June 2009

There's No Justice in Life: Snakefinger's Journey with the Residents

Coming of age at roughly the same time as some of those proto punkers in England, Philip Charles Lithman found himself so in love with the British take on electric blues, he snagged a guitar and tried to come up with something on his own. At the age of twenty two, Lithman would make his way across Atlantic to San Francisco,though. And of all the people he could have in fact come into contact with during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Lithman met a few guys who would eventually become the Residents. Since most write ups of this guitarist usually veer towards some history of that weirdo group, I’ll refrain. But the connection made upon that initial meeting would probably be the most important relationship in Lithman’s career.

The Seeds' '60s Psych

As much as Sky Saxon has been deified – and not just in the last week or so – it doesn’t sound, from his discs during that first phase of the Seeds that the band was too much more or less than any other garage act of the time. Maybe it’s because I hear Roky Erickson in Saxon’s voice as much as Mick Jagger. It might be that most of the instrumentation on each of the group’s three proper full lengths could be relatively easily duplicated by any number of groups. Or it might just be the fact that he hit on a girl I knew at a show and left her a dirty old man message at three in the morning. Admittedly, the band was good. And those singles are on par with anything from ’65-’67.

Svenonius Enlists the K Recs. Crew

After twenty years of making music for ears set to pick up under ground tones, it’s shocking to think that Ian Svenonius has anything at all left to say. It would seem, though, that with his new disc, that there are a few things that he feels needs to be restated, because after the eight proper long players from the Make Up and Nation of Ulysses, most would think otherwise. Perhaps though, taking up a crew of left coasts musicians to back him up served Svenonius’ purposes. For being an individual so tied to Washington D.C. and the Dischord roster, it’s almost startling to figure that Svenonius enlisted folks from Dub Narcotic Sound System, Saturday Looks Good to Me, Bad Thoughts and Seahorse Liberation Army. He did, though.

The Cowsills: A Familial Gravy Train

It’s always weird when knock offs end up gaining more notoriety than the originators of whatever schtick. And for the Cowsills, it must have been doubly bothersome considering the musical and theatrical implications of their career. Instead of becoming one of the first cross over stars, each of the group members eventually moved on after the group to lead relatively normal lives if not for a few brief stints with the Beach Boys’ travelling band. But that’s show business. And unfortunately, a few chance decisions probably led the brothers and sisters that made up the Cowsills to their end.

39 Clocks: Aural Protests

I believe what we have here folks is the last proper studio disc from German weirdoes 39 Clocks. Oddly, out of all the bands from the father land that have gained some tread in underground psych circles, these guys usually go unmentioned. The principal duo making up the group, J.G. 39 and C.H. 39 are joined by some additional players to fill out this disc, which doesn’t really sound too far detached from earlier offerings from the band. And while nothing on here is shocking any longer – the disc was released in ’87 – it’s a manageable amalgam of low fidelity pop, some folk, whatever passed for punk at the time and out of tune warbling.

No Neck Blues Band Get Elemental

It’s odd to think of the way in which different bands gain notoriety. Some do it with creepy stage shows that owe as much to shamanistic life as rock and roll while others just rave up a racket, only scarcely associate with the press and release foggy, dense forests of sound that not only deride melody, but find only little use for regular meter or time. No Neck Blues Band has been at it, this latter way, for the better part of fifteen years. And after ingratiating themselves to Sonic Youth as well as John Fahey at the end of his life, the purposefully distant group has, as of late, been on a tear, releasing a disc per year over the last half a decade.

Subway: Folk Down There

Busking usually gets a bad rap from the perspective of not just the performers, but the transient audience passing by, mostly out of tune and uncaring about what’s going on right there on the side walk. Some groups have made it off the streets – the Libertines and Pete Doherty most notably of late – but for the most part, it seems to just be a way by which to gain a few bucks for a drink or a piece of pizza. You don’t make millions with your guitar case open as a seemingly talented beggar. That’s not meant to dissuade you vagabonds from attempting it, but ya know…

Moe Tucker and her Arsenal of Instruments

The Velvet Underground are the most important band in rock music – that kind that matters at least, not the trite garbage littering the shelves of Best Buy, or whatever other retailer is daft enough to stock physical discs of that nature any longer. The musical background that each player brought to this group – whether academic or self taught – served to inform everyone from R.E.M. to U2 and even bands that were good. The way in which the guitar was plied in the group by Lou Reed is usually one of the first things mentioned after the trumped up charges of members being junkies. And while Maureen ‘Moe’ Tucker is usually referred to as the androgynous drummer, she was more than that. And kinda cute in a tomboy kinda way.

Pentangle is Acutally Less Than its Parts

Coming late to the folk revival party that could be understood to have begun in the late ‘50s, Pentangle was made up of an immense array of talent that, somehow, when congregated never full reached the zenith of some of its members’ other endeavors. Mostly, I’m thinking about Bert and John. While not generally mentioned in the States as an important milestone in the folk resurgence, that duo’s disc can be seen as some rebirth on that bejeweled isle, England. There were certainly some missteps – mostly tied to the vocal led numbers, but those slighty blemished moments seem to surpass most of the Pentangle catalog.

The Chocoloate Watch Band vs. the Studio

The recorded life of any ensemble is and should admittedly be accepted as something separate than what the group actually was. Confining a group of players to a studio with it’s gadgetry and the often stifling affect of having no audience provides for an odd setting to capture music that’s meant for dancing and freak outs. The Chocolate Watch Band aren’t the only group to have suffered from this dichotomy, but its story is still a mighty strange one. Helmed by producer Ed Cobb, the San Jose based psych act formed in ’65 and made a decent name for themselves on the local club circuit.

Sun Araw: We Are Make Psych

The murky deluge of interrelated downer, psych and drone releases from Los Angeles and Not Not Fun are at the very least confusing. Swapping members, touring together and otherwise cohabitating similar physical and conceptual places on earth and musics astral plane make for an interesting take on repeto kraut incited sounds. Some of it works better than others, although it seems that amidst each and every one of these releases from Magic Lantern and Sun Araw, there are moments that make you abandon earthly concerns for a better day in the beyond. It’s not all spaced out jams – some of it’s annoying. But if there’s a problem, the man to blame is Cameron Stallones.

The Blues Magoos: A Worried, Tripped Out Blues

I think that it hit 80 degrees today. And while summer official began a while ago – I believe – today seems like the first day of it. With that comes more bike rides, escaping what four walls slam my face in as I stare at a screen droning out precocious music insights that may or may not matter at the end of time, whenever that is. On those bike rides, though, I need something to sing to. I can’t explain why exactly, but long bus rides or road trips call for extended jazz workouts while bicycles call for pop to push my lungs to not only move the blood around as I traverse flat land and hills, but also to belt out a few songs. And for that very reason, the Blues Magoos got a (digital) spin today as I did some errands.

Weird Al, Craigslist and Being Stunned

I know this is going to sound strange, but hear me out. Let's talk about Weird Al Yankovic and be serious about it. Recently, the Weird One himself has been defying all expectations concerning his career and going positively viral with the video for his new song parody, an unlikely combination of The Doors and Craigslist. Here's what's extra-weird about it- The song is actually pretty good.

Leon Russell x L.A. Hippies

Leon Russell his a haggard quality to him – even when he was younger – that, while kinda disturbing, served to make him a unique character amongst the flower toting masses crossing the California boarder making its way to L.A. or San Fran. His solo work seemed more tied to a downer style of folk and show tunes that no one else was taking advantage of at the time. And while he released a countless amount of work under his own name, not all of it seems up to snuff. But that was from 1970 and on.

Magic Lantern: High Beams (2008)

This’ll sound silly and it is, but when a band’s MySpace page lists the following groups - Can, Spacemen 3, Faust, Black Sabbath – I gotta pay attention. I don’t know if that’s shallow and short sighted since there are certainly groups that would claim those touchstones and just plain old stink, but Magic Lantern’s different. They’re just good and are some how are able to include a great deal of variety into an every confining genre. They won’t affect music as a whole and probably in a few years no one’s gonna know who they are, but what they’ve raved up so far is beyond reproach.

The Wailers: Fabulous or Wailin'

The US Northwest has as rich a musical history as any other portion of the world. And no, it’s not all tied to Nirvana, although those dudes ruled. But before that downer take on heavy sludge got sleek and had a turn on the air waves, there was Hendrix, Ray Charles and Quincy Jones. In the rock medium, though, that part of the country gave us the Sonics, without who, we might not have arrived at punk as quickly. And informing those folks was a group from the pretty bland satellite city of Tacoma called the Wailers.

Thee Hypnotics: An Almost Psych Success

Beginning as a straight Stooges cop, Thee Hypnotics could have been a lot more. The Brit band’s first single, Love in a Different Vein, while sporting that title track, also included a track called “All Night Long.” The subject matter touched upon there is pretty obvious. But what’s really notable is the fact that the band just blatantly ripped off “TV Eye.” It’s evident in the music, but even more so in the vocal delivery of James Jones – who has nothing at all to do with the Cleveland Jim Jones fellow who had a hand in not just Pere Ubu, but the Mirrors as well.

Sir Lord Baltimore: Proto Something

The real Lord Baltimore bought a plot of land in the early seventeenth century in Newfoundland and established the first known permanent settlement in the new world. That dude, though, has absolutely nothing to do with early metal or music at all, even though he may have enjoyed the lute or some such. But the band that inexplicably took his name, Sir Lord Baltimore, has been able to stake a claim to a transformative moment in heavy music’s history. They aren’t the most talented group ever, but as a trio, there aren’t too many band’s that sound this heavy. And yes, I’m well aware of Cream’s existence.

2009 - the story so far

There’s an old canard that says every year is the best year for music, because not only do you have some new releases, you also have everything else that came before. Well, that’s exactly the sort of nonsense you get when hippies are allowed to express opinions on things. It’s clearly wrong. Some years are definitely better for music than others. 1997, for instance. However, I’m not here to talk about the past. The other day, I had a look at my top ten list for last year and I suddenly realized that this year has already been really, really good. Way better than 2008. So, I figured, might as well make a list now! Hey! Let’s go crazy. Here are eight for starters, then…

The Pains of Being Pure of Heart - The Pains of Being Pure of Heart