Sunday, April 1, 2012

Jams of the day, band name stories, and the many projects of J Mascis: Heavy Blanket / "Dr Marten's Blues" & Electronic Anthology Project / "Tarpit"

I've heard about two musical projects in the last couple of months and just about the only thing they have in common is one man: J Mascis. This guitar wizard has played in so many great bands and released so much awesome music into the world, and there's clearly no end in sight. Dinosaur Jr. is amazing, of course, and I was really wowed by last year's solo LP, Several Shades of Why. Great songwriting, and that growly voice of his still holds up in an acoustic setting like that.

I saw on Pitchfork last week that J and some pals will release an LP of instrumental psychedelic rock tunes in May. They've shared one track, "Dr Marten's Blues", and it is an absolute scorcher. Well, it's actually just a catchy bass rumble and a pounding beat that almost serves as an excuse for J to shread a massive guitar solo over the whole thing for four minutes. Yeah. I mean, it's an awesome solo. I literally can't stop listening to it. I'm pretty sure the whole LP will be like this, which … actually intrigues me.

Another part of this story, besides the surprising and weird nature of it all, is that the band apparently has a crazy, wild, pretty much unbelievable story. I'm sure it's rooted in some truth, but … it's hard to say. You can read the whole thing on their record label's website and see for yourself, but here's a choice selection:
He remembered a couple kids from his early high school days – stoner kids he’d always admired for their “who gives a shit” attitude. Those kids, Johnny Pancake and Pete Cougar, had been kicked out of marching band for smoking weed out of a tuba. Way better musicians than the marching band deserved, they’d formed a duo that was all rhythm section – no vocals, no guitar, a sick, punchy brew of Band of Gypsies and Japanese hard psych (Johnny’s uncle was a US Marine stationed on Okinawa in 1973. From his frequent visits to Tokyo, he brought home a killer psych record collection. And a mean dose of the clap). These were the guys he needed. He rounded them up and it soon became obvious that the heavy rhythms they created were the perfect backdrop to young Mascis’ insane, fluid ability on the guitar. The trio came up with six blistering tracks, named themselves Heavy Blanket, and set a date to record.

I imagine that the Heavy Blanket moniker has something to do with the thick, sumptuous slab of sound these guys produce, or something about what this type of music does to your brain … you get the idea. But it makes me think about how bands get together, decide on a name, name some tracks and an album. There's a lot of naming. My favorite band name story is far-and-away Yo La Tengo, though; here's a great video of Ira Kaplan (and special guest!) describing the story.

The other musical venture I heard about recently is one by Built To Spill's bassist, Brett Nelson. His Electronic Anthology Project … er, project … covers entire albums of rock music in a more electronic/synthified way. His description sums it up nicely:
I truly love bands like Talk Talk, Men Without Hats, and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, but I also love bands like Dinosaur Jr., The Replacements, and The Pixies. So what if I merged my two loves together?
An upcoming LP—set for release on Record Store Day—will have nine Dinosar Jr. tracks, with J Mascis singing on each one. (He might have re-recorded these vocals for this release? Not totally sure.) Have a listen to the old and the new versions here and see what you think. I'm intrigued but probably not enough to actually buy anything …

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