Friday, July 23, 2010

Admiral Radley, "I Heart California" [2010]

I've been playing a lot of Jason Lytle's music lately, partly because of the release of I Heart California by his new project Admiral Radley, formed with Aaron Burtch of his brilliant earlier band, Grandaddy, and two members of Earlimart. The other reason is that Lytle's sister Anna has been suffering from some pretty serious medical ailments, and in order to raise money to help pay the bills, Lytle has opened up his Grandaddy vaults and given fans and supporters the opportunity to download a ton (literally, many many hours) of demos, live tracks, and even entire early self-released Grandaddy albums, all in return for a donation of $30. For Grandaddy fans, it's a goldmine, not to mention a worthy cause; for more details, go here.

Lytle's post-Grandaddy offerings, including 2009's solo Your Truly, The Commuter, have continued his earlier band's obsession with regret, nature's losing battle to technology, and suburban dystopia, and while the topics sound overwhelmingly gloomy, his lyrics are often darkly comical (example: "I Heart California" mentions drugs falling out of diaper bags, long walks on Interstate 5, fake tits and the symphony). Admiral Radley, as a collaborative effort, occasionally suffers from the too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen effect, as tracks sung by Earlimart's Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray feel somewhat out of place, not because the songs are bad, but because they don't match Lytle's slightly better offerings. The only weak tracks are the uptempo numbers "Sunburn Kids" and "I'm Fucked On Beer"—neither Grandaddy nor Earlimart were ever convincing rockers, instead doing their finest work at the slower end of the metronome. Fans of Lytle and Earlimart will be on board regardless, but the only major song here is "GNDN", a sad, six-minute meditation on failure in the music industry which is hard not to read as a statement about the go-nowhere-do-nothing fizzling out of Grandaddy. But sad six-minute meditations are one of the things Lytle has always done best, and whether it's soldiering on in music or helping out his sister, Lytle can be counted on to valiantly fight glum with glum.

From I Heart California, here's "GNDN":

And from Lytle's cache of rare material, here's "Call Girl Call" from Grandaddy's 1994 self-released Complex Party Come Along Theories:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Psychedelic Fruitbasket, Pt. 2: Tangerines

Few individual tracks, as far as I can tell, have been so thoroughly mined for imagery and sounds as John Lennon's utterly unique and epoch-making "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds". One of my very favorite moments in all the world of LPs is the brief moment of silence which separates the end of "With A Little Help From My Friends" and the eerie, otherworldly sound of the Lowrey organ which begins the journey into John's hazy dream-world. Virtually every noun in the song has begotten sonic children: tangerine trees, marmalade skies, kaleidoscope eyes, cellophane flowers, marshmallow pies—this is the vocabulary of acid rock. Even though the Beatles initially denied that the title acronym was a drug reference, there is no doubt that the song's colorful imagery, swirling sounds, and references to floating with one's head in the clouds were at the very least inspired by something more psychotropic than British ale. For this edition of The Psychedelic Fruitbasket, I want to focus on this legendary's track's first fruit, the tangerine.

First, here's the mono version of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds":

When the pop world started going psychedelic, more commercial artists quickly followed suit. Tommy James & The Shondells started off as a brilliant garage rock singles act, with huge hits like "Hanky Panky" and "I Think We're Alone Now". Their transition to psych pop was made in 1968, when they released the huge smash "Crimson and Clover", which in my opinion is a brilliant extrapolation of Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever" (strawberry : crimson :: fields : clover). Their 1968 album Crimson and Clover contains, besides the title hit and the groovy "Crystal Blue Persuasion", one of my favorite attempts to copy "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds", the absurdly silly but fun "I Am A Tangerine". Check out the lyrics!

Tommy James & The Shondells, "I Am A Tangerine" (1968):

Americans weren't the only ones smitten with Lucy in the sky. The little-known UK band Kaleidoscope (note their trippy name, shared with at least two other psychedelic bands) named their first album Tangerine Dream, as good a description of Lennon's song as can be made in two words. Their 1967 album may or may not have given the more famous German electronic band its name, but this rare album is a gem of melodic, Beatlesy psychedelic pop.

From 1967's Tangerine Dream, here's Kaleidoscope's "Flight From Ashiya", replete with Lennonesque lyrics (e.g., "Puffs of white cotton passing the window", "One minute high, the next minute low":

MGMT Know Where Syd Barrett Lives

Last week I saw MGMT live at L.A.'s beautiful outdoor Greek Theatre, and it's taken a week for my synapses to recover. I didn't expect to get refried by a band like MGMT—along with the audience, I was expecting most of album one with a smattering of album two. Instead, we got the opposite, the band launching into extended, buzzing, pulsating versions of their most complex songs. While it's true that the audience hollered loudest to their three most popular songs, I was genuinely impressed with their fearless mission to convert the Greek Theatre into a psychedelic ballroom. Their second album, Congratulations, takes a bit of work, and their songwriting has sacrificed the clean lines of their first hits for more fractal melodies, but I find this album a far more rewarding experience. The song titles pay tribute to the well-known Brian Eno and the less well-known Dan Treacy (of the 80s cult neo-psych Television Personalities), but the songs themselves pay even closer tribute to Love's Arthur Lee and the ultimate psych hero, The Pink Floyd's sainted Syd Barrett (the latter of whom was also the subject of a 1981 Television Personalities track). Rock history continues to eat itself—today's bands no longer distinguish between hero-worship and hero-worshipper-worship. In what direction MGMT will point their spacecraft next is up to them, but they deserve congratulations for transforming their hero-worshipper-worship into a work of art.

Here's the amazing, six-course feast that is "Siberian Breaks":

Endless Boogie: Full House Head [2010]

I love this band. After spending most of last summer obsessed with their last full-length, Focus Level, I am happy to report that Endless Boogie have returned with no changes or modifications to their approach, which is basically bulletproof groove rock. On their Myspace page, they call themselves "Blues / Rock / Psychedelic", and while these are somewhat descriptive, their true genre, if you need to put a label on it, is chooglin'. The term, which I suppose is onomatopoetic, comes from one of the preeminent chooglin' bands, Creedence Clearwater Revival, who have a self-explanatory track called "Keep On Chooglin'" on their 1969 platter Bayou Country. So what is chooglin'? To choogle is to take basic, simple blues-based chord changes, simmer until you have reached a low boil, and proceed to cook the hell out of the song. There may be some soloing, but no self-indulgent wankarama, no spotlights, no histrionics—just purified hot smoking rhythm. Endless Boogie are masters of the choogle, and pledge allegiance to the almighty boogie. They have a singer (who goes by the nom de choogle Top Dollar), but he mostly growls like a Captain Beefheart trapped and enslaved by ZZ Top, and with song titles like "Mighty Fine Pie" and "New Pair Of Shoes", it's clear that they value form over content. Play loud, and preferably in the car on a highway, and choogle your way to transcendence.

Endless Boogie, "Empty Eye":

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Psychedelic Fruitbasket: Strawberries

As a devotee (cultist, even) of the 1966-1969 era of rock music, I have spent eons wading through the woolly discographies of obscure psychedelic bands searching for scrumptious nuggets of psych-pop. There is a widespread, though small, cottage industry interested in this time period, when it seems that half of the teenage population in the UK and US tried to start a band and be the next Beatles—for every new Beatles sound innovation, fifty bands sprung up out of nowhere, trying to tap into the magic. While much of the time period's distinctive and characteristic sounds are attributed, not without reason, to drug use, acid and marijuana are only part of the picture. Inspired by the distortion of time and space induced by psychoactive and hallucinogenic drugs, musicians like John Lennon tried to translate their experiences into musical terms, in the process reworking the rules and parameters of the pop song: now the drones of classical Indian music, heavily distorted and swirling guitar sounds, surreal Dada-influenced lyrics, weird codas, abrupt shifts in style and tempo, and increasingly lengthy and complex arrangements became part of the musical vocabulary. None of these innovations was new, to be sure—but their application to popular song was shocking, and the leap from "Love Me Do" to "Tomorrow Never Knows", for instance, remains a marvel.

One small area in which the Beatles characteristically took the lead was their peculiar affinity for using fruit as a theme in their songs. While Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" (with its infamous "electrical banana") predated "Strawberry Fields Forever" by several months (it came out in the US in October '66 and in the UK in February '67, at the same time as the Beatles smash), Lennon's classic meditation on childhood and reality seems to have opened the floodgates: soon, psychedelic songs with fruit-related titles (not to mention bands named after fruit) would abound. From the nonsense "cranberry sauce" uttered in the song's breakdown to the band's Apple record label, fruit would become a byword for psychedelic song form.

Further posts will cover the best fruit-psych songs I've managed to track down. As a nod to John Lennon, today's serving will contain strawberries. First up is a cover of the song that started it all by the short-lived group Tomorrow, whose excellent (and lone) 1968 album features Steve Howe (later famous in Yes), the Nuggets II classic "My White Bicycle", and a song called "Revolution" which supposedly provoked Lennon's song of the same title.

Tomorrow cover "Strawberry Fields Forever":

Next up is another cover, this time by Balsara & His Singing Sitars. I know nothing about this band, other than that they seem to follow the trend of doing exploito-covers of Beatles tracks. This instrumental cover is pretty good, in my opinion. I found it on Volume 8 of the wondrous series Electric Psychedelic Sitar Headswirlers.

Balsara & His Singing Sitars cover "Strawberry Fields Forever":

Finally, a cut by the Apples In Stereo, a modern retro act whose Beatles-worship extends from their band name to their close attention to late-60s production techniques. This track, "Strawberryfire", is from their excellent 1999 mini-album Her Wallpaper Reverie.

The Apples In Stereo, "Strawberryfire":

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cover Your Tracks: Iron & Wine, "Peng! 33"

Stereolab's music, since they plugged in the early 90s, has covered a lot of sonic territory. A sound experiment (hence their name) more than a song or singing or lyrics band, they have amassed a huge body of noisy but melodic drones, spacy vintage keyboard pop, and electric hipster elevator music, all with a consistently high level of quality. Critics may complain that all their songs all sound alike, but it's a great sound that bears repeating. Lyrically, they eschew the personal or narrative; with lots of la-la-la cooing vocals, as often as not sung in French (and discussing Marxism), their songs seem to employ the human voice more as another instrument than as a conveyor of thoughts, and so it's rare to have an emotional connection to Stereolab's cool robotic heart.

This Stereolab cover, then, is remarkable for the way it strips away the bouncy, nonchalant veneer of the original and transforms the tone of the lyrics into a sentimental and tender song of hope. Iron & Wine's Sam Beam writes songs which are pretty much the opposite of Stereolab: full of cinematic narratives and characters painted in lyrical detail, they tell stories and pull heartstrings. Beam, though, has recorded a number of unexpected and, in my opinion, wildly original covers, especially the Four Tops' "It's The Same Old Song", New Order's "Love Vigilantes", and the Postal Service's "Such Great Heights"—apparently this dude can squeeze the sentimental juice out of just about anything. Maybe Stereolab aren't robots after all..

Iron & Wine cover Stereolab's "Peng! 33":

Lee is free!

I have often argued, usually unsuccessfully, that Sonic Youth are the Beatles. Despite the facts that they, like the Beatles, have three strong songwriters (all of whom also sing), a redoubtable drummer, a White(y) Album, and a consistently awesome catalogue glittering with sparkly gems, no one seems to ever fall for my argument. But if I can make one Beatles-y point about SY, it's that Lee Ranaldo is the George of the group—according to their song database here, Lee sings on only 27 SY tracks, typically only one track per album, which makes his showcases rare. In lengthy and circuitous discussions with various Sonic Youth lovers I know, one opinion rises up from the din and confusion: the Lee Ranaldo tracks are the fan favorites, with "Wish Fulfillment" (from Dirty), "Hoarfrost" (from A Thousand Leaves), and the unflippingbelievable "Karen Revisited" (from Murray Street) being especially set apart for devotion. So, compare his infrequent but excellent contributions to George's finest, like "Taxman" or "Here Comes The Sun", and you can see my point. Maybe. (For the record, my favorite George tracks are "The Inner Light" and "Long, Long, Long".)

Here's George's contemplative "Within You, Without You" (with Lee on vocals), from a 1988 compilation called Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father and now available on the Daydream Nation reissue.

Sonic Youth covering the Beatles' "Within You, Without You":

And here's a dream tracklist for a Lee Ranaldo mix:
Pipeline/Kill Time 4:35
Saucer-Like 4:25
Eric’s Trip 3:48
Paper Cup Exit 5:57
Rain King 4:39
Karen Koltrane 9:20
Genetic 3:35
Hey Joni 4:23
Mote 7:37
Hoarfrost 5:01
Wish Fulfillment 3:26
Skip Tracer 3:48
Nyc Ghosts & Flowers 7:52
Karen Revisited 11:10

Friday, July 16, 2010

Daily Nugget #19: Sparklehorse + Fennesz, "Mark's Guitar Piece"

The release, this week, of the long-delayed Dark Night Of The Soul collaboration between Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse and Brian Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse, should have been an afterthought—anyone could download it last summer, despite record company drama. But: Linkous and contributing vocalist Vic Chestnutt committed suicide in the interim. The record remains an excellent example of collaboration. Other than two duds (sung by Iggy Pop and Frank Black), the record's dark and claustrophobic tones are matched with generally great vocals and lyrics, and fans of the contributing vocalists will find plenty to chew on. The loss of Mark Linkous is particularly sad. While his records as Sparklehorse were sometimes uneven (other than the majestic, elegiac It's A Wonderful Life), in retrospect his crunchy, distorted sonics, ambiguously surreal lyrics, and dark pall of depression make him basically a Southern Gothic one-man Radiohead. In his memory, I present here a beautiful, sad instrumental released in 2009 as a collaboration with Christian Fennesz, his last official release as Sparklehorse. It's a wonderful life...

Sparklehorse + Fennesz, "Mark's Guitar Piece":

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Metal Healthcare: Mammatus, s/t [2006]

For most people music is a hobby, or a source of entertainment—unless you're a metalhead, in which case it's more likely to be a religion. Metal assaults and envelops the listener with volume and a visceral, bodily heaviness which can, I think, be likened to a state of religious, spiritual rapture. I'm not much of a metalhead, but then again I'm not very religious. At the same time, I do find that I need communion with the metal gods on a semi-regular basis, if only to placate their dark powers. My personal history with metal is actually connected with religion: to get out of going to church as a teenager, I deliberately got a job Sunday mornings, and when told I still had to go to Mass on my own, I would just get in the Ford Taurus wagon and drive around listening to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin cassettes (it turns out that Houses Of The Holy is about the length of a Catholic Mass). For a 16 year-old Led Zep fanatic, this was actually pretty close to heaven.

I don't usually buy albums based solely on their album art, but one look at Mammatus' self-titled 2006 effort and I had to heed the piper's call. Featuring artwork by the brilliant Arik Moonhawk Roper, the album lives up to the band's MySpace self-description as “The final war between amps and sea creatures” (note to metalheads: Mammatus seem to have anticipated Metalocalypse's "Dethwater" episode). With churning sludge-riffs, epic fantasy titles, and distant echoed chant-singing, they sound like four Dungeons and Dragons fans who decided to trade their 12-sided dice for down-tuned guitars and combine Yes' 1974 opus "The Gates Of Delirium" with the stoner-rock monolith Holy Mountain by the legendary Sleep. (Religious side-note: Holy Mountain, their record label, is named after the indescribable 1973 Jodorowsky film.)

Mammatus (who take their moniker from a rare and freakish cloud formation) are from the Santa Cruz area and have recorded two albums (the second, The Coast Explodes (2007), is not as heavy as the first, but still good). They are said to be working on a third album, and I hope they come down from their wizards' tower.

Mammatus, "The Righteous Path Through The Forest Of Old":

Daily Nugget #18: MGMT, "Metanoia"

In anticipation of seeing MGMT live this week, I have been revisiting their small catalogue of hedonistic bounce-pop. On a recent visit to a record store, I notice several copies of their latest record, the awesome Congratulations, in the used bins, a sure sign that those who loved their relatively straightforward, catchy synth-driven Oracular Spectacular were not ready for the band's "difficult" second record. There were signs that they were heading down a weird path though, and I here present exhibit A, 2008's "Metanoia", a nearly 14-minute pastiche which I cannot decide whether to call a single or an EP (can one song be an EP?). It's art rock, I suppose, inasmuch as it contains several movements/passages/sections, but before you accuse them of going Yes or Tull or Mars Volta, keep in mind that they are probably aiming closer to the melodic epics of Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney; think "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey", "Band On The Run", side two of Abbey Road, side two of Meddle (whose guitar sound they summon here), and even maybe a contemplative take on "Bohemian Rhapsody". Those wanting a repeat of "Time To Pretend" might not have the patience, but I think "Metanoia" (Greek for "changing one's mind") and the similarly epic and brilliant "Siberian Breaks" on Congratulations are expansive and kaleidoscopic, tune-worlds you can get lost in, at least for 15 minutes.

MGMT, "Metanoia":

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bill Callahan: Sex, Death, and Rough Travel

On July 20th, Bill Callahan, the artist formerly known as Smog and (Smog), will release a work of literary fiction entitled Letters For Emma Bowlcut via Drag City. It's not a surprise that this work is getting a regular catalogue number (in this case, DC268)—Callahan is one of the few songwriters out there whose skills warrant a collection of fiction. Beginning with his earliest work, his songs have often bristled with simple and, usually, dark narratives which are rarely explained in full but nevertheless loom over the proceedings. His ability to create a stark character sketch in just a few lines is uncanny (for example, the entire lyrics of Julius Caesar's bleak "Your Wedding": I remember / Entering you / Entering you / I'm gonna be drunk, so drunk at your wedding). Indeed, he has even published sketches; in 2004, he published a series of sketchbooks entitled The Death's Head Drawings, Women, and Ballerina Scratchpad. From the titles, and from the rest of his excellent body of work, it is clear that sex and death have given his art plenty of material, and his more recent albums have expanded the palette to include geopolitical allegory ("I Feel Like The Mother Of The World" from 2005's A River Ain't Too Much To Love) and musings on religion (the stunning "Faith/Void" from 2009's Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle).

What Letters For Emma Bowlcut will entail remains to be seen; in this interview he calls it "an epic poem in the form of letters." Like many others, I will probably be tempted to see this work as some sort of literary reaction to his break-up with singer Joanna Newsom, another artist with similar skills in language and narrative. But an artist's life and and an artists' art need not overlap—if Callahan had lived all the creepy characters in his songs, he'd probably be in jail. If anything, we ought to consider this "epic" another example of his increasing artistic range. Let's hope he will continue to set his stories to music.

As an example of Callahan's skewed sources of inspiration, here's "Rock Bottom Riser", originally on A River Ain't Too Much To Love. This version is from Rough Travel For A Rare Thing, a good live album which came out in March 2010. If my interpretation is correct, this song is a loving pledge of devotion sung from the perspective of a repentant narrator—who seems to be none other than Gollum from the Lord Of The Rings trilogy (!). How's that for epic?

Bill Callahan, "Rock Bottom Riser" (live):

Preview: The Clientele, "Minotaur" [due 8-31-10]

Since the late 90s, The Clientele have been quietly building an impressive catalogue of sterling new-old music. I say new-old, because they mine a style of heavily reverbed, hushed classic pop which seems to have time-travelled directly from somewhere between early 1966 and mid-1967. Though they are from England, their sound seems to have more in common with West Coast groups: they recreate the languid, chiming guitar sound of mid-period Byrds better than anyone. And while their sound might not be wholly original, their songwriting trumps any grousing. Scanning their catalogue, I really can't find any duds, and their most recent full-length, Bonfires On The Heath (2009) was a masterpiece, a soundtrack for autumn leaves and wistful overcast Saturday mornings. In August they are releasing a mini-LP called Minotaur, which, according to the fine folks at Merge Records, will include a cover of "As The World Rises And Falls" by the little-known West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. The WCPAEB, active in Los Angeles in the late 60s, have a terrible name and an erratic but enjoyable catalogue of jangly folk-rock which also sounds more or less like the Byrds.

As a preview, you can download the Minotaur of version The Clientele's "Jerry" for free here). And here's another, earlier version of "Jerry" (apparently an outtake from 2005's Strange Geometry):

And from their 1968 album A Child's Guide to Good and Evil, here is The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band's original version of "As The World Rises And Falls":

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Long-Suffering Completist: James Brown's Singles, Volumes 1-9

The vast majority of music fans can live happily with a one- or two-disc James Brown best-of. Once hooked, the wise will head for Star Time, a four-disc collection which is that rare thing, a box set which is good from beginning to end. But for the soul and funk junky, such compilations only scratch the surface. James Brown recorded a huge mountain range of music, and while his hits are easy enough to acquire, those willing to get lost in his catalogue will find the experience equally exasperating and exhilarating. Brown recorded incessantly, bursting into studios on a whim and sometimes even setting up a recorder on stage after live shows to strike while his band was hot. His releases followed the shotgun approach: Brown apparently believed market saturation was the way to go, so during the 60s and 70s three or four LPs and a dozen singles annually was his standard output. Brown was also apparently fearless when it came to experimentation: besides his funk singles, he recorded orchestrated ballads, big band jazz, blues, a weirdo "rock" album, instrumental dance LPs, instrumental soul jazz LPs, live albums, studio albums disguised as live albums, and a whole constellation of side projects featuring his sidemen, friends, and girlfriends.

The enormous variety is not without its problems, as many of his experiments fall flat. His instrumental albums in particular suffer from Brown's delusion that he could play the organ. But despite the failed experiments, his bands were nearly always superb, and even his lesser album tracks offer fiery singing and funky playing. Problematically, a huge number of his albums are out of print or available only as expensive Japanese reissues, so eminently listenable LPs like the instrumental Ain't It Funky (1970) or the fake live Super Bad (1971) are prohibitively expensive or just impossible to track down.

Fortunately, his music is gradually getting the good treatment it deserves; numerous two-disc collections have appeared since the 80s and 90s which go into greater detail than just his biggest hits, and a massive campaign by the noble folks at Hip-O Select aims to reissue all of his original single releases, both A- and B-sides. This enormous labor of love, while an act of exemplary discography, is perhaps not the best place for non-obsessives to get their funk on. Many of Brown's singles were duds, and even masterpieces are often edited, overdubbed, or abbreviated for airplay (for instance, the immortal "Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine" was originally released as a single lasting a teasingly brief 2:51).

Hopefully, Brown's long-lost out-of-print King LPs will someday make it to the digital realm, preferably as a box set rather than as individual albums—there is a lot of overlap, as Brown regularly reused the same track on different albums. In the meantime, though, the release of his complete singles will give the JB addict plenty to chew on.

From The Singles Volume Seven: 1970-1972, here's the super-rare instrumental B-side to his 1970 Christmas single "Hey America":

And from the most recent collection, The Singles Volume Nine: 1973-1975, here's "People Get Up And Drive Your Funky Soul", which also appeared on 1973's now out-of-print Slaughter's Big Rip-Off and in a massive, highly-recommended nine-minute version on the 2003 reissue of the rarities collection Motherlode:

Daily Nugget #17: Felt, "I Didn't Mean To Hurt You"

Fans of 80s jangly indie rock from the UK will probably always hold The Smiths on the highest pedestal, and with good reason—Morrissey and Marr created a distinct body of work both musically and lyrically, a catalogue so well-known that similar bands of the same era are increasingly marginalized except among serious aficionados. Thus the excellent catalogues of also-rans like Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, and The Go-Betweens will likely remain under Morrissey's gloomy shadow. One band in particular, Felt, is deserving of a much wider audience. Often touted by Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian as a major influence, Felt recorded ten albums in the 80s, none of which sold all that much. This may be due to lead singer Lawrence Hayward's mewling vocals (he sounds uncannily like Television's Tom Verlaine), but if we can handle Morrissey's bleating, then surely Hayward's vocal tone is no great burden. Nearly all of Felt's albums are worthy (although some are largely instrumental and less interesting), especially if you like any of the bands named above. Here's a b-side from 1986's "Ballad Of The Band" single. If you like it, you will probably find much to enjoy in the Felt catalogue.

Felt, "I Didn't Mean To Hurt You":

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Daily Nugget #16: Pavement, "For Sale: The Preston School Of Industry"

The dream, and subsequent reality, of a Pavement reunion has caused extreme excitement—arousal, even—among the 7,000 nerds in their 30s with exquisite and annoying musical taste who comprise their fanbase. Of course I have my ticket, and expect to be nonplussed about whatever favorite track they fail to play (note to the band: "Grounded", please). I saw them in 1999, and they sucked, but maybe the suckage won't be as bad this time around, especially since now they might actually need the money. Regardless, for music geeks of a certain age, this counts as an Event, one which happily punctuates one of the better reissue campaigns of recent years. If you've purchased any of the deluxe 2-disc reissues of their Matador albums, you've been delighted to see all the stray tracks hunted down and compiled, with Peel sessions and other ephemera, and even some non-too-shitty live material. The only misstep so far is the non-inclusion of the track below, recorded for Dutch radio in 1997 and kept off the Brighten The Corners reissue due to some Byzantine royalties issue. Anyway, this is a top-shelf Scott Kannberg number not otherwise recorded. Let's hope it gets an official release some day.

Pavement, "For Sale: The Preston School Of Industry":

Cover Your Tracks: The Magnetic Fields, "I Die: You Die"

Gary Numan, in the US at least, will be remembered for the immortal "Cars", and probably also for taking David Bowie's android persona further than just about anyone else. But Gary Numan always sounded like a robot with a heart, where even Bowie's greatest work—and there's a lot of great stuff—still often feels like an aesthetic statement rather than a window into Bowie the human being. The Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt, like Bowie, has been similarly lauded for his mastery of songwriting styles, and, like Numan, for plumbing the range of human emotions with synthesizers. But Merritt, like Bowie, has also been accused of allowing very little of his personal life into his work. This cover, perhaps, is Merritt's own brand of confessional. In the same way he has his team of Magnetic Fields vocalists inhabit the numerous personae of his songs, here he takes someone else's persona, the wounded and paranoid Numan protagonist, and makes it his own. This is from the 1997 Numan tribute album Random.

The Magnetic Fields cover Gary Numan's "I Die: You Die":

Monday, July 5, 2010

Daily Nugget #15: Barry White, "I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More, Baby"

Those who only know the two or three Barry White tracks that ever make it on the radio are basically missing all the foreplay. Sure, "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Baby" has a breezy smoothness to it, but it's nothing compared to some of Barry's full-length album cuts. By far the smoothest and simplest of the early 70s soul gods, he was never as gritty or sublime as Al Green, musically varied as Stevie Wonder, or sexy as Marvin, but Barry White sold a lot of records simply by honing his craft down to its velvety core: his music was designed for making out. The lyrics are simple and plainspoken—there is little in the way of narrative, and some songs consist only of pronouns and verbs. But Barry White's quest for love comes off as soulfully sincere, especially when you learn he was happily married for most of his career. Check out the arrangement on this track: over the funky groove, Barry adds layers of flute and harpsichord (!), making this track perhaps the most baroque booty jam you will ever hear.

Barry White, "I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More, Baby":

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Daily Nugget #14: The Beach Boys, "4th Of July"

The Fourth of July is one of the great holidays, if only because it enshrines the great American pastimes of putting large piles of meat to the flame, drinking cheap beer outdoors, listening to the Beach Boys, and blowing shit up with illegal fireworks. Oddly, there aren't that many Fourth Of July party jams out there (well, outside the realm of contemporary country music), and songs that go by the title of the holiday are often contemplative political statements (just think of the USA-themed songs of Springsteen). Well, here's one of the latter, a little-known Beach Boys track from 1971 written by Dennis Wilson and sung by his brother Carl; it was intended for the Surf's Up album but not released until the band's 1993 box set. It's mellow and the lyrics are on the depressing side, but this holiday, in my opinion, should include a few moments of national introspection before we get back to our flame-broiled weenies and contraband explosives.

The Beach Boys, "4th Of July":

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Homemade Gangsta: Rodest Black & Double G

I have never been a huge gangsta rap fan, as the violence and misogynistic content can be too offensive even for me; I always found it more tolerable when rap protagonists could cut their rage with humor, like Ice-T, or when the rapper was too cartoonishly absurd to take seriously, like Eazy-E. At some point in the early 90s, one of my younger brother's friends knew this talented kid (named Jarod, if I remember correctly) who recorded a wide range of material at home, presumably just for fun. His music (at least what small amount of it I've heard), from folk songs to metal, is patently scatological—this is the work of a high school sophomore, and it shows. And yet the following two tracks, parodies of the N.W.A. school of hardcore gangsta rap, are amazing in concept and execution. Cast as aggressively pansexual gangsta rappers, Rodest Black and his sidekick Double G turn the misogyny of the gangsta world on its head. Dirty and hilarious, these tracks encapsulate the sicko brilliance of the teenage male mind.

Warning: the lyrical content is disgusting and very funny, and if you don't like hearing about genitals, bodily fluids, bestiality, and a wide array of other perversions, then please do not listen. Also, I just rescued these tracks from a dusty old cassette, so the sound quality is hissy.

Rodest Black & Double G: "Bitches Beware":

Rodest Black & Double G: "Slave To The Shave":

Daily Nugget #13: James Brown, "Smokin' & Drinkin'"

There is going to be a flurry of James Brown-related posts in the immediate future here at Medium Rotation, because as a loyal acolyte of the Godfather Of Soul, I can hear JB shouting, grunting, dancing, and demanding more funk, even now, from his satin-covered throne in heaven (well, maybe purgatory). If you don't know his hits, you should do some homework. But even if you do, there are many, many gems hiding in the far reaches of his nearly fifty-year recording career. Here's a fave of mine from 1980's Soul Syndrome.

James Brown, "Smokin' & Drinkin'":