Thursday, May 31, 2007

Another car that no one will drive.

In theory, this is really cool. If not the safest car, at least it'd give you a handy use for all that WD-40 you've stashed away in the back of a closet.

...and in other news, Jack Kevorkian's finally getting released tomorrow. Frankly, if humans can choose when to euthanize their pets, despite those pets not having a choice, I don't see why humans can't choose firsthand to be euthanized themselves. Until Oregon takes over the US, this country's doomed to roll backwards.

Dr. John - Gris-Gris

It would be impossible to replicate this record with the same magic that went into it. Dr. John's a name I'd heard and ignored for a number of years; I'd assumed he was a New Orleans blues musician I'd never get into, so I let him and his beard be. Of course, I didn't realize until a few years ago that the blues was actually a great genre, nor was it until a year or two ago when I read that the Greg Ashley I favor so strongly named his band the Gris Gris after this very album, making my acceptance of this not-quite-blues record a case of the musician influencing the fan in a very fortunate way.

Gris-Gris is an album that could only come from New Orleans in the late 1960s. It's an essentially unclassifiable experience that mashes voodoo and romance, old-fashioned jam sessions and storytelling, chants and harmonies into a bewitching brew. Even at a typical length of forty minutes, these seven tracks pass quickly thanks to the variety of events that take place within this adventure of an album. Opening track “Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya” is simply perfect; it's a place where Dr. John introduces himself as the night tripper with a satchel of gris gris in hand and remedies of every description, from “controlling heart get-together drops” to “easy-life rub.” God only knows where the night tripper thought up a story like this, outside of drugs, New Orleans tradition, or both, but the way his voice cracks, rasps and fails to enunciate each consonant makes it a soothing topper to the soft guitar work and female harmonies of “gris-gris gumbo ya ya” that resonate throughout.

Each song on this record is completely different from the last, and once Dr. John's introduced himself, we get “Danse Kalinda Ba Doom,” which contains only a continuous title chant and sounds to have a bit of a root in Afro-Caribbean percussion. This is followed up by the lazy latin-style bounce of “Mama Roux,” and if you read the lyrics within the liner notes as you're listening along, you finally realize that Dr. John improvises about a third of his lyrics as he plays; this is also the case with “Danse Fambeaux,” a psychedelic funk number about the limbo that's full of grunts, hisses and ba-doom, ba-doom, ba-dooms. Gris-Gris is a great record that will never be made again.

Dr. John - Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya
Purchase Gris-Gris.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Moo Moo Moo (The Stranglers - No More Heroes)

I've gotten a bit tired of new music as of late – this isn't meant as a gripe about what's being overdone at the moment, it's just that it gets a little exhausting to dig through music blogs and magazines, feeling like a scenester and giving a damn about what's new (I know, this sounds about as arrogant as Beyonce claiming she's “tired of being sexy,” but whatever, I'm tired). So I'm going to be selfish by taking a break and giving mention to a couple of my favorite older records, which I've yet to read much about or write on up until this point. The one thing that bums me out about time progressing in a forward motion is that, in the world of media, most forms of entertainment only get talked about immediately before and after their release dates. But with all that's been put out there in the last century? Good God, that's a lot to forget about! So I'll propose that we find a method of time travel, and until that's done, opt to slow down a bit and remember what's existed and been tossed aside. The next three days will be about what's magical underneath all the rust its gathered.

The Stranglers – No More Heroes

I first learned of the Stranglers by digging through my mom's records sometime during high school and wondering who the hell those Stranglers were, seeing as a good chunk of her record collection came from their catalogue. Second album No More Heroes was missing from her lot, but her collection acted as a gateway to my discovery of this album, so now's the time when I say “thanks, Mom” and suggest that anyone reading this ought to dig through your parents' records in case there's something great hiding there. From what I understand, this record's only available as a European import, which is a real shame, as it's the Stranglers album I responded to more instantly than any other; I imagine a lot of people who write off the Stranglers as a shit band because of “Always the Sun,” or whatever sap they released in the mid-1980s, would unexpectedly accept them with a new sense of appreciation if they'd heard No More Heroes. Released in 1977, this is probably the most punk album the Stranglers have got, the next closest thing being Rattus Norvegicus, and if you're a fan of Hugh Cornwell's gruff growl, as used on songs like “Peaches” and “Nice 'N' Sleazy,” this album's full of it.

Overall, this record's quality yet somehow manages to incorporate both a boatload of cheesy sci-fi keyboard and a requisite level of sleaze (i.e. “Bring on the Nubiles,” which boasts lines like “I want to love you like your dad,” “I've got to lick your little puss and nail it to the floor,” and “I'm high beneath my zip”). But there are three tracks here that really stick, and they're what make No More Heroes a worthwhile contribution to the great punk and near-punk records of thirty years ago.

“I Feel Like a Wog” - This track would be well-placed next to “White Noise” by Stiff Little Fingers, not only because it's got the only other reference to wogs I've ever heard used in song, but because both tracks find respective singers Hugh Cornwell and Jake Burns relating to social isolation with a lot of bark and bite in their voices. “I Feel Like a Wog” opens this record with a bass line that swings and swaggers, and overall its heavy beat hits faster and faster with every listen.

“Bitching” - I think this might be a fairly direct musical ripoff of “Sister Ray.” In fact, I'm sure it is, though the Stranglers understood humor in a way Lou Reed probably didn't, and it's likely that Lou Reed never would have bothered writing a song about “bar bitching,” the theme that built an entire song out of a chorus. However simple that lyrical theme, and however unoriginal the song, one of my very favorite moments in music occurs at the very beginning of this song, when a rolling guitar solo (much like that prompting the Hives' “Main Offender”) gives way to a quick and dynamic bass line seven seconds in, even if this moment's ruined another seven seconds thereafter with a corny chop of the ol' keyboard. Poor Dave Greenfield and all the crap I give his keyboard.

“Peasant in the Big Shitty” - If you're a fan of the first Damned album, consider this the “Feel the Pain” of No More Heroes, the slow non-ballad that breaks up the album and means to be more camp than darkness. Much in the way “Feel the Pain” speeds up as it ends and suddenly becomes a rock song, “Peasant in the Big Shitty” lurks and then breaks down, only on top of that sped-up conclusion is the unexpected breakdown-turned guitar solo-turned-keyboard solo, occurring mid-song. It's kind of a mess, actually, but all the additional effects here are fascinating; Dave Greenfield's vocal prowl twists off as each line ends, as if the person manning the production booth had just discovered effects like pitch control and wanted to add a few thrills. And there's a great, deep echo added to Greenfield's ghostly utterance of “The cows go moo moo moo,” not to mention the echo that extends “fear” on “The room is full of fear” toward song's end.

Purchase No More Heroes

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Brian Glaze - Rainsplitter

Brian Glaze's first record, Let's Go to the Sea, had a similar feel to a Gris Gris or Mirrors record, with grainy analog production, instrumental minimalism and a circus-like darkness hovering above influences in '60s psychedelia. A reasonable comparison; Gris Gris/Mirrors mastermind Greg Ashley co-produced and played half the instruments on Let's Go the Sea – theremin, electric cello and organ among them. On the other hand, the record also made Glaze sort of worthy of comparison to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in their Howl phase, or even the Brian Jonestown Massacre (Glaze was a drummer for the latter), but with more of a childlike feel (as is, again, accomplished by Greg Ashley's work, or a slight likeness to Syd Barrett, to whom Glaze's style has been compared and which is quite apparent on “Brittle Piece of My Heart”).

Glaze has got a very average – not bad, just average – male voice that is neither high nor low, neither powerful nor weak. But he made it work by forcing himself into the audible range, just barely, above the rush of acoustic strums, psychedelic electric sound waves, and tambourine beats thickly swirling around him. That first record felt and sounded like a dream sequence, if a dream sequence could be felt and heard; it floated or rushed wherever fit, yet managed to flow fluidly regardless of which moment you got caught in. “Can I Look at You?” was a tropical adventure that somehow fit in on the album as well as it would have fit on Greg Ashley's last solo record, while the tight and tense “Well Did Ya Mean It?” or “Oh My God, God” would have worked well on Howl.

There was a big '60s psych folk influence on Brian Glaze in 2006, and it worked beautifully then, but 2007 has found Glaze gradually evolving out of the lo-fi and into an odd variety of efforts. Rainsplitter, released on June 12 as Glaze's second record on Birdman, sees the multi-instrumentalist testing out clearer production and a wider range of styles. “Magic Lover” is the new “Can I Look at You?” but “21-31” is an out-of-place experiment in '80s new wave, despite a rather exciting theme (“You're so damn young/and I'm 31”). And there are odd, ambiguously intentional humorous bits, like the awkward doo-wop-style finger snapping and bass harmony of “Biff Rose,” or the fun stomp of “Bad News,” both of which also seem misplaced among songs that might have been nicely incorporated into Glaze's debut.

Interestingly enough, though, it's not so much the variety of Rainsplitter that makes it less exciting than Let's Go to the Sea so much as the lack of distortion that comes out of it. Maturation is nice, but a good fifty percent of this record is of the same style as Glaze's first record, and that older material worked because it took the psych folk theme and ran with it. “Last Exit” on Rainsplitter is another one of those Gris Gris-style freakouts, but this cleaner production job makes it much more controlled than it could be, and this song's dilemma essentially epitomizes the issue with the overall record. But Brian Glaze is still a decent songwriter, and Rainsplitter, if nothing else, is still a decent record.

Sample Let's Go to the Sea (because I like a tease).
Brian Glaze - Oh My God, God
Brian Glaze - Oh Baby Don't Go to the Sea
Brian Glaze - Don't Believe in Love

Purchase Rainsplitter (available June 12)
Brian Glaze on Birdman Records.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Boots n' Blogs: A lengthy discussion with tangents.

Blogging's a fascinating practice that I've had quite a love-hate relationship with since its inception; on one hand, I love how easy it is to find instant information on a small band (or, with help from the Hype Machine, a specific song that would otherwise be too obscure to track on short notice). On the other hand, I spent years dreaming of growing up to be a rock journalist – I'd always imagined that I'd have to take a shitty internship at a print magazine, earning my way in as a copy editor and, after several years, working up to writing 2000-word features. I'd never imagined the creation of blogs, which allow anyone to break a band or review an album far more instantly than a print publication can. And catering to a desire for “now” takes the romantic quality out of anticipating the next month's articles or seeing a band's name in print for the first time. Not only have I given into blogging for fear that print mags will shortly be a pipe dream (much like the old idea to work for now-defunct British mag The Face), but I've also gotten suckered into this upload/download business despite a love of records because, frankly, I also hanker for instant gratification on occasion. MP3s are the new blowjobs.

But I am a bitter old man in a 22-year old woman's body, and the world doesn't need another old man bitching about progress. So, on a note related to the Veruca Salt-ian concept of “I want it now” that ironically appeals to the romance and excitement of sharing music with other human beings, I'd like to offer a few bits on bootlegs, one of the world's most magical inventions.

In college I was friends with a Token Dave Matthews Band Fan. He owned a book full of DMB bootlegs, and used to follow the band across the country when they toured. The kid owned over 100 of these bootlegs, and upon looking at his collection I asked if any of them had a certain song (which I will not name, as this was obviously only me making conversation with a Dave Matthews fan and not a demonstration of my fanship). Said friend offered a “psh!” and then asked, “Which version? I've got at least fifty versions in there,” or something to that ilk. This moment made me realize two things:

1. If there were other fans like my friend out there, building collections of bootlegs to this extent (no doubts there), then god only knows how many people typically hide recording equipment while sitting among unsuspecting audience members.

2. My friend was perfectly reasonable to track fifty or so versions of a song, because every live show is different and no two performances of a song should sound identical. Which is really quite amazing, when you consider how many variables really can affect a single song whose identity is supposedly captured as it is meant in a studio recording (see 4'33”).

I've purchased a number of bootlegs in the last few years – from stores, interestingly enough, one of which would make bootlegs appear slightly more legal by placing “Import” stickers next to the price tags, frequently bearing prices far more expensive than studio albums on the same shelves. Of course this is legit – people in Luxembourg simply don't have enough money not to use photocopied artwork. Even more hilarious to me was the “import” CD I found of a 1977 Adverts concert at (presumably England's) the Roxy. I think that import is actually a copied bootleg of a genuine import from the UK. Nonetheless, I forgive that store because it supplemented my collection of studio albums with pieces of history in which I never got to take part, and gave me a chance to hear shows dating back to the 1960s, tracing all the way to Kilburn, England. Recording quality is obviously nowhere near studio quality, ever, but these are valuable for the banter between songs and those variations that take place purely because a musician got bored and decided to mix it up. Some of my favorites are below.

*The Clash – U.S. Festival, May 29, 1983

The Clash - Rock the Casbah (live 1983)
The Clash - Safe European Home (live 1983)

Admittedly, “Rock the Casbah” is probably my least favorite Clash song next to “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe” and “Clampdown.” But I love Joe Strummer's banter about America's lack of respect for the working class, declaring that things would improve if only “everybody out there ever grows up, for fuck's sake,” and I love that his angry energy carries over into the song. Even without piano, I don't care much for the live arrangement of this song, but it's a perfect answer to the question of how bands vary up their standards at shows to avoid playing the same old. Also, prior to “Safe European Home,” Strummer conveniently responds to the aforementioned angst, albeit with sarcasm and additional criticism, rather than apologies. Good ol' Joe.

*The Adverts – The Roxy 1977

The Adverts - Bored Teenagers (live 1977)
The Adverts - One Chord (live 1977)

I've been somewhat obsessed with this band as of the last few months, I think after my most recent re-read of “Peter Shelley” in Speaking with the Angel, which mentions the final scream of “Bored Teenagers” and in turn makes the song sound more exciting with each read of the story. What I love about the Adverts is how economical they were – their songs were brief and every moment felt like a thrilling climax. Unlike a lot of punk, their songs were actually discernible from one another, and there was always a build-up that gave each track a somewhat dark quality before it abruptly ended. What I really love about the Adverts is that they don't sound dated, even thirty years after this Roxy show. No talk here, other than the quick announcement of each song title.

*Bob Dylan – Newport Folk Festival, 1964 and 1965

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez - It Ain't Me, Babe (live 1964)
Bob Dylan - Phantom Engineer (live 1965)

I've never been a die-hard Bob Dylan fan, but the 1986 Billy Bragg bootleg wouldn't play on my computer, and Bob Dylan's busking style is the next best thing. He mumbled less in the '60s, anyway. Here's him doing a duet with Joan Baez at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival (though I could swear Dylan's guitar is slightly out of tune), and here's one of him plugged in at the same festival one year later.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Or, the Whale - Light Poles and Pines

If you happen to reside in the San Francisco region, tonight marks the record release party for SF-based country-rock group Or, the Whale. My good friend Matt told me of this band a while ago, guitar/banjo player Alex Robins being the older brother of his late best friend, and though Matt's Green Day obsession made me initially reluctant to take his recommendation (apologies, Matt, but you know I'm a snob), Or, the Whale turned out a pleasant surprise.

Or, the Whale will, without a doubt, get labeled a modern day Carter Family, because we indie rock writers don't know much about Appalachian folk or country music by nature, and because the group is co-ed and physically resembles a family more than a pile of lovers (to my knowledge, they are neither). As a more current reference point, I'd say their record is on par with Bright Eyes' I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, minus those pesky coke-induced shakes. Their brand new record, Light Poles and Pines, contains all three tracks from their 2006 7" (Life and Death at Sea), and their old-fashioned lyrical themes are an indication that, perhaps, the band drew its name from the complete title of Moby Dick. Aye? Aye.

The funny thing about these songs that I'm sure wasn't intended is all the tiny similarities to music outside of Or, the Whale's genre occurring throughout the record – the intro to excellent opener “Call and Response” feels like the party that takes place on Greg Ashley's “Apple Pie and Genocide”; the bass line and introductory guitar work of “Life and Death at Sea” sort of recalls the Pixies' “Where is My Mind.” But it's not a matter of imitation – again, I don't think these were intended – so much as unexpectedly incorporating pop elements into a country-rock album. Kind of nice, actually.

“Isn't She Awful” is pretty without any air of unwanted sappiness, a ballad with slide guitar; likewise, “Fixin' to Leave” shows the group's pop sensibility and makes you wonder whether this group is comprised of pop musicians performing alt-country songs. This would make sense – there's not too much of any one element or style on Light Poles and Pines, and this balance of a country and pop feel gives the group potential crossover appeal as well as the ability to make an old style palatable to the indie crowd. They're a seven-piece not afraid to bust out a mandolin or washboard here or there, and they harmonize male and female (not to mention collaborative group) vocals well. “Bound to Go Home” is the band at rootsiest and rowdiest, and “Fight Song” will send a chill up your arms.

I'm antsy to see what they can do live at this point, and since they're playing a load of California dates, the hankering should be satisfied soon. Huzzah!

Tour dates:

5/20 – Cafe Du Nord (San Francisco, CA)
6/21 – Rockit Room (San Francisco, CA)
6/22 – Starry Plough (Berkeley, CA)
6/23 – Sophia's Thai Kitchen (Davis, CA)
6/24 – Blackwater Cafe (Stockton, CA)
6/25 – The Press Club (Sacramento, CA)
7/20 – The Hotel Utah Saloon (San Francisco, CA)
7/31 – The Mohawk (Austin, TX)
8/1 – Secret Headquarters (Denton, TX)
8/9 – Casa Cantina (Athens, OH)
8/10 – The Thunderbird Cafe (Pittsburgh, PA)
8/11 – The Creek and the Cave (Long Island, NY)
8/12 – Cake Shop (New York, NY)
8/23 – Kilby Court (Salt Lake City, UT)

Or, the Whale - Isn't She Awful
Purchase Light Poles and Pines here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pretty swell shit!

...and on another news front, Peanut Butter Wolf will be DJ-ing at seven venues, seven days straight, in Los Angeles this June.

Sun, June 10: The Do-Over @ Cranes Tavern - 80s early house & electro
Mon, June 11: Funkmosphere @ Carbon - 80s rare soul & boogie
Tues, June 12: Cinespace - 90's hipster ironic BADD covers (C.M.B.)
Wed, June 13: Dub Club @ The Echo - 70s dub & roots reggae 45s
Thurs, June 14: The Root Down @ Little Temple - 80's hip hop 45s
Fri, June 15: Firecracker @ Grand Star - 70s disco-jazz & Afro-Latin
Sat, June 16: Funky Sole @ Star Shoes - 60s deep funk 45s

The Saints!

1. This was released in the US yesterday.
2. Surprisingly, it is not lame.
3. Chris Bailey's voice hasn't changed a bit since the 1970s.
4. "Other Side of the World" sounds like the Heartless Bastards covering the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," only, you know, sung by a man.
5. It's available from Wildflower Records, as is The Greatest Cowboy Movie Never Made, a four-disc boxed set that was initially released last November and re-released yesterday.

Purchase Imperious Delirium.
Read about The Saints.
Listen to something old by the Saints:

The Saints - I'm Stranded
The Saints - Lost and Found

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Kingsbury - The Great Compromise

Kingsbury - The Great Compromise

On first listen to The Great Compromise, what struck me was how much Kingsbury reminded me of bands that epitomized a late 1980s/early 1990s sound – not with the outdated, flashy sort of style that probably comes to mind, but in their large emphasis on guitar at a time when the ironically current sound of retro post-punk has finally finished its run. It's been a strange period when a pop genre that gives time to rhythmic instruments has been the thing, making a loud, fuzzy guitar seem out of place by contrast. Much in the way that Fugazi would balance a choppy beat or hoarse command with an abrupt electric strum, or My Bloody Valentine (rather, shoegazers in general) would let their guitars...well, let their guitars do whatever the hell they wanted...Kingsbury is old-fashioned in principle but not the least bit outdated because they remind you that there's a real romantic quality to the guitar, and they let it carry their music from start to finish.

The big deal with this record, other than the fact that it's best treated as a complete album and gives the guitar credit where credit's due, is that there are so many elements that will ultimately remind you of something. Bruce Reed's got an exaggeratedly hushed voice, restricted and restrained, that will remind you of somebody's voice; to me, he resembles Brian Glaze for his relationship to his music, which isn't loud to begin with but is forced not to rise above the voice which would otherwise be further buried within it. In fact, the title track here could certainly pass for something off Glaze's debut record, minus the reverb but with female support. Admittedly, Reed's singing style gets to be a bit much by the third or fourth track, as there's also a bit of a tortured inflection to it. He'd be better off with more of an “all or nothing” approach, either a low whisper or a clear, steady pronunciation of each word, eliminating the rasp that's not there in the first place (much in the way an eighth grade boy is proud of the negligible hair he's grown on his lip all summer, there's just no real rasp in Reed's throat).

Opener “Corpse” plays like a sort of omen, as the title might suggest, but Reed's voice becomes an afterthought pressed behind a gorgeous layer of orchestral percussion (recorded at Valencia Community College, by the way – a fact that is only apparent upon reading the liner notes and thus the first reason for the physical album's superiority to the digital download). Returning to this minor vocal annoyance, though – it's my only real gripe about Kingsbury. As far as those other familiar qualities go, the bass line leading into the guitar feedback and steady drumroll of second track “Blood in the Kitchen” bring Fugazi to mind until Reed reminds you that he's still there to keep the music in its place, and such is the case with most of the songs that follow. On the other hand, the songs that follow are a random smattering: acoustic balladry, math-meets-post-rock, drums and keyboards getting slinky and intertwined. Kingsbury appears a band that doesn't want to get stuck or classified, and while that's somewhat of an ironic statement considering the general number of cliches and similarities here, they've gone smart on the sly and made a record that doesn't quite fit any particular image.

What does work particularly well is “All This Dead Space,” an acoustic track that abandons the overall light post-rock style of the album and lets Reed's pure whisper glide between layers of snare, cymbal, and string. It's a really beautiful effect that makes this, perhaps, the surprising winner of The Great Compromise. Well, either this or nine-minute closing track “The City and the Sea,” which begins with roaring clouds that lead into a heavy rain of guitar which will – yes, in fact – remind you of any nameless, epic post-rock band that you can think of. But that reminder of something at album's end can't be all bad – post-rock's an indulgent genre because it's an easy style to get sucked into, and just the same, this indulgent ending has got the build-up, climax and abrupt conclusion that should be expected from it. No rasp, no omen.

The Booze - Easy Beats in Modern Time

...and by tomorrow, I meant Tuesday. Tuesday brings me to two bands whose CDs I was delighted to receive in the mail: Kingsbury and the Booze. Though vastly different from one another (one's a garage-pop outfit from Atlanta, the other a soft shoegaze-esque group from Florida), the two offer similar pros and cons, and I found myself exercising a like vocabulary in the reviews of both. One's gimmicky and the other seems quite serious about its efforts, but what I love about them is that each band takes the guitar quite seriously and pays tribute to the instrument in a way deemed fit for its respective band's sound. Hopefully, there'll be more ways of pairing like this in the near future.

The Booze - Easy Beats in Modern Time

For enthusiasts of progress in music, genres like electronic and hip-hop are only going to get better and better because there are so many sounds – human or otherwise – that haven't yet been tinkered with. But to rock purists who value the old-fashioned, romantic quality of a guitar, there doesn't appear much left in the way of style options, and the only way to keep rock exciting is to update what's been done. Retro is and has been huge in Indieland for a few years, and while it is, on one hand, a bit lazy for musicians to freshly claim the past instead of being inventive, it's also pretty fantastic that those of us too young to have seen the births of rock and roll, the British Invasion, punk and post-punk now have a chance to witness re-births of all of the above. I love guitars and always will, and as someone born too late to experience these dead genres firsthand, am relishing (with little guilt and much pleasure) the retro imitations of those who were.

The Booze is one of these imitations, a group too late and low-budget for that so-called garage-rock revival in the mainstream five years ago, though they've also delved so far into their 1960s blues-pop shtick that they're not likely to find mainstream appeal. So they do shows here and there, perhaps with retro girl-group the Pipettes (for whom they appropriately opened a few gigs earlier this year). And they release an album, likely the only one they'll release, or perhaps the first of two or three, tops. They're a tribute band with original songs, and surely this won't help their lifespan, but as far as a band of this sort goes, they sound pretty damn good.

The relationship between lead and rhythm guitars on “Heartache” and “The Next Train” are strangely reminiscent of the doubly-high-pitched Hammond/Valensi pairing, meaning not necessarily that the Booze sounds like the Strokes, but that you don't realize until moments like the openings of these songs just how retro the Strokes are, despite the lack of irony with which they play. The Booze, however, are rather ambiguous in their irony – either obviously genuine or obviously ironic – though the record's cover imitation of a 1960s British Invasion photo, displaying the band in mod suits, might work to sway your opinion prior to a listen.

A visit to the band's My Space page or the rare review of Easy Beats in Modern Time suggests that the Booze is mainly influenced by Them. Vocalist Chaz Tolliver spends a chunk of time straining to reach the same raspy “hark!” that Van Morrison once barked, and while he's at his best if simply singing, his occasional attempt at manning up brings the Booze down to the level of a Them parody – in other words, an update on the Shadows of Knight (who had a great cover of “Gloria,” by the way). This is painfully, painfully apparent on album opener “Hard Luck Woman,” where Tolliver overpowers the smooth, lazy guitars behind him. But that's as bad as the album gets; a smart move, considering that a listener will forget how dreadful the opener is when the rest of the record is such a vast improvement. Funny thing, though – songwriting here is completely credited to guitarist Randy Michael and bassist Wesley Flowers, so without any sort of writing duty, it seems Tolliver exists solely for his scratchy Shadows of Knight style. That, and how decent he looks in a tie. But he mostly works well for completing the band's chemistry, and regardless of authenticity or originality, the Booze is purely a fun throwback to a time before purists were called purists.

(Album available on iTunes)

Thursday, May 10, 2007


Forgive all the storytelling these days, but I've been in the mood for it, and there're all sorts of exciting bands and projects making the rounds lately. Today brings promises and tomorrow brings reviews. Until then, a recommendation.

Dos is returning to the Smell on May 20, opening for XBXRX. I've never been a Mike Watt nut, nor could I tell you the history of Black Flag's bass players, and that's what the internet's for. But on a personal note, I randomly came across a Dos set earlier this spring, also at the Smell, and left the venue feeling strangely fantastic (for the record, they'd played alongside Silver Daggers, Black Fiction and Antelope, rounding out the best show I'd ever gotten for five bucks off a stinking alleyway). Consisting of former married couple Mike Watt and Kira Roessler, two electric basses and loads of innocent joy, Dos is by far one of the most pleasant artists I've ever taken in. As is, the Smell is a little hole of a brick-and-wood warehouse, but to watch two bass players with obvious long-term chemistry make sense of organized jams next to a ratty old couch in said hole is bizarrely exciting. Watt was the fluid one, showing some Walter Matthau-esque facial expressions with a slowness that matched his movement. Roessler, doing double duty on voice and bass, was like the child to Watt's father, wearing an elf-ish getup - large jersey-as-dress over tights - hopping to each beat while Watt filled in her gaps. "Dream of San Pedro," from Justamente Tres, epitomized their relationship beautifully. Woessler's voice isn't magical or anything, but just as the two formed Dos to show that the bass could play lead where a guitar normally carries weight, it seemed that voice was only meant as a backing instrument to boost the depth of those basses, just as a bass traditionally boosts a guitar and voice. The most unexpected thing about watching them, though, was that, post-set, Roessler raised her bass in the air while receiving the crowd's applause and proudly turned that applause over to her instrument. I'll be damned if this isn't the most loveable band on the planet. Go see them on the 20th.

Dos - Willow Weep for Me
(purchase Justamente Tres here)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

So much to do!

Photo by Danny Fields

I spent today wandering about and researching music-related things to do in the upcoming month, because someone will undoubtedly want something to do in the upcoming month, and I ran across a few things. First, a steaming pile of green dog shit. Second, a couple of interesting concert prospects, which I will get to. Most exciting of all, though, was the photography exhibit that's currently at The Shooting Gallery on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. "Bande a Part," a mostly black and white photography exhibit on the East Village punk scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s, is a dream of an exhibit for the classic punk fan. I was, unfortunately, born in 1984, so to check out glimpses of when skinny jeans and black and white band photos weren't cliche or ironic puts me in a sort of fantasy world. People like Patti Smith and Bob Dylan are both massive enough that I can't fathom them casually chatting together, let alone smiling in a photo that a mere human being like Danny Fields took at one point (the power we give to musicians is unbelievable, but I give in like any other idiot). And yes, the above photo sat in a frame near the gallery's entrance.

Anyway, these photos were brilliant, not just because of how perfectly clear they looked, but because the work of all the photographers blended so well into the exhibit's theme that it was difficult to believe there were six responsible photographers and not one. Lots of Warhol, Iggy, Richard Hell, and Debbie Harry. Danny Fields had loads of Iggy Pop during his golden phase, plus great stage shots of Patti Smith. There was the lucky work of David Godlis, who'd caught Richard Lloyd in the hospital, Divine and Stiv Bators on stage together during the Polyester era, and Klaus Nomi minus makeup. There was a single photo of Joe Strummer, taken by Roberta Bayley at her home, featuring Joe in color and donning a cowboy hat, as well as one of Joey Ramone in board shorts. Numerous shots of John Belushi and Johnny Thunders, courtesy of Marcia Resnick, who'd managed the brilliant "Johnny Thunders as a Hassidic Jew." Gerard Malanga had some fantastic shots, one the obligatory nude shot of Iggy (if you're curious about that size rumor, you can...ah...check it out here), another of Abbie Hoffman in 1970. Bobby Grossman's work proved that David Johansen looked much friendlier smiling with a bowl of cereal than Andy Warhol, who, to be frank, looked awkward trying to smile. And Anton Perich, who was allegedly at The Shooting Gallery's exhibit opening Saturday night, had up some pretty shameless pics of tit-baring girls and the New York Dolls, which go quite hand in hand.

The "Bande a Part" photo exhibit is up until June 9, and The Shooting Gallery's at 7403 Sunset Blvd.


On June 6, the Nymphs are playing a set at the Roxy on Sunset. I don't know much about the Nymphs, but I do have a brief story about their front woman, Inger Lorre. About four years ago, a couple friends and I once agreed to meet up with an older art fuck of an acquaintance. I was borrowing my mother's car, being on break from school and without transportation, and stupid me agreed to follow older art fuck and his friend Inger Lorre back to Inger's house. Inger lived on a hill, and stupid me tried to parallel park on said hill but accidentally hit older art fuck's truck while parking, damaging the hood of my mother's car. After I'd parked at the bottom of the hill, Inger invited us in to mellow out while I was in a panic. She made us cups of the best, spiciest tea I've ever had, showed us pictures of Jeff Buckley and told us about how he thought he wasn't attractive, played us videos of her old performances. She told us that Courtney Love called her an influence and talked with pride about pissing on Tom Zutaut's desk. I hadn't heard of Inger or the Nymphs at this point, so I had no idea whether she was a nobody or not, nor did I know how she'd befriended older art fuck. But she was genuinely cool, and she being sort of famous and all, I never had a chance to thank her for the tea and hospitality. So, as an indirect thank-you, I'd like to recommend that you see her band, the Nymphs, when they play at the Roxy in West Hollywood.


...and for those slightly north of here, the 11th Annual Mission Creek Music and Arts Fest begins tomorrow and runs through May 20. Heaven knows there are oodles of festivals going on this season, but this one's a big 10-day shindig for San Francisco residents and will feature some great shit: Black Fiction, Kelley Stoltz, Acid Mothers Temple, The Dead Science, Comets on Fire, DMBQ, an Anticon showcase featuring Odd Nosdam, and a CD release show from Or, the Whale. Oh, and more. Much more. My fingers are a bit tired at this point, but many details on this can be found at

(purchase The Nymphs here)
(purchase Wave here)
(purchase Funhunt: Live at the CBGB's and Max's here)

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Last call.

It's finally here - New Moon is released today, and (unless Elliott Smith is doomed to be the next Tupac or Biggie) will be the last Elliott Smith material ever released. I know he passed almost four years ago, but I'm still a bit sad that this is the last we'll hear of him. I first found out about Elliott Smith when he played "Miss Misery" in that hideous white suit at the Academy Awards in 1997; my mom loved it and picked up the Good Will Hunting soundtrack to hear more, and though she ended up putting that CD aside after a few weeks, I rediscovered Elliott during my freshman year of college, going nuts and getting my hands on any material of his that I could. I tend to be a bit stoic, so what really grabbed me about him was that he was the first musician who made me realize how strongly music affects my emotions. I mean this quite seriously, too - I spent the first half of college in a moderate state of depression, and I think some of that might have been relieved, had I not sat in my room listening to Either/Or on repeat!

Anyway, he died about a year after that, and beyond all the rare live material there was to download, the only thing to look forward to was his final album. But then there was New Moon, and thus another small something to savor. He was a brilliant guitarist and songwriter who made the most of a limited voice and had a knack for sweet sounding covers - "Thirteen," "Jealous Guy" and "My Sweet Lord" all turned out wonderfully in live settings, and perhaps there'll be another crop of live material to officially go out for release one day. Until then, there're the bootlegs that old fans are tossing around.

Purchase New Moon.
Listen to clips of Roman Candle, my favorite Elliott Smith album

Elliott Smith - My Sweet Lord (George Harrison cover)
Elliott Smith - Jealous Guy (John Lennon cover)

Frog Eyes and Fresca!

I'd waited three years to see Frog Eyes, and it finally happened over the weekend. Never mind that they're not the most brilliant band around, or that front man Carey Mercer looks like a Brad Arnold/Isaac Brock hybrid and sings like Tigger. They're refreshingly different, and I'd been hankering for refreshingly different as of late. Plus, they've got a new album out as of one week ago, and after getting a taste of “Stockades” via the internet, I'd been dying to hear all the new material live since I hadn't yet purchased the album.

As it turns out, “Stockades” is a highlight of Mercer at his most spastic, and the new tracks sound great on the whole. Plus, Frog Eyes is a band with material difficult to memorize (such happens when you're not a pop band, it seems), so there was none of that “play old material” bullshit with the audience. Their set was actually quite heavy on the new stuff, and Mercer spent most of the set playing second guitar – mostly with his tremolo, which made for a nice, heavy ring throughout. He's quite a spokesperson, too; a bit too intentional with the “quiet, eerie man” persona, a deep contrast to his uninhibited performance face and voice, but he's good at talking with the audience and preventing any awkward quiet time.

It also turns out that Frog Eyes has a female drummer, and a damn good one at that. Rides her bass drum without a step out of time, maintains a serious face and manages to look so much cooler than the goofy-looking men that stand in front of her. According to Stereogum, this female drummer is Melanie Campbell, and she's married to Carey Mercer. Imagine that! Anyhow, Frog Eyes started their set with Mercer telling a story about dropping his wallet into a toilet full of excrement (his own, natch), and ended by joining hands and bowing as a foursome at the front of the stage. Quite a show! If those kids were willing to make the rare trek down from Canada, surely you can put up a few bucks for their album. Subtle hint, indeed.

On a concluding note, the openers to the show were actually quite decent; The Henry Clay People, though a group of '90s-appropriate indie rockers that had me thinking “Stephen Malkmus, aye?” were actually entertaining with their brand of...ah...'90s-appropriate indie rock. Front man and guitarist were big and little brother, respectively, and poor little brother was the butt of big brother's teasing, a reminder that little brother was under 21 and wasn't allowed to watch the rest of the show. Poor little brother. The supporting act, Alex Delivery, was a frightening case of hyper-style: a short-haired blonde sporting the Twiggy look in a puffy '60s dress and tights, a keyboard player with a cross between a severe bob and mullet, and the token bearded guitarist, for three. What began as a now-stereotypical venture into percussion drone ended as something that felt like a nightmare of a German dance party – unnamed blonde did a sort of Dieter dance and sang the equivalent of a hum. I suddenly felt as though everyone in the room had taken a hallucinogen and was in on a joke that I didn't understand. Is that what it feels like to be at a rave when you're sober? Nonetheless, those bits in between were actually quite impressive, what with all the build-up. Thank heavens Frog Eyes isn't a stylish band, or else I'd have been running out of there with “Dieter, would you like a Fresca?” stuck in my mind.

Frog Eyes - Stockades
Frog Eyes - Bushels
(purchase Tears of the Valedictorian here)

Alex Delivery - Komad
(purchase Star Destroyer here)

The Henry Clay People (stream three tracks)
(purchase Blacklist the Kid with the Red Moustache here)

If you're going to be in Los Angeles this summer:

The Autumns have a weekly residency at Spaceland each Friday in May. They sound vaguely like Jeff Buckley.

The Rentals have returned for a weekly residency at Spaceland each Saturday in July. They sound like the product of Matt Sharp, founding and most exciting bass player of Weezer, surrounded by bespectacled girls. At least, this was the case when “Friends of P” was big.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

"Our troops and their families deserve better - and their elected leaders can do better."

You said it best, George.

The Good, The Bad and The Queen in San Francisco!

The Good, the Bad and the Queen

Grand Ballroom

San Francisco, CA

April 29, 2007

I was feeling a bit like death on Sunday, but I was also trapped in San Francisco with a ticket for the Good, the Bad and the Queen's show at the Grand Ballroom, so there I went, and healed I was by show's end. The show itself was a bizarre event – on one hand, San Francisco's concert-goers appear put together. They were safely donned in black and well-behaved. No irritating hipster types like we've got in L.A., nor was the show dominated by industry folk (again, like we've got in L.A.). Quite a nice change of pace, actually. Lots of older audience members who were presumably Clash fans the first time around, though I was standing rather close to the stage, alongside the other members of the under-25 crowd who were in awe to be in a room with the combination of musicians on stage.

On the other side of things, this nicely polished audience was massively accepting of art for art's sake, and rewarded opener Bonfire Madigan with magnificent applause. Personally, I was a bit torn on my opinion of her; her songs were adventurous and cello playing passionate – she even destroyed a string on her bow, mid-set – but her voice needed a (large) bit of fine-tuning and her growls got to be a bit much. I later learned that the mulleted Madigan Shive (Bonfire Madigan) spent the 1990s as one half of Tattle Tale alongside Jen Wood. At best, she's like a one-woman Rasputina with less humor and a greater appreciation for beauty, and at worst, she's a cellist whose voice will never help her rise above underdog status. But she smiled a wide beam and was impossible not to watch, and she danced with genuine purity and enthusiasm while second act, one-man band David Coulter, played a single song.

Coulter would re-appear for a strike of singing saw with the Good, the Bad and the Queen not too long after, the first point at which Damon Albarn would crack a smile – and who wouldn't? It's a fucking saw! Generally, though, Albarn remained the mysterious figure of the night, silent and business-like, standing still with cigarette in hand, eyes mostly closed, few words. He held a girl's hand for a moment, and then she held his hand and wouldn't let him go, but outside of this and a few quiet smiles, Albarn played his part and didn't fight to win us over. It didn't come off as arrogance, though, just a lack of entertaining things to say, and he was an elegant focal point nonetheless. Albarn and bassist Paul Simonon have both got sperm old enough to have prompted my birth once upon a time, but a good-looking man's a good-looking man, and into their respective 39th and 51st years, they're as handsome in person as they are in pictures.

Simonon served as Albarn's sidekick for the night, sticking to the front of the stage at all times as to either compete with or complement Albarn. He clearly loved putting on a show and generally performing, and had a way of aiming the head of his bass at the audience like a gun while he played, offering us an unwavering, ambiguously seductive or intimidating gaze. He perpetually kept his cigarette under the strings of his first fret and himself in constant motion, and that old ratty bass with “Paul” etched into it was a weapon no one else could have touched, let alone pulled off in a now-signature black suit. It seemed his constant movement and showiness were a method of compensating for such simple bass lines, really, and while the only complaint I hear of the Good, the Bad and the Queen is that Tony Allen's drumming is underused, I think that were Simonon not front and center on every stage and in every press photo, people would call him “underused” as well. (For the record, I disagree because The Good, the Bad and the Queen is a subtle record, and were Allen's soft rhythm more prominent, he'd disrupt the flow of an album that's not overdone in a single spot, so neither he nor Simonon is actually underused.)

Live, though, Allen was actually the most audible of the group's members and much louder than Albarn's voice, if anything. Allen's percussion led the flow of the performance and prevented it from being too mellow to watch; it wasn't until “Three Changes,” halfway through the set, that things loosened up and Albarn actually appeared to have a good time, and much of this renewed enthusiasm was in part to Allen's intensity and volume. Also of note were an appearance by this guy and the steady guitar of consistently mild and mellow Simon Tong, who was just right, like a good bowl of porridge. The group as a whole remained separate from the audience, even in the good time it seemed to be having, but the audience didn't seem to mind this lack of connection – we were mostly in awe of the group before us, that such an unbelievable combination spanning three different decades had come together and in such a shockingly small venue, just for us.

Bonfire Madigan - Lady Saves... (video)

Bonfire Madigan - Anthemic Amendments

(purchase ...From the Burnpile)

Bonfire Madigan - Scraps

(purchase Saddle the Bridge)

The Good, The Bad and The Queen - 80s Life (stream)

The Good, The Bad and The Queen - Three Changes (stream)

(purchase The Good, The Bad and The Queen)