The Freelance Mentalists.
Tell Me Why I Don't Like Mondays
I promised Matt I 'd try to enthuse about stuff I like here, but after a long and often frustrating day at the ol' j-o-b I just feel like shooting the whole day down. I should of known it would be a tough one when I flipped on MTV before heading out the door this morning. I just have basic cable so that means no MTV2 and thus the music video opportunities are pretty limited( I mostly just seem to see plugs for the car makeover show "Pimp My Ride"). Plus I'm usually too busy getting me and/or my kid moving to ever watch too much (and he prefers Nickelodeon or ESPN anyway). But last week and again this morning I flipped it on only to see some 20 something short-haired white guy with a bandana wrapped around a wrist. He also had his band with him but I don't remember much about them(I was getting my cheerios I think). It was the Maroon 5 doing "This Love." Unfortunately I do kind of remember their trite Supertramp meets Wang Chung retro- new wavey aor melodies, mundane instrumentation and cliched lyrics. Please spare me any nostalgia or faux ironic passion for this blandness. I'm no indie rock purist or backpackin' hiphopper and I do like commercial pop, but I gotta drawn the line somewhere. If you want to read a nice compassionate take on music that some consider homogenized, check out Sasha Frere-Jones beautifully crafted Norah Jones piece in the New Yorker, but sorry today I'm not in the mood.
Some Songs Make You Wonder Just What Exactly Is Wrong
Sara Evans, "Perfect" (RCA), 2003
I am writing this near the end of March 2004 and this single is sitting at #2 on the country charts. I'd hold out high hopes that it'd hit #1 but that Kenny Chesney/Uncle Kracker thing is at #1 so who knows. If "Perfect" did hit the top spot I'd be very happy, I think--no song by a woman has been #1 in country for an entire year now, which I think is scary. But if this does hit it, then it's almost actually worse, because of what it means.
But it's not the song's fault. I love the song, I love the whole album, I love Sara Evans. She is a good songwriter (she co-wrote this with Tom Shapiro and Tony Martin) and a great singer and--it must be said--a really beautiful woman, not a tiny wisp of a waspy thing but someone with a real and womanly presence, that presence being of course massively exploited in the video for this song, which I'll get to later but which basically climaxes with a butt shot in tight black jeans. Plus she moved back to Oregon where her husband is from and was in a country band called Sara Evans and North Santiam, which is hilarious and awesome. The songs here are strong and adventurous, I don't know what dude was thinking in the AMG review, totally wrong though: "Otis Redding" is great, "Rockin' Horse" will never be a hit but should be, "Back Seat of a Greyhound Bus" did pretty well, I'll have to review the whole album here some time.
But in the meantime: the song is great. Big poppy rock hooks on guitar, a woodblock beat that might as well be a cowbell played by Will Farrell (which hits on the two and three, kinda, maybe she's been listening to lots of screwed/chopped Houston stuff, that'd rock), organ stabs like it's Memphis soul because it is (no one is doing more Stax than Nashville these days), lovely lush obvious chord changes, right in the pocket. And the voice is of course lovely and human and twangy, all that.
But it's the words and the images that make this song: a man's old t-shirt is better than a sexy negligee to her! her family hates him, his family hates her, it's all right! she likes it when he gets mad at her, life is messy, deal with it! She doesn't mind his imperfections; by implication, he had better not mind hers. It's very much a country theme: We ain't fancy, but we're real, and that's better than fancy, take that you snobs.
In a way, it's very zen. The Third Patriarch would be pleased: she is arguing for the lack of critical distinction between "good" and "bad"--instead, we accept the flaws that make the picture more believable and perfect. In fact, says Sara Evans and Tom Shapiro and Tony Martin and everyone who buys and requests this single, being imperfect IS being perfect. It's like the flaws that Persian carpetmakers used to intentionally leave in their rugs, so as not to compete with Allah, who alone was allowed to be perfect. It's like piercing the veil of expectation, which is the blanket of ignorance.
Actually, the single is probably mostly popular because of its sexy and ambiguous video. There are several Sara Evanses here: one is sleeping in a car, one watches another one, that one steps aside from the microphone so that the fourth can step up for the final chorus, and the butt shot. Damn she's fine. And a lot of sexy kids are driving around in the desert aimlessly, and there is an old dude for no reason. What is the old dude doing there? Is this actually Buddha with a walk-on cameo?
Aye but here's the rub. Is this how we get a #1 record in country music, by doing a song about how we're fallible, which since it's sung by a woman means that women are fallible, which means "don't worry boys, no one's trying to tear your Graceland down, we're just ladies, we make mistakes, we're not shooting our mouths off or trying to subvert the dominant paradigms or any shit like that, no Dixie Chick-ism here, nope, everyone's just human and rural and fuckup-prone, which means prone, which is where we've been for the last year ever since Natalie went and shot off her mouth and Shania sold all the albums by blatantly selling out twice over and therefore not at all, don't worry about little old us, we'll just dance around a bit in our hot tight black jeans and sing a little old song, now you can love us again"?
I really hope not. The song was recorded more than a year ago, after all, and it does
mention how her guy isn't perfect either, and other Sara Evans songs are much more TAKE ME SERIOUSLY than that. But it's curious that this song, which has been around for months, is finally knocking on the door. I have no idea what it means. But it's okay if it never hits #1, because Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman" is racing up the charts like a Ford F-150 and it'll be here with a proud rebel flag of womanly defiance by May or sooner.
Damn I love this song though. I'm listening to this on the way home.
Otis Taylor-Truth is Not Fiction (Telarc 2003)
Otis Taylor needs a publicist. Maybe if this African-American Colorado musician called his music post-blues or crunk or something he'd get some of that token hipster Americana attention that gospel box has gotten from folks generally more into Timbaland or Stereolab. But alas, blues is considered a dead genre not worth digging up for another George Romero inspired remake, and Taylor's not dead. He's not even an aging former chain gang drunk from Mississippi signed to Fat Possum. He is worthy of your time though.
Actually he and his band
are who you should be spending your listening time with. Taylor and his cohorts turn his simple repeated vocal phrases about evil behavior and desperate times, and he and his combo's far far far from budweiser riffs, into real drama. I'm not talking about no Linkin Korn Park tele-emo-nurockovela overdone bombast either, this is lightning in the middle of a field. The sound is full but stripped down. Think Blood Ulmer-like modal fuzzwork on guitar, and yes, banjo, mandolin and cello that repeats hypnotically like yer fave hiphop instro loop with bursts of late-night poetry declaimed in a raspy mantra-like approach overtop. While things start slowly with the nearly pop "Rosa, Rosa" (I don't think Ms. Parks will sue over this one), Taylor's bellowing of the phrase "tears running down from her eyes" in his Native American dustbowl saga "Kitchen Towel" will give you shivers. There's nothing light here. "House of the Crosses" is about a child who grows up to be a guard at the St. Petersburg, Russia prison where her rapist father is held, "Be My Witness" is about a black man in the 1930s who dares to drive through a white neighborhood, and even the one overdone cover, Big Joe Williams "Baby Please Don't Go" is rendered with a real sense of passion. You can even try to forget about the lyrics (if you want), Taylor's intermittent stagecoach driver like horse-whipping grunts, and his rough-edged cadence, backed by the eerie stringwork are captivating enough. -Steve
Sometimes the Back Seat of a Chevy Blazer, Hurtling Through Montana in the Middle of the Night While Everything Smells Like Chewing Tobacco and Feet, Is the Greatest Place in the World
Waylon Jennings, Honky Tonk Heroes
The chew wasn't mine, it belonged to my mom's boyfriend Dick. He was a country guy, albeit one born and raised in New Jersey, and he was my mom's boss and our boss and we were on a summer work trip, installing thermal pool blankets in Montana and Colorado and Idaho and staying in his place in Wyoming before returning to Oregon. Big huge long trailer on the back with foam pool blankets and our equipment; me and Tim and Jeff in the backseat, Dick driving, Mom shotgun. Mom made us alternate the music we played on the Sony cassette-only boombox (Adam and the Ants, the Pretenders, the Jam, David Byrne's Catherine Wheel
, Adrian Belew, Prince with the dirty parts turned down so as not to get the parental smackdown, and lots of Bowie: Lodger
, Scary Monsters
, Hunky Dory
and Aladdin Sane
and Ziggy Stardust
, we loved us some Bowie) with Dick's music.
--Aw man, mom, why we gotta listen to country music?
--It's only fair, you guys play all that loud stuff, you were just playing Van Halen, let Dick have a turn.
--Dick, could you please learn what good music is and listen to it?
--Hey, this IS good music, you'll realize that someday.
--Willie? Waylon? I don't think so!
But I did like it, despite my vow (growing up in a semi-rural town where people listened to country even though they didn't have to) that I wouldn't. Red-Headed Stranger
and Willie and Waylon
were pretty damned good, I had to admit that, and Honky-Tonk Heroes
even better. I didn't know any of the backstory (Waylon hears Billy Joe Shaver singing backstage, says drunkenly "I'll record a whole album of your songs" and then never calls, Shaver shows up with a gun and says "You never called me, you're recording my songs," they work it out, 11 of the 12 songs here are Shaver originals), didn't need to.
Not when songs are this perfect. "Honky-Tonk Heroes" is practically the "Good Vibrations" of country music, sections building up and releasing, fake-outs and do-overs, guitars here and cymbals there, can't fail to make you feel better. "No God in Mexico" is deep-down whitey falsehood, of course there's a god in Mexico, he's just not YOUR god Mr. Billy Joe Cortez Shaver, screw you, plenty God gods goddesses in Mexico even now, open yr eyes west tejas boy...but that groove! "Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me" is an ode to leaving your pregnant wife and going off with a charismatic stranger (I WONDER IF SHAVER KNEW HOW GAY THAT SONG IS). "Low Down Freedom" sums up the perils of wandering gypsy-ism, the lonely life of the road. "Omaha" is better than "Galveston" or "New York New York" or "Allentown" or any other song about a city ever.
It sounded better driving through a Montana night, blackness starting to set in as we searched for cheap motels that had cable TV, Doritos and Mountain Dew and five-pound bags of Peanut M&Ms all over the place, Jeff between me and Tim falling asleep on one of us then the other, casual mountains and understanding police officers and found Playboy Magazines in hotel bedside tables, 98-degree heat and a 10-hour workday, learning to work chopsticks because we only ate at Chinese-food places and truckstops, missing my girlfriend who was two years older and about to go off to college and who broke up with me when I got back from my trip but it didn't matter, getting ready to be a junior with finally all the guys who hated me having graduated except I didn't know that the main ringleader didn't actually graduate so he ended up in my first-period class but he didn't hate me anymore anyway, learning to shave from a beardy guy who loved country music and my mom, than any music ever sounded before.
Stand Back For Exciter!
Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highway (Jetset-2003)
Ex-painter of red houses, John Denver fan, AC/DC interpreter, Almost Famous fictionally famous bass player and all-around sackus sadicus Mark Kozelek has stepped up to the plate swinging the prettiest goddamn baseball bat you ever saw at the bloated corpus of latter-day “Porpoise Song” coveters and bleaters silly enough to raise a 6-string in honor of folk-rock troubadours past. He nixes the need for any and all Neil Young grovelers, Elektra recording artists circa 1969-1973 archivists, Gordon Lightfoot apologists, oldweirdamerikalonerfolkpsych annoyances - those crate-digging dingleberrys with their deathchant whine of “no, he’s okaaaay, but have you ever heard Perry Leopold’s “Experiment in Metaphysics”?” - and fusty, fetid beardos both old and new elegantly decaying in woodland settings to the delight of their barn-dwelling goggled hoot owl acolytes aloft in the rafters dreaming of dust turned to digital gold courtesy of their Sony 3D(eye) handicams. I mean anyone can live in the woods and wear long-flowing robes. Natalie Merchant and Pat Methany live in the woods and wear long-flowing robes. Heck, I live in the woods and wear long-flowing robes!
Which is why Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon album is so refreshing. It’s languid and dreamy, and yet weighted by complete self-assurance (Listening to music that sounds so effortless and beautiful makes you wonder why you spent so much time in beer-soaked basements watching the pots & pans brigade hurl poo-poo at their inner child. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love the noiseniks and furry freaks and their ramshackle antics. More than most people even. When your brother is a Bunnybrain you learn to love a lot of things. But there comes a time when that Ant Trip Ceremony record just ain’t cutting it and you wanna hear, i dunno, Donovan or something). It’s music that sounds comfortable in its own skin. If I had to compare it to something I would compare it to M.Gira’s recent acoustic work with Angels Of Light, but I won’t because they don’t sound anything alike. What Kozelek and Gira DO share is an innate sense that after all their years of recording they are really good at this stuff! And they are. While Sun Kil Moon steals comfortably from the acoustaroots/singersongwriter/St.Neil albums that everybody steals from, their warm-blooded and expert suburban blues never feels like an empty exercise (see:Beck) or a diversion until something better comes along. What it sounds like is a really great Red House Painters album (duh). But from the opener “Glenn Tipton” - Judas Priest fans might want to scoop up this album for the only song likely to ever mention BOTH guitarists from that band - to the tradfolkish instrumental closer “Pancho Villa”, it’s softer and prettier and flows more organically than the last couple RHP albums. Less Crazy Horse after all these years - although there is some of that on the peppier numbers - and less maudlin too. (Less self-indulgent as well. Even though there are long songs on this album they feel like they have a right to be long. One of the perverse pleasures of an RHP show was scanning the crowd for the looks of horror on the faces of uninitiated friends and lovers dragged there by fans of the band as one endless lovelorn dirge crawled to an end only to be replaced by YET ANOTHER endless lovelorn dirge. And so on. Until there was a lifeless heap of bodies littering the floor.)
12 years ago Mark Kozelek was duking it out with Throwing Muses and Lisa Germano to see who could be the most miserable American act ever signed to the tears ‘n’ fears 4AD label. The lead track on RHP’s debut was all about the impossible task of becoming 24 years old. If Sun Kil Moon is essentially grown-up folk-rock music for ex-miserablists and lacks a certain unhinged recklessness that RHP had at times it’s none the worse for it. (Just as Gira’s AOL records are sometimes as powerful as that hammer he used to hit me with when I was a noise-obsessed teen.) It’s not staid and it’s not resting on anything other than its member’s abilities to play guitar, bass, and drums really well and in a way that may provoke sighs of contentment and a desire to pick up some Poco albums someday. There are worse things that music can do to you.
Some Albums Kick Fantastico Amounts del Culo
Banda el Recodo, 60 Aniversario de la Banda el Recodo de Don Cruz Lizarraga: 1938-1998
(Master Stereo Discos y Cassettes), 1998
Finished up with one of my school visits: awesome kids, teachers didn’t hate me too much, got paid on time, tudo bem. Had a while before I had to pick my daughter up from drama class, so went down to State Street, watched some students walk around, bought a great book for a dollar and some coffee for two, sun was shining, perfect afternoon.
But I still had the hunger. So I jumped in the whip (’98 Saturn, blue SL2, 10” rims, aw yeah, I’ll show you how to stunt) and moved it on over to Strictly Discs on Monroe Street. Didn’t have a lot of time, just enough to peruse, wasn’t really gonna buy anything…okay that’s a lie. But didn’t have anything in mind.
Then it jumped out at me from the wall. I had wanted to pick up some Banda el Recodo ever since I saw them fill up the stage at the Latin Grammys last year: millions of mad Mexican maniacs marching merrily with their trumpets and trombones and tubas, insanely fast playing insanely loud, with random vocal interspersions so they can still pretend it’s a song when in fact it’s just justification for these excursions into metal madness.
And here we’re talking about a two-CD tribute to the six decades of this sinaloense band and its founder, Don Cruz Lizárraga, much of it recorded live in Mexico City in 1993. I recognized exactly one of the songs: “El Manicero,” also known as “The Peanut Vendor,” from an old J.J. Johnson trombone-war disc I have, out of 40 total tracks. All for $7.99. You’d best believe I copped that shit. Paid cash, the perfect crime.
And ran out to my car and threw out whatever sad disc was in the player and popped in Disco Uno and lost my freakin’ mind. A brief spoken intro, then a horn salutation, a cymbal crash, and then a speed waltz world record of blurting brass things and we’re off into “El Sinaloense.” It’s the sound of Bedlam, of Pandemonium, of my greatest dreams of Mexico: rowdy but stately, sexy but conservative, LOUD AS HELL. Somewhere in there some clarinets come in, it’s a reprieve, it’s a trick, then the big horns come back and ruin everything in the best way possible. My head is still ringing at the assault on my senses when I realize that track 2 has begun, and that it’s the same song but now with a vocal.
Oh my gawd is this an album. The fast stuff requires incredible precision from everyone, the slow stuff is mariachi on steroids and doesn’t last very long, John Philip Sanchez, utilitarian music, aggressive to the eardrums, it’s all like I’m drunk because the trumpets are dazzlingly shrill and disorienting with their close harmonies. But I’m not. But I am, or at least I will be tonight, when I go home and pop open some wine and put this on to make my trademark Tex-Mex Ricestravaganza.
*Even More Guest Mentalism From Don Allred*
Because It's Never Too Late For A 2003 C&W Roundup
All of my favorite Country performers are quite capable of locking themselves in one room all night, but I don't have to share their particular fixations of the moment; each can project through walls real well. Lucinda's WORLD WITHOUT TEARS is a world of hurt and candles, art and medicine, surrogate soldiers and juicy tunes, which of course just make it all too concise and too clear, that you ain't here. Yeah, YOU. (Not me, I'm here, but she don't think of me that way.) Sure as a shotglass, and a calendar. Yet there's always a sense of something in reserve, no matter how much I actually hear: something more, and that's the way the world (oh yeah, and home) should be, or at least seem. In that home across the road, the old guys make a virtue of necessity, and so experience and self-awareness come close enough to wisdom, for a few mercifully brief (though still expensive) pre-and-post-CD-bloat minutes (as itunes and the like usher us toward the end of the Album Age altogether). Cash (in digitized immortality/present tense) knows he can't hold notes any more, if he ever could, so finds some sounds that don't need to be held, in fact sound better the more they decay. The Apocalypse and the "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and that consarned "Sam Hill" 's soapbox/scaffold are just three more stops, and no places to loiter now, if they ever were. But each is just as real, just as expensive, yet just as safe from/in erosion, in the view he affords us, which is all he and we (or I, caffeinated geezer-cadet) can afford. Und zo: did he learn "We'll Meet Again" from Vera Lynn's inspirational WWII version, or from DR.STRANGELOVE? Zoundz like he dug both. Merle's"That's The News" is a sure shot, like "Philadelphia Lawyer," but I love how we go from getting the news I already knew but still feel the need to hear (and don't take the ability to do so for granted, not any more), to "Stick out yo' can, here comes the garbage man."(and "Yellow Ribbons" is one trippy little march, on down the same road apiece). When the Chicks go from Bruce Robison's "Travelin' Soldier" to Maria McKee's "Am I the Only One Who's Ever Felt This Way," busting out of the little room o'memory into the bigger one of RAT NOW, ready to head on down the highway right between those walls, it's a paycheck Jack. Cracker's David Lowery face froze that way like his Mamma warned, so his voice can't help but keep his distance, which makes his extremely belated and delighted discovery of Outlaw chestnuts on COUNTRYSIDES (Cooking Vinyl) a hoot, mostly. (As if the Kinks had made a covers-savvy cross between MUSWELL HILLBILLIES and EVERYBODY'S IN SHOWBIZ.) (Not that Lowery's originals are all that much better than Davies' downhill highpoints, but the blend works). A distance close enough to wisdom on their version of Springsteen's "Sinaloa Cowboys," which any sense of "closure," much less justice, or whatchacallit compassion, dares not understand too soon.Other notes: David Allen Coe: LIVE AT BILLY BOB'S TEXAS (Smith Music Group): not as good as LIVE: IF THAT AIN'T COUNTRY Doesn't give his band as much room here. Oh well. Warren Haynes and Johnny Neel are long gone,anyway, but (70s-boogie-ing or banjo-and-mandolin picking in a good, trashily-electrified, expertly-rationed way), these current guys are high generic, as is Coe, the original John the Baptist (or John the Confederate Mormon Polygamist, he'd correct me)/ poet laureate of the longhaired daddies (and mamas) of today's Montgomery Gentrified, Buffed-Hat mainstream. (A letter from a forsaken, guilt-tripping daddy [the more nuanced re audible aging of Coe, and young-sounding lungs of his fairly well-behaved, sometimes-sing-along attendees] is slipped in under the smoke, as moody and deft as anything I've heard him do.) Some nods in the direction of recognition, but he still feels residual pain of neglect and other "old scars under new tattoos" (as he tells us, around the campfire, a few too many times, but even the boring parts keep me alert, ready for the good times to come again). The songs co-written with Kid Richie fit well, not many mere rehashes of hits (not many hits to be rehashed, but still) (and "You Never Even Called Me By My Name" gets a surprise guest-shot of "The Real Slim Shady"). When he finally resumes the group vocals (which made for a strong start), we get a lilting, expressive "Free My Mind," (like a lawnneck Cooke/Marley-smoker) and certainly a better "Follow Me" than Uncle Kracker's watery Steve Millerism.(Later:also sonically sound is Gary Stewart's own LIVE AT BB'S T. [If you check my review at villagevoice.com, be sure to put his name in quotes, or you'll get search-spam.] Pat Green and Asleep At The Wheel have their T-sets too, unheard by me, so far, and Willie Nelson's got an upcoming one ---h'mmmmm) Nancy McCallion & The Mollys: TROUBLE (APN): the party's over (on this record, anyway). Now Nancy's hung her name overhead, but isn't (always) quite the right lone frontperson her pungent barstool ballads deserve (really it still takes two-so where are you tonight, Catherine Zavala?). But somewhere in the winter West, keyed-up, mixed-buttoned Accordion-Americans still prowl a mining town, ghost town, college town (all the same, if you stay long enough). Seven years after I started listening to these erotic pilgrims, notes begin to multiply again, like (a new generation or ten of) jackrabbits with every spin, so better hit PAUSE and send over my own round of label-peelings (TROUBLE songs' last lines): "I've paid off all the interest with my tears. Put the baby in the shopping cart and run. It's all spanking new like a white dress and vow, and you're a stranger now. If you don't stop to tell me that you want me backagain, I won't stop to tell you it's too late. First class patrons be spilling their wine, never make the station on time. You will have him or you won't. This is my round put it here. It has done it before it will do it again. They wish us well and what the hell, tonight is all our own." Just don't let me get to first lines. "Jolene" 's beauty hits Mindy Smith so hard, and keeps coming on, as if tears could burn like they could dazzle. (Later: Warning! Mindy's own alb mostly drizzle. Makes me appreciate Lucinda even more, re how to make depression enjoyable, at least for listener.) I get just a glimpse of how a woman might see things, and JUST BECAUSE I'M A WOMAN:THE SONGS OF DOLLY PARTON is effectively Mindy's (debut) album, as much as it is Shelby's, Me'Shell's, Emmylou's, and Dolly's latest *still*-fresh kill (didn't quite make my Top Ten because comps can get a bit diffuse with the roomful of voices, and still and yet Dolly-as-writer doesn't show quite as much range as she does performing, in her own studio, or, Lord knows, on her OWN stage [any one she's on she owns]). Wouldn't have hurt for Terri Clark to be on JUST BECAUSE. Her own PAIN TO KILL just missed my Top Ten on account of its top half being a mite flattened by"guest" production, but her old ally Keith Stegall almost saves the day in the homestretch, and the words are often her own, and always delivered by the clearcut, cleancut voice of experience. Like the lady deputy always sez on "Reno 911," "Ah believe everyone should do what they want, long as they take a shower."
GUEST MENTALIST: MARK DESROSIERS!
As a paycheck-to-diminishing-paycheck Minnesotan whose lifestyle abruptly became very lean on January 1, 2004, I’d like to announce that I am now surviving on a diet of rice, lentils, and beer. This may seem like paradise to some of you, but believe me, this pastoral feast gets old real fast. How do I cope? Besides muttering curses at President Bush while unleashing a cloud of steam from the rice pot, or sending bilious letters to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, I occasionally trawl my CD collection for food songs to ease the hunger pangs. Here are five of my favorites, in no particular order. (I’ve excluded the food-as-sex songs, such as Angry Samoans’ "Tuna Taco" or Tuscadero’s "Candy Song", since my gal’s in Cameroon for two years, and, well let’s just say those tunes don’t ease that
Five Food Tunes for Hungry Times
- Fred and the New J.B.’s, "Breakin’ Bread" (1974): The J.B.’s recorded a whole mess of classic food jams ("Pass the Peas", "More Peas", "Givin’ Up Food for Funk", "Rice & Ribs"), but this one is my personal favorite because it actually satisfies my hunger. The title seems to indicate a larger metaphor for peace & understanding, and indeed there is much family communion here ("Breakin’ bread with my momma", goes the refrain). Not to mention lust for a cousin Johnnie Mae ("she look so good I wish she weren’t my cousin!"). But the mouth-watering descriptions of funky bread dipped in molasses have me setting back, loosening my belt ("grease all over your fingers, that molasses runnin down the side of your mouth, onto your chest!"). There’s even a recipe if you listen close! (Special Funk Note: Fred talks a lot, but does not solo on this song, yet Jimmy Nolan’s cyclical guitar lick is a satisfying, rarely-sampled downhome groove. James Brown is nowhere near this track, this was 1974 after all!)
- The Lapse, "Buffet" (2000): The endearing self-righteous adenoidal dork Chris Leo (Ted’s brother, I think) chants on and on about how "we make meals out of condiments": very spiritual and metaphorical. But the wonderfully melodic endurance-test riff which repeats for the first 90 seconds of the song always puts a grin on my face. When he spits out, "Our children are raised on mustards and party dips", my poor pyloric valve gasps a little. "I dare you: walk away from the buffet, content in the knowledge that there are better deals to be found, better food to be found, and that nothing is wasted in entrees left untasted." Yes, Mr. Leo, but my stomach! Anyway, the semi-rave-up that begins when he says "untasted" sounds like hypno-indieriff #221C overbending the strings and getting its groove back. I love this song.
- ANTiSEEN, "Animals. Eat ‘Em" (1992): The centerpiece of this redneck-bloodsport band’s groovy concept album Eat More Possum advocates meat-eating as a practical solution to. well I’m not sure what. "Animals, eat ‘em! So you don’t have to feed ‘em! [or is it "beat ‘em"?, can’t tell for sure]" I remember Bob Mould had similar utopian ideas when he said you can feed the rats to the cats and the cats to the rats, to get the catskins for nothin’! I don’t eat meat, myself, but I do love loud incompetent guitar riffs and bellowing assholes, so this tune pushes all my buttons.
- Atom and His Package, "Nutrition" (circa 1998 [?]): From Atom’s early EP Behold, I Shall Do a New Thing, released on Vital Records (home of G.G. Allin’s Murder Junkies, thus this snotty Jewish kid is connected with ANTiSEEN in some obscure way). This is a synthcore declaration of spoiled-brat nutrition-consciousness, originally performed by the Dead Milkmen (whose Serbophile economics-geek bassist Dave Blood killed himself last week). Enough spidery connections and tributes for you? Anyway, I love the "Axel F" riff, and please note that Atom hates all fruit. (And the multitalented Dave Blood seemed to have killed himself because he was overattached to his mom and had trouble recontextualizing himself after Dead Milkmen’s retirement ten years ago. Very sad.)
- Gang of Four, "Cheeseburger (Live)" (1981): From the Another Day / Another Dollar EP, this surpasses the studio version because it begins with the breathless announcement: "This is a very hungry song about ‘ungry things: cheeseburger to go!" Plus it’s faster and noisier, and you can thrash about to the rebellious Marxism (with a fake idealized American trucker as narrator!). I’ve listened to this so many thousands of times that it’s sorta just a background in my brain, but hearing it close I notice the band was trying to make some sort of twisted pop song, with its "yeah yeah yeahs" and "oooooh"'s backing up the guitar noise. And the limp capitalist cheeseburger they serve up ain’t exactly digestible. But anger makes me forget my hunger. And then I can play “To Hell With Poverty", which gets me drunk just hearing it. As my beloved Maggie says, "let’s just get our calories from beer!"
*SPECIAL GUEST MENTALIST - DON ALLRED*
The World Of Arthur Russell (Soul Jazz - 2004)
My two cents re THE WORLD OF ARTHUR RUSSELL (notes after first couple of spins; CALLING OUT OF CONTEXT turned out well also): So far, seems like the quote from Allen Ginsberg might be key: says Arthur told him he was trying to make "Buddhist bubblegum songs." So we get the contemplation and catchiness at the same time, or in cyclic, alternating patterns: all the shifting plains on planes of activity can gradually haze out like a street scene,veils of illusion and the steady beat under all other rhythms can add to this effect or provide a contrast to what's above, going gradually across shades of effect, along the same scale (I'm thinking here especially of the finally-heard full-or-anyway-long-length "Living in the Light": plenty light, plenty shades of blue as well as humor; some tracks seem mainly about the humor).Not quite relaxing on the axis with the Steady Change Band (width being played with). The tracks with just his voice, cello, maybe a guitar, do this in miniature, crystallized focus as refreshed air: lines, hopes, moods rise and fall like breath, in and out of the silence and nothingness (quickly). I like that these shorter pieces can be more focussed (his voice can sometimes get close to affectless in the midst of the longer, more crowded grooves), and still have the mutable vibe of the epics, and that they have the same brisk beat, without having it so spelled out for us by all those rhythm generators (much more of a prob elsewhere, like I notice on this album-length mix Freelance Hellraiser did for Mixmag, despite all his well-timed mashups, got this same beat keeps coming back, unifying, yeah, but Freelance doesn't need it all that much, he's got an implicit sense of rhythm, but, as with Arthur, he's trying to balance expectations-what's much worse than this are the auteurs who insist on building a big pedantic digital image of a complete drumset, an ugly overpriced obsolete one, like from Sears Roebuck ca.1962) As for Arthur himself:so far, beatwise, fave is "Let's Go Swimming," where the *basic* rhythm track rises up (mainly via some keyboard, but no longer twinkling patiently along like his keybs usually do; this one's subsuming most of the usual percussion-per-se clatter) and: cartwheels all around,pinballs all around, and he mentions the sky, and I'm looking up at it with cartballs pinwheels around periphery of my vision, elusive yet definitive of its contours, and there's yer Buddhist bubblegum (pale blue, but with sufficient bubble and pop).
I Say a Little Prayer for You...
A friend of mine is currently studying abroad in Madrid--when I read about the horrific bombings yesterday morning, I thought of her and her boyfriend. I called the boyfriend yesterday afternoon--he said she was OK but was shaken. She was supposed to be on that train, but decided not to go out at the very last minute. See what I mean when I say being a homebody is a joy?
But thank God nothing happened--thank God. I know you're reading this, Madrid Friend, so just know that our thoughts and prayers are with you. Take care of yourself, and your boyfriend is an absolute gentleman and eats even more than me!
How did I know that the Spanish government was going to blame the bombings immediately on ETA and the Basque nation? I seriously doubt it was ETA (if it was, I'm not sure what to think), but does Spain really think it's immune to Al-Qaeda?! After all, this is the country where the current schism between Islam and Christianity began--thanks a lot, Fernidad and Isabella!
It’s late, I’ve got too much shit on the brain to sleep and I want to delay the inevitable spinning of Blood On The Tracks
(the king of midnight masochism albums), so I’m going to do a little test with my record collection. I spent the second half of 2003 methodically overhauling the unweildy sonuvabitch, coldheartedly yanking a good quarter of the various records, tapes, and CDs. Since I’m too lazy to buy a CD-R drive for my iMac, I still have a giant pile of CDs that I officially “no longer own” but still take up space in my apartment. What I’m going to do is listen to 5 random tracks from 5 CDs I’m keeping, rate them on a stoplight scale (green: must keep, yellow: fine enough filler, red: wish I didn’t own this song) and then do the same for 5 random tracks from 5 CDs that I’m getting rid of.
Note to folks who want to try this test themselves: keeping your eyes closed during the whole selection process is hard but it’s the ONLY WAY for this to truly be random. Think about it.
Track 1: Neil Young, “Coastline”
Um, Ok…you’re definitely Neil Young in country mode, probably Hawks’n’Doves
. I’m not hating ya, but I’ll be damned if I can remember your name (a rarity with your kind, I’ve read Shakey plenty). Just for that…YELLOW
Track #2: Mercury Rev, “Opus 40”
Immediately recognizable. Even if was going to get rid of Deserters’ Songs
(which I may eventually), I’d have to tape you. You’re overlong and saccharine, you sound like the Band O.D.ing on Disney but you’re of the more memorable examples of that sound. You were a push track, you got a video, sometimes I get sappy, so you get to stay. GREEN
Track #3: Brian Eno, “Becalmed”
Ok, this is taking forever to start….wind noises…piano…yes…YES…come on I’m anxious to move on…Eno? Are you Eno? You’re Eno, aren’t you? You are. Yeah, you’re something on Another Green World
, though if I’d never heard you before I’d figure you were Yanni or some shit like that (you know, the kind of new age that experimental fans don’t demand I listen seriously to). You’re melodic enough to be on a decent movie soundtrack but, man, are you filler when listened to outside of the Welcome To Mellowsville context. YELLOW
Track #4: Romania, “In A Heartbeat’s Time”
Late ‘80s Pere Ubu? Nope, that voice is way more like haughty Simon LeBon than seal-like David Thomas. I bet you’re from that Romania album I’m keeping around for some damn reason. The only album from you Teenbeat retro-doinks is probably more consistent than any Duran Duran album (even a best-of), but you never actually pulled off a “Hungry Like The Wolf” or “Planet Earth.” Pleasant enough (neat shrill keyboard sound on the bridge), but in no way crucial. YELLOW
Track #5: Stooges, “No Fun”
Woooooooooo!!!!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! I OWN YOU AND I ALWAYS WILL. Ok, maybe you could have used a little more jiggy in your beat, maybe T. Rex was smart enough to put some 20th Century bongos behind this kind of riff, but…COME ON! COME ON! COME AWWWWN! GREEN
2 Green, 3 Yellow (one of the yellows is on an album I’d give a solid green in its entirety, though one of the green’s is from an album that’s dang close to a yellow). Now for the trash bin…
(Ok, so in my self-induced blindness I’ve bumped over a large pile of CDs and opened my eyes long enough to catch a glimpse of Some Friendly
and Brighten The Corners
. FUCK. Redo. Fuck, knocked over some more. This post may be indulgent, but you can’t pretend it ain’t mentalism.)
Track #1: Howe Gelb, “Intro Speak”
What the hey, somebody was talking about energy coming from love and then the track ended. Was that an intro or something? Whatever, RED
Track #2: Quarishi, “Stick’ Em Up”
Familiar hard techno beat? Moby? Awww shit, you’re Quarishi’s “Stick ‘Em Up” from the Orange Country
soundtrack! No fair, I love you! An energetic track from an Icelandic rap-rock combo with the line “I rock the mic like a fascist,” how can I not love you? You’re totally one of the tracks I’m keeping of this Pete Yorn-highlighted
dungheap (along with Crazytown’s leg-shakin’ “Butterfly” – my favorite single of 2001). Nothing else I ever heard from you guys was any good, but I’m at least making an mp3 out of this. Someday I might need to make a sports montage. GREEN
Track #3: Whiskeytown, “Excuse Me If I Break My Own Heart Tonight”
Ryan Adams before Ryan Adams was Ryan Adams. Better than later stuff but still not good enough (though don’t take it bad, I’m not keeping any Uncle Tupelo full-lengths either). I probably would have kept you for your relative hookitude compared to the more sluggish album tracks on Strangers Almanac
(I’m definitely keeping “Waiting To Derail,” “Turn Around” & “13 Days”), but I really hate the cameo vocal from Elanjedro (or however you spell it) Escovedo. It’s totally gratuitous and his voice, which I’m not familiar with from anything else, sounds like an elder’s endorsement or some crap. If it was Elton John or somebody flashier, maybe I’d be amused. YELLOW
Track #4: Sugarcubes, “Coldsweat”
Well, my my, aren’t you some kind of sluggish ‘80s rawk claptrap. Hey, that’s Bjork! You must be something from Life’s Too Good
. I totally couldn’t tell if you were lame post-Eliminator
bar boogie or lame industrial indie before Bjork showed up! I definitely knew you weren’t “Birthday,” the one song on this album I can’t do without. RED
Track #5: Half Japanese, “Magic Kingdom”
Jangly, shitty drums…Half Japanese? “You know it,” says Jad Fair! I’m guessing you’re that song “Magic Kingdom” because Fair’s chattering about amusement park rides and one man’s dream or something…whatever. Do I need to hear a middle aged man tell us his uninsightful and mega-twee take on a subject, Walt Disney, that I don’t give a crap about? Nope, though you’ve inspired me to listen to the triptastic Heaven Sent
instead of Blood On The Tracks
after this. Has Jad Fair ever been arrested for flashing? RED
Ok, 1 green, 1 yellow and 3 reds (two songs were from Iceland! Wacky!). The kept stuff wins! I don’t know if you got much out of this, but this sample study definitely makes me feel more certain that I threw out the bathwater rather than the baby. Try it sometime!
Fancy Meeting You Here
Didn’t I Say?
Didn’t You Say?
Didn’t We Say?
Didn’t Who Say?
With those opening words and a flourish of percussion and brass I am returned to childhood and the first concept album I ever heard.
A pairing between Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney with tight and swinging orchestration by Billy May (then on the comeback trail) the album Fancy Meeting You Here evokes a world of leisurely world travel as exemplified by the steamer trunks shown on the album cover and the songs of the 30s it draws on that even when the album was recorded (1958) seems a vanished one - if it ever really existed outside of depression era comedies depicting the romantic travails of the rich and glamorous (think most anything from the 30s with Cary Grant - Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, his Irene Dunne pairings.)
Similar to those films we encounter a sophisticated couple whose relationship has taken a turn for the worse though they can be quite civilized when they meet again, usually in hotel lounges, cruise liners, airport departure lounges, sharing martinis and dissecting love and relationships in terms ranging from rueful to sharp.
(btw - When did travel move from being seen as a glamorous expedition to something to be endured? The last gasp of glamorous travel may be the late 60s bomb The VIPS with Liz and Dick and assorted others snowed in at an airport. After that we got the 70s disaster flicks that seemed to actively camapaign against putting your life in the hands of a captain, whether air or boat)
In the title track we get the initial civilized banter, discussing their past paramours, the trips they have taken since last seeing each other and then they settle into their tour around the world. The album almost feels like the soundtrack to a show, the structure lends itself well to the visualization of their redeveloping relationship and the exotic locales feels like the backdrops you*d see briefly to establish that yes, these are glamorous globetrotting people (though we do get references to Rosemary and Bing’s Midwestern background to show they have common sense and don’t buy into the whole thing) The first side of the LP even ends with a version of Love Won Let you Get Away that serves the same role as the first act curtain closer or as they specifically say, its the close of Side One.
Though there is a slight ‘Small World’ quality to the album, and the topical refernces (Elvis, brigitte bardot) feel a bit awkward Bing and Rosemary seem to be having so much fun and the whole tone is so good-natured that those are minor issues. I suffer from a disadvantage in only being familiar with some of the songs from this album so it is hard to tell how much is improvised, there are multiple points where specific references are made to the other stops on their ‘tour’: Hindustan, Monterey, Brazil, Capri.
Capri is the one place that gets a bit of a dubbing with references to stale mandolins, too many tourists and mediocre pasta that would have been better back on the Strip in LA. The album closes with a reprise of Love Wont Let You get Away, wherein the squabbling pair, still bickering, are united in their duet of
Much as I love this album it has never inspired me to check out more of Bing or Rosemary’s work, respected though they are nothing has made me want to listen to much more but this album is near perfect for me.
written by H Arefe-Aine
Some Albums Have Intelligent Design
Pat Green, Wave on Wave
A very strange thing happens exactly four minutes and forty-six seconds into this album by one of the best young singer/songwriters in the country: he denies evolution. "Now somebody made everything / From the soul inside out to Saturn's rings / How my baby smiles and how Ray Charles sings / Of course we were created." This song, the only one on the record that Pat Green had no hand in writing, is kind of straight-up shocking, because it's all just out there: "Of COURSE we were created" is kinda chuckled, like he's saying "ANYone who knows ANYthing knows that, y'fool." I, a former Catholic altar boy who read a different book of the Bible kneeling beside my bed every night for a year, heard this line and my mouth dropped open. What the holy hell in a wheelbarrow?
This whole album follows the principle of "intelligent design," which as you know is the term that the hard-line fundies are giving to their doctrine that God created everything and then gently guided each step in the world's progression. It's set up like a country album, something that's radio- and concert-friendly; Green's voice is full of rough everyman charm, the arrangements are rockin' enough to pass muster and just country enough to get dirt-cred. (He's Texan, so he gets extra leeway on this score. Texas gets a free pass, always.) The title song was the big single--it seems to be about Green's love for a woman, which sneaks up on him bit by bit when he least expects it...but is that just because he says "she" in that second verse? Because other than that it's a Jesus song straight up: "Am I the one you were sent to save?" and there are angels gently guiding the singer towards this mysterious divine woman and he walks out into water.
Apart from these two songs, and the great "If I Was the Devil" (he'd go mess with folks in Blue Eye, Missouri, pretty evil indeed), the rest of these tunes are pretty much secular...or are they? In the new single, he claims "Hell ain't waitin' for a guy like me." When he meets a girl, they end up in "Eden's Gate," wherever that is. And is the great-cause-I'm-sad tune "Sing Till I Stop Crying" really just a paean to religious music? I start getting paranoid when I'm being sung to by someone who thinks that his friends' song scoffing at evolution is good enough to make a mission statement.
Well, if this really is Christian Music in a country guise, I reckon it's a good thing that it has to be sung by a guy who says "shit" on two different songs and talks about going out to get wasted and looks like a fatter Kiefer Sutherland. There weren't a lot of songs I loved better last year than "Elvis," where the mic gets passed around between Green and Asleep At The Wheel's Ray Benson and Green's pal Waylon Payne and then, inevitably, Willie Nelson. (A Texas country record without a cameo by Willie Nelson was just not to be done last year, or any year.) "Barricades" is kind of like a Gomez song, because it's about keeping the world away from your heart, and "I'm Tired" is a good ol' kiss-off song. But I'm always like, "Damn, is this some kind of metaphor for Jesus or something?" Because the agenda is clear, and I'm an agenda guy.
I like Pat Green, I think he's a talented guy, I'll follow his career. I just wonder if all his fans know about all the codewords hidden in these songs, or maybe I wonder if they all know and it's just us critics and suits that don't know. Either way, I'm also gonna pick up Green's album Three Days
for $7 at Frugal Muse. Evocative title, no?
Some Bands Really Know Where To Put The Trumpets And Where To Put The Werewolves
Agressor - Medieval Rites (Season of Mist-1999)
First: The sound of rain. Then the sound of a gently plinked guitar. Then the sound of Gollum. Then the sound of power chords. Then the sound of...trumpets? All in the first 30 seconds. Then death metal drums, human screams, and an unearthly vocal choir. And then the sound of horses galloping. Then operatic crooning and ace noodling. More trumpets. Then churchbells. Next: Concorde-fast tech death. Then: "The Woodguy-vs-The Black Beast", your standard ages-of-old folk song of indeterminate ethnic origin featuring acoustic guitar, flute, and the subtle sounds of an ominous wind. Next: More speedy grumblings and fretfully tricky guitar work. Then: extra evil evil. Along with wolves howling, monkish chants, and heroic mountain-top soloing. Snarls. Gnashing of teeth. The sound of a campfire burning. More dark folk. A fiddle! Then more hateful riffs. Then the lyrics: "Ancient breed, spacemen, hallucination, a twisted vision, chariot of fire, flying saucers, people from star, or maybe they are god from the sky". Then a King Diamond cover. Then more flutes. And a jew's harp! Then more desecration of all that is holy. Then swinging horns, deathlessly crunchy riffs, and klezmer fiddle. Screams. Three seconds of operatic soprano diva-ness. A coda of voice and fiddle. And last but not least: One minute and twenty seconds of soothing classical guitar that wafts into oblivion. And that, my friends, is how you make a French heavy metal album. `
Some Songs Are Not What You Think
Toby Keith, "I Love This Bar," 2003
This song became a lot more interesting to me once I realized that "this bar" is not a bar at all but actually Country Music Itself, because no real bar could hold all the types he talks about. And he's got that song about "The Critic" on there to throw us off from speculation about deeper meanings in his songs, alienating the only people who tease this stuff out...so it's gotta be a metaphor! But what's the meta for?
Because, I think, Toby Keith really does love Country Music Itself. He likes the way lots of different types of music all exist together under one really big umbrella, yuppies and bikers and thirsty hitchhikers, veterans with battle scars and hookers and lookers and boozers and losers all up in it existing more or less in harmony, even if that harmony is kinda dissonant and unharmonious most of the time. (For example, he doesn't say "we got outspoken hotties from Texas" or even "traitors to the sacred American flag," but I do think he'd be happier with no Dixie Chicks up in the mix, because then no one would ever call him out on his thin-skinned shit.) He likes his Ford truck, he likes his girlfriend, but what he really likes is his own clever idea about all of the music he loves being able to be contained in one ramshackle quonset hut, especially because he knows that everyone's going to assume that his drinking song has no further significance to it and he's snookered them all again.
Come as you are, it's his kind of place.
Plagiarizing from your own blog
is OK here, right? And talking about the top 10 Latin alternative albums of 2003 is fine even if we're three months into 2004, que no
? Following then, is what I wrote earlier in the year with a bit of explanation and links to my own articles on them--hey, I must shamelessly self-promote at all times.
Caveat lector: I'm limiting meself to Latin alternative in this because this is the only music style I review--well, that and Long Beach alt-country and Cambodian psychedelic rock. Most music of today, both in English and Spanish, is vile. "Rock is back" merely confirms my fears that people are worthless. Outkast and Radiohead are great; Sleepy Jackson is a fop who wishes Oscar Wilde could savage him (excuse the derogatory comment!). Now without further ado...
1. El Gran Silencio, Super Riddim Internacional, Vol. 1
This album shows the power of Latin alternative and why, when done best, can be the world's most brilliant genre. Whereas most Latin alternative bands--et tu, Cafe Tacuba?--have forsaken their heritage for the easy sounds of America, El Gran Silencio is stubbornly rooted in the dirtiest music forms the Western Hemisphere offers--cumbia/vallenato/ragamuffin with inane raps and bravura that comes only by being real-life chuntaros
. Most overlooked song of the year: "Venadito Callejero", the most danceable political cry since the Internacionale. The Re
of the new millennium.
"As if to fulfill these criticisms, El Gran Silencio have gone brilliantly native for this first chapter of a planned two-part effort (número dos comes out in the fall). Using a raga/rap/ranchera scaffold as a base, the quintet proceeds to unleash almost every accordion-based riff known to Gabbanelli—vallenato, conjunto norteño, cumbia and squeezebox sounds from the Colombian plains Carlos Vives doesn’t even know exist—to cheesily complement the overwrought love songs, booties-in-the-air brags and smash-society lyrics that make the band as exhilarating an act as rock en español has ever produced."
2. Vicentico, Vicentico
This is also the hardest-to-find album of the year, and is finally, officially showing up in non-import bins. The album actually came out in 2002, only in Spain. My review on it comes out next week--read it. In the meanwhile, read my blurb on his appearance in Los Angeles:
"Cigarette smoke belched from his mouth, a scraggly beard adorned his face, and his mane appeared as if it had never known the discipline of a comb. But Vicentico allayed any reservations once his crooning commenced. Backed by a nine-member orchestra that out-Cadillac’d the original Cadillacs for musicianship, he opened with “Se Despierta la Ciudad,” a lividly dark number tumbling with Afro-Argentine rhythms that detailed the unrest of his native land. Vicentico’s trademark raspy prayer carried his outstanding solo material, which gravitates away from his former band’s frenzy toward a stately amalgamation of lovely bossa nova, thunderous batucada and a general lounge sensibility."
3. Cabas, Contacto
Another album I've yet to review, only because it came out in the last parts of December. And thus, I withhold any comments. All I can say is that my words on him from Nov. 2002 now seem ridiculous:
"But the drums! Cabas’ backup band employed three different percussionists—a regular drummer, a congero and someone going Tito Puente on the timbales—that might have saved the concert. This pounding trio, though, couldn’t mask the Colombian clown’s nonexistent stage presence, and his stage-strutting and happy-clapping looked ridiculous."
My take, 2004: Cabas is a man you should listen to fast.
4. Bersuit Vergarabat, De la Cabeza...
Wrote about them earlier this week, even excerpted them. Here's a different excerpt:
"Adoring but angry fans hum each chord, sing all the lyrics, and cheer every time Cordera dedicates a song to the hijo de puta ex-President Carlos Menem or urges them to remember the valiant mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. De la Cabeza includes only one new track (the rest are culled from the badass albums Liberntinaje and Hijos del Culo), but it’s the powerful ballad "El Pacto," an inspiring love song that also doubles as commentary on the psychological and musical resiliency of the Argentine nation in the face of endless chaos."
I love how the Rag
allows me to ridicule Latin American leaders with the worst insults imaginable.
5. Yerba Buena, President Alien
Afro-Nuyorican funk at its sweatiest. Voted by the Rag's main music editor as having the best concert in OC of 2003, a point I don't dispute. Most bittersweet song of the year in "Wassamatter Baby?", a song I'm unfortunately relating to nowadays. Also, best damn publicity shot of the year--Panavision is back! Now the review:
"Combining Caribbean cadences with hip-hop reflections and African beats that would’ve made Fela Kuti proud, President Alien is a relentless recording that evolves frenetically as each song progresses. Sardonic flutes hump brave mambo horns that ride never-stopping percussions pounding to an orgasmic conclusion on virtually every track—and then it starts again. The results are dirty and sweaty, glamorous tropical traditions gritted for New York’s urban wonderland."
6. Control Machete, Uno, Dos: Bandera
Rap for me died with Tupac--and even then, rap for me was over after the original N.W.A. dissolved--but this group showed me that bragadoccio in rap isn't necessarily cliched, especially when you're rapping about issues that matter. This is another Latin alternative group that doesn't disavow their roots, even though in Control Machete's case, it's excusably easy to.
"Previous obsessions of the Monterrey, Mexico, Latin rap avatars persist—the dueling rapid-fire growls of Toy Hernández and Pato Chapa, smoggy beats unafraid of using traditional Latin American instruments like marimbas, congas and tubas to ominous effect, and songs unapologetic in attacking what ails Mexican society. But now there are fiesta-worthy jams not bogged down by political gravitas—just raise your hands along the Bootsy-funky party-starter "Bien, Bien" and its smirking mariachi horns fading in and out of spleen-disintegrating drum beats."
7. Natalia Lafourcade, Natalia Lafourcade
The first two songs on this album are terrible, and these were the only two songs of hers I knew for a good couple of months. Then I actually bothered to spin the disc, and she irrecovably changed my opinion of her--about the best pop you'll ever encounter. I now kick myself for having missed out on her show at the El Rey. Another one to watch out for.
"But Lafourcade is no fabricated foreign ingénue angling to cash in on America’s obsession with sultry untalented teens—this chick can belt. After two opening pieces of pop putridity, Lafourcade moves on to reveal soothing little wonders of dance pulses and Brazilian strums—the album you should’ve played during the summer, but instead will now spin to melt the coming overcast gloom."
8. Plastilina Mosh, Hola Chicuelos
Owners of the most hilarious musical video of 2003 also, for "Peligroso Pop." Absolute morons--and I mean it in the most loving of sense. Also their show at the Conga Room was the last time I ever went out with Argentina--after that, I pulled out my surface-to-air missile and promptly pointed it to the bridge. Idiot.
"Any semblance of lyrics consist of excerpts stolen from the Amoeba Records bargain bin—chanting prepubescent girls, apoplectic radio announcers, even an entire final-descent speech by an airplane pilot on "Houston"—and what few words Rosso and Jonáz mutter are languid declarations, such as "Let’s give a rest to your underwear" on the romantic-in-a-porno-kind-of-way "Magic Fever."
9. Molotov, Dance and Dense Denso
Another great rap album. A bit overrated, in my opinion. But...can't deny the power of "Frijolero", the shrapnel we needed to boom out that no other American band dared think. Wusses.
"The bizarre "I'm the One" — imagine a Huggy Boy dedication transported to D.F.'s colonias — counters its message of Sartrean individualism with a too-lush female background singer; urban unrest has never sounded so saccharine. On "No Me Da Mi Navidad (Punketón)," the wry electronic plea that the government fund punk bands morphs into a condemnation of a country that abandons dissident children to their own wits. "Tell me, what are you going to do with street kids?" Fuentes asks the Mexican nation. "Let them die," replies his country's discombobulated voice."
10. El Otro Yo, Colmena
The most unknown great act out there. All cuties, but possessors of a spirit that could only be forged in a country as fucked up as Argentina. Look at the picture in my review: doesn't the girl look like a drugged-up Olsen gal?
"A bit more accessible than their 2000 electro-nuts must-own Abrecaminos, Colmena thankfully still finds the quartet—drummer Raimundo Fajardo, keyboardist Ezequiel Araujo, and dueling siblings Humberto and María Aldana on guitar and bass, respectively—combining paper-shredder six-string chops, drum pounds that mimic the pots banged by protestors on Argentina’s chaotic streets (which they excerpt on "Calles"), and haphazard synthesizer swoons into rock at its face-punching best."
Notably missing from this list--Julieta Venegas (the most disappointing release by any artist in years--it wasn't bad, but girl needs to be hearbroken in order for her to reach her usual strata), Gustavo Cerati (good album, but not too memorable), Quetzal (they would be No. 11), Jarabe de Palo (me the idiot never actually bought the CD in order to review it--another remnant of Argentina. How I miss her easy smile...but not the insult of the ages), Jumbo (ha!) and Cafe Tacuba (great album, but when you match Cuatro Caminos
up with their previous efforts, it's terrible)!
Any questions. Email me.
Not a bad list considering I wrote it off the top of my head and interrupted by a viewing of the Simpsons, eh?
In 2002, Seattle Weekly editor and fellow Freelance Mentalist Michaelangelo Matos posted the track listing of a multi-CD year-end wrap-up on his website
. The deal was that if you sent him a CD-R with songs from bands not included on his box set, he’d send whichever of his CDs you wanted most. Former State Collegian Carey Price let me use her laptop to make him a CD-R of the pop-punk/pop-crap I thought he ignored. And I got 2002 pt. 3: A Hot Mom’s Allegiance
The first third of the CD-R is technoid twaddle in search of a clothing store to inhabit (except for ESG’s Teenbeat twaddle “Six Pack”), though it’s possible I’m not qualified to judge it since I haven’t done the reading. I dig the worldbeat that follows, which is ironic since not only haven’t I done the reading, I don’t even know what language these songs are in! Tara Pound’s “Badala” and Yondo Sister’s “Reviens Johny” sound just like Basement Jaxx’s “Jump And Shout” and the Talking Heads’ “Nothing But Flowers” only with more exciting climaxes. Good stuff, though I’m in no rush to find out more. I might as well wait until I have a full-time job and a few more years on the odometer. Save some musical discoveries for when I have more money and less interest in adolescent overdrive.
The Casino Vs. Japan track sounds like the beginning of “European Endless” but repeats those first seconds for over three minutes (man, when Kraftwerk delivers and you don’t? That’s sad). A brief interlude points out that even Tag Team delivers more than Kraftwerk does anyhow, and finally we get to the shit that inspired me to swap CD-Rs with Matos in the first place. I still haven’t bought Nellyville
(I just heard “Air Force Ones” for the first time TODAY and goddamnit why I can’t I remember to just get this thing already?!) so I’m damn grateful for “Hot In Herre,” though that lady’s unimaginative retort to Nelly’s suggestion in the chorus reminds me that I probably should buy Country Grammar before Nellyville
, anyhow. Though it fucks the 2002 Rap Hits block with its so-very-UK sonic sterility, the Sugababes “Freak Like Me” is enjoyable even if you don’t give a shit that the hooks are from Gary Numan (though ironically, the beats are slightly more dynamic than Numan's but the singers are LESS aggressive than Adina Howard).
You know why “Work It” didn’t make my top 10 singles of the year in 2002? I HATE those hypothetical scenarios in the final verse. She’s all sexually aggressive and scatting about her dunk-a-dunk-dunk and then she blanks out! She loses all interest in my big *elephant sound*! That disappointing lack of focus is why “Work It” only made my top 20. I’m glad Matos included the overlong skit at the end so that I don’t feel so bad for accidentally including a Desaparecidos skit on the CD-R I sent him.
You know why “On My Block” didn’t make my top 10 singles of the year? Me neither. I need to ask people to send me examples of piano-driven rap singles that suck. I can’t think of a single one. If I had Soulseek I’d be further perusing the discography of Scarface this second. The only other song I think I ever heard of his was something featuring Makaveli and I don’t recall liking it.
“Marshall’s Been Snookered” really makes you think, don’t it? OK, maybe it doesn’t now, but it sure did a year ago, right? Maybe? I still like the first 50 seconds of it.
Maybe I’d appreciate DJ Shadow more if I could hear out of both ears (ironic birth defect for me, isn’t it?). Headphone masterpieces are kind of lost on us living-in-mono types. Plus I don’t care if you make lite jazz with a quintet, two turntables or a harmonica held between your butt cheeks; it’s still lite jazz. The Out Hud track reaffirms that if there’s room for a vocalist to scream “OWWWWW! BREAK DOWWWWN!” over your post-punk jam then you might as well put one on there (thank you, Rapture!). To be fair, it’s possible their singer just fell asleep. I didn’t bother to get the Doug Martsch solo album because I thought Ancient Melodies Of The Future
was hella disappointing. Based on the faux-blues number “Stay,” I might finally pick it up once I’ve bought everything Yazoo ever put out (I’m talking about the label; I’ve already got the Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet collabos).
So yeah, about a third of this CD would have probably would have shown up on a compilation from me had I heard enough and had access to enough to make a multi-disc wrap-up in the first place. That’s probably more than Matos wishes he’d used from my CD, which is probably on a waiting list to become a coaster. All I ever heard back was the occasional ‘shut up you like “Underneath Your Clothes”’ on ILX. Though I didn’t even tell him that much (until now!).
Some Albums Are the Very New of Jack; or, WTF Is a Castleer?
Tony Toni Tone, Sons of Soul
It's pretty clear that any list of the greatest albums of all time must contain this album somewhere in the top two, or lose all credibility and not be worth reading the rest of, even if it contains many great and well-respected records that show up on all the other lists but unfortunately are NOT by Tony Toni Tone. (Sorry but I can't figure out how to make a little accent mark over the last e, their fault for having the stupidest band name in the history of band names.) So that's a given, then.
But there are a lot of corny lists out there that DON'T celebrate the brilliance of T to the 3, and I don't exactly know why. Maybe because it's all recorded at a Brechtian distance, the Verfremsdung in full effekt; Raphael Wiggins never really sounds engaged the way we want him to be on the love songs, and is much more invested on songs where he gets to diss someone or when he's suggesting something dirty. There's definitely something wrong when a singer's most dramatic vocal moment is on the line "My ex-girlfriend is a ho." Things are a bit better when D'wayne takes the mic for "Slow Wine," or for the spoken-word moment on "Tell Me Mama," because he sounds like he gives a damn. But overall, Raph's I-don't-care-ism works perfectly, because it lets us listen to everything the TTT way: with that part of our brain that doesn't worry about signifiers or the signified.
They just don't care about anything! It's amazing! R-Wiggy has the best nasal voice in pop history, something he can just pull out anytime he wants, but it means nothing, no real passion for humans or for their trifling emotions, nothing so base as that.
No, what Raphael is in love with is music sweet music, the textures and the skin and the nooks and crannies of a great "Gangsta Groove." Dude isn't afraid to call a track "Tonyies! in the Wrong Key" because that's exactly what it's all about; dude ain't afraid to rip off "8th Wonder" or Sly Stone doo-wop riffs if that's what he needs to do.
And yeah, that's what he needs to do
. I don't think he even exists except in music. How the hell can a song like "If I Had No Loot," a paranoid mean-spirited song with an irritating vocal sample about "the New Jack Swing," a song unlikable at any speed, sound SO DAMN GOOD eleven years after I first failed to dislodge it from my mind? Why does "Dance Hall" beat the pants off Sean Paul even now? How do they get away with a NINE MINUTE slow jam on "Anniversary," with swelling and ebbing complex gypsy strings, that fails to suck?
I'll tell you why: because they just don't care about anything. The only thing that Tony Toni Tone loves is itself, its own shiny shallow virtuosity, and its encyclopediac knowledge of the history of music. This frees them up considerably--they don't have to give a rat's ass about us, about you or me or our little squabbles or problems! Liberation!
So all that's left is the relentless cool of people who truly don't give a fuck. I bought this CD for $2.98 and it's worth 300 times that.
Some Songs Haunt You Like a Not-So-Friendly Ghost
Ann Peebles, "I Can't Stand the Rain" (Hi Records, 1973)
She was leaving the house to go clubbing with her husband/producer and a deejay friend and she complained because it was raining and they all looked at each other and went back into the house and wrote the song that night.
The song is about many things. It is supposed to be about the narrator not being able to stand the rain because it brings back memories of the man she loves, about how that man, like the window through which she sees the rain, ain't got nothing to say.
But that is only the narrative drive of the song. What these lyrics are "about" isn't what they are really about. What they are really about is how deep the sadness can run in the human heart. It's like House of Leaves
, where they realize that an entire malevolent anti-matter universe exists inside their house, how you can get lost there for days and days unless someone pulls you out, except that when it's your heart no one realizes you're gone. And no one pulls you out, because they're all busy with the rain on their own windowpane. So you decide to live there.
And it's a song about rain itself, the inexorable torture of water from the sky, seasonal affective disorder and the fallacy called Pathetic for a reason, pathos taking a bathos, how rain more than anything else collects and pools in the spaces of one's soul, how when you stare into those pools and puddles you see yourself but you're all fucked up now, all ripply and distorted, how sadness has changed your face, how it's impossible to cry up so the angels have to cry down for us.
But, more than any of these things, it's a song about the sound of itself. That nagging pizzicato riff that punctuates the whole thing is the damndest thing: is it a synthesizer or violins or the sound made when you tap on the bleachers down at the baseball field when there are no games, that sad lonely metal sound that means no one else would understand why you're there tapping the bleachers all alone to see what they sound like, why you don't seem to fit in, why sometimes you burst into tears and you don't know why, why despite having friends and family members who love you and support you the distance and the pain remain, plucking away at you from within, plucking in time with the rhythm of the rain because you live in the Willamette Valley in Oregon where it always rains so there's always accompaniment for your inner sound of desolation
and when you hear this song as a kid you always loved how it was weird at the beginning and then kinda normal, just a regular soul song, beautiful and all that, but there's that boop boop bup bup bip bip, beep beep
, all the way through it
and when you are older and they play this song on the prog-jazz radio station you listen to, and you hear that riff, you RUN over to the radio and crank it up so someone else can give voice to that feeling, that odd disconnected never-quite-made-it-back-from-Mars certainty, that floats around your brainpan
and when you are even older still you don't really even want to hear this song
and when you are even older than that you are alone one night in Memphis Tennessee and you go down to Beale Street and eat in a crummy touristy restaurant under the blue gaze of the original Stax sign and you feel like you are going to split in half from loneliness and depression and boredom. But you don't. Instead, you walk around the corner to the Tower Records there and purchase an Ann Peebles CD and drive home listening to Isaac Hayes' radio show through a light January drizzle to your hotel and you rip the plastic off with your teeth and you put the disc in your Discman player and put the headphones in and listen
and you can't even cry anymore