Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A helping of (Eddie) Spaghetti

I was never really a Supersuckers fan whether they were trying to be a hillbilly joke or not and Eddie Spaghetti is a pretty ridiculous rock name (a kiddie performer uses the name too). And even though the cover is dumb cartoon joke, what a nice surprise his recent solo album (Old No. 2) is, starting out with a good Dylan cover that hasn't been overdone ("Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You") and including a fine Nick Lowe cover ("Without Love," also done by Johnny Cash). Maybe his secret is that he doesn't overdo the material too much. Also, he's smart enough not to strain a voice that doesn't have a lot of range. His lowkey growl is just right for the hangover woes of "Carry Me Home" as well as the sweet, regretful "Some People Say" and the bouncy Sir Douglas Quintet joy of "Hey Sexy." As much as I like the idea of alt-country and roots music, too much of it today is mushy or snoozy. This is neither.

All Music has song samples or you can listen to the whole album at Napster.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Indie post-hardcore lives

They call themselves "post-hardcore/alternative/hip-hop' but Tiger Force only has the first part of that right (yet another reason why bands need labels or friends to write copy for them). They do have the hammer-drill pound of hardcore but this guy-girl duo are also proudly lo-fi and their drum programming skills are appropriately minimal. But their DIY spirit is damn refreshing. aNdy fOrce (who must be a Skinny Puppy fan) and xHelen Tigerx (great name, eh?) thrash their guitars and yelp their vocals in such a enthused way that manages to sound both cheery and pissed at the same time. At some point, they're bound to hook up with a smart remixer who'll reconfigure them and add the beats that they deserve but for now, they're still a lovely grimy pleasure. "We don't want to fight a war, we don't want to grow up, we don't want to go out and get down, we don't want to throw up!" they say and who can blame them?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Skipping Stones

If you're on the look-out for breezy indie pop (think Belle & Sebastian), then you're in luck. Connecticut's Skipping Stones Records has just what you need.

Fresh from Iceland, there's Dyroin. How's this for a bio? "Dýrðin (pronounced deerthin) was formed in 1994 by three chaps named Doddi, Einar and Maggi. All were well versed in indie and alternative rock and we had just found out that with a Dr. Rhythm drum machine and an analog Tascam 4-track Portastudio we could do wonders." And yes, it's sung in their own own funky home tongue but don't let you throw you off. Much more lithe than New Pornographers or the Pernice Brothers but very satifying pure pop for Gen XYZ peeps.

On a similar tip is Sweden's The Charade. Again, they have great instincts for bios: "born from a chance meeting at a spring party in Stockholm, where Mikael heard Magnus spinning records. An instant indiepop rapport began between Magnus and Mikael, and they soon realized they had the makings of a perfect Swedish pop band." Maybe it's the femme voice but they pull that wonderful trick of being sweet without being syrupy.

The label will be rounding up other parts of their roster for a December show in their neck of the woods. Here's hoping that they bring their Euro artists out here soon also.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Move On

It was their last album, which they didn't want to record. They weren't breaking up but transforming into another band- the record company told them that they wouldn't let them record as the new act unless they did one last album in their present/old incarnation. They had it with touring and were just releasing a record and singles to keep their name out there. Even after they recorded the album, it was held up for months by the record company because of legal mumbo-jumbo surrounding one of the members- since then, it's been out-of-print and hard to find until their label finally gave it a decent reissue now. Nowadays, looking back, the band members remember who they were just knocking off songs, having fun and even think it might be their worst album.

Don't believe them though. Even though the Move had made its name in its UK home as a mod-psych combo with an outrageous stage act, this last album is the best one they did, maybe because as they said, they were having fun, knowing that they were calling it a day anyway. Roy Wood had always been the eccentric genius behind the group and by the dawn of the 70's, his band was down to drummer Bev Bevan and newcomer Jeff Lynne, who was more interested in what was being planned for a classical hybrid that they'd call the Electric Light Orchestra. EMI went along with this strange turn of events but reminded the boys that they were still under contract as the Move and they owed them some more records. The boys obliged, recording Message From the Country in 1971 at the same time that they were recording ELO's debut (a ponderous album in comparison and a shadow of what that band would do later). Lynne was mired in some contractual bullshit and the Move album had to sit on the shelves until it was sorted out. MFTC finally came out in late '71, followed by a few singles and then the Move ceased to exist.

As the band says, MFTC was indeed silly and strange but again, that was part of its appeal. Lynne, hungry and eager to make his mark, especially with a proven, known name like the Move, was starting to perfect his ethereal tune-craft ("Message From the Country," "The Words of Aaron," "The Minister"), Wood was mining rock oldies for inspiration of a new glam sound ("Ella James," "Until Your Moma's Gone") while Bevan was digging the Sun Studio sound ("Don't Mess Me Up" and the wonderful country send-up "Ben Crawley Steel Factory" which stands beside the Stones' "Dear Doctor" or "Faraway Eyes"). It's a shame that this was their last album but Wood and Lynne had their eyes on much more serious fare.

The singles that soon came after were of a piece too, later collected on 1973's Split Ends, which also included MFTC (which was out of print by then). Wood's "Tonight" and Lynne's rockin' raver "Down on the Bay" are nice pieces that would have livened up the album but Wood's "California Man" (later covered by Cheap Trick) and Lynne's "Do Ya" (later an ELO staple) aren't just the two best Move singles, they're incredible anthems worthy of a time capsule.

Wood left ELO soon after the debut while Lynne and Bevan would keep the brand name going, finding huge international commercial success (haters usually cite them as wuss's who made the 70's the dinosaur bloatfest it was but c'mon... "Livin' Thing," "Sweet Talkin' Woman" and "Telephone Line" are hummable as hell).

And now after years in limbo, EMI has finally collected MFTC and all of the above singles into a dandy UK reissue, complete with extensive notes and lots of fine photos of the three-some. As a collection, it beats anything ELO or Wood did later and definitely worth the purchase price of an import.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

David Axelrod- You gots to chill

If there's one thing that's guaranteed to chill out your cranky ass, it's got to be The Edge - David Axelrod at Capitol Records 1966-1970 (Capitol Jazz). This just-released collection nicely covers just what it says in the title. The wonderfully mellow groove would later find homes with De La Soul and DJ Shadow (who went as far to reissue some Axelrod product himself), jutting you out of your blissful reverie to say "Oh yeah, I remember hearing that from..." Usually, this kind of music is empty-headed background mush but producer Axelrod took enough care with it to make it endlessly lush and attractive, injecting nice little drum patterns that hip hop would savor. Crazy as it sounds, he reminds me sometimes of Gil Evans' similar cross-genre experiments. Even when Lou Rawls stops by to sing a Blood, Sweat and Tears hit, you're already so relaxed, that you don't care. That in itself is a major feat worth noting. Recommended for migranes, endless days and times you need to unwind after arguments with your spouse or boss.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Still Bill (Withers)

I'll have a full write-up in the next issue of Harp Magazine, but I thought I'd briefly mention this early 70's gem. Bill Withers' debut record Just As I Am featured sad but sweet, poetic gems like 'Ain't No Sunshine" (a well-deserved hit) and "Grandma's Hands." I had this on vinyl for years but hadn't thought to play it until the recent Columbia reissue (which includes some nice video/DVD goodies from the time)- I guess that's part of what reissues are for. Later, BW would have other touching chart-toppers like "Lean On Me" and "Just the Two of Us."

Thursday, October 06, 2005

It's a bop invasion!

God lord, what a great weak for bop reissues! Three mid-60s corkers from Blue Note are out now: Booker Ervin's Tex Book Tenor (very punny, eh?), Andrew Hill's Andrew!!! (another great title) and Jackie McLean's Consequences (like the Ervin record, unreleased for a while after it was recorded).

Another thing that these albums have in common are the great line-ups. Listen to Ervin's fiery "204"- each of the soloists shines mightily, especially trumpeter Woody Shaw though drummer Billy Higgins isn't exactly a slouch. Hill, who goes for a more laid-back, cerebral approach, corrals John Gilmore (who also played sax for Sun Ra) and Richard Davis (who rock fans will remember from Astral Weeks). McLean, who also has Higgins in his band in addition to master trumpeter Lee Morgan, might made the most accessible of these three albums for non-jazz ears- his music is jaunty and not afraid of pop usages (i.e. catchy choruses) without indulging too heavily in them. As proof of that last point, listen to McLean and Morgan each taking turns cutting loose on the title track in breathless, rapid fury. Also, their version of the standard "My Old Flame" is... well, just to die for in its smoking-jacket lounge succulence.

Of the three, McLean is probably the best known but hopefully, these little reminders will draw people back to Hill and Ervin's work. And though Ervin sadly passed away at age 40 in 1970 (not long after TBT was recorded), both Hill and McLean are both active, with the former recently winning awards and leading a big band. Maybe some wise promoter should consider booking them together on a tour...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Heil, heil, rock and rock- The Residents

The Fall's resident humanist Mark E. Smith once claimed that the Residents justified the whole American music scene. While that's bit of uh... hyperbole, you could easily make the case that a lot of their 70's antics were at least a few decades ahead of their time. Musically, and certainly graphically, one of their most audacious concepts was their now-reissued 1976 opus The Third Reich 'N Roll (Mute).

Definitely not Nazi sympathizers themselves (wonder if they got calls from the JDL?), the unknown foursome was clearly looking to push some buttons as much as Negativland years later. Dick Clark as SS officer, clutching a carrot with images of Adolf and Eva dancing among the clouds- and that's just the cover. The record itself is made up of side-long medleys of dozens of 60's classic rock staples (without credits or any noticeable copyright clearance), provocatively titled "Swastikas on Parade" and "Hitler Was A Vegetarian" (take that, PETA). Think Nuggets as done by a satanic cult.

The fun starts with a German officer instructing the kiddies to do the twist, followed by "Land of 1000 Dances" (Swamp Thing howling with army of tiny horns backing and yes, Patti Smith beat 'em to this by a year), "Hanky Panky" (nasal groaner with banging piano and garbage can percussion), "Double Shot of My Baby's Love" (sung by an off-key chorus that sounds like they really have a hang-over) and "The Letter" (transfigured more than Joe Cocker, with a monster voice yelling in mountains of echo through horns and waves of tape noise) and the occasion punctuation of air raid sirens, gun fire and explosions. My favorite bits are "Yummy Yummy Yummy" done by a pimply-faced nerdy teen, an opera diva and an army of zombies (a great piece of instant social commentary) and "Good Lovin'" done as space-age minstrel show (George Clinton would have approved). And years before anyone knew what a mash-up was, they were also putting together "Sympathy For the Devil" with "Hey Jude," "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" with "Sunshine of Your Love" and "Telestar" with "Wipeout."

The idea of rock being a mind-controlled mass movement wasn't exactly new, even then: many liberal and conservative critics had already made the point, including Stan Freeberg on "Old Payola Roll Blues." And extending it to the level of the Reich is kind of ridiculous if only because Clark and the record companies essentially wanted the kids to part with their cash- if anything The Who Sell Out was much more prophetic about where rock was heading in terms of mass culture.

But if the overall concept has holes in it, the songs themselves are musically transformed so much that you'd have to press your ear against the speaker to ID the tunes. Anyone who's a fan of classic rock probably would have trouble too and most likely hate the record as heresy. But that's just the point. If the Residents are about anything, it's about over-the-top concepts and this is one of the best conceits. The nightmarish landscapes that the band came up with at least forced you to re-think these beloved hits that make up the rock cannon. Once the songs were yanked out of their well-known melodies, the band dug around for all sorts of psych-social context that you would have been hard-pressed to find- they'd also brilliantly do the same years later with Elvis' catalog on The King & Eye.

Sad as it is that the original 60's rock classics covered here are found on the radio less and less, it's also worth mourning the fact that such risky, bold concepts like this album are also in short supply nowadays.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Harvey Danger- who's afraid of downloading?

Seattle combo Harvey Danger isn't exactly executing a first by putting out their new album Little By Little... for a free download (Wilco and others beat them to that). What is newsworthy is that it's worth your bandwidth to get the music- it's easily much better than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot not to mention a piece of competing adult-pop like Liz Phair's latest (which makes her appreciate her last record now) if not Fiona's re-tooled album. Like Fiona, they also flirt with theatrics, which usually spell B-A-R-F when applied to rock, but HD adds enough cynicism and anger to their songs to make them compelling enough. It's both a very pretty and very ugly record. Forget guilty pleasure- this is just pleasure.

The band themselves have this statement from their website, which nicely thumbs its nose at the tunnel-visioned RIAA:

"In preparing to self-release our new album, we thought long and hard about how best to use the internet. Given our unusual history, and a long-held sense that the practice now being demonized by the music biz as '“illegal'” file sharing can be a friend to the independent musician, we have decided to embrace the indisputable fact of music in th21stst century, put our money where our mouth is, and make our record, Little By Little…, available for download via Bittorrent, and at our website. We'’re not streaming, or offering 30-second song samples, or annoying you with digital rights management software; we'’re putting up the whole record, for free, forever. Full stop. Please help yourself; if you like it, please share with friends."

"Of course, the CD will also be for sale on the site, as well as in fine independent record stores across the country, in a deluxe package that includes a 30-minute bonus disc that serves as a companion piece to the record proper (retail price for the package 11.99)."

Needless to say, I downloaded the record but I'm also going to shell out the cash for the CD. Hope you can do the same.

(Thanks to Slashdot for the tip-off)

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Perfect Sound Forever returns!

Yes, after several months of downtime, it's back again. The latest issue has these tasty tidbits:

Blues belting mama: this rising star in the blues world is a singer/songwriter that counts B.B. King among her fans. Her latest album, Bittersweet, "illuminates the soulful purity of the blues and the hard driving intensity of rock and roll with unbridled passion and heartfelt emotion. Angeletti's no nonsense, high voltage performance style, continues captivating blues enthusiasts as well as the rock and roll faithful all across the country."

Interview about 'freak folk': He wouldn't call it that himself but whatever label you put on him, his sweet voice and soulful songs have created a stir in the indie world as few neo-folks ever have. Here he speaks about influences, his own label, reissues, his fellow travelers, favorite recent music and assorted hope and dreams.

Don't call 'em Moody Blues!: A three-part article extensively covers the history of this multi-decade art-rock staple band that's withered more highs and lows than a stock market. And rest assured that their love of mellotrons is semi-platonic.

Sure he has a pretty impressive resume with the Velvet Underground and assorted productions (Stooges, Modern Lovers, Patti Smith, Squeeze) but he's also had a solo career that's stretched over three decades and taken many wild turns. Here, we catch up with his latest antics as well as his ever-fiery politics as well as his love of Ezra Pound, Pythagoras, Brian Wilson and Warren Zevon.

...Come to the rescue of rock: "Perhaps rock is dead... and perhaps it was a suicide; perhaps the Cons are flushing color back into the ghost's cheeks. Their songs have a deep kind of desperation and a certain chaos, but also a calculated sort of mystery. Listening to the Cons, especially in the flesh, is like slouching towards Bethlehem: like a helicopter rising from the ashes, things bruise and smear, but we are moving ever upwards. Especially when Webb's throat fights his words."

Mixtape music for real people: "On his latest release Real Music for Real People, DJ Language asks the question 'What is black music?' By the end of this 21 track beat matching journey, he answers that question with a mix of underground hip hop, seventies soul, neo-soul, and a remix or two to tie it all together. The soul of the album is spoken by Miwa on DJ Mitsus' "Intro": "Once you recognize the beat, you never go back.""

Ex-X mines the blues: Long after leading one of the guiding lights of the L.A. punk scene, Doe became an auspicious roots rocker. "Notes for interviewing Doe: 1) There will be laughter. Don't drink a beverage. 2) If you make a literary reference, be sure that you actually read the book you are referring to. He has. 3) Don't go all pretentious and try to discover the hidden symbolism in his lyrics. It's not that his lyrics aren't intelligent. It's not even that there isn't some symbolism there. They are. There is. It's just that he's not the type to talk about it."

When you have Colin Newman (of Wire), Robin Rimbaud (Scanner) and Malka Spigel together in a band, something interesting is bound to happen and it definitely does with Githead. Here they cheerful explain what an annoying bunch of pretentious gits they really are. And proud of it too.

Oklahoma's piano stomper: "Hobbs has a strong belief in angels, as indicated in the hit "Angels Among Us," recorded by Alabama. She has sung duets with Moe Bandy and has written at last count, some sixty songs. However, country radio has done it again ­ shut the door to the veteran performer and opened the gate to the same-sound-every-time crowd."

Semi-violent bio-fiction: "Violence--emotional, physical, often sudden, often brutal--is a running theme in Kuma's songs. "Some of it is autobiographical, and some of it is complete fiction," (leader Kevin) Olsen says. "But it's not glorifying violence--it's more being bewildered by it.""

Trumpeter, bandleader, composer: In the world of jazz or any other genre, you'll be hard pressed to find a more serious, harder working musician. In addition to helping to lead the incredible umbrella of New Music Distribution Service, he's also corralled rockers and orchestras to perform his work. Here we dissect his 70's and 80's work as well as a brief and somewhat contentious interview with the man himself.

'Echo Beach' is the 80's new wave classic that put them on the map but there was so much more to their recording career than that. Martha Johnson and Mark Gane tell the band's story, explaining how despair and alienation make wonderful song topics.

Highlights from the tech fest: Geeta Dayal mines this multi-day Montreal festival for signs of life and greatness in the techno world including Mathew Jonson, Galoppierende Zuversicht, Apparat and a shadowy Swiss duo called Galoppierende Zuversicht. Never heard of any of them? Then read on... (even if you have, you'll find out more).

Quintessential prog?: After a lengthy hiatus, this renowned British unit (whose leader counts Johnny Rotten among his fans) triumphantly returned recently. Keyboard player Hugh Banton helps to fill in the blanks about their history.

And as always, we're always looking for good writers and/or ideas, so let us know if you have anything to share.