Friday, November 6, 2009


China vs. Canada

Here's an interesting post from the fine folks at the ARChive of Contemporary Music: "Alternative China in New York," about a current festival of "underground" music from China being performed here in NYC. I seriously want to check out these bands, and there are several opportunities to do so. As for tonight, I'm torn:
These Are Powers, Soft Circle, Carsick Cars, P.K.14, Xiao He  @  Glasslands – Brooklyn, NYC
Hidden Cameras w/ Gentleman Reg @ Brooklyn Union Hall 10PM – Brooklyn, NYC

The whole schedule for the Maybe Mars tour of Chinese artists is here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Catchy? Heck, yeah!

And if you haven't had quite enough of Bastardo, click here to see "The Making Of…"

Friday, September 18, 2009

Chuck, Chuck, Bo Buck…

There's nothing new under the sun. Especially when it comes to clichés, old saws, maxims, aphorisms and truisms. Or maybe even more especially when it comes to band names. Can we stop with the wolves/bears/panthers and the crystals, please? Hey, you, over there planning to name your band something clever, just consider the fact that you may confuse someone into buying a record by a band named exactly like yours only a hair's breadth different; different enough to earn you a place on my list. What exactly is this list? I sometimes imagine these pairings as bills for fantasy concerts where I finally see the bands and am therefore never again confused. Or maybe just a very entertaining walk through a record store. Or, more probably, it is likely that these things have stuck in my head and now I can throw you the hot potato. Feel free to add your own in the comments. And, finally, here it is, the list of shame:

Crystal Skulls / Crystal Stilts / Crystal Antlers / Crystal Method /
   Crystal Castles / The Crystals
Xiu Xiu / Xu Xu Fang / Red Fang / Fin Fang Foom
Locksley / Loxley
Wooden Shjips / Wooden Wand / Wooden Stars
Young Widows / Young Galaxy / Young Knives / Young Gods /
   Young Marble Giants
Youth Group / Youth Movies / Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson /
  Sonic Youth
Windy & Carl / Cyann & Ben / Meg & Dia / Matt & Kim /
   Tuck & Patti / Willie & Lobo
Willy Mason / Mason Jennings / Mason Proper / Mason Williams
The Owls / Wow Owls / Owl Service / Low Flying Owls
Wye Oak / Rye Coalition / 18th Dye
Dopo Yume / Yume Bitsu
Wolf Eyes / Wolf Parade / Wolf & Cub / Seawolf / Seabear
Willard Grant Conspiracy / Joel Plaskett Emergency /
   Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Wild Beasts / Wild Light / Wild Colonials / Wilderness
Volcano the Bear / Volcano I'm Still Excited!
Ut / Ui
The Books / Books On Tape / Book of Knots / Book of Kills
The Killers / Kills / Thrills / Stills / Chills
Black Dice / Black Angels / Black Eyes / Black Grape / Black Kids /
   Black Keys / Black Wire / Black Lips / Black Heart Procession /
   Black Box Recorder / Black Rebel Motorcycle Club /
   Black Moth Super Rainbow / Black Ox Orchester / Black Tie Dynasty /
   Black to Comm / Blackstone Valley Singers / Big Black /
   Crippled Black Phoenix / Phoenix
Cliks / Click Five / Count Five / Ben Folds Five
The Field / Fields / Field Music / Magnetic Fields / The Nields
Sage Francis / Page France
Headlights / Razorlight / Softlightes
Gregory & The Hawk / A Hawk and A Handsaw
Say Hi / Say Anything
Telephathe /  Telepathique / Telepopmusik / Television /
  Television Personalities / Alternative Television / TV on the Radio
Prefab Sprout / Tobin Sprout / Amon Tobin / Amon Düül
Pele / Pela
Barr / Bauer / Baumer
Bradley Strider / Tinchy Stryder / McCarthy Trenching
They Might Be Giants / Under Influence of Giants / Standing on Shoulders
   of Giants / Giant Sand / Giant Drag
Le Tigre / Tiger Lillys / Tiger City / Tgr Lou
Deer & The Headlights / Dear Hunter / The Dears
Band of Horses / HORSE the Band
I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness /
   Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin /
   Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her

I promise more later, but that's a good start.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Like a drunk in a midnight choir

Brilliant, elegant idea.

The composer/poster, Jarbas Agnelli, says it best himself:

"Reading a newspaper, I saw a picture of birds on the electric wires. I cut out the photo and decided to make a song, using the exact location of the birds as notes (no Photoshop edit). I knew it wasn't the most original idea in the universe. I was just curious to hear what melody the birds were creating.

I sent the music to the photographer, Paulo Pinto, who I Googled on the internet. He told his editor, who told a reporter and the story ended up as an interview in the very same newspaper.

Here I've posted a short video made with the photo, the music and the score (composed by the birds)."

I'm glad he took the trouble.

Sound archive(s), free, online, go now

"Explore 44,500 selected recording of music, spoken word, and human and natural environments."

The British Library has opened its very impressive archive of recorded sounds to the public. Who knows what's out there?

Here's a clip of an "aboriginal song on wax cylinder 1898." (courtesy of the Guardian)

Speaking of archives, Ubuweb has an amazing one. Theirs is focused on art, and it's just about that specific; you can find almost anything relating to any art medium that's ever been recorded or documented via this incredible site.

Case in point: I tried to collect the Tellus cassette-only music magazine when it was being published, but I only managed to snag a few (I miss See Hear.) Ubuweb has links to all 26 of these historic collections of avant-garde work, all downloadable, legit and cost-free:
Tellus #10: The All-Guitars issue (1985): Glenn Branca - Acoustic Phenomena (mp3)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Michael RIP

Here's a great, and lengthy, story about digging up Michael Jackson's first recorded track:
Link via the excellent Numero Group record label's blog.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Gaining perspective; Canine disgrace

Here's a new project on Kickstarter that I'm excited about:

I just love the Kickstarter system: you pledge support, the amount of which will only be charged if the proposed goal amount is reached by the deadline date. Therefore, if not enough people pledge, you aren't charged, and the project does not go. The Jay Bennett project I posted about earlier met exactly that fate, lack of pledgers, and did not come to fruition. But so far, that has not happened to many of the Kickstarter projects, certainly none of the others I have gotten behind.

This is the first one for me that is not a music-based project. I think these guys are twins. That's not why I pledged. This pop-up design/drawing innovation is fascinating. I would love to be able to do the maximum pledge and have them come and give a lecture; perhaps they will show up here in NY anyway. I've become more interested in perspective drawing lately; I studied mechanical drawing in high school and have never really explored beyond that. Did I mention that I collect ViewMaster reels? And pop-ups are cool. My sister collects pop-up books. I guess the collecting thing runs in my family, although she denies that she's been bitten by the bug.

I'm sorry; I cannot help myself. I must post this photo:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Guy Davis Meets Bob Dylan at the Crossroads

A Sufficiently Peculiar Review

Sweetheart Like You, Guy Davis
Red House Records, 2009

By Miles Kowitt

Although Guy Davis was raised in New York City, his soul has always belonged to the Mississippi delta with the bluesmen who awoke his muse and fired his storybook imagination with their songs and stories of suffering, survival and redemption. Sweetheart Like You, his tenth recording for independent blues label, Red House Records, takes its name from a song off of Dylan's 1983 Infidels album, which Davis covers with astonishingly deft and soulful clarity. Davis, an actor, writer, storyteller and teacher as well as gifted musician, plays 6 & 12 string acoustic guitars with an old school finger-pickin’ style in the tradition of his legendary forefathers: Son House, Leadbelly, Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt, as well as 5-string banjo, mandolin and emotive blues harmonica. Sweetheart Like You, his latest album of classic blues and folk renditions interspersed with flavorful originals, is the sonic calling card of a true 21st century bluesman. Spread over 14 tunes, Davis whoops, hollers, plucks, picks and moans his way all the way up through the Mississippi delta, to the smoky night clubs of mid-1950’s Chicago, and into the projects of modern-day urban America. Among the country blues classics, Davis takes us to a southern work camp via Son House’s prison lament, “Down South Blues” and offers up a sprightly rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied” picked on a 5-string banjo. Turning in heart-felt originals such as “Words to My Mama’s Song,” with its modern hip-hop recording techniques like looped vocal percussion and the gospel-infused “Angels are Calling,” Davis proves to be an artist who is just as comfortable embracing the past as he is exploring the present. It is a stroke of good luck indeed for fans of traditional American music to have musicians like Guy Davis around who remind us that the blues are very much alive and available for the next generation to treasure and enjoy.

To purchase this album and other fine albums by Guy Davis, check out or visit Guy’s own website at:

While attending the First Annual Vermont Blues Festival this month, I was blessed to witness a feverish performance by Guy Davis along with Mavis Staples, Shemekia Copeland and other masters of the genre.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Superlatives / Laxatives

I was recently polled with the forever-ridiculous queries: What is your favorite album, band and song? Gimme a break. Get a life. It's all good.
I actually answered; I surprised myself, frankly.

Album: Conference of the Birds (title track) - Dave Holland Quartet
Band: The Hidden Cameras
("Ban Marriage" from The Smell of Our Own)
[windows media, courtesy of Hidden Cameras]
Song: "Fourteenth of February" - Billy Bragg
from William Bloke; I first heard it on the soundtrack to Walking and Talking

Of course, ask me again in five minutes and I'll give you different answers. Or infinite answers. Or a blank stare.
Favorite color: Orange
Or green & yellow.
Never mind.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Another feeble attempt to cobble meaning out of nothing

A friend recently shared that he is particularly devoted to one record label; in this case the LOAF label which, I think, features lots of up-to-date electronica artists (thanks, Gareth.) I've been meaning to put together a list of relevant labels because, it turns out, this is often the deciding bit of information for me when purchasing music. I read plenty of press but that cannot entirely guide me when I really need it. Of course, there are plenty of instances in which I've bought things either on a whim, with just about zero info to go on, or when I've gone directly against this wisdom by buying from lackluster labels or when I've ignored obvious positive signals, with better or worse results to show for it. In any case, this will be a long list, and I will add to it in time, I hope. I'll skip the majors, but then I'll break that rule. Likewise with defunct labels, vanity labels, etc. Feel free to give feedback—it's all about shared knowledge.

I'd also like to mention that I've been treated exceptionally well by one label on the list: Revenant Records. They publish old-timey music, with the strengths of extremely carefully chosen material and award-winning package design. I'd buy every one of their records & box sets, if I could.

It should also be noted that two labels have taken advantage of the lovely Kickstarter site to clear their warehouses and give us great deals on older releases:
Emergency Umbrella
Go get 'em now!

An even more ludicrous idea: a collation of band names. Coming soon.

Here's a link to my useless list.

Does my list of record labels seem long and redundant? Well, it is.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kickstarter / Jay Bennett / VU / Nick Drake

I've never been the biggest fan of Wilco. Or Son Volt or whatever else there is in that particular pile to get obsessed with. I did hear about Jay Bennet passing recently; so my ears perked up when I saw a listing on my fave site——for his latest record. Wait, there's more. I know that you, like me, will want to buy the album, titled not-so-subtly, "Whatever Happened I Apologize" on vinyl, but if you're not certain, you can download the Whole Thing for free. Also, you can stream a couple of songs for a quick taste. It seems he might have written a song about me; OK, it's probably about Hank Williams (or maybe Hank Snow.) I have to say that, so far, I like what I've heard.

Just click here to download the album.
And here for the Kickstarter page.

Miles, our intrepid columnist and critic, is encouraging me to get on the stick and write. So, I'll do my best.
I've been cataloging my records—by that I mean all my records; CDs, 7"ers, 10"ers, 12"ers, cassettes, DVDs, VHSes and music books (oh, yes, and viewmaster slides, too.) I'm putting them all in Excel—probably not the best idea, but that's all I've got. I'm mostly finished, about a quarter of the way through the 12" vinyl. Miles suggests I post them here, but I dunno. If you've got an opinion about that, let me know. The primary purpose of the project is to try to avoid repetition—firstly with downloading, but, now, mostly with purchases. But I have to say that I've latched on to the activity, which feels very familiar to the son of a librarian, as a relaxing hobby in itself. Then again, maybe it is contributing to my increased sense of obsessiveness about all this accumulation.

Truth is, I've completely stopped downloading music, save for the stuff at, which is entirely unique and totally legit. The downloading became just too much; there's so much out there and only so much time to listen. The net result, however, of all of that hoarding, is that I've been buying waaaay more CDs than I ever did before, albethey 99% used copies. I certainly never felt that downloading is a completely estimable way of finding new music, but I'm not entirely convinced that it is simply detrimental to artists, either. I don't suppose the musicians themselves get any cash from my used record purchases. And I'm also buying a lot more tickets to live music shows. And, and and while I'm at those shows I always buy as much music as I can afford to—directly from the artists—by far the most fulfilling for both of our interests. Suffice it to say that my online activity has reignited a lifetime interest and, well, now you're hearing about it.

This weekend I read The Rough Guide to Velvet Underground by Peter Hogan and Nick Drake's Pink Moon by Amanda Petrusich (a 33 1/3 book.) I enjoyed them both. I recently read an article by Amanda in this month's Wire magazine; very well written. Interestingly, there is a certain amount of crossover in these books. John Cale, of the VU, while working with famed producer Joe Boyd (Miles promises to lend me his book, White Bicycles) producing and arranging one of Nico's albums, let it be known that he wanted to work with Nick Drake on his second album, Btyter Layter. It has been suggested that Cale introduced Drake to heroin. But probably not, thank goodness. Drake had plenty of troubles of his own. At least John didn't introduce him to Nico; it seems that not only did she sleep with absolutely everyone, but she managed to turn many of them on to smack, including her son, Ari (not that I'm suggesting she had the sex with him.) She was clearly a piece of work. Hey, did I ever tell you that I'm within 6 degrees of separation of Marianne Faithful? 'Nuff said. Whatever happened, I apologize.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Sufficiently Peculiar Review #4

Sonic Youth @ United Palace Theater, NYC
Friday, July 3rd, 2009

By Miles Kowitt

It is an uncommon practice in the often-transparent world of popular music for an artist to develop a singular style and stick to their guns no matter what the mainstream world may dictate. Sonic Youth have been doing this for nearly three decades now and have lost none of their passion in searching for that elusive “sound” that only they seem to hear. That “sound” grew out of the No Wave scene in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the late 70's into the dawn of the 1980's. As disciples of guitar provocateur Glenn Branca, SY signed to his Neutral Records label in 1982 and committed their first dissonant chiming guitar forays and disembodied murmurs to vinyl. Since that first self-titled E.P., the band has experienced an evolution like no other in Rock and Roll. I suppose if you threw the Jefferson Airplane with the original Velvet Underground into a large pot, simmered, adding in some Sun Ra, Throbbing Gristle and a dash of the Ramones, you might come close to an accurate description, but SY have many more dimensions to them than a casual fan might realize.

SY have been one of the few bands in this age to sign with a major label, Geffen Records, and still maintain their Indie cred, continuing to release bold and brash albums well into their third decade together. They have played everything from the dingiest shit-holes all the way up to huge festivals and even Madison Square Garden, opening for Neil Young in the early 90’s. They have ventured into countless side projects: Ciccone Youth and the SYR avant-garde series, not to mention solo releases and interesting and unusual collaborations. They have embraced musical forms as diverse as cheese-ball Hair-Metal, Hip-Hop, Psychedelia, Free Jazz, World Music, and even neo-classical arrangements, all with their unique brand of rebellious humor and youthful experimentation. And, most unusual for a successful rock band, they have given back to the community that supported them, providing a leg-up to bands like Dinosaur jr. and more famously, Nirvana. With goodwill to fellow artists and fans alike, Sonic Youth can truly be called a band for the people.

For their latest album, The Eternal, SY have returned to an independent label, Matador Records, and have added the newest fifth member, much in the way they did with previous member, Jim O’Rourke. Bassist Mark Ibold, from 90’s Indie-Rock darlings Pavement, brings yet another dimension to the SY sound, adding taut and muscular bass grooves to their heady stew of sonic delight. This album, for me, is the most satisfying SY release since the epochal Daydream Nation, bridging the gap between the murky experimentation of older releases with the more conventional rock-solid numbers they perfected on a string of hit Alt-Rock albums in the 90’s.

Tonight’s set-list focused primarily on songs from the new album with some interesting older gems thrown in for good measure. The band opened the show with current single “Sacred Trickster” which to my ears has a more conventional rock sound much in the style of their early 90’s major-label albums Goo and Dirty whereas another new tune “Anti-Orgasm” sounds like an outtake from Sister. For me, the standout track of the current batch of songs was “Massage the History” which featured Thurston Moore on acoustic guitar, an oddly unnerving sight for a band so associated with electric instruments, but all the more effective for it. SY crowd pleasers such as “Tom Violence”, “Catholic Block” and Kim Gordon’s tour-de-force “Pacific Coast Highway” sounded as fresh as when I first heard them back at City Gardens in Trenton, NJ in the mid 80’s. The real treat was a couple of noisy blasts from the Confusion is Sex/Kill yr. Idols period which somehow fit in perfectly with the newer material. For the final encore, Moore invited the audience to move forward, crowding the stage, much like their many club gigs in the early 80’s and exclaimed, “Now that feels more like it” and launched into some early staples like “Brother James” and the evening’s closer, “Death Valley ‘69” with as much velocity as if they were brand new songs. Moore’s generosity with his audience reminds us that an audience is just as important as the band it has paid hard-earned cash to see.

From the cover painting on their latest album (by acoustic guitar virtuoso John Fahey) to the inner-sleeve photo (of Johnny Thunders at Max’s Kansas City) and tribute to fallen Stooge, Ron Asheton, SY have never been afraid to praise and even pay homage to their heroes. Somehow, in the SY alternate-universe everything that is old will eventually become new again. Hence the Sonic Youth aesthetic: destroy what’s old, take the remnants and start again with a strange familiarity but a whole new direction. An idea simple enough in theory, but harder to execute as proved by countless SY sound-alikes that littered the musical landscape of the last decade. Sure, Punk taught us that anybody can start a band and make a record but so few do it as well. Constantly evolving, but firmly tethered to their Downtown NYC Art-punk outsider roots, Sonic Youth are still D.I.Y. after all these years.

Sacred Trickster / No Way / Calming the Snake / Poison Arrow / Tom Violence / Walkin Blue / Anti-Orgasm / Leaky Lifeboat / Antenna / Catholic Block / Malibu Gas Station / Massage the History / World Looks Red / What We Know / Pacific Coast Highway / Brother James / Death Valley '69

The Eternal is out now on Matador Records. For more information on the band, check out

At the lovely United Palace Theatre even middle-aged hipsters look nice.

Hey, I was at that show, too! Miles took us to the terrific Malécon Restaurant across the street for some pre-show chow and who should we see exiting the place with well-satisfied grins? Lee Ranaldo and Mark Ibold, shaking hands with friends and giving the Family Circle stamp of approval on the joint. And it was good eating. Might even be worth a trip up there on a showless night.

– ed.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Actual vinyl records

Now this is an innovative idea for publicity: Los Campesinos! are compiling a box full of records that they will accumulate along the way on their upcoming US tour. And then, they'll give it to some lucky fan. Can I say now that I'd like to be that person? Already the list of its contents is intriguing, and they haven't even started up here yet.

Apparently, you have to follow along on their blog, gather clues or whatnot and be constantly reminded that you are one of millions of people wishing to get lucky. I think it is brilliant marketing and a heck of a lot of fun. As I always say about lottery tickets, it's the cheapest entertainment you can get for a buck.

Friday, July 10, 2009

This just in…

You MUST see this amazing t-shirt site. Puts Threadless to shame.


I recommend Leigh Wells' channel

Here's an example I saved:

Of course, the best ones weren't saved…and I'm obsessed. Again.


Photographs, images, art

I've been meaning to post some things from some friends.

Many (probably most) of my co-workers are incredibly talented. Some more visibly than others, but I'll try to get more permissions to share their work with you.

This is a piece by Miguel Ovalle. It is a sculpture, a wall hanging and it's very large. Amazing. Apparently it took him some months to craft it.

Bryce is a DJ on WFMU. Dang. How'sit goin' Bryce?

John Roblin joined in on the cover-mania:

Subtle, I think. Hey did you do that one of "Ship Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch?"

Goopy is a wished-for friend, someone whose work I admire, get a laugh out of and generally makes me wonder about its author. Maybe someday, at a interweb hoedown, we'll meet. Prolly not.

The rest of these are borrowed images; respect to their original post-ers. Lemme know if you want me to not hang them on my cyberwall.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I'm officially obsessed with Continuum's 33.3

Good ole' 33 1/3 is having a competition. Being interested as much in words and images as in sounds, I just couldn't help myself. Here are my first drafts:

A dream come true would be Lester Bangs writing a blow-by-blow commentary on Metal Machine Music. If grating music and brilliant writing interests you, grab " Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung" - edited by Greil Marcus, of course. Obvious, I know.

Truly one of the best record covers, EVAR. And, I think, the album Eno wishes he produced. I suppose the logical next step would be Songs About F*cking by David Byrne.

Another brilliant cover and another source of envy, this time for Lou himself. Heck, I just want to acknowledge this as one of my all time faves.

I thought of asking Andy Warhol to write this one, but Greil would be the "perfect storm" for this classic album/cover combo.

This last one is probably the most remixed/mashed/copied album cover of all human history. Here are just a few I grabbed from the interweb for you:

Tributes to the image:

Reflexive: ie, pop will eat itself covered in whipped cream.

Some people made their own versions:

courtesy of Danger S. Jones

courtesy of Walter and Veronica

Farm: A Sufficiently Peculiar Review #3

Farm, Dinosaur jr.
Jagjaguwar, 2009

By Miles Kowitt

Dinosaur jr. are back and in top form! The Massachusetts trio of J. Mascis, Lou Barlow and drummer Murph have managed a rare feat in the often fickle world of Rock and Roll; they have completed a successful reunion tour, made a worthy comeback album with 2007’s Beyond, and have continued on as a reformed band making a follow-up album that can stand proudly next to such classics as You’re Living All Over Me and Bug. Farm is a glistening, mossy slab of fuzz-box-drenched guitar tsunamis adorning 12 gloriously noisy, but melodic numbers in the classic Dino vein. All of the trademarks one would expect from a Dinosaur jr. album are here: the quirky cartoon cover art with its slime-green sasquatches, the rumbling bass-lines, the distorted “Cortez the Killer” meets Mary Chain guitar squalls, the self-effacing slacker lyrics, that lethargic, nasal wine of Mascis, the catchy-as-hell choruses, and those heart-breaking melodies floating just beneath the murk. Destined for Indie-classic status, tracks like “Pieces”, “I Want You to Know”, and “It’s Over” offer a more pop-friendly approach that somehow loses none of the heft that Mascis and company have always packed into a song. Barlow, who sat out Dino in the 90’s to focus on Sebadoh and other Indie-rock projects, offers up 2 originals, as he did on earlier albums, showing a darker, almost-gothic side of the band. Mascis’s trademark amp-up-to-11 guitar solos still have the intensity to melt brain-cells, but it’s his keen sense of melody and uncanny ability to write a great hook that proves him to be a master of his craft. Farm easily joins the ranks of great summertime driving albums; so roll down the windows, crank up the stereo, and hit the highway, Dinosaur jr. are along for the ride.

Farm is available via Jagjaguwar Records

Friday, July 3, 2009

What is peculiar; what is sufficient?

I've been thinking. Thinking and not posting. I have oh so many plans for this blog, don't you know. I says to myself, "Wouldn't it be nice to post something daily?" And self says, "Yes, you go ahead and make your humanoid plans, hah!" I'm done making promises to you, my friends. It's July 4th almost and I've not delivered my Summer Festivals calendar. Prolly won't happen anytime soon. Mos' likely won't be posting daily, either. But you know I'd like to do so, and that will have to suffice for now.

I've been thinking that most of what I've posted hasn't qualified as particularly peculiar. Not that I profess to know what is peculiar and what is not. That, I assume, is for oneself to decide. But I didn't name this blog as I did in order to set any sort of qualification as to what could or could not be included. Then, again, there are those moments when I feel that I am in touch with the sublime and those are the moments I wish most to communicate to you. So, I'll make a little list. Why not.

1. I went to a wedding last weekend and sat at table with Ken Butler. He is, if nothing else, sufficiently peculiar. Among the many deep thoughts he shared with us was the proposition (maybe his, maybe not) that those who hoard piles of books or records or picture postcards might simply be responding to a deeply uncontrollable urge to build a nest and line it with stuff in the instinctual manner foretold us by our ancestors the reptiles/birds. He did not play his pocket trumpet.

2. My work computer's hard-drive crashed and died last week. Very destabilizing in its effect on me. I lost some music, no big deal, really. But I started out with a blanked-out iTunes library, so, naturally, I copied the discs that I bought that day (confession: I buy stuff most every day.) And, wonder of wonders, I liked a couple of the albums.

3. They are A: Kleerup by Kleerup and B: Topless at Arco Arena by Wonderlick. Get yer own damn links.

4. That's enough for now. More soon.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why're they the best?

Why is it that my favorite band, my favorite TV show and my favorite magazine all have the same name? I am truly perplexed by this. I am also truly amused by it. And, of course, I think you should love them, too.

If all that doesn't annoy, maybe this will:

While the Record Goes Around - The Playmates

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Sufficiently Peculiar Review #2

Rodriguez @ Bowery Ballroom, NYC
Friday, May 15th, 2009

By Miles Kowitt

It is a now legendary story of VH1 Behind the Music proportions; Mexican-born Detroit-based singer-songwriter, Sixto Rodriguez, now aged 67, comes out of a 30-year period of obscurity and receives long-overdue international acclaim. In 1970, with his name only known in the sleaziest dive bars on the darkest streets of the Motor City, Rodriguez, a then 20-something upstart, recorded an album with Motown session aces and inked a record deal with Hollywood-based Sussex Records. That album, Cold Fact, proved to be a psychedelic folk-rock masterpiece peppered with eclectic and often apocalyptic musical flourishes offering biting social observations about class, race, gender and equality in American culture. Of course, the album was doomed to obscurity here in the U.S., but somehow wound up on the shores of such far-flung places as South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. A trip to the U.K. was arranged and Rodriguez found himself in Lansdowne Recording Studios in early-70’s London with a crack producer and top session men. His sophomore album, Coming From Reality, was released in late 1971 on Sussex with high hopes, but again disappeared without a trace.

His music career abandoned, Rodriguez became a blue-collar man back in Detroit and worked construction and hard-labor jobs for a meager paycheck. By this time, the idea of making music again, let alone touring, seemed as far away to him as the mountains of Mars. All the while, his album Cold Fact became a staple of rock record collections in South Africa, nestled comfortably between the Beatles and Dylan and blaring out of dorm rooms and car speakers all across that country. A pretty, young South African woman at the show said, “To me his album will always be summer camp in the countryside with red wine and really good pot.”

True enough, several South Africans at the New York show shockingly knew every word to those songs, singing and bopping their heads as if they had lived and breathed those songs. In fact, those songs were part of the soundtrack to their lives, despite the cold fact that very few record buyers here even knew who Rodriguez was. But the wheel of history is an uncanny mechanism and turns in the most unexpected ways. Out of the blue, a promoter contacted Rodriguez about doing some shows in South Africa. Thinking he’d play a few dive bars for chump change and drink some free booze, he agreed to the tour. When he arrived, he found himself and his hastily assembled band booked into a 25,000-seat arena playing to a packed house of adoring fans. Now both of his albums have been re-released here in the U.S on reissue label Light in the Attic, and have received rave reviews, picking up new fans along the way. Thus, several decades late (but better late than never as they say), Rodriguez is finally on tour in America.

On this particular night, Rodriguez took the stage with his band of razor-sharp twenty-something musicians: a three-piece horn section, a rock solid drummer, a fluent lead guitarist filling out the sound nicely, a very capable female keyboardist and a bassist who seemingly served as band leader and also as Rodriguez’s personal escort. Clearly, the years have been rough for the singer-songwriter; he walked slowly with an apparently painful limp, led to his perch at center-stage by the aforementioned bassist. Donning a dark pair of blind man’s shades and a black-brimmed hat with black, straggly hair flowing out from under his hat, Rodriguez looked more like a seedy East L.A. street urchin than a celebrated performer about to play to a fairly packed house of old and new fans.

After an anxious few minutes of on-stage acclimation and impromptu band introductions at the singer’s behest, the band launched into the first number of the evening “Only Good for Conversation.” Within moments, the song took off like a rocket into a psychedelically charged stratosphere with screaming lead guitars and an almost Sabbath-like crunching breakdown, involving the audience more than just as mere spectators but as participants in a riot, pushing back against invisible barriers. The singer summoned all the rage he could muster from the turbulent 60’s to present-day struggles, spitting out the biting lyric “My statue’s got a concrete heart, but you’re the coldest bitch I know.”

The band maintained a consistent groove as they ran through storming versions of most of the tracks on Cold Fact with just a few from the newly reissued sophomore album. His classic drug-song “Sugarman” sounded edgier and almost post-modern, sans the queasy strings of the album version. Between-song banter and accessory adjustments took up a lot of time but never really took away from the show itself. Instead, they allowed the audience a glimpse into the fragility of an eccentric and often misunderstood artist at work, in his element. At times, however, one wondered whether this man would make it through the set, stripping down to a black wife-beater to reveal somewhat muscular arms built on Detroit construction sites and swilling down cupfuls of red wine procured from eager fans. Curiously, he would take his hat off, rustle his fingers through the greasy strands of hair, stagger nervously about and look as if about to keel over and pass out right there on the stage; but then, as if touched by some deep inner spirit, he would place his hat back on his head, his fingers finding the right chords on his guitar and the other hand miraculously beginning to strum, haphazardly at first, his voice cracking a little, but finally finding his way into the tune. The set closed with “Forget It” which begins with the lyrics, “But thanks for your time, then you can thank me for mine, and after that’s said, forget it.” Surely, no better song could sum up the pent-up bitterness and regret of his formerly side-lined music career.

Rodriguez came out by himself for the encore, which for me, was really the most magical and revealing section of the entire show. He played two songs on his battered semi-acoustic guitar, showing him to be vulnerable yet dignified. The first song “I’m Gonna Live” he introduced by addressing his mature age, telling the audience, “There’s only one age and that’s…alive!” He closed the evening with the Etta James classic “At Last” which ended the evening on a poignant note. A gracious and genuinely humble performer, he seemed truly surprised at his recent success, telling the audience, “It is an honor, a privilege…man, I’m impressed by all of you.” He bowed to the audience and was led slowly off stage by one of his lovingly protective band members.

After this performance, one has to wonder what’s next for the man: a world tour, some new songs, a new album perhaps? With Rodriguez, like all truly great artists, you get the sense that it takes a while for the world to catch up to where he is at; but now that it has, there’s no telling what he might do next.

Both Cold Fact and Coming from Reality are available through Light in the Attic Records.

*****Also, check out Rodriguez's set on - ed.