Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Coupla things…sorry I’ve been absent

Combination of laziness and very slow internet connection, actually, has been keeping me quiet. Oh yeah, and I’m getting a little bit of work these days, thank god for that. But anyway, while I was slaving away, a couple of my reviews ran at various places.

First, the very odd Cave Rock by 1960s industrial-noise-free-folk progenitors Cromagnon, reviewed at Dusted yesterday.

Originally released in 1969 (as Orgasm), Cromagnon’s first and only full-length is intriguing and utterly confounding, a jumble of rackety percussion, chants, shouts, moans, giggles, whispers, drones, found sounds, bizarre rituals, ethno-freak-outs and one actual song, “Caledonia,” a sort of metal bagpipe reel. Its two main songwriters, Austin Grasmere and Brian Eliot, were, by all accounts, bumping hard against the limits of writing bubblegum pop for money. They heard somehow about the eccentric ESP-Disk label and dropped in to its studios for one day to record this odd, possibly brilliant, but only marginally listenable CD. The album went on through the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s to become a kind of lost Atlantis type of recording, heard about more often than heard, an entry on Stephen Stapleton’s famous list. It was released on CD for the first time in 1993, again in 2000, once more in 2005 and this time, possibly prodded by Ghost’s cover of “Caledonia” two years ago, in 2009. It is always released by the original label, ESP-Disk, and the critical reaction always seems to be the same: How could anything this weird, this prefigurative of industrial out-rock and experimental psyche have possibly been produced in 1969?


And also the very hipsterish Phenomenal Handclap Band…BTW, I wrote the last sentence before Michael Jackson got sainted, don’t think I was trying to cash in on the hysteria.

In the Phenomenal Handclap Band's debut, DJs Daniel Collas and Sean Marquand showcase the tangled guitars, the slushy cymbals, the viscous bleats of synthesizer of 1978 or so, a polyester sound akin to funk but sleeker, chillier, less human. They dip, sometimes, into other genres -- prog, downtempo electro, kraut, hip hop, psych and indie rock - but all their songs are paced by a plastic beat and lit by a mirror ball. The alphabet-reciting "All of the Above" is like a Jackson Five song covered by Ace of Base and if that sounds like fun to you, go ahead, clap along.


“15 to 20”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Another damned mix

People have been sending me some pretty fantastic mixes lately…Rob’s brother is apparently a lost soul mate of mine…his Smoking Figs compilation, which Rob sent me, has the Bell-Rays and Black Francis and Sharon Jones on it. Clif made a really kicking garage mix on which my favorite, so far is a song by the Gitanes, who are French and also sometimes known as the Vietnam Veterans.

It’s called “Bang Bang”

And Doug W. made me an all-Australia mix that I am still getting a grip on, though I know already that I love Eddy Current Suppression Ring and that Robert Forster song burnt a hole through my heart first time through.

So I thought I would reciprocate with a mix of stuff that I’ve been liking lately. Download it here, or you can just read about it and make fun of my picks.

1. Death “You’re a Prisoner” from the reissue that half of Dusted nominated as record of the (mid) year.
2. Peter King “Shango” from Nigeria 70
3. Group Doueh’s “Beatte Harab” Crazy psychedelic guitar from West Africa
4. Andre Williams and the Eldorados, “Daddy Rolling Stone” best cover of this song I’ve heard yet, and I’ve heard a bunch…from Norton’s I Hate CDs Volume 2.
5. The Phenomenal Handclap Band’s “Testimony”…still on the fence about this very beautiful people project, but I do like Aurelio Valle from Calla who guests on this track.
6. The Ohsees “Ruby Go Home” Dwyer’s latest, truly amazing garage psyche band has a new album called Help, and it’s top ten for sure.
7. The Box Elders’ “Alice and Friends” Bonus offering when I asked for Ty Segall’s Lemons at Goner…super fun, rough-edged, garage pop. (Ty’s not on this one, because I haven’t figured out which is my favorite yet.)
8. ca-USE co-MOTION’s “Because Because Because” My favorite do-I-love-them-or-hate-them? band since the Walkmen. (Though, cautionary tale, I decided finally that I hated the Walkmen.)
9. Discipline’s “Wrong Lane” Ken Stringfellow is one strange and interesting guy…maybe the most twisted artist around to own a perfectly 70s pop voice like Eric Carmen’s…here he’s got some sort of Scandanavian pick-up band backing him up.
10. The Dukes of Stratosphear’s “25 o’Clock” Psychedelic side project from XTC circa 1986 or so.
11. Helena Espvall and Masaki Batoh’s “Little Blue Dragon” Round two in the psych folk cage match.
12. The Clean’s “Factory Man” Did I mention that my #1 record just changed?
13. The Bats’ “The Guilty Office” And everyone past #5 is moving down a notch?
14. Liechtenstein’s “Reflections” This sounds so much better on a real stereo…I’m starting to wonder if I shafted the girls with my snotty 3 ½ stars.
15. Black Moth Super Rainbow’s “Bubblegum Animals” Good freaky stuff…the mix will end not in a bang or a whimper but an extended fizzly squawk.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I always get Liechtenstein confused with Luxembourg, don’t you?

But never Sweden, which is where the band called Liechtenstein is from. They have a new album, out on Slumberland, called Survival Strategies in the Modern World.

I was totally not getting the post-punk comparisons for the longest time, until finally it hit me on about the 10th play through of “All At Once.” They are really a girl pop band with a little bit of edge…not a terrible thing, but the Slits and the Raincoats have nothing to worry about.

My review ran a few days ago in Venus. You can read it here.

“Roses in the Park”

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Two reviews up at Blurt the last couple of days…both good stuff.

Today’s review is of the several-times-reissued Nigeria 70 compilation, a collection of tracks from the scene that grew up around Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade and others in Lagos…as James Brown’s aesthetic infiltrated highlife and other traditional West African styles. I’d heard of it – and had heard a lot of subsequent West African comps that this disc clearly paved the way for – but never heard it…and it’s well worth hearing.

Here’s the review.

There are some “videos” of tracks from this album on YouTube, with the music and a static image of the record cover, if you’re curious – including this one of William Onyeabor’s “Better Change Your Mind.”

And yesterday, my review of Richard Bishop’s Freak of Araby also made the Blurt website. I’ve been writing about him a fair amount lately, but this review is probably the last of the bunch…at least until he makes another record.

Here’s a video of a recent live show in Oakland.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dusted's mid-year picks

Some interesting albums on Dusted's mid-year report, which came out Friday. I've only heard a few of these (my own, Akron/Family's Set 'Em Wild Set 'Em Free, Animal Collective, Allen Toussaint and the Death reissue), so lots of work to do.

Also, my review of the super freaky Magnificence in the Memory by mid-1970s LA cult band (not in the sense of only having a few rabid followers, but more in the sense of actually being a cult) YaHoWha.

Here's "Treat You So Right"

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cultcha this weekend

1. Watched Casablanca again, as wonderful as always, and realized that I am now significantly older than Bogie’s Rick, who seemed, last time I saw it, in college, to be the most adult of leading men…and of course, much, much older than Ingrid Bergmann at the time. Do anyone’s eyes shine the way that Rick and Ilsa’s do anymore? Would it even be appropriate to care that much these days?
2. Read Michael Lewis’ Panic, a collection of news stories and commentary on all the main stock market crashes since 1987, including the current one…got very nostalgic about the dot.com crash, with fond memories of showing up at Scient or Viant or someplace, dressed for Wall Street, with everyone else running around in flip flops. Of course, it couldn’t last…what were we thinking?
3. Ran 9 miles yesterday and (in a little bit, once my bagel settles) 10 today. Starting to feel really light and strong and…I don’t know, like the old days. Though of course I’m slower.
4. Finally bought The Eternal and, one listen in, am liking it very much. Also finally listened to DOOM’s Born Like This…still giggling over “Batty Boyz”, a very graphic description of gay Batman and Robin.
5. And, this afternoon, we’re all going to see Up. Rain, rain, rain…movies, movies, movies…

What are you guys doing this weekend?

Friday, June 19, 2009

I Hate CDs: True or False?

Er, yeah, definitely false.

Anyway, my review of the three-disc Norton I Hate CDs compilation, Volume 2, runs in today’s Dusted. Here's the "what it is" paragraph.

Every variety of stripped down, pre-Beatles mayhem gets a track or two – rockabilly, jump blues, R&B, doo-wop and the kind of bone-simple garage rock that makes “Louie Louie” sound like Sondheim. There’s no real logic to the sequencing, either. Tracks are organized not by style or date or, even alphabetically, but rather like a really demented back-yard party where someone’s weird uncle is spinning from a box of discs he found at garage sales.

The rest, including a maraschino cherry metaphor that I am very, very proud of:

Here is one of those “not really a video” videos of the Pleasure Seekers’ “What A Way to Die”. This was Suzi Quatro's first band...I think she was 16 or so.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Prolapse live…1996

Flipping through the bins yesterday at the used record store, I came across Prolapse’s Italian Flag, which reminded me all over again what a great band this was. Not much of an internet trail, but I did find this video of Prolapse performing live at the Abbey Park Festival in Leicester in 1996. The sound’s not great, and there’s only one camera, but damn, doesn’t this look like a fun place to be? (If you don’t get hurt…) Be patient, there’s about a minute of farting around before they get going.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Flying Change…bittersweet and beautiful

My friend Paul Brill, whom some of you know from MOG, has a label called Scarlet Shame which recently put out a really beautiful album from fellow NYC-based songwriter Sam Jacobs, who records under the name of The Flying Change. My review ran at Blurt yesterday.

Jacobs' album, his third under the Flying Change name, is by turns defiant and exhausted, jittery and delicately accepting, its restrained but carefully considered arrangements wrapped around shards of surrealistic shards of lyricism. His voice seems nearly always on the verge of a sigh, a bit like Bill Callahan's in its dark resignation. Yet the songs are in no way depressing, but rather subtly triumphant, with bits of pizzicato violin, piano and glockenspiel lighting up the gloom.

(Read more.)

“Drity White Coats”

“If You See Soemthing Say Something”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Amy Speace

I ran into my friend Dave DeCastro at SXSW a couple of months ago, where he was playing bass for Amy Speace. Been meaning to check her out ever since...and finally, working on pitches for Philadelphia Weekly, had a chance to take a listen.

She's definitely a little countrier than I usually go, but very smart, very honest and with a wonderfully smoky voice... Here she is playing the title song from her new album Killer in Me in lower manhattan. You can almost smell the soup dumplings from over in chinatown.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Live Oneida

WFMU has some mp3s from Oneida's set at Primavera Sound...actually they've got a ton of stuff from Primavera, which must have been pretty excellent.

Anyway, here's "All Arounder" which, on certain days and under certain conditions, maybe be my favorite song of all.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I think my shuffle is getting senile?

So, I go out for a run and listen to about 40 songs (long run, eh?) and get home and, of the forty my shuffle admits to playing, maybe 5 of them are the ones I heard. This has been happening for a couple of weeks and only on the shuffle. (The nano works fine.) Does this mean the flash drive is about to go?

Friday, June 12, 2009

I can’t keep up…with Flavorwire

While I wasn’t paying attention, Flavorwire ran another one of my interviews, this one with long-time PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish. He was a really good interview, warm, funny, thoughtful, etc…and seems to me that the piece makes a good companion to a PJ Harvey interview I did a year or so ago.

Here’s Parish talking about writing for Polly:

Parish says that writing for Harvey is different from writing for himself, in a subtle, hard-to-define way. “I guess when I was thinking of things for Polly it meant that I would write much more dynamic music than I would write for myself. Because I think as a singer she is so much more amenable to perform over something that’s much more dense and much more abstract and much more ferocious than something I would be able to sing over.”

He added, “I approach it almost more as though I would approach writing music for a film, where I’m thinking, okay, it’s got to have really strong rising melodies, it’s got to have a very definite atmosphere. Because that’s what Polly expects and kind of thrives on. If I send her something with a really strong atmosphere, she’ll respond to that and she’ll come back with something that enhances it.”

Read the rest here

And here’s Ms. Harvey on the strange and hauntingly beautiful White Chalk.

Ponytail and Pains live

I encounter two pretty good bands and like them a lot in completely different ways…

This is my last piece of writing for PopMatters, completed just before my Tinariwen-related hissyfit.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Ponytail make an odd pairing, no question about it. Both are much hyped bands whose names start with the letter “P”, both are on the bill this evening, both are, in their ways, quite good. But those ways are so different that the show becomes almost a case study in song structure versus untrammeled experimentation, classic pop versus spazz-shocked math rock, simple eighth-note strummed arrangements versus violent pyrotechnics of percussion and dual guitars, solid, capable performance versus ecstatic speaking in tongues. I’d give it to Ponytail if I had to name a winner, but it’s rare that two bands succeed so well on different terms.

The rest is here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

dBs redux

Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple of the dBs are doing a rare radio taping together today on WFMU. They’ve got a new album coming on Bar None records, their first together since 1991’s Mavericks. The dBs, along with REM, the Feelies and others, more or less invented the jangly, guitar-driven college rock sound of the mid-1980s, and Holsapple, in particular, was great at elaborate, Beach Boy-esque harmonies.

I had one of the coldest, least rewarding interviews of my life with Chris Stamey four years ago, talking about the (really wonderful ) solo album A Question of Temperature, where he covered the Yardbirds, with Yo La Tengo as a backing band. Our conversation was full of long pauses…to put it kindly. Observe him freezing me out here.

And tune in to WFMU around 3 o’clock to hear the show.

Random epiphanies

Out running today, eight miles slow, little bit of rain, lots of green, shuffle on shuffle, all pretty good stuff, but this one, I found, I had to listen to twice…then twice again when I got home.

It’s Grand Archives, “Sleepdriving.” What a pretty song.

I’m thinking I might use part of my giant credit at Turn It Up to buy the new Sonic Youth…anybody heard it yet?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Shed a tear for the hipsters

Apparently the recession is hitting them, too…or at least their parents, who ultimately pay for it all. A bit of Schadenfreud from the New York Times which is having its own problems with parents and money.

My parents sent me $500 the day I moved to NYC and it lasted me eight years…though there were weeks when I ate nothing but day-old bagels, and I’d go out to dinner with anyone who asked.

Of course, I was never really an “artist”. Mostly because I couldn’t afford it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Mid-year favorites

Hey, it’s June already, look at that. Time for a very provisional list of my favorite records, in an order that may change and with picks that may grow or fade on me by year-end…and hold a spot for that new Clean record, just in case.
1. Akron/Family – Set ‘Em Wild Set ‘Em Free
2. Lotus Plaza – The Floodlight Collective
3. Tyvek – Tyvek
4. Mirah – (a)Spera
5. Pains of Being Pure At Heart – S/T
6. A.C. Newman – Get Guilty
7. Obits – I Blame You
8. Fresh & Onlys – S/T
9. Amadou & Mariam – Welcome to Mali
10. James Blackshaw – The Glass Bead Game

1. Red Red Meat – Bunny Gets Paid
2. Zero Boys – Vicious Circle
3. Vaselines – The Way of the Vaselines
4. Volcano Suns – All Night Lotus Party/Bright Orange Years
5. Thin Lizzy – Still Dangerous

Thursday, June 4, 2009

New song from the Clean

I haven't listened yet, because I'm back on dial-up, but I know that some of you will be very psyched about a new song and an upcoming album from the Clean.

The new song is called "Dreamlife Rubber Soul"

The album, Mr. Pop, is due out on Merge in early September.

Oddly enough, that makes 2009 the year that three for three of the great New Zealand pop bands produced new material...you all know about the Bats, The Guilty Office, and now Mr. Pop -- the Chills have something new coming as well.

Crystal Antlers...better at playing than talking

My second interview piece for Flavorwire went up Monday, this one with Crystal Antlers, the Long Beach, California outfit that sounds like a psyche band but insists that it is fundamentally not…They have a new record called Tentacles coming out later this month on Touch & Go. It was a little bit of a “we just want to rock” interview, but the article came out okay, I thought.

The best quote in the piece (which is really just okay):

Even the band’s name expresses this fundamental contradiction, the sheer explosive power of its performance balanced with the likelihood of self-immolation. “We were looking for a name that expressed the state of being really fragile, because we felt like we were,” said Bell. “Every time we played together, it felt like everything was going to fall apart, but it never quite did. I had a dream reader do an analysis, and if you dream of crystal antlers, you’re imagining the fragility of the masculine.”

The rest

Here’s the live footage that I referenced in the first paragraph of the piece.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tyvek…oh hell yeah.

Tyvek fished me out of a middlebrow, mainstream indie wasteland a couple of weeks ago, with their fuzzy, no-fi (they’re on Siltbreeze now) punk-ish pop. My review, up today at Dusted, tries (and probably fails) to convey exactly what’s so good about them…and I put “Hey Una” on my mix last week, so if you haven’t checked it out, what are you waiting for?

Maybe the review?


Around since the mid-aughts, Tyvek has been dropping scuzzed-out, drone-punk singles for the last couple of years. An EP, Fast Metabolism came out on What’s Your Rupture in 2007, but this self-titled full-length is clearly intended to be the band’s first cohesive long-form statement. Its tunes rattle along on fiercely minimalist beats (the drummer stands, and plays only one tom), alternating between shout-or-drawl refrains of Mark E. Smith-like disclarity, and an occasional bout of transcending melody. Back down to a three-piece – Kevin Boyer on guitar, Matt Z on drums and Larry on bass – the band is augmented on this record with Damon from Puffy Areolas, whose free-form guitar experiments give Tyvek’s clattery, nervy, boxed in sound the equivalent of an open window. Still, this is an anxious, fractured, highly intelligent sort of punk sound, guitar jangles pinging around inside claustrophobic beats, discordant phrases rising up out of the mix, then dropping back into it.


“Burning Bridges (Re-Edit)”

Oh, and this is crazy, I know, but I’ve been trying to listen to everything I’ve got on iTunes again and just got my playcount=0 list down below 500 (from about 8700), so I celebrated by putting a giant load of new music on…here’s what:

Iron & Wine, Around the Well
Ca-USE co-MOTION, Because Because Because
Hoots & Hellmouth, the Holy Open Secret
The Rural Alberta Advantage, Hometowns
Talbot Tagora, Lessons In The Woods Or A City
Ride, OX4: the Best of Ride
Sir Lord Raven, Please Throw Me Back in The Ocean
Tom Brousseau, Posthumous Success
Liechtenstein, Survival Strategies In A Modern World
Uuvvwwz. Uuvvwwz
Ruby Throat, The Ventriloquist

The Iron & Wine is really beautiful…more about the rest later.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Polly and John's blackhearted love

I’m really liking this new PJ Harvey/John Parish album A Woman a Man Walked By, which seems to allow Ms. Harvey to let her wild side out. You can hear pretty much all of the PJ styles on this album, the pop diva stuff from Stories from the City, the crazy blues of To Bring You My Love, the wild-eyed out-there-ness of “Sheila Na Gig”, the spooky lullabies from White Chalk…weird, because she didn’t write any of the music, just the words. I’ve got an interview with Parish today at 11, hope I don’t blow it.

Hey look, it’s my 300th post.

Monday, June 1, 2009

James Blackshaw extends his sound

There are an awful lot of acoustic guitar players plying the trade these days, more perhaps than in the glory days of Takoma in the 1960s. Even so, there’s always room for another good one, and James Blackshaw is one of the best. He’s even pretty good at the piano. Here’s my review of his new album, the Glass Bead Game, in today’s Blurt.

“Twelve-string phenomenon James Blackshaw has long been known for conjuring luxuriant, symphonic sounds out of his guitar. Indeed, even on pure solo guitar recordings, like ‘River of Heaven’ from the first Imaginational Anthem compilation, it is hard to believe that one person, playing one instrument could be responsible for all that cascading, shimmering, iridescent beauty. But however expressive, however versatile Blackshaw can make his acoustic instrument, it is apparently not quite enough. Here in his eighth full-length (and first for Michael Gira's Young God imprint), he extends that palette even further, adding guest vocals, violin, cello and flute to the toolset - and even switching from guitar to piano for two tracks. It is bold move, but it pays off. The Glass Bead Game is a dizzying achievement, showcasing not just Blackshaw's musical skills, but his vision and spiritual depth as a composer.”