Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fresh & Onlys and Panther

I’ve had a couple of new items up at Blurt lately.

My favorite new band for 2009, the Fresh & Onlys, is doing that thing where they flood the market and confuse everybody…Grey-Eyed Girls is their second album in six months, but who’s counting when it’s this much fun?

Fresh & Onlys Grey-Eyed Girls

The Fresh & Onlys' self-titled debut earlier this year established the SF garage psych outfit as one of the best new bands of 2009. This second full-length, just a couple of months later, intensifies the sound, pushes it into slightly darker, more echoey corners, and, overall, strengthens the case. The songwriting has gotten stronger, spookier, funnier (the album's first line observes, "You don't have to pray/for beautiful skin/when you live/in a black coffin") and the band has improved noticeably with practice. There's nothing radically different about Grey-Eyed Girls, as compared to the first record, just a sense that everything has been nailed down a little harder.


“Invisible Forces”

And then there’s Panther, which used to be a one-man, boom box aided, kind performance art, but now is sort of a band (a duo with live drums and multiple instruments). This was Blurt’s “Band of the Week” last week.

Panther Entropy
In physics Entropy measures disintegration and disorder, the continual process of things falling apart. That's a fitting name for Panther's latest work, where pop forms are unceasingly put together, pulled apart and reassembled. Here rhythms, melodies and harmonies rub together in a humming friction of point, counterpoint and chaos.


“Love Is Sold”

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My rant on health insurance

I am one of the 47 million people in the United States without health insurance.

I’m 47. I’m self-employed. My husband had a mild, treatable, totally over form of cancer in 1999. I’ve been to the doctor once or twice for not-very-serious problems. According to the insurance companies, we’re both in the “high risk” group. Even though we both exercise every day, are of moderate weight and almost never get sick. My son went to the doctor last summer for his football physical, an appointment which consisted mostly of weighing, measuring, two shots and the doctor remarking on what great shape Sean was in. It cost $300.

We know people who have $10,000 deductible insurance which costs $1000 a month. (This is more like paying the mob not to burn down your house than health insurance.) The last time we were quoted a policy it was well over $1000 a month. This was a couple of years ago, and the premiums go up for individual policies by 15-30% a year. Moreover, insurance companies have a nasty habit of revoking your policy if you ever need it. We’re hoping, I guess, to make it to medicare without getting hit by a drunk driver or getting cancer or whatever else could happen to us.

So I was excited about the policy of health reform, but I am very, very worried about what’s on the table. The Baucus plan would require us to spend at least 13.5% of our income on payments to health insurance companies. It might be a lot more. I’m not sure what the number is for a family of three, but they’re quoting for four, and it’s just over $55,000. I make more than that most years. Which would mean that I would be required to pay whatever the insurance companies wanted to charge. I don’t have an extra $20,000 a year lying around. I don’t like giving money to what is essentially a criminal enterprise. If there’s no public option, all health reform will be, for me, is a requirement to make Anthem Blue Cross even more profitable than it already is.

I resent being called a “free rider.” I pay for everything my family needs. I pay into Medicare every year for other people though not, for another 20 years, for myself. I don’t have any of those fat slob long-term problems like diabetes, heart disease. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs or drive recklessly. My family has never used more than $6000 worth of health services in a year, and that was the year my husband had skin cancer. What Blue Cross wants is for me to pay them two to three times the maximum exposure they could ever have in insuring me. To hell with them. I’m keeping the money.

This talk of exchanges is complete bullshit. There are only a couple of insurance companies that do business at all in New Hampshire. We’ve had policies cancelled when one of them left the state because of some sort of regulation that made it harder to dump people will illnesses. There’s no reason to think that anything will change after reform, or that costs will be lower because of “competition.” (Competition with who? It’s a monopoly.) We need a public option and if our government delivers a mandate without a public option, they have screwed every self-employed person in the country.

But what else is new?

Lightning Dust and Cave Singers live

I went to see Lightning Dust, part of the extended Black Mountain family, and Cave Singers a couple of weeks ago and wrote this for Blurt.

Cave Singers and Lightning Dust have a fair amount in common. Both are from the Northwest - Cave Singers from Seattle, Lightning Dust from Vancouver - and seldom play the smaller towns on the east coast. (Lightning Dust has been to Northampton once, Cave Singers never.) Both are offshoots of louder bands in aggressive punk and rock traditions. Derek Fudesco was in Murder City Devils and Pretty Girls Make Graves before Cave Singers, and Amber Webber and Joshua Wells both hail from the Black Mountain family. And both are now exploring gentler, more traditional Americana sounds - though with an edge and intensity that comes from rock.

The rest of the review

Lightning Dust’s “I Knew”

Cave Singers’ “At the Cut”

Monday, September 28, 2009

There's a reason they call it 'Black' Heart Procession

Dark, dark, dark, as the Mekons might say.

My review of Six runs today at Dusted. Here's a bit:

The Black Heart Procession’s sixth full-length is, as you might expect, moody, gothic and quivering with existential dread, a dark-toned graze through waltz-time piano ballads, twitchy, slouching, tamped down guitar rock and eerily keening musical saws. Its tenderest song, “Drugs,” observes the circling-down-the drain-resolution of a love for an addict. Its most propulsive cut, “Suicide,” considers the upside of ending it all. Images of heaven, hell and the devil lurk in a good plurality of the songs (god is less prominent). Yet, like 2007’s Spell, Six is prone, at the most unlikely moments, to spontaneously burst out of its downer straightjacket and rock out, with the abyss-staring intensity of the Gutter Twins or Wovenhand. (I’d add Nick Cave if BHP had even the slightest sense of humor.)

A bit more


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Another triumph of mind over (aging) body

Hey, I ran a 3:43 marathon today and felt damned good the whole time.

I wasn't wearing a watch, so the time was a total surprise. I was hoping for a little under 4 hours.

Now if I could just get my stomach to settle down a little bit so I could eat something.

Results are up now.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hallelujah the Hills strikes again

Their Colonial Drones is out this week on Misra Records. I reviewed it for Blurt and the review went up yesterday.

Hallelujah the Hills, out of Boston, build rough symphonies out of homespun materials and shouted choruses out of existential crisis. With their battered orchestra pit of brass and strings, slightly unstrung sincerity, and way with an unstoppable melody, they are, perhaps, the best latter day heir to Neutral Milk Hotel.


“Blank Passports”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Um, Om, yeah?

Somehow I found myself reviewing the quintessential dude record for Dusted…and really getting into it. Though, like the record, my review took its sweet time getting going. I said:

The film Lawrence of Arabia masterfully conveys the size of its subject – the desert – through extended panoramic shots. You see, for instance, miles of blank sand and, somewhere, in the corner, a tiny black dot moves. Time passes and you see that the black dot is a man on camel back, and even so, it may be a minute or more before the character enters the scene fully enough to speak or act. It may help to think along these panoramic lines as you listen to Om’s long opening track “Thebes,” which takes shape as if out of a heat mirage, a drone coalescing into a repetitive loop of minor key notes. Two minutes pass before any vocals can be discerned, six before a drum kit gets any use, and eight and a half before the players crank the amplifiers for a Sabbath-like drone. The piece enters your ear space very slowly, in stages, as if coming from a long way away. As in Lawrence of Arabia, there is quite a lot of waiting for things to happen, and this is, possibly, why some people find Om tedious, others hallucinatory and compelling. After all, one person’s cinematic is another person’s boring.


“Cremation Ghat II”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Coupla punk rockers

I've been really enjoying a couple of new punk-garage type releases lately.

The Marked Men's Ghosts is basic but pretty great...kind of a Ramones vibe. Nothing at Youtube from the new record, but this video of "Dr. Dan" will give you a flavor.

And in the category of harsh but beautiful, the LA punk band Audacity has a very fine record out called Power's them, playing "Teenage Town".

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ettes, mad as hell…

My interview with Coco from the Ettes runs today at Venus. Venus is having some problems at the moment, so not sure whether I’ll have any more pieces over there…but I hope they work it out.
The Ettes’ latest album, Do You Want Power (Take Root), starts in a massive way: bassist Jem Cohen thundering an aggressively huge riff, drummer Poni Silver answering in thudding thunder, singer Coco Hames wailing about blood and skin fragments under the fingernails. The song, “Red In Tooth and Claw,” is one of a number of gore-themed, balls-out rockers on the Ettes’ third full-length.
“There is kind of a lot of violence,” admits Hames. “There was a lot of frustration and there’s a lot of wanting to lash out and…” she giggles, “cause people physical harm. We all feel that way sometimes, but it’s kind of alarming to see it delineated in these 12 or 13 songs.”


I can’t find any mp3s from the new album, but there are a ton of videos from before.

This one’s called “Marathon,” so obviously, I had to put it up.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I'm back...

I had a lovely weekend, thanks for asking. We went to see The Informant! which was quite bizarre and funny, in its way, but I think billing it as a comedy per se is stretching things.

We also rented Anchorman, which I hated unreservedly, except for Steve Carell who might as well have been in a different movie (a much more interesting movie). And, let's see, Sunshine Cleaning, which was okay, just okay.

I'm not running as much because my marathon is next week, so that feels strange.

I wrote four show previews today which is at least twice and sometimes four times the usual -- Os Mutantes, Japandroids/Coathangers, BLK JKS, and Mayer Hawthorne. Exhausted, all those youtube videos!

People have been sending me shit-tons of records lately, and I am drowning in it, but offhand would recommend any of the following if you're looking for a way to burn more of your already failing hearing (oh, yeah, that's me, not you).

Mission of Burma The Sound The Speed The Light...Burma!!! (thanks Michael.)
Mayer Hawthorne A Strange Arrangement...a white dude in hipster square frames, who sounds eerily like Curtis Mayfield, very strange. He's from Detroit.
Polite Sleeper The Lake Effect...very nice E6 type pop, the singer sounds like Darnielle, but much sweeter...
Sun Dial Return Journey...some sort of 1960s psychedelia, kinda Amon Duul-ish, liking a lot...bought it used.
Audacity Power Drowning...insanely sloppy, wonderful, hard-edged punk rock from a band that apparently all met in 6th grade. (They're not in 6th grade now, but I bet they're not out of high school either.)

And those are just the ones I've been listening to so far ...such a pile I have to get through...Simon's turned me onto this band called Rifles, may have to check out more of that when I come up for air again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Happy sloppy garage pop …why the hell not?

My review of the NYC band Darlings’ really fun, not mind-bendingly serious Yeah I Know runs today at Dusted.

Yeah I Knowfeels both familiar and oddly fresh. It’s an old car running on high-test gas. It’s the ephemera high energy of new adulthood funneled through well-travelled pop channels. And, not so remarkably, that energy carries the day. Whether you grew up on the Stones, the Replacements, Pavement or the Thermals, its sloppy exuberance will resonate like an old photo of a putatively simpler time.”


“If This Is Love”

“Teenage Girl”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Black Moth Super Rainbow

I've got a live review of Black Moth Super Rainbow and Soundpool up now at Blurt.

Check it out here, if you like.

Jim Carroll RIP

Great poet, definitive punk rocker, but who'd a thought he'd make 60?

The obvious choice, though really I like "Catholic Boy" better.

Friday, September 11, 2009

This is obviously Tim Cohen’s year…

In addition to releasing two full-lengths as the Fresh & Onlys, he’s also dug a very fine collection of lo-fi weirdo folkery out of the vaults, which I reviewed for Blurt. It’s a lot more like his Black Fiction stuff than Fresh & Onlys, though without so much beat-making.

Here’s my review.

You’ll probably have to check the MySpace if you want to hear it.

Hah, it’s Friday, isn’t it? Tomorrow we all get to sleep until it’s light out.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Still more distortion…

Great band name, Meth Teeth has. Not a bad album, either, though even I’m getting a little sick of the shitgaze aesthetic.

My review at Dusted today closes, “Like Eat Skull, Meth Teeth wraps fragmented bits of pop in a mesh of obstacles – cavernous distortion, buried leads and undecipherable lyrics. The songs win out most of the time, in a clattery, indistinct sort of way, though whether they’d sound better if you could actually hear them is anybody’s call.”

The rest of the review.

I first heard Meth Teeth at Raven Sings the Blues.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Daniel Johnston cleaned up

Okay, here's the thing. The idea of Daniel Johnston making a studio album with a professional producer and session guys doesn't immediately sound like a good one. After all, what we want from Johnston is a kind of purity, of unfiltered creativity untouched by artifice, rough and a little crazy. But in this case, the producer is Jason Falkner, whose Author Unknown is one of my favorites (I can listen to "She Goes to Bed" a dozen times in a row...and have), a guy who, incidentially, worked with Brendan Benson on another of my favorites, Lapalco. The Johnston/Falker collaboration -- Johnston's songs and Falkner's guitar, bass, keys and sound work -- is called Is and Always Was. It will be out October 6 on High Wire Music. One listen in, it's maybe my favorite Daniel Johnston ever...almost enough to get that image of that airplane fiasco out of my head.

Here's an mp3 of "Freedom"

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The long weekend

Hey, nice weekend?

We saw Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock on Sunday, which I enjoyed much more than I expected to. (I have had enough Woodstock nostalgia to last me until …well, forever.) Apparently a lot of the crowd scenes were filmed in Brattleboro, which is basically populated with Woodstock extras…so it makes sense.

Friday, we watched to Sean’s first football game, kind of discouraging because a) he didn’t play because it was varsity and b) they lost 47-0 and c) their best player got a season-ending injury on the third play. But on the bright side, as long as Sean doesn’t play, he can’t get injured, right?

We rented 2001: Space Odyssey, which I enjoyed very much, but Sean thought was kind of slow and the Ligeti music freaked him out. On a somewhat related tack, I got to page 550 of The Rest Is Noise, Alex Ross’ absolutely brilliant history of 20th century classical music…I knew a lot of the composers in the early chapters and I’m getting to the point (Cage, Reich) where I recognize names again, but lots to do about the middle.

Oh yeah, and my not very positive review of Susanna and the Magical Orchestra’s 3 ran on Friday at Dusted.

Here’s a video of “Palpatine’s Dream”

Monday, September 7, 2009

George Usher Yours and Not Yours

Another really nice songwriter record from the Parasol label, this one from George Usher, who has done time with the Bongos, Beat Rodeo and the Schramms. I called Yours and Not Yours, a collection of “ warm, well-crafted and understated country pop songs, carried by Usher's tremulous tenor and embellished with close harmonies, strings and pedal steel.”

The review ran in Blurt on Friday.

“Somewhere North of the Sky”

“I Would Have Done Anything”

(These are wma files, not mp3s.)

Friday, September 4, 2009

And the winner is…

I got to nominate the Clean for Blurt’s first-ever “Band of the Week,” but who are we kidding, band of the decade, band of the last 40 years…that’s more like it.

Anyway, here’s the “BOTW” blurb

And here’s the review

Happy weekend all.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Two guitars meet without touching

Reviewed the new Daniell/McCombs collaboration for Blurt a week or two ago and was unable to resist the temptation to go all abtract and low-rent poetic. I closed…
Guitars do not always sound like guitars here, often shedding their physical six-stringed form to take on the semblance of pure disembodied tone. Yet sometimes, just to remind you, a flamenco run of notes interjects, a pedal steel moans, a bit of electric buzz jars, and mystery turns deeper for its inclusion of the everyday.

The rest

There are some previews, but no full-length mp3s, at Thrill Jockey

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Wild Beasts

The outrĂ© falsetto’d pop of the Wild Beasts takes a bit of getting used to. Flamboyant, baroque, decadent…it’s sort of like Bowie to the nth power. I interviewed the singer Hayden Thorpe a year or two ago on the first album Limbo Panto, and Blurt has revisited that interview and spliced it together with Meryl Trusslers’ review of this week’s release, Two Dancers. It’s up now at Blurt…check it out here.

“All the King’s Men”

A Daytrotter session with Wild Beasts

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Yair Yona

Michael turned me onto this Takoma-style acoustic guitar player from Israel, who has a really excellent album called Remember. It's heavily indebted to Fahey, and to a very American set of folk and blues influences, but if you listen closely, you'll also hear a little bit of the Middle East and maybe Russia as well. (It's on a label called "Anova," which may or may not be another way of saying "self-released" but in any case, you can get it through CD Baby.)

Here's Yair playing "Brave Walls" at a folk festival in Tel Aviv.