Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hey ho, it's the Degenerate Art Ensemble!

Well, hey. The Degenerate Art Ensemble has a show at Redcat in Los Angeles, each night between tonight and December 2 (the Sunday performance is at 7pm, the others prior are at 8:30pm). If you're unfamiliar with this, and its multimedia project Cuckoo Crow, which began in 2006 and is the performance of choice this weekend, you can download loads of sample songs from any of their past eight albums, or learn more in depth about them by reading an interview I did last year with Joshua Kohl, their conductor.

Degenerate Art Ensemble - Smoking Baby

From The Bastress, 2005, which you can purchase here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Foetus - Vein

Listening to some of J.G. Thirlwell's material from the earlier part of the last twenty-five years, I'd felt I'd summarized the general Foetus sound by considering it the imagined result of Mike Patton covering Bauhaus, perhaps, a somewhat now-dated approach to dark industrialism that was inventive and may have loosely stemmed from gothic-sounding rock and post-punk. Thirlwell was unafraid to write bold, crude lyrics with intimidating stories and humor that matched the dark, heavy music his words complemented. His voice and music alike were a harsh, acquired taste that matched the red and black artwork of his records, and it wouldn't have been unusual to find, in his songs, any combination of grinding or dissonance, forceful sleaze, and sounds of feedback colliding into a great wall of noise.

And then, in 2005, he released LOVE on Birdman Records, a label where one would typically find a combination of blues and garage rock artists and consider Foetus somehow out of place. But this Foetus record, while unmistakably the dark work of Thirlwell, found him a composer who'd evolved with age, trading some of his prior harshness for an odd elegance. LOVE was a creative album, and characteristically a bold, intimidating event, but unlike the past works of his I'd heard, this record was grand. Thirlwell's singing voice was still a touch harsh for something that topped sounds of orchestral arrangements and harpsichord notes (and I suppose that's where part of the Mike Patton reference comes in), but his voice had toned down so that he sounded like less of a villain in his own stories. And these new songs were actually beautiful, best compared – if anything – to work that might play soundtrack to a Tim Burton movie. I, Jack the Pumpkin King, approved of this magical affair, which deserved to be played from a lit stage in front of a dark velvet curtain.

Two years later, it seems I'm not the only one who found LOVE impressive, because now we've got a release called VEIN, which Birdman insists is not a version of LOVE remixed but re-imagined. This is, for the most part, the case, though there is a TRZTN of Services remix of “Thrush,” which features the original guest vocal by Jennifer Charles and has taken up a heavy beat in typical remix form. The remix still contains the build-up of the original, but shortened by nearly two minutes and placing vocal track and heavy beat at its start, the exciting progression of the song has been lost. There's also a surprisingly fluid overture of LOVE called “L'overture” by Jay Wasco, which actually occurs fourth on the album, and a suspenseful remix of “How to Vibrate” by the aforementioned Mike Patton. The Jason Forrest remix of “Not Adam” has been redone to the point of sounding like a genuine Jason Forrest track, with an added mix that could bounce across walls, and the Matmos track “Not in Yr Hands” [originally “Not in Your Hands” and found on the (not adam) EP] finds dramatic flair mostly replaced with an experiment in percussion.

There is also a bonus video by Sam Sohlberg here of “Time Marches On.” On LOVE, the song was a real event where piano impatiently ticked, strings spiraled downward, and percussion marched forward. Thirwell excels at making music sound like its message, and on this particular track, where every sound pushed forward, this was apparent. Sohlberg's video for “Time Marches On,” however, doesn't match the music by any means, and where one might expect to see a short movie of dark whirlpools, forward movement, or hell, Gotham City, there is instead a video fit for an adult cartoon or iPod commercial, with (presumably) Thirlwell in animated form, lipsticked, track suited-up, singing his own song and doing movements that mimic a solo dance of sorts. The animation is decent in its own right but too colorful and too hip (in the Brooklyn hipster sense) to fit the music of Foetus. This slot on the record might have been better filled by the End remix of the song, previously featured on the (not adam) EP, so authentically re-imagined that it retained nothing but the original's melody.

The real gem of VEIN, not surprisingly, is a version of “Mon Agonie Douce” which has been remixed by Thirlwell himself and truly does appear re-imagined, as though Thirlwell had contemplated composing “Mon Agonie Douce” in a couple of different ways and used this remix album as a method of testing out his alternate choice. LOVE on the whole was a haunting record where each song was like a tall shadow that hovered above, and whereas the original version of “Mon Agonie Douce” was a waltz fit for a carnival, blanketed by harpsichord and French lyrics that transformed in tone from soothing to bitter, here the lyrics are entirely removed, and we have much more of a dark but stereotypically-French tone, set by immediate percussion, dissonant piano, accordion and harp. The new version is like that of a full orchestra covering the original, only this cover is partially set over a whispered wind of la-la-las and remains perfectly fit for the soundtrack to a Burton nightmare.

Foetus – VEIN trailer from Birdman
Right now, if you purchase VEIN straight from Birdman, you'll get the (not adam) EP for free!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hammer No More the Fingers - s/t

It's a touch disappointing to report that most available reviews on Hammer No More the Fingers have somewhat exhausted any crucial info available on the album's one sheet, refraining from expanding any further. According to the average HNMTF review and snatched from said one sheet, in brief:

Hammer No More the Fingers is a three-piece from North Carolina that began in 1994 as a group of 10-year olds playing original songs, save for an Archers of Loaf cover. Their current lineup was finalized in December 2006. They sound like Archers of Loaf and Superchunk.

That aside, it's with some irony that a band like this can sound refreshing, a throwback to mid-1990s alternative rock and yet a standout act at a time when “indie rock” is often afraid of appearing too informal or too rugged. It may be that mainstream pop has become one giant MySpace page, but on the alternate end of things, we're a politically correct bunch, we of the independent and rock worlds. Talent or no, I'm tired of looking at men in skinny jeans and bangs, even if it's the man's way of giving equal opportunity to femininity; I'm tired of songs with promising intros that make way for voices reaching near-Castrati territory; I'm tired of elegance and strings in rock, if only because the mask of aristocracy is now a cliché.

After predicting this past summer that bands like Pissed Jeans would eventually take over the independent rock scene and resurrect the manly '90s era that was grunge, I'm happy to say that HNMTF, while not nearly the epitome of crass masculinity, is a baby step back toward that direction. In truth, it is alternative-rock that recalls a time when “alternative” was a genre, much as “indie” is now. It's for fans of those bare-bones '90s groups like Superchunk, even indie rock purists who relished the birth of Pavement, and boasts an unpretentious, sparse style that could only come from a guitar-bass-drum trio of boys who'd picked up their instruments as 10-year olds, excited about recent album purchases.

Hammer No More the Fingers is neither sophisticated nor inventive, though they are also neither too dignified nor too boorish, for those who tire of extremes. All songs on this seven-track EP hover around “agreeable” in sound, avoiding downer moments and high climaxes alike. But where this detail gets interesting is with respect to the band's lyrics, which hop from sympathizing with the homeless (“Fall Down, Play Dead”) to narrating a mushroom addiction (“Mushrooms”). The latter in particular offers unexpected humor: “I got mushrooms[...]they're pretty fucking tasty[...]They grow and grow/like my consciousness of space and time.” Rather freshman year, no? In any case, the lyrical content is a kick because the music alongside it does nothing to convey what's being said – no song here sounds like its message, meaning you're left with a story to listen for and a catchy song that can sneak past any shallow ears which otherwise dread preachy messages or dumbed-down tales of youth. This breaks no new ground, and it doesn't particularly stick, but this average rock band leaves no room for irritating details, making average a strangely invigorating trait.

Hammer No More the Fingers – Bossman

Hammer No More the Fingers – Fall Down, Play Dead

Purchase Hammer No More the Fingers

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The King Khan and BBQ Show! At Spaceland, 11.15.07

As it turns out, the King Khan and BBQ Show is indeed a show in the finest sense of the word, or at least, the finest that a pair of costumed garage rockers can offer while crooning and downing White Russians in succession. The pair don't tour much, given King Khan's residency in Germany and the side projects that take up the time of both (in addition to a re-release of the King Khan and BBQ Show's eponymous album on In the Red this year, Mark Sultan released The Sultanic Verses and King Khan released the damn fine What Is?! with his Shrines). So it was a pleasure to see them, not to mention a joy to be among their frighteningly loyal cult followers at humble ol' Spaceland.

King Khan's glittery little dress somewhat clashed with the blue and silver curtains of Spaceland's backdrop like a costume at a junior high school dance. But it highlighted his crotch well, not to mention the ass he shook proudly (and would eventually bare, plumber-style, after getting his briefs torn by overzealous fans up front). Meanwhile, Sultan played his role as guitarist/drummer much in the style of Lawyer Dave, albeit with a getup that clashed equally with Spaceland's shiny curtains and Khan's shiny dress.

The interesting thing about the difference between the band's recordings and (this particular) performance was the chance to watch them sing; on record, where the band is heavy on the doo-wop and actually sings, one at a time, over paired-up, distorted guitars, it would seem that one man sings lead and the other harmonizes as back-up. Live, King Khan and BBQ revealed that they take turns singing lead, that their voices are thus quite similar, and that – at least on “Too Much in Love,” where King Khan attempted both lead and a shortened version of his back-up “bow bow bow” - they don't sing together that often and actually remain in very separate spaces when they play and sing. Their personalities were very separate as well, with Sultan serious and content in an invisible box that sort of protected him from being affected by anyone in the room, while King Khan was all too eager to lean into the crowd and play rock star, to share his guitar and himself, and dance for us.

Needless to say, this band's a fucking blast and a half.

The King Khan and BBQ Show - Shake Real Low
Purchase The King Khan and BBQ Show

Also of note: Opener Pleaseeasaur, a multi-media show like no talent show act you've ever seen.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Fur Free Friday!

Does anybody else read Harper's Bazaar these days? Granted, it's a 500-page fashion magazine that caters to stuffy broads and Olsen twins, and it's likely that most people reading music blogs tend not to overlap with the crowd that buys Proenza Schouler and $14,000 brooches. But if you, like me, find the mag a guilty pleasure and check it out each month to see just when those awful gold fabric and high-waisted pant trends are finally going out of style, you might also have found that Bazaar's big flaw is its constant gushing over fur. Yes, fur. Shirley MacLaine looked quite luxurious buried in that $11,000 mink coat in All in a Night's Work, and god only knows what my own father was thinking when he gave me a fox fur stole for my 13th birthday (“What, you can't wear it to a school dance?” he asked after seeing my shocked face.). But fucking hell, it's 2007, and after all sorts of high-profile animal rights protests, from naked celebrities to Alec Baldwin's eerie PETA promos, fur is still seen as a luxury of the fashion world. I don't know about you, but I can't look at a rabbit stole without thinking of little Nibbles, my childhood bunny friend and fellow gingersnap lover.

So, before I resort to more lame gushing over bunnies and their skins (ohhh, those soft, petable skins), here's news of an anti-fur protest that's happening on Friday, November 23. It's around Rodeo Drive, where you just might find someone purchasing a piece that came from this sort of place.
According to this website, 30 million animals around the world are killed for their pelts each year, and many skinned animals are left discarded in bloody piles.

Mink Holocaust = not funny.

Put on by Last Chance for Animals:
Fur-Free Friday
November 23, 2007 @ 11am-2pm
Meet at Beverly Gardens Park in Beverly Hills
(NE corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Rodeo Dr.)
Signs will be provided.

Knights of the New Crusade - What Part of 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' Don't You Understand?
Purchase A Challenge to the Cowards of Christendom
Pissed Jeans - Caught Licking Leather
Purchase Hope for Men

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Jeffrey Lewis? Covering Crass??!

So, from CMJ comes this bizarrely thrilling news, that Jeffrey Lewis (who would make the most brilliant busker-cartoonist this world has ever seen if only given the chance at fame) is about to release a Crass cover album. This album will either be the most hilarious thing ever created or the most godawful thing ever created, depending on the adaptation. 12 Crass Songs is already out in the UK and Europe and will come out in the US on January 29 via Rough Trade/Beggars.


Crass - Punk is Dead (live, from Stations of the Crass)

...which will be the eleventh song off the upcoming covers album from the man below:

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Pogues! On Halloween!

Last year, when the Pogues were set to perform in Los Angeles with scheduled opener Dirty Pretty Things, I'd leapt with anticipation and later kicked myself a bit for deciding at last minute to miss the show.

“What if they never come back?” I cried in thought.

But it would turn out that crossing the Atlantic isn't as rare a move as I'd feared, and the Pogues returned to Los Angeles on Halloween one year later for the first of two dates at the Wiltern Theater. This time, their set was opened by performances from William Elliott Whitmore, whose time on stage played like a front porch conversation, and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, who – as Leo himself noted – had a difficult time sounding impressive knowing they'd be followed by a band like the Pogues.

The Pogues, of course, played a fantastic, vibrant set that lasted nearly two hours and was mostly comprised of tracks from crowd-pleasing albums Rum Sodomy and the Lash and If I Should Fall From Grace With God. A full stage, save for Phil Chevron, who is currently being treated for cancer, and a mostly-full house, save for the upper mezzanine, which was about a third full and contained only a couple of concert-goers dressed for Halloween. The real kicker of the event was Shane MacGowan, whose physical state has deteriorated to the point where the front man, belly and lungs respectively full of liquid and smoke, has become almost akin to a character – should you laugh at him or cry for him? His appearance is certainly in a sorry state, and for all the audience members snickering about his teeth, his limp or his inability to remain on stage for more than four songs in a row, he's looking like an ideal D.A.R.E. campaign these days.

MacGowan's weight gain was partially covered by a long coat in accordance with the night's costume, though from a distance it contributed well to his pirate-esque appearance; he waddled slowly and with a slight hunch, taking breaks from singing every few songs, and in Mark E. Smith fashion, every bit of banter between songs came out sounding like a hearty but unintelligible “ARRRR.” His sung words were easier to interpret than those spoken, though the lyrics were the words we might have already known to recognize, and even these were slurred by a gummy lisp. Judging by the look of his teeth even twenty years ago, it should be that his gums were topped with dentures by now, but going off the sound of his voice, this is not the case. I turned around to ask the guys behind me if they knew the deal with MacGowan's teeth, and word has it that he's got a single tooth left. The abundant gaps in his mouth, paired with his cigarette addiction, have led to a speaking voice that could just as well come from an eighty-year old Irish pirate, and it pains me to note this as further proof that the best musicians are usually the ones with the most troubling issues.

Purchase Rum Sodomy & the Lash
And then purchase If I Should Fall From Grace With God, because it's wonderful.