Saturday, April 30, 2011

Unsung Song Heroes

"And I have always taken much more than I have given back/ and as a matter of fact I've given nothing up..."

David Lowery's masterpiece. Sparse and contemplative. The tortoise conquering the hare. Proof positive that playing slowly is at least as much of a talent as playing fast. From the first exchange of brushes on skins with languid string-bent guitar, to the closing rapid-fire, strum 'n strings crescendo, every detail of this song is perfect. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My New Fav'rit Rekkid...

As much of the general public understand it, the pantheon of Guitar Gods is comprised mostly of the great blues and jazz guitarists, the great icons of the 60s like Clapton, Beck, Hendrix, Santana, and Zappa, the hairy Hercules' of the hard rock and heavy metal canon, and assorted Knopfler-esque or Steely Danny scions of tasteful virtuosity. While I am a big lover of many, if not all of those members of the guitar fraternity, I am also a huge supporter of the long and much unheralded history of the "Alt Guitar God". Those who work their wiry wriggly wranglings of the git-fiddle outside of the mainstream world of leather, denim, and spandex of Guitar Player magazine.

The Alt Guitar God, or Geek Guitar God has existed as long as the electric guitar itself. Before there was Jack White, Carrie Brownstien, and Dan Auerbach, there were Doug Martsch and Stephen Malkmus. before that there were Ira Kaplan, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Marc Ribot, Mitch Easter etc. Before that there was Television. There were Geek Guitar Gods before Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd of Television, but for myself and many others, they seem to define the idea and have the greatest influence on those who followed.

Television only released two studio albums in their prime, 1977's much lauded masterpiece Marquee Moon and 1978's criminally mis-produced, though underrated Adventure, yet their influence is still heard on the airwaves today. Live at the Old Waldorf was allegedly given some sort of CD release a few years back that I somehow missed, and was given a delicious white vinyl double album release for Record Store Day, 2011*. For me, listening to it has been a delicious revelation.

The sound seems to be top notch soundboard recording quality of the day, with the only caveat being that the band's backing vocals are a bit low in the mix. The performance is stellar. The band, on its first (and only) headlining tour in support of Adventure, are in top form and obviously well-rehearsed. Lloyd does not solo much, but is on his game when he does. Verlaine's soloing is somehow both more focused and more adventurous than on the legendary The Blow-Up bootleg (in my opinion, his "Little Johnny Jewel" solo on this rekkid crushes the mythic Blow-Up solo). However, two things outside of the already established mastery of Messrs. Lloyd and Verlaine are what make this recording a revelation for me.

First of all, this recording reveals the true, taut-as-a-high-pitched-snare-drum power of Television's rhythm section. While the dual lead guitar thrust of Verlaine and Lloyd will always be the stars of Television, Live at the Old Waldorf reveals the significance of Fred Smith's bass and Billy Ficca's drums to their sound in a way that previous releases, studio, bootleg, or otherwise, hadn't quite emphasized.

Secondly, this recording reinforces my sense of "what might have been" about Adventure as well as Television as a band. In my mind, Adventure sits firmly along side the Clash's Give 'Em Enough Rope on the chart of greatest "what not to do with your second album" mistakes. The success of the Cars' debut album had Television and their management worrying that "here's a band that sounds like us, but more commercial", so Television and Elektra sought to clean up a sound that was perfect in its dirty form. The Clash, on the other hand, were saddled with a label that wanted to make their ducats off them by marketing them to America, and saddled them with a producer to make them more commercial. Both instances were huge mistakes. In the case of Television it was part of the end of the band. In the case of the Clash it preceded the greatest rock and roll album ever made.

What is true about both Give 'Em Enough Rope and Adventure is that the fault does not lie in the material. I have always insisted that Give 'Em Enough Rope was nearly flawless as far as its material, and featured several if the best Clash songs ever. I'd always felt similarly about Television's sophomore outing, but hadn't been fully convinced until I heard the songs from Adventure here, unfettered by "studio magic".  "The Dream's Dream", "Foxhole", "Careful", and "Ain't that Nothin'" all come to life in the "Live" setting. The guitars crunch rather than hum. The bass churns. The drums charge from the speakers in a way that they completely failed to do in the original mix or reissue. But the point is that the songs from Adventure on Live at the Old Waldorf belie the true adventure that Adventure might have been.

All that said, this rekkid borders on the transcendent. Set ye forth and find a copy.

* I'm not entirely sure this rekkid is readily available in LP or CD form, but if'n your ears is all you need, it is available on iTunes.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Heavy-Hearted New Release Day... RIP Poly Styrene and Phoebe Snow.

The day began ripe with promise on the new release front. Due out were the new Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs, the Fat Possum reissue of T. Rex's Tanx, and perhaps most exciting, the long-awaited and much talked about solo rekkid from punk rock heroine/X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene. The day's mood swung jarringly from anticipatory to tragic early this morning when news broke that Poly Styrene had just lost her battle with cancer at the all too early age of 53. Adding to that tragedy was the news a few hours later that iconic singer/songwriter Phoebe Snow had just passed away at age 60. On the whole, not a great day for the musical world. Though I must say (with a respectful irreverence that I hope is not too much too soon) that a pearly gates collaboration between Poly and Phoebe could be the most inspiringly odd duet of all time. Let's hope it's happening right now and it is delicious. Good night, sweet princesses. Taken too soon.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Few Random Thoughts on Pixies, Arenas, Banjos, and Filth.

I went to see the Pixies on their "Doolittle" tour last night and have had a few thoughts kicking about my addled brain all day...

1) I am a bit of two minds on the whole play-a-fan-favorite-album-in-its-entirety concert concept. While I do love Doolittle dearly, and it was nice to know I was going to hear the whole thing and not just the "hits," there is a little something of spontaneity, anticipation, and surprise lacking. The upside of this being that I was able to say to myself "not my favorite bit, Ima hit the restroom."
It is also inevitable with this kind of tour that the band is going to have some degree of boredom with doing the same thing every night for weeks on end. While the Pixies acquitted themselves quite masterfully and energetically, there were a couple of moments when you could sense one or more band members thinking "oy, this one again." Though on the whole I do have to say that they rocked my face off, and their choice to highlight several b-sides before launching into the album, as well as their choice of songs for the encore ("Isla de Encanta", baby!) were quite inspired.

2) The Earth needs to open up underneath the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul and swallow it whole. Preferably after napalm has been liberally applied to the men's room to prevent any of that nastiness from getting into the soil. That place is a blight on the Twin Cities' musical landscape on every level, most importantly and egregiously, on the acoustic level. A new mid-sized venue must be found for shows too big for First Avenue and too raucous for the State or the Orpheum.

3) The banjo sometimes gets characterized as "corny" or "hick." The film "Deliverance" does nothing to dispel this myth. The reality is that the banjo is a remarkably versatile instrument that can be at home in almost any musical setting. Used properly in the right setting it can be one of the most hauntingly beautiful sounds in all of music. The song "Killer Crane" from TV on the Radio's new album Nine Types of Light illustrates this point quite effectively. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.

4)The late, great Frank Zappa once said of the guitar: "From the very beginning when I used to hear those old solos on those old records I used to say, 'now here is an instrument that is capable of spewing forth true obscenity... Let's be realistic about this, the guitar can be the single most blasphemous device on the face of the Earth." Well kids, I'm here to tell y'all that Black Joe Lewis' guitar is positively filthy in the very very best way.

(Pictured above: Cheetah Chrome of the Dead Boys' guitar enshrined at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Now that guitar is filthy in more ways than one!)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Birthday Charles!

Eighty-nine years ago today, artist, activist, master of the upright bass, one of the great composers of the 20th century, and personal hero of mine, Charles Mingus came into the world. Here is but a small sample of his genius. Happy birthday Charles.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Real gone way too soon...

RIP - Extremely sad to hear that Gerard Smith of TV on the Radio has lost his battle with lung cancer. He will be greatly missed. Much love to his friends, family, and bandmates.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Till the End of the Day...

There are a number of releases out today, not least significant of which is Gorillaz' new CD The Fall, recorded by the band with er... uh... assistance by Damon Albarn, mostly on an iPad during their tour in support of "Plastic Beach". The result being largely atmospheric, with little in the way of big pop songs, but still Gorillaz-riffic. A necessity for fans but not likely to set the airwaves ablaze, though there is one track featuring Bobby Womack, and well, to paraphrase Mos Def, BOBBY FREAKIN' WOMACK!

For me, this week's releases are all about reissues. Specifically, the twice delayed and much anticipated arrival on American shores and in American stores of the "Deluxe" editions of the first three Kinks albums, The Kinks, Kinda Kinks, and the utterly magnificent The Kink Kontroversy. As it is late and I must go soon, I have no time to properly address all three records (or even any one of them) in a manner that properly addresses their true enormity. But I will say that The Kink Kontroversy has long been my favorite Kinks rekkid. I know I'm in the minority on that, as most fans cite one of the more fleshed-out, "produced" albums that followed it. Nonetheless, I find Kontroversy to be one of the most perfect of all British invasion rock rekkids. From the opening stomp of "Milk Cow Blues", through the jittery deliciousness of "Gotta Get the First Plane Home", the klassik kinks rock of "Till the End of the Day", the Davies philosophical musings of "The World Keeps Going 'Round", the cheeky "I'm on an Island", the imperious shuffle of "It's Too Late", to the fatalistic, mod-tastic closer "You Can't Win" (I know I missed important tracks, but what can I do?) this rekkid has a bit of everything that defined the Kinks through their first recordings, and presages the more expansive sound to come. I see The Kink Kontroversy as a "bridge" in much the same way that the Beatles' Rubber Soul serves as a bridge between their more teen-friendly early output and the more adult and experimental music that followed. Though in the case of this album, I find that the bridge has as much to offer as the destinations on either side of it. It is presented here peoperly remastered in glorious mono with all the bonus tracks a true fetishist could need. You know you need it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Record Store Day, 2011

As most of you know, today is Record Store Day, a day when music geeks around the world celebrate their favorite independent purveyors of addictive discs of vinyl and plastic by standing in line for hours waiting to spend entirely too much money. For me it is one of the holiest days on the calendar. The following is a little travelogue of my Record Store Day experience.

6:45 - End epic struggle with the snooze alarm and scrape self out of bed.

7:15 - With the help of my extraordinarily patient wife, I arrive at the Electric Fetus just in time to at least be on the East side of the building. I am number 56 in line. Both of these factors are a considerable improvement over last year, when I arrived after 8 and joined the line in front of the Wendy's around the block on Franklin and was saddled with number 136.

7:30 - The energetic pregnant woman immediately behind me in line decides to share her donuts with the people around her in line. Big ups to happy pregnant donut lady.

7:45 Happy pregnant donut lady: "Omigod I love you! I can't believe you brought a higlighter."
Beardy husband of happy pregnant donut lady: "You'd be surprised how often that comes in handy... right next to the Sharpie."

8:00 - Looking around I realize that if I had a license to sell PBR in this line I could make a fortune.

8:15 - Fetus employee comes around offering free coffee. Delightful.

8:30 - Gary Numan's "Replicas" on the iPod helping to pass the time.

8:45 - "Note to self: pocket cup."

9:00 - The Fetus finally opens and I soon find myself packed in with over 300 fellow geeks, thumbing through the CDs and waiting for my number to be called.

10:15 - My number is finally up. Three hours after arriving at the store, I am finally allowed into the "Record Store Day Excusives" area. Sadly, the rekkids with LCD Soundsystem covering Franz Ferdinand are long gone, as is the Kills 10" EP. Being thankful for the donut I received earlier and knowing that I'm already going to spend way too much money, I allow happy pregnant donut lady to take the last copy of the Flaming Lips box set.

10:30 - I ring up my purchases. RSD exclusive scores:
Beth Ditto 12" EP
Gorillaz "The Fall".
Grinderman "Evil" EP on clear red glitter vinyl. I am happy like a little girl.
Grinderman "Palaces of Montezuma" EP on brightly multi-colored vinyl.
Pink Floyd "London 1966/1967" on white Vinyl.
Television "Live at the Old Waldorf, San Francisco, 6/29/78" 2LP on white vinyl. I may weep.
V.A. "Sing for Your Meat: Guided by Voices Tribute" 2LP on multi-colored vinyl with download card. I got the last one in the store. I am a big wiener.
Duran Duran "Girl Panic!" 7" with remix by David Lynch. Totally 80s!
Deerhunter "Memory Boy" 7" on white vinyl.
Green Day/Husker Du "Don't Want to Know if You Are Lonely" split 7" on orange vinyl.
Velvet Underground "Foggy Notion/I Can't Stand It" 7".
Villagers/Charlotte Gainsbourg split 7".
Wild Flag 7" with download card.
I also picked up the new Mojo magazine and a few CDs. Total: $260! Aieee...

Noon - After running a couple of non-RSD-related errands, I arrive at Hymie's Vintage Records for phase 2 of my extravagant orgy of vinyl fetishism. I manage to get in and out spending under $60. Scores:
Sonic Youth "Whores Moaning (Oz '93 Tour Edition" on clear blue vinyl (RSD Exclusive!)
Hoodoo Gurus "Mars Needs Guitars".
Grace Jones "Potfolio".
Iggy Pop "The Idiot" on 180 gram vinyl.
Talking Heads "Making Flippy Floppy/Slippery People Remixes" 12" single.

I am home now, tired and poorer, but happy. Now I have much listening to be done. I gotta go...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

First Quarter + Best of 2011 Thus Far... (revised)

TV on the Radio - "Nine Types of Light" (Interscope). File under: Latest bit of genius from five guys who are cooler than I ever have been or can ever hope to be. TVotR continue to impress me with nearly everything they do. Their latest is a more subdued and contemplative effort than its predecessor. It won't send you charging to the dance floor like 2008's "Dear Science", it is art-rock of the very highest order nonetheless.

Gruff Rhys -  "Hotel Shampoo" (Ovni). File under: Mellow, radio-friendly psych-pop Super Furry style. I suppose it is theoretically possible that Gruff will someday make a bad rekkid, but I'll believe it when I hear it.

Wire - "Red Barked Tree" (Pink Flag). File under: Is it 1979 again already?: Aging art-punks doing some of the best work of their careers Part 1. Lush guitar textures and arty literate lyrics abound.

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears - "Scandalous" (Lost Highway). File under: Soul with garage rock sensibilities, or is it garage rock with soul sensibilities? A raging and sometimes downright nasty set of blistering rhythm and blues goodness. Think Sly meets Funkadelic and forms a supergroup with members of the MC5, Soledad Brothers, and Black Keys, combined with the dirty mind of Andre Williams and you're on the right track.

Adele - "21" (XL). File Under: People I would gladly listen to singing the phone book. A bit singer/songwritery in spots, but in its best moments (which are plentiful) it is supremely and sublimely soulful.

Lykke Li - "Wounded Rhymes" (Atlantic). File under: Swedish art-pop songstress meets Phil Spector in the Brill Building. 21st century pop sensibilities blended with "Wall of Sound" 60s girl group textures and melodies. Delicious.

The Kills - "Blood Pressures" (Domino). File under: Stomping mutant art/blues/punk monster. Alison Mosshart (aka VV) returns from a couple of years with the indie "supergroup" Dead Weather, and the Kills put out perhaps their best rekkid yet.

Gang of Four - "Content" (Yep Roc). File under: Is it 1979 again already?: Aging art-punks doing some of the best work of their careers Part 2. Biting, angular, nasal spikes of guitars and barked agitprop lyrics over vintage churning dance-punk rhythms.

Charlie Haden Quartet West - "Sophisticated Ladies" (Decca) File under: Great soundtrack to an imaginary Raymond Chandler film noir. Tasteful and atmospheric 30s/40s style classic jazz with delightful guest vocals by Melody Gardot, Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson, Ruth Cameron, Renee Fleming, and Diana Krall.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Belong" (Slumberland). File under: Spiritual heirs to the My Bloody Valentine throne. Sophomore outing from spacey New Yorkers finds PoBPaH beefing up their shoe-gaze-a-licious sound with production and mixing help from Flood and Alan Moulder.

Mike Watt - "Hyphenated-Man" (ClenchedWrench). File under: Return of the master of the thunder broom. Watt returns to his minimalist punk-funk power trio roots with 30 slices (all but two are under 2 mintes long) of deliciousness in one tight little package. Perhaps his best since fIREHOSE's "Ragin' Full-On" perhaps even earlier.

Wagon Christ - "Toomorrow" (Ninja Tunes). File under: Goofy electro. It is well-established that my journeys into the Electronic section of the rekkid store are few and far-between, however, Luke Vibert's whacked-out sound collages never fail to entertain me in a big way.

Telekinesis - "12 Desperate Straight Lines" (Merge). File under: Sophomore slump, schlophomore slump: Michael Benjamin Lerner's second volume ups the edge slightly but maintains his charming college radio indie geek chic. Rapidly becoming indie-rock/power-pop darlings.

The Strokes - "Angles" (RCA). File under: New York hipsters return from time machine vacation to 1985. Everything about this rekkid, from the Cars influenced sound to the garish cover art to the wacky band photos, screams totally 80s in the best way. Their most fun rekkid since their debut.

See also: Asobi Seksu - "Fluorescence" (PolyVinyl). British Sea Power - "Valhalla Dancehall" (Rough Trade). The Feelies - "Here Before" (Bar None). P.J. Harvey - "Let England Shake" (Vagrant). The Idle Hands - "Life Is Beautiful EP" (The Pretty Kids Collective). Jonny - s/t (Merge). The Raveonettes - "Raven in the Grave" (Vice). The Rural Alberta Advantage - "Departing" (Saddle Creek).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


This Saturday is Record Store Day aka the holiest day in my personal calendar. Get thee hence to thine rekkid purveyor of choice and scoop thee the RSD exclusives. Just make sure you're in line behind me.

First post... the post that hurts the most.

Big release day. 
With all due respect to personal faves Super Furry Animals/Gruff Rhys, Spoon, the Black Keys, and the Flaming Lips, I would find myself hard-pressed to argue with anyone telling me that TV on the Radio are the best band working today. Their new album "Nine Types of Light" came out today, and it is yet another in a series of art rock triumphs from five guys who are cooler than you or I can hope to be. I just love/hate them soooo much.
Also out today; the Feelies' first album in forever, appropriately titled "Here Before", begging the question "what have you kids been doing all these years?"; and for the twee/psych/indie-pop fans, Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub and Euros Childs of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci have hooked up to form Jonny. Their self-titled debut is a tasty minimalist treat.
I also must give a shout out to Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears' "Scandalous", which is a masterful bit of nasty funk/soul (think Sly meets Mayfield in Funkadelic's backyard with a guest appearance by the MC5) recommended by an old friend.