Wednesday, December 31, 2008
John Lee Hooker? (lala) My instant reaction is no, he is not, but John Lee Hooker is the coolest blues motherfucker there was and that counts more in my book than just having a set of church pipes gone exquisitely dirty. Plenty of blues cats go the way of sophistication and , to me, lose the thread. It makes me appreciate the people like Cedric Burnside (lala) who understand the swing of the hammer the way John Lee Hooker did and the way his grandpa RL Burnside did. The Burnside kids (Cedric, Duwayne, Burnside Exploration (Rhapsody)) all get it, having found a way to keep this music from turning into a museum piece by ratcheting up the primitive grind that makes you want to do something wrong, or at least reference the possibility thereof.
I suspect French composer Olivier Messiaen is the guy if you have the time and patience to wade into his dreamworld and let the perfumes and textures found therein overtake your previously adequate sensations, but I have yet to block out my calendar for such a transformation. In Messiaen I always find two things happening at once, something delightful and enticing and something impenetrable and repellent. Even in this sweet grab bag record Garden of Love's Sleep, (lala) the music is like falling blissfully asleep against your will, not like you've been drugged, but you are being pulled along by a fatigue that can no longer be kept at bay, and the struggle between consciousness and the darkness of dreams is playing out in gently flickering light, reflected off the great psychic ocean in which we all perpetually float, bob, and sink.
I found myself captivated and then unable to listen, compelled to loudly play guitar against it (not with it), but not turn it off. Maybe it is similar to the way David Milch described the peculiar pacing and language in his John from Cincinatti series, paraphrased here because I can't find it: it is like God is try to tell you something urgent.
Here is Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros' "Johnny Appleseed" used as the theme song for the show
and here is The Ensemble Messiaen performing the "Abyss of Birds" movement from Quartet at the End of Time, (entire quartet on lala, performed by the Tashi Quartet) written and premiered in 1941 in Stalag VIII-A in Görlitz, Germany when Messiaen was a prisoner of war.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
In the January 2009 issue of Country Roads
Buddy Stewart's Rock Shop
Researching the history of the blues is a little less lonesome.
The way I generally describe my relationship with music is this: I am on a train going in one direction, looking out the window, where other trains are going in their directions, blurring past. At one moment, for some reason, I make eye contact with someone on one of those other trains, and that brief second is an eternity. I can see their face distinctly, can read their mood in that instant, and it lingers long after that instant is passed.
I had this experience about a month ago while listening to Zia’s weekend blues program on KLSU. In his silky smooth radio voice, he intoned the name “Lonesome Sundown” followed by a spectral boogie run that sounded like it was coming from inside a canyon. Sundown’s canyon was a reverb tank at the Excello records studio in Nashville. Excello put the shudder of reverb onto the blues with Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee.” You hear plenty about Harpo around these parts, likely because of his being covered on the first album by a blues-infatuated British group named The Rolling Stones and because every old blues cat still scratching around these parts either knew him or played with him. Lonesome Sundown, though, is a bit of a mystery.
The first time I encountered that name was on a visit to Buddy Stewart’s Rock Shop on Acadian Thruway in Baton Rouge, in a framed promo shot on the wall of the adjacent Rhythm Museum. With the shaky state of record stores residing on the beaten path, I was afraid for the fate of Buddy Stewart’s, a loosely-kept secret for blues collectors since 1980. My fears were allayed once I passed through that beautiful record-album mural painted over the door, there was Buddy’s daughter Philiper Stewart on the phone, waving me in. The shop has weathered the hard times rather spectacularly: the racks of 45s are on neat shelves along the walls, the ceiling explodes with dangling memorabilia.
As you might guess, I love old record stores. If I make it to heaven, I expect there to be, right next to the coffee shop, a cavernous dusty room filled with racks of albums, gleaming glossy cardboard portraits waiting to be picked up and examined for the information on the back. While Philiper was finishing up her call, I fell into the natural pose in which much of my college years were spent: fingers out, flipping through albums. Flap, flap, flap flap…I love that sound almost as much as the music on them. Philiper breaks me from my trance “Looks different than last time you were here, doesn’t it?”
Philiper explains that the Rock Shop has had to make some adjustments to their business model to stay afloat and are in the process of becoming the Buddy Stewart Music Library. “We find that more people walking in the door are more interested in researching the history than purchasing the records. Some still do purchase records, and we appreciate when they come through, but we can’t rely on that business to keep the doors open.” To keep the lights on, two cubicles off to one side of the room house a seasonal tax preparer’s office, Philiper’s son Dell runs a barber shop next door, and the Rhythm Museum is rented out for parties.
The library operates similarly to reference stacks, not lending out materials, but allowing the curious to come through and record things to take back with them. While flipping through the stacks of records, the loose story of Baton Rouge blues starts to come together. Buddy Stewart was a saxophonist and big band leader in the fifties and sixties taking his Top Notches around the south and leading the Herculoids, a backup band for performers like Solomon Burke and Jackie Wilson when they came through in the 1960s and 1970s. Stewart wrote regional hits with Chuck Mitchell (“Your Precious Love”) and Gene Fairchild (“Another Shoulder to Cry On”) as well as “If I Ever” with vocalist Lee Tillman under his own name on the Ron label. Stewart opened his record shop on 33rd street (before it was called Acadian), which in the sixties was the blues avenue in Baton Rouge. “Everywhere you see a church up on this street, there was a juke joint or a nightclub,” says Philiper who took over the business in 1997 and has maintained her father’s legacy and kept Baton Rouge history alive ever since. Each October, the Museum hosts its annual Rocktoberfest, last year upgraded to two stages, featuring the finest blues, R&B, and Zydeco. She is hoping to be able to start up the Monday night jam sessions at the Museum again, once she can find musicians to commit to it and volunteers to help run it. Philiper talked briefly about funding problems, but her one concern is keeping the doors open and the history alive. “I would love the museum next door to really become that, a permanent museum where people can come relive this music and see where we came from.”
I got around to asking her about Lonesome Sundown. “I am not positive, but I’m pretty sure his name was Cornelius Green. I do know it is Green because one day a Mrs. Green came in and told me she was his wife. I didn’t know him personally, but I remember him being around the scene.” The phone rang again, so I thumbed through the blues stacks and came across Lonesome’s 1970 self-titled record for Excello, which opens with his 1960 hit “Love Me Now” and handed it over to Philiper to make a CD copy for me. I still don’t know the whole Lonesome Sundown story, but the important thing is that there is still a place to go look for it.
Link to the original
I find modern dancehall or dubstep or grime or whatever The Bug's London Zoo (lala) is to be so abrasive and obnoxious that kind of like it for how much I don't like it. It removes all the chill infinitude from reggae, the seamlessness from electronica, and the amiable swagger from hip-hop leaving the worst characteristics to commingle, and well, I got to admire that a little. My editor at outsideleft accused me of having catholic tastes, and when something crosses my line, I have to tip my hat before I swat it away.
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's Madonna (lala) hits me in the polar opposite way, an amalgam of everything I like in the music I like. It's The Replacements doing The Fall covering a Wire album in a Dinosaur Jr. style. I pulled out my bike from the muck of disuse, pumped up the tires and hit the road to this to get some of this New Year Enthusiasm for Achievement under way.
Upon arriving at the coffee shop, I needed the deafening fog of Gavin Bryars' A Listening Room (lala) to drown out the chatter and the din to get down to business but as usual, dense monolithic minimalism draws everything to it rather than repels it. I guess you can't drive by the abyss without at least peering over the edge. Or, perhaps, I am still on vacation and these stabs at accomplishment are just a ruse. I spent my time at the coffee shop talking to newcomers about how much I like Baton Rouge in that it is easy to get something started here; the difficulty comes with keeping up momentum because it is solely up to you to do so.
So back home, and my family is making enchiladas in the adjacent room and requested some music. Common's pulsating clubby glossy Universal Mind Control (lala) is a bit of a letdown if you are expecting another streetwise hipster philosophy statement like his greatest records, but then statements are just talk. Everyone knows it's only when you are in the groove that you can actually get anything done.
I find it inspiring that each year I do this list, it gets harder. The music industry may have taken a nosedive along with every other semi-profitable enterprise, but around here scrappy little bands with great songs seem to be a recession-proof commodity. In the musical history of Baton Rouge, it has always been tough to keep up momentum, but the ones that shine through are, to me, the city’s greatest assets. So before getting to the Top Five, here are some honorable mentions: Bones with Songs of the Id, We Landed on the Moon! with These Little Wars, and Thou with Peasant.
5 Man Plus Building Because My Name is Lion
Residents of this list excluded, I tend to think many bands are hindered by their vocalists, filling a prescribed need for lyrics to legitimize songs. Man Plus Building sidesteps this tradition with an album of windswept, glorious instrumental rock. The songs build like thunderclouds, swelling until they spill over, allowing the dense melodic structures to evoke more of a mood than any weak-voiced indie abstractionist can. I’m a sucker for hooks, and Man Plus Building is all hook, all the time. myspace.com/manplusbuilding
4 Cohen Paper Moon
When I first popped in Paper Moon, I had to check that this was a local CD, because rarely do I hear local singer-songwriters sound this complete on record. Cohen Hartman is a careful maximalist, filling his songs with a panorama of instruments—accordion, strings, glockenspiel, what-have-you. But Hartman curates his sonic menagerie precisely, using sounds to sparsely underscore the tender love songs therein. myspace.com/cohenbr
3 Melters Neato
Neato slipped onto my radar at the last possible moment but with repeated listens has become one of the more charming records of 2008. This power trio creates effortless urgency. It’s the kind of band that plays the in-store appearance at the record shop in my mind. It is what you want a young band to sound like, hungry and insistent yet a little wise for their years. The chaotic punk numbers careen delightfully off the rails and then quickly dissipate. The sunshine pop numbers ride their waves and then crash perfectly. Neato is likely the best 21 minutes you will find on a local disc. myspace.com/melters
2 Flatbed Honeymoon Flatbed Honeymoon
I am the most reluctant of country music fans. Vapid country stars in tight jeans and oversize hats couldn’t be more bloodless if they were actual mannequins. That’s part of the reason why Flatbed Honeymoon is such a welcome group. Recorded with sympathetic glow by Fred Weaver, the record embodies a mix of the humorous and the tragic that makes real country music so vital. The other reason is the different styles three vocalists bring to the mix, ranging from Neil Young-harrowing to George Jones-smooth. I’d say you could fire most country music programmers and just put this record on shuffle. myspace.com/flatbedhoneymoon
1 Harlan Spiderette
Harlan, at least the incarnation that recorded Spiderette last year, recently fell victim to the common flux of members getting jobs and moving away. Founder and songwriter John Norris now teaches painting at Arkansas State University, and drummer Scott Campbell is an Atlanta-based graphic designer. Even if the band never releases another song—though surely Norris will—Baton Rouge-era Harlan has left an indelible mark on this listener.
Norris has grown a lot as a songwriter since he sang about his favorite records on The Still Beat. Spiderette shows a kaleidoscope of artists coming together: Lloyd Cole, New Order and Eighties pop underdogs The Clean, just to name a few. But I hear them less as quotations and more like textures that undoubtedly make up the DNA of the band that grew after Norris’ solo debut to include bassist John Bossier and guitarist Britt King.
A month ago I had a song wedged in my head that I could not identify. I went through countless old albums searching for it. I scoured the titles in the Red Star jukebox. I subjected a friend to my humming in hopes he could pinpoint it, all to no avail. But then Harlan’s “Canceling the Frisbees” came over the KLSU airwaves. Mystery solved.
I hope the next incarnation of Harlan keeps me posted. A free download of Spiderette is available from the band’s Web site. thestillbeat.com
Monday, December 29, 2008
is out and about (click here for the PDF copy) As it was a our final installment of 2008, we asked our writers for the best things they encountered in Baton Rouge in 2008
This issue features a largish photo of and article by my daughter Maya about participating in the UnCommon Thread fashion show - keeping the Southern tradition of nepotism alive and well, a letter of heartfelt praise for country band Flatbed Honeymoon by local musician and recording engineer Fred Weaver, a tale of Teddy's, my favorite juke joint, by Tracey Duncan and a story about rooftop gardens and sustainability by Stephen Babcock, as well as a review of Ezra Kellerman's MFA thesis show by myself.
Sweet Tooth is a quarterly arts publication published by Culture Candy. For more info:
- A giant selection of tea from Harney & Son including a big tin of Russian Country blend which might be the reliably purchasable Russian Caravan tea of my dreams, and a box of White Vanilla Grapefruit tea, an elixir you will rightfully mock me for until you try it and then beg me for. I am drinking some Glendale Nilgiri right now as I type this
- Really nice fleece-lined slippers - something I would have never in a million years asked for and now need and love; our house is old, with wood floors and barely insulated = cold
- The restored text version of Naked Lunch. My nephew asked the guy at the bookstore what a good book for writers would be. I was all into this book 20 years ago when I read it the first time, all viral and dangerous, eating up my mind with Literature, man. I picked through it on the trip back and it holds up pretty well.
I have been reading composer John Adams' autobiography Hallelujah Junction sporadically throughout vacation. I thought this would be a perfect vacation book though I doubt such a thing truly exists unless you go on vacation alone to a place where you know no one, and still... not to be all Dad/rule-y about it but we didn't come all this way and spend all this money to read. Anyway, it did turn out to be a perfect vacation book for the parts I've read so far - quickly, sweet, funny and occasionally politely alarming. I have just gotten to the part where he is talking about his professional relationship with conductor Edo De Waart and how he had an epiphany listening to Wagner - He cares! is what he stumbled on listening to the grand opera master's twisting harmonies. It was at this point that Adams started caring about what he was doing, putting the experimentation and rashness of his younger student years aside to embrace his love and delicacy with orchestral music.
Adams' account of his early years is engaging, but truthfully, as he's gaining confidence on his timeline as a composer, I'm starting to lose interest in what he has to say about it, but maybe because as we get better at something, we spend less time concerned with the dull lead-up's, we attain a transparency that we so stridently sought. I obviously don't have that transparency yet since I am talking about it now but this vacation has been a bit of a recharge, a honing of my blade, step in the right direction, whatever. I feel I can see things a little better now having just driven across the mountains and desert and plains and swamps in such a continuous but morphing stream.
The landscape felt through-composed, a term implying that each line in a song has its own music fitting to its meaning or lyric quality. Each vista was stunning in its own way, whether staggering in its drama like the Roadrunner and Coyote pile of rocks in Arizona or humbling like the infinite plane in west Texas. Even the highway tangles of Houston and Los Angeles had their own charm, but that was probably because my wife was thankfully driving. The destination of family, beach cliffs and perfect burritos in central coast California were worth the trip but it was going itself that provided the crowbar, which is how it always is with vacation. I'm so glad we drove - I think flying would have been equally as psychologically taxing, and we got the trade-up of the grind of the road over the butting-heads with procedure at the airport.
So short of making dull resolutions, promises that no one intends to keep and then for what if you do?, I feel compelled, like the orchestra tasking through Adams' polite, grand, breathless ventures. I feel compelled like a rented car on cruise control pushing across some godforsaken hardscrabble county placed out in the impossible American West, like the spinning of the dial on satellite radio hoping we land on an INXS song we haven't already heard fifteen times.
Speaking of satellite radio, it is a place devoid of subtlety, quick to underscore the crushing repetition of life that epiphanous musings like this choose to ignore. There is no sense of discovery in it, causing you to rifle through the Everything for something at least familiar or momentarily compatible, and it probably a more accurate depiction of life than rhapsodizing about car trips, but fuck it, I am still on vacation even though we got home this morning. Here is the satellite radio 5-song rock block that was our trip.
INXS - "Don't Change" (my vote for the theme song)
The Cult - "She Sells Sanctuary" (the winner out of sheer times we heard it at poignant moments, like at sunrise or in the desert)
Peter Schilling - "Major Tom" (my wife's vote, especially with a giant field of wind turbines slowly tumbling all around us as we heard it)
The Buggles - "Video Killed the Radio Star" (my daughter's new jam)
Guns N' Roses - "Patience" (because, perhaps even more than love, all we need is just a little of it, and it was dutifully exhibited by everyone involved on this trip. That, and whistling.)
John Adams - Harmonieleher (lala)
John Adams - The Chairman Dances (lala)
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Sunrise over Juarez, Mexico
The Cult "She Sells Sanctuary"
Styx "Come Sail Away"
The Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter"
The Band "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"
Def Lepperd "Photograph"
Thursday, December 25, 2008
- California is a place much misunderstood in a similar way that Louisiana is misunderstood - the misconceptions are almost right but are just fictional enough to miss the reality entirely.
- Where we go when we come here is central coast California - conservative, agricultural, suburban - in other words like the rest of the country except that is it California and bears the patina of the Promised Land upon it.
- I go anywhere near the pacific Ocean and I cannot believe it is really there. It is an infinitude that is different than the brown, loamy gulf or the stern grey Atlantic - it is blue and green and coming it you with dramatic force. It is rocky crags and sand dunes. I'm compelled to go throw myself in it, but one toe in its icy water will chill you to your core, and in that I am blown further away by it.
- Little scrappy beach towns could not be more charming in their precise stereotypes. I saw a Volkswagen van and a woody station wagon parked on a hill that my wife told me is a semi-secret spot for the local surfers.
- This part of the country is the only other I have found that I would want to live in besides the dirty swampy South, and the longing that comes from it being too expensive for my pocket only serves to increase its allure.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
It would be an exaggeration to say we drove 3,000 miles from Louisiana for a veggie burrito from TA's but only a slight one. It is big as yr head and contains the perfect synergistic mush of beans,
rice and guacomole.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Golfers putting and puttering on one side of my brother-in-law' house, ospreys (are they?) screeching in a tree on the other. And somewhere around here, I'm told, there is a giant ocean.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
I am officially on vacation starting one shaky night's sleep from now, and since I will not be glued to a computer over the next ten days, the daily soundtrack reportage will be considerably thinner. Brace yourselves for pictures of majestic California beaches, giant burritos and sappy xmas fare.
Poem by the River (lala) - their groggy paisley mini-masterpiece produced by OG psychedelic Maya Thompson
The Pictorial Jackson Review (lala) - Lawrence's moody Dylan-y defining statement against the rest of the band as they recorded Train Above the City without him.
The Splendour of Fear (lala) - Hypnotic and brooding, like somewhere between John Fahey and Joy Division at points, cough-syrup pastoral as Galaxie 500 in others. Plus the English spelling splendour somehow projects the concept more fulfillingly than splendor does. "The Stagnant Pool" clocking in at 8+ minutes is practically a thesis on 80's alt-rock moodiness. Maybe only Durutti Column does it better.
Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty (lala) - Few songs are as lovely to me as "Evergreen Dazed"
Some where on the old livejournal I wrote a really long thing about Felt, but thanks to LJ's unsearchability, I will encapsulated my thoughts thus: Felt is the perfect cult band. Enigmatic singer-songwriter with a flat but engaging voice who goes by his single name Lawrence (or did for some of the time), classically trained guitarist Maurice Deebank who turned Lawrence's little hovels into cathedrals, lots of infighting - one album Train Above the City did not include the singer/founder, presence of heavyweights like Martin Duffy and Liz Frasier and so on. Lawrence sang like Lou Reed but proclaimed a Morrissey-esque "New Puritanism" that mirrored the no drink/drugs/sex policies of straight-edge but with a more flowery air about it. The first single "Index" was recorded on a jambox on then sixteen-year-old Lawrence's bedroom and became an Sounds Magazine Single of the Week. They lived on critical praise alone, and faded into almost complete obscurity, their output sporadically reissued in a number of clumsy collections that miss the point of their divinely crafted little records.
Lee McFadden offers a history of the group at Perfect Sound Forever.
In the final run down, here are some shows to catch:
With two accordions, seven languages and every possible kind of drunken revelry in their repertoire, The Zydepunks are proving to be the most potent sonic cocktail this part of the country has to offer. They will be backed up by the one-man blues dynamo Scott H. Biram at the Spanish Moon on Friday, Dec. 19.
Garage a Trois, the mind altering quartet of percussionist Mike Dillon, drummer Stanton Moore, saxophonist Skerik and master of the keyboards Marco Benevento will bring their downtown-NYC-meets-Frenchman-Street jazz funk rock supernova to the Chelsea’s stage on Saturday, Dec. 20. Do not attempt to operate heavy machinery after witnessing Garage a Trois.
Reception Is Suspected return from whatever backchannel wavelength they have been hiding on, promising a whole new set-up. I am picturing Tesla coils and possibly a Van der Graaf generator added into their assortment of electronics, but one will have to trot out to the Red Star on Christmas night to find out for sure.
Wednesday, Dec. 17
Mike Foster Project at Chelsea’s
A Band Named Sue at Boudreaux & Thibodeaux’s
Thursday, Dec. 18
Kristin Diable at Chelsea’s
An Empire at Sea and Panthalassa at North Gate Tavern
Sweet Root at Boudreaux & Thibodeaux’s
Friday, Dec. 19
Scott H. Biram & The Zydepunks at Spanish Moon
The Myrtles at Chelsea’s
Long Neck Society at The Varsity
Starscream’s Revenge, No Fuego, and justinbailey at North Gate Tavern
The Instagators at Boudreaux & Thibodeaux’s
Saturday, Dec. 20
Fleur de Tease Holiday Show and Hollywood Blues at Spanish Moon
Garage a Trois at Chelsea’s
Supervillain at North Gate Tavern
Bryan Lee at Teddy’s Juke Joint
Sunday, Dec. 21
Big Al & The Heavyweights at Teddy’s Juke Joint
Wednesday, Dec. 24
Mike Foster Project at Chelsea’s
Thursday, Dec. 25
Reception Is Suspected at Red Star
Friday, Dec. 26
Rebirth Brass Band at Chelsea’s
Meriwether at The Varsity
Saturday, Dec. 27
Eddie Bo at Chelsea’s
Tuesday, Dec. 30
BeauSoleil avec Micheal Doucet at the Manship Theatre
Wednesday, Dec. 31
Colour Revolt at Spanish Moon
Eric Lindell at Chelsea’s
Friday, Jan. 2
Ashes of Babylon at Chelsea’s
Mike Foster Project at The Varsity
Saturday, Jan. 3
A Band Named Sue at Chelsea’s
I was about to pointlessly throw the Pitchfork top 50 list under the bus, but then I hadn't heard Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson's arch lonely-dude rock, and wouldn't have were it not on one of sublists, so there. And Robinson's multi-tracked hoarse holler reminded me of Richard Buckner's Since (lala), which I haven't listened to in ages.
Richard Buckner, and this record in particular, helped me process the Seattle I experienced surrounded by yahoos with no home training, whose unfunny take on irony spilled out into their corporatized lives and resulted in cheap shots like this editoral about Aretha Franklin being too fat to sing at Obama's inauguration. Buckner is of this imposing place and he flew the flag of emotional resiliency and fragility that I wish I had experienced more often directly from its people. I have had "Six Years" from his debut Bloomed in my head for a week now, and cannot find it, but "Ocean Cliff Clearing" from Since will do. Here he is performing it in Asheville, NC, a city declared by many to be the best place to live in the country
In Seattle and Kansas City, I learned to quit hating the South and realized it is a bigger part of my makeup than I had thought, and in the five years after moving back, I've learned to quit hating those places I hated so much when I was there. To quote the undersung, Buckner-esque Chris Mills in "All You Ever Do" - Why you gotta hate your hometown, honey? Them folks brought you up, but all you ever do is put 'em down.
And home is where you are, and if home doesn't feel right then find one that does and leave the other hometowns be. Annnnnnnnyway.... Buckner namechecks Felt (lala), the finest among flawed cult favorite bands, on "Ocean Cliff Clearing" and it is in their Spanish houses and crystal spires that I will place myself today.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Little Charlie & The Nightcats (lala) are a great loungey blues act with a heavy swing, but are linked here primarily for the hilarious more-Tom-Waits-than-Tom-Waits bummer "Circling the Drain"
Golden Animals is here primarily for the genius album title Free Your Mind and Win a Pony. (ongakubaka)
Everyone should probably go through a Pink Floyd phase at some point, emphasis on the through. One of this esteemed websites founders is likely to disagree, but there is rich territory in Pink Floyd that can prove useful to the inquisitive young mind later in life on trails of their own carving. It can be argued that Pink Floyd made the psychedelic grand, and in doing that ruined it; akin to removing the drugs from little baggies and setting them out in silver platters – it’s just not right. I will leave the Floyd’s verdict in your hands, and offer in their tangential defense these two inflated pigs hanging on my wings.
Chicago’s Nachtmytium was the very model of modern minor metal, growling and howling with basement din over that of the lesser US Black metal bands, but somewhere, flinty demon squelches and dual kick drums were not enough for this band, and they took some lessons from the Floyd. The most obvious allusion is “Meddle” in the name, but it is in “Assassins” that they real tribute lies. The track hums out in thick phaser tones as a pulse resembling the phone off the hook from The Wall beeps, pleads for connection. The album has not forgotten the corpse-painted zombies that brought them to the dance – you still get trashed around by scraped vocals and rage in “Ghosts of Grace” and “Your True Enemy” but even these storms are tempered with a daring addition to the underground metal script – scruatbility. Unlike every other metal album in recent memory, I can actually make out some of the words and discern the melodies, and those, particularly the repeated I never sleep and the guitar solo in “Your True Enemy” are the stuff of giant rock classics.
The heaviest moments on Assassins are not the brutal workouts but the smoldering ones, like the air-guitar ready riff of “Code Negative” and the three-part “Seasick.” These songs are melodramatic and moody like the great brood music of the late Eighties, and while no one would confuse these with tracks off, say First, last and Always or Pornography, or with Dark Side of the Moon for that matter, it would not be out of the question to put Nachtmystium in the same playlist on your iPod. And that is about as genre-expanding as it gets nowadays.
Psychic TV were always at their musical best not while tearing at their flesh with sheets of noise or titrating their consciousness through the faux-Leary drug evangelism of acid house(even if the band coined the term) but when they do quiet, simple, sinister things. And that is what comprises most of this album. The Pink Floyd connection here is blatant with the spectacular cover of “No Good Trying” off Syd Barrett’s solo masterpiece The Madcap Laughs. They cheekily play on the studio gaff that opens the original, playfully repeating it a couple times at the beginning before kicking into the jam, howling like Jim Morrison and riding the poisoned wave of the song as it crashes to the shore.
The real endgame is played out in “Trussed” with Genesis playing on words do you trust me over a dirge that has as much to do with a Geiger counter or submarine radar beep as it does a rock song. It sounds impossibly alive and dead at the same time. Psychic TV can plod with the best of them. VU’s “Foggy Notion” is garage-tastic in its reverent joy while “I am Making a Mirror”, penned by the late Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge is a devastating. Lady Jaye and Genesis were undergoing project of pandrogeny, slowly becoming each other through plastic surgeries and mutating of gender identities (pointed at the ragged rocker “Boys are Girls and Girls are Boys”) when Jaye passed away from heart failure last October, leaving Genesis in a singular state of mourning, half-himself, half-her with the other halves of halves in the hereafter. “I am Making a Mirror” (no pun intended) reflects that loss with chilling efficacy. Not every song is a winner here, but overall it is one of the more enjoyable and open Psychic TV efforts in years, and like the cracked Pink Floyd genius aped and lauded with “No Good Trying” it maps out a way to reach to the outer limits and drag something back worth looking at.
Touareg now: Tinariwen (lala), Toumast (lala), Terakaft (lala)
Thanks to this post by John Schaefer on the WYNC Soundcheck blog. In partial answer to his discussion therein "when we were asking whether critics were irrelevant or irreplaceable" adding another bucket to the River of Lamentations lazily running through The State of Music Criticism in the Age of Blog Critics, I would offer I am really enjoying the three Touareg albums he recommended in his commentary on NY Times critic Jon Pareles' world music list 2008.
The artists above, the sub-genre of Touareg, and, if I'm honest about it, most things under the the loose grouping of "world music" would go largely unnoticed by me were it not for people paid and unpaid on the Internet talking about such things . And now you have maybe read about them, and maybe listened to them, and maybe liked them, and maybe even bought them. And in that lies the value of music blogs and people talking about music not because it is their job to do so, but because they like to talk about music.
I am tangentially familiar with both Pareles and Schaefer (largely because they work for respected media outlets) but I would cite neither as my personal go-to guys for solid music opinion (not that they aren't qualified to be them, they just aren't the ones I read regularly), and yet here I am with Touareg's dizzying desert blues making my day thanks to them. So thanks, even if that is not payment enough.