Saturday, December 17, 2011

Jam of the day, songs that make you cry, and the devolution of liner notes: "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"

Artist: Bob Dylan
Album: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Song: "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"
Released: 1963
Label: Columbia Records

I was hanging out with a friend at my place last weekend and he revealed that he had never sat and listened to a Bob Dylan album straight through. So, of course, I made him sit there as we played Freewheelin' and then Blonde on Blonde and then … well, then it got late. We laughed out loud at some lyrics, marveled at the ingenuity, and generally enjoyed the tunes, but I made a particular point to stop doing whatever we were doing and really pay attention when "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" came on. Something about it hits me hard, and I find myself unable to not pay attention to it. I remember just crying to myself in the car while driving down an empy highway and listening to it. I still don't know exactly why, but it's just that powerful.


I also sat there and read the liner notes on this old vinyl copy of Freewheelin' I have, marvelling at the detailed, enthusiastic deconstruction of Dylan's songs and what they meant to the culture at the time of release. Why don't we have these notes anymore? Do we despise that much the idea of someone telling us what art is that, even if they're right, we won't pay attention, so no one bothers? Just read this particular passage, on this specific song, and tell me it isn't helpful, a true aid in listening to, understanding, and enjoying the music it describes. [Original punctuation/emphasis style preserved.]
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall represents to Dylan a maturation of his feelings on this subject since the earlier and almost as powerful Let Me Die in My Footsteps, which is not included here but which was released as a single record by Columbia. Unlike most of his song-writing contemporaries among the city singers, Dylan doesn't simply make a polemical point in his compositions. As in this song about the psychopathology of peace-through-balance-of-terror, Dylan's images are multiply (and sometimes horrifyingly) evocative. As a result, by transmuting his fierce convictions into what can only be called art, Dylan reaches basic emotions which few political statements or extrapolations of statistics have so far been able to touch. Whether a song or a singer can then convert others is something else again.

"Hard Rain," adds Dylan, "is a desparate kind of song." It was written during the Cuban missile crisis of October, 1962 when those who allowed themselves to think of the possible results of the Kennedy-Khrushchev confrontation were chilled by the imminence of oblivion. "Every line in it", says Dylan, "is actually the start of a whole song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn't have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one."

And that's just about this song! The entire back cover is filled with paragraphs like these about every song on the album, and some others, setting the record in historical and cultural context, describing its ingenuities and influences alike. It's obviously written by a fan, but not a fanboy. This Mr. Nat Hentoff (who is, as the notes say, "a frequent contributor to such periodicals as 'The Reporter,' 'The New Yorker,' 'Playboy,' 'Commonweal' and 'The Village Voice'") has a lot of positive things to say about Mr. Dylan, but he does so intelligently and interestingly. Record reviews are one thing, but having this kind of critical analysis contained within an album's packaging is an interesting and helpful idea, and I really wonder why it has disappeared. Would some major labels ever consider bringing this back? Thoughts?

On a related note, here's a great blog essay about music criticism and how/why we read it: what i think makes a record review great after reading a couple thousand, and my favorite pitchfork review of all time from Pitchfork Reviews Reviews.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Jam of the day, a surprising Rolling Stones lookalike, and ramblings on the evolution of communal listening experiences: Nick Drake / "Pink Moon"

Artist: Nick Drake
Album: Pink Moon
Song: "Pink Moon"
Released: 25 February 1972
Label: Island Records

Nick Drake is an incredible musician and an enigmatic figure in modern musical history. I undoubtedly underappreciated his music (and his life story) when first introduced to him by an older and wiser (and funnier) friend during my freshman year of college. I never let go of him, though, and over the years, I've developed a wonderful appreciation for his music. No one else's songs can actually cause physical chills to run through my limbs as I sit listening, feeling as if this person is reaching across time and space to play me a special show. No one.

I've never known too much about Nick's life, though; this is partly because no one really does, either. Precious few photographs of him exist, and no videos, leaving only his albums and a handful of demo tapes that have reappeared as a "home recordings" compilation to connect his past to our present. I was aware of his tragic story—depression and suicide in his early 20s—but never learned much beyond that, partly because I didn't know how and, I suppose, partly because I wasn't sure that I wanted/needed to. Something changed recently, though, and I found myself picking up Nick Drake: The Biography, by Patrick Humphries, from the local library.

It's a delightful read, and an honest and amibitious attempt to piece together as many facts and personal impressions as possible from contemporary sources—school friends, teachers, family, etc. I'm not even a third of the way into the book, and I already feel like several doors and windows into his music have opened, simultaneously casting some light on dark corners and bringing some dusty, cobwebby, depressing corners into view.

Earlier this year, I stumbled on a new vinyl copy of Pink Moon while out shopping for Record Store Day and snatched it up. It's great for early morning listening, settling down in the recliner with a cup of coffee for a wistful stare out the window. As I mentioned, I picked up this bio at the library about a month ago, and just last week, CC featured a video of a Volkswagen ad using "Pink Moon" in his 5 Songs Ruined By Commercials post. All signs pointed to sharing this song. So here it is. I beseech you, just turn off/tune out/forget about whatever you were doing just now and focus on this song. You'll feel rewarded for your earnest enthusiasm, trust me.

 Note: the top commenter's suggestion to run Rainymood simultaneously is a pretty good one.

On a lighter note, I've come across several amusing anecdotes in the biography thus far. One particularly amusing one is told by a high school friend about a summer road trip from Morocco to Chad during which their car broke down, forcing them to stop in the small town of Meknes. Their mechanic was suprisingly friendly and asked to take before-and-after photos of Nick and his pal with their car. They obliged, paid a small fee, and went on their merry way a few days later. On their way back through Tangiers, they were stopped by the local police and searched for drugs. Apparently, The Rolling Stones had toured through Morocco recently, and the mechanic mistook the boys for Mick and Keith, or something, their photo was published in the local paper, and they were subsequently pulled over and searched. Wild.

Another passage that struck me was more about the nature of the times—the 60s—and how the public interacted with music. The author and his interviewees note the connection between LP sleeves and joint rolling, and then discuss the sense of awareness of the musical charts, the communal nature of music listening, the social aspects:

"… in those days everyone knew what number one was. These days nobody knows, because the whole thing is so fragmented. I think accessibility to material was much more difficult, so there was much more of a sense of belonging to a cult. So if you managed a trip up to London and got hold of a copy of, I don't know, Mississippi John Hurt, this was like gold dust. People would come round and it would be an event to listen to it … I remember hiring the cellar in my college because I'd somehow or other managed to get hold of a first copy of Tommy, and actually playing it like a concert."

"Everyone took music much more seriously than we do these days. You'd gather together, sometimes people would be floating in and out of a particular room where people were smoking, they'd be playing records all day and people would come in and just sit, listening quite seriously all the way through The Beatles' White Album, and then drift off."

That just sounds incredible to me, and so entirely different from our modern technologically-oriented musical landscape. No iPods. No mixtapes, even. Just shared, long-player listening. Turntables and speakers, or headphones. Attentive listeners, active listeners, caring listeners. I'm sure this sounds odd to anyone from an older generation, but god damn I really wish things were like that now. Not completely, because I do appreciate the marvels of the internet and mp3s and all that new-fangled jazz, but … a big part of me longs for those past times (not "simpler times", mind you, though) where there was a sense of universal appreciation for music and art, of communal experience, of … something larger than ourselves, of an awareness of that, and of marveling at it. We need that again.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Jam of the day, and an upcoming film screening: "Glósóli" and Inni

I just found out that Inni will be screened at the Three Rivers Film Festival next weekend, and I had to share. Inni is a live album, with footage from a 2008 performance at the Alexandra Palace in London, directed by Vincent Morisset. The CD/DVD will be officially released on November 7, but the 3RFF will be screening the film on both Saturday, November 5 and Friday, November 11! (You can buy tickets to those screenings here and here; $9 each night.) A description on the band's website nicely summarizes the appeal of the film and how it fits into their discography and band history:

unlike many concerts, watching sigur rós is seldom a communal experience; it is instead intensely personal. by almost entirely removing awareness of the crowd and any sense of place, morisset brings you closer than ever to the players, using multiple camera angles to reveal in sometimes minute close up the concentration and effort involved in delivering such a powerful rock show. …

the performance captures the band playing as a stripped down four-piece for the first time since they were joined by string section amiina at the start of the decade. this fundamental 'boiling down' makes 'inni' a more forceful and primal proposition, much at odds with the popular misconception of the band as purveyors of instant emotional heft for film-makers in need.

the album features 15 tracks, with songs taken from all five sigur rós studio albums. there is also the bonus of an unreleased studio track in the form of 'lúppulagið', which is used both over the credits of the film and as the final non-live track on the album. the dvd/blu-ray, meanwhile, also includes four extra songs from the night.

This sounds incredible. You can pre-order a deluxe edition of the film/album here (with CDs, DVD, Blu-Ray, 7", photos, etc.) or a more reasonably-priced DVD/CD combo here. I really want to check out one of the screenings here in town (probably Nov. 11) and see if they're selling DVDs there, perhaps. In the meantime, here's a trailer for the film:

While we're here, I might as well share one of my favorite Sigur Rós songs, too. I think Takk… is what got me into Sigur Rós in the first place, so it will always have a special place in my listening heart. This particular song is lovely and energetic and perfectly arranged and executed, and the same can be said about the outstanding music video. (Read more about the song and the video on Wikipedia.)

Sigur Rós / "Glósóli" / Takk… [EMI, 2005] / dir. Arni & Kinski

Sigur Rós: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Monday, October 31, 2011

Jam of the day, and an upcoming concert: "I Need More" of The Cynics at the 31st Street Pub

Artist: The Cynics
Album: Spinning Wheel Motel
Song: "I Need More"
Released: June 20, 2011
Label: Get Hip Recordings

I'll cut to the chase: The Cynics rock. They've been cranking out album after album chock full of garage rock/pop tunes for years and years, and they never disappoint. Lots of bands try to mimic that 60s psych pop sound, with jangly guitars and driving percussion and alternately sweet/punky vocals, but … man, The Cynics embody that sound. They're not mimics, they're the real fucking deal. They released Spinning Wheel Motel just this past summer, and it's a great record, swirling in some punk ("I See More") and blues ("Zombie Walk") and folk ("Bells and Trains") wherever they see fit. (The LP itself has great packaging, too, with an actual spinning wheel on the front cover to reveal the tracklist. Clever!) The first track, "I Need More" is an wild, energetic ride, and the video below is just a perfect match for this tune.

The Cynics / "I Need More" / Spinning Wheel Motel [Get Hip, 2011]

The Cynics are coming to the 31st Street Pub this Saturday, November 5, and you owe it to yourself to get out and see them, especially if you haven't before. They actually don't play shows in Pittsburgh all that frequently, unfortunately (despite being one of our city's best bands), so you gotta take advantage when you can. (Their last show there was incredible; check out my review and some live video footage.) They're on tour with a new Toronto band, Pow Wows, whose originally-self-produced debut LP, Nightmare Soda, is being reissued on vinyl via Get Hip, as well. This band should fit in perfectly at this show, churning out some heavy guitar jams and 60s pop grooves. (Check out a video for their track "Seeing Black" below.) Detroit's The Sights will join the party with some funky garage rock tunes. This will be a fun one, that's for sure. Doors @ 9 pm, only $10. Check out a tour promo video here, too, and here's a Facebook event. And hey, see yinz there.

Pow Wows / "Seeing Black" / Nightmare Soda [Get Hip, 2011]

The Cynics: Facebook / Twitter /
Pow Wows: Facebook / Myspace
The Sights on the web: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Song Remains the Same-ish: The Apples In Stereo vs. Big Eyes

[This is a "series" that lets me point out when two songs sound really similar or something about one song reminds me strongly of another one, or something like that. Its frequency obviously depends on me finding these similarities, so who knows when it will happen again.]

Artist: The Apples In Stereo / Big Eyes
Song: "She's Telling Lies" / "Now That You Aren't Mine"
Album: Velocity of Sound / Hard Life
Label: Elephant 6 / Don Giovanni
Released: October 8, 2002 / August 23, 2011

This same-ish similarity snuck up on me. I've been listening to a lot of The Apples In Stereo lately because I went and saw The Olivia Tremor Control a few weeks ago and it was fucking amazing. I sat front and center, it was an awesome theatre, the band sounded great, they played for a long time, and I was incredibly lucky and went backstage to interview Will Cullen Hart after the show, also chatting briefly with Bill Doss and John Fernandes in the process. But that's really beside the point; I just wanted to mention it :-) Since then, I've had a renewed interest in all that is Elephant 6 and have been listening to a lot of albums from Beulah, of Montreal, OTC, NMH, and so on. I renewed my devotion for Robert Schneider and The Apples and, particularly, my affinity for Velocity of Sound, their emo-punk album. It is surprisingly good. Seriously.

Earlier tonight, I was listening to a new LP, from a newish band named Big Eyes, entitled Hard Life. I was enjoying the pop-punk ride, with quick and catchy guitar-heavy numbers, but then I got to track 10: "Now That You Aren't Mine". The opening guitar line reminded me of something … I couldn't quite place it just yet, so I played the first minute of the song again. I listened to the first verse and noted how it matched the guitar melody in pitch. Then I played it again. And once more. And then it hit me. This melody is almost exactly the same as the beginning of a random bonus track tune from Velocity of Sound! Playing the two songs back to back now, I recognize that the connection is a little stretched—the tempos are different, the guitar scuzz layers are different, the intro/ending of the melodies are different—but hey, this series isn't about finding identical songs, right? It's just about pointing out similarities, and I believe I've found two songs whose guitar riffs sound remarkably similar. (It's a little odd that the song titles are slant rhymes, too, isn't it?) What's weirder to me is that I was able to recall this Apples In Stereo tune just from this random guitar riff, considering it's a non-standard-issue bonus track. Luckily, I've listened to this album four or five times over the last three weeks, and that I was pointed to this Big Eyes album earlier today via a message board I frequently read. Huzzah, serendipitous coincidences!

So, see for yourself! Do they sound alike? Am I making shit up? Tell me! (Seriously, tell me …)

The Apples In Stereo / "She's Telling Lies (Bryce's Mix)" / Velocity of Sound [Elephant 6, 2002]

Big Eyes / "Now That You're Not Mine" / Hard Life [Don Giovanni, 2011]


By the by, this Big Eyes LP is awesome pop-punk. Check it aht. Also The Apples In Stereo are one of my fave bands of all time. VoS is good, Her Wallpaper Reverie is great, and Fun Trick Noisemaker is a fucking masterpiece.

Big Eyes on the web: Blog / Bandcamp / Facebook / Twitter
Buy Hard Life: Don Giovanni Records / Insound / Amazon / iTunes / eMusic

The Apples In Stereo on the web: Website / Facebook / Twitter
Buy Velocity of Sound: Amazon / iTunes / eMusic

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cover jam of the day, and a vinyl find at Jerry's Records: "Come On Down To My Boat"

Artist: Every Mother's Son / Meeting of Important People / The Rare Breed
Song: "Come On Down To My Boat"

Like many other vinyl fans in Pittsburgh, I trekked to Jerry's Records this past weekend after hearing he was planning to give away 33,000 records in boxes of LPs and 45s. (Why 33,000? He just likes the number, although I think 33,333 would have made more sense.) He's done giveaways like this before, and I've lucked into some good stuff (check out my "vinyl find" series for some of those). I was already needing to stop by the store and pick up some auction wins anyway (super clean copies of Fresh Cream and Bob Dylan and, as Jerry noted upon pickup, not quantity but definitely quality), so I looked around to see if anything caught my eye. While walking through the "rock" area, one album was sitting at the front of the "miscellaneous E" section and it grabbed my attention: the album Every Mothers' Son by the band Every Mother's Son (note the subtle apostrophic difference). The name was familiar, and in case I couldn't remember, a sticker on the album cover notes the inclusion of "Come On Down To My Boat". Aha! This song was covered by my fave local band, Meeting Of Important People, on last year's Quit Music EP! I don't think I knew for a couple of months after the release that it was even a cover song, but I learned the band's name at some point and it stuck in my head until now.

Based on the cover photo, this is a band of preppy dudes who write bubblegum pop songs, and some web research supports this hypothesis. Wikipedia notes the band's signing to MGM in 1967 was "supposedly because management saw the band's clean-cut image as an antidote to the hippie influx". Haha. But it's strange that the back cover of this album has silly band member bios, and one says "Lary can out-drink the toughest guy on the block" and Christopher is clearly reading an issue of Playboy in his photo. Maybe it's funny because Lary is chugging milk from the carton with a straw, and Christopher is grimacing at the magazine? I dunno. It's also strange that the song is really called "Come On Down To My Boat" yet the back of the album lists it as "Come And Take A Ride In My Boat". The album copy I grabbed is a little scratchy, but it just adds to the nostalgic feel, and the tunes are pretty solid for what they are: sweet and simple pop. ("For Brandy" is a particularly lovely little ditty.)

Enough chit-chat, here are two versions of this pretty and fun tune: Every Mother's Son's 1967 original version first (recorded live for some TV spot, in this particular video; here's a link to the album version), and then Meeting Of Important People's garage pop take on it 43 years later!


"Old garage song about a completely harmless man and his boat."

Hey now, hold on there! I just learned that Every Mother's Son aren't even the original recorders of this song! The Rare Breed (later known as The Ohio Express) hold that title, releasing a version entitled "Come And Take A Ride In My Boat" (aha, whence the confusion mentioned above) in 1966, but it never hit the charts. Somehow, Every Mother's Son's version did. There ya have it, folks, the fickleness of the listening public …


Meeting of Important People on the web: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Jam of the day, Wikileaks leaks, and a surprising fact about China's punk rock scene: Sonic Youth / "Washing Machine"

Artist: Sonic Youth
Album: Washing Machine
Song: "Washing Machine"
Released: September 26, 1995
Label: Geffen Records

I really had no intent on listening to Sonic Youth today, let alone writing this post, until I saw the following headline on a link shared on SY's Facebook page:

Wikileaks: Sonic Youth is bigger than The Black Eyed Peas in China

The corresponding blog post (on some random crazy-link-sharing Tumblr) links to a New York Times article about how Julian Assange's Wikileaks site has completely revealed all of its holdings via some 1.73 GB document of text that one can find on a file-sharing site using a password that is findable somewhere on the internet. Crazy stuff. I have no desire to actually go through any of that (that's a huge document) but the particular passage this Tumblrer came across was interesting, kind of humorous, and, well, yeah, just really intriguing. (The following is quoted from that Tumblr page; I did not read the Wikileaks document myself.) Here it is:
Shanghai Rocks Out To Sonic Youth
12. (U) In the past year Shanghai has hosted an increasing number of concerts by foreign performers, including the Rolling Stones, James Brown and the Black Eyed Peas. The audiences at all of the concerts have been remarkably consistent, mostly foreigners (of all ages) with few Chinese. As a result, most foreigners expected a similar audience at an April 24 show by New York-based punk band Sonic Youth. Unbeknownst to most (Econoff included) Sonic Youth has a large, devoted following in China.
13. (U) The concert was held at the Shanghai Concert Hall, a historic building in the center of People's Park that primarily hosts classical music concerts. Before the show started the mostly twenty-something clean-cut Chinese audience was seated politely, many still in work attire, most with backpacks, a far cry from the typical Sonic Youth crowd in the United States. There was no alcohol or soda sold, only water. As soon as the lights dimmed, however, pandemonium erupted.
14. (U) The Chinese security seemed unsure how to react; for the first hour every time they tried to control the audience, the band would castigate them. Five minutes into the show the audience rushed the stage but the security stopped the surging crowd and aggressively pushed the audience back to their seats at which point the band stopped singing and asked the security to let the crowd approach the stage. Security held firm until a particularly popular song whipped the crowd into such a frenzy that it overwhelmed the security guards and the audience took over the stage pit. As the concert went on, security eased up more and more so that by the end they were allowing stage diving.
15. (U) According to Lilo Wang, a 24-year old accountant, who spent most of the show in the heart of the mosh pit, Sonic Youth had been popular in China for a long time and within the rock crowd was extremely popular. She said that Shanghai's rock scene was weak because all everyone cared about was making money and they were not passionate about life. She said the cost of the tickets (RMB 480 or USD 62) was worth it and that she hoped more bands like Sonic Youth would come to China and that rock, especially punk, would grow in popularity in Shanghai.
16. (U) Regards from Shanghai.
Pretty crazy, huh? I'm trying to picture what it must have been like to be at that show, both as a foreginer and as a native Chinese, closet Sonic Youth fan. Wild. Music is a universal language, folks. I wonder what that "particularly popular song" was that "whipped the crowd into such a frenzy". Any guesses? It's probably "Teenage Riot", but I'd rather play "Washing Machine" here. My friend and sole office mate has the actual washing machine-featuring blue t-shirt from the album cover (see above photo) and he wears it a lot, so it's always on my mind, and we have a good time tossing each other quarters and saying "Hey honey, here's a quarter. Go put it in a washing machine." Ahhhh, I guess you just have to be there. I found this awesome live version of "Washing Machine". Check it out.

"This is a song about the future. It's called 'Washing Machine'."

Sonic Youth on the web: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Wikipedia
Buy Washing Machine: SYR Store / Insound / Amazon / iTunes / eMusic

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Video jam of the day: Sleeping Bag / "Slime"

Artist: Sleeping Bag
Album: Sleeping Bag
Song: "Slime"
Released: August 9, 2011
Label: Joyful Noise

One of my favorite debut releases of this year is Sleeping Bag's self-titled LP. It channels 90s indie rock at its finest, smashing the wry and understated lyricism of Stephen Malkmus with the hooky guitars of Dinosaur Jr. and the poppy sentimentality of any number of Elephant 6 bands. That's high-minded company to lump Sleeping Bag with, but I think it's all well-founded and deservèd. I gave a glowing review of their album over at Draw Us Lines about a month ago, and since then, the band has gone on a Midwest/East Coast tour and has released an official music video for the lead single, "Slime". (Anyone out there who has seen them live wanna share your thoughts? Apparently they were here in Pittsburgh while I was out of town :-\ )

This song is one of my faves from the album, with its driving bass riff and drum beat, and the way Dave Segedy's vocals just push everything forward without too much insistence, combining just the right amount of forcefulness to be heard amongst the music with just the right amount of nonchalance to let the guitar melodies grab your ears and keep your attention. The video itself is an apparent homage to the Bloomington, Indiana scene, with shots of the band playing at a half dozen or so locations around town, from a garage to a junkyard to a rooftop to a living room to a patio to a playground to a forest and back again. Throw in some playful handclaps from the background crowds, plus a girl napping on a couch, some dudes eating breakfast, a couple making out, and a one-on-one basketball game amongst all the musical action, all spliced together seamlessly with great shots of the trio doin' their thing, and you've got a solidly entertaining video. Oh yeah, flying kittens!

Sleeping Bag / "Slime" / Sleeping Bag [Joyful Noise, 2011] / Dir. Nathan Vollmar and William Winchester Clay

Also check out this interview with singer/drummer Dave on the Village Voice's music blog for more info about the band and the video.

Sleeping Bag on the web: Website / Bandcamp / Facebook / Twitter / Joyful Noise Recordings

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Local music notes, September 2011: New Shouts, Neighbours, Host Skull, Donora, The Ceiling Stares, Draw Us Lines

It's impossible to stay in tune with all of the goings-on of the Pgh music scene, I gotta say, but when I find some good and/or interesting stuff, I like to share it with you. So here are some good and/or interesting songs, albums, events, etc. from the very recent past and the very near future.

  • New Shouts / Sing New Shouts EP / Release Show at Thunderbird Café on 09.24

    Pittsburgh's best retro soul rock band finally have an official release! They put out a couple of singles on their Bandcamp page many months ago when they started playing shows around town to drum up interest, and it definitely worked, at least for me. I've seen them a few times (at the Brillobox and The Shop) and their onstage energy is addictive. They also did an acoustic session for Draw Us Lines' Echo Chamber series and it turned out fantastically. (By the way, you can buy those Echo Chamber recordings on Bandcamp; more about that below!) But now they have a batch of seven new songs and they really capture their live energy, with catchy guitar melodies and upbeat percussion and soulful vocals (that almost sound British to me …?) that make you wanna sing along. It's part Kinks, part Beatles, part Motown, and all fun and danceable. You'll be able to buy the album digitally on 09.13, and they're having a release show at the Thundebird on Saturday 09.24 with Mariage Blanc and DJ Jordan K. In the meantime, you can still download those digital singles for free, and the teaser video below features a clip from my favorite song on the new EP, "Dollybird". Check it:

    New Shouts on the web: Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp / Tumblr

  • Neighbours / Neighbours EP / Release Show at the Friday Nite Club on 09.02

    Whaddyaknow, another retro rock band has an EP coming out soon! Neighbours (now with a Britishized "u") have that Kinks/Animals/Small Faces vibe goin' on and it works really well. The couple of shows of theirs that I've seen have been great, with the singer sitting up front with his keyboard and then getting up and dancing around sometimes, singing his heart out and Andy's arms flailing all over the place behind the drumkit. The five songs on the EP are some of their best work, too, right from the keys riff and forceful vocals that kick off the energetic "Real Talk", to the Motown-inspired lament in "Fun", to the soft and slow and pretty "Without You" (with some great reverb on the vocals, nice recording there, fellas), to the punchy percussion that carries "Popgirls" through to the end. My only critique is that it's too damn short! They also have a couple of "name your price" singles here and here, and they'll have an official release party at the Irish Centre of Pittsburgh's Friday Nite Club party, on 09.02. DJ Jordan K and The Mt. McKinleys will also be playing, and you can pick up a CD there for just $5. In the meantime, stream some tracks here:

    Neighbours: Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp

  • Host Skull / Totally Fatalist LP / Release Show at Brillobox on 09.22

    I am always amazed by what David Bernabo accomplishes. (When do you sleep, Dave?) His latest project is Host Skull, a collaboration with Will Dyar and a host of other Pittsburgh musicians: saxophonists, singers, bassists, drummers, dancers, flautists, etc. The story is that Will is based in Santa Fe and the band will have a dual existence, with Dave and friends performing shows here while Will and friends perform out there. Now, after seeing a recent performance of some of these songs, and knowing that Dave is an interesting dude, I'm not sure how much of the band story is rooted in truth, but that just adds to the mystique and intrigue. They have an LP coming out very soon on Chicago's Contraphonic label, and it is an amazingly broad yet cohesive album. The songs themselves span a wide array of influences—from Wilco-esque country folk to Grizzly Bear-ish baroque pop to some kind of soulful funk rock, and lead single "Totally Fatalist" (see video below) is the kind of jazzy avant-rock you might find with Dave's Assembly project—yet it all feels … right. It's born from some talented musicians and their powerful, united vision, and it shows. They'll play these songs, and more, at the Brillobox on Friday 09.22 with Raw Blow. You definitely want to see this show; I promise it will be good. In the meantime, check out the fascinating and humorous stop-motion video that Dave and pals put together for the title track, with direction by the one and only Hugh Twyman.

    Host Skull: Website / Facebook
    David Bernabo: Website / Twitter

  • Donora / Boyfriends, Girlfriends LP / "The World Is Ours" music video / CD Release Show at Rex Theater on 09.16

    I am so excited that Donora has a new album coming out. I remember buying their self-titled debut on the now defunct site Amie Street, a couple years ago when I first found out about them as I explored the local music scene, and then saw them play a couple live shows. I immediately loved their catchy indie pop songs and their live shows are always a lot of fun. They've played several new songs at shows over the past year and have been working hard on the recordings, and they're finally ready to share them with the waiting world. Boyfriends, Girlfriends will be officially released on 09.27 on Rostrum Records, and they're playing a show on 09.16 to celebrate (and give some of us a chance to buy it early, of course, and hey look at that, New Shouts are playing at that show, too!). Also, a month or so ago I hitched a ride to the suburbs of Pittsburgh to help the band film a video for the song "The World Is Ours" from the new album, and that video premiered on a couple weeks ago. I had no idea what I was getting into, and it ended up being a fun day of sitting around and pretending to play cards with an older gentleman on the porch of somebody's super nice guest house. The video is one continuous shot, so we did about five full takes, plus a bunch of practice ones, and each one required a lot of cleanup afterwards, as you'll see after watching the end result. Hugh also shared some photos from the video shoot. Enjoy the video, and see yinz at the show!

    Donora: Facebook / Twitter / Rostrum Records

  • The Ceiling Stares / new split 7" single with The Super Vacations on Velocity of Sound / 7" Release Show at The Shop on 10.01

    Pittsburgh-based record label Velocity of Sound releases 7" vinyl records of local underground artists, and for their latest single, they've hooked up with the Sweaters & Pearls label to feature two bands. The Super Vacations are from Viriginia and have a deliciously scuzzy and fast-paced psychedelic punk sound. Their side of this single has two 2-minute jams, "Hexing" and "Controller", and they are catchy as hell and, unfortunately, over before you know it. I've definitely played this side like three times in a row back to back. Great stuff. The Ceiling Stares are from Pittsburgh and used their side of the record to stretch out with a 5 minute psych-rock jam entitled "A Tunnel Through The Air". I saw this band play at Howlers last year and noted in a review that their sound is kind of a Jefferson Airplane/Sonic Youth/Pink Floyd hybrid, and I stand by that, and I particularly like this song of theirs. The guitars swirl, the vocals are impassioned, the keys drone, the drums drive, it's all perfect. You can stream the three tracks below, and head over to the Velocity of Sound site to buy them on cool green vinyl! Check out this nice feature in last week's Pgh City Paper, as well. The Ceiling Stares will be playing at The Shop on 10.01 to officially celebrate the vinyl release and, alas, The Super Vacations can't make it then, but locals Flesh Vehicle (who also have a Velocity of Sound release coming out soon) and Holy Daze will play in their stead. Should be a fun night of excellent rock music!
    Controller - The Super Vacations by Velocity of Sound
    Hexing - The Super Vacations by Velocity of Sound
    A Tunnel Through The Air - The Ceiling Stares by Velocity of Sound
    The Ceiling Stares: Website / Facebook / Bandcamp
    The Super Vacations: Blog / Facebook / Tumblr
    Velocity of Sound: Website / Twitter / Soundcloud
    Sweaters & Pearls: Website / Facebook

  • Draw Us Lines / Echo Chamber Recordings

    Last, and certainly not least, I'd like to point out that we've put a lot of work into the Echo Chamber series over on Draw Us Lines (and by "we" I mean Jim, he's the fucking man) and have released the audio recordings from those video shoots as buyable CDs/mp3s! We gave out some download codes to folks who came to our birthday show in July, but you, my friend, can go to our Bandcamp page and buy the whole collection for just $5. These are all local bands playing acoustic versions of their songs, and some of these songs are not available anywhere else! Want to hear an awesome, stripped-down version of New Shouts' jam "Gotta Get Along"? We've got it. Want to hear that lovely Meeting Of Important People song "Oh, Will You Finally Go?"? We've got it. Want to hear indie rock legend Karl Hendricks playing solo in the Children's Museum? We've got that. Stream the whole thing below and you'll see that it's worth it. And head over to Draw Us Lines and watch the videos and read the stories behind them, too, because they're all great. There are plenty more to come, so stay tuned, too.

So that's what I've found lately. Have any other interesting local songs, albums, events, etc. to share? Let me know about 'em!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Jam of the day: "I'm Not A Young Man Anymore"

Artist: The Velvet Underground
Album: Live At The Gymnasium 1967 (live bootleg)
Song: "I'm Not A Young Man Anymore"

There is no other band for which I will so fervently track down bootlegs than The Velvet Underground. I was super late to the party on The VU (my friend introduced them to me in college—sophomore year, I think) but I was really drawn to them and scoured the web for anything I could find. I got ripped CD copies of their studio LPs from said friend, including a version of the Live 1969 album that has a 30-second long skipping section during "New Age" that is, at this point, so much a part of the song for me that when I played that version on vinyl when that friend visited me last month we both thought it sounded really odd for some reason. Yeah, we listened to it that much. I remember finding some freakin' .ra files or something crazy of some live show in Cleveland, I think, from 1969 that included a sweet jam of "Can't Stand It". See, I still remember this, even though I've long since lost track of the file itself, let alone the source. I bought the CD box set version of The Bootleg Series, Volume 1: The Quine Tapes when it came out, and that may very well be the last CD I bought. I really can't remember, but that was also at a time in my life when I hardly ever spent money on music. Obviously, things have changed greatly since then.

So, a couple years ago, a bootleg surfaced of recordings of The VU from early 1967 at The Gymnasium, a NYC venue. I somehow missed out on that hot news item until like 4 months ago, when I spotted the album on some blog post about the best internet bootlegs of all time, when I downloaded it and listened. It's the grungiest, garage-iest, and rocking-est that The VU can possibly be, really, and featues early versions of three album cuts ("I'm Waiting For The Man" and "Run, Run, Run" and "Sister Ray") and a previously-released B-side ("Guess I'm Falling In Love", an instrumental version of which appears on Another View, and a regular version of which appears on the Peel Slowly and See box set) and … the topic of discussion: "I'm Not A Young Man Anymore", a track that appears nowhere else in The VU's vast canon! Hot diggity doggety dag! I've jammed that album a number of times in the last few months after downloading it (which you can download here or here) and they are all awesome versions of these songs. But that is the only reason I would know the song "I'm Not A Young Man Anymore".

Imagine my surprise, then, when I'm sitting at Jitters, in Shadyside, just three or four days ago, when this very song comes on over the house speakers, on the barista's playlist! I started humming/singing along, and I really wasn't quite sure why. I knew instantly it was a VU song, but I couldn't even remember that it was from this bootleg. Imagine my even further surprise, then, when I'm at a concert earlier this evening (to see The Black Lips at Mr. Small's) and the opening band, Night Beats, announces, "This one's a cover song …" and launches right into a heady jam of this very song! I never even knew about this song until a few short months ago, then totally forgot about it, then was reminded of it twice within a week. That is coincidental, my friends (not ironic, mind you).

So in any event, behold, below, in static video but impressively plastic audio formats, The Velvet Underground's song, "I'm Not A Young Man Anymore".

Bonus! Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips, as Dean & Britta, covered this song for their album 13 Most Beautiful … Songs For Andy Warhol's Screen Tests, which soundtrack a series of short films made by Andy Warhol consisting of closeup footage of some of the characters that hung around his "factory" back in the day, of which Lou Reed was a prominent member. For Lou's closeup footage, D & B cover this very tune. Check out that version below.

Oh, FWIW, the Night Beats version was all well and good, great for the live setting in which we were in, but for the most part a more "faithful" cover than D & B's version, which made me like it way more at the time, but slightly less now, in just-a-few-hours-even retrospect. So there's that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Jam of the day: "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere"

Artist: Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Album: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Song: "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere"
Released: May 14, 1969
Label: Reprise

Man, Neil Young is somethin' else. This is hard-driving folk rock at its finest, all the way back from 1969. I found a used copy of this LP at Jerry's a few months ago and picked it up, thinking at the time, "Hey, I haven't really listened to a lot of Neil in my life, maybe I should check this out." I'm really glad I made that decision. There are a few skips on this scratchy copy I have, but who cares, I've played this like every other day since then. It jumps right in with the handclaps and epic riff of "Cinnamon Girl", and when the beautiful "Round & Round" winds to an end and the first quiet guitar strum of "Down By The River" kicks in and I know that this awesome jam is about to run its course, building a 9+ minute folk rock freakout … yeah, definite eargasm.

But the song I want to mention is the title track, another wonderful gem of a folk rock song. The "la la la" falsetto sticks in your head, and I've found myself singing it out loud while walking/riding around town lately. The bass is bouncy and playful, the guitar is as catchy as anything else ever, and the overall mood of the song is perfect for those times when I've just put the album on and stretched out on my couch and stared out the window at the rain clouds, trying to forget about everything else. By chance, the song was also mentioned on an episode of NPR's All Songs Considered that I listened to just the other day, whence the impetus for the post. They were looking for songs that represented "summer" for listeners, and one lady sent in a perfect description of why this song always signals, for her, the return to her small town life in the summer, going back home and seeing the same people that all know each other. Listen to the podcast; this story starts at the 11:15 mark. It is really a perfect story. This is why we like music. Seriously, listen to her story.

"Everybody seems to wonder what it's like down here / I gotta get away from this day-to-day runnin' around / Everybody knows this is nowhere"

Buy Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere: Insound / Amazon / iTunes / eMusic

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jam of the day: "Antenna"

Artist: Sonic Youth
Album: The Eternal
Song: "Antenna"
Released: June 9, 2009
Label: Matador Records

Consider this my first entry in an attempt to get back to an actual "jam of the day", as in a daily sharing of a jam. I played The Eternal on my mini-speakers in my bathroom while showering earlier this evening. Usually, I play something upbeat and poppy that I can sing along to (or at least try to, before realizing I can't sing at all) but this time I felt like something more ... I don't know, sprawling, less "sing-songy". I picked Sonic Youth's latest studio LP because I can kinda sing along to some of it, like "Sacred Trixster", but also because it would be fun to blare in a tiny, tiled room. I definitely belted out the verses of the pop-punk speed-ride of "Sacred Trixster" and did my best to mirror Kim Gordon's husky "uh uh uh uh" during "Anti-Orgasm", then struggled with the lyrics to "Leaky Lifeboat" (I haven't quite picked those up yet) but then "Antenna" came on and I pretty much blissed out while rinsing out the conditioner from my lengthy locks. It's not often that a song comes along and stops you in your tracks. In particular, I thought back to watching Sonic Youth play some of these songs for a session a couple years ago when the album came out. I remembered the way that Thurston Moore alternates some foot pedals during the "uh huh -- uh huh" part of "Sacred Trixster" and mimicked that part with my feet. I remembered the overhead view of Steve Shelley's drum parts during "What We Know" and the way Lee Ranaldo leans back during the rising guitar riffs and then leans back into the mic to sing. (Yeah, I really like that song. A lot.) And then I thought of "Antenna" when it came on my iPod. The album version of the song is 6+ minutes, stretching out some noisy guitar effects over a lovely melody, with slow crescendos and plaintive singing all about ... the effect of technology on society? The inevitable singularity? The disconnect between human contact and intercontinental communication? Hard to say. What I can say, though, is that this song is a true jam. It has the ability to steal my thoughts away and wedge my mind into the spaces between the notes and carry me along the undulating sound waves to wherever they're going. And then I'm back where I started, sitting here at my kitchen table with headphones on. And then the journey starts all over again.

Buy The Eternal: Matador Records / SYR Store / Insound / Amazon / iTunes

Friday, June 17, 2011

Upcoming concerts: R Stevie Moore, Milk Music, and Mind Cure Records anniversary sale

There are some interesting shows going on tomorrow night, as well as a fantastic music appreciation event going on during the day. I'm still trying to decide where to go in the evening, but for sure during the day you'll find me scouring the racks at Mind Cure Records in Polish Hill. This little gem on the third floor of a building on Dobson Street has been around for just about one whole year, and they've decided to celebrate that occasion by putting out a ton of used vinyl that usually wouldn't be for sale AND knocking 15% off all prices. Hot dog!

Mind Cure has really been expanding their new releases section over the months, their used selection is far larger than Paul's CDs and way more eclectic than Jerry's, and I've made some great finds in their 7" section in the past. I've got a few new releases in mind I'm hoping to pick up (The Coathangers, The Rosebuds, Woods, etc.) and I'm sure I'll stumble on something else that I'll just have to buy. If you've never been there, this would be the day to do it (15% off!) and if you have been, well, just go again anyway. Stop by Lili Coffee shop on the first floor, too, for some delicious caffeinated beverages and homemade quiche. And follow Mind Cure's blog to keep up with special announcements like this one. This Facebook event has more info. They'll be open 12-8pm.

I was woefully unaware of R. Stevie Moore until last week when I got a promo email about his show in Pittsburgh tomorrow night. He is "known in some circles as the Godfather of Home Recording" and is going on his first tour ever. He's 59 and looks like a crazy Santa, in a good way. His back story is nothing short of fascinating—grew up in Tennessee, moved to NJ, moved back to Tennessee, along the way recorded about 400 (!) full-length albums of songs all by himself—and the list of musicians he has apparently influenced and/or inspired—Robert Schneider of Apples In Stereo (that got me interested, they're one of my faves), Ariel Pink, MGMT, and more—is impressive and noteworthy. In addition to having such a prolific career in his bedroom (not a sex joke), the styles of songs he has written and recorded run the gamut from weirdo indie rock to pop/punk to folk to Beatles-esque pop and back again. It's fucking impressive. He also has a bunch of self-recorded music videos and they're all over YouTube (see one for "I Like To Stay Home" below). The tour he's embarked upon came about earlier this year via a Kickstarter project, a documentary film about him in the works, and a fortuitous introduction to the fellows in Tropical Ooze, his backing band for the tour (he usually plays all of the instruments on his recordings). The Pgh City Paper ran an excellent interview feature on him earlier this week, so definitely check that out here for more information. The show is at ModernFormations Gallery, starts at 8:00, $12 at the door (or $10 in advance if you can find tickets somewhere around town, maybe at Calibans Books?) Also playing are Pgh's own Weird Paul (who no doubt was inspired by R. Stevie Moore himself and embodies a similar tendency for a prolific output of weirdo catchy rock tunes) and Hot Dog Forest (silly name!). This will be an interesting show, for sure.

R. Stevie Moore on the web: Website / Tour Blog / Wikipedia
Weird Paul on the web: Website / Facebook / Bandcamp

Gooski's in Polish Hill will be the perfect spot for four noisy fuzz-rock bands to play on a Saturday night. I'm interested in seeing Milk Music after reading a brief blurb in the City Paper yesterday. Andy writes, "Expect lots of screaming guitars and probably some screaming people tonight at Gooski's when Olympia's early-Dino Jr.-worshipping Milk Music plays." Sounds awesome to me. I had some serious trouble finding any information about the band online (no website, Facebook, not even Myspace; how punk!) and stumbled upon at least two other bands with very similar names that sounded nothing like fuzzy garage rock. But eventually I found this interview with singer/guitarist Alex Coxen, and this blog post about their only official release, a 6-song, 21-minute LP entitled Beyond Living (download link in the post, shhh!). Also playing are Ohioans Puffy Areolas (beloved by Reading Rainbow, apparently!) who rocked the fuck out at Hozac Records' Blackout Fest just a few weeks ago, Brain Killer from MA, and locals Slices. I don't know much about any of these bands except that it will be a raucous and noisy night. Better bring my earplugs. Show is at 10:00, only $5.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Upcoming concert: Son of the Sun / Wednesday June 15 @ Smiling Moose

It's no secret that I dig garage rock and psychedelia and all that good 60s stuff. I can't seem to get enough of it, and plenty of bands are giving those genres a go (tell me you accidentally read that as "gone-ruhs" so it's alliterative, like I did after writing it), so I like to catch any new stuff that fits that style, but somehow I missed seeing Son of the Sun in my inbox until just now. And they're playing in town at the Smiling Moose on the South Side tomorrow (Wednesday) night, June 15. So if you got locked out of that sold out Cults show, are in the mood for some genuinely soulful psych rock, are just looking for a place to hang out and catch some tunes, or some combination of all of the above, look no further. Doors are at 9:00 and show at 9:30, only $5.

Son of the Sun are from Buffalo, by way of a California/New York cross-country internet collaboration between two members back in 2007 that evolved into a full quintet in upstate New York, an EP in early 2008, an LP in mid 2010, and another EP set to be released next month. I gave a listen to a few tracks from each album and was pleasantly surprised by a number of things: the production quality, the atmospheres, the development from record to record, and the incorporation of heartfelt soul elements and lyrics into some genuine rockers. Their Before the After EP sounds kinda lethargic and languid, but that's probably because I listened to their more recent stuff first. "Big Record Breaker" is hazy and synth/drum machine-driven and comes across almost like an Atlas Sound song, while "Listen Darkly" incorporates some more traditional rock instruments and arrangements but maintains that fuzzy ambience. The Happy Loss is full of guitars, bass and "real" drums, but sustains singer/guitarist Zak Ward's soulful vocals and lyrics. "How Can It Be?" is a rather lovely example of those stylings, "Get Together" kicks off with a rockin' riff and keeps on rollin', and "Stay the Same" has some awesome drums and sounds like an early Kinks tune in a really good way. They've only released one song from the newest album, the Almost Not There EP, entitled "My Best Mistake", and if it is a mistake, then it's a pretty durn good one. I hear some elements of early hits by The Byrds in the percussion and rollicking bass lines, but the songwriting and singing is decidedly more modern, almost like Wilco meets The Killers, if that makes any sense. Just give it a listen:

Two Pittsburgh bands are playing at the show, as well: Psychic Boots and Yours Truly, both new to me. I jammed a few Psychic Boots tunes on their Bandcamp page ("name your own price" for the EP!) and they've got a similarly solid garage rock/psychedelia blend going on, but definitely a little heavier on the garage, a little rougher around the edges, but in a fun and sloppy-for-the-hell-of-it kind of way. That page has a little synopsis at the bottom that I'd like to quote and politely disagree with, but really only to support the implied tone that they'd like to do something about the claim contained therein:

Rock n' Roll is your dad's music. All its original practictioners are now old, uncool, or dead. Rock n' roll is no longer a vehicle for teenage rebellion, it's now beat music for the geriatric set. Its original intentions are gone, the youthful and sexual connotations are gone!

The tags on Yours Truly's Bandcamp page are "crunk-hop crunkcore indie pop progressive rock progressive rock". Interesting, and the songs bear that out. They're ebullient with punk/pop energy and harmonized vocals, but also feature some ska-esque brass and indie-emo-rock guitar/bass lines. Intriguing mix. Also, don't confuse them with the San Francisco-based music/film/art collective of the same name.

Son of the Sun on the web: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp

Psychic Boots on the web: Facebook / Bandcamp

Yours Truly on the web: Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp / YouTube / Feature/interview with Pgh Music Report, July 2010

Monday, June 13, 2011

Jam of the day, and a rhetorical contemplation on music journalism: Yuck / "The Wall"

I present this jam, up front, sans debate or even really commentary, save for the title of the Daytrotter session wherein I discovered this tune: All The Old Is All The New.

So what did you think? Somehow, I had put off listening to Yuck for a while after they kinda "broke" in the blog world. (Blogosphere is not a word.) I didn't dislike the description of their sound, nor was I put off by the early and effusive press coverage. I just didn't care whether I heard their songs or not. There are only so many bands I can listen to and keep up with and ... that's that, really. About a month ago, though, I listened to their Daytrotter session ... on my phone! Because Daytrotter released an Android app. It's great, that app. Yuck were one of the "most played" sessions, so I gave them a listen. And I liked it. "The Wall", in particular, kinda stuck in my head. I listened to that session on my bike, riding around town, and it was catchy and hummable and singable and kept my mind buzzing and active and my head bobbing and my foot tapping and everything else that a good song should do. Did I think about the recycling of 90s indie rock sounds? No. Did I think about the complexity of lyrics, or lack thereof? No. Did I think about the ages of the band members, or their maturity, or musical history knowledge? No. It was a good song, and it really caught my ears for awhile, and still does. I like listening to it.

So can someone please explain for me this album review here, from The Quietus? This review says nothing about their music beyond how it's "retrogressive" and embodies "laziness". It's written by someone who admits that they "hated this kind of Lemonheads-lite, floral-dressed, clompety-booted, neurotic ninny inanity the first time round" and proceeds to dislike how it has come up in time and space again, and that admission was made in the first paragraph (including the teaser sentence along with that), so why should I lend any reasonable credence to the ensuing words? After rhetorically asking whether it even matters that this music is so "obviously" an uninspired rehashing of prior trends, the author responds with an emphatic, "yes": "It matters because there's absolutely no way this music could say anything to anyone about their lives in 2011. Try playing this album over news footage of the student riots and it will seems as appropriate as Mungo Jerry's 'In The Summertime'." Oh my god, or lack thereof. This music isn't saying something outlandishly weighty and everyone-join-handsy and meaningful for everyone at this current moment in time? Holy fuck, we shouldn't bother listening at all, because that's exactly what music should do, all the time, and anything falling short is not worth the shameful waste of atoms it represents.

The weird thing is, I'm not even a huge fan of this album, I just don't understand this review. Do people like to read complete thrashings of things that are "popular" out of some morbid fascination? I don't get that. Say something meaningful in your review, please. I spent the time reading it, and it shouldn't leave me feeling about it like the author felt about the album defamed therein. Why bother writing about it, if that's how you feel?

You should enjoy another song & video and forget about what you just read:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Jam of the day: Ultimate Spinach / "Ballad Of The Hip Death Goddess"

Psychedelia epitomized, that is the name of the game for Ultimate Spinach. This Boston band put out three LPs in the late 1960s, full of awesome psychedelic rock gems. You might hear a few strains of their songs and write them off as too "typical" or something; they really do make in-your-face druggy jams, which isn't exactly inventive, but these jams are such perfect examples of this style, and who are we to not give them credit and laudation for epitomizing an epic style of rock music? Ultimate Spinach songs are generally languid yet mind-expanding instrumental adventures, with some female/male vocals peppered in, and they are endlessly listenable. They make you want to turn on the lava lamp, slouch into the couch, and drop out, and this is strongly encouraged, but not necessary. They have some poppier psych-rockers, like "Funny Freak Parade" and "Dove In Hawk's Clothing", but Ultimate Spinach should be recognized for their powerfully evocative jams. This song, "Ballad Of The Hip Death Goddess", is the example I've chosen, but don't let that stop you from exploring their catalog.

The reason I bring this song up now is because of a couple of random occurrences related to this song from a couple weeks ago. I just had to share. First off, though, I should say that I found this band also randomly, on the internet (via eMusic, I believe) and really dug the two albums of theirs I heard, Ultimate Spinach and Behold & See. I listened to those mp3s quite frequently for a while, and when I saw a used vinyl copy of Behold & See at Red Onion Records in D.C. over New Year's this year, I had to buy it. I spun it a number of times right after buying it, but kinda forgot about it until recently. Comedian Andy Kindler tweeted some random hashtag stuff about #BadCoffeeShopNames, which morphed somehow into #badbandnames and #comedianbands and #confusingbandnames and #badcomedyclubnames and so on. Silly stuff, but that's the Twitter-verse for ya! Anyhow, Andy sent out this tweet that mentioned Ultimate Spinach as a #badbandname and I "politely disagreed while not really disagreeing but merely qualifiying the claim" by saying this back to him, and he deemed it worthy of a retweet. Huzzah! And it was about this jam I'm featuring now, in particular. Double huzzah huzzah! Thus far in my short Twitter life, I've been retweeted by Todd Barry and Andy Kindler, both funny comedians and Home Movies voice actors! Now I just gotta track down Brendon Small, Ron Lynch, Jon Benjamin, Laura Silverman, Mitch Hedberg, . . . uh oh.

Anyway, the other coincidence with this song involves a compilation album I just bought (on eMusic, even, whaddyaknow?) last week. I had been looking through the Dungen catalog (trying to research/listen to write a New Classic on Ta Det Lugnt) and saw they had an instrumental version of "Satt Att Se" on a compilaton album, called A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding In Your Mind. I saw this album had a gigantic amount of music for a cheap price, and was intrigued by ... well, the title. I downloaded the whole thing and listened through most of it in one inspired and lethargic sitting. It was great for that mood. And somewhere in the middle, I heard Ultimate Spinach come on! How could I mistake those opening chiming bells, so melancholy yet enticing, for anything else? In a way, the tune is kinda formulaic—repetitive bass groove, reverby vochals, ethereal lyrical themes, tinges of feedback on the lengthy guitar solo—but this song is so much more than the sum of its constituent parts. It's about a mood, a sense of existence, and powerful emotions. It's evocative, it's scary, it's groovy, it's psychedlic, baby. Check it out.

See the glazed eyes
Touch the dead skin
Feel the cold lips
And know the warmth of the hip death goddess

On an only slightly related note, the guy who put the compilation together (and whose band, the Amorphous Androgynous, also has a couple songs on the compilation, strangely enough) seems to be really ... interesting. While reading about the band I stumbled on this video of his featuring a crazy religious lady at Speakers' Corner in London. If you've never been there, and you're in London, you have to see it. Somehow, the northeast corner of Hyde Park has been designated as the spot where anyone can just show up and start shouting at the world. It's weirdly fascinating.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Video jam of the day: The Pack A.D. / "Cobra Matte" (with Legos!)

Becky Black and Maya Miller play some awesome bluesy garage rock. If you like The Black Keys or The White Stripes or some other color/noun combo-named band, you'll probably dig this stuff. I found their album Funeral Mixtape a couple years ago and it became a jogging soundtrack staple. I can still remember this particular moment where I ran up a large hill near my apartment and right as I crested it and started to sail down the other side, their song "Making Gestures" hit a huge crescendo and the an absolutely slammin' guitar solo came in ... It was fanfuckingtastic. Just listen through the first minute 80 seconds of the song and you'll see what I mean. And then keep listening, because there's just more of that awesomeness.

They released We Kill Computers about a year ago, and put out a video for the chug-a-lug rocker "Cobra Matte". I wrote about that video over at Draw Us Lines a couple months ago when it came out, and you can see that description below.

The Pack a.d. / "Cobra Matte" / We Kill Computers [Mint] / dir. Jimi Cuell

The music of The Pack a.d. and the style of this video are remarkably similar. The goal of both is to make the most mess out of a few basic elements. For the band, the idea is to take a guitar and drums and make some pounding blues-rock sounds with heavy riffs and powerful vocals. For the video, the idea is to take the two band members themselves, with instruments, and film them against a drab backdrop getting slaughtered with food, beverage, silly string, and so forth, in between playing their instruments, all in one seemingly-continuous shot while maintaining the appearance of pristine black clothing. I dig their albums, myself, but even if this song isn’t your bag, try watching and figuring out how in the heck they spliced the video clips together to make it into a seamless view. Did they have to play anything backwards? Who’s tossing the shit in from the sides? Just how tall is the guitarist? And so on.

The reason I bring this all up today, though, is because some of the band's friends just made a Lego version of the video you saw above! It's an interesting idea to do, in general, and I think it works pretty well with this one. I would have liked to see the "messy" parts of the video a bit more inventive in the Lego version, but I guess you don't want to ruin your toys when you play with them, ya know? Anyway, enjoy this one, too:

Bonus video! I found this one a while ago and haven't had an occasion to share it, but now it's kinda relevant, so here it is. There's a classic video of Joy Division on the BBC playing "Transmission" (a tune I've "covered" here before, hah). It's a great song and a great performance, especially with Ian Curtis' dance moves. Someone recently made a stop-motion version with Playmobil! Man, I had so many of those toys when I was younger. They're still in my basement somewhere, hmm ... Anyway, check out the original video here, and enjoy the animated one below: