October 2005 Archives
Marry your sister, and you might end up with a drum for a baby. I'm just saying.
A couple of more fantastic things I've neglected to link to so far: The Anachronist is a really well-written and informative audioblog covering territory not a lot of others have covered so far: very-early-20th-century (and even late-19th-century) recorded pop music. And WFMU, bless 'em, recently posted MP3s of the ENTIRETY of Owada's remarkable album Nothing--a pointed little Fire Engines/Pink Flag-flavored record by conceptual artist Martin Creed's band, almost all of whose lyrics are either self-reference or counting (OK, "Circle" is about chains of influence in the contemporary art world).
Just about 24 hours left (depending on when you're reading this) to sign up for NaSoAlMo 2005 and get the full month of November to make your solo album. 28 brave souls have taken the plunge so far. You want to be one of them too, yes?
Hey, I've got a fiction roundup in this weekend's New York Times Book Review!
More additions to NaSoAlMo's roster for this year--go have a look there for details.
Back in Portland, scrambling to meet deadlines that have snuck up on me. No celebrities on the plane this time, just my copy of Charles Burns' Black Hole, which I'm reviewing for money elsewhere so I won't talk about it here, but, uh, wow. Also a pile of SF-ish short stories (and a short play by Caryl Churchill) photocopied for me by Liz Gorinsky as "stuff that somebody who likes Kelly Link might like." Righto in most cases, especially M.T. Anderson's "The Weight and Excellence of Coal" and Ted Chiang's "Liking What You See: A Documentary." Must investigate further.
I realize that I have completely blown it on the record-a-day thing. But the record I've been coming back to most for the last few days is Fireball's Blessed Be 12" EP (on the High Roller Society Records label, which I'm thinking has to be them, especially given the silkscreened cover). Four songs with the particular overdriven caveman sound I like (the drum sound is somebody just ramming sticks onto untuned garbage-can drums in a tight fist grip), and a double-tracked woman whose singing involves lots of early-'80s new wave vocal habits, and two guitarists who are almost totally inaudible when the bass is blowing out the half-wrecked condenser mic this record seems to have been recorded with. Somebody in the band seems to be obsessed with occult stuff. Somebody in the band thought it'd be a good idea to cover Amon Düül II's "Archangels Thunderbird." (Actually, it probably always is, and it definitely is in this case.) I hadn't realized that something that sounds like a collaboration between Drunks With Guns and Velocity Girl was what I wanted so badly right now.
NaSoAlMo update #2: for any participants who'd like to post their masterworks online but don't have server space, Sean from the mighty Said the Gramophone has very kindly offered to host some for the month of December. Thank you, Sean!
The first signups for NaSoAlMo 2005 are here:
Heroes, one and all.
And otherwise. Thanks for asking. I'm currently in NYC, working on a non-Project X project that is not secret, per se, but in fact so boring that if I mentioned it I would instantly fall asleep at the keyboard, and as the wi-fi café where I'm typing is about to close, that might be a problem. The only noteworthy thing that's happened lately is that I sat next to Janet Reno on an airplane. (She was giving off an intense "please don't talk to me, I just want to read my paper in peace" vibe, so I didn't disturb her. I can, however, report that she read the New York Times cover to cover, folding it in the old professional-commuter way, then the Oregonian cover to cover, then did the Times crossword puzzle, then the in-flight magazine's crossword puzzle.)
EDIT: PLEASE NOTE: I am no longer running NaSoAlMo for 2006 and thereafter; Todd Gehman is. It's happening, but I'm not the guy to contact. The new temporary site is http://nasoalmo.pugetive.com/ , and nasoalmo.org will probably be working again soon. Good luck!
November is, of course, NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month, Chris Baty's brilliant project in which participants write a 50,000-word novel in the space of a month. It is also, as it happens, National Solo Album Month, or NaSoAlMo; those brave souls who are up for it will write and record an entire solo album in the course of its 30 days. Last year was the first year we attempted it; now it's time for Round 2.
Everything I'm posting here is also at the nondescript but functional nasoalmo.org; probably best to link there if you're going to link, since that's going to be updated with everybody who's participating.
So, for the purposes of NaSoAlMo, what exactly is a solo album?
An album of music you have written, played and recorded entirely by yourself*. The shortest inarguably awesome album that a lot of people have heard is the first Ramones album, which is 29:09 long, so your solo album must be at least that long. Beyond that, its form and content are up to you.
*Since Ramones includes a cover of "Let's Dance," your NaSoAlMo album may, if you wish, include one cover of somebody else's song.
So is this a competition? Who's judging it? What do I win? What if it's not good enough? Do I have to send it in? Do I have to play it for anyone? Help!
No. This isn't a competition: this is a challenge. The winners are everyone who completes a solo album by November 30; what you will have won is that you will have made an album by yourself. You needn't play it for anyone else, and you certainly don't have to send it in, although I will probably listen to any you feel like sending me. It doesn't have to please anyone but yourself, if that; you are going for your own personal best here. The point is actually doing the work, starting and finishing the project. The deadline makes it easy!
Does it have to be professional-sounding?
Of course not. It doesn't have to be professional-anything; the point is the fun of making it. I encourage you to record with whatever you've got around the house.
How do I sign up for NaSoAlMo? And then what do I do?
Sign up by the end of October (oh, after is fine, okay, but wouldn't you rather have the whole month to work on your solo album?) by sending an email to signup [at-sign] nasoalmo.org, to let me know that you're in. Unless you indicate otherwise, I'll post your name and (if you have one) web site at nasoalmo.org. At 12:01 AM November 1, as you're noshing your Halloween candy, you can start work on your solo album. If you've finished by the end of November--when you've finished, rather, let's think positive here!--let me know that you've won, and I'll post a winner's hall of fame on the site. (And, if you like, a link to your finished album; totally up to you.)
Aren't you just ripping off Chris Baty and NaNoWriMo?
Yes. Yes, I am. Totally. Thank you for the inspiration, Chris.
Spread the word, and let me know if you have any other questions!
Album of the day is the Sea Donkeys' Volume 1 (Abduction), an LP that appears to be limited to 300 copies. I applaud the existence in limited form of albums that will make 300 people happy, and I am one of those 300 people in this case. It's sort of nautically themed, from the packaging: song titles include "Sailors," "Castaway," "Crossing the Equator," etc. (The song identified on the track listing as "Jenny" is in fact a verse of Brecht/Weill's "Pirate Jenny," which in my weirder moods lately I've started to think of as the theme song of modernity. And I think "The Anchor Song" may be a devolved version of the Björk song. "Lydia," though, is the nautical-only-by-rhythm-and-cultural-association "Lydia the Tattooed Lady"; the packaging also includes a distorted-by-reproduction photograph of a tattooed lady.)
What the album is, really, seems to be at least one of the Sun City Girls (Charlie Gocher, definitely, given one singer's particular mock-drunken growl) and at least a couple of other people (unless one of the SCGs has turned into an actual girl, or started playing woodwinds), messing around in a room with some kind of cassette recorder with a very cheap condenser mic, collaged into an album ex post facto. The surface vibe--sonically cruddy, OCD-repetitive, acoustic strum-based in a non-rehearsed way, with open-improv passages--brings to mind the first couple of Amon Düül records; the editing and sequencing, though, is more a Faust Tapes kind of experience. I will listen to pretty much any album that's been this enthusiastically edited, and a couple of times I've tried myself to trim a bunch of promising but overlong jams and curlicues into something that doesn't actually get dull. It's surprisingly tough, and I'm always impressed when people can do it.
I've been semi-obsessively listening to David Bowie's Low this week (and reading Hugo Wilcken's 33 1/3 book about it), and admiring the Bowie/Eno ability to get into and out of songs, and to leave space in them where space is warranted--even when they don't start out with space there, as with the absent first verse of "Sound and Vision." (Elvis Costello, on working with Eno on "My Dark Life": "I very much admired his creative use of the 'erase' button.") Tonight I started wondering: the Sea Donkeys made their record under impossibly casual conditions (partly on a boat, if we believe the press release, which I don't think I do), and I love them for it. But what if they'd done it in a catered château and a well-equipped Berlin studio? How would Volume 1 be different--would it be an album you could sink into the way you can sink into Low? Does anyone with access to châteaux and well-equipped studios now make records like this, all textures and crosscuts and half-feigned craziness, with the self-control to hit "erase" when they need to? Do they make them in editions of 300 copies and only give them to their friends?
Project X continues to eat my brain (and make it impossible to listen to anything for the review-a-day project; I'll catch up). People continue to ask about details on this year's NaSoAlMo. Patience.
I've spent a few days with the first issue of Infinite Crisis, and I've got very mixed feelings about it. (Spoilers ahead.) I should preface this with a little story from my favorite comic store, Excalibur, from this Wednesday:
Clerk #1: You know, I think I've figured out who Mockingbird is: it's Alex Luthor, from Earth-3!
Me: Oh... my God.
Clerk #2: Oh come on--you're in a comic book store! You shouldn't be shocked when people talk like this!
Me: No no no no. That wasn't an "oh my God what a geek," it was an "oh my God, it's so obvious! Of course!"
Essentially, for people who know and care who Mockingbird and Alex Luthor from Earth-3 are (like, uhh, me), this is a pretty kickass story: densely plotted, decently choreographed, bringing back all sorts of plot threads that have been dangling for decades. And I do really like the fanatical level of visual detail. And the fact that this story does emerge from a setup that's been rolling for a couple of years, building toward this feverish moment of everything happening at once, with a master narrative that spills over directly into a whole lot of other comics.
But IC is also supposed to be a "jumping-on point"--a place for new readers to get sucked into the action--and on that count it's a miserable failure. This first issue explains nothing to readers who might've heard the hype and wanted to get into the action. The screwed-up thing is that there are plenty of opportunities to provide a little bit of backstory, a little bit of expository dialogue--and they're all missed. Just as an example: in the scene where we see Nightwing on a rooftop beneath a sky filled with a zillion OMACs, there's a caption that says "The skies DARKEN with the corrupted technology of his mentor." If you're going to bother with the caption, you could maybe mention in passing who his mentor is, you know? Or at least have a few pages of "if you're just joining us now..." notes at the back of the issue? It does have a great big numeral 1 on its cover.
Another example: the botched segue out of Day of Vengeance. There was a cliffhanger ending there: Billy Batson's falling from the sky and doesn't remember his magic word. How do you resolve that one? The correct answer, dramatically speaking, is not "at the last minute he remembers his magic word." Then we see Cap announcing "the Rock of Eternity... the ROCK... he... did it... the SPECTRE... he KILLED him... he KILLED the wizard..." This is useful recapitulation if we've read all but the final issue of DoV. If we've read it, it's useless. And if we don't know who the Spectre or the wizard are, it's also useless.
The point of the Wolfman/Perez Crisis was to get rid of a lot of baggage that made it difficult for new readers to enjoy DCU comics. It didn't work that way, really, for a lot of reasons, but it seems like the point of IC is to go pick up all that baggage up again... which is more or less an admission that the old-time fans are the core constituency. Probably true, but disheartening.
(Also, a thing other people have picked up on: of all the characters killed in this issue, Phantom Lady's death is particularly graphic and unmistakably sado-sexualized. Not necessary, guys.) (And a small quibble: how would a newscaster know what the OMACs are called?)
One element I unequivocally love, though: George Pérez's cover for the first issue. It's got 23 recognizable characters, a neat encapsulation of the events leading up to the story (the outcomes of all four pre-IC miniseries are represented), and the incident that kicks it off (the exploding Watchtower), the gist of this episode (the schism between the three major characters), and the central element of its composition alludes to something that I suspect is going to be a major theme of the whole story: the idea of succession in the DC world. The implication we've seen before is that there's always an Atom, always a Flash, always a Green Lantern--it's just who it is that changes. But who gets Batman's job if there's no Bruce Wayne? Superman's job if there's no Clark Kent? That's one of the reasons that we see that bit of dialogue about "the last time you really inspired anyone was when you were dead": that was the last time that the order of succession was brought up (and the only interesting thing about the whole death-of-Superman storyline, but that's a whole other thing.)
So we see each of the Big Three next to their possible successors, and we realize that not only are they no longer really in any kind of shape to fulfill their roles, but the next people in line aren't either. The "unready successor shoved into very big shoes" theme has shown up a few times after COIE, notably Wally West and Kyle Rayner's respective histories, but I don't think that's going to be what happens this time. Actually, I have no idea what's going to happen this time.
Aside from this: EET EET EET KOOOOOOM KRA-KOOOOOOM KKRASHHHH KRRUNNKK KKOOMM KRRAKKLL KOOOMMMM CHOOOMMM KRAK KRAK KRAK SHOOOMMMM SHLPT THOOOMM BOOOM FSSSS KRAK KOOOOMM RRRIIPPP KKOOOMM KRA-KOOOM KKOOM KKOOOM KKOOOM KRUNCHH KRAKKK THOOMM FZZZZTTT SSHHLTTTT BOOOOMMMMM THOOMM SHRRAKKKK THOOOM THOOOMM KKKKKRAKOOOM.
Fine, so I'm two behind. Like anybody but me is keeping score... the Top!Secret!Project! is eating a lot of time at the moment. As the moment, I'm listening to the new domestic reissue of No New York, which I'm very glad to own on CD at last--I've waved the flag for this album often enough. (Last week's Other Music update included a blurb for the new reissue that made me think "huh, whoever's writing about that has a lot of the same annoying writing tics I do... Oh wait! I wrote that--SIX YEARS AGO, when the Japanese version came out!")
I'd heard that attempts to reissue it in the U.S. had failed for years for one reason or another; this one claims to be on a Russian label called Lilith (licensed from "Universal Music Plc., Russia"), has liner notes in Russian, etc. (It also has a beautiful glossy Digipak and a couple of typos in the packaging, like a picture of Mars' Sumner Crane labeled as Sumner Cran.) But "Universal Music Plc." doesn't seem to exist, and Lilith's domain (at which there's nothing right now, but an e-mail address on the package points there) is lilith-spb-ru.com. Note that that's not a .ru. A little investigation reveals that the domain's registered to somebody in Italy.
Great album, in any case.
Just quickly, before I get back to mumblemumblesecretproject: Delia Gonzalez and Gavin Russom's The Days of Mars (Astralwerks). Gonzalez and Russom were the people behind Black Leotard Front, whose "Casual Friday" was my favorite song of last year, and they had a single a while back under their own names that was a DFA remix of this album's "Rise." The difference between that single and this album, though, was the difference between waiting a while for the beat to drop and the beat being Godot; what they're doing here is not just picking up a 25-year-old German electronic thread but specifically following up on Manuel Göttsching's E2-E4, stuttering analog synthesizers and foreboding chord shifts and all. I wavered for a while between thinking that it was warmed-over ambient notsohotso and digging it in a "really, I'm willing to wait as long as you like for the beat to drop" way, and now I'm leaning more toward the latter, let's-go-we-can't-why-not notwithstanding. It helped to play it really loudly, which emphasizes the tension-without-release aspects. But I'd still trade 100 of these for four more Black Leotard Front tracks.
In other news, I now know what this year's Halloween costume is going to be.
Okay, I've gotten a bunch of emails, and IT IS ON. "It" being NaSoAlMo (National Solo Album Month) 2005: in November, the challenge will be to write and record a solo album from scratch within the month. Details to come in a couple of days, but start gearing up.
Record of the day is the new version of an album I've known for a good long time: the Fall's Room to Live (Castle/Sanctuary). This is at least the fourth edition of it--most of the bonus tracks from earlier reissues are gone, replaced by a bunch of live recordings that approximate the whole album over again. (No "Papal Visit," because they never attempted it live; no "Marquis Cha-Cha" because who knows. A live "Words of Expectation," which never ended up on a studio album for fairly good reasons, and is not as good as the Peel version that came out recently.)
Room to Live originally came out six months after Hex Enduction Hour, which was one of those monumental-in-concept-and-execution albums that are usually pretty hard to follow up. So this one is slapped-together-sounding and short: seven tracks, which ramble and bumble in the ways that HEH threatened to and didn't. (Mark E. is being so cryptic and sarcastic that there is no way to even guess at what he's going on about most of the time. I've always imagined the atmosphere in the Fall around this time as being something like the atmosphere in Captain Beefheart's Magic Band during the Trout Mask Replica rehearsals--so far off in their own territory that they didn't know which way was up. Probably not true, just what I envision.) "Marquis Cha-Cha" and "Room to Live" both have their moments, especially the latter's clenched-teeth rockabilly lead guitar, but they both also move like there's something attached to their ankles.
Do the live versions bring the sludgy, bottom-heavy songs to life? They do not. Even on other live recordings I've heard from around this time, the Hex songs lift off and the Perverted By Language songs roll like a huge studded wheel, but the Room songs just kind of slump there and melt.
Great story from the liner notes about Arthur Cadman's very brief tenure as a third guitarist: "Smith introduced him to the band, who knew precisely nothing of his arrival. He was then dismissed after his sixteen-second tuning-up session, which is buried somewhere in the mix."
Hey, I've got a long review of five graphic novels up at the Washington Post. The theme is "the uses of cuteness"...
Today's record is Cult Cargo: Belize City Boil Up (Numero Group), an anthology of Belizean '60s and '70s disco and funk records (mostly) from the CES label. (It stands for Contemporary Electronic Systems, a Belize City company that installed security systems before it started putting out records, and still does.) I was approaching it from a position of near-total ignorance: the only Belizean music I'd heard before was a ten-year-old comp I've mentioned here before, Shine Eye Gal: Brukdon from Belize. As it turns out, there's not much music that was actually recorded there--aside from a 1965 album, no "official recordings" were made in Belize until the '80s, and most of these bands were recorded on trips to the U.S. and so on.
And it's mostly crate-digger stuff--the sort of thing that would be a lucky find if you stumbled onto it at a garage sale, and sounds good e.g. to cook dinner to, but doesn't have too many standout moments, aside from a very weird slow one by the Professionals called "A Part of Being With You." The covers--"Shame Shame Shame," "Theme from The Godfather," "Back Stabbers"--are easily the best songs, and lots of the originals are... not so original. (Lord Rhaburn's "Boogaloo A La Chuck" is mostly just the vamp from James Brown's "Out of Sight" with some soggy-fisted one-chord organ playing.) The stuff that's noted as funk-break collectors' items... well, funk-break collectors are kind of insatiable, I suppose--I would guess that the folks behind some of Soul Fire's records had heard these, given their production's particular kind of raggedness.
(Also, a couple of omissions are maddening. The Professionals' calypso "The Queen Sings" "sold over 30,000 copies at home and abroad," according to the liner notes, so why isn't it on here?)
(And the Professionals' version of "Back Stabbers" is the second most minimal I've heard. It's been converted into a 1972-style reggae groove, and the lyrics have been reduced to "What you doin'?/They smile into your face/You back stabbers"; the rest is approximated by a small but game horn section. I'm wondering if it came out before or after Fred Wesley & the J.B.s' version, in which the lyric consists of "What they do!/They smile in your face.") (On the other hand, it could be worse: whoever posted this version apparently thinks the title is "Back Bers." And whoever transcribed it hears the climactic line as "I wish they'd take some of these knives off my back." Maybe it is, but I always heard it as "out of my back.")
(Actually, the Harmonettes' version of "Shame Shame Shame" goes "If you don't want to go/Remember why a monkey don't have no shirt/My body needs action, ain't got no clothes." Apparently some American idioms didn't make it down to Belize.)
Favorite bit of the packaging: a reproduction of a Lord Rhaburn ("accompanied by Lord Rhaburn Combo") LP cover, Calypso Is Power, that notes "Featuring 'Bulge Eye Reporta' Has Big As Possible." What?
Lisa's photo show opened today at Newspace Center for Photography. Portlanders, go see it!
Record of the day is a small one: Quick Quick Slow Death, the Melt-Banana/Chung split 10" EP on Sounds of Subterrania. The Chung side is pretty straightforward barre-chord punk rock with a keyboard--not so much my thing--but the Melt-Banana side is spectacular. "52 Hands, 36 Possibilities" is mostly a cut-up piano-and-drums freakout, like the piano solo from the single version of "$10 a Pile" sliced on the diagonal and distributed unevenly, and Yako's "lyric" is mostly homonyms for what she's actually doing on the microphone, which is yelling "no" with different intonations. ("Now no nail nest no name known now," etc.) "Sweeper" is the kind of song I was really hoping they'd make after Cell-Scape. It takes them further into pop (by their standards, not by most other people's) than even "Free the Bee" did: not just verses and choruses but actual harmonies--okay, not harmonies exactly, but Yako double-tracking her voice, that has to count for something--and there's even a semi-boppy synth-pulse running through the song. Plus it's still got the crazy split-second tone-switches of their hardcore stuff. (A couple of times Agata flicks on that "skidding" sound that made my hair stand straight up on "Lost Parts Stinging Me So Cold.") One of my favorite things they've ever recorded. "Target Inside" seems like a lagniappe: a little screechy acrobatic hardcore jab, just to indicate that that mode is still natural to them.
Also noted, happily: the "ear" section of Melt-Banana's site now includes a song I'd never heard before that they did for Adult Swim's "Perfect Hair Forever," called "HAIR-CAT ('cause the wolf is a cat!)"--pretty much in the MxBx HxCx mode.
Unrelatedly: a piece I wrote about Harvey Pekar's new book, up at Salon. (Ad to sit through first, sorry.)
Q. Am I doing anything besides listening to an album a day and going on about it? A. Not of particular interest, no.
And today's is the new reissue of Sam Cooke's Live at the Harlem Square Club, recorded in January 1963, just a few months after my beloved Live at the Apollo, but not released until 1985 (with a cover that looks like it had actually been released 22 years earlier). This is the Cooke album I've wished existed--Night Beat is pretty and sort of formally unified and all, but the Cooke stuff I like best is his Soul Stirrers recordings, where he's scraping that smoothness to a pulp. Here he's raw all the way (maybe it's partly the microphone distorting), an impression helped along by the band (led by King Curtis!) being a bit sloppy and out of tune. As the liner notes point out, this was a recording of a "new act" that he'd developed after touring the U.K. with Little Richard (and, very possibly, seeing JB at the Apollo) (are the between-song speak-sung transitions standard operating procedure for soul singers in the early '60s, or something that he picked up from JB?): treating his pop material as if it were his gospel material. He's trying very hard to Put On a Show--the patter is flowing a little frantically. It's working, though, and the singing is awe-inspiring, even when he's justly embarrassed about the material he's been singing. (When he introduces "Cupid" as "a nice little song, very sweet," or something along those lines, you can feel the RCA execs wince from half a continent away.) If somebody had given me this as a bootleg, I'd have played it for everyone I know.
Other notes: the bit in "Chain Gang" about the provenance of the "Uh! Ah!" sounds like it belongs in quotation marks more than ever; the audience at the Harlem Square Club (in Miami!), carrying the melody of "For Sentimental Reasons" while Cooke blazes away, sings better than any audience I've heard in person; the way he sings "Don't you know that I laughed--HA! HA! HA!--when you left" in "Bring It On Home To Me" should have spawned entire schools of singing, philosophy and politics.
Record of the day is "Singers"--by, I guess, Singers--on P.W. Elverum & Sun. The packaging promised all sorts of things I like: blurry front-cover photo, titles and lyrics and credits and notes on the back cover all hand-written, an LP that includes a CD of the same thing (the Shellac trick!), and mostly the form of the band itself: a whole lot of singers (including, sometimes, some I know and love well: Calvin Johnson, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlin, Khaela Maricich) gathered around a microphone, with a few extra instruments. And I love the one song from it I knew already, "I Can't Believe You Actually Died," which had been a Microphones single the first time, or rather Microphones Singers. And even though I don't own a lot of Phil Elverum's records (with Microphones and Mt. Eerie), I do tend to enjoy the ones I have, especially that one that's just the drums from a Mt. Eerie album.
These songs, though: they've been around for a long time, at least a few years, and maybe they haven't come out before now because they're not as special as they want to be, or ought to be. The "poor sound quality" advertised on the back cover isn't a problem (I like the foreground/background distinction the crappy recording makes on, especially, "I Cut My Hands Off"), and I'm willing to deal with some off-keyness in an amateur choir, but--maybe it's just the out-of-tune instruments: I keep hearing this as the rehearsal for what might eventually become a tingly thing. And then I notice that aside from "...Actually Died" the songs are a little sickly, a little too attached to their couches; they state their idea in the first 20 seconds, and then they keep going until they're not going any more. I think that if I bought into the Mt. Eerie internal mythology a little more, I'd probably find this album more illuminating, but if I'm going to buy into a band's internal mythology, I'm going to go for Magma's and maybe Amon Düül II's before I get around to Mt. Eerie.
Even so. I almost enjoy a couple of these songs a lot, especially "I'll Shut Up"--I wish it included all the lyrics written on the back cover, or that the amateur choir did more than climb up and down a five-note scale, or that the melody was up to the standard of lyrics like "Just look at my face and know me. Feel my hand on your shoulder and know me. Put your hand on my stomach and feel the baby kick!"
I'm really not listening to that much semi-ersatz reggae. (Today I spent a while with a mid-'70s album on Studio One by Jennifer Lara, which I might write about here later if I can get deep enough into it--a quick Google reveals that she died just a few months ago and that she was the singer on Rhythm & Sound's "Queen In My Empire"--knew I recognized that voice from somewhere. Incidentally, my copy of the album looks like the one on that link, except that the blue plate is about a million times more photo-degraded, which oddly makes it even a little sexier.) But the album I've played most today does have a slightly questionable pedigree, which is to say that if somebody told you "hey, you have to check out this dancehall album by this German newspaper heiress--there's a little bit of punk rock in there too," and didn't explain that it was Ari Up's Dread More Dan Dead (Collision), you'd be totally justified in suddenly remembering that you had an urgent appointment to get your ears temporarily removed.
I admire Ari for being such a total charismatic freak, and it's not like her weirdness makes her stand out in reggae--Yellowman, anyone? And yes, she's got the background (she's a TV regular in Kingston, apparently), and she's been doing Jamaican music almost exclusively for 25 years (somewhere I've got a record of her with the New Age Steppers doing a solid version of Junior Byles' "Fade Away"--wow, two Junior Byles mentions in two days), and as she knows well enough to include an a cappella version of "Me Done," she's a mighty good toaster. She's been playing these songs live for years--and not many others, although I did once see her attempt to get away with singing along with her old Slits record on stage. Looking at the song titles, I remembered how almost all of their hooks went. They're really good hooks. The occasional problem is what's between them--it sometimes seems like she's just filling in the space between choruses. I love the chorus of "Can't Share," but the verses elaborate on its words in the bluntest, most obvious way. (I've seen her play better versions of a lot of these songs live, too, especially "Bashment," which I was convinced a few years ago was going to be her dance breakthrough record & is now just another song.) Also, is it me, or are the sentiments of "Can't Trust the Majority Mass" taking an anti-herd-mentality grudge a little too far?
Hey, does anybody reading this have any interest in my organizing NaSoAlMo (National Solo Album Month) again for next month? I've got the domain name now; it's just a question of putting it into action.
In the dept. of full disclosure: I agreed to write about what I thought of tonight's Cut Copy show at the Roseland here on the gaps in exchange for tickets to the show. Which feels a little weird, but what the hell. My reaction to seeing them live was actually pretty much the same as hearing their record: they've got an aesthetic and a sound and they're deep into it, but there's something missing from it. I mean, when I hear "Future" (which they segued into from Daft Punk's "Around the World"--not covering it, actually playing the track), it seems like the dub version that would be the second track on the B-side of a good new-romantic-type 12-inch single from 1984 or so--intensified rhythm track, backing vocals boosted in the mix, lead vocals and melody synth missing. (That's not entirely unlike what Out Hud sounded like to me at first, except that Out Hud seemed more specifically like the dubs on the B-sides of New Order singles: a thing-in-itself, not a DJ tool.)
Also, two songs in 10 minutes had the band trying to get the audience to do a "clap, clap, clap, clap-clap" routine. And I know it shouldn't bother me any more when bands prominently feature prerecorded material on stage, we're all grown-up futurists now, etc., but it still seems a little dubious to me when one of the sounds that nobody is visibly producing is the lead vocal. They do have that French disco whomp I like just as much as anyone else with more than one Daft Punk CD, and I keep thinking that their songs have almost hit the end of the intro and are about to go somewhere, especially since the band's so obviously having fun playing them, but then the "intro" just keeps going for the rest of the song. I think I'd actually rather hear their remixes of other people's records than their own.
As for the rest of the show: TV on the Radio bulldozed over almost everything I like about their records (two-voice interactions, textural subtlety, negative space) with a great big furry wall of roooaaaar. And Franz Ferdinand have become the heteroflexible Bay City Rollers of 2005, which I mean in a good way--that rhythm section (& light show!) kept the energy up for almost the whole show, and I haven't heard that many girls shrieking in a really long time.
Record of the day here is Sinead O'Connor's Throw Down Your Arms, her album of roots reggae covers. Which is not quite as silly a concept as the Willie Nelson reggae album--she's obviously had an affinity for this stuff for a long time (cf. "Fire on Babylon"). But in order to think straight about it, I had to remind myself of what I liked about her before she became a full-time professional wingnut: a voice that's distinctive and attractive and just on the correct side of relying on favorite tics, the ability to get across a pointed lyric understatedly (and to sound like she's understating even when she's yelling), good taste in collaborators and sidepeople.
Can't argue with the third one here, either: Sly & Robbie and a bunch of Jamaica's finest. The repertoire looks like it might've started out as a Burning Spear tribute--five Winston Rodney songs, including the first four. The rest are drawn from a bunch of other artists' repertoires--Lee Perry's "Vampire" is, sadly, not the one where he calls Chris Blackwell a vampire, and Peter Tosh's "Downpressor Man" is a rewrite of "Sinner Man" that gets Sinead's best vocal here. You can tell how much she's relishing singing "where you gonna fuckin' run to?" at the end.
But the liner notes bring us back to nuttyville. She credits the roots reggae originators as "part of a battle fought... for the freeing of God from religion," which is an... unusual interpretation of hardcore Rastafarianism. I mean, she's singing Burning Spear's "Jah Nuh Dead"; she can't have failed to catch the words she's singing. She also notes that she's "kept exactly true to the originals," aside from "key changes to suit a woman's voice." (Well, a particular woman's voice._
If that's the case, there's not much of a point to putting it out as a record, unless she seriously thinks that it'll reach a whole lot of people who'd never have heard of the Wailers' "War" otherwise. One of the songs she sings here is Junior Byles' glorious "Curly Locks," which got covered rather beautifully by the trip-hop band Baby Fox a few years back. Their version works because it doesn't pretend to be true to the original, or to reject it--it flirts with the original arrangement, brushes up against it, and then dances away and does its own thing most of the time, up to and including adding a countermelody with a new lyric. When Sinead sings "Curly Locks," she's so careful to honor the letter of Byles' version that she misses its wit and seductiveness: she's murmuring "your father is a pork chop" with a straight face and wide, dewy eyes.
Happy birthday to Lisa!
So I've got a new more-or-less monthly column in the Chicago Reader, called "Product"; it'll focus on things having to do with the music business-as-business. Sort of like my old "Sound of the Industry" columns in the Voice, but not really. The first one can now be read (as a PDF only) on the Reader's site.
Album of the day is I Like It, Vol. 2 (Compost). I loved the first volume of this--which was also the only place to hear Arthur Russell's "In the Light of the Miracle" before the Soul Jazz comp came out, and included a TV Personalities song on top of that--and I love the concept: four DJs each present three of their favorite secret-weapon tracks. Not mixed, not even necessarily dance music, more like a concentrated version of the "Back to Mine" series. Of the 13 tracks here (there's a bonus, Trickski's "Hormony," all of whose interesting elements are lifted, as far as I can tell, from the Chemical Brothers' "Star Guitar"), I'd only heard three before, and one of them is reasonably far up there on my own hit parade: Propaganda's "Frozen Faces (Echo)," a ten-minute icicle-funk remix (with abbatoir-drain-walking saxophone) of a song that was pretty scary to begin with. ("The drums are stained with blood. Don't look at this disaster," Claudia Brücken intoned, and teenage Douglas's heart palpitated.) That's one of Trevor Jackson's picks, and one of the others is really impressive too: Colourbox's "Baby I Love You So." a cover of the not-particularly-famous Jacob Miller song of which "King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown" is the considerably more famous dub version. As you might guess, it's an excuse to approximate "KTMRU," via mid-'80s synth-pop, which means it's a formal exercise of the kind I adore, and it also bumps.
This one's not what you'd call consistent, but it's not supposed to be either. Most surprising track: Pole choosing David Thomas's "Monster Magee, King of the Seas." Most disappointing set: Richard Dorfmeister, who picks an unspectacular piano-improv piece, a so-so quasi-Afro-disco track, and a Can B-side ("Shikako Maru Ten") notable only for being a Can B-side. Best comment about a track on here: L., noting of Elbee Bad's "Just Don't Stop the Dance": "Hmm. 1997, Twilo, 4 AM..."
For various reasons, I'm finding myself writing fewer and longer pieces than I used to. Which is great, in general, but also means that I have a rapidly mounting pile of music I feel like writing something about that I often don't have a place to write about for money. So, as a challenge to myself, I'm going to try to write a (very) casual review of something here every day this month.
First up: Louis Jordan's Number Ones (officially on Geffen, bizarrely--maybe that's where it got randomly assigned in the latest Universal redistribution). It makes sense on the face of it that Jordan would get the Beatles/Elvis all-number-one-singles treatment: he had more #1 R&B hits than anybody but Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder, and spent 113 weeks at #1 (the closest runner-up is Stevie, with 70 weeks). But I'm finding, strangely, that this doesn't track as well for me as other compilations of his stuff. Partly it's that his biggest hits are almost all good-natured in exactly the same way, and they've got the same good-natured beat, which means they're most effective for three or six minutes at a time, not 45. ("Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" was #1 for 17 weeks in 1947, and it's buried here by its context. When I've heard it, or any other Louis Jordan song, on R&B comps, they always jump out at me.) Mostly, though--and this marks me as a bizarre kind of snob, I realize--my favorite Jordan songs of the relatively limited selection I know are the ones that weren't the biggest hits: the ones that showed off his weird, cutting sense of humor or burned a little too hard for the top of the chart. "You Dyed Your Hair Chartreuse," obviously, but also "That Chick's Too Young to Fry" and "A Chicken Ain't Nothin' But a Bird" and a few others that aren't here.
Even so, I kind of love almost all of these songs individually, and the later ones more than the earlier ones, which doesn't happen very often. (I'd never actually heard "Stone Cold Dead in the Market"--with Ella Fitzgerald!--before, and I'm still not sure what I think about the two of them doing calypso.) "Blue Light Boogie" is a pretty appropriate final #1, a song about going to a party and feeling out of the demo and alarmed by the kids and not knowing how to dance any more. Except he had five more top 10 hits after that, all of which I now want to hear. (They seem to be available on eMusic; I'm gonna investigate.)