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:
Polyvinyl
and
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—Kickstarter.com—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 Daytrotter.com, 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.


Set-List: 
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 www.sonicyouth.com


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.

Nonsek

I recommend Leigh Wells' channel

Here's an example I saved:




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



Share/Save/Bookmark

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.