Tuesday, March 1, 2005


Ok I went past ten, but the hallmark of a great psychedelic album is excess. Not the instrumental be-dazzlement of harpsichords and horn sections that is the window dressing of “psychedelic ™” music, but a fiercely rigorous and confused human spirit bursting out of your chest, summoned to action by the pulsing of the very earth and that unrelenting quest to be More Alive. Does this sound corny and overblown, why, yes it does. But so is the infectious spirit of psychedelic music. The goat-footed Pan pushes aside the Apollonian sense of Cool so he may kick down the walls and turn up the amps. There are a number of noteable basic texts in the library that al must hear, namely Love – Forever Changes, Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs, any 13th Floor Elevators collection and numerous others, (plus that requisite Pink Floyd stage you go through in college) but here I clean out my bowl to offer up the resin of my own musical journey:

Funkadelic – Maggot Brain
I am consistently shocked that more people don’t know about this album. This is not the dancey George Clinton of “Flashlight” and backing track for every Snoop Dogg song (though Snoop has his own bust up in the Hall of Psychedelia), this is the wild feral Clinton, refracting the fallout of the summer of love’s nova-like collapse through some very dark drug-hazed glass. It opens with my favorite psychedelic recitation ever:

Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time
For y’all have done knocked her up
I have eaten the maggots from the mind of the universe
I was not offended, for I knew I had to rise above it all
Or drown in my own shit.

What I wouldn’t give to experience a class of eager 4th graders reciting this in homeroom instead of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Boredoms – Vision Creation Newsun
I should retire this one form all future top ten lists, since it finds its way on every one, but this album is a journey to the center of your tribal mind, every synapse and sparkle in your cortex corresponding to a multitude of beats coming from all directions at once. Designed as a continuous song cycle, this marked the Boredoms move from belching surrealists to medicine men and women, putting all who enter their sphere in a voodoo trance.

Howard Roberts – Out of Sight (But in Mind)
One rather interesting musical bedfellow was the counterculture hippie abandon of psychedelics and the hi-fi Nixon-voter market of easy listening, where a number of these able players took the edict from the marketing department to try to rope in the enthusiastic youth market. There are numerous great examples that make up the acid end of the whole Lounge thing, but this is one of my favorites. His tricked out versions of “Spooky” and “Say a Little Prayer” will make any Ann-Margaret wannabe practically shimmy that fringed mini-dress right onto the bearskin rug.

Julian Cope – Jehovahkill
Man, was I happy when I discovered that a whole nother Julian Cope existed outside that “World Shut Your Mouth” song. Julian took upon a mission to become a self-aware drug casualty and plug the wires of wigginess into his pastoral English folk heart. What you have in his psyche albums is not twee Nick drake rehashes (though I am fond of those kinds of things too) but triumphant Viking horned Lord Byron proudly proclaiming his mad visions from the edge of a cliff.

Can – Tago Mago
Another favorite that makes it on every list. Tago Mago, like the Boredoms album mentions above (of which it is an obvious precursor) is a dispatch from another planet, Damo Suzuki’s ranty ramblings snake though the Kosmik throb of a young Holger Csukay and crew. Personally I think this is a magic album, in that there is something beguiling still about it, now some thirty years after it was recorded.

Skip Spence – Oar
Skip Spence was, I believe, the drummer for an early Jefferson Airplane and singer for Moby Grape or some other huge band back in the hazy day, but what’s important to me is that he went on a total nutter, disappeared from public sight only to emerge and make this ghost of an album. His haggard voice, layered in reverb sounds like it is coming from inside the vortex, and as the album goes on, the tracks become shorter and sparer, until it completely burns out. I don’t know if this was for effect, or if it is in fact the sound of a man’s candle burning out, but it is a truly compelling document.

Brian Jonestown Massacre – Strung Out In Heaven (pictured up above)
Let us speak kindly of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Now they have become cult personalities because of the cult docu-hit DiG! (a film they enthusiastically devow), its hard to separate the stories from the songs, which is a shame. BJM has made some beautiful wild flowering music over the years, for me, culminating with their somewhat polished but undeniably sexy Strung Out in Heaven.

Sun Ra – Nubians of Plutonia
Sun Ra did much during his tenure on this particular planet to link up the world of jazz and the yen for cultural escape, his extrapolation of the anguish of the African Diasporas into a quest to escape the lame and limp bonds of the modern condition via the metaphor of space travel. His ouvre is a vast and daunting one to say the least, with very few misses among its number, but this one in particular always resonated with me - a drum thud from the inner spirit of restlessness. I used to have one track from this as my outgoing message on my machine, going on to long hoping that its space-age jungle funk would soothe my callers and realize they need to check up themselves more than they do me. And I was dodging creditors, but that’s another story.

The Marquis de Tren and Bonny Billy – Get On Jolly
This tranquil smoky hookah of a record was formed by the chance meeting of Will Oldham incanting the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Gitanjali” which gave the album its title and brilliant Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner. This has been one of the more calming listens to me over the last couple years, until I happened on the live tour CD for it Get the Fuck on Jolly, which explodes its lotus in to an intensely mystical experience.

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks
A review of this is the opening shot in Lester Bangs’ required reading “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung” anthology. I rushed out and got it (I never thought I would EVER rush out to get a freaking Van Morrison record) because of the intoxicating enthusiasm of the review, and I wanted to see if the dead poet of wannabe music critics was up to snuff. And he was. This album is a terrific meeting of soul and a scattered vanity of music, sounding as one of the tightest music-vocal integrations ever concocted. The magic gets even spookier when you come to find that Van actually recorded this at first alone with a guitar, and then turned it over to a crack music team to flesh it out. This album flutters like a butterfly in your head.

T. Rex – A Beard of Stars
I considered putting my current fave Devendra Banhart on this list, but why not go to the source of his pixie wellspring. This album was the last before Bolan embarked on the Glam era heralded by Electric Warrior that has yet to end. On Beard, we get the culmination of his strident Hobbit sojourns of his earlier albums, melding near nonsensical lyrics with the hookiest folk rock ever put down on record. The bongo beats, the temple bells and the longing of the guitar howl like a runt wolf in the woods. One of my favorite albums ever.

Flaming Lips – Hit to Death in the Future Head
I sing the Oklahoman electric! Wayne Coyne and his fellow Lips have done much to keep the spirit firmly affixed in the sky throughout their career, but this record, foster of no hits, is the one that strikes me as their most “out”. The stinging fuzz of guitar and bottomless well thump of the bass over a magic carpet for the swirling words to call you forth like a wired Pied Piper, leading all good children into a multi-hued tomorrow.


Dead Meadow
(Matador Records)

I once had a friend who was a much bigger music geek than I ever was or will be. Where I had my 2000+ vinyl albums (this was back when vinyl was on the way out and was not quite the fetish object it has become now) arranged by category in special crates I made my self, he had his 20,000 albums arranged in special crates he had made. I thought I’d have a rare new wave album and he’d have it on 8-track as well. Basically, I could not compete, so I gleefully would accept any music fan wisdom he would offer up until he presented his expanded concept of psychedelic music. Now he had actually been a hippie back then, so he had some authority on the subject, but my anachronistic post-punk orthodoxy would not accept his hypothesis that Public Enemy and Public Image Ltd were just as psychedelic as anything by Strawberry Alarm Clock. It infuriated me. Fucking hippie, why do you have to turn everything into yet another bong hit justification for your collapsed star of a youth culture? Your phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust, "brother." Really, I was in my idealistic angry drinking twenties, so this kind of thing was nearly a deal-breaker for our friendship.

Later on, many years hence, I went to a party where he was the DJ and he segued from some Primal Scream neo boogie workout, to a buttery hot Isaac Hayes jam, into Can’s “Hallelujah” off Tago Mago, without a single art-student-flopsy coed leaving the steamy Louisiana garage-cum-dancefloor. It was then I realized he was right – psychedelic was something more than the window dressing on music I secretly liked but wouldn’t admit to, it was the floorboards of nearly all the music I really loved, and still love. The throbbing heart, the transcendent pulse, the whirlwind whether it be summoned by a busted acoustic guitar or austere chamber ensemble, it was that groove that got me. I realized I really preferred the Roll over the Rock. I started to see it everywhere, in the rattle of The Fall, the bee-swarm of Anthony Braxton, the plate tectonics of Steve Riech, and thus opened my heart up to psychedelic rock.

Dead Meadow, a quartet of heavy dude rockers based outta the capitol of our great nation of garage rock supergods, epitomize and successfully revive the psychedleia of my youth: The echo chamber of Bongwater and the strafing run delayed guitar solos of My Bloody Valentine, where they’ve all ready hit you before you know you heard them. Early on in their career, they got the stamp of modern psychedelic approval from Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre (and now the movie DiG!) who released a live album for the Meadow on his own label. Since then they have continually honed their Kosmik chops into becoming a fire breathing hydra of Rawk.

The opening salvo, “Let’s Jump In” does that with it s knucklehead Sabbath riff at the get-go and swaths of glacial guitar drifting between thine ears as the singer intones whatever he is saying. The pace picks up slightly on numbers like “Suck Hawks and such Hounds” but the hazy sonic fog continually surrounds you in the best possible way. At first the album sounds slooooooow, but as you listen further, it draws you into its own pace, where there are rocks to be sat upon and flowers to be examined, and smoke on the horizon to ponder. This is not the faux Stoner Rock of Queens of the Stone Age (which sounds more like meta-metal to me) but the window to the infinite that only copious effects pedals can provide. Their melodic strengths shine on the most-BJM-like “At Her Open Door” and the echoed delicious acoustic guitar ramble of “Stacy’s Song.” True to beautiful form, the album ends with a protracted drum track leading into the 13 minute roam in the fields of Silver Door, where you get to experience the extended workout that comes from this kind of music. This not the bloodless jam band fodder that oft is the hallmark of neo hippie music, but haunting majestic powerful stuff, a hazy icebreaker cutting through the permafrost of your day to proclaim this land in the name of Blowing Your Mind.


Clem Snide
End of Love
(spinArt records)

Remember cleverness? We have seen so many other intellectual pursuits become the dominant feather in the human plumage over that last decade. Jerry Seinfeld and Alanis Morrisette gave birth to the inappropriately named lovechild Irony that has been the lead class clown during what I dubbed the post-funny era of the late '90s early '00s, a decade so devoid of self-investigation that we don’t really know what to call it. Is it the “zeroes?” The “oh-oh’s?” Sarcasm had a brief resurgence, swimming the shark infested waters of Determinism that come with a strong economy, but all that gave way to cursed Sincerity born that chilling September morn, that put all frivolity and self-joy on hold. David Cross has a great bit about this, with that one guy sitting in his truck a month later, venting the complaint he couldn’t utter in public: “C’mon now, someone just pick up a damn football! I got all these snacks….”

Fortunately, we have had some time to heal and get back to the most satisfying of mental quick hits – being clever. There is actually some good TV with fun, witty writing flavored but not overpowered by humor like Desperate Housewives and Arrested Development, our big stories are once again celebrity missteps allowing every armchair Letterman their own personal Ed Sullivan Theater. And, I am so happy to see cleverness coming back into music. I remember how struck I was with the erudition of XTC’s Skylarking, not afraid to lace that intricacy with cleverness. I remember hearing the Dandy Warhols, elated that someone was still trying to be funny. Drive-By Truckers, the eels, M.Ward – lots of people have given up trying to get into the honor society and instead are endeavoring to get kicked out of class for being a wise-ass. Therefore, enter Clem Snide.

Clem Snide, a band named after a William S. Burroughs character (thorough knowledge of which was a pre-requisite of being a true wise-ass back in my day) fronted by the oddly monikered, cracked voice of Eef Barzelay bust forth from the sad-sack world of Alt Country deftly intertwining their intricate yet homey musics with smart turns of phrase, pop culture illusions and, the frothy undercurrent of all humor, sadness. End of Love comes on with a strident title track that will get your mid-'80s alt-rock light a-buzzin baring open the true story of such the cultural aesthete which we describe, punctuated with the line “The first thing every killer reads is “Catcher in the Rye.” The big winner for me is the next track “Collapse” with its slow guitar strum and tambourine gait supporting words of getting-ones-shit-together after it all falls apart. A fine duo of “The Sound of German Hip-Hop” followed by “Tiny European Cars” underscores the self-imposed loneliness of the clever and in-the-know with some of the best lyrics on this thing

Tiny European cars, bouncing off my shins
And if you’ve never seen a bullfight, guess who always wins
To grab it by the horns, its life like censored porn
And did you know they sing ‘Ring Around the Rosie’ when you die?

Seeing the Big Picture is not always such a good thing, since its often not the most flattering portrait. Thankfully, this is a tasty platter of soft instrumentation, brushed drums and Eef’s slightly strained voice, calmly intoning these tales of woe and hope. Paul Burch, who creates some of the finest music around in a Deconstructed Country vein, is listed in the liner notes, so maybe his talent for serving up one’s ennui warm helps to color this fantastic, sweet, sad, smart little album. Next time you are sitting in the office and realizing that all the people around you are pie-pan shallow idiots and you wish to smash them in a fit of insouciance, put on this CD and smile knowing that you and your cleverness will deliver you to a much better place.

Alex V. Cook, Music Editor


Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion
(New West)

There are kingdoms and then there are phyla and orders and then as you go down the ontology of modern music until you get to a species that really does it for you. For me, I am a sucker for the genus Alt-Countrius, species Couples Albumus. There is something totally heartwarming about this peculiar animal, the unabashed love, the shelter of each other allowing the flowers of song to blossom without regard as to being anything besides true to heart. Some recent sparklers in this recent resurgence of the style made famous by Johnny and June Carter Cash are the Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers (Victoria Williams and the Jayhawks’ Marc Olson) or the valentine that is Stacey Earle (yes Steve’s lil sister) and Mark Stuart’s Never Gonna Let You Go are joined by this charming record by Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion.

Let’s get the pedigree issue out of the way; Sarah is the daughter of Arlo Guthrie, which is inconsequential to the album except that it has perhaps given her a insightful taproot into the tree of songwriting, but who knows. She and Johnny met after many divergent paths led them to the Further Festival and like all good love stories, they spied each other from across a field of heather and had that big screen kiss as thunderclaps erupted and torrents of rain fell. OK, I don’t know if it really happened that way, but the results of these two meeting has made for sweet music.

It opens with the sweet breezy ballad “In Lieu of Flowers” sounding as timeless as an old Loretta Lynn song, except the syrupy string section is replaced with the unstoppable slide guitar work of Eric Heywood, who could make an Elmo album transcendent. Glistening mandolins, that hazy brush of drums, the coyote yelp of dobros: it’s all there as it slides into “Cease Fire” with a sly silky folksy blues that the Prometheus that was Gram Parsons delivered unto us from Mt. Olympus. This whole album has that sweet back porch feeling to it, twinkles of an army of acoustic instruments all darting in like fireflies. A somewhat heavy handed Pete Seeger song “Dr. King,” a romping and strangely funky Grateful Dead sounding number (the good country rock Dead of American Beauty, not the bloated horrible corny Dead of, well, all the other Dead albums), does drop one off the lurve wagon for a minute, but it picks right back up and culminates in the rippling harmonica driven protest song “Mixed Blessing” and the I-traded-the-hard-life-for-you box of candy “Georgia Pine.” It majestically closes with the galloping banjo powered “Gotta Prove” that will get the toes tapping on even the most jaded among us.

To me, albums like this are what the Alt-Country thing is all about, not the overblown studio monoliths like Wilco (and I still really like Wilco though they are about as downhome as Emerson, Lake and Palmer now) and Ryan Adams produce, but these small intimate records that understand that not all in the universe is dark and obtuse confusing and stream of conscious bad poetry, and that there is still plenty to say on the subject of sweet old love.


Nic Armstrong & The Theives
The Greatest White Liar
(New West)

I wonder if ever millennial odometer flip is like this, where we as a culture feel compelled to latch onto our past instead of bravely leaping into the clean chromed-over future that we slobbered over in science fiction just a few moons ago. And then, to just confuse things even more, the cultural critics are quick to make ‘retro’ a four letter word the minute that the precious anachronism they rely upon is made an institution once again. Its living out of time: not having a now. Maybe there is a now, and its just too fucking scary to embrace, the child of the times we have suckled has become a holy terror.

And once I get over myself (which does actually happen once in a while) and quit pretending I need something new and different all the damn time like some kind of attention deficient art burning stove, I come to realize there is plenty of magnificent new things being hatched after warming in that nest of the classics. Nic Armstrong is a newcomer in this new-old breed of rockers and deserves your attention. “Beatlesque” is not a term I like to thorw around (not out of any reverence for the Grand Old Band, but “Beatlesque” things usally end up sounding more like ELO than anything offa Abbey Road) but Nic is one of the few artists I’ve heard that really do capture the energy and spirit of those mop headed invaders when they were young and powerful and sexy and making teenagers and grannies pass out on the chain link fence at the airport. It has that hormonal urgency that is missing from so much music. His chops and understanding of what makes for a good rock-n-roll song are without question, these songs are perfectly executed, sounding like you have known them for years. The beauty of this record is that I don’t smell a bit of irony on it like that flavoring the many excellent punk art rock projects pushed forth by many tattooed hipster labels in the ads of Juxtapos. Every George Harrison guitar quote, every Kinks-like wistful gasp, every mod harmonica burst is not out of any postmodern concern, but because it makes the song freakin’ happen.

It opens with a scream, like all teenage adventures should, on “I Can’t Stand It” then giving way to fuzz stomp of “Broken Mouth Blues.” The hippy hippy shake of “On a Promise” is guaranteed to get the ladies on the floor at the next house party, followed with the best slow-dance I’ve heard in eons “I’ll Come To You.” Each jangle of the tambourine will pull you two star-crossed lovers ever closer. And once your connection is firmly established, the stone fox strut of “Natural Flair” will help to seal the deal. This remarkably balanced collection of great songs is maintained with the sweetly spooky “You Made it True” and the closing twist salvo of “I Want To Be your Driver”

Straight-up fun records like this and the Black Keys album of late tend to push me over into hyperbole territory, but this record totally lights a fire under me. I want to play it on the loudspeaker at work and watch as the receptionist commence to frug on the desk, and the kooky kids from the marketing department involuntarily begin flipping each other over in a dance party explosion in the cafeteria. Lord only knows what will be inspired to happen in the dark recesses of the mail room. I just hope Nic can keep up this kind of record, since we are sorely in need of it.


Ana Da Silva – The Lighthouse
(Chicks on Speed)

There is a very understandable reason that “Alchemist” never shows up when you do those career aptitude tests: it’s not exactly a results-driven field. Imagine if they did include a what-would-you-rather-do question like:

(A) – Check business documents for accuracy and exposure of liability
(B) – Attend meetings on a daily basis
(C) – Extract mystic properties of metals in order to engage the sinewy magicks of God.
(D) – Answer phones for a law firm.

I think the overwhelming response would be (C). But unfortunately, our cultural advances have shown us that the turning mechanism of the Greater Orrery is greased by money and paper, and not by cosmic undercurrents. Thank you, civilization; I feel much better knowing that.

Fortunately, there are those who eschew the more profitable engagements in order to squeeze the blood they know is all up in that stone. Ana Da Silva is one of those characters. Her initial rise to prominence was as a member of the Raincoats, one of those many seminal post punk bands people in the know claim to recall, but no one ever would’ve, had Kurt Cobain, who turned out to be the Indiana Jones as well as the John Lennon of his generation, failed to recount that seeking out Ana at the antique store she ran in London, as one of the greatest trappings of his rock-starred-ness. The Raincoats had a similar fate to many of those little bands, a great scrappy first record, lackluster second and then an ill-fated reunion ten years down the road before calling it quits for real this time.

Lucky for us, she spent those quiet moments at the antique store (a job as close to alchemy as we can get these days) in the decades hence spinning gold out of her synthesizer and laptop and created this odd jewel of a record. At first, it seems to reside in the New Wave Revivalist category, with its breathy vocals wandering among the darkened wood of keyboard strains and quiet drum machine pulses, but there is something more articulate than that going on here. I understand she has spent her off-time as a painter of whispery semi-abstracts (this knowledge is culled only from other reviews, so this may be in fact the invention of us music critics who are compelled to justify out rock star worship by making them Real Artists) and this practice seems to have shaped the odd spare songs on The Lighthouse. The opening track “Friend” maintains an undercoat of alternating pulses and toy piano doorbells for Ana’s spectral intonation threading through it. This build up incrementally in what can only be described as “rompiness” to the title track forming the axel of this puzzling little wheel. The odd stream of lyrics out of her feel as if they are images escaping from one of those what-the fuck dreams – “I want to get to the lighthouse/but the waves keep teasing me/backwards and forwards/ and backwards/I’m in darkness, I’m in darkness, the girl keeps running” Though I am loathe to say this, it reminds me a little of Kate Bush in her prime, that strident running amok in ones subconscious, but its not quite as anachronistic as a Kate Bush song would be now.

My favorite is the simple harmonium like drone of “Hospital Window” where touches of twangy guitar and piano and chiming pulses circle dance around in the ether, effectively creating the ambience suggested by its title. There are some less successful moments, like the PJ Harvey-like cabaret thing “Modinha” which unto itself is not bad, but think I’ve heard enough of these in the world for now. It picks up speed immediately after with the almost Erasure-grade technopop of “In Awe of a Painting” where she gets her Bjork on, giving us a buoyant glimpse on her internal life, later accompanied by what sounds for all the world like musical saws.

All in all, I found this album to be a singular experience, not a revolutionary move or a continental shift from that output of many female solo performers (it bears great similarities to Bjork, Juana Molina (who you owe it to yourself to hear if you haven’t, but that diatribe is for another time), Kate Bush, Tori Amos even) but there is an icy resolve to it, a distinctly solid point of origin. She is not portraying characters or tearing out diary pages or trying to make you fall in love with her like many in the aforementioned list seem to be doing, but distilling off some of her spirit into this curious little clockwork of song and stirring out some gold from the baser elements.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005



the album is filled with their odd cold Sci-Fi Bossa Nova of the Damned that is their calling card

The Blue Nile
[Sanctuary Records]

The Eighties have garnered a worse rap than perhaps they deserved, thanks to the cocktail of VH1 and the ubiquitous and perplexing phenomenal success of “80’s Nights” at niteclubs across this fruited plain. I was in my hormonal prime during that decade, and I can confirm that, yes, they were shallow, vapid times consumed with awkward fashion and trappings of affluence.

The only saving grace the decade had was that it was followed by the lackluster ‘90s, which was just as artless a time; it just didn’t have the celebratory zeal the ‘80s did. I’m reminded of the scene in Valley Girl where a totally punked-out Nicholas Cage was extolling the virtues of the Plimsouls to his date, citing their passion, their fire. Now the Plimsouls, like many strapping lil’ bands of the day were OK, but it’s hard to imagine they would ever induce that kind of rallying, listening to them now. See, we in that pre-alternative era had to get excited about something, otherwise Mario Van Peebles would’ve lobbied congress to have the entire nation soundtracked with fat drum machines and sub-Cameo synth washes.

Punk had not really taken hold in my little high school backwater, so we retreated from the Scylla and Caribdys of Zeppelin and Skynyrd in the cold embrace of arty new wave. It was a weird form of rebellion, with our car stereos projecting the deconstructed adult contemporary of Peter Gabriel and Bryan Ferry, but it worked for us. It made us feel complex and sophisticated. The one pervasive requirement of a fad for the disaffected is that it somehow makes you feel superior than the lumpen masses, that your own Punk Rock Merit Badge is earned with your devotion.

So anyway, since we were in that pre-internet (the ‘80s were pre- a lot of things) cultural wasteland, we had to scour magazines and take whatever nibbles our lines would register. I saw a list of various stars favorite albums, and noticed with my keen eye for useless music trivia detail, that both Curt Smith of Tears For Fears and Thomas Dolby mentioned The Blue Nile’s A Walk Across The Rooftops as their favorite album back then, so that was endorsement enough for me.

We scored a copy (my clique had a somewhat collective record collection – once someone got something, everyone else got a cassette copy a month later, so the wealth could be shared whilst maintaining Who Got There First) and we were all blown away by the sheer otherworldliness of it. The Nile’s singer Paul Buchanan had the hoarse croon that was important to us for some reason, but the music was a delightful disjointed array of tin pans sounds and lonesome synth wails. Later, I learned that the record came about when Scottish synth manufacturer Linn needed a demo record featuring their LinnDrum equipment and enlisted our boys, and were to flabbergasted by the results that they started a label just to promote the record. To me, that album is one of the peaks of the New Romantic era.

Fast forward 20 years. The Blue Nile would emerge 3 more times over the stretch in even glacial integrals with yet another album that I would hope would be another dispatch from the cosmic iceberg that bore their debut, but to no avail. I thought Hats was just kinda lame – a little to Gorgio Mororder for my palate, Peace at Last had an uncomfortable level of Christianity in it for me, and it seems there was maybe another one in there that I never heard at all. So, here a week ago, I see they have yet again emerged with High, and I hoped for the best. It sounds a touch anachronistic, he still has that swallowed Sinatra delivery that I’ve moved past, but I think it still works. The ripple of beats, the quietly building synthesizer influx that threatens to submerge the whole studio by the end of the song, and Paul’s haunted sadness are all there. It doesn’t sound as immediate, as otherworldly as their debut did, but I am willing to cut them some slack. We live in an era of jump cut and disjointedness, so it’s difficult to out-scatter the contemporary scramble of life.

It opens with a piano-pulse laden “Days of our Lives” allowing the lyrics of looking back through the gauze of disappointment, brings the things I like about this band back to me. The high point for me is “Because of Toledo” where he croons about drugs and sobering up over a simple base of acoustic guitar and subliminal bass. It’s a distillation of the quiet excess of some of their other music that lets the smart melancholy shine through. The rest of the album is filled with their odd cold Sci-Fi Bossa Nova of the Damned that is their calling card, particularly “She Saw The World.” I doubt this album is going to make any converts, but if you ever donned your trench coat defiantly to your high school, this will give you a little smile. This is not the ‘80s of VH1, but that of Donnie Darko, where under all that gloss and shopping and subdivision dwelling, there beats a true and struggling heart.



My ‘lil itch gets scratched by weird albums: records that, when you try to describe them to others, garner you a puzzled glance.

10 Great Weird Albums of 2004

We all have our weaknesses. Some drop jaws for cowboys, or cheesecake, or perhaps some combination of the two. Some folks inexplicably have more than three pairs of shoes. Some get quizzically angry over grammar mistakes [Is that directed at me? - Ed.]. Hey, we are all consenting adults here. I support you being you and whatever it takes to make that happen. Me? My ‘lil itch gets scratched by weird albums: records that, when you try to describe them to others, garner you a puzzled glance. Given all that (and that my other weakness is top 10 lists. I’ll read “Top 10 Sitcoms to Fart During” if you write it), I hereby submit my favorite weird albums of 2004.

Ween – Quebec
This almost didn’t make it, in that it’s actually a pretty straight rock album for the Weeners. But, the fact that they have managed to take their (albeit less demented version of their) carnival of chops and bathroom humor to the masses and have it accepted gives me hope in this age of ever diminishing weirdness.

Xiu Xiu – Fabulous Muscles
I covered this album in greater depth here, this confounding amalgam of sounds and outburst. The marrying of the techno-esque racketscape of the music and Jamie Stewart’s painfully confessional lyrics and drama-major-on-steroids delivery makes for a deliciously singular experience.

Jandek – Live at Instal.04 Festival, Glasgow, Scotland (bootleg)
Anyone familiar with the mythos surrounding legendary Texas recluse, famous for issuing some 30 albums of the most dividing “outsider music” out there for as many years from his Houston PO Box, was shocked as I was to find that the Man That May Exist actually showed up to play an unannounced gig at a new music festival in freaking Scotland this year, backed by the unsinkable Richard Youngs on bass and Scatter’s Alexander Neilson on sympathetic drums. To all but the few of us fans, it was of less import than a bus in Liverpool running 10 minutes late, but to us true believers, it was like waking up to see the real Santa wiggling out of your chimney.

Frog Eyes – The Folded Palm
It’s refreshing to see that seed for bat shit exuberance planted by Antonin Artaud and the other crazy French poets from the ass-end of the last millennium is still managing convulsively bloom in the form of Canada’s Frog Eyes. The salivating dog that is singer Carey Mercer matched with the frenetic drive of the band, seeming to work together more on this one than in past onslaughts, make Mr. Frog Eyes’ wild ride the best in the park. This album will open your sinuses if you let it.

Black Dice – Creature Comforts
Once nihilistic agents of hardcore racket and self-destruction, the Brooklyn collective was somehow embraced by the Arts community and transformed into one of the truly unique sounding groups in operation. There is an undercurrent of Martin Denny’s exotica babbling through the jungle of electrical noise and disrupted rhythms. When the aliens land, they will head to the nearest indie record store and buy this since the special Mars-only release with bonus tracks is hopelessly out of print on their world.

Joanna Newsom – The Milk-Eyed Mender
This delightful tiptoe through the tulips somehow made it to the top of the buzz heap this year. And surprisingly, for a good reason this time. Newsom’s curly-girly voice dispelling her nautilus of verbiage matched with the deft twinkling and strum of a harp, of all things, is fresh and beautiful and delightful. Do believe the hype in this case.

William Shatner – Has Been
Now this was a shocker. We all know about his me-fest from the 60’s The Transformed Man with Dr. Demento fare like "Mr. Tambourine Man". When I saw this on the shelf, cover projecting the Shat with his head in his hands, I had the same reaction. Then I actually listened to it, at the urging of friends, and am delighted to report that this is one of the most captivating and effective bizarre vanity projects since Crispin Glover’s Big Problem Does Not Equal the Solution. The Solution = Let It Be from 1989. It’s collection of recitations, mostly of his own concoction (noteable exception being the cover of Pulp’s “Common People”, over brilliantly effective accompaniment by Ben Folds. It touches on fame, death, particularly the death of his wife from drowning, life and being a bad parent. You won’t believe me until you hear it, but William Shatner hits you with a photon torpedo of love from which you will not soon recover.

Ellen Fullman & Konrad Springer – Ort
Ellen Fullman is famous in art-music circles for the invention and playing thereof of her Long String Instrument, which is exactly what it sounds like, a 90-some-odd foot contraption of a hundred strings that seem to use the universe as its resonator when played, resembling what like God’s sitar might sound like. Her previous albums have consisted of textured drones and rasps from this wondrous thing, but somehow she got it into her head to use this thing in collaboration with German instrument maker, Konrad Springer to record some songs, like the folk standard “I Ain’t Got No Home.” What possessed her to take this path, I don’t know, but it is a cool record, opening with the VU-like rumble of “Glistening Glass” – one of my favorite songs this year.

Sunn O))) – White 2
Death metal is something I like in concept but rarely in execution. The druidic masters of the punctautionally convoluted collective Sunn O))) have managed to distill the elixir of D&D imagery, bass waves from the pits of Hades and the ambience of malevolence that forms your workaday death metal, stripped out all but the essential percussion and produced a frothy broth of weirdly satisfying ambient unease. This HighArt-sactioned method (championed by my favorite high brow music tome The Wire) presents truly unique results, a lovechild of the sterility of pocket-protector ambient music and the loamy belch of metal. Honestly, its not something I return to a lot, but it manages to create its own weird apocalypse when I do.

Keiji Haino – Black Blues
Extreme Japanese guitar experimenter Keiji Haino unearthed this double CD, both containing the same brace of loose interpretations of blues songs. The catch is: one is an acoustic disk, with his odd haunting voice slooooooooowly intoning these songs accompanied by a feather-light glancing on the strings, the other disk an exuberantly abrasive thicket of electric guitar racket. There are no overdubs, no other performers, just the cartoonish sunglasses-clad Haino exacting the extremes of the Blues idiom. Personally, the acoustic album sits better with me in that I don’t have the taste for Noise I once had, and in that it feels as if it’s being sung and played by a ghost.


CD Review: Iron & Wine – Woman King

I was waiting for the perfect opportunity to arise to extol the virtues of one of my favorite styles of music, the EP. Originally an extended play single, it rose to prominence in the 80’s so that the dance floor market could be breached with your otherwise not-so-dancey song, transformed by the magic of the Remix (generally entailing playing the song and then before the last verse, inserting some drum machine and synth washes elongating your thing in a matter that the girls can hit the floor, purse hanging from their elbow, cigarette in the other hand, and do the Eighties Sway.)

Fortunately, in the alternative music era that was the bastard step child of the college bong and disco, the postmodern filter was applied to this sub-par form and transformed it into a laboratory, where artists could make a mini-album, try things out without committing to a full turn of the ocean liner. Pavement was probably the band that really ran with this concept, making their 10,000 EP’s just as interesting and whole as their albums were. Now, in the era of holistic commodity, an artist need not throw out their banjo and glockenspiel experiments, since the welcome arms of the EP were willing to accept it.

Iron & Wine (essentially Miami’s Sam Beam, whisper-voiced folk mystic that invited himself into the collapsing castle of Sub Pop and released some of the absolutely best music of the past 5 years) has taken this tack on their recent EP Woman King. The hypothesis worked out on this one is: What happens if we augment the haunted pond of Beam’s guitar work and hushed voice with this strange beast called “percussion?” The results are a raging success. His majestic songs still retain the folk/blues riverrun of his previous work but glow and flow with greater vigor. The title track opens with the blatant juggle of sticks of some kind, mixed with the sounds of knives being sharpened, making his spooky ghost of a songcraft even spookier. “Jezebel,” which has been floating around for a while is given a Townes Van Zandt gravitas with its slow harpsichord pulse and second warm guitar. “Grey Gardens” makes excellent use of tambourine and ambient guitar, and the crown winner on the thing “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven” is a positively joyous romp with its biblical imagery and slide guitar and stomping drums. “In My Lady’s House” has a fantastic groove to it giving way to a daydreaming piano and the final “Evening on the Ground (Lilith’s Song)” invades you like the swarm of insects at the end of “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Pretentious reference on my part, to be sure, but I think it’s apt here. Iron & Wine, with its still slight components compared to say, Hoobastank, casts into the wind the finest songs in an original voice.

I was afraid the move he made from the four-track to the studio with last year’s ridiculously good Our Endless Numbered Days might open up a can of Losing Focus On What Makes You Good, but it is clear that he could go all Bjork on our asses and employ a band consisting of bugle and sewing machine, and it would still be the best thing out there.


Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds –
The Lyre of Orpheus/Abattoir Blues

What to do when you are an elder statesman in a community that reveres your continued commitment to the cause, but in reality favors the young? Do you try to “hang,” throwing in an awkward sampling of your misconstrued take on youth culture into your presence, creating deafening silences amongst your audience when you exhibit them? Do you wallow in you decrepit establishment, relying on mere reputation as Once Being Cool to propel you along? It worked for Elvis in his later years, sorta, but he, like all other that fall into this trap becoming living cartoon versions of themselves, relying on the animation skills of others to keep you moving. The nobler path is to rally your resources, milk the cow of your public acceptance, and become a Pop singer. And I don’t mean like Britney Spears or Usher, I’m talking the old school “Pop” section of the record store where Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones and Tim Buckley lie, a garden of perversity masquerading as lush topiary (ever listen to the actual lyrics to Tom Jones’ “Delilah?”) True, it may not be the most rock-n-roll way to go out, but really, you can only be in Van Halen for so long until you are doomed to become merely David Lee Roth. You might as well make the most of it.

Former punk rock poster boy Nick Cave has wedged nicely into this category of Pop Singer with his latest double LP The Lyre of Orpheus/Abattoir Blues. It is packaged as two separate albums, but really it is more of a large scale Special Performance (remember those? Used to be your couldn’t swing a dead cat at your TV with out hitting “Bob Hope In Hawaii” or something like that) running the wide range of Nick Cave’s songwriting niches. It opens (if you start on the Lyre side) with the title track that harkens back to the carnival-in-hell theatrics of the mid to late 80’s. Man, I used to love this shit, but somewhere after numerous variations of this kind of lurching macabre-ity from him and many others, I discovered the circus is boring. Still Nick can bring the goods as well as they can still be brought, but two back slides to this style (Abattoir’s “Hiding All Away” is the other) are the weaker points in this smorgasbord. The high points for me are the autumnal ballad “Breathless” (infested with a beautiful swarm of flautists), the overblown Neil Diamond storm burst of “Supernaturally” and the exquisitely contents-under-pressure soul-rock volcano of “There She Goes My Beautiful World” (my favorite of Nick’s adopted styles, this is his greatest examples of it since “Deanna” some two decades ago.) The Sinatra-grade wistful gaze into the Mirror of the Past that is “Abattoir Blues” seems a surprisingly vulnerable revealing look at the man who is famous for staying in character. Maybe it’s the oft-mentioned line “I woke up with a frappucino in my hand” gives this impression of exposure, since we have come to believe that Count Cave survives solely on communion wafers soaked in blood and whiskey.

To me, this is one of the freshest things he’s put out since quiet “The Boatman’s Call” in that he is expanding on his personas, and breathing his own life into them and for a change, not crashing every Hindenburg he inflates. Instead, the feel of the album is of soaring of the various landscapes he paints. And somehow, this distance makes the songs more believable, more direct than what I’ve heard in the past. He’s not trying to be Bruce Springsteen, trying to convince you he’s still mopping the floor of the Stone Pony, But he is letting you know he gets it, and he still has more to offer besides the same clown act. I just hope he keeps wiping off the makeup as he goes, one day letting that Bad Seed blossom like it wants to.


Magnolia Electric Co – Trials and Errors

How do we really change ourselves? Every couple of years we all are prompted to make big pronouncements of Making A Change, whether its be the perennially sourceless guilt factory of New Year’s Eve or accidentally stepping onto a scale. The problem is that cheerleaders always work harder than the team, and then the players who consistently fumble the ball feel guilty for the spirit squad pom-pomming their little hearts out - I remember offering a cigarette to a friend that I thought on occasion smoked, it led into a never-ending soliloquy about his “Forever promise to himself” (his words) that I was leading him to break. Of course he finished off my pack by the end of the evening.

This kind of foot-stomping reserve is what haunted Songs:Ohia’s Jason Molina as he shed his awkward project name for the jam-band sounding Magnolia Electric Co. Like I think the last Songs:Ohia album is actually entitled “Magnolia Electric Co”, but he toured under the MEC as his band name. It didn’t help things with the release of the solo album under his real name called Pyramid Electric Co which he claims to be called that only because of the first track bearing the same name. (A similar fate befell Will Oldham as he shed the Palace corporate identity with his brilliant Arise Therefore, like there were even stickers printed to cover the “Palace” on the first round of releases) Anyway….

Magnolia Electric Co, whoever the fuck it was by, had brilliant moments of juicy southern Indie Rock like the opener “Farewell Transmission” but it lacked the stethoscope intimacy that “his” previous albums all had. Thankfully, relentless touring as a band has rectified this situation as documented in the live album “Trials and Errors.” A mix of live reworkings of the previous record and a few new songs show a new hearty beast helmed by our identity-challenged hero. These songs rage with a slow burning gunpowder trail quietly shaking up the dust when the chorus erupts. An improvement here in my book is that his songs are allowed to glow with out all the accompaniments kinda sounding the same throughout the record, a “flaw” on his previous outings. Nope, The Company has a Crazy Horse rockishness in them, without undermining the persistent seriousness of their own particular Neil (underscored with the liberal quotes form Harvest’s “Out on the Weekend” on “Almost Was Good Enough”.) Neil Young references are a dime a dozen these days, but Molina manages to capture the old man's mercurial spirit rather than simply aping the bad monitor setting that has become the de facto hallmark of "Sounding like Neil Young." Instead, he seems to treat the cantankerous uncle of indie rock as his Zarathustra, being a model for how to slough off an established persona in favor of a new one. His voice has never sounded better as well, its odd squeak being bolstered with a new stride in his step. I particularly like the trumpet augmented “Leave the City” with its pony-loping glory and the Love-grade hullabaloo evoked in “The Last 3 Human Words” and the cocky, moody strut of “The Pig Beast,” also unabashedly Neil-ing it up with the big slurps from "Tonight's the Night"

But the whole thing is a killer record. One of many boot prints conferred by myself on my ass is that I missed them when they came through New Orleans last year and I missed it, but thankfully, this excellent record of their new meaty prowess has helped to soften the blow. There is a new album in the works from the group, so let's hope this firecracker is a harbinger of great fireworks ahead.


M Ward – Transistor Radio

As a rule I am not a “production quality” fetishist. In fact, I swing more in the other direction being an Authenticity Snob, desiring my Rock Music Service Providers to serve my product to me cold in the middle with blood on that plate. But every once in a while an album comes along that slaps me into realizing the magic in the sonic kitchen is just as important as the quality of the raw ingredients. Badly Drawn Boy’s “The Hour of the Bewilderbeast” is a prime example, and so is the subject of this review, the new masterpiece by M. Ward.

I remember sitting out on my swing set with my neighbor Tracy Quackenbush listening to the eerie transistor radio static of the minute silence when John Lennon died. Not that we were extraordinarily hip 3rd graders that had a grasp of Cultural Impact, we just happened to be outside listening to the radio hoping the Bay City Rollers would come on. Transistor Radio has this brilliant texture to it without being a gimmicky nostalgia hiss salad. Instead, its subdued recording, its mushiness sounds like its coming from someplace in the back of your head. It sounds like memory, if that's possible.

Now, the best Iron Chef Chen Kenichi in Music Producer Stadium could not prepare such a sumptuous feast without the aromatic and fresh ingredients. M. Ward always delivers, in my book, straddling the fence between straight up songwriter and loose poet, with his intricate guitar work, haunting deep-yet-high voice and devastatingly insidious turn of phrase. The opening track “You Still Believe in Me” sets the pace for this record, with its plunking and lilting guitar, so defining that you feel you can hear the actual wood of the guitar, resting on a soft featherbed of acoustic strumming and quiet reverb. His swallowed delivery of “Sweethearts on Parade” just melts me, with its sunny California beat slightly darkened by his vague sadness. The heartbeats that feed into the plaintive ballad “Fuel For Fire”, the Calexico-with–a-better-vocalist Old West romp of “Four Hours in Washington” leading into the stampede of “Regeneration #1”, the profound melancholy of “Deep Dark Well” all just knock me on my ass. Really, there is not a dull point on the thing. The real highlight for me is the quietly powerful strummed folk plea, “I’ll Be Yr Bird." Its like being knocked down with a blow from a wiffle bat. The track was originally included as a bonus on his Giant Sand-issued Duet for Guitars #2 but despite it being an older number than the rest, its a testament to what a strong and consistent song-maker M. is.

I really thought he could never top his last album Transfiguration of Vincent, and well, maybe he hasn’t. Instead of trying to compete with the wide pop swath of that masterpiece, he has shifted to a slightly more intimate direction and created a gem of equal luster. I urge you to sweep this up post haste and remind yourself what a Really Good Album sounds like again.


A Defense for Carrying a Jump Drive on my Keychain

Last week, on two different occasions, I was openly mocked by a group of my peers, one professional and one social, for having a USB hard drive on my keychain. Now granted, my jump drive is not the manliest of peripherals. It’s translucent purple plastic and was given to me by a former boss. It is not sleek, with metal and faux leather, but looks more like something from a gumball machine. Bear an embossed logo of a computer hardware giant, it does not – instead it is modestly festooned with the logo of a printer company, nearly rubbed off from being in my pocket. Regardless of its physical form, I was mocked by these two sectors of my Venn diagram for even having one.

Now my social compatriots are not the most technically savvy bunch. Hipsters, yes, but in an old school 80’s idiom. They do finally all have email, so that’s a milestone with this crowd of miscreant musicians. While they are all loquaciously knowledgeable about amplifiers and pickups and cables and whatnot, the simplest “hello World” of a webpage is deeply ensconced on the other side of the border formed by their digital ability. I have slowly been encroaching into their world with four-track recordings, but unlike the similar superior output by them all, the concept of digitizing them seems foreign, as if you tried to explain the virtues of a bicycle to a fish. They have been nice enough, expressing interest in my output, but when I pulled out my keys and said I might have one on my jump drive, they busted out laughing as if I had produced a pocket protector, hiked up my pants and started doing the cabbage patch.

The common bond among us is being music fans, always seeking new/old things, but forever they are asking to have a CD burnt of whatever is being discussed. I mean its cute and all, but why not send it in a telegram as well. I get to listen to music all day as a part of my job, and the thought of having to haul around and change CD’s seems hopelessly quaint now. I use my handy jumpdrive to transfer music back and forth between home and office, with my music folder organized and shortcuts strategically placed that the contents of my folder are presented to me in a simple mouse-over off the start button. And would they have seen the light, that information is best served digital, I could’ve transferred them the songs in the least obtrusive manner. But burn you a CD? Why not request I churn you some butter?

Now the mocking at work came as an even bigger surprise. There was some cumbersome SDK that we needed to borrow, but the customer needed the CD back and their suggestion was to make a round trip. I thought I was being triumphant with my simple little drive, but again rained down upon me the pocket protector comments. What kind of nerd has a hard drive on his keychain? The kind that is always prepared, the 21st century Boy Scout with his digital Swiss Army knife.

I do realize that using it is not the most sophisticated mechanism for transferring data throughout the ether. Email servers, streaming media, yadda yadda. Sure I could set up a media streaming server from my home machine making my stuff at arm’s reach constantly available. But those things require a silly level of devotion, spending time being my own tech support when I could be out kissing girls. I could carry an iPod with its gargantuan storage, but really, who am I fooling. I will never be seen on a treadmill boasting white earbuds pumping out Arcade Fire demos. The lowly jumpdrive is the perfect middle ground. It’s cheap effortless technology that works like a charm, doing only one thing but doing it well. Lug thee your vinyl in an oversized messenger bag if you must. Zip and unzip your CD booklet and wait in line at the Office Depot with frazzled buyers of ink cartridges if you need to hold onto your shiny scratched up wax cylinders. Me, I got things to do and music to listen to while I’m at it.


Rock music is a lot like fishing. When you are trying to lure in your near robotic prey, without the interruption of you catching them, they would swim endlessly in a soup of their own feces and stray bits of food lest you provide a sexy lure to win them over to Team Dinner. Some of these fishermen just happen to be cursed with lousy tackle such as Robert Zimmerman and Barry Alan Pincus and are forced to adopt the tail feather of Dylan and Manilow. Some like Cher and Prince, dispense with the caboose altogether, cutting in line on the Golden Path to single name immortality reserved for the likes of Jesus and Gargamel. Morrissey is an odd one, in that he chose to just be identified by the name emblazoned on his football jersey. Hip Hop and reggae stars regularly and successfully make themselves larger than life with outlandish identities. These masks are understandable. One needs to attract prey or you starve. But nowadays, we live in a time of plenty, where people need not utilize such tactics to bring attention. Instead, they hide behind these ostrich feather names hoping to keep the avalanche of fish from swimming in their part of the ocean.

There are many who could fall in this list, but here are ten that cover the bases:

"Sid Vicious" (AKA John Beverley or Simon Ritchie, no one is really sure) - This one was a borderline choice, since he was somewhat of a cartoon character, a husk of a person to wear the suit of a name. The reason he makes the list is that the irony became lost on the movement of supposed DIY-ers that were the sucker of the marketing ploy that was the Sex Pistols. Not that they don't have their actual importance in the progression/regression of music, but the persistence of the "Sid Lives" sloganeering underlying the top floating level of punk shows some folks never get the feeling that they've been cheated.

"Sebastian Bach" (AKA Sebastian Bierk) - Poor guy. I mean, it is close to his name, and if it wasn't for that famous lineage of actual musicians that bore the name so many years before, it would be a legitimate swap. And 80's metal had its share of bad names like Nikki Sixx et al, but those fit in with the wagging tongues in the cheeks of that music. Calling yourself Sebatian Bach is on par with writing under the name "Willy Shakespeare" It should have been apparent from the start that one's story is not going to end well.

"E" AKA "the eels" (AKA Mark Oliver Everett) - I actually think this is one of the worst on this list. When I saw his album "A Man Called [E]" surface in the racks at my college radio station, I felt the pure obnoxiousness of calling yourself "E" was crossing the line. Some 10+ years later I heard the eels' (just as bad, all lowercase) "Electro-Shock Blues" I was won over to his excellent breed of downer pop, but the terrible name still sticks in my craw.

"Elvis Costello" (AKA Declan McManus) - The rock giant I love to hate. I used to be a big fan, would wax poetic about him as I do the people I do now, but somewhere along the line I looked at him and thought, aren't you, um, a little old to still be "Elvis Costello" – a nom de Roque that probably held its conceptual water back when it was hatched back on the Mayflower, but is really just corny as fuck now. Especially now, when you are trying to become an Interpreter of Song, writing chamber music and whatnot. Plus, Declan is actually a pretty good name.

"Songs:Ohia" (AKA Jason Molina) - This favorite of mine has the special pretension distinction of utilizing a colon in his name. It's a particularly postmodern thing to do to have a name for your project, as if it is crucial to keep oneself out of the cauldron in which one mixes their brew. Especially when Songs:Ohia creates such personal heartfelt music. Mitigating factor: he appears to have dispensed with it.

"Bonnie 'Prince' Billy" (AKA Will Oldham) - My hero makes this list because he has many times forced me to explain who he is when someone asks "Who's your favorite?" and I am doomed to detail the various clumsy names he's operated under (Palace Brothers (a name I really like actually) Palace Music, Palace Songs, Palace and then the goofy Bonnie one) Having all those names sends up a red flag for not-worth-your time, much like if you were on a first date with someone, and they were delivered a court summons at dinner. But really, he really is good despite the air-quotes.

"Six Organs of Admittance" (aka Ben Chasny) - Another great musician who makes me feel stupid explaining that its just one guy and his expertly played guitar. "Six Organs" is a great backing band name like "Ben Chasny and The Six Organs of Admittance" ) but unto itself, it sounds like a hapless high school goth band.

"Sting" (AKA Gordon Sumner) - Talk about too old to be playing superhero. I mean, it really wasn't a very good name way back when he was cool (and he was once upon a time, cool), but now he has become the new Barabara Streisand, its time to let it go. It just looks silly on you, like that skirt he wore at the Grammies last year.

"Bono" and "The Edge" (AKA Paul Hewson and David Evans, respectively) - These two are the hands down winners. What more warning fable do you need for carefully picking your name than being a multi-millionaire rock star and megalomaniac force for cultural and political change, and still be saddle with a ridiculous name like "Bono?" I mean, didn't you notice Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu snickering at you at all those state dinners? They are thinking "At least that Bob Geldof guy had a real name." And "The Edge," that is a truly unfortunate choice. Do people actually refer to him as The Edge? "I got a triple grande hazelnut latte for 'The Edge' on the bar!" calls the innocent barista. "The Edge, your mother is on the phone!" hollers his wife from the kitchen. "Well, The Edge, that's all I need, I'll get that paperwork started" says his loan officer. Fellas, for real now, let it go.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


There was a time when I was a steadfast foot soldier in the cause of Cool Movies. I joined the Films Committee at the union my freshman year and convinced the team to show Eisenstien and Bunuel movies. I knew the cult/indie/foreign section of every video store in the 20 mile radius. I gathered signatures to get to be able to screen “Pink Flamingos.” In short, a Cool Movie dork. As time went on, the exuberance of youth gave way into being a 9-to-5-er, where bills and traffic and drinking and sloth usurped my energies previously spent pouring over “The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick” a second time.

Fast forward 13 years, the supposed trinity of Netflix, Sundance and IFC are here to fill my needs, but the law of supply and demand backfires. Back when you had to hunt for the scarce supply of cult cinema, every morsel was delicious. Now we are bombarded by every vanity project and 1.5 trick pony that could snatch funding off the tree. Case in point: “Garden State.” The tale of a lost boy returning home to find the familiar to be equally empty as the destination they ran off to, is more common than muscle-bound warriors born to save the world with pure heart and sharp sword. Tabula Rasa Zach Braff manages to film himself doing the Holden Caufield to the camera for the better part of two hours, simulating the act of masturbating in front of a mirror, except more narcissistic. I won’t ruin it for you by revealing the line that forms the hub of this motionless wheel of Braff, but when his hands manage to leave his pockets for once and are borne aloft, outstretched, you’ll know what it is.

The other cool movie type is the tale of the Misfit. The fish out of water, except he is, um, in the water. “American Splendour” had some success in making Harvey Pekar the hidden everyman, but the whole time I felt it was trying to be “Crumb” the documentary, without the real life weirdness of R. Crumb and his family to uphold it. The latest 2005: A Dork Odyssey is the much hyped “Napoleon Dynamite.” Like the lovechild of “Repo Man” and “Mary Gallagher Superstar,” our hero with the unexplained name continues to kick against the pricks in his own delightfully inept way. While the movie was enjoyable (a trait that was mostly lacking from Garden State) I consistently wanted some break from the character. I wanted him to expand beyond his weirdness, but he never managed to do it. No explanation required in the world of Cool Movies.

Strangely, the one sub-genre that has surpassed Cool Movies, ones where the character wander their lives as zombies, is one where the characters actually fight against these zombies. Thankfully, the living dead are in full effect recently, no longer stumbling slow brain eaters, but amphetamine-fueled omnivores that want nothing more than to fuck your living shit up. Sad that a movie like the “Dawn of the Dead” remake starring Ving Rhames as both the muscle and conscience of the human condition, inspired more introspection and was frankly more “buyable” and either of the aforementioned movies. Who would’ve guessed that a Ving Rhames zombie movie would have one of the more touching relationships in recent cinema. (the one with himself and the gun shop stranded owner across the street, communicating only via handwritten signs on the roof over a sea of dead malevolence, with the inevitable looming on the horizon like an approaching storm. It’s almost Beckett-esque in its implications.)

“28 Days Later” had the same effect. I really felt for the protagonists in this film fighting everything from fatigue and hopelessness to fear and an unstoppable enemy, while all Zack Braff has to do is get on his meds and get over himself. These hit home in that the characters, and the audience, don’t necessarily know if they are going to make it. Horror movies have the delicious cathartic option of killing off its leads without ruining your buzz, whereas had Napoleon Dynamite died while having his head dunked in the toilet, it would’ve died on the vine. The dynamics between the characters in zombie movies, often thrown together by circumstance rather than an actual supposed bond, have a more believable relationship than those of the families and friends in the Cool Movies.

“Shaun of the Dead” brings this all full circle. Shaun, the surfer on the low tide of life is the archetypical Cool Movie protag. He has a bigger loser for a best friend, an impossible dick for a roommate, a babe he doesn’t deserve for a tenuous girlfriend. The beauty of it is how the zombies make their presence gradually known. In Shaun’s world, the line between the walking living and the walking dead goes unnoticed until the scale begins to tip toward the undead. His trials and triumphs are bigger than the average horror movie knight, which I cannot detail without ruining it, but trust me, he does more psychic damage to himself than he does to the slobbering monsters he eventually slays.

I am not, as a rule, a “Horror Fan.” I don’t sludge out to every slasher thing that comes out, and the humor of circus sideshows like Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses” has faded on me. I still have hope for the Cool Movie. I know they are still out there, waiting to hatch. But until the financial backing runs out on the current spate of Feel-Indifferent-Movies, my reserve is bolstered with the knowledge that there are always more zombies.


Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Matt Sweeney – Superwolf

Caveat Lector: I am a huge, unabashed Will Oldham fan, and have a difficult time separating the wheat from the chaff in his wide river of song, since it is all tasty wheat to me. Some folks have a Morrissey, or a Nick Cave, or still even an Elvis that they can anchor their boat with, someone who can always be counted on and even in times when they don’t deliver, there is a surplus of devotion to spackle these small holes in continuity. Will Oldham is my Morrissey.

All that said, Bonnie Prince Psuedonym has teamed up with frequent cohort and ex-Chavez and Zwan member Matt Sweeney to create one of the best records Sweet William has ever blessed with his ever-smoothening falsetto. One of the things I love about Will Oldham’s output is the static pulse of his records, whether it be the stark world of “Arise Therefore, the opium den that is “Get On Jolly” or even the rollicking country romp of his recent “Bonnie Prince Billy Sings Greatest Palace Songs”, his records flow by like a barge on the river (except that they usually adopt a slower pace that your average hotshot barge) This time around, the music revolves around the medium speed plaintive canticle of Matt Sweeney’s guitar and slight augmentation, while the two harmonize singing abstract hymns to love and sex and the sun. It’s one of the least pompous of Will’s records (and I like his pompousness) in that he seems totally comfortable sharing the marquee with his partner.

The spooky slow-burner “My Home is the Sea” lends credence to the “Neil Young X Postmodernism = Will Oldham” equation oft thrown out when describing him, while doing what very few Billy songs do – pick up the pace half way and rock out. There are plenty of beauty-seeking duets between the two like “What Are You” and the transcendent centerpiece “Bed is For Sleeping” perhaps the prettiest song he’s ever done.

Also present are the trademark churchy numbers like the spiritual locust swarm of “Goat and Ram” and the non-ironically uplifting “Lift Us Up.” A highlight track for me is the is the nearly monochromatic “Blood Embrace” where the music wavers in and out of corporeality under Will’s stark tale of betrayal and revenge, complete with a cinematic sample from some movie that makes this song flicker, like cinema projection though a haze of smoke.

In an era of long albums, “Superwolf”s 44 minute running time makes this album the perfect length, slithering by you, picking up psychic lint shed as you spellbound listen without eroding you, which even I will admit, some of Will’s former snail paced output has a tendency to do. This album free of trickery and bombast is perhaps my new favorite from my old favorite and I gleefully hereby spread the word.


The Black Keys – Rubber Factory

Amongst music nerds with a big-picture viewpoint and tendency for hyperbole, there is a common drinking game instigated by the utterance: “OK, Best Rock Band Ever…” and a vortex of time opens up swallowing all attentions away from bored girlfriends and ongoing pool games so that all available energies may be applied to the given task. To put in true dork context, its like as if lights would dim on the Enterprise so that Warp engines could be fully torched and push our beloved crew to their Final Destination. There are a variety of contenders: The Ramones invariably come up (whereas the Influential Sex Pistols almost never do), as do The Velvet Underground and The Clash and Neil Young and Crazy Horse. If the hoary Beatles or Rolling Stones get mentioned, the collective scoffs hang in the air like vapor trails – now is not the time for voting with the major parties, now is the time to collect signatures for your particular Nader. I’ve heard plenty of minor leaguers brought up (some by me) like Oasis, The Pixies, The Sonics, The Fall etc etc – all bringing about a spate of goatee stoking and thoughtful effort put into support/refutation, but I think my finest hour came when I threw down The Black Keys.

From Akron, OH, via the wellspring of swampy blues that is Fat Possum records, spring this raw electric guitar and drum duo, stripping away trappings of style and fashion to just rocking the fucking house. Their earlier albums “The Moan”, “The Big Come-Up” and the spectacularly greasy “Thichfreakness” get at the core of apple Jack White and Jon Spencer are satisfied to merely polish and place on the teacher’s desk. The Black Keys exemplify what I truthfully want in a bar band: get my head bobbing, make me do a kick-drum shuffle with my foot as I ignore the drink in my hand, make me wanna holler “YEAH!” at the end.

This new album “Rubber Factory” sees them following their previous blueprint with a little growth as songwriters. The fiddle-scraping opening dirge of “When the Lights Go Out” captures the slow rotation of the earth of Delta Blues while infusing it with the mechanical sturm and drang of a lower-wattage Swans, while rockers like “10 AM Automatic” and “Stack Shot Billy” kick out the dark blues cobbler, proudly bearing their sources (Rolling Stones’ “I’m Losing You” and the standard “Trouble in Mind” of which freaking Moby made a career) To mean the real shining moment is the tender slide and acoustic ballad “The Lengths” that glimmers in the twilight like the best songs by The Band. The Black Keys dovetail nicely with the new breed of Americana artists ( term that is on par with “electronica” in bloodlessness and lame-ity, but to evoke “alt.country” seems an even more egregious offence) like Drive-By Truckers and Slobberbone, that are not secretly hoping to get to be poet-in-residence offers at small progressive English departments so that they may pursue their own personal Townes Van Zandt ghosts in comfort, (though Patterson Hood of DBT would probably be game for it, now that I think of it) but wanna take their brilliance on the road and trail that other Van Zandt spectre. And I don’t mean Little Stevie.

I never could completely convince my partners in crime that The Black Keys are worthy of the Golden Pitcher at the aforementioned council meetings, or that they even qualify for competition, but love is not primarily an objective enterprise, and I love this lil band and will take it any day over whatever dark horse you are backing with equal devotion. And that’s what makes being a big music nerd worth while.

Monday, January 10, 2005


I was a distraught teen with tendencies for overreaction, and think how Xiu Xiu would've been talking about my life, man, just like I thought Bauhaus was.

Xiu Xiu – Fabulous Muscles

Ah youth! Carefree and full of mischief! Trotting down gravel roads, setting a hoop to spin with trusty stick, beloved pals in tow. Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu seems to have a had a similar halcyon childhood, ‘cept his was augmented by cold leather daddies who made scary use of his oft-mentioned anus and left him weeping in the rain, the cries of his cracked adolescence bouncing off dead ears to head to the unfeeling moon. OK, I don’t actually know Jamie Stewart or anything, but if the overwrought melodramatic frank narrative of Xiu Xiu’s output is to be believed to be 25% true, the boy did not grow up on Walton’s Mountain.

Xiu Xiu the band backs up JS’s histrionics (picture a more dramatic sounding Connor Obrest, if you can) with a combination of video game bleeps, sensitive acoustic guitars, an exploratory bass, with a rhythm so disjointed that it has not experienced since The Blue Nile’s “A Walk Across the Rooftops.” I think they fall into some post-emo nether category with fellow drama club stars Destroyer and the aforementioned Bright Eyes guy. And every fiber of my musical tastes wants to hate this corny off-Broadway-musical-grade shit, but then I harken back to when I was a distraught teen with tendencies for overreaction, and think how Xiu Xiu would’ve been talking about my life, man, just like I thought Bauhaus was. And, the songs, bent as they are, are pretty catchy. The opening “Crank Heart” sounds like a Merlin has gone horribly awry, and this was the last goddamn straw for our hero. Highlights for me are the scathing polar-opposite-of-Toby-Keith “Support Our Troops”, bravely indicting soldiers directly for being part of a cold, violent war with the after-school special bravery of the spazz finally standing up to the jock; “I Love the Valley (Oh!)” is like Joy Division gone roller skating and the plaintive title track contains the winner lyric of the whole this thing:

Cremate me after you cum on my lips
Honey boy place my ashes in a vase
Beneath your workout bench

All of a sudden, Morrissey’s wanting to plummet off the Ferris wheel seems rather well adjusted.

The whole thing reeks of piqued teen angst, but so much so that it totally works and I unabashedly love this weepy lil group, bless their tortured hearts.

Outsideleft: The Return of the Boredoms

Boredoms – Seadrum/House of Sun

Ask anyone who is either too cool for school, or is an import-hungry troglodyte collector, and they will tell you that the band to beat nowadays is The Boredoms. They made the big splash in the halcyon days of Shimmy-Disc with their sub-noise-belch-from-rocker-hell “Soul Discharge” and have released a not entirely known quantity of impossible to find albums that will open your lazy ears on up. If one is to chart their ascent, they started with a garage racket reproducible if Pussy Galore was fronted by baboons, into some just plain weird music on “Chocolate Synthesizer” and “Onanie Bomb Meets the Sex Pistols”, where primal screams and feces-smearing regression meets the most original sonic dynamics this side of John Zorn, a frequent collaborator. eYe, the lead Boredom went on to gain further notoriety being the definition of frenzy for Zorn’s “Naked City” group, whilst the guitarist Yoshimi collaborated with Princess of Kool Kim Gordon in Free Kitten.

They labored in multitudinous side bands and tiny releases until 1999 when they released the modern psychedelic masterpiece “Vision Creation Newsun.” And I don’t mean psychedelic like Brian Jonestown Massacre but like what Pink Floyd are purported to sound like – head opening rhythmic biorhythms from the palpitating cosmos. This new one, come 6 fucking years later, follows the same tack but elongated and distilled. “Seadrum”, the first of two mammoth tracks, was recorded on the beach, where drum sets were stood up to face the tide, with the rush causing a static rumble in the bass and cymbals. On top of that, eYe, who has transformed himself into a rather singular DJ (no mean feat) mixes in various drum and rhythm tracks, WHILE Yosihmi drags her hand up and down the keys of a piano, creating a maddening-yet-soothing-after-you-submit new Exotica, the like of which could only be produced by a frazzled army of zombie Matrin Denny’s. It’s almost more taxing to describe than it is to listen to all the way though. But I swear, once you get used to the taste, nothing else will satisfy the Boredom hunger. They may be the ultimate cult band in that respect.

“House of Sun” is a more somber affair, with guitars and sitars meeting in a constant solar drone, and really, there is not a whole lot more to be said. Honestly, it’s not their best effort, since the Boredoms used to put all this and more into a 2 minute song, but both tracks in their 15-20 minute lengths do manage to astrally project you into their peculiar dimension if you are willing. My advice: get a copy of “Vision Creation Newsun” and become converted in the way of the Boredom before strutting down the aisle to handle the serpents with this release.

Sunday, January 9, 2005

outsideleft: Do Yourself a Favor, be daniel Johnston's Savior

Tribute albums are like airplane food to the serious music fan. They really want to hate their arrival, dry unsavory resemblance of the real thing doled out by people who are paid pretend to care that you are hungry for it. But also like airplane food, you know you secretly salivate for it when you see that cart emerge from the hidden nexus of the plane. You secretly hope “This will be the one. This one will be delicious.” That chicken sandwich will be delicious, transforming the start of the journey into a vacation unto itself. And, my theory is all serious music fans are closeted or unrealized musicians and that they are waiting for the moment that someone recognizes your dedication and asks you to be the dark horse addition no one has heard of on track 13. Personally, I am going to start on my ukulele rendition of “Michigan State” for the eventually appearing I Put the Ovaries in my Mouth: A Tribute to Devendra Banhart, so it’s ready when I’m asked.

All that said, I always check them out, and this one is maybe the best tribute album ever, in terms of structure, packaging, and content. Everyone is in their Sunday best to interpret the honored mentally unstable songwriter best know to the outside world, if at all, for making that alien t-shirt that Kurt Cobain was famous for wearing. Lesser known is he for the devastatingly, openly honest and powerful love songs he’s belted out with his squeaky voice and reed organ into the Panasonic Portable of the Heart for years. The hit to miss ratio is rather high on the hit side, with Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes winning the spirit stick for his alternative-rock-tastic take of “Impossible Love” and the Eels taking a wistful run though “Living Life,” imbuing it with his/their own peculiar wash of happy-sad. TV on the Radio, a current big deal that had bypassed me somehow offer a good “Walking the Cow” even tough it sounds like Peter Gabriel being backed by someone drumming a bedspring. Clem Snide, an alt-country underdog I’ve dubbed “the New 97’s”, who caught my attention the first time with a cover of VU’s “Sunday Morning” turn in a splendid “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Your Grievances”, as does Vic Chesnutt, who in some circles is considered like Daniel Johnston, but crippled instead of crazy, stepping in with “Monkey in a Zoo”, making it his own. Hip Priest of the Overrated, Tom Waits kicks in with a surprisingly effective “King Kong” accompanying himself on (gasp) human beatbox. Elsewhere is Beck, (the replacement for Sonic Youth as for omnipresent tribute-album-contributor) Death Cab for Cutie, M Ward, Calvin Johnson and Mercury Rev (has their singer always had such a weird voice, or was all that reverb out of necessity on “Yerself Is Steam?”) all provide satisfactory renditions, and the few sub-par contributions are good enough that they don’t mar things up. Were I to have time traveling and unstoppable powers of persuasion, I’d have had The Mountain Goats do a cover of my favorite DJ ramble “I Save Cigarette Butts” but (sigh) no one consulted me….

Now, reviews like this can be annoying to the unconverted, so this comp gets the gold fucking star for including a track for track second CD of all the originals, so that you can go reference what inspired this pantheon. Daniel Johnston’s pathos is in amazing effect here, running the gambit from his hissy cassette early years to various indie rock prop-ups in the late 80’s-90’s. Plus, pop that cd into your TV-typewriter and you get a multi-media Flash thingy with all the song lyrics, a huge scrolling index of Daniel Johnston original artwork (like I stopped flipping through it at about 50) all for sale, with links to the purchase site. They are all around $150 I believe, which is too tempting to pass up. The only indulgence on the part of the documentarians is the creepy Flash 101 “video” to the only new track, “Rock This Town.” That song, by the way, is the perfect anchor on this CD. Daniel sounds cigarette addled and maybe even a little drunk, being backed up by a thrashy outfit on this uncomfortable hymn to being fucked-up. It reminds you that Daniel Johnston is not some Tiny Tim curiosity, but a real damaged person, who does not poetically dance on the razor between insanity and genius, but a guy that really has a loose grip and needs help to keep from plummeting down the well, like he has numerous times before when he ventured out on his own.

This brings me to why this compilation is worth your dime (two cd’s for one cd price). The proceeds of the CD and the artwork sale are all going to Daniel, and the story I’ve heard, is that his parents are trying to buy the house next door, so he can move out of their basement and lead a semi-independent productive life but be reigned in when need be. I personally thing Daniel Johnston is not only a good performer, a great songwriter, but an actual important artist. One who has the call to open his heart to us, and one to which we can open our wallets.