Monday, July 27, 2009

Ian Songs: #4, Supersonic Rocket Ship

At the height of glam n' glitter, the Davies (more likely Ray) decided to go all theatrical. Don't really blame them, they just cut a record in '72 charring the rock roadlife with a lyrical blowtorch. The cliche thing about rock is that you write what you know (or what you think you know) and if you dedicate two whole sides to how boring touring is, than it's a fairly good indicator that you should try something new. Keep in mind, as well, that the still under-appreciated Everbody's in Show-Biz (despite one overplayed selection) predates Seger's lonely end-of-the-bar-jam by a year, so they were still pushing boundaries even though they were sick to death of doing it. And, just to make sure that the traditional English irony was left in tact during the transitioning process, the right hand side of the gatefold contains, you guessed it, the Kinks recent one night stand at Carnegie Hall.

Of course, The Kinks' controlled irony is only one side of the coin. For a band that's quintessentially British in every way, they owe America's marketing machine for few million album sales. Van Halen's purposely obtuse cover of You Really Got Me must've lined the Davies' pockets quite well. And, when the American production of the British TV hit, Life on Mars pulled out their last '70s top 20 hit to back a supernatural abduction scene, anyone who heard it who were under thirty went running to make sure their iPod had what some consider to be the drunkest album ever recorded.

And, there, waiting to greet their taping feet n' fingers was Supersonic Rocket Ship, which is The Kinks at their '70s best. I mean, we're miles away from Party Line at this point and it shows in the laidback, inebriated groove. And, while its naivete is what is played up by most and is, honestly, the song's best selling feature, it's the sheer depth of the musical backdrop that deserves note. Give it a spin once and enjoy it. Spin it again and lend it some ears. A horn chart? Clever piano lines? These things didn't have to be there, yet they are and they help paint a complete picture. The picture is gorgeous, too, and will lift the lips of anyone on their worst day. Pure pop, pure gold.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Marky's song #4: Neu! - "Für Immer"

For the record, it’s pronounced NOY. As in “It sure is anNOYing when people pronounce it like NEW.”

Neu! (or technically, NEU! – exclamation mark and all caps – does this mean Moe.’s sporting of typographical affectations has roots? Good grief.) was a German duo consisting of Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother, who formed the group after departing from Kraftwerk. The project is an exercise in beguiling restraint and their most salient feature is the ubiquitous presence of the motorik beat – a funkless, driving 4/4 pulse that propels many of their songs into krautrock classics.

Their three albums in the early-to-mid-70s are all outstanding examples of the krautrock aesthetic, insofar that one can assign an uniform aesthetic to the genre. Basically, they took Kraftwerk’s synth rhythms and reconfigured it to a rock format. Most people tend to gravitate toward their first (Neu!) or third (Neu! ’75) albums, but their middle album (Neu! 2) is the one that I seem to listen to the most often. It’s my personal favorite, and not simply because of the story behind it.

What happened was the band got their advance from their label and was so excited to have a somewhat decent budget for their upcoming album that they went out and bought all-new equipment and instruments for the recording. About halfway through making the album, however, the band ran out of funds. Dinger and Rother asked the label for an additional advance in order to complete the record; the label refused, citing poor sales of their debut album.

Brainstorming, and needing to deliver a full-length record, the group decided to fill the rest of the album in an unconventional way: they took a previously recorded single and manipulated it in various ways. A few tracks have them being played on a turntable at speeds different than originally intended. Another has it recorded onto cassette and eaten by the tape machine. And so forth.

At the time, this half of the album was scoffed at as being gimmicky filler and a swindle played on the consumer. Over time, however, the album’s reputation improved and is now touted as “the first remix album”, albeit a rudimentary version thereof. I don’t fully agree with that sentiment: remix albums are mostly done to generate additional revenue from a successful track/album and not out of necessity. On the other hand, necessity is the mother of invention, so I guess I should give credit where credit it due. I certainly appreciate the smiley-faced subversiveness of the project, no matter what the original reason for doing it was.

I really feel side two needs to be heard in its entirety to fully appreciate what they did. So instead of that, I’m sharing the opening track to the album. “Für Immer” is probably Neu’s single best song: shifting tempos and stretching time while maintaining the buzz of the main chord that runs through the entire 11-minute song. I love how the drums will swim underwater for a while before pushing themselves back up to the surface. It simultaneously rocks out and has a drifts placidly. Hopefully, this track will inspire those not yet in the know to further check this album out – it’s quite the masterpiece.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ian Songs: #3, Cannibal

For children of the core born post-the first few waves, it's hard to imagine a world without The Jesus Lizard; a band with a siren song so strong that it has lead Denison-disciples to a Lizard-inspired renaissance not once, but twice. The mid '90s gave us a whole slew of Shortys, of Phleg Camps, of Cake Likes that tuned their instruments to gut-wrenchin', grindin', and screamin', allowing them to wreck their ships of talent on the shores of no exposure, gaining them only the allegiance of the lands of Albini. Now, once more, kids who missed the first run-through of JL copycatism are channeling their inner Yow for a generation that never heard Boilermaker until they downloaded it (Your author, ladies and gents). Mar, Young Widows, Tinsel Teeth; the young bucks in a game that grants few fortune.

Yet, for all of this enduring fandom for the unique sound of Chicago's finest, it's the older Texas quartet that's usually forgotten. Scratch Acid is now relegated to something like footnote status, known to most only as the thing that came before. Although they reunite occasionally, like a spazzy Halley's Comet to ring in special anniversaries, they don't seem to hold the same clout in the, ugh, scene as what came after. That's a real shame. Scratch Acid was the breeding ground for the Jesus Lizard's sound, true, but it was a sponge that soaked up a hell of a lot more than the Lizard ever did, oftentimes sounding like a psychedelic, surf rocking, ear-drum-fuck of epic atmospheric proportions.

All of their recorded work can now be picked up for cheap on the Greatest Gift compilation that thankfully kept most of this stuff in print. And, right from the top, you can hear their best song, culled from their '84 EP. Cannibal stuns with its simplicity, gunning for the head with a subtly-evolving repeating riff, a young Yow's masterful yells (notice just how perfect they are, cracking and distorting at all the right moments), and a steady rhythm section that would become these guys' stock in trade for the next few decades. Greater yet, it doesn't overstay its welcome, tying the entire package up in under two and a half minutes of post-hardcore perfection. It almost doesn't get better than this, which is strange that it doesn't hit more of the CD mixtapes I receive from buddies. Oh well. Here's their chance now.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mike's Song #1: Van Duren - Grow Yourself Up (Are You Serious?)

I've got an old powerpop-obsessed coworker to thank for turning me on to Van Duren. The guy had forgotten more about 60's and 70's folk, psych, powerpop, and rock than I'll ever know. I picked up a lot from him, which will likely filter into these entries pretty often.

Out of all the obscurities that found their way into my record collection (and, let's be honest, my iPod) during that time, I think Van Duren is a personal favorite. Forgotten now, he came out of the Memphis powerpop scene in the early 70's. He was initially in a band with Big Star's drummer, and went on to form the Baker Street Regulars, who were around in '76 or so. I think the pinnacle of his work, though, is the fantastic record Are You Serious? (or Staring at the Ceiling in Europe), which was recorded and released in 1978 after he moved to New England. He released one more solo record after this, but Are You Serious? is solid gold from front to back. He's still around, located in Memphis, and still plays shows.

Van Duren - Grow Yourself Up

This song, the fifth track off of Are You Serious?, draws immediate comparison to Nilsson. I'm hearing a little of the aforementioned Badfinger (circa Wish You Were Here) right off the bat,'s probably the bouncy piano that carries most of the melody. There's a fantastic wave of melancholy that comes at a point about a minute into the song where everything but the piano drops off. I like powerpop with hints of bitterness (or large helpings of it - see Joe Jackson's early stuff). It's one of the more upbeat tracks on the record, although it's also one of the most lyrically acidic. The vocal and overly noisy guitar freakout at the end are pretty fantastic, and a bit beyond the boundaries Costello, Lowe, Jackson, and his other contemporaries would set for themselves. You can tell this guy had more than a little love for the massive, squalling, T.Rex side of glam/powerpop.

After this album, and the followup Idiot Optimism that was recorded in 1978-1979 but remained unreleased until 1999, Duren returned from the New England area to Memphis and performed in the band Good Question from 1981-1999. As mentioned previously, he still plays shows under his solo moniker in and around Memphis.

Bobby's song #3: "The Slim" by Sugar

I came across my sister's Copper Blue tape in 1993 and "borrowed" it to have in my car. I was 16 or 17. I don't know if she ever listened to it because she never seemed to notice that it was missing, something she almost always did when I "borrowed" her stuff, so I ended up not feeling so bad about keeping it. I remember listening to it the first few times while driving to and from school and thinking. It was definitely not the kind of music I gravitated towards at that time. I mostly listened to death metal. Sugar was decidedly not that.

Like all teenagers, I had already experienced my share of heartbreaks by that age. At the time I felt that these experiences were, naturally, devastating and traumatic. Any art that captured that sense of heartbreak or loss instantly resonated with me. This is why The Slim was the track that kept me listening to this album over and over again.

The Slim by Sugar

Sugar was Bob Mould's 2nd attempt to front a band. His first, more famous, attempt was the well-regarded Husker Dü. Husker Dü started off as a hardcore-punk band in the early 80s but became more of a punk/alternative crossover by the mid-80s. If you compare later Husker Dü with Sugar's music you can easily hear that Mould was the driving musical force behind both bands. They sound very similar with the only difference being that Sugar was definitely more radio-friendly.

Despite Copper Blue being voted 1992's Album of the Year by NME and some catchy singles (this blog entry was very nearly about If I Can't Change Your Mind) Sugar failed to make much of an impression on the US charts (and performed only modestly on the UK charts). They stayed together long enough to record one more album and then called it quits.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Marky's song #3: The Would Be's - "My Radio Sounds Different In The Dark"

As Michael Azerrad adroitly pointed out in the epilogue of his fine book Our Band Could Be Your Life, major labels stopped derisively ignoring the American independent music scene once Nirvana’s Nevermind album dropped. For a couple years, the ‘underground’ effectively disappeared when the search for the “next Seattle” began. Various locales around the United States were proffered up as places for the music behemoths to send their A&R people in order to strip mine the area. At one point, some executives who felt they were slightly more enterprising than the rest of their cohort poked around in places across the ocean for the next big thing. And for a (very) short while, that place was Ireland.

That the entire country of Ireland could be considered a “scene” is amusing. Not because there isn’t a vibrant musical community there – quite the opposite. But it’s such a diverse musical environment that the notion of there being some sort of immediately recognizable sound – for an entire country – is downright absurd. Could you imagine anyone claiming there was an American scene? I mean, besides me doing exactly that in the first paragraph?

In light of that attempt at humor, let me offer a sidebar: any such search was futile right from the get go. At the time, enough interconnectedness had been constructed into the network to prevent stylistic regionalism to be fostered in complete isolation.

Anyway, Nevermind was released when I was a senior in high school; a couple years later I found myself putting in a few hours a week at the campus radio station. In retrospect, it probably was the worst possible time for a person to be in college radio, with endless corporate product deluging our mailboxes and slick label people deluging our voicemails. But that’s neither here nor there. As you might expect, much of what we got was dross. But we still sifted through everything that arrived in the hopes of uncovering a gem in the midst of the mediocrity. One day, a compilation titled Straight Outta Ireland (released by California-based Scotti Bros. Records) came into my possession. Ignoring the lame N.W.A. joke there, the music inside showcased a slew of tracks that had appeared on Irish labels that had yet to secure any sort of distribution in the United States. This was the lead-off track. Maybe that’s why it made the most impression on me.

(The album turned out to be so popular that Scotti Bros. went back and released a Straight Outta Ireland 2. Because, you know, the fact that the first volume omitted both Hothouse Flowers and An Emotional Fish wouldn’t have anything to do with it.)

The Would Be’s never had an ice cube’s chance in hell of achieving anything beyond a small cult following, but they were OK with that. I mean, look at their faces in the video. It’s like they can’t believe they’re getting away with this. “Really? A video on 120 Minutes? Us?” Maybe that’s why The Would Be’s never caught on across the Atlantic: they lacked the resolute flamboyancy of well-known Irish acts like U2 and The Cranberries. Three verses and choruses without any middle break, bridge or solo. It’s about as unassuming of a pop song as you can get, even with the trombone in there. Even though this song is almost two decades old, it’s still a wonderful listen. It’s fairly typical of what you’d expect from an early 90s “alternative” act, but I revisit the song often just to re-experience the charm of the thing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bobby's song #2: "Little Computer People" by Little Computer People

There are a handful of songs that I can listen to that will perk me up 100% of the time, no matter the situation or my mood. Little Computer People is one of those songs. I cannot help but grin and start bopping my head when it comes on. It is silly and nerdy, just like me. Maybe dorky is a better word.

You see, Little Computer People was originaly a computer game put out in 1985 by Activision. It was the 80s version of The Sims and featured state of the art graphic and music (for the time). It was the music from this video game that inspired Little Computer People (the artist) to record the Little Computer People (the song) in 1998.

Little Computer People (the artist) is one of many aliases for the German techno producer Anthony Rother. He's been doing techno music since the late 80s and released several 12" records and albums. Some of his collaborative work with Sven Vath is not bad but most of his other work is dull and takes itself too seriously. Honestly, I generally don't like German techno. At all.

But this song is different. I don't hear German techno when I listen to it. I hear the anthem of gleeful computer nerds cutting loose on the dance floor. Or at least in their cubicles. I have a feeling someone over at The IT Crowd may have heard this song and seen this video and felt the same thing.

The song didn't appear on CD until he released Electro Pop on his own PSI49NET label in 2001. The album is decent on the whole and there are a couple standout tracks but nothing tops Little Computer People (the song). Listen to it once and see if it doesn't get stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bobby's song #1: XTC - "Jason and the Argonauts"

XTC was a band that came back to life at least 3 times during their 20-year existence. Jason and the Argonauts is a great example of where the band was musically at the end of their first rebirth.

The 4-piece from Swindon started in the mid-70s as a pop band with punkish tendencies playing short, quirky-jerky songs that were meant to be catchy. Many of them were. Some of them were just good, silly fun. Part of the make up of this early incarnation of XTC that made the bands music so quirky, besides the band member's youth, was the whiz-bang keyboard stylings of Barry Andrews.

Unfortunately, rock egos will be rock egos and there was only room for one Alpha male songwriter in the band. So, after just two years and two albums (White Music and Go 2) Barry Andrews left (and went on to be a part of Shriekback).

XTC found itself missing what was once a key component of their sound. Instead of finding another keyboardist they opted to add a second guitarist. Enter Dave Gregory and the first rebirth of XTC.

This new line-up produced a sound that was more muscular and self-confident than before. They released Drums and Wires (a title describing their new musical make up) in 1979. The new formula was clearly a success as XTC charted their first Top 10 UK single with Making Plans for Nigel.

They spent the next three years on the road stopping only to record. All of the playing made them much tighter as a unit and you could hear it in their recordings. In 1980 they released Black Sea. Gone are the quirky elements from before. This is just a straight-up kick-ass rock record.

English Settlement, released in 1982, was a watershed album. Here XTC built on the solid foundation the three years of touring had given them and added a complexity to the song writing and instrumentation that was not there before. It heralded the promise of what XTC was to become - it's next rebirth.

But the rebirth was not to happen as fans would have liked. While on tour in France in 1982, lead singer (and main songwriter) Andy Partridge had a meltdown on stage from anxiety. He was never to return to the stage after that. The rest of the tour was cancelled. XTC would become a studio-only band. But that is a story for another time.

Jason and the Argonauts is my favorite track from this album. It contains some of the very best elements that make XTC a permanent resident in my listening queue: a catchy chorus, interesting vocal lines, and a droney space-out section.

(This is not an official video, obviously.)

Marky's song #2: D.R.I. - "Decisions"

There’s no way to meaningfully quantify how much influence a band has on their peers, but the Dirty Rotten Imbeciles would easily rank near the top of any such scale as far as hardcore punk goes. They certainly upped the ante as far as velocity is concerned; one might even consider them genre pioneers. They took the sound, refined it, and pushed the gas pedal to the floor. At one point, they were one of the fastest bands on the planet.

This was good for them – it was a time where listeners were trying to see how fast bands could get and still keep things somewhat together while bands were gleefully egging each other on in friendly competition to speed things up more and more. Or at least that’s the kind of camaraderie fair weather revisionists want the story to be remembered for. But velocity alone doesn’t guarantee anything – and D.R.I. also was good (or lucky) enough to pen more than its fair share of classic hardcore songs: “Reaganomics”, “Couch Slouch”, “Equal People”, “I’d Rather Be Sleeping” among others. Their first two albums are hardcore classics.

Still, trailblazing success does not mean a band won’t take its primacy for granted. In the mid-80s, there was a prevailing notion that hardcore was a dying sub-genre. Some bands saw thrash metal bands gaining in popularity while their own fan bases were dwindling and felt the need to alter their sound. The result was known as ‘crossover thrash’ or simply ‘crossover.’ Predictably, different bands had varying degrees of success with this gambit. No band attempted to grab the brass ring of metal (metal brass ring? sounds redundant; must rethink) more than D.R.I. did, and no band paid harder for making that decision. I think anarcho-crust punk band Sore Throat penned at least three anti-D.R.I. songs, and they weren't the only band out there laying out the sellout accusation.

Don’t think for a moment that it wasn’t a deliberate decision on D.R.I.'s part; the fact that they even named the next album Crossover – replete with a chrome metallic version of their old ‘running man’ logo and a pair of skulls on the cover – shows that they were fully aware of what they were doing. But, never really having enough chops to be fully accepted by the metal crowd and derided as sellouts by their original hardcore fans, D.R.I. wound up in a weird sort of no-man’s land where their fans were pockets of adventurous listeners on both sides of the fence who were looking for new sonics outside their usual gaggle of bands. For better or for worse, this was the territory the band had decided to stake out for itself.

So why this song? Why, after calling their earlier material ‘classic’ and declaring the music that followed not up to snuff, would I pick a song from the earliest part of their crossover phase? Because it deserves to be rescued. Tucked away at the end of side one, “Decisions” is actually a pretty good tune. Drummer Felix Griffin never goes past a mid-paced thrash gallop (a big deal for a band once considered one of the fastest), which allows vocalist Kurt Brecht the room to enunciate his syllables. Earlier albums had Brecht cramming words together in order to make them fit the verses – his frenzied vocal delivery part of the exhilarating adrenalin rush, but the slowed-down approach in this song drives the point home – that there are no guarantees in life – better than the hurried method would. There’s harmony in Spike Cassidy’s guitar and Josh Pappe’s bass as they tentatively explore doing something with their instruments besides slashing away at power chords. Heck, even the guitar solo tacked onto the last chorus is decent.

Whether this band is considered hardcore, metal or crossover, it makes no difference. I may be being unnecessarily harsh on the group, yet I honestly can’t shake the feeling that this song is good only by accident. But hey, ours is not to complain. Ours is to enjoy. Do that.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Marky's song #1: Gene Simmons - "See You Tonite"

I’m not really much of a Kiss fan. I don’t even own any of their ‘proper’ albums. Some people will read those two lines and declare that I’ve committed some sort of heavy metal apostasy, but I can’t deny my youth. My older brother was the Kiss fan of the family and grew up on the ‘classic’ metal stylings of Kiss, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden et al. When I reached my rebellious teenage years, not wanting to slavishly imitate my bro, I discovered hardcore punk as well as thrash and speed metal. By that time, Kiss was merely a mainstream pop-metal act that had already done away with the face paint – a highly influential relic, but not interesting enough to be on my radar. As a result, even though I heard those early albums (from Hotter Than Hell to Double Platinum) many times, I never had the urge to obtain my own copies. I have a greatest hits album and that’s all I feel I need.

The exception to that rule, and the only thing that prevents me from being dishonorably discharged from the Kiss Army, is the four solo albums released under the band’s logo in 1978. For some reason, these albums fascinate me. The concept, the results, even the artwork – velvet paintings of each band member bathed in colored background light and identical fonts on the reverse – captivated me in a way that their regular albums didn’t. I used to sneak into my brother’s room in the time between when I got home from school and when he did to simply look at those albums (touching the stereo was forbidden, you see). To this day, I still occasionally put them on for reasons unknown. Maybe it’s admiration for the ultimate expression of hard rock chutzpah.

The general consensus about these four albums is that Frehley’s is the strongest while Criss’s is the weakest. I concur with that sentiment. Just to give you an idea of how the Kiss star was falling at this time: each solo album had one song on it released as a single, except for Peter’s, which had two. That they would dip into the worst of the batch twice hints at how much the band was losing its direction. Within two years, the band would shed those two band members.

I think the reason Ace’s album is so highly regarded is the sheer unexpectedness of it. Messrs. Simmons and Stanley ran highly rigorous quality control and very few Frehley-penned tracks had seen the light of day. Perhaps Ace’s lack of confidence in his singing voice has something to do with that – he apparently couldn’t do his studio vocals unless he has lying on the floor so he couldn’t see anyone else watching him. But when allowed free reign in the studio without interference, he turned out to be a pretty good songwriter with an excellent grasp of hard rock dynamics.

The flipside of that coin, of course, is Peter Criss, whose solo album is as much of a trainwreck as it has been made out to be. It’s hardly even a rock album; it’s more of an R&B affair, and not a particularly good one at that. A lot of fun has been poked at this album, and I can’t say that it’s undeserved. It can be painful to listen to Peter desperately try to be the crooning balladeer that all the ladies love and failing miserably. Criss hoped his album would prove to his bandmates that he was just as good a songwriter as everyone else – it’s safe to say that the opposite of that hypothesis is the conclusion most people reached.

But those are the extremes, and it leaves two other albums to discuss. Being the primary songwriter, Paul’s album wound up sounding the most like a normal Kiss record, but that’s not necessarily the best thing you can say about something released in 1978. The true curveball of the bunch was Gene’s. At the time, this was one of the most expensive albums ever made, with its star-studded cast of participants. Joe Perry, Rick Nielsen, Donna Summer and Cher are among the guest appearances here. Given his persona and on-stage theatrics, you figured Mr. Simmons was a shoe-in for the sleaziest, most ass-kicking album the four would create. And you would be wrong.

Sure, songs like “Tunnel of Love” and “Living In Sin” are executed in the expected modus operandi, but the album veers off into decidedly un-Kiss-like directions. “True Confessions” includes a choir in the chorus to produce what can only be classified as gospel-hard rock. “Man of 1000 Faces” and “Mr. Make Believe” are straightforward pop songs with singing that doesn’t sound like a total come on. And there really are no words to describe the closing track, an earnest cover of “When You Wish Upon a Star” other than ‘accurate.’ Thank heavens Disney didn’t call Simmons’s agent when they needed to voice Jiminy Cricket.

And then there’s this song. Understated in every way, “See You Tonite” isn’t about boffing your mom (and your sister and your grandmother and your girlfriend and your daughter), but seems instead to be about a botched murder-for-hire attempt. Married to a Beatles-esque melody, it’s one of those songs you don’t realize how catchy it is until it’s long over, when you catch yourself humming the chorus during a break at work. At two-and-a-half minutes, it’s the shortest song on the album, which only helps contribute to the fleeting elusiveness of the track. Then you remember that Gene freakin’ Simmons wrote this song, and it only increases the wonderment. Obviously stuff like this could never make it onto a proper Kiss album, but the fact that he had this up his sleeve grudgingly gained him a little bit of my respect.

You may not like Kiss. Or you might like Kiss, but not care much for the solo albums. But believe me, when you hear this song, you will like it. And you will like it more than you think you do after hearing it.

Ian Songs: #2, Give 'em Some Rawhide Chewies

The age of the cyber-music fan continues to leave an inconsistent and generally confusing streak of what's worth salvaging from the depths of obscurity. If something, say, continues to flesh out the genealogy of metal and punk, the lights from the decades-later exposure singes off the warts that kept it in the shadows during its own time. So often, a heavy, pre-Sabbath riff is falsely elevated to the legendary heights because it's used only as citation for online cock measuring contests. But, that's the world in which we, the 21st century digital boys, now live. And it sucks.

And, it sucks for bands like Yezda Urfa. Even with the prog renaissance in full effect and with likeminded acts such as Gentle Giant beginning to get their work into the shelves of under thirtysomethings across the universe, they still labor in unpopularity. Of course, prog is always doomed for such an unfortunate end. They're the dexterous nerd of the music world, only admired by those with similar skills and interests. But, one can't say that it isn't a hit with the masses because it's hard to listen to. It's just...why would anyone bother unless they found ultra-active basslines and absurd rounds crucial for music enjoyment? Having shaved truffles on a dessert is not necessary for enjoyment, but foodies need that shit because they've gone too far, looked straight at the sun with wide eyes and now have blown their fucking brains out. And, if you're here, you're probably the same way. A nose full of melodic coke just ain't doing it anymore, so you need to inject those veins with endearingly pedantic feel-good to even get a fix. And, like any true music fan will tell you, each hit is killing you while keeping you alive. Music addiction makes you miserable.

There's little pockets of joy, though, when you find something legit that you won't burn out on in a week. Yezda Urfa made that kind of record with their unreleased '76 offering, Sacred Baboon. Think Yes meets Gentle Giant. They have a so-so first date where Yes can only talk about how unbalanced the coffee shop table is and Gentle Giant nervously laughs, not really getting the reference. They awkwardly hook up, produce a child, and split. Yes flirts with pop, Gentle Giant has a weird period where they date hair rock. Their kid, while retaining the best parts of each, resents them terribly, takes a bunch of speed, and scribbles down the kind of nonsense poetry that fills the dog-eared notebook of a freshman majoring in Joyce wet dreams. Kind of like that.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ian Songs: #1, Goodbye Toulouse

The Stranglers is one of those bands that got stuck with the punk tag because of the mass confusion on where to place them on the pop music map when they first bubbled forth from the gash that let British punk into our plane of reality. Not really the critics' fault, Brits have an insatiable need to categorize things from the get-go; plus, they didn't have the net so they could troll around blogs to find hairy missing-links which only five people heard one summer in a German garage (Looking at you, Monks).

For all intensive purposes, there's not an awful lot of punk sonics here. I mean, there's a fucking keyboard that shits out lines that sounds like Ray Manzarek chasing a coked-out figment across the plastic ivories. That, and their output was oddly progressive, something that punk was set loose to destroy.

Of course, The Stranglers were born in the back of pubs. Instead of Buzzcocks, they sound like Brinsley Schwarz; just a bizarre-o version that wants to fight and fuck everything. But, maybe that's where the punk comes in, with the attitude and the inside joke-esque sense of humor. They sounded tough and unbalanced, like taking the idealized verison of David Yow to a pay-only-for-what-you-don't-vomit bar. The classic example of a band you'd think twice about seeing the flesh and basing that indecision on their recorded output alone.

Ah, but the contradiction was that they never wanted to pass up a golden pop nugget. Goodbye Toulouse was their earliest, before they'd chart a sweet lil' ditty abut heroin. Still muscular, still dangerous, yet the kind of broken down dangerous that has spent a moody night looking through a beer glass. The pulsating bass line, which is oddly NWOBHM all things considered, provides the foundation for a distinctive and dreamy sandwich of fuzzed out keyboards and guitars. Then, the chorus. Layered vocals deliver a hook so big one could use a blue whale as bait. And, while foobar is promising me that it lasts a smidge over three minutes, it's gone as soon as it walked in the door, leaving a krautrock explosion to echo throughout the rest of your day.

In my mind, it's the best thing they ever churned out, the sole reason I'll reach for Rattus Norvegicus before anything else in their samey-sounding oeuvre.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Michael Jackson is the Reason this Blog Exists

Ist Poem, Written in the Key ov Strife:

I mean,
if a black man
can't be happy as a
white woman in this world,
what chance do I have?
Oh, King of Pop, how we miss thee.
Where should we look now for music with such insubstantial grooves that it makes DeBarge sound like Deicide?
Oh, Jacko, you've left a
hole-o in our
heart-o that nary a
soul-o can now

And it's just so tempting to leave it at that. Now, don't get me wrong, I dug MJ. He gave Toto their best gig, gave Eddie Van some blissful time away from, uh, this, and was an all around brilliant little kiddie that helped launch the spectacular career of his finest sibling. PYT is still transcendent (So good, in fact, that even Monica couldn't butcher it), he did the best job biting this oft-quoted curio, and he gave Quincy Jones a great outlet to experiment on one superior lite-R&B album (Off the Wall, for the record) and one understandably overrated--yet lyrically fascinating--compilation of bizarre-o paranoia and Weegee-esque blood n' guts. And, let's keep in mind, if it wasn't for MJ, QJ would be best known for this group of chronic underachievers and some unfairly overlooked solo albums, much like this guy. So I liked him. But, after reading a week's worth of smarmy epilogues and ridiculous "I was there when..." eulogies, I realized I didn't love him. That's was okay, though, because, for the entire world, it stopped being about the actual fucking music that the man put out.

And, in a really roundabout, and well, lame way, that birthed this shitstain of a blog--that will only last a few posts, probably--into life. See, I used to be a music writer. I used to write well. Now, I only write good. That's apathy's fault. I'd forgotten about the cool little tidbits that made music meaningful to me and that's the inherent contradictions that make music human. Michael Jackson was a flawed perfectionist. I mean, c'mon, how could a music nerd not have his wang-meat enlarged by that? Children under twelve are not obligated to answer that.

So, for the next 500 songs, that's my goal. Drop a decent song on your ears with a fun spin on there; nothing more, nothing less. And, hopefully, we'll have a legion of posters that will do the same. Because, let's be realistic, you don't have time to listen to an album. You just fucking don't. There's more full-album blogs out there now then there are Michael Jackson memorial shirts in Compton. While it might be fun to peruse those blogs and download whatever ripped disc is being touted as "essential" or "the greatest thing ever," you're never going to listen to all of that shit. It'll sit on a petrified external hard drive and will only be played when alien archeologist unearth your Western Digital and wonder why you like Hall & Oats so much. Songs, you can do. Especially in this economy. A cliche end to a cliche post on a cliche blog. This will get better.