Thanks to Alisa for turning me onto this funny azz shyt. Click on the MF headline.
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.
Friday, June 30, 2006
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Some Books I've Read in the Last Five Months
Tom Wolfe, I Am Charlotte Simmons
All the amateur book reviewers on Amazon throw this one under the bus, but I loved it. In I Am Charlotte Simmons, Wolfe trains his unflinching eye on modern American college campus life and systematically dissects it piece by piece. The titular character is an uber-sheltered good girl from a hermetically insulated mountain town, whose prodigious academic achievements have landed her a scholarship to the fictional Dupont University, a prestigious Ivy League school in Pennsylvania. The novel describes Simmons' culture shock as she finds herself suddenly ensconced in a collegiate den of iniquity.
Critics moan that Wolfe's snow-white heroine is unrealistic and that his pop culture references are off by a decade. I think the former critique is a bit cynical and the latter is trivial. I personally thought his portrayal of the current trust fund generation was spot on, and absolutely hilarious. But of course Wolfe skewers everyone in sight, and no one is safe from his scathing satire, not even the virtuous Simmons. I tore through this rather lengthy novel in a week.
Jizzy Pearl, Unhappy Endings
Jizzy Pearl was (or is) the lead singer of Los Angeles sleaze-metal band Love/Hate and he's a surprisingly good writer. I befriended him on Myspace recently and he sent me a copy of this, his latest book -- a collection of stories, rants and autobiographical ruminations told wearily but with great humor from the perspective of a musician doomed to a scratch-and-tear existence in the seamy underbelly of LA. The copy is loaded with grammar and punctuation errors and was obviously printed on a super low budget but the book was thoroughly enjoyable for all of that, and often flat-out hilarious. It was really cool of him to send me the book -- thanks, Jizzy!
John Updike, The Witches of Eastwick
I've read a ton of Updike and somehow up until now I never got to The Witches of Eastwick, even though, thanks to the movie, it's maybe his best-known novel. Witches has a juicy storyline -- Updike's three main characters are a triumverate of divorced witches in a small New England town whose "cone of power" is suddenly disrupted when a strange man moves in, bringing with him some rather formidable powers of his own.
But as always with Updike, it's hard to breeze through the story when you're constantly stopping to re-read the beautiful metaphors and dazzling descriptions that fill each and every page. The first sentence of the book reads,
"And oh yes," Jane Smart said in her hasty yet purposeful way; each s seemed the black tip of a just-extinguished match held in playful hurt, as children do, against the skin."
Adam Haslett, You Are Not a Stranger Here
A collection of haunting, delicately-told short stories by Pulitzer Prize finalist Adam Haslett. The author describes his flawed, almost ghostly characters with clean, spare, graceful prose and great empathy. He writes with an incredible amount of control and the stories pack quite an emotional wallop. Thanks to Jessica for recommending this one.
C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra
Thanks to my dad for sending me these. I've still go one more to go (That Hideous Strength) before finishing C.S. Lewis's so-called "space trilogy." So what do I think so far? Well, the sci-fi aspect of Lewis's storytelling is awesome. His descriptions of Venus and Mars -- and their inhabitants -- is richly, imaginatively evocative but rooted in a certain dutiful sense of scientific accuracy, which lends the stories a good deal of credibility and realism. His characters are drawn somewhat roughly although it's easy enough to get behind the protagonist, Ransom.
But the moral/theological/philosophical agenda of the story, although not exactly preachy, wore me out a bit. I have to admit that I skipped a big chunk of the final speech in Perelandra. Sorry! I did the same thing in Rand's Atlas Shrugged -- damn that long-winded John Galt!
Henry Rollins, Solipsist
I'm more a fan of Rollins' tour journals than of his poetry or, in this case, collected fragments of hyper-subjective existentialism (wait, was that redundant?). Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Solipsist, which was written while Rollins was living in New York City in the early 90s, apparently just heartbroken over a failed romance and/or still haunted and devastated by the murder of his best friend Joe Cole. It is an intense read, to say the least. Sometimes it's impenetrable. But I always enjoy Rollins' stark, unflinching honesty and occasional blasts of razor-edged humor.
Ok, I need some new book recommendations, so bring 'em on!
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Ocean Air, Fresh-Cut Grass
(Summer music blog, part two!)
Saint Etienne~ Foxbase Alpha
Shimmering, summery dance pop spawned by the early-90's English music scene that gave us Blur, the Charlatans and the Happy Mondays. Sarah Cracknell's voice floats almost transparently over a patchwork of electronica, baggy beats and Phil Spector-esque girl group production. Put this together with One Dove's Morning Dove White (wrote about it in the previous post) and you've got a perfect soundtrack to fuzzy summer nights. Their Eurodisco cover version of Neil Young's "Only Love Will Break Your Heart" alone is enough reason to own this.
King's X~ self-titled
King's X's fourth brilliant album in a row. Not nearly as ambitious as its predecessor Faith Hope Love, this one's a good deal more approachable and I'd recommend it to anyone new to the band as a place to start. It's got everything that makes King's X great: unbelievably great singing (you could call the harmonies "Beatle-esque" but only if the Beatles were a gospel choir), airtight heavy rock riffing, compelling, smart lyrics and top-drawer songwriting. This album, stocked with gems from top to bottom, includes the aching "Big Picture," an irresistible romp called "Lost In Germany" and the absolutely indispensable "Black Flag." It's hard to believe this music was made by mere mortals.
Eminem~ The Slim Shady LP
What pulled me into Eminem's world immediately was the fact that he made me laugh. I hate when rappers burn up all their energy trying to tell me how bad and mean and/or great in bed they are. Yawn.
I suppose Eminem's been talked about enough but his albums have been really important to me and they always seem to come out at the beginning of summer so I have to mention them. This, Mr. Mathers's debut, was an indelible part of my summer of '99, as it was for many of you.
Little Jack Melody and His Young Turks ~ My Charmed Life
I could try to describe this album by throwing around terms like "sophisticated pop," or mention the dizzying array of musical genres employed therein (jazz, klezmer, tango, bossa, ragtime) but the bottom line is My Charmed Life is a fabulously weird, funny and thoroughly enjoyable record distinguished by wonderful songwriting and effortlessly eclectic musicianship. Jack and his posse, who orchestrate their quirky, melodic pop with harmonium, tuba, banjo, upright bass, saxes, electric guitar, accordion, various keyboard instruments and drums, are joined by a slew of guest musicians here as well. But the songs are so damn fun to listen to, you forget how virtuosic the writing and playing is.
I stumbled upon this cd rather by accident while I was working at a music promotion company -- it was one of the records we were working in spring of '97. Most of the discs we were hired to promote didn't rock my boat but this one stuck out like a bar of gold in a trash heap. But don't listen to me talk about it, go find a copy of My Charmed Life on Amazon or half.com, buy it for probably less money than you just spent on cigarettes, and thank me later.
Dio~ Holy Diver
Put on this record when the summer storm rolls in. Nobody sings like Dio and few metal acts have made albums this bracing and vital. It is a perfect album.
Slayer~ Haunting the Chapel EP
I only just got this a couple of years ago (I've been a Slayer fan for 15 years) in the summer of '03, I believe. Although it's not a full-scale album, it is an essential piece of Slayer's catalog for "Chemical Warfare" alone. Plus, it shows the band taking a giant evolutionary step away from the slightly by-the-numbers thrash of their debut toward their true identity, which would be as fully, terrifyingly realized as ever on Reign In Blood.
Motorhead~ Bastards, Sacrifice and Overnight Sensation
I should just write a separate Motorhead blog. I am such a fan of this band. Motorhead's music is hot, dirty, sweaty, delirious heavy rock and perfect for summertime. These are some of the albums I've enjoyed in the past six summers or so; all of them are from the 90's, a particularly rich time for the band in terms of creativity and output. Alot of unfortunate souls don't realize how vital this band continues to be.
Adam Ant ~Antics in the Forbidden Zone
A friend lent me this disc ten years ago in the summer of '96 and it started to dawn on me how uniquely great Adam Ant once was -- yelping and yodeling over thick, African drumbeats with punk/rockabilly guitars and tarted up in some bizarre pirate/American Indian drag, this man had his own thing going on, that's for sure. There's nothing I respect more than that. Granted, the first half of this chronologically-sequenced best-of collection outshines the second half to an embarrassing degree, but the disc is worth having for that early stuff alone. If you're still interested, get Kings of the Wild Frontier, the Ants' best album.
Matthew Sweet~ 100% Fun
Big thanks to Anthony Pops, who correctly assumed I would love this album and mailed me his own personal copy from Texas in the summer of '99. Sweet's flawless powerpop tunes are couched in crunchy postpunk guitars and an effectively dry, in-your-face mix. Contains the timeless "Sick of Myself."
Kegger~ dj mix
Who remembers Mother's Click and Drag party? For those who don't, suffice it to say that Click and Drag was one of the last truly great New York freakfests, held weekly in the meat packing district before people like Julia Roberts and Paul McCartney started dancing on the bar for paparazzi at Hogs and Heiffers...
Anyway, in the summer of '99, Click and Drag had its very last party and the dj in the lounge was playing a great Moloko remix. I asked him where he got it and he hauled off and gave me a cd of his entire set from that night. The disc, only labeled "Kegger DJ Set," became one of my favorite discs of the summer. Highlights include the aforementioned remix of Moloko's "Fun for Me," plus Air's absolutely transcendent "Kelly Watch the Stars," the Spice Girls' infectious "Outer Space Girls" plus bits of Bjork, Spiritualized and a hilarious song by what I can only guess is a duo called Tigre and Bunny called "Cars That Go Boom."
L7~ Hungry for Stink
This record came out in summer of 1994, I believe (and I saw L7 twice on that tour) but I didn't actually get a copy of it until just after I moved to New York a couple of years later. I vaguely recall buying Hungry for Stink from a street vendor outside Central Park, along with The Amps (Kim Deal's so-so post-Breeders project) and short-lived Cali-punk band Wax (remember the Spike Jonze-directed video with the man on fire running down the street in slow motion?). Of those three, the L7 disc is the only one I still own. It is a fun, grungy, life-affirming piece of real rock and roll.
Us & Them~ self-titled cassette
I have a certain affection for this Pennsylvania trio. Summer of '95...
B-52's~ Cosmic Thing
A friend of a friend was moving out of the city in summer of '99 and was giving away a bunch of vinyl, so I went to her apartment in the East Village and grabbed more records than I could reasonably carry. Cosmic Thing was one of them. You already know the classics "Love Shack, "Roam" and "Deadbeat Club." But what about the sunny title track, the wistful "Topaz" or the gorgeously melancholy, all-instrumental outro piece, "Follow Your Bliss"? This is music made by angels.
Massive Attack~ Mezzanine
Massive Attack's third album is a cool, streamlined blast of menacing beats and icy electronica that moves quietly through the water with the slow, patient purpose of a killer shark. By far the most focused thing they'd done to date, Mezzanine is dark and heavy across the board, and features unforgettable guest vocals by the Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Frazier and returning champion Horace Andy. This album came out at the onset of summer '98, five full years after its predecessor, Protection.
Stevie Ray Vaughan~ Couldn't Stand the Weather
Jackson Browne called Stevie Ray's guitar playing "torrential" and that to me is as good an adjective as any. I have alot of SRV stuff but this one strikes me as a summer album. The notes hammer down relentlessly like raindrops battering your windowpanes in a violent summer thunderstorm.
The Damned~ Phantasmagoria
Most Damned fans don't like the stuff they put out in the 80's (Strawberries, Anything and Phantasmagoria) and admittedly those are the weakest records in this most venerable punk institution's catalog but you can't really deny that Phantasmagoria is a pretty damn well-executed foray into pure goth. And it was only a matter of time, wasn't it? -- Dave Vanian's vampire schtick was always headed inevitably toward this. And besides, how can you argue with songs like "Grimly Fiendish," "Shadow of Love" and "Is It a Dream"? They may not have the bite of "Neat Neat Neat" or "I Feel Alright," but The Damned were a different group by this point. Give bands room to grow, I say.
Big Audio Dynamite~ F Punk
This is not their best album but I've got such a soft spot for B.A.D. that I'll listen to anything they've done. And don't get me wrong, this is NOT bad -- "I Turned Out a Punk," "Vitamin C" and "It's a Jungle Out There" are terrific and the rest is 100% enjoyable as well. I guess it just doesn't gleam quite as brightly as Megatop Phoenix , The Globe or their debut. There's not as much sampling on F-Punk as on previous releases and the guitars are way more upfront but Mick & co. still do manage to successfully weave together the unlikely elements of punk, hip hop, jungle and rave music.
Hopefully history will acknowledge how innovative and ahead-of-the-curve this band was. And for those of you who don't know, that's Mick Jones, formerly of The Clash.
The Cure~ Fascination Street ep
Being a massive Cure fan and completist, I've collected not just all the band's albums but as many of the maxi-singles as I've been able to find. The Cure have always had great B-sides (well, up til 1992 or so, anyway) and the Fascination Street cd single contains two of their best: the frenzied, cacophonous "Babble" (which is oddly reminiscent of Faith No More's "From Out of nowhere," which was released right around the same time) and the somewhat psychedelic "Out of Mind," both culled from the legendary Disintegration sessions.
And the "Fascination Street" remixes have always been spectacular as well; this EP features the one that starts out just with a cymbal splash and solo bass. God, that bass sound! I've heard this track cut up so many different ways and it's fucking chilling and unforgettable every time. One of the greatest rock songs ever.
There was a used CD store in PA that I used to frequent, called Young Ones. I bought alot of stuff there in the summer of 1995: B.A.D.'s F-Punk, Prince's Purple Rain, Anthrax's Attack of the Killer B's, Bad Religion's Suffer and this Cure EP come to mind (I think I may have bought all of them in the same trip). I really loved that summer and listened to alot of great music.
PiL~ Public Image Limited
He's obviously an obtuse, arrogant prick, but I love John Lydon. I've read his autobiography several times over and have listened almost obsessively to all of his records with PiL, the good and the bad.
PiL's debut was a splash of ice-cold water in the face of anyone expecting the former Johnny Rotten to put out Sex Pistols Mach II. Indeed, the album's lurching, seasick opener "Theme" quickly puts paid to any notions that ol' Johnny cares about keeping his Pistols fans. Most of the album consists of long, repetitive vamps, anchored by Jah Wobble's tubby dub bass foundations and topped off with Keith Levine's jagged shards of trebly post-punk noise guitar and of course, Lydon's vituperative rants. Only the quasi-title track, "Public Image," bears a traditional song structure and it turns out to be an anthemic punk rock classic without even trying.
New Order~ Republic
I had just discovered this band when they released Republic in 1993. I snatched it up immediately, on the strength of its winning first single "Regret." I have to say, there's something about New Order that doesn't translate after the 80's, in the same way that, say, Steely Dan seems to belong firmly in the 70's. I'm not sure why...
But having said that, I do really enjoy Republic. It is interesting to see New Order trying to absorb and incorporate some of the innovations in dance music (namely, "Madchester" beats, trip hop and rave culture in general) that had sprung to life during the band's four-year hiatus (their last album, 1989's Technique, had come out in 1989). Interesting because the younger acts who were responsible for these new dance sounds were probably influenced by New Order in the first place.
The Glove~ Blue Sunshine
Robert Smith has called this, his one-time collaboration with Banshees bassist Steve Severin, a "summer album." Blue Sunshine is in fact is a lurid carousel of giddy psychedelic pop, morbid instrumentals, and cut-and-paste found sounds, the warped product of an apparently all-nocturnal, hallucinogen-and-slasher-flick-fueled studio residency in the delirious summer months of 1984. The remastered deluxe edition comes out this summer -- I can't wait!!
Faith No More~ Angel Dust and Album of the Year
FNM were one of the most unlikely and popular new acts of 1989; I guess alot of mainstream music consumers were unwittingly lured into Faith No More's demented world by the disarmingly catchy "Epic" and its generally accessible parent album The Real Thing. Then, the band proceeded to completely alienate most of those nice people with their follow-up, the unrepentantly ugly Angel Dust.
Hah!! Boy oh boy, does Mike Patton vent his spleen on this one. Claustrophobic ditties like "Malpractice," "Smaller and Smaller" and the white trash thumbnail sketch "RV" give the ingenious Mr. Patton, employing a truly Mel Blanc-like array of disturbing voices, ample opportunity to cut his opponents into mincemeat. What a wonderfully difficult piece of discordant heavy art rock music this is.
Fast forward two albums. In 1997, the venerable FNM decided to call it quits and delivered Album of the Year as a souvenir of the event, a parting shot to remind everyone -- particularly Korn, Rage Against the Machine, and especially shameless sound-alikes Incubus -- who their daddy is. Album of the Year is a titanic piece of work that proves why Faith No More were so uncategorizeable and an impossible act to follow; they somehow blend full-scale heavy metal thunder (album opener "Collision") with creepy electronic atmospherics ("Stripsearch") twisted carnival camp ("Mouth to Mouth"), blue-eyed soul ("She Loves Me Not") and startling delicacy, on one of the most beautiful and haunting album closers you'll ever hear ("Pristina").
Ok I just went to Half.com and found Angel Dust and Album of the Year for under five bucks each. Don't have these albums yet? Go get 'em! And don't say I haven't been lookin' out for ya.
Have a great summer, everybody and let's be careful out there.
Early Cocktails, Outdoor Showers
It's summertime! It's really, reeeally summertime. I accept it, I welcome it, I embrace it.
When the days get hot and sultry, the music's gotta follow suit...
My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult~ Hit and Run Holiday
Thrill Kill Kult's sex-drugs-and-Satan take on sleazy excess has all the kitsch value of a John Waters flick. I used to cue up "Glamour Is a Rocky Road" during my dj sets whenever I thought the crowd needed a life, I mean, a lift. Also love the blissed-out instrumental outro piece, "The Last Ride Out" and the rest of this disc, for that matter. Most people consider TKK to be an industrial band but I just can't imagine someone like the dour, black-clad Trent Reznor going anywhere near the '50's B-movie beach party vibe of this record with a ten-foot pole. That's why it's so refreshing.
Underworld~ Second Toughest in the Infants
I always used to play this when I got home from the clubs in the summer of 1997, while the sun crawled up out of the East River. To me it's the perfect soundtrack for that particular occasion. It's also a massive slab of stupefyingly masterful techno. Sweltering, delirious dance music. I heart Underworld!
Lemme guess -- you've never heard of this! I love spreading the word about great records nobody knows about. Singer/songwriter Denzil's one and only album, Pub, is filled with completely engaging, lager-drenched ruminations on stale romances, fatherhood, aging and DRINKING — all imbued with a decidedly wry, English sensibility. The sad/funny tales are packed with poignant honesty, squalid working-class details, and a darkly self-effacing sense of humor. Yet another excellent album and artist that were nearly completely overlooked.
I have to credit the late Carol Schutzbank, a lovely and fantastic lady I knew while I was still living in PA, for turning me onto this record and several others on this list. She was a music journalist (and major music fan) who wrote for alot of different Philadelphia-area publications in the 90's, including the now defunct B-Side magazine. To make a few extra bucks, she would occasionally have friends over to her apartment and sell many of the promo CDs and cassettes that would accumulate there, for $2 or $3 apiece. I only went to Carol's place once (with my friend Frank Phobia), in the early summer of 1994; but I walked away with quite a few wonderful musical discoveries and cheap deals, to boot. She died way, way too young in 1995.
Pantera~ Far Beyond Driven
Carol sold this one to me, as well. The riffs and playing on this record are ridiculously over the top. Not as essential as Vulgar Display of Power (which is, ahem, one of the BADDEST heavy metal albums ever!) but scorching stuff anyway, just hissing and burbling with Dimebag Darrell's liquid, molten guitar riffing.
Southern Culture on the Skids~ Ditch Diggin'
Hah! I remember Carol telling me I had to check this band out, so I dutifully bought the cassette from her for two dollars. If you don't know anything about SCOTS, maybe the songtitles will give you a sense of what they're about: "Too Much Pork (For Just One Fork)," "Mudbuggy," "Put Your Teeth (Up On The Windowsill)," "Chicken Shit Farmer"...yep, gloriously tongue-in-cheek, white-trash rockity roll. Recommended for woozy, pitch-black nights on the back porch.
Sonic Youth~ Dirty and Experimental, Jet Set, Trash and No Star
I'm not exactly a huge Sonic Youth fan but I've always LOVED the Dirty album. I know Daydream Nation is the one all the critics drool over but I'd rather listen to the smoldering, beautiful Dirty any day. Its follow-up, the windily-titled Experimental, Jet Set, Trash and No Star, doesn't get talked about much as far as I know but I think it's got a certain haunting beauty. Plus, it's the cassette I bought from Carol so I'll hang onto it.
Madonna~ Immaculate Collection
This here's a desert island disc, yes indeedy. I bought this in the brutal summer of '97 as part of one of those mail-order CD club deals (along with, if I correctly recall, Sublime, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar, among others). "La Isla Bonita" is medicinal, like a magarita.
Shudder To Think~ Get Your Goat
I thought (and still think) that Shudder's major label debut, Pony Express Record, is a bloody flat-out masterpiece, so I've bought some of the other records in the band's catalog. Sadly, nothing's quite like Pony. But that doesn't mean the other records aren't good. All the ones I've heard are very good, in fact; they're all just really different from each other.
Get Your Goat, Shudder's last record for Ian McKaye's Dischord label, is a snapshot of the band's quirky early years; the inscrutable lyrics and obtuse, arty rhythms that characterize Pony are here, but they're wrapped in much more subdued sonics, almost completely lacking the metallic bombast that would grace Shudder's later recordings. And, heck, I can listen to Craig Wedren sing the phone book.
Underrated band and album. This band stood out as the real deal among all the annoying ska/crossover bands of the mid-to-late 90's. Great songs delivered with inspired, raw performances; there's a certain squalid, steamy quality to this album. The singer/guitarist died right around the time this record was released. What a shame.
The Waterboys~ Dream Harder
I bought this at a used CD joint in 1994, driven by a vague recollection of a Waterboys song called "The Whole of the Moon" that had made an impression on me at some earlier point in time. This record didn't have "Whole of the Moon" on it, and, as I would find out later, it didn't even have the original Waterboys on it (I believe some of them went off to form World Party?). But despite all that I really like Dream Harder -- many of the tunes, like "The New Life" and "Glastonbury Song" are stridently uplifting; plus, I guess I'm just nostalgic for summer of 1994.
Bad Brains~ ROIR cassette
Inhuman, messianic punk rock that is hot, hot, blazing HOT with life-affirming anger, hope and PMA. That's Positive Mental Attitude. A good thing to hang on to.
AC/DC~ Let There Be Rock and Highway to Hell
Let There Be Rock is just so grimy and noisy, loud, sweaty and filthy. AC/DC were basically punks, weren't they? What an exhilarating record. The band practically jump through the speakers at you.
Highway to Hell was the last 'DC record with Bon Scott and it was probably their best. When I was 13 and I had just discovered rock and roll, I bought a very used cassette of Highway to Hell from a dodgy older kid in my neighborhood -- he was one of those sketchy burn-out types who had a bad adolescent pseudo-moustache and probably sold drugs. Hah, I wonder where he is now? I can't even remember his name, but it may have been Bob. Anyway he sold me a cassette of Highway to Hell and it ruled my summer. I lost the cassette somewhere along the way but I'm happy to say that the cd remaster sounds much better anyway. All hail AC/DC and god bless Bon Scott!
Various Artists~ Saturday Night Fever Original Soundtrack
I bought this in the wicked, unforgiving, hell-hot, rotten garbage-reeking New York Summer of '97 and luxuriated in the cooling genius of the Bee Gees. Yvonne Elliman's "If I Can't Have You" is as achingly beautiful as pop music gets.
Quicksand~ Slip and Manic Compression
Quicksand's first album RULES! There are so damn many hair-raising moments on Slip, the band must have run out of them. I bought the follow-up, Manic Compression, on vinyl when it came out in summer of 1995 and to my ears it just didn't have the same magic. It sounds great and the style is basically the same, but I don't know, it doesn't move me nearly as much. Still enjoyable to put on once in a blue moon, though. Nostalgia, etc.
Japan~ mix cd
I used to know this girl Nia who made me a great Japan compilation in summer of '02. What a great, ahead-of-their time band they were. Duran Duran stole their sound and visuals, lock stock and barrel, from Japan. Believe it.
Jesus and Mary Chain~ Munki
JAMC delivered their last album with little fanfare in 1998 and everyone said "well, it's no Psychocandy..." but the truth is Munki is a really solid Mary Chain record. It's got a little of everything the band had done up til that point: the vitriol, the noise, the subdued acoustic-based numbers, the druggy psychedelic bits, the baggy beats, even a Hope Sandoval cameo. It is in fact a perfect career summation. I heartily recommend Munki, even as an introduction to the band. Who wants another Psychocandy, anyway? One is enough.
Daft Punk~ Homework
This album changed my life and to this day there is nothing else that makes me feel the same way. It breaks my heart that Daft Punk haven't made another album of this quality.
Stevie Wonder~ Songs in the Key of Life
I think this was another BMG cd club selection from the summer of '97. I remember being obsessed with "Sir Duke" that summer and learning the whole instrumental section on the guitar. I'll bet a million musicians have done that. It's just so much fun to play. Stevie Wonder is a deity.
Here's another one to file in the "betcha never heard a' this one before" drawer. What a cool little record this is. In 1997 I was playing guitar for a singer/songwriter from Montreal and our drummer was a great guy -- great drummer, too -- named Gonzalo Martinez (where are you, Gonzo?! I hope you're still playing your ass off!). Anyhoo, Gonzo was in this other band called Lincoln, whose record was put out by London Records that summer.
I bought a copy of Lincoln to support Gonzalo, but I wound up loving the album anyway. How to describe it? I suppose you could say it's got a bit of a They Might Be Giants influence; it's brainy, a little geeky and very eclectic -- there's a alt-pop, a dash of country-rock and a splash of synth-pop -- but not at all derivative of any genre. The lyrics are exceptionally quirky, sometimes very personal, sometimes ludicrously light. Lead vocalist/songwriter/bandleader Christopher Temple has a voice oddly reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant, of all people.
I saw Lincoln play at Brownies later that year and they were really good. Guitar player was top-shelf. Unfortunately, they broke up in '98.
Morphine~ Like Swimming
My good friend Marty from back home in PA used to send me care packages back in my early days in New York and one of them included a copy of Morphine's Like Swimming (Megadeth's Cryptic Writings was on the other side!). Lots of great tunes on this record: "Early to Bed," "French Fries With Pepper," "Wishing Well." What a cool, one-of-a-kind band Morphine were. Hot, slow, whiskey drinking music. Rest in peace, Mark Sandman.
Fleetwood Mac~ Rumours
Bought this on vinyl in summer '97 somewhere on MacDougal Street. I figured I oughta have it. I'm sorry, kids, but you can't mess with this. Rumours is a masterpiece.
Cracker~ Kerosene Hat
Wow, here's one I haven't heard in aeons. I think I got rid of the cd shortly after moving to NYC but thinking about it now makes me wanna go buy it again. This record was ubiquitous in 1994, remember? "Low" and "Get Off This" were all over MTV, or at least 120 Minutes. Other favorites include "Sweet Potato" and "Let's Go for a Ride." Not quite as rednecky as Southern Culture on the Skids, but close enough.
Alien Sex Fiend~ Here Cum Germs
Bizarro, cartoonish electro goth. Adorable! I bought this on vinyl somewhere on St. Mark's Place years ago. This charmingly simplistic and amateurish piece of LSD-addled, basement-dwelling death-rock goofiness has its moments but most of the ideas are pretty unfocused and undeveloped; the "songs" usually consist of primitive drum loops, samples, some stray guitars, found-sound atmospherics, and Nik Fiend's silly rants and chants. Still, it's good antisocial music to annoy your parents and neighbors with.
Primal Scream~ Screamedelica
I have no idea what the rave scene was like in early-90's-era Manchester, England, but Screamedelica seems to be as accurate a souvenir of that time and place as anything, by most accounts. I enjoy this album when the time's right but in my opinion, XTRMNTR pisses all over it. Then again, that's like comparing apples and bananas, isn't it? Primal Scream, what a great band.
Prince~ Around the World in a Day
What a happy, summery piece of virtuoso pop genius this is. Prince, another deity. I bought this in summer of '99. "Around the World in a Day," "Raspberry Beret," "Tamborine" and, one of my most favoritest songs ever, "Pop Life," are untouchable!! Part of the soundtrack to my first summer in Williamsburg.
The Cars~ Panorama
It's easy to forget how arty and weird The Cars were. Alot of casual listeners probably consider them a light new wave band but their bread and butter was brainy, post-Roxy Music art-pop with bizarre, impressionistic lyrics. Panorama is perhaps their oddest album. I love the lesser-celebrated albums in a band's catalog. "Touch and Go," "Gimme Some Slack," "You Wear Those Eyes" -- such curious, idiosyncratic pop music! And to think, The Cars were one of the top sellers of their time.
DJ Shadow~ Endtroducing...
I taped a copy of Keeta's copy of this while I was sleeping on his floor for six weeks in the summer of 1998. Beautiful, unsettling, sometimes terrifying cut-and-paste sonic mosaics by the brilliant DJ Shadow, who worked on Kool Keith's twisted magnum opus Doctor Octagon, Octogonocologist.
I know, it's hard to believe Moby was once cool but he was. Play is a tremendous album that was ruined by its author's decision to whore all of its songs out to television commercials. Not just a great album, but a really great summer album. This, along with the Chemical Brothers' awesome Surrender, Eminem's first album and the Lo-Fi Allstars, kept me safe and dry above the waters of depression in the long, hot summer of 1999. Too bad all those songs are spoiled now; I can't even listen to Play anymore.
Queen~ Sheer Heart Attack
Sheer Heart Attack was Queen's third album and the second one they made in the year 1974. Considering the scale of Queen's productions, that's pretty unbelievably amazing and it makes you wonder how today's bands have the nerve to keep their fans waiting four years only to come out at the end with some tepid piece of product.
Getting off the subject here. Sheer Heart Attack is often called Queen's heaviest album, and that's probably correct. Its first song, "Brighton Rock," features a blistering, unaccompanied guitar solo in its midsection that has probably sent many a guitar player running to the woodshed. Scary. It's also got the lacerating "Flick of the Wrist" and the storming "Stone Cold Crazy," which Metallica would cover a decade and a half later. Heavy indeed.
But it also features a sublime slice of ornate pop music perfection called "Killer Queen," two painfully gorgeous piano ballads, "Lily of the Valley" and "Dear Friends," a breathlessly spot-on ragtime romp, "Bring Back that Leroy Brown," and the Caribbean-tinged gem "Misfire." Queen could do ANYTHING.
One Dove~ Morning Dove White
Looking back, One Dove's sole album, released in 1993, could be viewed as a major influence on trip hop; all the ingredients are there: a soulful chanteuse (Dot Allison), moody dub soundscapes fused with dance and funk beats, a production job courtesy of Andrew Weatherall (who lent his skills to the aforementioned Screamedelica).
Sadly, most people never heard about this record and it remains a buried and forgotten treasure. Go find a copy and enjoy. Perfect for stifling, torrid nights.
One of the best heavy rock acts of the 1990's, along with Helmet, White Zombie and Pantera. This record is positively vicious; it sizzles like macadam in mid-August.
I've got alot of Pills stuff, thanks to Sheena, who pipelined me a ton of great, free music while working at TVT records. Pills are a relatively little-known (stateside, anyway) French dance act, masterminded by one Anthony Sandor, who has successfully exploited the common thread that connects punk rock, dub-reggae, and techno. Decidedly more raw and noisy than the pristine funk of fellow Frenchmen like Daft Punk and Cassius, who update the feel-good vibes of disco, Pills' gritty old-school house beats (complete with vintage synthetic handclaps and sirens) and crunchy analogue synth riffs are a logical extension of punk.
Various Artists~ Run Lola Run Original Soundtrack
Appropriately, the music from Run Lola Run is frenetic, fast-paced techno — which serves as the driving force behind the film's adrenalized action sequences. About half the pieces were composed by the director himself (Tom Tykwer). Pills contribute a track as well. I haven't listened to this in ages, but it was in heavy rotation during the summer of '99, when I was busy assembling P*S*K.
Wu Tang Clan~ Enter the Wu-Tang
I love hip hop that sounds like it's right from the street. I hate the overblown, glossy productions all fluffed up with r&b harmonies. Bleeach. Give me this foul, ugly, lo-fi shit any day! What a scary, funny, messed-up album this is, straight from the fetid waste dumps of Staten Island.
One of my favorite bands you've never heard of. I saw Eleven open for Soundgarden in summer of '94 and was floored. I quickly got my hands on a copy of their then-current, self-titled second album and fell in love. The guitars were loud and fuzzy, but the musical sophistication of this band -- not only compositional prowess but sheer chops —- stood well above the fray in the slacker 90's.
Led by the husband/wife duo of Alain Johannes (guitars and lead vocals) and Natasha Shneider (keyboards and lead vocals), Eleven's primary calling card is a pair of extraordinary voices, both of which are capable of growling, raw intensity and soulful understatement.
If Johanssens's formidable and totally distinctive six-string skills — which employ a supersaturated, slippery legato and rich chord voicings — are impressive, his wife's instrumental duties — which include not only providing the lush textural and chordal keyboard parts with her right hand, but also all of the basslines with her left, may be even more amazing. Meanwhile, no-nonsense skinsman (and former Red Hot Chili Pepper) Jack Irons lays his grooves right in the pocket, adding a foursquare rock swagger to the proceedings.
This album rocks hard, stadium-style, but is intercut with enough dynamic and tonal variety to make it a riveting start-to-finish listen. Eleven's music is also injected with loads of tasty exotic influences that make for endless unpredictable melodic twists and turns. I can't say enough about this album or this band. I've got all their records but this one's still my fave.
About ten years ago (almost exactly, in fact), just after I moved to NYC, I was walking in the West Village with my friend Jen Murphy and we ran into Johannes and Natasha in the street. They were so cool! They stopped to chat for awhile and I told them what a big fan I was of the band. They were in town with Soundgarden, who were taping a Saturday Night Live performance that night. Incidentally, Johannes and Natasha are also the duo responsible for producing and playing most of the instruments on Chris Cornell's solo album, and they were in the touring version of Queens of the Stone Age last year. Such talented people.
Other Eleven records I recommend: Avantgardedog and last year's Howling Book.
(Too many albums to talk about! To be continued...)
Friday, June 09, 2006
Absolutely hilarious cartoon rap on The Father Of Our Country. Click on the headline.