window open. Of course, it’s supposed get cold again in a few days, but this song — notable, I just realized after a good year or so of listens, for its complete lack of drums — will remain.
Ary Barroso’s “Brazil” is really one of the loveliest melodies ever written, I think. Though Barroso was Brazilian, his song hardly conjures up images of that sophisticated, chaotic Latin American country for me (probably because it was composed before the advent of bossa nova). Rather, it brings me to some cosmopolitan ’20s getaway that can only be reached by flying in a small plane represented as an advancing dotted line in a travel montage made of maps and stock footage. You know, like in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Excluding Django Reinhardt for no particular reason, the Deadly Nightshade Family Singers and Cornelius have recorded my two favorite versions that I’ve yet heard (please post suggestions if you’ve got others). They’re wildly different. The Nightshades — a macabre chamber string outfit who put out the great Plain Brown Suit in 2000 and then fell off the face of the interwebs — turn in what I (perhaps erroneously) think of as the platonic version. It is thoughtful and romantic. Cornelius completely twists the song on his mindbending Point in 2002, doing away with the signature chromatic riff and filling the song out with electro-acoustic samples, chirping birds, howling dogs, pastoral bleeps, and sputteringly chopped vocals. Somehow, though, it retains everything that I find romantic about the Nightshades’ rendition. This is the definition of a durable song.
While backing up files recently, I discovered a cache of mp3s I’d totally forgotten about — bits and bobs snagged mostly from the OG Napster, including lots of B-sides and random live cuts. “In Another Land” by the Rolling Stones is neither of these, though it is an obscurity. In fact, perusing the tracklist, nearly all of Their Satanic Majesties Request could be considered as such. The Stones’ sloppy-ass answer to Sgt. Pepper, it yielded virtually no songs that have entered the classic rock canon — pretty bizarre for an album by one of rock’s most legendary bands released at the peak of the psychedelic ’60s.
The only song in the Stones’ catalogue to be penned and sung by bassist Bill Wyman, “In Another Land” sounds a bit like the Pink Floyd then being piloted across town (and the cosmos) by Syd Barrett. In other words, it’s charming and cute and utterly blokey. The melody is simple and awesome. I love the childlike jump on “I stood and held your hand,” both the notes sung and the way Wyman sings ‘em. Run through (what I suspect is) a Leslie rotating cabinet, Wyman’s voice shimmers, and the whole cut feels as if it were conceived and recorded underwater. This is no grand statement. From what I remember, it’s mostly just Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts fucking around on a day when none of the other Stones bothered to show up. Perhaps this isn’t what Mick and Keef’s great demonic overlord wanted to groove on, but maybe they should’ve let Wyman take calls from the listeners every now and again.
I know shitall about Clifford Curry. This tune is on the Night Train to Nashville anthology. It turned up on my shuffle many months after I ripped the album. I’m a big believer in the power of an opening statement, be it the first line of a story or the top of a song, and “She Shot a Hole in My Soul” is one of my favorites. The horn intro establishes an instant momentum, and all the verses and arrangements unfold perfectly from there. It’s so good that the first time I really heard the song, I distinctly remember wanting the horn part to come back, and soon. It only did so twice.
Unless somebody’s done it and I haven’t heard it, it’s also waiting to be sampled and made the basis of a huge hit. That is, I know I personally would greatly enjoy a new version of this song where that horn part is repeated endlessly for two or three minutes, like “Crazy In Love” did with the horn part from the Chi-Lites’ “Are You Woman (Tell Me So)” (which only repeated once in the original version). Awesome morning music.
Here’s some post-Valentine’s Day contrast to Monday’s Beach Boys. It’s hard to call anything having to do with Frank Zappa “innocent,” but the teen-lust cynicism of Freak Out is just so durned precious. “Go Cry on Somebody Else’s Shoulder” sums it up well. “I’m somewhat wiser now and one whole year older,” sings Ray Collins from a time in life where one whole year was actually a perceptible and meaningful unit of time in one’s own emotional development. That’s the key to the whole album, I think.
Freak Out in general and “Any Way the Wind Blows” specifically have been hitting the spot lately, making increased sense with the years. This early demo (from the yummy http://stores.musictoday.com/store/product.asp?band_id=1039&dept_id=8494&pf_id=ZPCD04&sfid=2">Joe’s Corsage compilation) lacks the rhythmic sophistication of the officially released version, but that’s part of the charm. It sounds like music made by the characters singing. “Now that I am free from the troubles of the past,” Mother Ray croons. What past? Freak Out is music sung by people who’ve got nothing but future, and — being an album most appropriate for disaffected high school-age males — listened to by the same. Can it be nostalgia if you’re not remembering the good parts? And what if the good parts entailed the discovery of music like Freak Out that effectively shielded the bad parts? Can it be nostalgia then?
Here at the Bourgwick cabana it was a snow day, and — while savoring the falling whiteness — my mind naturally wandered to warmer climes. And I got to considering Endless Summer — the 1974 greatest hits collection that put the Beach Boys back on top of the charts — as a concept album. Why not? Why shouldn’t it be thought of as a continuous series of abstract scenes and innocent (and not-so-innocent) encounters shot on sunbleached stock, like French New Wavers on the lam in Los Angeles?
Why shouldn’t the mysterious Rhonda help the main character rid his memory of another woman, named Wendy (who he went together with for so long)? Can we take him seriously as he proclaims his love to a series of nameless women? After several of these, it begins to seem like slapstick: a joke repeated over and over and over.
Why shouldn’t he be offered riddle-like information from a stranger? “The girls on the beach are all within reach, if you know what to do,” he is told. No, he replies, as a matter of fact, he doesn’t know what to do. But no matter, the girls are still on the beach. He interacts with grotesque boardwalk caricatures that offer their own geographies, evaluating the quality of the land by the quality of women (“the east coast girls are hip,” he is assured) and the oceanic conditions.
(And, if it’s not, it’s at least a great docudramatic proto-Google map of the white southern Californian teenage gestalt circa 1963. In the real world, “The Warmth of the Sun” was the immediate reaction of two early-20something cousins to the Kennedy assassination.)
It’s a good week (for me, anyway) when there are announcements of new projects from Bob Dylan, David Byrne, and — now — Yo La Tengo. Over on ylt.com, Ira reports that the band is working on a new album in Nashville (presumably once again with producer Roger Moutenot). Beauty, eh? Ira also mentions a bunch of movie soundtracks. It’d sure be nice to see some EPs come outta those. And, while we’re on the topic, Brooklyn Vegan posted a few weeks back that YLT will be returning to the Prospect Park Bandshell on July 13th.
Above is “Barnaby, Hardly Working” from the third night of the 2005 Hanukah run. I’ve dorked about it elsewhere, and it’s worth a listen, totally different from the versions on Fakebook and the President Yo La Tengo EP. The band really milks the transitions, stretching out via a long Ira solo in the middle and turning the ending into two separate sections — a reprise of the verse, and finally a dreamy glide through the “face down beside the water” coda. There are all kinds of nifty arrangement touches throughout, too: Tortoise drummer John Herndon’s just-right shaker entrance (around the three minute mark), his drum-off with Georgia coming out of Ira’s solo, James’ sudden organ (pun only slightly intended) during the ending. For all I know, this is how they’ve been playing the song for years, but I’d sure never heard it. For BitTorrenters, the whole show is (hopefully) still available here. Thanks to yltfan for taping.
It took me a while to get the Tall Dwarfs, New Zealand’s lo-fi giants. I can’t remember if “Think Small” — the closing number from 1992′s Fork Songs — was a late night discovery, but that’s definitely where I listen to it most often. Along with George Harrison’s “Behind That Locked Door,” this has been in high rotation this week. It’s a nice bit of comfort, a simple and direct evocation of pulling the covers over your head, and — for a very real moment — giving up totally and completely on everything.
Welcome to the working week. Here’s a Monday morning freak-out to clear your head before you get back to sticking it to your local incarnation of the Man. Though Tom Zé is the Brazilian equivalent of David Byrne or Beck, “Toc” — from 1976′s Estudando O Samba — finds him on the more experimental end of his spectrum. Practically a proto-minimalist exercise (the whole song rests on one looping guitar part), nearly every single second is tailor-made for sampling. That is, one could grab just about any chunk and build a song around it, from the lovely rhythmic grid that makes up the first minute to the James Barry-like horn fills that glide in to the torrent of chattering voices and the clangs of typewriters to the whirs of electric drills (samples in 1976?)
I’m still learning my way around the Zé catalogue, but (at the moment) “Toc” seems like a good key to understanding it, containing a representative palette of Zé’s tricks from which to make sense of everything else. The whole track is utterly groovy, too, and — well — Brazilian. He’ll supposedly be touring later this year, behind his new album Estudando O Pagode (which is pretty rad). Hope he does.
Here’s a slab of bipolar Beatlesy joy from The Wowz, a New York band I really oughta see more often. “Happy Today” — and a lot of their debut, Long Grain Rights — just hits that spot sometimes: an uplifting and homemade accounting of happiness and its fracture lines, mope and the inevitable glimmers of its end. I suppose this is just a different reckoning of the same mathematics behind “All Things Must Pass.”
I’m a straight-up sucker for any kind of melodic percussion, from vibraphone (mmmm, Ruth Underwood-era Zappa) to mbira, the African thumb piano. Ralph White, the co-founder of the late Texan hillbilly weirdoes Bad Livers, had the brilliant idea to combine the latter with mountain music. Throughout Trash Fish, it creates a warm bed that fills the rhythmic holes left by the rolling banjo and the swelling fiddle. It’s so unusual and gorgeous that it pushes the genre from its usual Appalachian evocations towards a place even more pastoral and dreamy. A great morning album for those who can deal with a little twang before noon. My, that sounds dirty. Happy Monday.
I’ve long loved the White Album-era demo for this tune, included on Anthology (and even put it on my Hanukah mix), but — for some reason — had never really given much credence to the official version. Randomly, the same week, Ira from Yo La Tengo chose to put the album rendition on his Hanukah mix (right after the Tall Dwarfs’ “Meet the Beatle,” a hilarious account of an encounter with George Harrison himself, who denied that he was George Harrison). And, man, has it ever sunk in.
Beyond George’s beautiful and uplifting melody — and the fact that it’s a song exactly as slow as it should be — I love the Phil Spectorness of it all: the impossibly bright horns, the sunbeaming steel guitar, the angelic strings. For some reason, the music has just hit me absolutely over the past week. I’m not even particularly down right now. I’m doing quite well (dank you vedy much), so it’s not a particular comfort thing. It’s just pure pleasure. In Vegas and since, at the end of the day, I’ve wanted to do nothing more but listen to this song two or three times consecutively (as I’m doing right now). Happiness abounds.
After thrilling out repeatedly to their self-titled 2004 debut, I finally caught Icy Demons last month at the Bowery Ballroom, opening for Prefuse 73. Their music was as weird and otherworldly as it is on Icy Demons, at once atmospheric and way outside, while still being performed by a fluid, churning band. It is the type of music, filled with Martian grace, that I can’t really fathom being performed by humans, yet there they were. A rare contemporary album worth spending 44 consecutive minutes with.
It’s a 600 MB stuffed file of about 170 mp3s that I think are the bee’s knees — old favorites, new favorites, outtakes, hot jamz, shuffle-play weirdness, Brazilian fun, sound collages, and some field recordings of frogs and Chicago radio preachers thrown in for good measure. I’m sure some stuff will be quite familiar, but hopefully you’ll find abundant new goodies. Enjoy!
(And don’t forget to click “save-as” if you download so it doesn’t come up as a jarbled text file…)
Literally nobody I’ve ever mentioned it to has copped to remembering Beverly Hills Teens. It aired (sometimes?) weekday mornings during the half-hour before I boarded the bus to school when I was a kid, when — if I’d finished breakfast and gotten my coat on — my mother would occasionally let me watch cartoons. It was an inane piece of shit, a kiddie forerunner to 90210, and — besides the neon/turquoise color scheme — I remember literally nothing of it. I can’t recall a single character nor recount a single plot (though, I’m sure I could guess and probably be right).
But, for some reason, the melody of the show’s theme lodged itself firmly in my brain, and has stayed there for twenty years (albeit with mostly erroneous words). Hearing it now — because, as we know, everything is available on the internets — returns me somewhat bizarrely to my childhood skin. The melody, I’m happy to report, is exactly as I’ve been humming it for the past two decades, and it still evokes exactly the same exotic images of California that I had as a kid: a land foreign and mysteriously bright.
Word-up to the faceless Hollywood songwriter who penned this.
(both files expire on December 15th)
In honor of my friend Joey and coming across Bulworth on my chum’s television-box (I’d never seen it) and having already planned to post a Why? track and getting thrown “In A Cold-Ass Fashion” on the ol’ shuffle shuffle this evening… well, what reasons could I have for not celebrating a decade of dorky white boyz rapping?
I’d forgotten about “In A Cold-Ass Fashion,” a Mellow Gold-era b-side from some random compilation called Jabberjaw: Good to the Last Drop. In some ways, this is quintessential mid-’90s Beck: total absurdity (“smoke a pack of whiskey with Jesus Christ / I’ve got options / I’ve got cop shows / I get nauseous and the sweat is day-glo”), but the beats and the bassline that comes in at around the 2:10 mark and the robot voice at the end and the way the banjo breakdown drops in all kind of feel like a throw-forward to me — a prototype for the dancefloor sexx music from Midnite Vultures and Guero. And, besides, it’s where Beck declares himself the original gluesniffa. Take that, ya Houston robotrippers!
Elephant Eyelash by Why? — a rapper from the Anticon collective (2) — is easily one of my top 10 faves from this year. When I first heard Why?’s work with cLOUDDEAD, for some reason, little bits of his melodies reminded of some Beck’s acoustic tunes, not his rap stuff at all. There’s a real playfulness in the way the song is organized, which I love. As it progresses and builds from section to section, these modular scenes surface (“the rain comes down in late July” is particularly vivid), each defined by its own combination of rhyme, melodic turn, and arrangement. On one hand, “Crused Bones” not a song you can sit down and play with an acoustic guitar, but it’s definitely a song you could play with a band (3), though — as near as I can tell — the type of song that almost nobody would actually think to play with a band. Nearly all of Elephant Eyelash blows my domepiece as such.
(1) Holy shit, the redesign of beck.com is annoying. They used to have a great, functional, searchable discography. Now, the site’s all purdy & shit, with exclusive web tunes (cool, I guess), but — dammit — all I want is information.
(2) Man, there’s a lotta exploring to be done with these guys.
(3) Still kicking myself for skipping out when Why? & his comrades descended on Brooklyn a few months back.
This is a remarkable field recording that I first encountered in Rod Knight’s world music class at Oberlin College. “Postal Workers Canceling Stamps at the University of Ghana Post Office” is a pretty well spread track, and I imagine it gets taught in many/most world music courses, but there’s no harm in spreading it further. The content is exactly what the title implies, yet it still surprises and floors me just as much as it did the first time I heard it. From the textbook we used:
The men making the sounds you hear are workers canceling letters at the University of Ghana post office… This is what you are hearing: the two men seated at the table slap a letter rhythmically several times to bring it from the file to the position on the table where it is to be canceled (this act makes a light-sounding thud). The marker is inked one or more times (the lowest, most resonant sound you hear) and then stamped on the letter (the high-pitched mechanized sound you hear). As you can hear, the rhythm produced is not a simple one-two-three (bring forward the letter — ink the marker — stamp the letter). Rather, musical sensitivities take over. Several slaps on the letter bring it down, repeated thuds of the marker in the ink pad and multiple cancellations are done for rhythmic interest… The other sounds you hear have nothing to do with the work itself. A third man has a pair of scissors that he clicks — not cutting anything, but adding to the rhythm…. the fourth worker simply whistles along. He and any of the other three workers who care to join him whistle popular tunes or church music that kits the rhythm.
Watched a fair bit of Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home Dylan documentary last month. In it, Dylan talks about how musicians began imitating him, doing “some kind of jingly-jangly thing” (I think that was his phrase). He doesn’t name names, but — clearly — Pearls Before Swine’s “Playmate” falls under this heading. It’s got a jangly thing going, alrighty: the still-fresh organ-driven buoyancy of Blonde on Blonde backed by a rhythmic hook lifted directly from “Desolation Row.” And vocalist Tom Rapp sounds more like Dylan than Dylan (at least on this cut) (1). It’s pretty alright, as far as these Nuggets-style derivatives go. As Dylan himself (most likely) knew, there really was a peculiar emotional effect created by that particular combination of carnival organ and electric guitar that probably couldn’t be described as anything but jangly. There’s material on One Nation Underground — recently rereleased by ESP-Disk — that’s far more original (and, er, “influential”), but “Playmate” is certainly a curiosity for the cabinet.
(1) Rapp grew up nearby Dylan in Minnesota. If you believe what you read on the internets (and why shouldn’t you?), Rapp once beat l’il Bobby Zimmerman in a songwriting contest (finishing 2nd to Zimmy’s 6th). No shit? Maybe when they’re singing they’re both doing imitations of the Iron Range’s regional ghosts?
It all started 40 Thanksgivings ago — that’s 40 years ago on Thanksgiving — that Arlo Guthrie ran afoul of the law in sleepy Stockbridge, Massachusetts and found himself in jail for littering, an offense that would later free him from the draft, and provide gristle for the above linked-to 18-minute boomer/rockist campfire yarn called “Alice’s Restaurant” (remember Alice?) that doesn’t really have anything to do with Alice or the restaurant. Yeah, you’ve heard the song a million times, so what’s once more for an old friend? On Thanksgiving, no less?
In my last SpamBands.com column, I blathered about whether it was possible for digital files to have auras (1). This lo-fi mp3 of “Alice” demonstrates, to me, that they can. I downloaded this from the O.G. Napster one homesick night during (probably) my junior year of college. It’s followed me through three computers, more than a dozen system crashes, three or four different mp3-playing applications and their attendant playlists (its icon belongs to an app whose name I don’t recall), two iPods, without me ever consciously making a back-up.
To me, the shoddy digital flutter on the acoustic guitar is just as distinct as the post-radiator-flood warble on my parent’s vinyl copy. And while I don’t expect all of that to translate universally to whoever downloads this particular copy of “Alice,” I do think that the idiosyncratically subpar sound quality of the recording will have an emotional effect different from a more standard, ripped version. Through mere survival, it has become unique. Yes, most art these days is the product of mechanical reproduction, but not all copies are equal — they all communicate something unique to their medium.
All of which is to say: it’s Thanksgiving and here’s a copy of “Alice’s Restaurant,” where you can still get anything you want.
Fly-by-night, lo-fi, punk-frickin’-rock recording of Dylan performing a solid minute of The Clash’s “London Calling” yesterday in London. The super-digitized distortion on the Windows media file is the 21st century equivalent of an oversaturated cassette bootleg made with a built-in condenser mic (and, hell, for all I know, this recording was made on an oversaturated cassette with a condenser mic). Dylan’s post-“Love and Theft” gruntfest howl is perfectly suited to the medium, cutting through the shit like a rude, distorted guitar and beamed around the world in a matter of hours by an anonymous head. (Thanks, anonymous head!) (…and to Aaron & Russ for pointing it out.)
If you’ve ever dreamed of hearing Jerry Garcia’s (1) voice layered over itself in wordless harmony — ala the Beach Boys on “Our Prayer,” the invocation to Brian Wilson’s SMiLE — then the rehearsal take of “Down Home” is for you. And if you haven’t dreamed of that, well, too bad. Though the arrangement is basically the same, the official version released on Cats Under the Stars, sung primarily by then-Dead vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux — is something quite different. John Kahn’s bass guides sparsely but, here, it’s all Garcia, basically a capella, all northern California sweetness and heartache.
(1) Should you be a hater, at this point, I would like to both quote from and direct you towards a fine article by my friend Bill, published on the uber-heady BoomSalon:
“…a decade [after Garcia's death], we Deadheads – yes, I now wear that label proudly, so bite me – still all too often keep ourselves closeted, having internalized the embarrassment we’re still told we should feel, its patent absurdity notwithstanding.
“Well, fuck that. Here’s how it is: The Grateful Dead are the hippest goddamn rock band there ever was, and if you don’t get it, YOU’RE the one who’s not cool. That is no longer my – our – problem. I am embarking on a campaign, starting now, to see to it that those brilliant bastards finally get the respect they deserve, and I shall beat it out of you, o reader, with every rhetorical bludgeon I possess should you attempt to resist me.”
Been on a minor Beck kick lately (more on that soon, hopefully), wishing Guero made me happier than it does. But “Funky Lil’ Song,” Beck’s contribution to Dimension Mix (Eenie Menie, Aug. 22nd) — a tribute to Bruce Haack, Esther Nelson, and their utterly psychedelic children’s imprint, Dimension 5 Records — makes me quite happy, indeed. It’s a cover, but it shouldn’t be, reviving as it does a fine strain of Beck’s older music that he didn’t bring back for Guero: the novelty number. With spoken asides (“the bad vibrations are all around / when your house is upside down”), falsetto overdrive, and some kind of exaggerated soul singer voice I’ve never heard him use before, Beck definitely plays it for somelaughs. It’s a children’s song, after all.
But, while playful, it also retains that somber (ahem) “maturity” that crept into his music beginning with Sea Change that’s frequently toosomber. Beck sounds plenty world-weary on “Funky Lil’ Song,” but when you’re swaying and singing “ding dong, funky little song, everything is up and nothing is down” it’s tough to sound like a miserable sod. More than the comedy factor, though, what makes this feel like the Beck of yore is the sheer surprise of its discovery: a freshly minted obscurity. It’s nice to have that back, if only for five minutes and 15 seconds.
Dylan did a really lovely version of Pee Wee King, Chilton Price, and Redd Stewart’s “You Belong to Me” on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, from 1994. It’s just Dylan and guitar. Because of that — and the warmth of the recording, and those chord changes, and that tempo, and Dylan’s level of engagement — it feels to me very much like something that could come near the end of Blood on the Tracks, in the vicinity of “Shelter From the Storm” and “Buckets of Rain.” It’s real pretty-like.
The only problem with the recording was that, right after the last verse, came a sample of Woody Harrelson from the film. To put it mildly, it killed the vibe. Dunno why it didn’t occur to me earlier, but — tonight — I finally dumped it into ProTools, removed Woody, and fixed the ending. I was feeling nerdy. Enjoy.
I’ve been feeling the need to travel for a few months now, ideally ending up in San Francisco where I could visit my old college housemates. But I put off using my airline credit until the last possible minute, and now it seems as if it’s probably gonna expire before I can go. Feh.
Until I get my shit together, “Hazy SF” by Six Organs of Admittance is gonna have to do. It’s a perfect little slab of shimmering California boosterism that — along with the Devandra Banhart-curated Golden Apples of the Suncompilation that it’s drawn from — has become part of my morning routine lately. I lie by the living room window and shuffle through email while my head wakes up far away, on the couch of my friends’ North Beach apartment, sun pouring in, the cat skittering.
Last night, I downloaded the three newest Wilco tunes: “Just A Kid,” from the SpongeBob Squarepants soundtrack, and “Panthers” and “Kicking Television” from their online EP. I even paid for some of them. I’d used the iTunes store before, but never to purchase new material from a band I really like. There was something really fun about it, and it wasn’t just the guilt-free feeling of buying instead of downloading from a p2p network. There was an aethethic legitmacy to the act. I searched for what I wanted, and got it instantly, by itself, without a whole rash of ugly file names that — even if I could successfully download all of them them — might be mislabeled or corrupted anyway. Yes, yes.
“Panthers” and “Kicking Television” are A ghost is born outtakes. Of the three songs, “Panthers” is the first one that jumped out at me. It’s Wilco in quiet mode, all quiet parts flown around the gravitational center of Glenn Kotche’s metronomic tick. In places, it feels elegantly like Hail to the Thief-era Radiohead, stripped of their electronic bells and whistles. Still, I can see why it was an outtake. The song sorta ambles on in the same groove for a bit too long — like a less funky, less interesting version of “Spiders” — and just generally seems to be missing that extra oomph. “Kicking Television,” on the other hand, is perfectly serviceable Wilco punk, sorta in the vein of “I’m A Wheel” and “The Late Greats.” No use in splitting hairs over it, but those had a place on Ghost, and this didn’t. A nice footnote, and probably a good late-set/early encore number.
I think “Spiders” is going to end up being an important touchstone for Wilco, as they become (it seems) more of a band. If they continue on the sparse course they set with Ghost, the stripped Krautrock grooves of “Spiders” might easily become the template for the way Wilco play together. If “Just A Kid” — the first song recorded by the band’s current touring lineup — is any indication, that just might be the case. The song is driven by an insistent tock, established right away. The band never falls below this starting tempo, but accelerate beyond it with riffs and rhythmic inserts, and then fall back perfectly. They groove effortlessly — like a band that has been playing “Spiders” for 15 minutes on stage every night.
“Just A Kid” is a children’s song for adults in the same way as “In My Room,” though more self-aware of that fact. “I don’t wanna go to bed, there’s so much going on in my head,” Jeff Tweedy sings, in a great power pop evocation of childhood (made all the cuter by the fact that his son sings during the song’s bridge). “Everybody’s gotta do something they don’t wanna do,” runs the chorus — innocent advice for kids, weirdly comforting for adults. Most of all, it sounds like a song on the soundtrack to a children’s movie: big hooks, almost syrupy production, and undeniable bounce. It sounds mainstream (which makes it a more legitimate children’s song; what kid in his right mind would be turned on by “Radio Cure” or “Hell Is Chrome”?)