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andee's world: July 2007

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.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Revisiting Two Summer Classics

King's X Dogman (1994) and Ear Candy (1996)

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." And you know how it is -- if a piece of misinformation gets repeated enough times, people will start to accept it as fact (just ask Karl Rove!). 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 dUg!), 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 contributing 1/3 of those gorgeous vocal harmonies.

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. Their first four albums, all produced by then-manager Sam Taylor, are stone cold classics, brimming with seemingly limitless potential. So why wasn't the mainstream catching on?

By the mid-90s, bands that been profoundly influenced by King's X (most notably Alice In Chains) were reaping fortunes on the groundwork the Texas trio had laid. It's hard to imagine that decade without all the detuned guitars (perhaps the most transparent King's X ripoff was Collective Soul's soulless "Shine"). But King's X themselves were still an obscurity.

Sam Taylor, as it turns out, had been stealing from the band for years, and they acrimoniously split in 1993. The album they released the following year, Dogman, hints at the bitterness and growing frustration in the still-struggling band. And I gotta say, the music does not suffer for it.

Produced by Brenden O'Brien (the
alt-rock prducer of the 90s and an avowed King's X freak) Dogman positively rages with angst, frustration, and some serious soul-searching, as Doug Pinnick delivers some of the most hair-raisingly heartfelt vocal performances of his career.

The music is unbelievably heavy, sometimes bordering on ugly. The band had been cheated and mistreated, and no one could have deserved it less. Listen to "Flies and Blue Skies," "Black the Sky" and "Fool You" for evidence of where their heads were at ("walk in the big parade, learn just what to say; they will all try to fool you; don't believe anything, I'm your everything; they will all try to fool you...").

King's X delivered an absolutely electrifying and emotionally charged set at Woodstock '94 that summer -- everyone who witnessed the event insists the band stole the night -- but MTV never aired their performance. I've seen video tape of the show and it turned my guts to water.

Dogman's follow-up, 1996's Ear Candy, sounds almost like an exhale by comparison. The band seem resigned to their fate, but the music is as sharp as ever. There are some achingly beautiful songs on this album. Pinnick's "lost my faith" confessional "Looking for Love" is one of the most brutally honest things he's ever written. Meanwhile, "Picture"'s ode to forgiveness and reconciliation is surprisingly moving.

Ty gets some gems the mix: "Mississippi Moon" is nothing less than guitar pop perfection and "Life Going By" has all the delicacy and yearning, plangent beauty that makes King's X so much more than a mere hard rock band.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Toot Tone

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On the Bush Legacy and Political Blogging

Click the headline for a great Q&A with political blogger Glenn Greenwald.

Revisiting a Recent Classic...

Nellie McKay; Get Away From Me

Oh, people, people! Have you heard this album yet?? I can't believe it's three years old already but it is and I don't think it's too early to call Get Away From Me a true classic.

It's a crying shame that most people still don't know who Nellie McKay is. Get Away From Me, her first album, is nothing short of a tour de force, an absolutely blinding display of unique talent, spread out over two discs, that never gets self-indulgent, never loses your attention even for a minute and never ceases to amaze. Nellie grabs you by your cheesy, oversized lapels with the opening blast, "David," and doesn't let go until she's whispered the closing lullaby, "Really," into your ear and says goodnight, you bastard.

Ok, so what does she sound like? Well, like many great artists, it's hard to say. These days it's easy to describe a lot of bands ("they sound exactly like Joy Division" is one that gets a lot of mileage). But this NYC-based enfant terrible (she was apparently only 21 when she made this terrifying piece of work!!) has so many disparate influences -- Tin Pan Alley, Eminem, 1970's AM radio pop, Doris Day -- that the result is bound to either be a big hot mess or sheer brilliance.

(In this case it's sheer brilliance).

The songs are stylistically all over the place, but they all hang together, thanks to the glue of Nellie's iron-clad sense of melody and arrangement, plus her DEVASTATING sarcastic wit. Nellie is a terror on her own, just one gal and a piano, but on this album many of the songs are highly orchestrated. On hip hop-based numbers like "Sari," she'll unleash a string of rapid-fire verbiage that will make you gasp for air.

Meanwhile, tunes like the dripping-with-sarcasm ode to domesticity, "I Wanna Get Married" sound like they could have been sung by Ella Fitzgerald, and believe me when I say that Nellie's voice is honeyed enough to justify that comparison.

Lyrically, she rails against complacency, Bush, animal cruelty, misogynists, the American Idol generation and all kinds of other sitting ducks. A lot of her targets are fish in a barrel, but her wit is so delicious that you can't help but smile as she decimates her opponents.

Nowadays, the record industry, in its death throes, is churning out product that gets more and more vapid, bland and forgettable every year. Artists like McKay, at least in the mainstream world, are an anomale -- and a total revelation.

Don't miss an opportunity to hear a truly brilliant young artist --
Listen to Nellie McKay!


Monday, July 09, 2007

Why New York Is Awesome, pt 3

The PS1 parties.

For those of you who don't know, the PS1 parties are weekly, summertime-only throwdowns at the (I think) MOMA-owned PS1 school in Queens. These open-air Saturday afternoon events attract a kaleidoscopic throng of New Yorkers dancing to incredible DJs and other live performers, standing in the sand, hanging out in hammocks, getting a buzz in the sunshine or strolling about inside the school itself, checking out art exhibits. It is truly one of the coolest things you can do in NY in the summer.

I went this past Saturday with a couple friends and man -- just too, too much fun. There were some live performers from the Touch of Class label (one of which was mesmerizingly awesome, the other not really awesome in any way but hey, it made for a nice long beer break) and several hundred colorful humans in a collectively great mood. Around dusk, the final DJ went on and by then everyone was on the giant courtyard dancefloor, dancing and singing and smiling uncontrollably.

I know what some of you are saying: "but andee, I'm not really into dancing." Thing is, it doesn't really matter. I can't imagine anyone who's not a total misanthropic sociopath being there and not getting swept up in the feeling. The DJ's set was most definitely "dance" music (everything from the new ChemBros to that "la-da-dee-la-da-dah" song from the early nineties) but there was absolutely no scenesterism or indie snobbery.

Indeed, what could be less "cool" than the Police's "Roxanne"? But this DJ played it at the end of his set, and the crowd went absolutely berserk, sang every word. He then capped off the set with "London Calling," an undeniably powerful song in any context. It was uproarious.

In darkened nightclubs there are a lot of facades being held up, a lot of smoke and mirrors. People can be cagey and self-conscious (and let's face it, deceptive) in that environment. But that kind of stuff is nonexistent at a party like PS1, which takes place in full daylight. Everyone's guard is down and there is a total lack of pretentiousness, nobody standing around with that arms-crossed, "impress me" vibe. There were ravers, breakdancers, indie kids, hippies, middle-agers who will never grow up. And hotties galore. What's not to love?

Go check out a PS1 party this summer. It's only $10, a pretty low ticket price for one of the most unique experiences you'll have.

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