Thursday, June 26, 2008

phoenixes in your woodpile

Just skip to the fable at the end.

Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel - Dual Hawks
Centro-Matic is one of those bands I really love but never think of when someone asks what bands do you love. I think its because Will Johnson has a quiet nature, one that observes the room from a spot on the wall and that permeates his music. This double record from Centro-Matic and his/their alter-ego South San Gabriel is quietly erratic, Rococo ragged, delicately tense introspective rock rendered in saturated watercolor, glowing off the paper/tape/air/whatever means it gets to you. I find their albums to be absolutely perfect when I listen to them, especially Fort Recovery, but the second they are done, they are gone, crumbled into ash from their own immolation and blow away with the next breeze.

Fortunately, Centro-matic has some phoenix in its woodpile because on that breeze the magic reassembles itself and is ready for another bonfire.

Sigur Ros - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust

The first time I heard Sigur Ros was in a small used record store in Mission, KS on my lunch break. I was there to buy a copy of Richard Buckner's Since, which instantly became and still is one of my favorite albums and I didn't want anything distracting me from my mission. I was on a mission IN MISSION! and they had it used! and I thought the record store planets were aligned, a magical convergence of want and availability was happening in the low orbit of my expendable income. I walked up with Since in my hand eager to get out of there when the girl behind the counter put Agaetis Byrjun on and that huge saturated "Sven-G-Englar" boomed out of the sound system and all my aligned planets started to roll out of step into their own complicated orbits.

I hate when that happens: when you find The Perfect Album at a record store with the full money and intention to buy it and then the goddamn clerk puts on something that blows you away. I paid up and got the fuck out, spitting Sigur Ros' name in the gravel parking lot as the dirty saboteurs they were, but that song hung in my head, even as old Buck wrote it out in stones where the road divides and a week later I tracked it down online and it set everything in the room floating like a friendly poltergeist.

I don't think the band has ever hit as high a point for me as that, and this new one, they have complementary touches of Joni Mitchell and Animal Collective operating in their anthemic formula, and it works brilliantly but doesn't have the crystalline beauty of their nadir. Which I guess is the point of a nadir.

Cormac McCarthy - Picture Gallery Blues
A discussion about The Road just reminded me that The Hemmingway of Today has a couple of folk/country albums I came across and never gotten around to listening to. The sunny voice, like Paul Burch without quite his brightness, is shocking. You expect him to bark like a gristled drifter, not grunting and twisting through a folk/country song melody.

Some quick research revealed that is is indeed a different Cormac McCarthy, a performing name that must bring this adequate but hapless new England folkie no end of grief when a furious lit major drives 200 miles to see the other Cormac Mccarthy inexplicably perform in some dive-ass coffee shop. Hell hath no fury like a lit major denied their unlikely meeting with greatness, even when it is revealed that their own shoddy research was to blame.

Unless its my brief research that is shoddy and this IS the "real" Cormac Mccarthy... if that's the case, I don't know what the hell is going on.

Greg Brown - Yellow Dog
Greg Brown is a grim-voiced folkie that came to mind when listening to the above that I forget about. And when I do remember him, he's usually had three albums crop up in the meantime. He's got that folk thing going - a mix of devastating gravity and embarrassing lightness to his records; folk people seem to never quite no when to pull back from corniness. Isn't that what Bob Dylan was for, to remind every folksinger in his wake that its OK to be lousy at times, but you still have to be poetic when doing it?

Greg Brown is a victim of his own corniness a lot of the time, but this is a live record where the temptation for smoothing away any edges is removed, and he's all the better for it.

Lou Reed - Legendary Hearts
If we are to talk about musical phoenixes who pump back and again the fence separating genius and flatulent, the subject of Lou Reed should defintiely be breached. I've never listened to this record, along with a couple others in the catalog, and while the title track is a winner - old Lou rounding the corner with a chestnut You gotta fight to do what's right. The new wave-meets-old-time-RnR on some of these tracks is a little too Huey Lewis for me, but the ones that center around his gentle strumming and meditative walking blues arpeggios and straight up riffs are hidden gems. If only Fernando Saunder's bass was pushed a little down in the mix rather than right up front. Sanders is a hell of a bassist, but here it comes off a little like someone farting loudly during a tense family dinner.

While trolling around about his stellar underdog Ecstacy the other day, I came across a Perfect Sound Forever article about the finest of his neglected albums; this, Escatcy and The Bells being the ones in question.

Plus, Guitarist Robert Quine is on this record, and he was the coolest among the cool making streetwalking cheetahs Lou Reed and Richard Hell sound cool and somehow coaxing some classics out of otherwise tepid Matthew Sweet on the Girlfriend album.

Matthew Sweet - Girlfriend
Since you mentioned it. If only the rest of the 90's still sounded this good. With Richard Lloyd, Robert Quine and Sweet himself on it, it becomes a we-still-got-it guitar hero trio record hiding under pop classicism. "I've Been Waiting" and "Girlfriend" are so perfect, they play in perpetuity while you cop a feel off your date at the Sadie Hawkins dance in Valhalla. Or maybe...

A Power Pop Fable inspired by Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend"

Upon hearing "Girlfriend" come on on the TV's overhead, Alex Chilton bellowed to the other people in the Blockbuster , "See? SEE?? THIS is what I was trying to tell all you stupid motherfuckers, but you wouldn't listen" and then someone whispered loudly, "Who is that guy?" and another responded "The guy from Big Star" to which the first person countered "Who is Big Star?" which garnered "OK, he was in the Box Tops" which got a shrug to which was responded "need me a ticket to an aero-plane?" ending in a nod and a quiet "oh" from both whispering parties.

Witnessing all this as goddamn Matthew Sweet crooned the perfect power pop line I wanna love somebody, I hear you need somebody to love, Alex Chilton screamed like a howler monkey in agony, throwing a trashcan through the window and storming out. Meanwhile Paul Westerberg, who'd driven him there, was thumbing through a magazine, oblivious to the whole thing until he heard the breaking glass. Paul drops the magazine, muttering "not again" and chases after him. The onlookers glance at the mess left behind, while the assistant manager, played with delicacy by Nick "Cruel to be Kind" Lowe smiles into the intercom mic "We need a cleanup in the lobby - broken glass."

Just then, Marshall Crenshaw ushered in a couple of well mannered kids through all the broken glass. "What happened here?" he loudly chuckled, and before anyone could answer, he said "Lemme guess.... Matthew Sweet. Was Elvis Costello in here or something?" and everyone says in sudden unison "Not hardly."

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