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andee's world: September 2005

andee's world

Hello and welcome to my blog. This space will be devoted to opinions, observations, lists, articles and whatever else I feel like posting. Subjects will include music, human nature, politics, life in NYC, etc. If I paste someone else's writing up here, it is because the author said something way better than I ever could. By the way, I don't claim to be a particularly smart guy; I'm just a musician with some opinions. If you disagree with me, that's cool -- but then, you're probably wrong.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Recommendations for Your Autumn Soundtrack

Hooray for fall!

I couldn't be happier to see the end of summer 2005. I usually enjoy summer, but this one really stuck in my craw.

Bring on the crisp weather, the steely skies, the dying leaves and of course, the music.

~Prodigy The Fat of the Land
This album takes me back to the days of Click and Drag. Remember Click and Drag? A moment of silence for New York's great parties of yesteryear...sigh. This album is massive. A confrontational blast of dark, menacing, vituperative punk techno and hypnotic, black psychedelica. Put on some vinyl pants and black eyeliner and go find a dance floor full of freaks. It's fall! Good luck.

~Lush Gala and Spooky
The sound of autumn leaves falling. These guys n' gals were heavily influenced by Cocteau Twins but they use much more straightforward pop melodies and song structures. Lush are like a 60's psychedelic pop group with a penchant for Cure-like use flange and echo. Hey, I could write for SPIN! The songs are gorgeously haunting and some of the vocals are so light, they're almost transparent, ghostly. Needless to say I'm a sucker for this kind of thing. "Sweetness and Light," unfortunately, has been used in a Volkswagen commercial.

~The Jesus and Mary Chain Automatic
I think it's funny -- no, wait, not funny...REALLY IRRITATING -- that every single review I've ever read of Automatic complains loudly about the "annoying" drum machine. Yet not one of these critics even mentions the fact that the VERY SAME drum machine -- same sounds, same programming style -- was also used on Automatic's universally acclaimed predecessor, Darklands. Do you ever get the feeling that critics are just reading eachother's shit and merely repeating a bunch second- and third- and fourth-hand observations? I do.

Anyway, enough about them. I love Automatic -- the songs, the sounds, the lyrics, the album cover, and yes, the drum machine. Some of these tunes -- "Coast to Coast," "Head On," "Gimme Hell," "Blues From a Gun" -- are just so doomy ...yet so utterly cool at the same time. Like taking a joyride on your motorbike while the sky caves in. Or something. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club? Give me a f-ing break.

~Hot Hot Heat Make Up the Breakdown
Amber, you rule for bringing this album into my life. Aside from absolutely unassailable songwriting and flawlessly economic execution, HHH deserve kudos for doing things like having an opening track that doesn't contain a single snare drum hit and for closing the record with an uncharacteristically moody piano ballad. I wish I wish I wish I had written "No, Not Now." It is so perfect. This record is perfect. Buy it. Thank you.

~Add N to [X] Avant Hard
Oddball analog synth fetishists. Really cool, offbeat instrumental music that will not appeal to everyone in your family. But "Revenge of the Black Regent" is an undeniable work of dark genius.

~Moke Carnival
If there were a shred of justice in the world, you would know this band. In 2001, this English quartet quietly put out a masterpiece, and nobody even showed up for the event. The usual scenario -- clueless, underachieving record label lets great band languish in obscurity while focusing on "priority" releases. Whatever. My friend Loni, who was working at Moke's label at the time, sent me this CD and I have to thank him for that. It's become one of my favorite albums.

Describing Moke isn't easy; it's hard to even pinpoint their influences. They've got so much going on, yet they always sound like one band. Their gut-level rock riffs and muscular grooves rival Rage Against the Machine, but they juxtapose the heavier moments against richly textured soundscapes filled with earthy darkness and bluesy undercurrents. The band is dynamic and unpredictable, always offering up surprising melodic and rhythmic twists, while phenomenal singer John Hogg commands your attention completely from start to finish. His voice shifts from sweet, bell-clear melodicism to balls-to-the-wall power. He sings with a world-weary soulfulness that is captivating and sincere. And what a voice. Damn.

And for all their depth and complexity, Moke never sound indulgent; the songs are always concise and catchy. No unnecessary notes here. From the kick-in-the-stomach opening of "My Degeneration" to the epic, autumnal closer "Fluicide," Moke really take you on a journey. Carnival is one of those records that reveals more with each listen. It's beautifully recorded, perfectly paced and doesn't go a minute too long. You're most likely to find this baby hiding in the "super saver" bins of your local CD store. If you see it, don't hesitate...

~Curve Doppelganger
This one is worth the price of admission for the song "Horror Head" alone. So gorgeous. If you've never heard Curve, imagine an Erotica-era Madonna -- or an embittered Elizabeth Frazier -- purring icily over a tapestry of pulsing, noisy electronic dance grooves. Pure pop melodies wrapped in gauzy dreampop atmospherics. Does that sound pretentious enough for you? I met Anthrax's drummer Charlie Benante years ago and we immediately bonded over the fact that we were both into this band.

~Fugazi Red Medicine
Fugazi's most textured, most varied, most moody album. Therefore, their most autumn-like album. I saw Fugazi in '97 and they opened with "Do You Like Me," the first song on this record. BAM! -- the whole place exploded in an instant. What a deadly live band.

~Jason Falkner Author Unknown and Can You Still Feel?
Big thanks to JB for first turning me onto these. Another installment in the "if there were any justice in the world" department...Falkner first showed up as guitarist in the mighty Jellyfish, but quickly outgrew his role in that band. A hyper-talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, he was destined to become an autonomous, self-contained artist. And he did. This guy's music is simply stunning -- sophisticated but totally accessible classic pop songwriting that borrows from all the right rock and powerpop sources (the Beatles being probably the most significant one). Falkner's got it all (and that includes great lyrics, too).

Both of these albums are musically astounding and thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish yet you're most likely to find them in the cut-out bins, or selling for pocket change on Amazon. If you find 'em anywhere, make that small investment -- these albums will pay dividends for life. And you won't "outgrow" them, either.

~The Damned Machine Gun Etiquette
My favorite Damned album. Dare I say it's perfect? Have some drinks, put on some vampire garb and listen to this before you go flitting out into the crisp Gotham night.

~Gene Loves Jezebel Immigrant and Discover
Ah, the cackling, caterwauling histrionics of the Aston twins. A strictly take-it-or-leave-it affair, the music of Gene Loves Jezebel is just as likely to alienate as it is to enamor (especially the early records). 1983's Promise, the Welshmens' bizarre, goth-tinged debut, is a wicked indulgence, careening brilliantly between undisguised madness and accidental genius.

But Immigrant, the sophomore album, is the band's first work of true greatness, if you ask me. The Jezebels really got it right here -- this time, the twins wrap their crazy, yelping vocal stylings around indelible melodies, while the band lock down on airtight, dancey art punk rhythms, invoking Bauhaus, the Banshees, even U2. A future Perry Farrell was studying this stuff very closely...

If Immigrant was perfect, then Discover was just a slightly glossier, more approachable brand of perfection. Flawless singles like "Heartache,"
"Desire" and "Sweetest Thing" are joined by almost-as-good gems like "Over the Rooftops," "Kick" and "Brand New Moon." The music has become almost stadium-sized by now, thanks in part to the addition of Mick Ronson-worshipping guitarist James Stevenson to the lineup, but the Jezebels still maintain their patented auras of dark mystery. Strange, sublime, and utterly unique pop music.

~Autechre Tri Repetae
Critics call this kind of thing Intelligent Dance Music (IDM), which means that it is absolutely impossible to dance to. Critics think they're too cool to dance, you see? Because they're too intelligent. God, I hate fucking critics -- have I mentioned that lately? Anyway, this is some of the most creepy ambient techno music I've ever heard. I remember walking into a party once and this record was playing. Bad choice for party music -- it was like walking into the end scene of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. My favorite is the beautiful and terrifying "Eutow." Put that one on when you see a storm rolling in -- you will get goosebumps a mile high.

~Deep Purple Burn
Maybe you've seen this album cover -- it's the one with the candles made in the images of all the band members. The candles are lit and the heads of Deep Purple are melting. Really cool. Anyway, alot of people overlook this Purple album cuz it's the first one they did without vocalist Ian Gillian and bassist Roger Glover. However -- their replacements totally rule! I know we all hate David Coverdale now, because he embarrassed himself in the 80s with all those horrible Whitesnake videos. But back in the day, he was just a great, bluesy rock singer, and Ritchie Blackmore brought him in to replace Gillian in Deep Purple. But wait, it gets better! Blackmore then hired Glenn Hughes -- not only a talented bass player but also an absolutely wicked singer -- to fill Glover's shoes. So Purple emerged, on the Burn album, with not one but two fantastic new lead singers. And a really inspired batch of tunes, also -- check out the title track, "Mistreated," "Lay Down Stay Down," "You Fool No One," etc. I like it better than Machine Head. But that's just me.

~The Ventures Walk--Don't Run
I guess surf rock is supposed to be used at beach parties in the summertime but to me this music is ideal for crisp nights, costume parties, dodgy burlesque performances and B-horror movie soundtracks. I picture guys in gorilla suits dancing to it. Either way, the all-instrumental Ventures were a tremendous band who helped to invent surf rock with some of the genre's most definitive and pioneering records in the 1960's. The high-velocity guitar playing even provided inspiration for future thrash metal bands. No kidding. Check out the Ventures; you won't be disappointed.

~Siouxsie and the Banshees Kaleidoscope
There is no better music to provide the soundtrack to your autumns than that of Siouxsie and the Banshees. I've acquired almost all of the Banshees' records in fall seasons past and I could write about all of them but Kaleidoscope is probably my favorite -- and I'm saving Juju for Halloween.

Kaleidoscope welcomes you to the nightmarish, funhouse-mirrored world of Siouxsie and the Banshees with the deceptively bouncy but haunted opener "Happy House," which cheerfully lowers your guard, only to then lock you into a dark room with the lurid "Tenant." If that doesn't give you nightmares, maybe the creepy sing-song of "Clockface" will. Even the lighter, psychedelic pop of the perennial "Christine" conjures images of ghosts, madness and melting visages.

I bought this CD ten years ago, along with PiL's Second Edition, Gene Loves Jezebel's Discover and Morrissey's Southpaw Grammar. Maybe I have a fetish for 1995; when I get corny and nostalgic, I throw all those discs into the CD changer together and play 'em on shuffle.

~Morrissey Southpaw Grammar
Morrissey's overblown, hard-rocking, symphonic masterpiece. This album repulsed his record label and alienated and/or confused almost everyone else. I love it. Who else could write a line like "everyone here is sick to the back teeth of you" ?? Sick to the back teeth? God, I wish I'd written that. But alas, I am only a mere mortal.

~Black Sabbath Master of Reality and Mob Rules
You could argue that the entire Sabbath catalog should be reserved for the season of dying leaves, but for my money, these two records make for the most potent fall consumption. When I was 13 I heard "Iron Man" on the radio and it threw a switch inside me that remains in the "on" position to this day. I bought "Iron Man"'s parent album Paranoid and was mesmerized from note one. Sabbath had me under their spell and soon I was digging deeper into the back catalog of this diabolical and mysterious band from way back in the misty 1970's.

When I snuck Master of Reality home under my parents' noses one night, I listened to it in my room with the door shut and couldn't believe it was even heavier than Paranoid. Black Sabbath had tuned their guitars down to C# and the riffs were absolutely sinister. The mix was dry as a bone and all the more terrifying for it. I hadn't previously heard any of the songs on MOR, so it was all deliciously new to me. I played it over and over.

Right around the same time, someone had played some Dio-era Sabbath for me -- the monolithic Mob Rules. It was made in the early 80's and had a much bigger, more polished sound than the 70's Sab but it was towering in its dark majesty. One of the keys to Sabbath's heaviness is their use of crawling, brontosaurus-slow tempos; and Mob Rules was just loaded with those wicked, pitch-black grooves. And the singer! -- his voice was terrifying. As far as I was concerned, Ronnie James Dio only enhanced Sabbath's bewitching power, and I devoured this satanic music voraciously.

I've immersed myself in Sabbath over the years and have fallen in love with the other records for different reasons at different times, but to this day Master of Reality and Mob Rules remain at the top. When the departing sun gets sucked into the blood-red horizon and the shadows descend on your house, listen to these babies. They're a better pairing than Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

One more thing -- Mob Rules' album cover. It's scary enough on first glance, but then look a little more closely right into the center of it...

~My Bloody Valentine Loveless
There is simply not another recording in the world that sounds anything like this. Kevin Shields & co. made an impossibly brilliant record and then broke the mold. They also broke up the band and bankrupted their label. Nobody survived the experience.

Do you want to drown in beautiful noise? Listen to Loveless.

~Basement Jaxx Rendez-Vu
Hooray for Basement Jaxx! For my money, the best dance act around, and truly transcendent pop music makers, to boot. This British duo fulfilled all of the potential that Daft Punk promised with their first album (and then failed to make good on, if you ask me). Basement Jaxx arrived in 1999 -- just as the "next-big-thing" hype of big beat and electronica was starting to look like a hollow threat -- and swiftly reinvigorated the entire genre with some of the most brilliant songwriting and production anyone had yet heard in electronic music. Rendez-Vu is their stellar first album, and they've only managed to get better with subsequent releases.

~King's X Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
If you've never heard the music of Texas trio King's X, the first thing you have to do is completely disregard anything you might have read about them in the rock press. Most critics, hamstrung by feeble imaginations, laziness and pure spite, are fucked to try to describe something as uncategorizably eclectic and brilliant as King's X. So they just throw a "prog rock" tag on the band and call it a day. And because King's X's lyrics often deal with issues of spirituality, the critics like to throw the word "christian" into the mix, as well. How idiotic.

Anyone who calls King's X something as stupid and belittling as "christian prog metal" clearly has not even listened to the band -- more likely, they're just repeating something they've seen written many times before. Regurgitating received wisdom is always a safe bet in rock "journalism." For this reason, King's X remain terribly misunderstood.

At the end of the day, this band is about songs. The common denominator of the members' combined influences is the Beatles. You can hear it in their phenomenal knack for great melodies and gorgeous three-part harmonies. King's X's music is hard rock that is steeped in the blues, heavy metal, gospel, psychedelic rock (as in Sgt. Pepper's) and pure pop. The songs for the most part are concise and very straightforward. Believe me, these guys couldn't give a rat's ass about "prog."

King's X also happen to possess one of the greatest rock singers of all time. Doug Pinnick, the mohawked, black-skinned, bass playing frontman of King's X brings pure soul to the band, being heavily influenced by people like Aretha Franklin and Sly Stone. What an unbelievable voice this man has -- and every note is unadulterated conviction and sincerity. A closeted homosexual for most of his life, Pinnick's lyrics reflect the conflict of a man trying to reconcile his sexuality with the repressive Southern Baptist values of his upbringing in the Deep South. This guy's got more issues than an attic full of old National Geographics (sorry), and it only makes him a more riveting, fascinating performer.

Guitarist and sometime lead vocalist Ty Tabor may be the most underrated rock guitar player ever. Hundreds of guitarists have fruitlessly tried to copy his tone over the years. Yes, the man is a virtuoso, but his playing is grounded in no-bullshit Texas blues. He always plays the right thing and it's always something new. And his pure, Lennon-esque singing voice offsets Pinnick's perfectly.

Jerry Gaskill plays the drums with an incredible amount of power, behind-the-beat groove and a huge dynamic scale. He's equal parts Bonham and Buddy Rich. His kick drum locks in with Pinnick's growling bass to create one of the most awe-inspiring and immediately-recognizable rhythm sections in rock. Jerry's one of those rare drummers whose style is so well-realized that you know it's him even when he's playing all by himself. He's also the guy who sings all those high harmony parts.

When this band came on the scene in the late eighties, they made everyone else look like a bunch of chumps. Immediately respected and worshipped by musicians everywhere, from Chic's Nile Rodgers to Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, King's X sounded like the future. Gretchen, the band's second album, was the first King's X record I heard and it is my favorite. It remains their masterpiece, even though they've put out so many other brilliant records.

"Out of the Silent Planet"'s opening sitar melody immediately announces that a mystical journey is underway; a musical quest for truth, joy and salvation. Does that sound lofty? Well, this album has some lofty ambitions, and it totally achieves them. "Over My Head" is gospel music with a heavy rock backbone. "Summerland," a haunting meditaion on getting older, is one of the most achingly, darkly beautiful things ever recorded. The evangelist-bashing "Mission" rages with righteous (the good kind of righteous) anger; its lyrics prove how simpleminded and erroneous the "christian" tag is. Each song sets up the next one perfectly. By the time you get to album-closing "The Burning Down," you feel that same mix of exhilaration and melancholy that comes over you when you've reached the end of a great story.

I've been lucky enough to become friends with King's X over the last few years and I'm even playing in a band with Jerry Gaskill, doing music from his recent solo album. Doug, Ty and Jerry are some of the most approachable and humble people you're likely to meet. But I'm not saying all this nice stuff about them because I know them -- I'm saying it because they're my heroes, role models for what a rock and roll band should be. And Gretchen Goes to Nebraska remains a shining example of how imaginative, intelligent and innovative hard rock can be.

~Joy Division Still
The icy bleakness of this music is almost too much to take; these are not sunny songs for your backyard barbeque or beach blanket bingo. That's why I always save this record for fall. Still rounds up a slew of studio tracks that didn't make it to JD's two proper albums and a bunch of pretty atrocious live recordings. If that doesn't sound like a shining endorsement, then let me point out that I love all the songs on this record and the sound of Joy Division's Martin Hannett-produced studio work always gives me chills.

~Leftfield Rhythm and Stealth
Far darker and more singleminded than its more eclectic predecessor (Leftism), Rhythm and Stealth focuses every bit of its energy on creating menacing, apocalyptic dance music with hard, relentless grooves and creepy dub soundscapes. The crawling, foreboding "Swords" may just be my fave track -- it sounds like hordes of locusts approaching. This album is exceptional and riveting from front to back.

~Motorhead Another Perfect Day
Apparently hated at the time of its release, APD has slowly but steadily gained respect over the years. When Fast Eddie quit in '82, he was replaced by former Thin Lizzy six-stringer Brian Robertson, who brought a welcome dash of color to Motorhead's sound, which had just started to get the slightest bit stale by the time of their fifth studio album. Robbo only lasted for about a year, but the experience was liberating for Motorhead, and gave them the confidence to experiment more in the future. And anyway, there are some great songs on this disc: "Back at the Funny Farm," "Shine," "Dancing On Your Grave" -- are you kidding? Those are classics. I picked this one up on the street in Williamsburg in autumn of 2000, and it has become a fall fave of mine.

~Kool Keith Black Elvis/Lost In Space
Perhaps best known for his creepy Dr. Octagon persona, Kool Keith is equally entertaining as the space-obsessed eccentric who raps about "Robots," "Rockets on the Battlefield" and "Livin' Astro." And that's only the first half of this disc. On tracks nine through 17, Kool Keith adopts his bizarre "Black Elvis" alter ego on hilarious tracks like "Maxi Curls," "Keith Turbo" and "The Girls Don't Like the Job."

It's amazing how the same guy who dreamed up the perverted, psychopathic "Doctor Octagonocologist" character could then turn around and make a record that almost completely eschews the topic of sex altogether. Hilarious. The space-age synths and programming suit Keith's weird Star Trek ramblings perfectly.

~Slayer Hell Awaits
The nightmare begins. Slayer have been called "the house band in hell." Listen to this frightening cacophony of pure satanic musical violence and you'll hear why. What separates Slayer from all the other thrash bands of their generation is the completely feral, threatening, chaotic way they play; it's as if they're trying to tear a hole in the music. Unbelievably brutal and ugly. It took me awhile to understand this band. Now they are like a basic food group for me.

Check out Hell Awaits this fall. Make a nightly ritual of putting it on at dusk. And then, if you think you're ready, move on to Reign In Blood. It's far, far worse. And by that I mean better.

~Breakbeat Era Ultra Obscene
Slithering, sexy, sordid drum~n~bass music courtesy of UK producers Roni Size, DJ Die and a sultry, wicked chanteuse named Leonie Laws. This is dark, depraved dance music that makes you move while engaging your reptile brain. Like Portishead on crystal meth.

~The Creatures A Bestiary
The Creatures, for those of you who are unacquainted, is the extracurricular musical hobby for Sioux and Budgie (singer and drummer, respectively), of English post punk titans Siouxsie and the Banshees (more on them later). Given the makeup of the group -- just Budgie's percussion and Siouxsie's voice -- one might assume that the music would be harmonically limited. Or just empty-sounding. But the lack of instrumentation only gives these two more space to work in. The songs are surprisingly interesting, thanks to Budgie's use of a wide array of percussion instruments (including melodic tools like vibes, marimbas, xylophones, bells, etc). But on the tunes where he sticks to non-pitched drums, Siouxsie is free to invent her own harmonic space. Very cool. The overall sound is somewhat exotic and wildly rhythmic, tribal-sounding -- and leaves plenty to the imagination. Thanks to Scarlett for hooking me up with Bestiary.

~Republica self-titled
Completely disposable electropop music. Not a bad song in the whole bunch.

~Plexi Cheer Up
My old band Keeta Speed opened for these guys at Mercury Lounge back in 1997 and I swear to god, they were louder than Motorhead. But they were really cool looking and they had a theramin. It was hard to tell if the music was good or not but then a little later I heard the "Forest Ranger" single and I thought it was great -- sort of a mix of the Misfits and Echo and the Bunnymen.

I bought the album for $3.99 at Sounds on St. Marks Place and was thrilled to discover that the CD was worth far more than what I'd paid for it.
A near-perfect mix of goth's dark textures, glam's druggy swagger and punk's sense of FTW nihilism, Cheer Up sounds amazingly cohesive. The whole package -- music, image, attitude, lyrics, artwork -- makes it super easy for you to decide whether you're gonna follow these guys into battle or dodge the draft. I was ready to enlist in the Plexi army, but the band broke up after this album. Years later, I still get a huge kick out of listening to Cheer Up in the fall. You can purchase this album with the amount of money that lives under your couch cushions, so go make that small investment.

~Tom Waits Bone Machine
I'm not sure I understand Tom Waits yet, but I sure do like him. I bought this album last fall and it spent the entire season in my CD changer. Time to bring it out again.

~King Crimson Discipline, Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair
I know King Crimson have a million albums and I admit that I only know these three. They were released in the early eighties, by the Fripp/Belew/Levin/Bruford lineup and all three albums are cut from more or less the same sonic cloth, like a trilogy. I got into all of them at the same time (when my ex-roomate left his woefully worn-out cassettes behind when he moved from E. 11th Street to Europe -- thanks Mike!) so to me they are all like chapters in the same story.

For those of you who think that "prog" is a bad word, I advise you to check out this stuff. It is frighteningly well-played music that is wonderfully weird and amazingly accessible at times. The things that Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew do with guitars give me nightmares. The instrumentals paint chilling, angular soundscapes with multicolored swatches of alien sound, while the vocal tunes are often fantastically poppy ("Model Man," "Heartbeat," "Frame By Frame"). I used to sneak "Man With an Open Heart" into my DJ sets and people bopped along unwittingly, as if it they were doing the robot to the Talking Heads.

~Cocteau Twins Blues Bell Knoll
Few artists have made sounds as beautiful as Cocteau Twins. The music is so painterly -- evocative of colors, images, landscapes, dreams. This is where dreampop began -- many English shoegazers have tried to capture the flower-pedals-in-a-windtunnel sound of Robin Gutherie's production (Lush even hired Gutherie to produce their first full-length record). But no one can match the ethereal virtuoso singing of Elizabeth Frazier. Most people say that Treasure is the Cocteaus' best, but Blue Bell Knoll was my introduction to the band, so I'll always be a bit attached to it. This is what I was listening to in the fall of '92, when everyone else was fussing over grunge.

~The Smashing Pumpkins Gish
Speaking of the Cocteaus, it's hard to miss the 4AD influence that stamps itself all over the first Pumpkins' album. But there's much more than that -- Billy Corgan is one of the few artists who can successfully mix heavy metal bombast with textured delicacy, brute force with beautiful vulnerability. The Smashing Pumpkins made some fairly astonishing albums, in my opinion. For a debut, this is pretty brilliant.

~The Faint Blank Light Arcade, Danse Macabre, Danse Macabre Remixes and Wet From Birth
Thank you to Ami for introducing me to this band. The Faint are like a modern day Soft Cell -- is that accurate? It just occurred to me. Hyper, jerky dance beats and outrageous, angular synth riffs accompany lyrical meditations on paranoia, sex and paranoid sex. Here's your "intelligent dance music." Awesome.

~Hum Downward Is Heavenward
Hum's second album isn't the one with the hit (1995's awesome "Stars") but it is breath-taking anyway. Like the Pumpkins, Hum know how to successfully combine the seemingly incompatible ingredients of crushing power and swirling beauty, all in the same moment. Lead singer Matt Talbot sings his brainy, poetic lyrics in an almost lackadaisical monotone over an oceanic mass of gorgeous, crashing distortion and aural flower petals. This music is almost completely free of commercial aspirations. Maybe that's why it's so good.

~Enuff Z'Nuff Strength
Those few of you who know this band will no doubt associate them with the dreaded "hair metal" era. You're partly right. They had the hair, they had some wanky guitar solos, they wrote some insipid lyrics. But Enuff Z'Nuff were really a power-pop band dying to break out of the spandex n' hairspray ghetto. Their second album Strength bears this out. Peek underneath that slick pop metal exterior and you will find some surprisingly mature and sophisticated songwriting that is steeped in The Beatles, Cheap Trick, even Elvis Costello. The opening song, "Heaven or Hell," is pure pop ecstasy. I wish I'd written it.

~Ima Robot self-titled
This record came out a couple years ago and was met with profound indifference. I don't know why everyone's lapping up mediocre bands like The Killers (yawn), while top-notch groups like The Faint and Ima Robot (and, ahem, a certain New York band I know of) remain relatively obscure. Oh well, I guess The Bravery are good enough for most folks.

Ima Robot will totally satisfy post-punk fans who like their new wave delivered with industrial-strength musicianship and a healthy respect for Bowie. This highly entertaining record features rollercoaster rockers and affecting ballads, and is always loaded with character and verve. Let Ima Robot pep up your fall evenings this year.

~Imperial Drag self-titled
Another mid-90s Jellyfish offshoot, Imperial Drag are the uber-glam one-off project helmed by virtuoso singer/keyboardist/guitarist/songwriter Roger Manning. The band obsessively recreate the spirit and sound of 70's glam rock and the music is consequently loaded with nods and references to T Rex, Sweet, Queen, Bowie and ELO. If throwbacks aren't your thing, rest assured -- the tunes here are killer, completely valuable in their own right.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

How Lucky Are You?

As I sit here gloomily contemplating the relentless pea soup humidity that rubs its muzzle into every corner of my top floor apartment (thanks, T.S. Eliot), wearing as little clothing as decency will allow and blasting Hum's Downward Is Heavenward CD at top volume, I wonder, grimly, what the hell happened to the refreshing snap of cool, dry air that gallantly ushered in September 2005, only to be rudely bum-rushed out the door by a most unwelcome comeback of summer on its worst behavior?

Of course, I have no business whining about feeling a little wilted by some damp weather, considering what the citizens of the Gulf Coast have endured these past few weeks. After all, I've still got a home, all my guitars and my cat, don't I? My health, my friends, my music, my livelihood -- they're all still here.

Maybe I should consider just how lucky I am.

I've been living in the great city of New York for over nine years now, and I've managed to cobble together a comfortable existence as a full-time artist. In the grand scheme of things, I have very little -- almost nothing -- in the way of material wealth. But from just playing music, I pull in enough money to pay my bills, eat well, go out drinking way too many nights of the week, buy enough CDs and books to sustain my imagination, and travel to far-flung places to get a change of scenery once in a while. And I don't even have to wake up in the morning!

In the past year I've danced in the clubs of London, explored the ancient ruins of Rome and sipped multiple espressos in Florence. Just this Wednesday night, while throwing back cocktails at the Tainted Lady Lounge, my friend and I spontaneously decided to go to Berlin for New Year's Eve. And just like that, the decision was made -- we're going to Berlin. The money I'll make in the next week will pay for the airfare. How cool is that?

I can even afford to go overboard once in a while; last year I spent over $600 on Madonna concert tickets alone. Sound indulgent? It was indulgent -- and worth every dollar. I am fortunate just to be able to think about doing shit like that.

I've got an astounding number of top-notch friends, and the group grows every year. I'm surrounded by super-smart, supportive, sincere, colorful, wickedly talented, incredibly funny and inspiring humans. Their drive makes me want to be better; their intelligence makes me check myself daily; their integrity helps me maintain my dignity.

I play in the most deadly rock band in NYC. You better believe it. JB, Glenn and Clancy and I have an incredible synergy as musicians and we're lucky enough to be great friends on top of that. We played a show last week that was positively nuclear; the energy between the band and the audience practically ripped the ceiling off the venue. Beautiful humans come to our shows and sing along -- every word -- to songs I wrote in my apartment. How many people can claim that? It is a blessing.

I've got the greatest roommate ever -- Dario! -- who I love dearly. He brings daily doses of sunshine and positivity into my life. I never get tired of hanging out with the man. My other roomate, Buddy, is perhaps the coolest cat in Brooklyn. She (yes, a female cat named Buddy!) makes me smile and laugh every day, when she's not out back in the courtyard having adventures and torturing mice. When Buddy looks up at me and utters one of her soundless meows, it always cracks me up.

I am healthy, knock on wood. I've never had to buy health insurance, thank the lord (imagine how much money I've saved!). I've never needed glasses, or regular meds, or therapy of any kind. Lucky me. Alot of people are born with medical problems that they are forced to deal with for their whole lives. I just got some fortunate DNA, that's all. I'm grateful for that.

My family is awesome. I've got two parents who are still married and who completely and proudly support their three strange children. My brother Tim just started his own business in California and has a gorgeous five year old daughter named Kaley. He is a talented singer and guitar player. My sister Jenny is a bad-ass professional surfer living in Costa Rica. She and her boyfriend just had a baby girl named Alana this year. All are healthy in every way.

My life is pure freedom -- every single facet of my existence is governed by me. No one tells me what to do. My freedom to express myself is unlimited -- I am a full time, walking art project. This is what makes me want to wake up every day; I am living my dreams.

The world being what it is, complaining is easy, all to easy. The challenge is to remember why your life is so great. It is tempting to get jaded and cynical, yes. You have good reason to be angry -- your fellow man can be terribly disappointing at times.

Keep your anger but, as much as you can, keep your optimism, as well. Be always mindful of why you're lucky. I'm telling this to myself as much as I'm telling it to you.

I do alot of bitching on this website, but now it's time to do a little celebrating.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

An Open Letter to the President -- by Bill Maher

Mr. President, this job can't be fun for you any more. There's no
more money to spend--you used up all of that. You can't start another war because you used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people.

Listen to your Mom. The cupboard's bare, the credit cards maxed out. No one's speaking to you. Mission accomplished.

Now it's time to do what you've always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service and the oil company and the baseball team. It's time. Time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy or space man? Now I know what you're saying: there's so many other things that you as President could involve yourself in. Please don't. I know, I know. There's a lot left to do. There's a war with Venezuela. Eliminating the sales tax on yachts. Turning the space program over to the church. And Social Security to Fannie Mae. Giving embryos the vote.

But, Sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you
govern like Billy Joel drives. You've performed so poorly I'm surprised that you haven't given yourself a medal. You're a catastrophe that walks like a man. Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire city to rising water and snakes.

On your watch, we've lost almost all of our allies, the surplus,
four airliners, two trade centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans. Maybe you're just not lucky. I'm not saying you don't love this country. I'm just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side.

So, yes, God does speak to you. What he is saying is: "Take a hint."

Monday, September 12, 2005

All the President's Friends --by Paul Krugman

All the President's Friends
Published: September 12, 2005

The lethally inept response to Hurricane Katrina revealed to everyone that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which earned universal praise during the Clinton years, is a shell of its former self. The hapless Michael Brown - who is no longer overseeing relief efforts but still heads the agency - has become a symbol of cronyism.

But what we really should be asking is whether FEMA's decline and fall is unique, or part of a larger pattern. What other government functions have been crippled by politicization, cronyism and/or the departure of experienced professionals? How many FEMA's are there?
Unfortunately, it's easy to find other agencies suffering from some version of the FEMA syndrome.

The first example won't surprise you: the Environmental Protection Agency, which has a key role to play in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, but which has seen a major exodus of experienced officials over the past few years. In particular, senior officials have left in protest over what they say is the Bush administration's unwillingness to enforce environmental law.

Yesterday The Independent, the British newspaper, published an interview about the environmental aftermath of Katrina with Hugh Kaufman, a senior policy analyst in the agency's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, whom one suspects is planning to join the exodus. "The budget has been cut," he said, "and inept political hacks have been put in key positions." That sounds familiar, and given what we've learned over the last two weeks there's no reason to doubt that characterization - or to disregard his warning of an environmental cover-up in progress.

What about the Food and Drug Administration? Serious questions have been raised about the agency's coziness with drug companies, and the agency's top official in charge of women's health issues resigned over the delay in approving Plan B, the morning-after pill, accusing the agency's head of overruling the professional staff on political grounds.

Then there's the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, whose Republican chairman hired a consultant to identify liberal bias in its programs. The consultant apparently considered any criticism of the administration a sign of liberalism, even if it came from conservatives.

You could say that these are all cases in which the Bush administration hasn't worried about degrading the quality of a government agency because it doesn't really believe in the agency's mission. But you can't say that about my other two examples.

Even a conservative government needs an effective Treasury Department. Yet Treasury, which had high prestige and morale during the Clinton years, has fallen from grace.

The public symbol of that fall is the fact that John Snow, who was obviously picked for his loyalty rather than his qualifications, is still Treasury secretary. Less obvious to the public is the hollowing out of the department's expertise. Many experienced staff members have left since 2000, and a number of key positions are either empty or filled only on an acting basis. "There is no policy," an economist who was leaving the department after 22 years told The Washington Post, back in 2002. "If there are no pipes, why do you need a plumber?" So the best and brightest have been leaving.

And finally, what about the department of Homeland Security itself? FEMA was neglected, some people say, because it was folded into a large agency that was focused on terrorist threats, not natural disasters. But what, exactly, is the department doing to protect us from terrorists?

In 2004 Reuters reported a "steady exodus" of counterterrorism officials, who believed that the war in Iraq had taken precedence over the real terrorist threat. Why, then, should we believe that Homeland Security is being well run?

Let's not forget that the administration's first choice to head the department was Bernard Kerik, a crony of Rudy Giuliani. And Mr. Kerik's nomination would have gone through if enterprising reporters hadn't turned up problems in his background that the F.B.I. somehow missed, just as it somehow didn't turn up the little problems in Michael Brown's résumé. How many lesser Keriks made it into other positions?

The point is that Katrina should serve as a wakeup call, not just about FEMA, but about the executive branch as a whole. Everything I know suggests that it's in a sorry state - that an administration which doesn't treat governing seriously has created two, three, many FEMA's.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Like Mother, Like Son

Barbara Bush, quoted during her visit with evacuees in Houston on Monday night:

"What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality," she said during a radio interview with the American Public Media program "Marketplace."

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."

As they say, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree...

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Hurricane Crisis

You all know what's going on in New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and the Gulf Coast of the US in general. The news gets worse every hour. The stories are heartbreaking.

Give a couple bucks to the Red Cross, even if it's a contribution as small as $10. I know alot of your don't have much in the way of disposable income, but I've also seen you drop $50 at the bar in one sitting. God bless.

So if a million of us donate $10 each, that's ten million bucks for hurricane relief. Do it. Who else is going to step up? The federal government? All they've offered is empty promises so far. New Orleans is hell on earth right now -- these are our fellow citizens, trapped in the attics of their homes with water up to their necks, waiting to be rescued. Thousands are already dead. If you've got a roof over your head and your rent's paid, consider yourself lucky. Contribute here:

Another thing -- you must hear this radio interview with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin:

Listen all the way to the end. If this isn't a call to arms, I don't know what is.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

An Open Letter to President Bush -- by Michael Moore

Friday, September 2nd, 2005

Dear Mr. Bush:

Any idea where all our helicopters are? It's Day 5 of Hurricane Katrina and thousands remain stranded in New Orleans and need to be airlifted. Where on earth could you have misplaced all our military choppers? Do you need help finding them? I once lost my car in a Sears parking lot. Man, was that a drag.

Also, any idea where all our national guard soldiers are? We could really use them right now for the type of thing they signed up to do like helping with national disasters. How come they weren't there to begin with?

Last Thursday I was in south Florida and sat outside while the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed over my head. It was only a Category 1 then but it was pretty nasty. Eleven people died and, as of today, there were still homes without power. That night the weatherman said this storm was on its way to New Orleans. That was Thursday! Did anybody tell you? I know you didn't want to interrupt your vacation and I know how you don't like to get bad news. Plus, you had fundraisers to go to and mothers of dead soldiers to ignore and smear. You sure showed her!

I especially like how, the day after the hurricane, instead of flying to Louisiana, you flew to San Diego to party with your business peeps. Don't let people criticize you for this -- after all, the hurricane was over and what the heck could you do, put your finger in the dike?

And don't listen to those who, in the coming days, will reveal how you specifically reduced the Army Corps of Engineers' budget for New Orleans this summer for the third year in a row. You just tell them that even if you hadn't cut the money to fix those levees, there weren't going to be any Army engineers to fix them anyway because you had a much more important construction job for them -- BUILDING DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ!

On Day 3, when you finally left your vacation home, I have to say I was moved by how you had your Air Force One pilot descend from the clouds as you flew over New Orleans so you could catch a quick look of the disaster. Hey, I know you couldn't stop and grab a bullhorn and stand on some rubble and act like a commander in chief. Been there done that.

There will be those who will try to politicize this tragedy and try to use it against you. Just have your people keep pointing that out. Respond to nothing. Even those pesky scientists who predicted this would happen because the water in the Gulf of Mexico is getting hotter and hotter making a storm like this inevitable. Ignore them and all their global warming Chicken Littles. There is nothing unusual about a hurricane that was so wide it would be like having one F-4 tornado that stretched from New York to Cleveland.

No, Mr. Bush, you just stay the course. It's not your fault that 30 percent of New Orleans lives in poverty or that tens of thousands had no transportation to get out of town. C'mon, they're black! I mean, it's not like this happened to Kennebunkport. Can you imagine leaving white people on their roofs for five days? Don't make me laugh! Race has nothing -- NOTHING -- to do with this!

You hang in there, Mr. Bush. Just try to find a few of our Army helicopters and send them there. Pretend the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are near Tikrit.


Michael Moore