Monday, March 31, 2008

[outsideleft] I Can't Believe I'm Writing About Gnarls Barkley

Gnarls Barkley
The Odd Couple
(Downtown Recordings/Atl)

I can’t believe I find myself in 2008 writing about Gnarls Barkley, not because I think they are a worthless pop act; in fact they are one of the few worthy ones. “Crazy” is possibly the only song of now that people will still be singing into the next decade, surely at weddings and high school reunions, but I have witnessed an R&B cover band make a stab at it in a smoky, sparsely populated club, and those folks never let go of a song. It’s just that I had them pegged as being the next great participator in the sophomore slump, but here on their second record named for an outmoded TV show (I wonder what kind of wig Cee-Lo will rock for The Golden Girls, which assuredly is in the pipeline. Also, M*A*S*H is the obvious name for the eventual remix record) they are tight as Felix Unger’s asshole, parading a mix of spot-on pop frills over a bed of sultry melancholy.

On The Odd Couple, the group makes exactly that: odd bedfellows are organized out of stale easy listening and post-everything processing. The obvious hits should be addressed first. “Run” is Quincy Jones boogie, Supremes hands out shimmy and Aretha Franklin gospel soul power all condensed for the can’t-get-over-Austin-Powers set. Meaning that its 60s percolations are obvious as hell, but they feel weirdly fresh, like the way a Twinkie does when you crack open the seal. “Going On” is even better with a similar organ grinding its way under those handclaps and beats as Cee-Lo colds sweats classic I-gotta-go empty promises to wait for the girl that just can’t hang. Danger Mouse’s production is perfectly plastic, or maybe vinyl is the correct substrate, given the predominance of crackle in this record.

The song that I hope really takes over is “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul.” I had fear they were going to give Jewel’s saccharine classic the business like they did with Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone” on the last record, but not, it’s an honest question pondered over a dark Spanish guitar-touched groove one could picture Nina Simone sashaying through.

The rest of the record swings with similar ecclesiastic dexterity. The opener “Charity Case” is as much Radiohead as it is Astrud Gilberto, understanding, like both those artists, that the sun shines all the brighter when refracted in a teardrop. “Open Book” and “Would Be Killer” are both dark numbers that reminds me all the world of Tricky when he was at his hyperventilated, urban noir peak. “Whatever” is their simulacrum of classic mod insouciance, while “Surprise” shares traits with the bleached out soul of groups like The Lettermen.

Really, there is nary a bum track here, but there is a homogeneity in the overall sound that makes the songs in the latter half fall a little flat, only because you totally get it already by the time they come around. The ballad “No Time Soon” is exhausting in its hodgepodge of pop memorabilia. It’s like having someone show you their entire vintage lunchbox collection; it looks great from across the room, but the details are only of interest to the collector. But let me reiterate, each number here will sound brilliant when it slides out of a restaurant of hair salon sound system, and unlike most other things that do so, it might even have a longer life than the meal or the haircut.

[outsideleft] Spring Heel Jack: Ghosts Outside the Machine

Spring Heel Jack
Songs and Themes
(Thirsty Ear)

I recently attended a concert of electronic new music composed for a special 20+ channel sound system involving racks of gears, teams of technicians, composers on site, a Wiimote, etc etc, and out of this apparatus I wanted epiphany. It is what I always want from electronic music, form any music, really, but especially electronic music, where the pallet is limitless. So what do I get instead? Dial tones and rain on a tin roof and blips and bleeps, with a TMX upgrade. My experience with techno/house/IDM/glitch/jungle whatever is similar. The world is your oyster, but everything you serve up still tastes like oysters. So I put on the latest Spring Heel Jack with little expectation, knowing them as one of the more respected/sanctified names in the above virgule-bracketed groupings.

And it hasn’t left my iPod for a week. Turns out they took a left turn from leftfield at some point and invited some live musicians in on the party and have turned into a sublime jazz-meets-chamber music group, crafting some of the sweetest dream music this side of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Songs and Themes is as lovely an album this lean could possibly be. It is unclear what parts of this album are wrought out of core members Ashley Wales’ sampler or John Coxon’s guitar, and what parts are delivered by their stellar cast of guests: bassist John Edwards, trumpeter/flautist Roy Campbell, drummer Tony Marsh or guitarist J. Spaceman (ok, his telltale soaring guitar is plainly heard on “1,000 Yards”) and generally it doesn’t matter. These pieces are individually, and as a whole, exercises in the tension of close interplay and restraint. “With Out Words” features a string section swell crashing on the shore as if in search of a full orchestra, washing in bits and pieces of a jazz tune with it on each splash.

“For Paul Rutherford,” a duet of Campbell and Marsh, is the sound of Miles Davis recordings bouncing on the surface of the moon, all dressing stripped away by the journey, leaving only the breath of the horn and the patter of toms. The larger ensemble pieces, like “Folk Players” while being rather plush in texture, are still as haunting – the vibes rattle against he slow moan of the violin invaded by the guitars and cymbals, all making perfect sense without betraying their secret logic. This is what I want out of adventurous music; make it so lovely that there is no point figuring out how it is made. “Atiphon” could easily refer to the responses in Gregorian chant or the Athenian orator that shares its name, in that it seems to be responding in eloquent and pointed tones to a question floating in the air. The album shimmers with grace and power let out in precise amounts, ethereal while remaining its warmth; seamless yet open-ended. The kind of thing I wouldn’t mind hearing on a million dollar soundsytem right before the word ends, but for now, I’ll just keep playing this disc on whatever lesser mechanisms I have on hand.



I just learned this from a course I am editing:

Michelangelo died on the same day in 1564 that Galileo was born.

Galileo died on the same day in 1642 that Sir Isaac Newton was born

I saw a pronunciation of Rene Descartes' name in the margins and was hoping he was born the day Newton died and it would reveal a chain of

GG Allin
Marilyn Manson

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I Become a Transparent iPod

This is the new proposed opening salvo in the book, still gestating under the name Needle on the Record. The play on Ralph Waldo Emerson's "I become a transparent eyeball" hit me as the perfect name for a blog last night (and by stating it here, I officially call dibs on it), but it turned into an essay this evening.

I Become a Transparent iPod

Emerson retreated into divinity and college politics, Thoreau repaired off to a pond and I dive my head into music, seeking something more than escape. Escape really doesn’t do much in that you are trading here for there, and in the reflection that goes into a book like this, my here was neither particularly terrible nor heroic. My life has been spent largely in the middle, the places the poets avoid. Escape only takes you closer to some extreme in life, closer and closer to the edge, and on those edges the view gets skewed.

Poets live on those edges and their skewed views are what feeds me, I think that is why I like talking about music so much. I hear it coming at me from all degrees of the horizon: from quiet pastoral sadness, from agonizing rage, from the bliss one finds in the vicinity of abandon.

If one is viewing life as a spinning disc of vinyl, and I often am, you run through all these degrees, dragging your needle along the carefully worn paths always approaching that middle and making the scratch of that needle rattle out noises that approach the truth that lies at the spindle, the rotating core.

That core is, of course, a void, a hole, the abyss, surrounded by a label, and on that label is where a critic does his or her work; they try to make some sense of the rattle from the periphery and condense it into useful information, into something that is meaningful to someone besides just the author.

Now, I could take this further and try to explain the significance of flipping a record as an allegory of devil’s advocacy, the sleeve as societal perception, record companies as the tightfisted disseminators of human experience, letting life out in spurts, or even the fact that CD’s are read from the center out, icy lasers bouncing off icier mirrors, starting at a fundamental truth and turning it into a series of strung together facts that sound like the truth, and that is why there is less romance associated with them than is attributed to records, or even how an iPod is nothing but a warehouse off all that condensed into a plastic manifestation of the will, changing realities at one spin of the thumb; but I think I’ve done enough of that.

This book is less about records themselves, less about the musicians that make the records, less about the exploits of the person that heard these records than it is about the transcendence that comes from filling one’s life with the sounds, thinking about all that and then talking about it. Emerson himself portrayed such a person that does this sort of thing in his famous essay “The Transcendentalist” as thus:

They are lonely; the spirit of their writing and conversation is lonely; they repel influences; they shun general society; they incline to shut themselves in their chamber in the house, to live in the country rather than in the town, and to find their tasks and amusements in solitude.

This fits me to a cripplingly nerdy T, locked away behind headphones, off the tracks of common merry sentiment, finding instead the often cacophonous roads of the mind to be the places I do my best traveling. He throws me further under the bus by saying

With this passion for what is great and extraordinary, it cannot be wondered at, that they are repelled by vulgarity and frivolity in people.

I am first to admit I am quick to scale my ivory towers fleeing from the popular side of music. Examining why I don’t embrace the music of the swell, or why they do does nothing but bolster my loneliness and shuts me further away in that house in which Emerson has me placed. I’m given to broad pronouncements and lots of sweeping corralling of this art that I love, but it’s not because I am a taxonomic dictator, trying to order my loner existence with a lot of finger pointing and checking off of criteria; it’s because I’m trying to build something out of all this experience of listening.

Theories about musicians and styles of music only serve a purpose when they can actually take you somewhere. For instance, I contend that jazz is a vehicle that takes popular music on a journey it was ill-equipped to undertake; a nice tidy sentiment one can put up on the mantle or take out in the backyard and shoot full of holes. But take that a step further, I think listening is a vehicle that takes the listener and the listened to places neither was able to reach.

So here I now sit, ensconced in a cocoon of music, reflecting on music-filled cocoons past, examining the why’s and how’s of this process in an effort climb the metaphysical staircase spiraling up from that spinning record below, in hopes that when I reach the top, the viewed will afford me something useful not only to myself, but for anyone willing to listen.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Worst Band in the Universe, Except Good

Maya's impressions of Arnold Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16, 1st Movement: "Vorgefühle (Premonitions)"

This sounds like Tom & Jerry music.

Like, right there is where Tom hits Jerry with a shovel.

This is getting really loud!

That sounded like a fart! Like a giant fart!

This sounds like The Worst Band in the Universe! You know, that book at the library? Except good.

The songs we sing, they're not supposed to mean a thing

Upon listening to the lackluster Morrissey Greatest Hits that needlessly plods over ground that has been either trod enough times ("Suedehead") or looked a little too shaky for walking on the first time ("Irish Blood, English Heart") I was sent back to explore his greatest hit*, 1992's Your Arsenal.

I just now, sixteen years later, got the joke in the album's title, but this was a record whose real rewards were immediately apparent. Maybe its because it was on the tour for this album that I witnessed New Gay Elvis Plus in the flesh, but this record is the one that packs the most wallop.

Especially, "We'll Let You Know" when he boasts/laments we are the last truly English people in the world, he meant all the lost souls in the New Orleans State Palace Theatre, some recovered from tragic teen years, some not (on shirtless skinny wastrel on the other side of the Gen Adm barrier had "Frankly" written across his anemic chest in marker, with "Mr. Shankly" on the back. I fetched him a gladiola that Big M had thrashed on the stage and tossed into the crowd) all swooning the dark to his rough trade poster boy rockabilly outfit that backed him.

I've seen roughly a pazillion concerts since then and this one still sticks in my mind, when the security manhandled a gold lamé clad minion that had made it to the stage, and Morrissey cutting the show rather short, I think without an encore. It was glorious, perfect, trenchant, pissy, bratty, laughable-ha-ha-ha-ho-ho just like the record. Any line on it is brilliantly quoteable: If we can destroy them, you bet your life we will destroy them. That is a slogan you can march to.

*out of his solo records. The Queen is Dead is a whole different animal.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

[Really Listening] Cajun Country Music in Thibodaux

Cajun Country Music in Thibodaux
A moment of reflection at the confluence of bayous.
Story and photos by Alex V. Cook
April 2008

When we talk about local culture, what do we really mean? Do we mean preserving that which grew from our native soil in deference to that which was imported? Are we obliged to become fans of that indigenous culture, even when it is something that, left to our own devices, we’d pass on? These are the things that occupied my mind one Monday afternoon when I jumped in my car directly after six hours of teaching to drive the hour and a half to Thibodaux, to take in the Cajun music sessions at the Jean Lafitte National Park’s Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center. I love Cajun music probably more than I like it, in that what it represents—the rarely seen human instinct to not let something be destroyed over time—is inspiring to me. I love the community spirit of it, the way old people get out to dance, the sprinkling of young people who keep its flame fueled. I’ve said it before, we have something really special here in Cajun culture, and frankly, it is remarkable that it has survived as well as it has. I’m humbled that I get to participate in it under the auspices of this column.

That said, I don’t really listen to too much Cajun music on my own, outside of a research capacity. When I pulled out some CDs for this trip, I didn’t go for Cajun music. What Cajun music I have is historical in nature, recorded by Alan Lomax in the ‘thirties and Dr. Harry Oster in the ‘fifties. Instead I chose a group of local current rock bands, namely new CDs by Harlan and Cohen and The Ghost, partially because the drive meant I had a solid block of time to listen to them for review purposes, and partially because I wanted to go into this trip with open ears.
The Wetland Acadian Culture Center is a well appointed brick building on Highway 1, right in the middle of Thibodaux, containing a public library, museum and performance hall. A historical marker out front claims that it sits at the “Confluence of Bayous” a rather melodious term for the junction of Bayous Lafourche and Terrebonne. The Acadians came in 1785, and the Village of Thibodaux was founded on the banks of this confluence a few years later.

The informal concert was underway when I entered the well appointed theatre. Eight musicians were on stage, and about triple that were in the audience, unfortunately underscoring the waning public interest in the music. The group was not a tight dancefloor-seasoned outfit, rather a group of non-professionals that had an interest in keeping the informal back porch jam side of Cajun music alive. The park ranger Bill Finney shared with the group that his French teacher had helped him out with some lyrics and he was going to attempt singing in French, and there they went. The performers were as follows: Roland Landry on harmonica, Finney and Camille LeBoeuf on acoustic guitar, Larry LeBoeuf on the most gorgeous ’64 Fender Jaguar I have had the pleasure of seeing and hearing (“I bought it new when I was nineteen and am still playing it today at sixty-three,” said LeBoeuf.), Willy Champagne on acoustic guitar, Francis Foret on fiddle, Norman Landry on accordion and rhythm guitar (he also sang in French and English), and Agnes Landry keeping the boys in line on the tee fer (“little iron”, less exotically known as the triangle.)

What came out of this group was not the well-oiled machine that you get in a Breaux Bridge dance hall. Instead it was contemplative in nature. These lovesick waltzes issued into the air like smoke from a flame that burned hotter decades ago. The ambiance was sweet and informal; at one point Finney asked if there were any out-of-towners in the audience, and a group from Virginia and a couple from Pennsylvania introduced themselves and the performers chatted with them from the stage during the song breaks. It was about as friendly a concert as one could attend; one couple even got up and danced across the stage during one number, but the show made me a little sad; you could feel that this kind of performance was not going to be around much longer.

Then, they kicked into “Evangeline” and it all abruptly pivoted. Larry and his Jaguar gave the tune a haunting, almost Hawaiian undertone, while two harmonicas slowly weaved in a dreamy hum to the accordion lines. It gave this tune I’ve heard a million times a celestial quality, without taking anything away from the traditions from which it came. I was shocked at how beautiful this tune could become when people brought their own experiences to it. It reminded me that culture is a living thing, if it stagnates, it dies, and Cajun life, like everything else in the universe, is perpetually evolving. It will never be like it used to be, but thanks to folks like these, it can grow into something just as special.

[225] Lazy Lester highlights bluesy lineup

Most stories about the blues involve a train, but in Lazy Lester’s case, it was a bus.

Lester, born Leslie Johnson in 1933, grew up in Scotlandville and spent his teen years playing harmonica with a local group, the Rhythm Rockers, cutting his teeth on gigs with Guitar Gable. But he hungered for the big time. One fateful day in the mid-1950s, he headed to Rayne on the bus and spotted Lightnin’ Slim riding to Crowley to cut a record at Jay Miller’s Studio for Excello Records. Lester skipped his stop and followed Slim to the studio. The scheduled harp player, Wild Bill Phillips, was a no-show, and Lester convinced Miller and Slim he was up to the task. From there he became a mainstay on Miller’s roster.

In 1957, Lazy Lester, a nickname bestowed on him by Miller because of his languid vocal style, saw the first single under his name, “I’m Gonna Leave You Baby/Lester’s Stomp,” released on Excello. He followed that with a string of hits like “I’m a Lover Not a Fighter” and “I Hear You Knockin’,” with his nasal drawl and explosive harmonica skills helping to define the Excello sound.

From the jump, Lester was recognized as a singer and harp player with soul and grit. His impact on Southern blues is evidenced by the Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau naming their annual swamp blues festival the Ponderosa Stomp after a Lazy Lester Excello side from 1966.

Most artists slow their pace in their 70s, but Lester has lost none of his punch. His 2001 Blue Rose album, Blues Stop Knockin’, proved Lester still to be a powerhouse performer for whom age has only made him stronger. And at a May 2006 performance at Buddy Stewart’s Rhythm Museum, Lester was in fine form, howling like a blues coyote, even putting the usually unflappable Kenny Neal through the paces. Lazy Lester’s appearance at this year’s Baton Rouge Blues Festival on April 26 promises to be no less exhilarating.

Blues Week 2008

April 19-26


Various venues around the Baton Rouge area

More information

[225] No Strings Attached

When trying to pigeonhole the Avett Brothers, critics cautiously throw around terms like “string band” and “folk rock” in an attempt to place the North Carolina acoustic trio into a tidy niche.

The thing is, they’ve outgrown it.

“We never considered ourselves any of those things, but I can see where people could have that impression of us,” bassist Bob Crawford says. “We were acoustic in instrumental lineup, and we used to play many of those old songs—‘Old Joe Clark,’ ‘Tom Dooley,’ ‘Diamond Joe.’ However, it didn’t take long for us to begin cultivating original music. Once that happened any comparison to the string bands or the like quickly fell away.”

With each release since their 2000 debut, Scott and Seth Avett along with Crawford have been honing their song craft by adding subtle texture to their initial homespun sound without sacrificing the timelessness of their songs. “I think you work with what you have,” Crawford explains. “In the past all we had were those instruments and our voices, and so that is what we made music with. More and more, we have access to more things to create with, so we will continue to experiment with new sounds and all the potential of the studio. The goal is that the truth of what we write comes through.”

The Avett Brothers will perform April 29 at the Manship Theatre in support of their latest album, Emotionalism, which netted Album of the Year at the 2007 Americana Music Awards.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

[The Record Crate] Garage Rock, Wiimotes and Barbeque

March 25, 2008
By Alex V. Cook

Many a second or third pitcher of beer has been spilled over the question: Who is the best rock band ever? I have heard compelling arguments for The Ramones and Fugazi, and have made them for The Fall and Richard Hell and The Voidoids, but no one has quite gone to the lengths to defend their case as Joe Bonomo did in his recent exhaustive book, Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America's Garage Band. In it, Bonomo follows lead Fleshtone Peter Zaremba from his first guitar purchase through 30 years of some of the finest teenage rebellion rock you've probably never heard. You will get your chance to fix that this Wednesday night when they play with the Junior League at the Spanish Moon (early show, doors open at 9 p.m.).

Also on Wednesday, the LSU School of Music and the Lab for Creative Arts and Technology will be showcasing their 27-channel ICAST system in Cinema for the Ears, a concert of cutting-edge electronic compositions at the Manship Theatre (8 p.m.), including the premier of LSU composer David Beck's "A Little Light Sabre Rattling," a piece for Wii controller and computer. These laidback concerts in the past have offered everything from the playful to the challenging, demonstrating dynamic sound at its most creative.

New Orleans jazz and funk legend Kermit Ruffins is swinging into Chelsea's this Friday for a rare Baton Rouge appearance. In 1983, Ruffins co-founded the Rebirth Brass Band, and his weekly gig with the Barbeque Swingers at Vaughn's in the Bywater has been an integral part of New Orleans' musical fabric for more than 15 years. No word on whether Kermit will bring his apron and tongs to Chelsea's -- he's famous for cooking at his shows -- but the groove will be thick and juicy regardless.

Click here for the calendar of this week's events

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

5 Things About My New Job

  1. My computer was set up in record time. Two flatscreen monitors, dual core machine. Nice office supply cabinet. Installed my own software, which is a plus, for me anyway. The office manager boasted that she can order anything, so I requested an electric tea kettle. I figured universities move at a glacier pace, but no they had everything up her before I cleared off the desk. In the past, I have wandered around corporate office of companies that purport to move at the speed of business for weeks, with managers humming, " now-wah.....where should we put you-wah..." hoping I would just go off and build a cubicle out of mud and thatch.
  2. The building I am in was once the on-campus hotel, so all the offices that have, or once had ,working suite bathrooms between them. Mine not only has a working toilet (longtime readers may note that I am in the position of becoming the bathroom monitor) but a working shower as well. There is a file cabinet in the shower stall, but someone came by this morning to see if the water was still connected, and it was. The creepiest part is that there is an ancient bar of soap still in the soap dish. If anyone else notices it, I'm going to say "I washed my face with it the other day and it seemed fine!" I also have a sink in my office.
  3. My window opens! This may not seem like a big deal, but I have never had an office where windows actually open. It is right above the downstairs entrance, and I just got a whiff of cigarette smoke. It also has a door that closes which is another first. I am told that this spot is temporary, since it is where the bathroom and coffee pot are.
  4. I am within biking distance from home so once I suffer the indignity of helmet selection, I am on the road to cardio-vasucular, environmental and recreational well-being in my commute.
  5. My favorite coffee shop of all-time is directly outside my nearest exit. And the campus is probably the loveliest place in town.

[outsideleft] Blasters of War: Thee Silver Mt. Zion

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band
13 Blues for Thirteen Moons

I was not around for the era of Vietnam protests to know if it applies to all rallying cries, but those against the Iraq war seem tinted with futility; there is a sense that registering complaint against the war is akin to speaking to the manager about poor customer service. We need to have our voices heard, but we seem to make no pretense about the things said being acted upon. Is this what the service economy is really about, a systematic silencing of dissent through half-lidded acknowledgment so that a response of “Duly noted” is good enough?

Montreal’s angriest mouthful Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band has been one of the clearest voices against the war. Perhaps changing their name from “A Silver Mt. Zion” to “Thee Silver Mt. Zion” indicated that the point to their arrows have a more specific target than was expressed in their earlier choir outings. The first 12 tracks on this album consist of a flowing piercing signal, as if a lost cosmonaut was trying to get through, flowing into the scratchy opening to “1,000,000 Died to Make This Sound.”


Monday, March 24, 2008

[Paste] Band of the Week: Fire on Fire

Band of the Week: Fire on Fire

Writer: Alex V. Cook
Feature, Published online on 19 Mar 2008

Hometown: South Portland, Maine
Fun Fact: This homespun acoustic group emerged from the prog-leaning art-punk collective Cerberus Shoal.
Why It’s Worth Watching: Fire on Fire is a medicine-show concoction of ragtime, acid folk and campfire swing without one touch of posturing.
For Fans Of: Be Good Tanyas, Bardo Pond, The Band

When it seems like every unwashed minstrel with a John Fahey CD, nylon guitar and a four-track recorder is hailed as a free-folk visionary, a band as good as Fire on Fire is downright refreshing. The group rose out of the underground experimental cabal Cerberus Shoal, when folk revisionist troubadour Micha Blue Smaldone moved into the group’s shared house in South Portland, Maine. This sense of communal closeness permeates the rustic alchemy on the band's debut EP (titled, fittingly enough, 5 Song EP).

“We have been living in the same house since the summer of '95,” says guitarist and doumbek player Chriss Sutherland. “It was traditionally the ‘Cerberus Shoal house,’ and then it became ‘our house’ with a healthy and full family tree. We recorded the EP in that house, so it's all in there. We took our time and recorded the music as we wanted to hear it.”

Fire on Fire's interplay on record is as natural as a coffee-table conversation, without any particular focus on one one person or style. “I don't think we place any overall importance on anything necessarily outside of the obvious,” Sutherland says. “We want the music to be good and we want to be friends.” That music bears the patina of time-worn folk melodies, while being inundated by a locust swarm of oud, harmonium, banjo and clapboard chapel choir vocals. Producer (and former Swans frontman) Michael Gira is an unabashed fan. “Whatever their style of music is doesn't matter to me,” he gushes. “I just know it's joyous music. It's not light by any means, but it's elating to hear and they are especially fantastic live.”

To many an ear, the fact that Fire on Fire emerged from the oft-cacophonous excursion of Cerberus Shoal could prove a bit puzzling. Sutherland, rather, sees the branching off as a pretty organic evolution. “I think if you look into that catalog you would find many examples of what was to come,” he says. “We took our time to develop as naturally as possible. The mix of time, circumstance, minds and hearts pulled the trigger.”

Infectious as the ragtime romp of “Amnesia” and the autumnal folk of “Hangman” are, its in the slow-building epic “Liberty Unknown” that Fire on Fire demonstrates the power of such a close unit. “We fought with our lungs/ we fought with our hands/ for liberty unknown to our waking minds,” the band chants with a fervor rivaling that of Gira’s free-form collective Angels of Light. Fittingly, as Fire on Fire preps its first full-length, that comparison may become closer to reality, as there is a chance the Angels may feature some Fire in the future.

“That has been discussed and is a definite possibility,” Gira says. Past Young God artists that have toured as Angels of Light include Akron/Family and Devendra Banhart. Seems like the future is looking bright for Fire on Fire.

MP3: Fire on Fire - "Hangman"

Sunday, March 23, 2008

RIP Al Copeland

Al Copeland, founder of Popeye's Chicken, passed away in Germany after battling cancer of the salivary glands. Clear proof of the Ironic Gods and their wrath. Is it wrong of me to hope that his final act in life was to tell his publicist,"Wait... this is perfect....tell them I had cancer of the salivary glands!"


If you ever have had the pleasure of some spicy Popeye's and those mind altering biscuits that were rumored to have 7-up in the batter, pour a little grease on the pavement for Al Copeland. For nothing else, he should be remembered for his over-the-top Christmas Light displays in New Orleans. He started out decorating his house, but when the neighbors complained about the traffic and got the authorities involved, he moved it to City Park (and at the State Capitol one year) where they became more over-the-top.

Also, he really pissed off Anne Rice that one time.

You know you want some chicken right now...

Happy Easter!

Joseph Beuys, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, 1965

From Joseph Beuys and The Body:

In ‘How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare’, Beuys cradled a dead hare lovingly in his arms for three hours, walking it around and showing his drawings to it whilst explaining them to it in an inaudible whisper. The hare symbolises birth for Beuys because it is born and burrows underground, later to emerge from the earth. The effect of Beuys’ body in the action is terribly important, the presence of a human being is difficult to ignore, especially as his head was covered in honey and gold leaf. The reaction would be far more different if Beuys had had his hare for example, reading about art from a book. The pictures on the walls, surrounding Beuys and the hare, are impossible to see all at once, and we realise that this is not so much about Beuys and a hare as it is about our own bodies, how we physically find ourselves in the world and how we relate to it. The problem of understanding and thus also of explaining is relevant to everyone.

In black and white, the harsh contrast of photographs of Beuys with his head covered in honey and gold leaf during the action are evocative of severe facial disfigurement reminiscent of Henry Tonks’ ‘Studies of Facial Wounds’ from the First World War. “By putting honey on my head I am clearly doing something involved with thinking”, Beuys said. The image of the man made mute by his thinking, his over-rationalisation, is deeply unsettling. Perhaps this serves to emphasise Beuys’ opinion that western society is too rational. Beuys claimed he preferred to explain pictures to a dead hare than to other people. He said, “A Hare comprehends more than many human beings with their stubborn rationalism ...I told him that he needed only to scan the picture to understand what is really important about it”.
If you thought Beuys honey-and-gold-covered face was too gruesome for sweet ol' Easter, just be glad I didn't put up a picture of what punk/performance art group The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black did with colored eggs. Or a video.

Also, let me be clear that while I am shaky on the whole Jesus thing, I am unwavering in my support of the Easter Bunny.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Giant, Far-away Things My Daughter and I Looked at This Evening

1. The Bass Pro Shop out on the outskirts of town.

Note that we are looking down onto the roof of a full-size cabin surrounded by the stocked catfish pond into which the elevator descends. We clowned around on the full size party barges they have on display on the sales floor. It has an acre of fishing rods on display. This place is cavernous and makes a person want to buy a lot of tricked out camping gear. I almost bought some walking shoes. And a long bow. And some elk summer sausage. Imagine if I was remotely interested in outdoorsy things, what I'd almost buy.

2. Saturn.
Granted, the view through the big telescope at Highland Road Park Observatory was not quite this dramatic, but it was big enough to pick out the rings and a slight shadow on the planet and Maya could see some of the color bands on the surface. Big enough to look fake actually until you wrap your head around the fact that you are looking at real goddamn Saturn out there.

Fun Saturn fact: picture the nice diagram of the orbits of the planets with each one in equidistant intervals. In reality, Saturn is over twice as far away from us as Jupiter. Jupiter is 4x the distance from Earth to the Sun, while Saturn is 9x that distance. It takes light an hour and a half to get here from Saturn while it only takes 8 minutes to get here from the sun. Which is impossibly far, and is nothing compared to how far away really distant things are. If we were stoned right now, you'd want to make out with me for saying that.

“I like to think of my bookshelves as an enormous store of potential energy.”

I actually don't feel that way at all about a bookshelf, but it is a quote from this post about one's bookshelves on the NYT blog Paper Cuts that got me thinking about it. For me personally, the books on my nightstand say more about the conflict of who I am vs. how I want to be portrayed.

"Who I am" really is: I use the library.

We have exactly one bookshelf in our house and this is it – a built-in next to the desk, and it serves the function that I suspect most bookshelves do - a resting spot for things that have no other reasonable place. The most literary people I know have bookshelves similarly stacked with junk and have almost never been a place where they run to get some forgotten tome at a moment of frenzied referncing.

Personally, and I know this is heresy to book people who will become engorged over the smell of the page and whatnot, I am ready to go digital with the whole thing, as I have done with music. I manage to listen to more music than anyone I know without utilizing a record player or treating as fetish items the cardboard and plastic in which the information is bound, and I suspect I could do the same thing with books. Don't get me wrong, I like a library or a used book store and rows and rows of spines as much or more than the next guy, but I don't need it.

That said, here is my annotated bookshelf and the potential energy it holds in calories

  1. Top Shelf
    1. Two old broken laptops and one broken external drive (0 calories)
    2. 85% functional clarinet in case (10 calories)
    3. Oversized headphones that I got with a four-track recorder (1 calorie)
    4. Box of blank CD-R's (100 calories – a friend buys me lunch once a month in trade for a mix CD)
    5. Box from iPod (0 Calories)
    6. Two photo books by Rauschenberg (5 calories – they rae in slipcases and you never idly crack open a book with a slipcase)
    7. Laptop power cable for the car (100 calories)
  2. Second-to-top shelf
    1. Stacks of loose CD's (10 calories)
    2. Fluxlist Box No. 1 (10 calories)
    3. Kickass little tube amp for microphone (50 calories, but the complexity of using it keeps it dusty)
    4. Mod Podge (matte and glossy) (75 calories)
    5. Stack of DVD sets (0 Calories – they might as well be old phone books for as often as they are watched)
    6. Small photo albums (50 calories)
    7. Tiny art books, like you get in museum gift shops (100 calories – A friend had a shelf of 100 of these and I considered stealing them one time during a party, I coveted them so much)
    8. Teaching award and cross pen given to me by a student (50 calories)
    9. 5 bottles of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab cologne (50 calories)
    10. Simpsons and Andy Warhol figurines (25 calories – I like them looking back down at me
  3. Middle shelf
    1. Shorter (in height) books
      1. Copies of my books (100 calories)
      2. Mythology books (10 calories)
      3. My Grandma's Bible (1 calorie)
      4. Alchemy and Mysticism: The hermetic Museum by Alexander Roob (50 calories – picture book of alchemical woodcuts that gets my head spinning)
      5. Other books (15 calories)
    2. Incense holder (20 calories)
  4. Second-to-bottom shelf
    1. A couple tallish books no one looks at/thinks about (5 calories) except
    2. Lynda Barry's The Greatest of Marlys (20 calories)
    3. Cormac McCarthy's The Road (currently 100 calories, since I read it a few months ago I still view everything I see through its dark filter. For instance, I did this whole meme just so I could say something about the book)
    4. Stacks of CD's in cases, supposedly my "to review" piles but is actually just a holding cell for processing (30 calories)
    5. Guitar tuner (60 calories)
  5. Bottom shelf
    1. Art Books (10-45 calories depending on my appetites)
    2. Two instructor manuals for one of my classes (5 calories – they could be replaced by a succinct outline rather easily)
    3. Ream of blank printer paper (200 calories – perhaps the only thing more directly useful than the guitar tuner)
    4. Copies of The Wire and Oxford American that contain my articles, ostensibly awaiting framing (50 calories)

Equalling a grand total of 1320 calories of potential energy, equaling roughly that of one Tony's frozen pizza.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Progress Report

30,000 words y'all.

I am deep into writing this thing, wanting to stop whatever else I'm doing and plug in a placeholder for yet another chapter, or drop 1,000 words about Richard Buckner or Thomas Dolby or the little wheels inside cassette tapes or my friend that set out across the country with the inside of his truck packed so tight that he couldn't get to his tape deck, which was loaded with a Conversational Spanish course. He couldn't hear the right speaker where the Spanish part was, so he just heard a stern voice saying
Where is the bathroom?


I'm allergic to fish.


This fork is dirty.

coming out of his left speaker, over and over, across America. I am planning to finish first draft of it by the end of April and then spend the next two months editing and tweaking and trashing and redoing whole slabs of it. The publisher likes what he's seen so far, and we are looking at it hitting the hands of eager readers toward the end of the year.

Sure, it is will be another log on the fire of premature memoirs that keeps many a picky reader warm at night but its not really a memoir as much as its a way of looking at life through the music you listen to, finding what is there in that gap between art and life that Rauschenberg mined. It will be like Killing Yourself to Live with less dating and better music. It will be titled Needle on the Record, until I come up with something better, but enough of what it will be. What it is - 30,000 words.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Paste: Review: Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology

My first article for Paste Magazine!

Big Dipper
Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology


Writer: Alex V. Cook
Review, Published online on 20 Mar 2008

College radio in the mid-'80s was fueled on Great Little Bands, and Boston’s Big Dipper was one of the greatest. “I can't get enough of that 'we loved you back then' stuff,” admits bassist Steve Michener. “College radio was the most important part of the music scene back then. Without it, bands like Dipper would never have gotten out of Boston.” Big Dipper formed in 1985 when Michener and Gary Waliek left the original lineup of Volcano Suns (Michener spent time in Dumptruck as well) and linked up with Bill Goffrier, fresh off The Embarrassment’s implosion. Big Dipper’s glory days of sunny alt-rock and final transmissions are lovingly documented here on the three-disc Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology.

Supercluster opens with the band's first EP, Boo Boo, the standout tracks of which, “Loch Ness Monster” and “Faith Healer,” sound just as fresh today. This is followed by Big Dipper's Homestead LP, Heavens, where the band really hit its stride. “She’s Fetching” is one of the all-time sweetest songs about loving a shy girl, but the song-by-song annotation in the liner notes explains there is more to it. “I told Bill that the word ‘fetch’ means the distance wind blows over water between two pieces of land,” says drummer Jeff Oliphant. “He used the definition, so the world’s greatest pop song has a nautical term.”

Whereas Heavens was the perfect soundtrack to the cautious steps of young love, Craps documented the stumbling of adulthood. The infectious “Ron Klaus Wrecked his House” is half-apology/half-glorification of self-destructive behavior, while the sad tales of “Hey! Mr. Lincoln” and “The Insane Girl” paint an accurate portrait of the post-graduation downward slide. Luckily, in “Bells of Love,” Waliek’s rippling solo manages to part the curtains and lets the sun in.

Big Dipper suffered a death-by-major-label in 1990 when Epic put out its oft-derided third 1990 record, Slam, which is not included on this compilation. (It wasn’t all that bad, really, but the cloudy skies of the Seattle-obsessed '90s made it hard for a power-pop band.) In its place is Very Loud Array, a 15-song set recorded after Michener left the band and Epic abruptly concluded the contract. Big Dipper sounds matured with a few of the edges smoothed over on “Restaurant Cloud,” while the inevitable dissolution was nakedly acknowledged on “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Its inclusion, and this set as a whole, serves as a fitting swan song for one of the greatest of the great little bands.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Record Crate: Jazz in Baton Rouge Exists!

The Spanish Moon continued pulling in the talent on their way to and from Austin's mammoth SXSW music festival this past week, the highlight of which was Wednesday night's packed house for Man Man, Blitzen Trapper and The Extraordinaires. I've seen Man Man's crowd-working mayhem a number of times before and was really looking forward to Blitzen Trapper, but The Extraordinaires were the ones that caught my ear the most. You rarely see a band have as much fun belting out sounds. The Philly band lists The Muppet Show and video game music composer Koji Kondo as influences, and it all makes sense in their wacky but completely engaging rock. And they are one of the few non-zydeco/Cajun bands of late to pick up an accordion during their set where I didn't wish they’d put it back down.

Hey, remember jazz? That sophisticated kind of music that people always wish there was more of around here? Chelsea's is keeping the torch lit with exquisite jazz guitarist Dave Mooney playing a dinner set on Wednesday followed by the Mike Foster Project later that evening, and the mighty New Orleans Jazz Vipers swing onto stage Thursday.

And double hey, a new club downtown, the M Bar, is hosting blues journeyman Nelson Adelard on Saturday. Adelard started out playing in L.A. clubs at age 15, and continued on to share stages with the likes of Muddy Waters and James Cotton. His 2006 album Unplugged was No. 10 on Living Blues magazine's annual countdown. Also if you haven't had a chance to catch the sophisticated punch of Lil Dave Thompson's Mississippi blues, he's at Teddy's Juke Joint on Friday.

Click here for the full events calendar

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

At Least It Didn't Turn Me Into Drew Carey

Watch me magically transform from stoney gad-about to celebrated animation master Hayao Miyazaki, right before your eyes. It's uncanny!

I'm gonna tell people he's my real dad, but I rebelled against the animation game, and decided to edit and develop distance learning course material for a large southern university, as I was just hired to do today. Fuck your cartoons, Dad. I'm teaching a man to fish, ya hear me?

MyHeritage: Celebrity Morph - Free family tree search - Family history

Monday, March 17, 2008

Outsideleft: Brian Jonestown Massacre: Idiots, or Harbingers of the Boring Endtimes?

Brian Jonestown Massacre
My Bloody Underground
(‘A’ Records)

Every year about this time, I am in some sort of occupational turmoil, a dull suburbanite manifestation of the global orgy that is spring trickled down to the life of a worker, and my listening habits are the most accurate reflection of this anxiety. My listening habits probably explain me the best – should I ever go back into therapy, I’ll just send the shrink my account and have him email me their analysis.

Lately, I hate everything in my inbox. It’s all so stupid. It makes me want to find every half-lidded half-wit with a guitar and myspace profile and a publicist, and whip them in the street with a belt for wasting all this opportunity, all their rock ‘n’ roll orgone on making stupid music. I listen to these things and wonder: do you really consider yourself a band? Is this really what you wanted to do? I read something recently where the tastemakers of Brooklyn have abandoned indie rock for organic produce and locally produced cheese as the defining attributes of their caste, and really who can blame them – it has a longer shelf life.

So what do I do but scavenge the past, looking for anything that will hit. In the past week I have been momentarily obsessed with Marc Almond, Yes, The Cars, The Lyres, Van der Graff Generator, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Ravi Shankhar, all possessing a flicker in the dark night only to be snuffed out by my own movements as I approach their warmth, leaving only a whisper of smoke. Who, I rage with fists clenched to the darkness. Who will save me from all this? Don’t make me start reading Beckett again….

Then suddenly I hear an almost metallic whinny on the torched plain, and band of horsemen, ragged and half-eaten by flies come thundering over the rise, bearing a bright pink pennant embroidered with a cartoon fist, middle finger raised. Brian Jonestown Massacre is here to save/destroy us and to spread the good news that everything is as dire as we think it is! Rejoice!


Anslem Kiefer's I Sette Palazzi Celesti (The Seven Heavenly Palaces)

I Sette Palazzi Celesti (The Seven Heavenly Palaces) is a massive permanent sculpture by Anslem Kiefer in the Hangar Bicocca, a former factory re purposed for large-scale installations in Milan, Italy.

If someone were to say that contemporary art is rubbish, and I was concerned with converting them to thinking otherwise, Kiefer would be the artist toward whose work I would point them. It is easy to be impressed by art of this scale, enourmous even for him, but in Keifer you find a deep Earth-sadness in him, something you cannot shake after witnessing it.

Here it is described by the Hangar website:

The Hangar Bicocca opened its doors to the public for the first time in September 2004, presenting the monumental work "The Seven Heavenly Palaces" that Anselm Kiefer created especially for the space, choosing to occupy the entire length of the largest aisle inside the central volume of the Hangar Bicocca.

Alluding to the Hebrew mysticism of the Kabbalah, the Book of Life, the artist created seven monumental towers out of reinforced concrete and lead symbolising the mystical experience of ascension through the seven levels of spirituality.

Emblems of the human condition, therefore, Kiefer's towers are real, inhabitable architectures, even if dangerously unfit for use, destroyed by time and the neglect of mankind, forgotten by history. The artist constructed the work by adopting the "universal section" of the container used for freight, symbol of the globalisation of the modern urban landscape, as a modular unit.

"The Seven Heavenly Palaces", a unique work of its kind for the materials used and for its monumental size, was purchased in 2005 becoming a permanent installation.

There is a photo inside of Kiefer joyously riding a bike around this mass of modern ruins, looking rather delighted. I hope that someone has a camera rolling when one of those teetering monsters collapses and takes out the rest of the towers with them. Having not visited the site, I can only venture the sense of unease one would have in that room, the fear that any jarring movement would bring all of this crashing to the floor. From this photo, I get the impression that there are forgotten bodies turning to dust on floors of those towers, or worse, someone peering back out from those doorways, waiting for us to go away.

Einstürzende Neubauten should do a concert with each member perched up on the top floor of a different tower, put some real "strategies against architecture" into motion.

Until that can be arranged for me, here is pianist Ludovico Einaudi performing on the lunar landscape of installation

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Honoring the Mad French on this St. Patrick's Day

I love all you temporary fake Irish and your aggressive green-ness. How did the environmental movement not capitalize on St Patrick's Day, challenging the world to really make things green this year. Maybe they did and I was too focused on free hot dogs with green mustard to notice.

My favorite thing about the non-existent patron saint of Ireland involves no Irish historical figures at all, but instead my favorite Frenchman. Antonin Artaud, the French playwright responsible to dismantling the illusionary nature of theatre in his book The Theatre and Its Double, found trouble putting his Theatre of Cruelty into commercially viable action, despite his popularity as a writer and actor, so he went on a trip to Mexico to study native tribes and peyote. He was forced by circumstance to kick his heroin habit on this arduous journey and his hallucinatory findings are detailed in broad, blood-soaked strokes in his semi-poetic Voyage to the Land of the Tarahumara. It's a gripping read if you're into the drug ravings of French madmen from the 30's, but I mean... who isn't into that?

Anyway, shortly after returning to France, Artaud discovered a walking stick that had obviously belonged to St. Patrick - the very stick with which the Saint chased all the snakes from Ireland's shores. This stick, which also had connections to Lucifer and Jesus - you try chasing snakes off an island without your bases covered, had no business being in France, so Artaud took it upon himself to return it to it's rightful home. Artaud was a well known figure in France, but on this steamer, he was a broke non-English speaking looney, and on the return voyage, he was confined to a strait jacket. Two questions come to mind: 1) Where is that stick now? and 2) Were straitjackets standard gear on steamer ships back then, just for situations like these? Are they now?

The incident severed poor Antonin's final nerve and he was shuffled around among asylums, hiding out in Vichy during the Nazi Occupation, until 1946, when the creative fire he previously held was rekindled (purportedly by electro-shock treatments) and he recorded Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de dieu (To Have Done With the Judgment of god) a wondrous cacophony of percussion, and frenzied raving that is, among other things: scatological, anti-American, nonsensical and gripping. used to have it in their sound archives, but it appears to be gone. (two minutes of it are available from this site.) It is worth seeking out. It's a crushing final blow from someone who saw the world as needing one.

So, raise your hot dogs high and flick specs of green mustard in the spring air for poor old Antonin Artaud this St. Patrick's Day, straitjacketed on an Irish steamer, and if you see a snake in your yard today, should have listened.

and it was then
that I exploded everything
because my body
can never be touched.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Outsideleft: This Year’s Deluxe Models: Elvis, Ronnie and Ryan

Elaborate repackaging of classic records is met by this humble reviewer with mixed emotion. The music-first activist resists the cult of personality that copious bonus material seems to support. Do we need to hear each clumsy demo? Do I need my illusions of a group’s glory years sullied by the fact that they sounded like shit live back then? Hardly. Do we need re-imagineering (or whatever you call his specific brand of ruining things) songs we’ve heard so many times they show up in a drug test, as was done on the wholly unnecessary Thriller reissue? Never.

That said, I am an American and thereby a consumer and cannot help but appreciate an upgrade. Reissues almost always sound fantastic and drag some skeleton out of the grave for one more dance in the moonlight because, well, everything has something worthy to it, right? I submit three recent examples of the art of musical necrophilia courtesy of the fine upstanding virgule bracketed conglomerates listed below. Read more...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

T to They, Who Am The Awesomest - Van der Graff Generator

At this brief juncture in my dalliance with prog rock, Van der Graff Generator is the mightiest band ever to temporarily alight on this earth and walk its soil before re-ascending, and their third album, cryptically titled H to He, Who Am the Only One is their finest hour. Never mind that it is the only VdGG album I've ever listened to, in fact I'm only as far as the cosmic odyssey "Squid 1/Squid 2/Octopus" into it as I type this, and that this infatuation, like all other likely dalliances, will pass, but right now, it is the Godhead. I can see why Julian Cope went mad, letting all this stuff fester up in his drug-ravaged noggin. (ed: Pawn Hearts, reviewed by Cope in that link, might even be awesomer than H, now that I'm listening to it. )

The other day, my wife and I were sitting around flitting through music and I put on The Crane Wife from The Decemberists, a record I feel does not quite get its due because a lot of people felt a lot of Big Things with the first Decemberists record. Anyway, we got to one of the big proggy sections of "The Island" and my wife remarked that this sounded a lot like Yes, and to check, we put some Yes on, and let its grand tapestries unfurl all over us. "Man, don't hold back, Yes" she said as things started to go over the top. I replied, "Well, they are not called 'Maybe' or 'Perhaps.' They are called 'Yes' for a reason." And it clicked. I think I get prog rock. With all the corny justification/determination of the narrator in Memoirs of a Geisha, at that moment, I knew I was about to embark on an amazing journey.

I looked up Peter Hammill, arch-wizard of VdGG, to see if he has, as I hoped, set up a laboratory on the Moon so that he can build a death ray capable of destroying us all, but instead he has released a trillion solo albums documented on Prog Archives, a site that will take me deeper in this Middle Earth than I probably want to go.

Should I never return, tell everyone I loved them. In three movements. Preferably with a flute solo worked in somewhere.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Record Crate: Kid Midi Wins the Spirit Stick

You have new Picture Mail!You have new Picture Mail!
Kid Midi at Insomkneestock, Baton Rouge, 3/2/2008

Not that live music is a competitive sport, but The Papercuts frankly outshined the opening act Beach House with their echo-chamber dream pop. Cohen and the Ghost are currently the band to beat in sheer stage population, but the band managed to utilize all those accordions and xylophones and whatnots in the service of some rather erudite, contemplative rock. Zenbilly's Bill Callaway wins the Coolest Dad Ever award, drumming for the Ben Folds-ish piano-pop trio Field Day, featuring his two sons, Andrew and Daniel.

Insomkneeack's, the venerable bohemian coffee shop/performance space/gallery re-opened above the Broadmoor Theatre after a 10-year hiatus with a bang this Saturday -- indoor and outdoor stages, food vendors, nary an incident and a full parking lot along with a lot of local bands I hadn't seen before. Who By Fire tossed some sepia-toned whiskey tales into the cold night air. Cheney Youth resurrected the hardcore shows of my youth, complete with a Seven Seconds cover and a full-service mosh pit. However, the act that really won the spirit stick was Kid Midi. Imagine trying to get from Meat Loaf to the Human League via Judas Priest. It was hard to tell if this act was a half-joking or half-serious, launching into a vehement reading of Technotronic's Pump up the Jam at one point, but Kid Midi is all awesome in my book. This is just the kind of homespun weirdness Insomkneeack's used to foster. I'm very glad to have them back.

This week, the Spanish Moon continues their Gas Food Lodging lineup with crowd favorites Man Man and my favorite new band of last year, Blitzen Trapper on Wednesday. Post-Beck art informel hilarity is set to ensue with Why? and Cryptacize on Monday, augmented by the dynamo grooves of dance-rock duo Panther. Two of the best bands out of New Orleans right now, The Junior League and The Bad Off, will be at North Gate Tavern. If you lean toward to rootsier side of things, Lucero and Hoots & Hellmouth at Chelsea's and the unstoppable country sex machine that is J.D Wilke's Legendary Shack Shakers at the Spanish Moon will give more than you can possibly line dance to.

Link to original, with weekly events calendar

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Perfect Song: Jens Lekman "Black Cab"

I just finished reviewing an album by a local wunderkind who I thought sounded a bit like Jens Lekman, and lo, YouTube bears me out. I love "Black Cab." Forget the delightful twee video of it, in fact scroll down so it's silly snowball narrative does not detract from the song itself. It encapsulates all the great pop clichés: self-deprecation, megalomania, being piss drunk at the end of the night, internal dialogue, all with unabashed coyness. “I killed the party again. I ruined it for my friends,” he bemoans in the cab he’s forced to take after missing the train and continues “’You’re so silent, Jens.’ Well, maybe I am.” He wants that cab to take him anywhere, like Morrissey did “driving in your car, never want(ing) to go home” in “There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” a rather perfect song itself.

That is precisely what a great song should do: take you anywhere, anywhere I don't care. It has naught to do with how desperate where you are happens to be, its the fact that you need an escape, a knotted rope suddenly tumbling down from heaven, a car door opened to you. Jens Lekman doesn’t quite go teenage oblivion like Morrissey does; in fact, he almost seems to be thinking he’s too old to be feeling this way. Morrissey wants the privilege to die by your side, Jens merely entertains the thought that his cab driver might be a murderer, chuckling over the problems this theoretical monster would solve. He maintains the fantasy through the lonely ride of shame home, parlaying any cabbie chatter “You don’t know anything, so don’t ask me questions. Just turn the music up and keep your mouth shut.”

Here is the Smiths for comparison's sake. Forget this video too, and try not to get yourselves killed, tenderhearted former shoplifters of the world.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Nam June Paik's Zen for Film

This is rather brilliant - someone has uploaded a video of Fluxus artist Nam June Paik's 8-minute silent film Zen For Film. Plenty of experimental films have made their way to YouTube, for which I am very thankful, but this one actually pushes Paik's film in interesting directions.

Fluxus was all about rather dry jokes as art, for lack of a better definition, and Paik published an 8-minute reel of blank clear film for his Zen for Film. In the theater, you are experiencing the light unobstructed by any cognitive messages except for the wear and tear of the film - basically if you look closely and carefully, you are watching time, or at least its effects.

Transferred to video you would get the same thing, although videotape degrades in a much less satisfying way than does film. Push that into a digital format, however, and you have the fly trapped in amber, that all the degradations of the original versions are frozen in time, refracted through YouTube's own crappy lens. Repeated viewing might reveal that, over time, YouTube videos somehow degrade over multiple viewings, tiny pieces of digital information flecking off like pits of plastic. It might be a singular case where the internet made a film better, unlike, say, the weird myspace page for Derek Jarman's Blue.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Watch This, and Then Manically Clean Up Your House for 30 Minutes

(ganked from metaFilter)
POSSESSED from Martin Hampton on Vimeo


then obsess about the spelling of "manically" like I just did, and then about the spelling of "obsess" and then feel compelled to aimlessly sort through the thicket of old promo CD's piled behind the closet door three feet to my right. Some of the boxes have fallen over, spilling CD's int the cracks of the closet's sub-strata of old amps and boxes of old tax forms and then blog about it and then JESUS! IT NEVER ENDS!

I better go check my stats to see if any of you have read this yet....

Outsideleft: Tift Merritt: Country Singer to the World

Tift Merritt
Another Country
(Fantasy Records)

Up here in the United States, the nation that is central to the whole of the Earth, the word “country” has localized connotations. We don't regularly consider the presence of other "countries", we think in terms of endless interstate stretches among an impossibility of soybeans and corn, abstract quaintness among simple folk that doesn’t exactly exist if you live there, and most pointedly – America’s Music. Big cowboy hats. Trucks and boots. Pretty girls with honey voices. I believe it was all a creation of some sharp Nashville marketers to present this definition of “country” and thereby, a definition of “America” through it that casts its veneer over politics, lifestyle, religion, everything. I’m waiting for Barack Obama to pop up in a Stetson and quote Willie Nelson.

Some of us know better; we’ve interfaced with actual “country” within as well as countries without and understand the nuggets of Americana better by seeing them in the bigger picture, but it is difficult to maintain focus on that picture. Noted Americana champs No Depression are going through the last depressing production cycle as I write this, and one of the women it saw as worthy a representative, Tift Merritt, had to leave the country (both “country” and the United States) to find her voice anew. Read more...

Outsideleft: Bang on with Your Fangs On: Vampire Weekend and Panther

Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend
(XL Records)

Now the fog of hype has lifted (I understand that the members of Vampire Weekend have been now put to pasture in some remote back forty of Williamsburg, minutes past their prime) and every critic has had their chance to demonstrate how little or how much they know about African popular music when discussing the alleged Dark Continental leanings of this ‘lil band of Columbia students, we can see vampire Weekend for what they are: a pleasant pop band. They are as African as Dave Wakeling of The (English) Beat is Jamaican; they provide a delectable confection made of whitebread spread over with exotic spices. In fact, if they sound like anything, it is other bands. “A-Punk,” “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” and “Campus” smack of being third generation AngloSka reduction, like Special AKA with another AKA added. “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)” and “Campus” have that smarty-pants simplicity that The Strokes possessed after their fog lifted. I thought “Mansard Roofs” was a shockingly jaunty Wilco song when it came over the radio. Ditto for “Oxford Comma” but replace Wilco with Spoon. None of these comparisons are necessarily negative; in fact Vampire Weekend temporarily improves on its originators in that three-hour span where you love this album to pieces. After that span of jingle-jangle bliss passes, the shine dissipates, kinda like it did when you got in General Public way back when. I just went back and listened to “Tenderness” on YouTube for the first time in twenty years, and it holds up better than I expected, so perhaps “A-Punk” will slightly warm the cockles of my heart in a similar way in another twenty. Only time will tell; as for VW in the here and now, enjoy the ride as long as it lasts.

14 Kt God
(Kill Rock Stars)

The frenetic dance party that is Panther has an equally traceable lineage to this listener, but in contrast to Vampire Weekend's variety show, Panther pulls feathers and patches of fur from their ancestors and perform a ritual dance in order to invoke their spirit. There is the push-me-pull-you of the Adrian Belew years of King Crimson – many people forget that the prog rock dinosaurs made a viable stab for art-damaged pop in the very early 80’s, the synthetic pulse of Liquid Liquid and Talking Heads’ sense of sonic tension, Fear of Music edition. Panther’s multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Charlie Salas-Humara is no Robert Fripp, hell, he’s not even no David Byrne, but he makes a compelling compulsive groove out of what he is. “Decision, Decision” is the song that sums it up nicely – you can do it, chanted manically over a future-tribal percussive spiral, and the tracks like it find Panther playing to their strengths. The slower, more atmospheric numbers, like “On the Lam” and “Glamorous War”, not so much, but they are not what you’d call insufferable diversions; in fact the cello emerging the latter song almost turn this jam around in to something transcendant, but stops short. The chanty big beat numbers like “Puerto Rican Jukebox” and “Beautiful Condo” have the real bite on this record; each possessing that immersive dance-rock throb that I wish would go on for about five more minutes. Is it a particularly deep record? No. A timeless gem? Not exactly. But, given the right environment, the precise level of intensity built on the floor and those songs are the best song you could possibly hear in those five minutes, and sometimes, that is all you need.


Friday, March 7, 2008

Two Things about People Important to Misfits like Myself

  1. Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith could be the best rock autobiography ever or could be a train wreck. I'm predicting it will be a glorious combination of the two; say if Bob Dylan's Chronicles and Bob Dylan's Tarantula were forced to somehow become the same book, like in a transporter accident. Mark E. Smith is the singer of The Fall, the finest exemplar of how to keep being rock-n-roll even when the wolves are howling on one's personal timeline. Like many, I will quickly state The Fall is my favorite band, even though, as I suspect of many that make this claim, I don't actually listen to them all that much anymore. But when I do, the clamor, the indifference, the racket is the best thing in the world. My friend Philip sent this around the other day, in honor of MES' (that's what we "fuckfaces," or real Fall fans call him) fifty-first birthday.
  2. I love that the internet is being sweet about the recent passing of Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeons and Dragons. I was a big D&D player through junior high and occasionally in high school, even once in college. I thought about posting something funny about it - all ye in the realm hoist your d20 up high! - but then I saw a picture from the goddamn LOLCats, with a cat sitting in front of a character sheet, and the waves of escapist, closed-circuit, Dr. Frankenstein joy that came from rolling out a new character. My favorite characters I ever played were a half-ogre (special character type from an issue of Dragon magazine) named Ignor, and a paladin (fighter for God) who was losing his faith. My friend Timmy, who was as deep a D&D dude as I've ever met - he once nearly cut off his hand with a real battle axe - came up with that one as a way to add an extra dimension to the character.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux

Like the grubby Americans whose adventures are documented in the three stories here, I was expecting a romantic experience with India in this book: the scents, the crushing poverty, moments of serene beauty and transformation.

What you get instead is a grim two-sided world. The pampered pale foreigners on one side, and the intricate mass of india on the other, both relying on dehumanizing usage patterns to survive. The Americans are clearly, brazenly using the Indians, and the Indians play on the shame and vanity of the American to use them in return. In this book, India is a gigantic DMV filled with paperwork and fees and duites paid. It is possibly as unromantic a take on an exotic locale as I've read.

Paul Theroux is a seasoned traveller, but with this calloused view of humanity, one wonders why. It is the only book I've read by him, so wonder if he views the whole world as whores and idiots and opportunists, where only the hardened will trive. The intricale clockwork of humanity kept me going through the stories even when I hated everyone in them, and thereby, I actually liked the book, but it is a cold breed of "like." I think because, like the travellers in the book, I had my notions rudely shaken, and even when you don't like what you see, it is still good for you to see it. Link

Email Sonata for Alex V. Cook by Walter Cianciusi

Email Sonata for Alex V. Cook is the fifth piece in the video and was suggested by me to the composer when I was a member of FluxList. The idea was to send an email to yourself and then keep replying, each message triggering your "you've got mail" sound and the resulting collection of those is the piece.

Walter's much smarter interpretation of it is as follows:

The fifth piece (Email Sonata) uses exclusively the default Outlook Express
(Microsoft) sound for signaling the incoming mail. Performed for the first time
by the composer Alex V. Cook, the score prescribes a repeated post of email
messages from an account to the same account (an autoreferential system). The
musical results (greater or minor density in time of the sound) can vary
according to the simultaneous presence of users on the server in a particular

I haven't heard it in years, and I am humbled by the interprtation and honored by the dedication all over again.

here is more about Walter (wiki - official site)

Here are two of my physical contributions to some of the group's projects
Fluxlist Address Book
Fluxlist Box No. 1

100 Words on John Martyn

If Wilco is "dad rock," John Martyn is "bearded 40-year-old bachelor neighbor with nice cologne" rock. If Nick Drake is walking the tightrope between resolution and defeat, John Martyn is a walk on the beach at sunset. If Leo Kottke is secretly listening to the complex beautiful clockwork of the universe, John Martyn is happening to hear a breeze rattle the leaves in the trees over the shouts of playground children. If Fleetwood Mac is a well behaved public parade, John Martyn is internal reverie. If Bonnie "Prince" Billy is sexy, John Martyn is seductive.