Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Jazz and Heritage Festival 2006

Off to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival now. Was only there once before but looking forward to the warm weather, good food and lots of music (kind of like SXSW). Also wanted to be there to support the local post-Katrina economy. Like Mardi Gras, it will no doubt be scaled back but there's still a lot of music planned. I'd still like to know why Cleveland and Seattle are the ones with the huge music museums that overshadow NOLA (not to mention Memphis, Chicago).

Here's hoping that the storm season coming up won't be as bad as last year for NOLA and that it keeps coming back. If you want to keep helping that happen (and you're suspicious about recent wasteful allegations about the Red Cross), you can also do your part with The United Way
and (how do you like this for a name) the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.

And say hi to me if you're there at the Fest. I'll be the one stuffing his face with crawfish bread.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Pioneers of Electronic Music- who needs Cage?

I was pretty depressed to learn a year or two ago that one of the best collections of 20th century electronic music wasn't available any longer. I'd been meaning to write about that and how these important voices were going to be harder to find when I stumbled across a reissue that just came out. Thanks to the fine folks at New World Records, Pioneers of Electronic Music is now available again. I remember it as a wonderful asset when I was working to put together my own collection (OHM- The Early Gurus of Electronic Music, just reissued!).

This compilation from 1991 documents some of the most important American composers who, no better word for it, pioneered the field during the 50's and 60's, and before this music crawled into pop consciousness.

Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening, who both should be on postage stamps by now, helped to found and nurture the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music center with composer Milton Babbitt. Some of the history of the center can be found at PSF.

What's striking about Ussachevsky's and Luening's work is how utterly other worldly it still sounds today. Their experiences with tape manipulation produced oddly compelling sounds above and beyond what was up until then unheard from conventional instruments.

(As an interesting later connection, when I was writing a piece about Zappa's early music for Relix, I was wondering where the wild electronic music he created on albums like We're Only In It For the Money originated from. He was a big Varese fan of course but listen to some of Ussachevsky's compositions on the Pioneers album and see if it doesn't match what Zappa did later.)

In addition to Vlad and Otto, Pioneers also chronicles the too-often ignored work of women in the field including Alice Shields and Pril Smiley (a wonderful person, by the way).

It's so nice to think that this wonderfully strange, historically important music is available now. It's also gratifying to think that the Columbia center is still around and thriving, now called the Computer Music Center ("the oldest center for Electroacoustic music in the United States").

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Demolition Doll Rods get religion

You have to hand it to Demolition Doll Rods - between their name, their album covers and their music, they have a unerring single-minded purpose. Their sleazy chugging rock knows no stop sign or until now, even a yield sign.

Their 'bio' should give you a good idea of their mindset:

"The Demolition Doll Rods are children of God who were sent to this planet to inspire the creative forces that lie at the heart and soul of each and every living creature... As they get around they will strip you down, pow your wow, challenge you to live right here and right now. Each and every nation shall experience this sensation."

Like the Ramones, they all give up their last names of birth to become reborn as a band (as "Doll Rod") but as far as grunge boogie, bands like the Neckbones or New Bomb Turks might do it better than DDR even though you get the impression from their records that they probably do a dynamite live show.

What makes their latest album, There Is A Difference, special isn't just their usual speed, velocity and noise but the way that temporarily reconsider their sinful ways. Along with the gospel melody at the end, they sink their teeth into "Amazing Grace." Being the "Louie, Louie" of gospel, which means no one can count how often it's been covered, it's a natural song to cover for any performer who wants to invoke religion. But what makes the DDR version stand out is that they don't treat it as piously as it's usually treated. The gorgeous melody is still there and they take it at the slowed pace we're used to hearing it at.

But they also make it sound like the sinners on the other side of salvation that the song tells of. A guitar thunders along through the chord changes while the drums pound like they're ready to back up a stripper. They're heathens still on the Saturday night side of the weekend but crawling towards Sunday morning redemption, trapped for the moment in spiritual limbo. Not many bands can evoke hellfire and heaven in the same song but for a few minutes, DDR manage it, angonizingly crawling out of the fiery pits. Make no mistake- brother Jerry Lee (and hopefully Al Green) would appreciate their effort and accomplishment.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Eagles of Death Metal- thank god for dum fun

Even if you didn't know that they were Queens of the Stone Age in disguise, you'd still pick up that Eagles of Death Metal are on the QOTSA sound tip with their lovely little Death By Sexy... CD. There's a big difference though- where the Queens started off silly and raunchy, they made the mistake of taking themselves too seriously, like this kind of revivalist sludgy me-decade hard rock is supposed to be "significant" or something. Big mistake there, guys...

Luckily, they've righted themselves with Eagles, which is just the kind of dum fun that you'd hope it to be with such a hilariously off-putting name. Rhyming "cherry cola" with "rock and roller"? Delicate guitars and maracas breaks with gulped vocals on a song called "Solid Gold"? Lyrical wisdom like "Get your motor running and dance with me" followed by a line about your mama? It's freakin' boogie brilliance, really.

Now if only the QOTSA could loosen up as much once again. No matter what they call themselves, they'd beat Electric Six at their own game by making the songs as catchy without always worrying if they're swarmy enough. They are and forcing it isn't the way to go, unless they want to go back to playing small bars like most of their '70's heroes do nowadays.

The only thing I wonder about otherwise is what the Queens/Eagles will think of for their next band name: (regal name) of (music genre or time period). Dukes of Alt-Country are a little obvious but maybe Cardinals of the Plague years? Too bad Birdsongs of the Mesozoic is already taken...

(You can listen to (stream) the whole Eagles of Death Metal album at Napster)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fela's legacy

Anyone who still mourns Afro-beat pioneer and truly world music man Fela Kuti can find some solace from the good people at Daptone Records. Not only have they put out a reissue of the Daktaris' 1998 Soul Explosion album, but they've also recently put out the Budos Band's self-titled album, both of which are wonderful tributes to the spirit of Kuti. You get the rumbling current of percussion, the elephant-screaming horns and the chugging groove that were the staple of many Kuti albums. Add in Antibalas and you have a makings of a stateside Afro-beat revival, thanks in to the same people who brought us the soulful Sharon Jones.

Much as I enjoyed dancing to Antibalas at the steps of Columbia University's library a year or two ago, I also realized that there's still something missing from these bands- obvious as it may seem, it's Fela himself. You could make all the stupid arguments that you want that the guy wasn't a singer at the same level of Youssou N'Dour or sax player to vie with say Manu Dibango and that his politics were mostly about himself (very debatable). But you cannot deny how much spirit the man had. It came through on all of his albums- he was that much of a presence. He was so sure of himself that you compelled to follow him through side long journeys on his albums. Which isn't to say that Budos or Daktaris or Antibalas don't put out enjoyable records but somehow, you keep waiting for Fela to inject his philosophy, rantings, demands but it doesn't come (though Antibalas have been known to inject righteous anti-war propaganda).

For anyone interested in a good tome, another fitting Fela tribute is Trevor Schoonmaker's 2003 anthology From West Africa to West Broadway where everything from Fela's politics to his album artwork is dissected.

Now all I'm wondering is when someone is going to do a Fela bio-film. You don't get figures much more larger than life than Mr. Kuti and if you want dramatic conflict, this guy butted heads (taunted even) the Nigerian government many times. You could already have the three bands above provide a soundtrack along with his son Femi and his still active drummer Tony Allen. What the hell are the studios waiting for?

(As a side note, as much as I love for providing such a great ease-of-use tool as this, they've lately been piss-poor when it comes to photo uploads, which is why you initially didn't see any album covers or pictures with this post. I had to give up after several tries of including a picture here and finally got one here after trying again the next day. C'mon guys- get your act together and let us provide pretty pictures for the blog faithful.)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

"Arthur Lee needs Love"

Forwarded from Mike Watt, from some West Coast friends:

Arthur Lee from Love has recently been diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and has undergone 3 weeks of aggressive chemotherapy. Doctors are hopeful for a full recovery, but Arthur still faces more chemo, extensive hospital stays, and a possible bone marrow transplant. Arthur Lee has no health insurance to cover his growing (over $100,000+) medical bills.

Arthur Lee (Love) is a man larger than life. A flamboyant artist with a trail of myth and mythology that follows him like a purple feathered boa. His band Love was the first rock band signed to Electra, and Arthur is responsible for talking Jac Holtzman into signing the Doors. Before all this, in 1964, Arthur gave his friend, an unknown Jimi Hendrix, his first appearance on record (the Arthur penned My Diary, by Rosa Lee Brooks). Love's third recording, "Forever Changes", is still widely considered to be one of the great rock n roll discs of all time. Love were true artists, but not "careerist". They preferred living together in "the castle" near Griffith Park, to life on the road. Arthur even turned down invitations to perform at the Monterrey Pop Festival and Woodstock.

In the 90's Arthur spent eight years behind bars for "allegedly" shooting off a gun in his apartment. When he was released, he wasted no time getting back to the road and his music. During the past four years, Arthur has performed "Forever Changes" to sold out audiences and fantastic reviews throughout Europe and the United States, backed by the local group Baby Lemonade, and a string and horn section. Just when he thought his bad times were finally over, he learned he was sick.

To help cover his medical expenses, Spaceland Productions, Bruce Solar from The Agency Group, and Mark Linn from Delmore Recording Society are producing a benefit concert/tribute for Arthur. We would like to extend a warm invitation to those bands and performers who want to be part of this benefit to honor one of the greatest singer / songwriters of our time.

The concert will be held in late May / early June; we are looking at venues of all sizes: The Avalon, El Rey, Disney Hall, or GreekTheatre with the line up determining the location. Artists we are currently speaking with include X, Calexico, and Cake. Baby Lemonade is available to back up any singer and there will be a string section as well.

We are looking for artists to perform a few of Arthur's songs that capture the spirit and magic of Arthur Lee & Love. All proceeds will go to Arthur's medical expenses.

For further information please contact:

Mitchell Frank or Liz Garo: 323 662 7728
Bruce Solar: 310 385 2800
Mark Linn: 615 480 6923

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Old punks don't fade away: Gina Birch & Henry Rollins

Ever wonder what happens to old punks?

Well... Gina Birch, of the Raincoats, has her own My Space website to chronicle her latest adventures. While the ol' band ain't around now (damn it!), she's making her own music and doing shows at least:

"Well... I am the only (Raincoats) member right now.. so mostly playing solo, either just with my guitar, or with video projections and some playback that I recorded. The Hangovers, my last band was made up of Ida Akesson, John Frenett, Joe Dilworth, and Simon Fisher Turner, and we recorded the Slow Dirty Tears album - Mary Deigan played bass on some of the tracks and then took over from John Frenett. Dave Barbarossa joined on drums and we recorded quite a few tracks which are still brewing like a good wine or a new version of Worcester sauce."

Also note that she doesn't have a label yet for her work. Shouldn't some wise indie out there be on the case...?

As for former Black Flag screamer and stand-up comedian Henry Rollins, he has one of the finest 1/2 hours on cable TV: The Henry Rollins Show on IFC. The latest episode has Oliver Stone and HR made the director sound totally reasonable and not like a conspiracy nut (a great coup) plus there was some of his own unbridled commentary about the Iraq War- he's visited the troops there and still insists that it's a big boondoggle (which it is). Plus a nice letter to Laura Bush, suggesting that he and her have a lot more in common than George so they should hang out. Plus a great appearance by Sleater-Kinner (available on the website). All good and well but this guy deserves a whole hour to himself.