May 2010

Japandroids: A BC Whine

Differentiating between blog buzz and true talent is difficult – especially when Pitchfork vouches for a band that subsequently goes on to demand print accolades abd appear at various summer fests. Vancouver’s Japandroids (or JPNDRDS) really aren’t good or bad. The group just came along during a time that finds folks entertained by the likes of No Age and WAVVES. And really, neither of those groups matter too much, they’ve just been able to record more than folks in the past and pass themselves off as outlaws in an industry that’s completely made up of outlaws, slackers, drug addicts and wasters.

Velvet Opera: Ride A Hustler's Dream

The story behind Velvet Opera becoming a band is almost too convoluted to work through unless you’re already a fan. So, that’s a disclaimer, but the music’s actually pretty good despite the band being able to miss chart success after innumerable changes to its sound.

First forming as something of a soul inspired beat group, Velvet Opera, then called something completely different, scored a gig opening for Pink Floyd. The event apparently impacted the players enough that they decided to change the name of the band as well as its musical direction.

Fairy Tale: Once Upon a Holland

Your band might genuinely stink, but if you only release a few tracks here and there, then disappear mysteriously, your legacy seems to be ensured. That’s the case for countless groups the sprung up during the sixties, but holds true for the spate of self releasing underground bands that now function in basements, DIY venues and warehouses. Whatever the case, there’s usually a decent story to accompany some of the narrative arc attached to these ensembles.

For whatever reason, that doesn’t hold true for Fairy Tale.

Hearts and Flowers: A Fey Country Rock

Out of the crop of late sixties’ country cum rock bands, it’s difficult to crown a figurehead. The Byrds were obviously the best known, most popular and eventually, most enduring. But the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Dillards rank up there pretty highly as well. The two latter acts probably come closer to whatever traditional country was at the time seeing as the Byrds flirted with straight psychedelia more than any of the other CA based groups from the time. And while those groups were and remain top tier instrumentalists, interpreters and song writers, there’s still a handful of acts almost as adroit.

Kalacakra's Crawling To Lhasa (1972)

The duo set up in krautrock yielded some pretty strong efforts. There are certainly more examples than just Neu!, but there almost doesn’t need to be further explanation after dropping that name. Right? Well, Ralf und Florian might also count as Kraftwerk’s best recording, so there’s that as well.

Either way, the dynamic allowed for in the two person set up can result in a different kind of tension. Instead of there being alliances or agreements, a one on one scenario can push forth any sort of odd derivation based on mood, temperament, etc. Granted, that’s not tremendously different for other ensembles, but two is drastically different than four or six.

Blink-182 - Enema of the State

I bought Blink-182's breakout CD Enema of the State shortly after it came out in 1999. As it turned out, apart from the successful singles released from that album ("What's My Age Again?", "Adam's Song" and "All The Small Things"), the rest of the album went unheard; my musical tastes were changing, and Blink-182's prepubescent pop punk wasn't cool when you were getting into heavy metal and trying to impress chicks at the same time (chicks who didn't even listen to heavy metal, therefore doubling the work). Eleven years later (i.e. last night), "Dysentary Gary" came up on radio. Out of nostalgia (and curiosity, never having listened to 75% of the album), I dug Enema of the State out of the attic to see how it sounded to someone who hadn't given Blink-182 a serious listen in over a decade.


The Churchills: Israeli Rock

Living in a war zone, it would make sense if bands took on some of the most aggressive tones in recorded music. The hardcore scene in Israel is today noted for being pretty brutal when contrasted with any other cohort. It makes sense. But back in the ‘60s when there wasn’t independent music to speak of in the country, a group showed up, crafted some good pysch-pop and moved on.

The Churchills – comprised of some combination of Robb Huxley on guitar and vocals, Miki Gavrielov on bass, Haim Romano on guitar, Stan Solomon gripping the mic and Ami Traibetch on drums – were only able to issue a single long player during it’s initial phase while still based in Israeli. There were a spate of singles, but the group’s self titled disc is pretty well regarded today.

Paul Gray of Slipknot, RIP

I like a variety of music. I find myself listening to all kinds of music for various reasons. I have on occasion put some metal music on the CD player, and have, of course, checked out the group Slipknot. This morning, I learned that one of the members of the band passed away yesterday, Monday. He was Paul Gray. He was found dead by staff at a hotel in Des Moines, Iowa. He was 38. The police do not suspect foul play. See the news video.

Slipknot was formed in Des Moines in late 1995. The band is known for the Halloween masks its nine members wear on stage. In 2006, Slipknot won a Grammy for best metal performance for "Before I Forget." The band's debut album went platinum in 2000. Its fourth album, "All Hope is Gone," spent 69 weeks on Billboard's Top 200 charts, debuting at No. 1 its first week in 2008.

Paul Gray, RIP.

Hunter S. Thompson on Media

 “The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.”

- Hunter S. Thompson, Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the '80s

This particular quip has been appropriated countless times in order to comment upon various entertainment industries – music, film, fiction writing, whatever. Along the way, though, the bit about journalism has remained in tact. And it’s not too surprising. The field has always been a sort of in between. There’s no way to completely remove one’s self from the folks you interact with, yet it’s a prerequisite for the job. Weird.

T.W. Adorno on Music

The language of music…is the human attempt, doomed as ever, to name the Name, not to communicate meanings.”
-T. W. Adorno, “Music and Language: A Fragment,” 1956

It doesn’t seem as if Adorno, an early twentieth century philosopher tied to the Frankfurt School, was a romantic. At all. Adhering to a world view concerned with extricating human life from toiling under an absolute regime, it makes sense to figure this guy for some unemotional individual. Adorno’s work, though, was a concerted effort to eradicate traces of a homogenous society and its assumed trappings. Too bad, he had a bizarre take on music (politics as well, but that’s not for these internets).

What It Is: Cleveland’s Own Recordings

The Hazards - Lost Nation (Self Released, 2009)

What it is: Half good. There are always bright spots amidst and otherwise poo-brown offering of this ilk. Punk, at this point, is a pretty difficult genre to mine if you decide to eschew the pop confections of the Ramones run through some hipster idealism. Otherwise, most of what’s getting cranked out today that doesn’t tie itself to a pogo past ends up aping a tough guy stance – accidental or not. The late ‘90s gave life to literally hundreds of those bands – Dropkick, anything from TKO Records, on and on. The Hazards are a part of that tradition. But on occasion, the Lake County based group winds up putting down something worth hearing. The instrumental intro to Lost Nation sports descending chords which wind up going nowhere. But there’s a brief moment when a listener might figure the track for something warranting back-to-back spins. Much the same can be said for “One World.” Considering CLE’s hardcore heritage, thrash getting juked into the Hazards’ punk shouldn’t be surprising. It’s pretty well soldered together – the breakdown, though, is just short of bloody awful.

What it ain’t: Vocally sophisticated. And it shouldn’t be. Nick Baxter goes in croaking on a few tracks (notably “Boss Man,” which I was hoping to be a cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man”), but croons almost as much. There’s actually a tremendous amount of punky variety over the course of Lost Nation’s brief run time. For whatever reason, the hapdash amalgam of sub-genre’s works only sporadically leading one to believe the band hasn’t actually figured out what it wants to do. There’s probably no great likelihood that this trio’s about to land a spot on Warped Tour or whatever punk bands do to get famous now. But a buncha guys getting’ the ju-ju out isn’t bad for anybody.

The Fifth Order: Columbus Pop and Garage

The garage rock legacy that Columbus managed over the course of something like fifteen years was ostensibly ignored until recently. There’re a number of factors that might have contributed to a renewed focus on the city’s past music heritage, but it’s probably simply due to the work that was issued.

Ohio’s contribution to ‘60s popular culture wasn’t that enormous – even as we did give the Eagles its lead guitar player, but that was a bit later on. A few hits sprung from the Midwestern state, unfortunately, none of them really belonged to the Fifth Order.

TWOFER: Jack Rose x Woven Bones

Jack Rose - Luck in the Valley (Thrill Jockey, 2010)

Luck in the Valley is the final reliquary for Jack Rose’s broad concept of Americana in all of its expansiveness. Dying at the age of thirty-eight, after a recording career dating back almost fifteen years, Rose seemed to be on the edge of becoming a widely known figure in underground music. Traversing drones, acoustic blues, and various Eastern modalities, the guitarist was able to meld the most outrageous America-era John Fahey with the proto-rag time and jazz of W.C. Handy.

Represented over the course of twelve tracks on Luck in the Valley, Rose, occasionally accompanied by musical companions like Cul-de-Sac’s Glenn Jones, didn’t re-imagine American music. He did, however, represent the nation’s heritage through performances of the highest caliber.

Beginning the disc with an Eastern-styled guitar missive, Rose gifts listeners with a track reminiscent of his forbearers looking beyond a Western folk tradition even while remaining beholden to it. The mouth harp’s not a bad touch either.

Extending last year’s work from Jack Rose & the Black Twig Pickers on tracks like “West Coast Blues,” “Lick Mountain Ramble” and “Moon in the Gutter,” the guitarist hints at what could have been. By the time that Luck in the Valley was recorded, Rose had certainly worked with auld tyme music, but usually in a group setting, not under the auspices of a solo recording.

Even with that potential shift looming in the distance, the twelve minutes between “Tree in the Valley” and the title track assure listeners that there’s enough Takoma Records’ styled playing to sate voracious ‘60s folk fans. That wasn’t the point to Luck in the Valley, but Rose found a way to masquerade as an historian while living as a musician.

TWOFER: Interference x Disappears

Sometimes the reviews I toss up in tandem don’t seemingly have too much in common. Maybe Interference and Disappears don’t either. The sub-genre travels of both these groups – which were formed about thirty years apart – might not be aurally similar. But the creative tendencies that spurred on each group in the process of arriving at some end game are basically the same. It’s hard to hear the simple constructions of Disappears as the descendent of Interference. It’s probably not. Without the earlier group, though, the other might not exist. And if it did, understanding the band in a vacuum would still be different. Either way, both albumss are worth a listen.


Interference - Self Titled (The Social Registry, 2010)

The best work from various underground musics in New York during the ‘70s and ‘80s were able to encompass more than a single strain of theoretical backing. Punk was all defiance and some Chuck Berry riffs, while James Chance was equal parts funk, purposefully difficult rock stuff and visceral war-whooping front man. For the most part, though, the free improv scene and all of the experimental electronic work going one was separate. That’s not to say that there wasn’t overlap, but unquestionably, there was a distance between the two.

Recorded in 1982, Interference’s clutch of songs never saw a release during its lifetime. Luckily, though, folks at the Social Registry were able to dig it up, polish it and ship it off to fans of the first Sonic Youth 12’’, Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca.

There’s more noise here than song, but “Number Four” should be conducive to listening for a pretty broad range of musical enthusiasts whose taste skews towards the obscenely obscure and aggressive. It’s all ringing guitar chords and reaches towards a pacing that might make “Egg Raid on Mojo” era Beastie Boys seem a bit tepid. Interference’s work being issued at this late date might still just be construed as filling in the holes of history, but that shouldn’t make it any less of an astounding find.

Black Hippies Angle at Being More Clever than It's Name Might Hint...

Drone, noise and nonsense is the order of the day – or something like the last half decade or so. There’ve been countless bands that seek to ape some sort of non-music as music approach while intending it all to be art. Of course, that depends on one’s perception of any of the aforementioned terms. But it doesn’t seem to be ready to disappear. Folks even cite Animal Collective as being one of the more popular acts to incorporate at least a bit of these ideas into its music. Considering AC’s basically turned into a dance band, though, the point can be debated.

What unites a lot of these disparate musics, though, is that in many cases, actual instrumentation is eschewed for knob twitling and obtuse recording methods. There’s a place for all of this in the broadening world of music. But at some point folks should wonder when it turns into something more of a performance than music as music.