January 2005 Archives

from the bay of thumbs to the gulf of crumbs

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I was very happy to learn, a few days ago, that Ben Goldberg's Ba Da Bing! label is going to be reissuing a bunch of records by the Yummy Fur. (Here's a pretty comprehensive site about them.) They played around Glasgow for most of the '90s--initially recording 10- or 12-song 7-inch singles with exploding-note-theory guitar parts and an energy level that has to have come from seeing the Stretchheads a million times at an impressionable age (and actually Richie from the Stretchheads played with them for a while). (Actually, a whole lot of people played with them for a while; two others were Paul Thomson and Alex Kapranos, later of Franz Ferdinand. In further indie footnote action, they apparently came up with the phrase "Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie.") Later on, the Yummy Fur's songs stretched out considerably, and got much more keyboard-based--their last few singles, especially "Shoot the Ridiculant," sound almost like another band entirely. And they were, of course, named after Chester Brown's comics.

The main force behind every incarnation of the Yummy Fur, though, was John McKeown--thanks to him for permission to post both of today's songs. "Policeman" (MP3) was a short and salty single from, I think, 1997. I interviewed him late that year, and here's what he had to say about "Policeman": “It’s a pro-police song. It’s about indie kids and how they always complain about the police force. But when they get their video nicked by some junkie, these are the same people that turn into fawning idiots when the police come around. It’s also about how people who are into indie music tend to think what they’re doing is somehow important. I tried to get into the head of a policeman and what he’d think of them... and then there’s just some strange stuff about the Residents and cocaine and all that.” He also mentioned at the time that the Yummy Fur had re-recorded "Policeman" for a single for "Calvin Johnson's new dubplate label"... no idea whatever happened to that version, although I'm mighty curious.

My favorite Yummy Fur lyric ever (and I've quoted it before, I know) is their 40-second-long song "Liliput." (Incidentally, if you haven't heard Liliput the band before, follow the link in this parenthesis and go listen to "Ain't You" right now.) The song goes, in its entirety: "Why don't you listen to Liliput/Where punk rock starts and ends?/Maybe if you listened to Liliput/Your songs would find more friends."

McKeown is now in a new band called Mars Hotel, about which I know very little; here's a song from their recent demo, "Kids in Guernica" (MP3).

Speaking of geniuses from Glasgow: the final issue of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's comic We3 came out today--this was the miniseries hyped as "The Incredible Journey meets The Terminator." (A Morrison quote about it from this intriguing interview: "This is a story from a kind of animal perspective... it's about meat and motion, hunger and fear and survival.") It's actually sort of Morrison's saving grace that he's a total sentimentalist at heart--this one has a low-key, heartstring-tugger ending, which is a welcome thing after 60-plus pages of science fiction ultraviolence. And the cover concept for the whole miniseries is wonderful. It's a really unusual project, executed with perfect pitch.

ruling stride amiss

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The Gamma Rays played around New York a bunch in the early and mid-'90s, but only ever released a couple of singles. "Lovely" (MP3) was one of them--girl-group harmonies (they got compared to the Feminine Complex a few times, if I'm remembering correctly) with an extra-tough bass sound bumping it along. Sari Rubinstein, the singer, is now better known as one of the masterminds behind Rubulad, the greatest floating party spot in New York; she also fronts a very different sort of band called Music From the Mood Expansion Chamber, who are a little like the early Jesus & Mary Chain doing mantra meditation, and are well worth seeing. Concetta Kirschner, the bass player (who also wrote this song; thanks to her for permission to post it!) is now better known as Princess Superstar. (Worth checking out from that page: the video for "Jam For the Ladies," her collaboration with Moby, MC Lyte and Angie Stone.) Concetta reports that she's in London right now, finishing up her fifth album.

I'll be writing about it at greater length in a few weeks, but I'm amazed that The Complete Motown Singles, vol. 1 is a mail-order-only, limited-to-5000-copies thing: what, there are that few vintage-soul fanatics who'd care about it? Motown's still flogging the splintered desiccated skeletons of its big hits on comp after comp, and this time they collect a bunch of interesting-to-epochal stuff that nobody's heard in forty years in a beautiful, well-annotated package, and they figure interest is that minimal? How many copies did the first Stax box sell, anyway? Or do they just want to keep the public image of '60s Motown untarnished by anything any boomer can't hum on cue?

ride the tiger (run with the elephant)

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No time for a long entry today, so I'll just note that some genius or other in the Cherubs considered the wonder that is "I Want Candy" (MP3), asked himself how it could possibly be made better, and concluded, correctly, that the answer was distorting the living fuck out of every element of it. This appeared on a split single with the Fuckemos in the mid-'90s; thanks to the Cherubs' Kevin Whitley for permission to post it. Kevin's now in The Pretty Please, still in Austin, TX.

Just saw Sarah Dougher debut a bunch of excellent new songs with a more-rock-than-she's-been-in-public-in-a-while trio including Seth from the Quails, then came home to discover three too-hot-to-handle-you-got-blue-sandals songs (well, mixes) by M.I.A. (and a guest spot on a Ciara remix!) that I hadn't heard before making the yousendit rounds--throw in the forthcoming Out Hud album and the Glass Candy single, and today it feels like this is a really exciting moment for The Kind of Stuff I Like. This may also have to do with the fact that I heard Bo Diddley's "You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover" for the first time; how exactly did it take me 35 years to do this?

sudden organism

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NaSoAlMo enthusiasts may want to note something sorta similar happening next month: FAWM, or February Album Writing Month. I've got nothing to do with this one; they just sent me the press release.

I am still attempting to wrap my brain around Kiki & Herb covering the Mountain Goats on their forthcoming live album. ("No Children." As a duet.) Although actually the thing that made me laugh hardest was their version of Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized."

satin eyepatch shimmer effect

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I only got to see Flying Saucer play once--at a Homestead Records showcase at the New Music Seminar (or was it CMJ? I think it was NMS) in the summer of 1991, at the old Knitting Factory. They played so late that I might've been hallucinating from sleepiness for part of their set, but I was incredibly impressed: simple-and-clean songs in the Velvets/Modern Lovers vein (similar guitar sound, too), with an amazing singer, Yasmin Kuhn. They never released a full album, and I only know of nine songs that they recorded--two four-song EPs, plus a song called "Do It" that was originally going to appear on the Soluble Fish compilation Homestead put out and ended up on the Sympathy for Count Pococurante, vol. 1 compilation that I put out.

Yasmin sang most of Flying Saucer's songs, but guitarist Jeff Kryvicky sang lead on "Plastic Fruit" (MP3) from their Homestead EP. (Thanks to him for permission to post this song.) Jeff and drummer Torry Colichio later played in Kickstand, and Yasmin went on to Cobalt, both of which released albums on Queenie Records. I actually played bass with Yasmin and Torry in a very short-lived lineup of Cobalt--like, four hours or so--that appeared on Teenbeat 100.

(On the same bill at the Knitting Factory that night 13 1/2 years ago, if memory serves: Bastro, who've got a live album from that time period coming out on Blue Chopsticks shortly, as well as a reissue of all of their studio recordings from Drag City--I remember asking David Grubbs that night what the hell "Recidivist" was supposed to be about, and him telling me it was inspired by hearing that Ireland has no snakes or rabies. Also Sebadoh, who were a duo that night, augmented for two songs by some random person they'd pulled out of the audience to play drums.)

Unrelatedly: Heidi is dead-on about The New Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Stories--maybe the worst anthology of previously published comics I've ever seen, and the weird thing about that is that so much of what it's excerpting is great. But part of the problem is that it relies heavily on excerpts: Watchmen #6, out of context, isn't going to do anyone any good, and neither are teeny little stories by the Hernandez brothers. I can't imagine anyone coming to this stuff for the first time through the Smithsonian book wanting to see more. Also, the '60s Marvel stories (and an Enemy Ace story, of all things) are badly out of place in the context of art-comics--the Spider-Man story the book reprints includes a very famous sequence (the one where he's trapped under a big machine), but it's just sort of plopped down as a totem of pre-underground superhero comics without even the parts of the story leading up to it. It's like representing all of black-and-white film with the scene with Charles Foster Kane playing in the snow. Right, but...

Also unrelatedly: panix.com is fully functional again (and panix.net is about to go away), so anyone reading this who uses that address for me can go back to the status quo.

fields of hair, fields of dots, fields of flavor

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Back around 1990 or so there was a 'zine called You Can't Hide Your Love Forever that ran a piece about a black female speed-metal band--from Detroit, I think, although my memory may be faulty here as everywhere--called Vulva. Of course I needed to hear it, and of course the article's layout cut off the address to write to for the demo tape, which I strongly suspect was a wind-up anyway. But the Vulva name and logo (a shell--pretty!) turned up a few months later as the label name/logo on the first single by Majesty Crush, "Sunny Pie," whose B-side was "Cicciolina" (MP3), a one-chord ode to Ilona Staller, a.k.a. Mrs. Evan Dando (oh, whoops, sorry, more fanzine disinformation, I mean Saddam Hussein).

Majesty Crush were singer David Stroughter (thanks to whom for permission to post these tracks), guitarist Michael Segal, and ex-Spahn Ranch rhythm section Hobey Echlin and Odell Nails III. A lot of of their best songs were about stalkers (I believe their Love 15 album's liner notes had their address preceded by "Stalk us at..."): "Uma," "Seles," "Number One Fan," and esp. their final single "If JFA Were Still Together," whose thesis was that there actually was an army dedicated to protecting Jodie Foster. They tended to play rather... monomaniacally, too--the shoegazer gaze converted into an I-don't-like-the-way-you're-staring-at-me stare. Here's the pervy/dreamy/ravishing B-side of their second single, from 1992, "Grow" (MP3); the sleeve has a blurry, arty photograph of a topless woman on it, and a handwritten-in-whiteout copyright notice for the photo (to one Carrie Kelly).

David Stroughter is now in a band called Witchcraft; he notes that he's currently in London, recording with Will Carruthers from Spiritualized and Jackie from Stroker Ace.

Portland is very very cold right now. I've been staying inside and reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and hoping panix starts working again shortly.

contact alert

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For anyone who's trying to get in touch with me: the domain where I get my mail, panix.com, has been hijacked sometime in the last 48 hours. (This page has details.) If you've sent me email since Friday and I haven't responded, that means I never got it. Those who use my direct email address should use panix.net instead of panix.com for the moment; lacunae.com and douglaswolk.com addresses should be working now, but they haven't been working this weekend until now.

independent principality of encyclopedia

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Getting straight to the vinyl rock today, here's Sone's "High Frame Audio" (MP3)--dig the way the squiggly shortwave solo segues into the beat-up piano part! Sone were a Portland band in the early-mid '90s who put out a short string of excellent, grotty, slightly Perfect Sound Forever-scented singles (this song was one of three from their side of a split 7" with Bügsküll), capped off by the rather different Holiday & Sport set. A couple of Sone people were involved with the Feelings, too. I had no idea how to get in touch with Sone, until I ended up at a dinner party with Phil Quitslund from the band--thanks to him for permission to post this. He notes that the other members of the final incarnation of Sone were Aaron Day (now in Berlin), Pat Callahan (now in San Francisco) and Brendan Bell (now in West Virginia).

Chris O'Rourke from Sleepyhead reports that they've been gradually working on a fifth album, with Mike Deming (Lilys/Beechwood Sparks/etc.) recording and Dan Cuddy (Special Pillow/Hypnolovewheel) playing bass; lots of harmonies, lots of singing by Rachael, covers of Will Oldham's "No Gold Digger" and Fairport Convention's "Shattering Live Experience." I'm excited to hear it--!

Meanwhile, Lalitree has posted her NaSoAlMo album at last--check it out here. And, in further NaSoAlMo news: Simon Carless, who I should have thanked for this earlier, has compiled a BitTorrent of seven Creative Commons-licensed NaSoAlMo albums here. (Most of them; the three cover versions from them, since they're not covered by a CC license, are in their own Archive.org archive here.)

A few months ago I was all atwitter over Jackie Lomax's "Sour Milk Sea," a song I'd owned a copy of for something like ten years but that took a while to fully register in my head: a pal of the Beatles', in 1968, backed up by Paul, George (who wrote the song), Ringo and Eric Clapton, and sounding like it. I ordered a copy of Lomax's album Is This What You Want? in the hopes that it would all be that good. It's not (and actual Beatles only play on a few other tracks), but bits of it are kind of fun, and there's one song that's a fairly blatant "I Am the Walrus" ripoff. There's a German page that links to a demo of "Sour Milk Sea" with George singing (and what sure sounds like Ringo drumming) here.

punk rock city S.L.A.

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It's been way too long--dealing with contractors etc. will do that--so, to make it up to the three people still reading this blog, here's a triple dose of Sleepyhead, a trio that a lot more people should've heard. Chris O'Rourke, Rachael McNally and Michael Galinsky started Sleepyhead in 1990, and hit it out of the park with their first single, "Play" (MP3)--half la-la love-rock, half super-overdrive guitar gritstorm. The single came out in 1990 on Picture Book, with a neat blue-on-blue sleeve by Tae Won Yu of Kicking Giant. (They didn't always play "Play" live, but every year or so they'd pull it out as an encore, about 50% faster.) The B-side, "Too Much Fun," and another song they recorded at the same time, "Nir Nir" (which showed up on a cassette comp called Smell the Luv, I'm not making this up) featured the same eccentric rhythm as "Play"--Rachael once explained to me that that was the only beat she knew at the time.

She got a whole lot better in a hurry. The next Sleepyhead recordings were a murky but righteous single, "Fairyboat," and four long, twisty songs on a compilation called Chinny Chin Chin (curated by Mike McGonigal), which is probably best remembered as the first recorded appearance of one Liz Clark Phair. The B-side of "Fairyboat" was a cover of My Bloody Valentine's "Thorn"--Sleepyhead always played a cover or two live, and they were usually pretty inspired choices. (At various times, they also did CCR's "Fortunate Son," Minor Threat's "Salad Days," the Clean's "Thumbs Off" (which they recorded for the Cleaned Out! compilation on Dark Beloved Cloud) and--heard about this one, and really wish I'd seen it--the Bevis Frond's "That's Why You Need Us.") Here's a cover they played a lot: their version of Game Theory's "Like a Girl Jesus" (MP3), with Rachael taking a rare lead vocal.

By 1992, they'd become a completely kickass live band. I remember seeing them in early '92 at somebody's East Village loft with the thoroughly insane Dungbeetle, and thinking: yeah, this was what I moved to NYC for. (That "somebody," as I found out about a month ago, was James Murphy, now of LCD Soundsystem.) I got to see them play a whole lot of times over the next five years or so; if my memory serves me well, their songwriting went through a couple of stages that never got documented on record, as well as some that did. (They were also involved, if I remember correctly, with Six Layer Cake, a wedding/cover band that was basically them, Antietam, and a few other people.) Here's a later single I really like, "I Love You the Rain" (MP3), from I think 1994--it sounds much more straightforward than it is. (The recording doesn't quite do the song justice, but it was a highlight of their shows in those days.)

Michael Galinsky has gone on to make movies with Suki Hawley, including Half-Cocked and Horns and Halos. Chris and Rachael now live in Watertown, MA, with their son Finn. Thanks to Chris for permission to post these songs.

Unrelatedly: I'd been hoping to post the Suspicions' "The Laughing Policeman" here, but The Mystical Beast beat me to it. And if anyone wants to hear why I've been raving about that M.I.A./Diplo Piracy Funds Terrorism mix, the whole thing is downloadable here.

a year in review

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People have been posting year-end top tens all over the place for close to two months now. That always seems a little strange to me: I'd rather assess the year after it's ended. Preferably long after. So here's my favorite records of 1994:

1. Dog Faced Hermans, Those Deep Buds
2. Shine Eye Gal: Brukdon from Belize
3. Helium, Pirate Prude
4. Raooul/Skinned Teen, Jail-Bait Core/Bazooka Smooth
5. The Mountain Goats, Zopilote Machine
6. God Is My Co-Pilot, How to Be
7. Flying Luttenbachers, Constructive Destruction
8. The Clean, Modern Rock
9. The Honkies, Who Eats?
10. Charles Brown Superstar, The Summertime EP

(Dug up that list from a ten-year-old email, & was pleased to see that I still love all of these records a lot, and that all of those people went on to do other things I really like too. Except I've never seen any further evidence of the people behind Shine Eye Gal, notably two... sisters? cousins?... who called themselves the Mini-Musical Female Duet. I can't find any reference to them in any context besides that album; if anyone knows anything else about them, please let me know. Two voices, one guitar, old calypso hits sung as if they're folk tunes everybody in Belize knows. Which is what I thought they were in 1994.)

(The list has actually inspired me to dig out Who Eats?, which I hadn't listened to in a few years. Oh man is it good: a three-horn rock band inspired by Friends & Neighbors-era Ornette and performance art.)

Seriously: sometimes the fat lady sings something really catchy. I didn't hear the Stands' very good All Years Leaving until yesterday--some of it is a pretty remarkable evocation of '67 Byrds-do-Dylan--and I heard a few of my favorite songs of the year for the first time after I had to start turning in best-of-2004 pieces. On the comics front, I let Ex Machina pile up until just a couple of days ago, and future issues won't be in the "later" stack any time soon.

Oh fine. Here's '04:

M.I.A. Piracy Funds Terrorism, vol. 1
The Homosexuals Astral Glamour (listen to "My Night Out")
The Thermals Fuckin A (listen to "How We Know")
The Fiery Furnaces Blueberry Boat (listen to "Chris Michaels")
Arthur Russell Calling Out of Context
Madvillain Madvillainy (listen to a remix of "Figaro")
IQU Sun Q (listen to "Dirty Boy")
Deerhoof Milk Man (listen to "Giga Dance"--actually, download a whole free live album)
Danger Mouse The Grey Album
Sagor & Swing Orgelplaneten (listen to "Postmodernism")

SONGS, alphabetically because I'm lazy:
Belle & Sebastian "I'm a Cuckoo (by the Avalanches)"
Black Leotard Front "Casual Friday"
Boredoms "Seadrum"
Destiny's Child "Lose My Breath"
The Fiery Furnaces "Chris Michaels"
Sharon Jones with the Dap-Kings "Genuine"
The Mountain Goats "Dance Music"
The Pipettes "It Hurts 2 C U Dance So Well"
Soulwax "NY Excuse" (PIAS)
The Thermals "End to Begin" (Sub Pop)

Dave Sim & Gerhard, "The Last Day" (despite the first 40 pages)
Lewis Trondheim, "Mister O"
Eric Shanower, "Age of Bronze: Sacrifice"
Kevin Huizenga, "Fight or Run"
Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely, "We3"
Craig Thompson, "Carnet de Voyage"
Mike Carey et al., "My Faith in Frankie"
Gary Panter, "Jimbo in Purgatory"
Carla Speed McNeil, "Finder"
Anders Nilsen, "Dogs & Water"

(Locas would've been right up at or near the top, if I hadn't read all of it years ago...)

Also: as an experiment, a lot (not all) of the more personal/who's-he-when-he's-at-home stuff that has generally appeared here is going to be split off to a different blog. Email me privately if you want to know where.