monsignor monsoon (notes)

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Liz suggests that when I make a new mix CD, I should provide casual annotations for it on lacunae. Liz has bright ideas. So here's what I put on the new one, Monsignor Monsoon, and why.

1. Pigmeat Markham: Here Come the Judge
Markham was a baggy-pants comedian (he wore blackface into the '50s) who played the Apollo Theatre more times than any other performer. "Here Come the Judge," in its initial form, was a courtroom sketch that became his greatest hit; in the late '60s, he appeared dispensing one-liners on Laugh-In, where "here come the judge!" became a catchphrase. Shorty Long had a hit in 1968 with a soul single with that title (have never actually heard his version, although I've heard a risible-and-not-in-a-good-way cover by the Feminine Complex); Markham, not about to let his line be stolen without a fight, immediately recorded a "Here Come the Judge" of his own, with the Chess Records house band. I was struck by the way it stops dead twice for Laugh-In-style gags, and by the anti-Vietnam-War sentiment--weird for a funk novelty, but not unwelcome.

2. Television: Venus
Thank you, Tom Verlaine, for building the stage at CBGB. When I went back to Michigan a couple of weeks ago, I was amazed to discover that I owned a copy of Marquee Moon on LP--must've picked it up off the freebie pile at Flat, Black and Circular sometime in my teens. In any case, it's a record I didn't fully appreciate until Lisa coaxed me into it. I can never remember how the vocal melody of this one goes after the first couple of lines, but I can sing along with the whole guitar part.

Television also reminds me of a game I started playing a few weeks ago: coming up with songs that ought to be discovered among Johnny Cash's latter-day tapes, on the principle that if he covered Nine Inch Nails he might well have covered anything. You just have to bust out with the song with the appropriate sanctified, weatherbeaten baritone, and get the Johnny Cash phrasing right. "I remember... how the darkness doubled..." Works great. Ditto for "every time I see you falling, I get down on my knees and pray."

3. The Books: There Is No There
I've loved both their albums, but it took a while to parse this one (and figure out how with all that guitar-pickin' and laptoppery it didn't remind me of Gastr del Sol, exactly). This track stuck out first, mostly thanks to the slightly superhuman fingerpick-collage at the end.

4. Kid Creole & the Coconuts: Annie, I'm Not Your Daddy
One of the things that occasionally frustrates me about pop is that the virtues of great dance music and the virtues of great songwriterly music rarely turn up in the same place. This time, they do--August Darnell was really on a roll for a few years, I guess (if I'm remembering correctly, he's also the guy behind Machine's "There But For the Grace of God Go I"). Also, major points for the background vocals that go "onna-onna-onomatopoiea..."

5. The 49 Americans: Architecture Stops
A D.I.Y. collective, ca. Douglas's U.K. 1980 sweet spot--they appear to have done everything in their power to do things the hard way (everyone switched instruments after every song, etc.). Mostly on here for the sake of pacing.

6. Antibalas: Che Che Colé
A cover of a Willie Colon song which I'm ashamed to say I've never heard--but the first distinct example of the Latin/Afrobeat fusion they've been claiming since they started. Heard it played at the !!! show on Halloween, and moved.

7. Phoaming Edison: Post-Ignells
Said it before, say it again: James Kavoussi is a freaking genius of rock. Every so often, I get a tape or CD-R with his latest batch of songs, and it always takes a while to sink in; this one's from a CD-R called GWEEEE!!!!! It all seemed like one continuous batch of texture, until I saw Fly Ashtray play a couple of weeks ago, and they played this song, and I scurried home to hear it again. There are a few songs in their circa-1991 repertoire with titles like "Ignells #2" and "Non-Ignells"; I'm guessing that the "Ignells" refers to the descending blunt-clutch three-chord sequence that shows up in some form in a few of them, but don't know for sure. GWEEEE!!!!! also includes a piece called "Post-Ignells #9," which is a "Revolution 9"-style cut-up of this one.

8. Holger Czukay: Cool in the Pool
The bass player from Can, from the period when he was really, really into shortwave radio--this was right after Can broke up, basically, and in a lot of ways it's a continuation of the disco-y groove they'd been working on "I Want More" and some of their final album. Plus: extraordinarily dumb lyrics that sound much better in a thick Churman accent.

9. Marva Whitney: I Made a Mistake Because It's Only You
One of my favorite singers ever--a James Brown protégée who sang absolutely everything like it was the most urgent message ever. The title is one of those near-nonsensical concatenations of two discrete parts of the song, like "Let a Man Come In and Do the Popcorn"; the instrumental track showed up again a couple of years later in Hank Ballard's not dissimilar "From the Love Side"; the song itself is pretty insubstantial, but you'd never guess that from Marva's performance.

10. Grupo de "La Alegria": El Tambor de la Alegria
Robert Crumb, who put together the anthology from which I got this, doesn't know much about it, and neither do I; rhythmically and in terms of the voices' sound, it just seemed to fit here.

11. Broadcast: Pendulum
The first couple of Broadcast singles grabbed me right away, although at the time I think I thought they sounded just like Stereolab (hint: no they didn't); the subsequent album left me cold for about six months, until I realized it was really terrific. Same goes for the new album--or rather the pre-album single, which has now aged with me properly. It's going to be another couple of months until I realize how good the full album is, I suspect.

12. The Breeders: Wicked Little Town
They've still got something left in them: who knew? The best performance on that Hedwig and the Angry Inch tribute that came out recently. (Well, I probably got a bigger kick out of Sleater-Kinney with Fred Schneider--can't beat Corin Tucker screaming "My sex-change operation got botched!" in that Corin Tucker voice--but I bet this one will hold up under severe multiple-play stresses better.)

13. Belle & Sebastian: Final Day
Band I love, song I love (in its original Young Marble Giants incarnation), performance so insanely non-intuitive (in that it sounds nothing like the original and sounds nothing like Belle & Sebastian have ever done before) that I can do nothing but admire it. And as a thing-in-itself? Well, I do like the idea of a double-speed Pet Shop Boys.

14. Rhythm & Sound with Jennifer Lara: Queen In My Empire
That Rhythm & Sound with Tikiman album that came out a year or two ago is wonderful--reminds me a lot of the Congos' Heart of the Congos, and it was a brilliant idea to bring the super-ozone-charged staticky form of European digital dub together with an actual reggae singer. The two new R&S discs (one with various singers' vocals, one instrumental) are not quite as thrilling, but I like this song a lot., especially how deep the bass gets It's just WAY too long, so I actually edited it down to about half its length (cut three or four passages out of the middle, and now I can't even tell where they were).

15. Stereolab: Jaunty Monty and the Bubbles of Silence
A while back, I put together a CD-R for myself of all of Stereolab's singles, in reverse chronological order--it just seemed like a good idea at the time, and they sound better that way than in regular order. Before we drove out to PDX, I added "...Sudden Stars," the new single, at the beginning, and it's even better now. This one's from the same EP as that, and caught my ear first texturally ("...Sudden Stars," I thought, recapitulated a lot of their older stuff, & it turns out to be partly cobbled together from old, unused recordings).

16. De La Soul: Keepin' the Faith (Straight Pass)
From the best miserable we-give-up second album ever, De La Soul Is Dead--actually a remix, from the "Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa" single, picked because it foregrounds that "there was a girl in a relationship" chorus that got stuck in my head for days after I revisited DLSID, and also because nobody was worried about whether the samples were in the same key or not.

17. Li'l Bunnies: Bunny Hop
Had the Li'l Bunnies only ever put out their first single, they would be roughly the greatest hardcore band of all time. They put out a second one, and later an album; not the same. In any case, all six songs are about being extremely hardcore bunnies. (Lyrics to first one: "WE'RE THE LI'L BUNNIES!/AND YOU THINK IT'S FUNNY!/BUT IT'S NOT!/FUCK YOOOOUUUU!" etc.) My friend Kate also has fond memories of them--she quoted the "hop hop, little bunnies, hop hop" bit at the end of this one to me.

18. Cymande: The Message
I'm unclear on a lot of stuff about this band (all I know is that the CD I've got also includes "Bra," which either I used to hear on the radio a lot or got sampled someplace familiar), but I love the horn parts on this song--the whole affair actually reminds me a lot of the parts of Antibalas that don't come straight from Fela Kuti.

19. The Ex: Konono
An encore from their live set at the Knitting Factory a few months ago--a song (really a two-chord riff) they picked up from an "electrified traditional" Congolese band called Konono No. 1. I suspect this will end up on their next album, but I wish they'd figure out how to condense it and make it a single instead (in the same way they made a single of their version of Muzsikas's "Hidegen Fujnak a Szelek")--when they think in terms of three-minute pieces rather than 45-minute albums, I love what happens, and they haven't done that in a while.

20. Sweet: Wig-Wam Bam
Just because something is as crass an appeal to 11-year-old girls as it could possibly be doesn't mean it's not great. Plus now I understand Jaime Hernandez's best book a little better.

21. Shooby Taylor: I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover
"A powerful, non-narcotic antidepressant," as Shooby's cassette case calls his recordings, made in some awful little demo studio in the early '80s. Yes, they are all like this. This one's actually augmented by R. Stevie Moore, and appears on Moore's new collection Nevertheless Optimistic.


David Lee Roth said:

A soundtrack for private school kids while they eat their buttered biscuits. Noice.

lauren said:

So you have that 49 Americans stuff? Is it any good?

Douglas said:

I liked the one single I have by them (with the new wave version of Newton's laws), but the album I got (the one with the yellow cover, forget the title) is kind of hard to get into, esp. the extended "rock opera," which is sort of in John Gavanti territory. Nice moments of texture, smart/stupid lyrics, ask me again in a couple of months...

I've been on a huge Kid Creole kick for a couple of months - the one with "Annie" is great of course, and so's "Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places" (one of my favorite album titles of all time), while "In Praise of Older Women and Other Crimes" has at least four great moments.

AB said:

The Shorty Long version of "Here Comes the Judge" turns out to be a good song.

And you probably recognize "Bra" by Cymande from De La Soul's "Change In Speak" on their first album.

James said:

am I right in thinking Johnny C would have made a fine version of "Take Care" by Big Star?

K-Thor said:

In Seattle, at 19, I worked for a title insurance company (researching land deeds) and desperately tried to get people to holler "Here comes the judge!" whenever I walked into a room. On my 20th birthday, they did it, and I became a man.

Also I miss Shooby Taylor, ever so.

Aaron said:

You're right about Darnell and "There But For The Grace Of God" (or at least, your recollection matches mine). I always like Kid Creole more in small doses, though.

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This page contains a single entry by Douglas published on December 6, 2003 2:13 AM.

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