April 2010

Pterodactyl: Punkers Assault Instruments or Why I Crossed the Continental Divide (1/3)

In ones life there need to remain constants. Not to say that playing music and crossing the nation a few times provides anything close to a sure bet, but every time one ventures out to a club to a see a band for the second, fourth or eighth time, there is something intangible and reassuring when those familiar musicians take the stage. And even in Cleveland (which is most likely nicer that whatever the reader may imagine), bands return again and again. Sometimes to the same crowd, sometimes to bigger venues, but that feeling always creeps back, like the dirty water in Erie to the shore.

On Records, On Industry (Part 06)

“We started with mixed vinyl, which was just the leftovers,” begins Mauceri as he describes a few steps along the way. “Now, we’re investigating some other record pressing plants and new solutions that will make the actual record more green.”

While Mauceri wants “to be an example in the industry,” there’re still other avenues needing attention. Simply plotting out marketing strategies and distributing press materials employ reams of paper even for smaller imprints. There’s obviously been a shift towards digital servicing in regards to not just biographic material related to bands, but the music itself.

On Records, On Industry (Part 04)

During an earlier part of the decade, Rykodisc and its unique packaging was easily spotted in record stores, independent and otherwise. Issuing work from the likes of Mission of Burma, Elvis Costello and Bootsy Collins ingratiated the label to scores of enthusiasts dedicated to all manner of genres. But with the further homogenization of the country’s taste as media became more easily disseminated, the imprint’s focus shifted.

Growing dissatisfied with not just the material Rykodisc was working with, but its wastefulness, Shipley quit his position as A&R manager and embarked on an excursion to found what would eventually become the Numero Group.

On Records, On Industry (Part 05)

Some of Shipley’s tactics, though, don’t jive with the insular approach that some imprints are taking. He doesn’t find it a necessity to dwell on the green practices of his business. And with an increasing demand for vinyl and its more expansive materials, that comes as a surprise during a time that finds most folks strapped for cash and a great many business coming up short at the end of the month.

On Records, On Industry (Part 03)

Surprisingly, the public demeanor of this women is virtually absent from her writing. And as the letter progresses, issues like unfair contracts are broached. That topic has long been under discussion, but probably most succinctly detailed by Steve Albini, front-man of Chicago based rock act Shellac and owner of a local recording studio called Electrical Audio, in his “The Problem with Music.”

Lose Your Invitation to Mr. Flood's Party

The eighties have entered into a sort of renaissance with kids born in ’88 touting the decade as some sort of musical and cultural sign post much in the same way old hippies think about the sixties. I’d rather not hear any of it, but those hippies, for once, sound like they’re right.

For a time, folks were endeavoring to recreate scenes connected to the seventies, though. That made a bit more sense. There was still a lingering sense of optimism, but so many different genres of music expanded to include a broader range of influence, that perceiving the decade as a high water mark makes a great deal more sense. Of course, the seventies also included a great deal of warfare, material shortages and some problematic political maneuvering.

On Records, On Industry (Part 02)

Anyone even remotely familiar with popular music from this period of American history can probably name acts like the Temptations, Smokey Robinson or Marvin Gaye. Each of those performers benefited from the Funk Brothers contributing to their individual, recorded output. These headliners or their descendents, while obviously not in charge of label contracts, garner around forty percent of the revenue currently being generated by their back catalogs. The Funk Brothers receive nothing. As a part of the musicians’ initial contract, each was paid at the time of the recording session. No provisions for further recompense was indicated. Twelve of the most important players in American popular music were left to fend for themselves and work multiple jobs while songs they’d played on made everyone else involved rich9.

Dr. Hooker Shoulda Kept it to Himself

More interesting than a handful of the music it references, collectors seem to enjoy differentiating between low key psych efforts from the sixties and seventies that just didn’t make it commercially and those albums that were self released, in part due to the music’s immediate distance from popular tastes. Whether or not losers necessitate being divided into these two camps is beyond me, but points to the fervor with which these two decades of psych music have been mined. And of course, the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a cavernous gully between a lot of this unheralded stuff and what was being broadcast on radio stations makes all of this more entertaining. Some folks dedicate a huge portion of their time on a daily basis digging up these largely vacuous odes to self indulgence. I just listen to ‘em and get bored.

Erik Satie: More than Just a Pretty Face at the Piano

The avant garde has influenced popular music more than most folks might think. That doesn’t mean that every pop act has some sort of unerring taste in difficult musics. And actually, by way of clarification, there’s a great deal of obtuse musical work that isn’t really all that technically difficult, just theoretically dense – and in the case of Erik Satie, utterly beautiful.

Being born in the middle of the nineteenth century, folks might figure Satie for some sort of Romantic or staid classical composer. While the latter might be something we could all debate, Satie’s compositions were starkly in contrast to the major modes of classical composition then in vogue. He’s said to have influenced Debussy, but we can’t sit down and ask the guy, right?

Electric Toilet: As Dumb as it Sounds, It's Worse

Life’s confusing enough without having to try to gauge what’s sitting in front of you as a result of various misnomers being applied to whatever group might be the flavor of the moment. The Electric Toilet, by all rights, should be one of the scuzziest rock bands that the world has ever seen. Of course, that’s just judging by its name and the album cover of the group’s one release from 1970. As I’ve mentioned so many times before, Bo Diddley taught us not to judge a book by its cover. This group’s disc, In the Hands of Karma is a pretty good example why.

Thom Yorke

This morning on the net, getting a buzz, are the musicians Thom Yorke and his all-star band, Atoms for Peace, a group of  top musicians, which includes Flea, Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco. The buzz goes to the performance video of their recent gig at the Fox Theater in Oakland, April 15th,  "Love Will Tear Us Apart." Thom Yorke and his super-band also are the talk along with hip-hopper/rapper Jay-Z, the English rock band Muse, of this past weekend's Coachella 2010, the California music festival.

Simply Saucer: Quibbling Over Influence

When Thurston Moore gushes about a band, said band generally sees an uptick in visibility. Simply Saucer doesn’t owe a debt of gratitude to the Sonic Youth front-man for revitalizing its career, but certainly getting name checked on stage by a band that people fawn over can’t hurt.

Either way, Simply Saucer is drooled over by enough folks without needing the assistance of the New York rock cognoscenti. Whether all of the gleeful fawning is warranted or not remains to be seen. At best, it seems that Simply Saucer, regardless of presaging other scenes, was an uneven ensemble that wasn’t able to find too much of an audience out there in Ontario.

Tunng: Confusing Folk(s)

Merging electronically based musics with acoustic folk forms doesn’t sound like it should work. But over the last decade or so, there’ve been so many different acts to take on the two disparate sounds that any sort of reticence towards the emerging form would be ridiculous. That’s not to say that every knob twiddling, computer toting geek has a need to find a guitar player and crank out some off kilter folktronica (I couldn’t even make that up myself), but those that have done so, have largely succeeded.

Mike Fellows gave the merger a shot a while back with good success. And his disc might well be the most endearing of the genre – for me at least. But at around the same time, a group from England began releasing long players after a spate of singles made it something of a popular ensemble in its home country.

The Heads: A Colossal Psych

Julian Cope has given the world a great many things. His music, which doesn’t really warrant listening, his writing and his imagination have worked in tandem to create a pretty tremendous aura of importance around the man. And while some might take issue with all of his works – his writing can be needlessly difficult and obtuse – Cope’s been able to expose legions of geeks to bands that, otherwise, would have remained obscure at best.

Shocking Blue: A Dutch Beat

Even if you don’t think that you’re familiar with Shocking Blue, you probably are. The band’s 1970 hit “Venus” ranked at the top of the charts in the States. And if the title isn’t enough to bring back a proper recollection, the lines “I’m your venus/I’m your fire/At your desire,” should do the trick. Of course, by the time that the Dutch group snagged a modicum of fame with that track, Shocking Blue was a drastically different group than it was on earlier releases. Part of that has to do with Mariska Veres taking over vocal duties after Fred de Wilde departed. But the group’s earlier music wasn’t as polished and pop ready even as it might not seem that way through a backwards glance.