Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Crap I Liked in 2008 - Old Men

Hugh Cornwell
(1/26 at El Rey Theatre, LA)

The Jam
(1/26 at El Rey Theatre, LA)
The Jam - All Around the World

Ray Davies
(3/29 at Wiltern Theater, LA)
Ray Davies - Vietnam Cowboys

Stiff Little Fingers
(5/2 at House of Blues Sunset Strip, LA)
Stiff Little Fingers - You Can't Say Crap on the Radio

Nada Surf
(9/5 at the Troubadour, LA)
Nada Surf - Your Legs Grow

Echo and the Bunnymen
(10/1 at Radio City Music Hall, NYC)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Crap I Liked in 2008 - Folky Bastards

Frankly, I'm more one for electric guitars, and folk tends to make me a little impatient if only because I want a man to sing like a man, goddammit, but there were some nice offerings in the acoustic world this year.

I've had a bad hankering for some Greg Ashley (the Mirrors, the Gris Gris, quiet solo career) as of late, seeing as he's been strangely absent since 2007. So whilst lurking around his My Space page and finding that he's now trying to produce records more often (you can hire him for a mere $1200 per record!), I discovered that he's recorded some stuff for this fellow in Marin County, Jeff Smiler. Life must be awfully slow up in Marin, so Smiler's taught himself to play old-timey folk and hired Ashley to lay it down using his trademark lo-fi/analog recording method. Someone sign this man – I'm looking at you, Birdman Records.

Know where I didn't go last night? To see Roses Kings Castles. Where am I not at the moment? Watching Roses Kings Castles. Shame, too. The rather emo-ly named solo project of Babyshambles drummer Adam Ficek is not purely folk, actually a bit soft pop, but there is something charming about a man of Polish descent with an acoustic guitar in hand, so I thought I'd mention it here. This is the solo project he started between recording sessions with Babyshambles, and though it's back to England for him next week, you can find a few song streams, his tour blog and records for sale on his website. “Sparkling Bootz” is painfully cute, mostly because of the way he adds the teeny-tiniest vibrato to his short “o”s, all Luke Kook-like and whatnot.

Fleet Foxes. You already have this record. It's real pretty.

This past May, Series Two Records in Nebraska released a record by Bakers at Dawn (from Sweden!). Bakers at Dawn is a mostly-solo effort from Marcus Sjoland, and seeing as I don't quite have that knack for adjectives or imagery, I'll leave you with an appropriate description of Sjoland's music that's been snatched from Series Two: Bakers at Dawn wants his music to sound either like a cold rock wrapped up in a warm blanket, or a warm blanket wrapped around a cold rock.

Bakers at Dawn - Endless

Erm...hey! Check it out, another free album is available for download:
Bakers at Dawn – As Is (.zip)

(Track listing or individual track downloads available here.)

Pete Molinari, the UK's answer to Bob Dylan. Five bucks says he never tours the US. Sigh.

Daniel Clay – writer of a record that, to this day, the second to last of the year, remains one of my favorites from 2008. Buy The Protestant (and get a full preview) now.

And, hell, while we're at it:
Nick Drake - Three Hours

Monday, December 29, 2008

Crap I Liked in 2008 - Scottish People

A few months back I briefly mentioned Orzelda, the side project of Twilight Sad bassist Craig Orzel; in June, Orzel released The Wee Shop is Filled with Delights, which you can download from this page and then purchase in print for a mere four pounds. Also on this page, however, is an experimental Christmas EP of sorts that Orzel posted on Christmas day, available for free download as well. It's a present! How kind. Possibly for fans of the first Decomposure record, not so much for fans of the Twilight Sad.

Orzelda – My Dress Up (.zip)

Orzelda – The Wee Shop is Filled with Delights (.zip

Speaking of the Twilight Sad, one of my favorite bands to come from the UK in the last couple of years, FatCat released their The Twilight Sad Killed My Parents and Hit the Road on December 8. It's full of covers and live versions of pre-existing tracks, and was meant to help fund their recent tour with Mogwai. The whole thing is presently available for purchase or free stream at the FatCat website
, and sweet Jesus, what Andy MacFarlane does with his guitar on a ridiculously thick version of Joy Division's “Twenty Four Hours!” How sweet and sparse, their cover of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' “Modern Romance,” highlighting James Graham's boyish brogue. The colorful tones of MacFarlane's Jaguar strings, ringing clearly like beautiful bells on a live version of “And She Would Darken the Memory,” so much less foggy than the heavily distorted version previously appearing on record. This song alone is worth the record's purchase price. Go!

In the late summer, Matthew of Song, by Toad semi-fame conducted a Toad Session at home with handsome gents Meursault, and the results were absolutely lovely. You can download the acoustic session in full or as single tracks here
. I recommend “Pissing on Bonfires/Kissing with Tongues.” Not coincidentally, Matthew started up Song, by Toad Records this year and since has made available an album by Meursault of the same title. Available for purchase here, as are a couple of free downloads.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Crap I Liked in 2008: Subtle - Exiting Arm

Exiting Arm is part three in a concept running over three records, released two years apart from one another, each following referee-faced protagonist (H)our Hero Yes. Subtle are sort of a category unto themselves, a hip hop band fronted by perhaps the most literate emcee of all, Adam Drucker/Doseone, whose artistic ability and stage persona – involving sharp jokes, speedy rhymes, and a gaze that could kill – really make the band what it is. That said, though, what other hip hop group can boast both a drum machine and live drum kit, as well as an electric cello? The music's the most important part of the music, you know.

The second round of these three parts, 2006's For Hero: For Fool had been the boldest, musically, and most critical, lyrically. Drucker had, during an April 2006 interview with A.V. Club, labeled Our Hero Yes a “beat poet born in rap,” meant to represent “all fairness,” and likened his own work to a graphic novel, which is rather fitting, given how Subtle's records are made complete by Drucker's artwork. In “The Mercury Craze,” the first single from For Hero: For Fool, we were reintroduced to Our Hero Yes, “recently diagnosed as being last haver of a most unusual sort of blood,” but we suddenly became the subject of Drucker's hypothetical prodding, asked what we would do to have our blood “flushed completely and replaced with that of a nice bright white college boy.” Suddenly, an earlier reference to Vice Magazine “serving up a hard bucket of most happening blood” took on a more logical appearance.

In May 2008 there arrived Exiting Arm, the liner notes of which reference 2004's A New White, and which is supplemented by a website
where we're provided new artwork and poetry, proving if anything that, tangentially, (1) this concept has been ridiculously thought out, and (2) the high and nasal voice with which Drucker speaks on stage is in fact another mere part of the Doseone character. But the record is an interesting point of comparison with the record that recently preceded it, the tone and transition between “Day Dangerous” and “The No” not unlike that between “Middleclass Stomp” and “Middleclass Kill” in 2006.

There's not as much clearly spelled out social criticism this time around, though there is “Unlikely Rock Shock,” where Drucker raps, “The fate of your life may go cold...May be determined by how good you look in white” in a “6ft tall man's world.” “The No,” as much a dark rock song as “Middleclass Kill,” finds Drucker referring to public school as a “cell” that provides the artificial light necessary to give birth to a skeptic. Okay. But there's also a lot of creativity in the music, still heavily influenced by early hip hop but thick with percussion, like that of Jel's drum machine on “Sick Soft Perception,” and endlessly layered vocal tracks, like those on “Hollow Hollered.”

Sadly, the group's now on indefinite hiatus. However, Doseone is a collaborating maniac and for the time being is set to take part in some top secret project with Mike Patton and Tunde Adebimpe (god damn!).

Subtle - Day Dangerous
Purchase Exiting Arm

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Darker My Love. Echoplex. Los Angeles. 12.19.08

The last time I'd seen L.A. band Darker My Love, they – or, rather Tim Presley and Rob Barbato – were filling a couple of gaping holes that had been left in the Fall by members who'd suddenly quit mid-tour. Admittedly, that 2006 show had been awfully draining. But Darker My Love, on their own, have got really fabulous style and grace on stage, charging this mesh of brooding rock and mod jams through long, long tunnels. On record they can be a bit predictable, even poppy, but the flow is so much darker and smoother (sure, coffee, why not?) on stage.

A touch more entertaining, though, were this show's openers, the Lumerians, whose 80% instrumental psychedelic freakout made me reconsider the idea of Los Angeles psych rock as stale – truly, kids, they provided an experience complete with visuals, hair and endless wow, with a vinyl album solid enough to match. And of course, slightly more concise rockers the Soft Pack (formerly the Muslims) improved upon “American” with an unexpectedly punk touch of sloppiness and greater growl from Matt Lamkin, who'd not long before greeted all with a quick, “Hi, we're the Soft Pack. Or something.”


The Muslims...erm...Soft Pack:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Music updates, 'cause there's nothing funny to say about crab.

I'm in New Orleans and massively bored on a terribly rainy evening. Honestly, how much fried crap can one person eat? How many dancing drunks can one dance with? I'm missing Los Angeles. So, here are some L.A.-ish updates on musical things over which to be excited in the coming month or so.

1. One douchey review after another and the Muslims were finally convinced to change their name. So now they are the subject of douchey interviews under new name the Soft Pack. But they're still a ball or two of a live band and they're opening for the Night Marchers (John Reis! Woohoo!) at the Brixton on December 30 (13 bucks a ticket, 100 "J" Fisherman's Wharf, Redondo Beach, 90277).

2. If you're into passively doing good for others, there are a couple of benefit shows happening in Los Angeles this month. On December 21, the Smell will be holding one for the Downtown Women's Center, which is a really fantastic shelter that serves as both a drop-in station and a permanent housing facility for homeless women. More info on the calendar here, but if you can't go (or don't like lady-fronted punk rock), please support the Downtown Women's Center - it's a great transitional space with rehabilitation opportunities, really an ideal shelter, and if you bring an in-kind donation you can take a tour to see exactly who your stuff is helping.

3. Another one, this time snatched from a mass e-mail, is notice of a show being put on by F Yeah Fest, LA Record and the Eagle Rock Music Fest on December 19 (see above flyer). Entrance, Blank Blue & Underground Railroad to Candyland are playing with soon to be announced special guests (though they're claiming a DJ set by Bruce Willis? Hey-o!) at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock - 2225 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock. The show is all ages, and tickets are $7, or $5 if you donate a sealed toy or blanket. Toys will be donated December 20 to the Union Rescue Mission and Midnight Mission, and blankets will be cleaned and handed directly to those who come to a Christmas Day dinner (details here if you're on Facebook). Plus, Entrance rocks socks.

4. The Henry Clay People play Spaceland on New Year's Eve and Nightmares on Wax is coming to the Echoplex on February 2 (hurrah hurrah!).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mike Ness!! with Guana Batz at the El Rey. Los Angeles. 12.4.08.

It's sort of curious that Mike Ness would tour as a solo artist these days, seeing as he's now the only original remaining member of Social Distortion. But then, it's a detour from the punk rock that's carried his career, the opportunity to be an all-American figure, singing outlaw love songs. Even this detour is capable of drawing L.A.'s rockabilly kids and greasers out from hiding, though, and prompts fights just as well as it'll draw a circle pit while a cover of Bob Dylan's “Don't Think Twice” is playing.

Forty-six-year old Ness is a flawless act, his best performances mimicking some of his best recordings – for two, “Crime Don't Pay” and “The Devil in Miss Jones,” off 1999's Cheating at Solitaire. These days he's shunning drugs and praising Obama; he's also slick as his hair and speaks and moves with finesse, posing with his Les Paul the way it's meant to be held, playing with the authenticity and heart you'd hope for from such a man. From under his cowboy hat he squinted with a fury lacking the slightest bit of phoniness or irony. Before we could whine for a Social D song, he gave in and ended on “Down Here (With the Rest of Us),” only to return for an encore session, throwing on that hat and completing the night with “I Fought the Law.”

Among the established musicians joining Ness on stage were guitar virtuoso/pedal steel player Chris Lawrence and guitarist Jonny Wickersham, who's been filling a gap in Social Distortion since Dennis Danell's untimely death. Also sharing the stage were English openers Guana Batz, who stretched their set from psychobilly as old as their 26-year history to an unexpected cover of “Johnny B. Goode” and – hell, why not? – a tailored rendition of Led Zeppelin's “Rock and Roll.” As with Ness and his band to follow, everything came out just rough enough, led by a raspy, loquacious Brit named Pip and a beautiful black Gretsch.

Guana Batz:

There looks to be about one video of the show on You Tube.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Happy Birthday, Woody!

Of all the socially awkward, corn muffin-eating, clarinet-playing old Jewish men out there, you're my favorite by a longshot. And now you are 73. Happy Birthday.

Watch one of the creepiest seduction scenes ever, in one of my favorite Woody Allen movies, Love and Death.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nodzzz/Abe Vigoda/Vivian Girls/Love is All. The Smell. November 18, 2008.

Though the galloping rhythm of Abe Vigoda was pushed back from its previously listed headlining space and into that sophomore hole known as the supporting slot, the Smell was already quite full when they took the stage early on and after rather friendly rockers Nodzzz. There was dissonance. There was a pit! And there was Sweden.

New York's Vivian Girls, who visually represent Williamsburg, played dumb, open-chord punk rock as it's meant and harmonized with apathy like a riot grrl act straight out of the '90s. They're nice girls in banter and slightly vicious in their delivery – an odd match, then, but a perfect lead-in for Sweden's Love is All, who are perhaps the happiest looking group to play at the Smell in some time.

Fronted by dainty Mia Farrow look-alike Josephine Olausson, whose accent is sweet and thick, and supplemented with the sax action of Åke Strömer, whose glasses are perfectly '80s, Love is All seemed to bring together the mods and rockers for a big merry dancefest, with everything from their debut's “Talk Talk Talk Talk” to a cover of “I Ran” (off their recent Covers EP). It was also a perfect opportunity to hear Markus Görsch play his drums oh-so-rapidly on “Make Out Fall Out Make Up.” On the whole, every act on the bill was a joy not to be missed!

Abe Vigoda:

Friday, November 21, 2008

The (International) Noise Conspiracy at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts. November 14, 2008.

Despite their compromises, every visit to Los Angeles made by the (International) Noise Conspiracy seems to find its gaps filled by lively shows at intimate venues, the way they're meant to be seen. And for all my gripes this time around, the band supplemented its label obligation with headlining shows at El Cid and the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts.

The night of the latter, we got all squished and cozy up in front of that stage, barely a foot high. The band played a loud version of “Smash it Up” and gave a performance of “A Body Treatise” slightly less raunchy than on the previous night. People up front knew every word of every song – save for the new ones, of course – and it was sort of terrifying to see how intensely some followed along, though I suppose for this reason it's rather handy that (I)NC's given up on “Communist Moon” for the meantime.

In any case, this set made up for the night before on a number of levels; for one, it was bluntly stated that the band rarely plays old songs – not because they don't believe in them – but because they've forgotten how to play them. That, and they'd rather move forward (though, really, they've probably just forgotten how to play the old songs). Excused. And when they're headlining an intimate space, even the more recent tracks, those that lack the same fire as the old, develop a fury that can't be replicated on record. On top of the fact, it was great to see band members walking around and interacting with their fans (prior to putting on those flashy purple suits, natch), watching the smaller names before them, dancing to music between sets and above all else proving that they're good enough for a greater setting but are by no means above anything less. This group of men – to this day, they may be one of the best live rock bands in the world.

P.S. Even Swedes understand the joke of L.A. suburbs - upon declaring that they were "happy to be here in Eagle Rock," Dennis Lyxzen giggled a little and said "good times."

P.P.S. Also check out fanfuckingtastic opener Slang Chickens, who'll be at the Echo in Echo Park on December 14. They're essentially cowpunkers, one of whom makes some vicious noise with a banjo (best suited to fans of Gun Club-style punk).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The (International) Noise Conspiracy at Club Nokia. November 13, 2008.

Forgive the indulgent “I” statements and high school attitude that follow; I've watched the (International) Noise Conspiracy open for the Offspring and – as of this week – Taking Back Sunday, and though it's petty to resent a mere band for performing at large, corporate-owned venues with touring bands they clearly dislike, I started resenting this band for doing so despite preaching against capitalism and the like since the start of their musical career. It's hypocritical to preach against “the man” and then allow said Man with a capital “M” to promote your art to a greater audience. Even musicians need to make a living, but to compromise this deeply?

I fell in love with T(I)NC for sparking my interest in topics like socialism, communism and anarchism, systems I never really learned about in school. That they promoted reading and independent thought, and introduced me to Emma Goldman, now a minor hero of mine, via a briefly shown quote in a stupid music video with stupid lyrics and a swinging tune. This band, I fell in love with for its '60s aesthetic and fierce style, and the unmatched scream of its frontman, previously the center of what may be the best hardcore band of all time. I loved what this band stood for, and the way it presented itself.

Thursday evening, however, its performance was wedged between skate-rappers 3OH!3, whose best line was “Do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips,” and a chunk of that genre which refuses to call itself emo, Taking Back Sunday. Bands have been accused of selling out many times, but this wasn't selling out the way a band like, say, TV on the Radio has been accused (in which a good band gets signed to a major, continues to release good records, and finally gets credit for its work). No, this was a solid band getting lumped into an MTV lineup, performing to girls and guys with hair straightened and sideswept (not respectively), themselves now looking like a parody.

The political talk was more lukewarm than usual – Obama's just one man, we the people ought to take over the White House, no, I haven't made this speech twenty times before – and the group came out looking like a Topanga Canyon project of Devendra's, or perhaps a crop of extras from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Purple suits, Dennis Lyxzén in a cape, the group one haircut shy of looking forty years too late (said exception being bass player Inge Johansson, the perpetually clean cut goth). Per usual, there was “Up for Sale” (why yes, yes we are), “Capitalism Stole My Virginity,” and “Black Mask (2004),” which has permanently replaced 1999's “Black Mask,” one of the simplest yet most vicious songs in their catalog.

But in an unexpected turn, Lyxzén quotes his “good friend” Patti Smith on the definition of rock and roll, and then says, “but I'm just not feeling it tonight – too much bad politics, bad music, bad haircuts.” A swipe at his tour mates and the audience standing before him, and it completely goes over the heads of all. So the band launches into “Waiting for Salvation,” and Lyxzén jumps off an Orange amp, well over the head of guitarist Lars Stromberg, whose Mick Avory face is now covered with the history of Southern rock, and a complete set of speakers on stage right goes out, perhaps in an odd turn of karma.

We're pissed, but we cheer when the sound returns, at which point we've missed some comments about Sweden being a complete turnaround from L.A., and then...god, yes, “A Body Treatise.” A rather handy cameraperson manages to shift the direction of the camera (whose footage is projected beside the stage) during a simulated act of fellatio, rather par for the song, and the band transitions into “I Am the Dynamite,” their new atheist anthem. By the time the show ends, Lyxzén has ripped off the upper half of his suit to reveal a well-established Straight Edge tattoo on his lower back, and the band concludes with fists in the air, Constantines-style, receiving few props from an audience who'd given greater cheers to the dope beats or whatever of 3OH!3.

Has this band become too good for its songs? Part two to follow...

T(I)NC - Waiting for Salvation
Purchase Bigger Cages, Longer Chains
T(I)NC - A Body Treatise (live)
Purchase Live at the Oslo Jazz Festival