Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Too much crap to take in at once.

These days, California's busy dying a slow, conservative death – in two consecutive weeks, we managed to prevent the passing of Propositions 1A and 1B, which would have (respectively) partially closed our budget gap and allowed public education funding to prevent teacher layoffs, and we upheld Proposition 8, which will hopefully get a new ballot initiative in 2010. Also, Obama's presence is being protested in Los Angeles at this very moment in the name of unreleased torture photos. What's right in California, then?

Just the sunshine, I guess. But elsewhere in the world, there's new music to gush about. So...

Two bits of fabulous news from FatCat; first, a brand new Tom Brosseau record, Posthumous Success, will be released in the US on June 23, and you can stream it to your heart's content here. Brosseau gets better with every release, and this one's just as well – lovely old-time folk from a semi-local who loves Camus. If only every folk singer were a semi-local who loved Camus.

Second, great Scots the Twilight Sad (to be announced with a swoon and a sigh) finally have a new LP in the works, the now-mastered Forget the Night Ahead, set for a September 21 release. There's already a track up for stream, “Reflection of the Television,” on their MySpace page, and it's an even drearier wall of noise than all previously-released tracks they've come out with. Simply perfect. Vocalist James Graham has got a gorgeous voice with which to top it, to boot. I will champion this band to anyone's death.

The Twilight Sad - Reflection of the Television

In Echo and the Bunnymen news, that brilliant 1984 record Ocean Rain, which they'd performed live on a few occasions in 2008, is receiving some opportunity. First, a signed copy of the record is being taken into space next month! Next, a live performance of the album from their November 27 show at the Liverpool Echo Arena is being established as part of a deluxe Ocean Rain box set available May 30, and the first 1000 copies ordered will be signed personally by Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant. Only about thirty pounds!

There's this pleasant band out of England called Pushboxer, and in the last few months they've released a single for “Pictures,” featuring “Water” as a b-side. Likely for fans of the National and possibly for fans of the Twilight Sad. I'd be a jerk to give you a downloadable song when there are only two on the CD to buy, but you can check out a demo from spring 2008 prior to tracking down their new single.

Pushboxer - When I Say More I Mean It (demo)

What else, what else? New Oneida to download and – as of July 7 – purchase (in the form of a triple album)!

Oneida - I Will Haunt You
Oneida - Saturday
Oneida - What's Up, Jackal?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Chain and the Gang, the Hive Dwellers at the Smell! Los Angeles, CA. May 22, 2009.

I've had a couple of Ian Svenonius experiences; the most recent was during a slide show he presented in promotion of his book, The Psychic Soviet, at the Mountain Bar a couple of years ago. He came off as a rather friendly fellow, though surprisingly introverted. Prior to that, he'd been fronting then-band Weird War at the Vera Project in Seattle, about five years ago, wearing a tunic and taking a moment here or there to go-go when not stating matter-of-factly that he'd sue a nearby drugstore for not being open when he needed a decongestant. I'd written Weird War a few days later to thank them for coming to town, and he'd written back and apologized for giving such a lousy show. How humble.

This weekend, however, Svenonius came to town to preach against the dollar with new act Chain and the Gang, a K Records group that shares its lineup with supporting band the Hive Dwellers (fronted by Calvin Johnson). He didn't have a cold.

As the Hive Dwellers – don't forget the “the,” says Calvin Johnson – the band looked a bit bored, and in turn the audience was either very polite or so impressed with the indie legend before them on stage that all glitches were forgiven. See, Johnson suffers from Bill Murray Syndrome, though he wouldn't call it “suffering,” and certainly Bill Murray wouldn't do a free-movement dance alongside his dry crooning. Johnson doesn't smile to let us know that his jokes have a punchline, and it's not clear whether his shtick is a shtick at all. He's become in his latter days what Jonathan Richman's become in his latter days, witty with a delicate fingering on the guitar, sort of an unexpected counter to his – ah – singing style, though his refusal to use a microphone meant we had to struggle to find that punchline while the band battled the pounding beats of the bar next door and nearly gave up.

Chain and the Gang was a ball, though – Svenonius, still perhaps the best frontman around, donned a spiffy white suit and 'fro, and made conversation as though it weren't being spoken the way it was recorded, turning out all sorts of leftist talk that rambled into nonsense territory and let us know that there was still humor behind the rhetoric. He's consistent as both writer and performer, truthfully. And he still spends his stage time hovering back and forth between speaking against the hypocrisy of liberty and taking a moment to go-go.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Georgia Anne Muldrow (presents) - Ms. One

It’s been a couple of years since Olesi: Fragments Of An Earth (Stones Throw), where, as a 23-year old, Georgia Anne Muldrow made a villain of Hurricane Katrina personified. Here she remains ballsy and throws in “Mr. President,” sharing some bold words with Mr. Bush and making her choices count when (in 2008) to be anti-Bush was both cliché and necessary (“Mr. President / you must not sleep well…hey you / the man who killed the world”).

Ms. One is a compilation featuring guests like Black Milk and Big Pooh (on the bass-thick “2 MC”), Dudley Perkins – with whom she shares a child and a common tie to Stones Throw – and Stacy Epps, who sings the retro, jazzy “Motivation.”

Though the comp is a bit top-heavy, as a few tracks here are filler to some degree (Ms. Dezy’s “80’s Freestyle Skit” and Mortonette Stephens’ “Magic Walk,” which feels like a four-minute chunk of Nickelodeon’s “Gullah Gullah Island,” for two), the work here is overall solid. Georgia in production alter-ego mode, as Ms. One, has an instrumental piano run with “Turiya’s Smile,” one of the best tracks here and an ideal soundtrack to, perhaps, Charlie Brown’s saddest turning point.

Muldrow, of course, is the star of Ms. One, and just as she brings a quality that’s at once earthy, jazzy and hard as genuine punk rock, her freely flowing voice is a feminine counterpoint to her production, which, for all tracks, is raw, often lo-fi, and brings an informal demo feel to nearly all recordings here. From the love she preaches on “Return” to the smiles and laughter you can sense are attempting to be stifled on “Divinely Free” (with Jimetta Rose and Dudley Perkins), the effort in full is a project fun and free, thick in spirit that's hard to come by.

Ms. One - Turiya's Smile
Stacy Epps - Motivation
Purchase Ms. One

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Steve Martin's Big Bad Banjo and a Conversation with Dave Barry. Club Nokia. Los Angeles, CA. May 11, 2009.

I've never wanted to act, but if I had to take any role in a film, of my time or otherwise, I'd take Bernadette Peters' place in The Jerk. Why? So I'd know the pleasure of Steve Martin licking my face.

Imagine my delight, then, in finding that I'd have the chance to photograph Steve himself, 63-years old yet still mysteriously ageless (and no, he doesn't look nearly as waxy in person as he does on camera these days). Alongside North Carolina's Steep Canyon Rangers, whose bluegrass harmonies formed so smoothly that only the perfect clarity of Woody Platt's guitar strings (and the spontaneity of Martin's singing voice, later) provided proof of the band's live presence, Steve Martin showed off 40 years' worth of banjo practice in a successful effort to raise funds for the Los Angeles Public Library.

The delayed performance, well under two hours in sum, kicked off with an interview between Martin and writer Dave Barry, allowing Martin to show off his vintage banjos and their worth, or sad lack thereof. While the interview was all wit, perhaps spontaneously so, perhaps not, it was the music that made the effort of admission worthwhile. The Steep Canyon Rangers were top notch; Graham Sharp's banjo was, as Martin put it, redundant, and sole Californian Nicky Sanders played a marvelous fiddle, battling Martin as virtuoso of the night.

But, oh, Steve's a real charmer. While lyrics to “Late for School” would be corny from anyone else's mouth [“Lept across three lawn flamingos, waved to Sal (he's Filipino)”], they were sharp and well-timed from his. As it turns out, Dave Barry also plays a quick guitar and joined the band for one last performance, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” prior to the group's receipt of 2,000 standing ovations.

Dave Barry said a few words.

Then he interviewed Steve! And Steve showed off his banjo.

Finally, the band played...

...but it was Steve who dazzled. Swoon.

The Vaselines! at the El Rey. Los Angeles, CA. May 10, 2009.

What should serve as the perfect follow-up to local sunny pop act the Tyde, whose moppy blonde bass player wore jeans so tight that the pantylines of his boxer briefs shone through, and whose singer Darren Rademaker, holding a beautiful Gibson and blessed with a perfect porn 'stache, would lead his band in a flawless performance of Twice track “Go Ask Yer Dad” upon request? Why, yes, the Vaselines would do.

Reformed for now, visiting L.A. for the very first time, Glasgow's Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly played a couple of new songs to balance out a brief set of goodies from their equally brief late '80s catalogue, and it was during these that it became truly apparent how much of an influence they'd had on Nirvana.

McKee delivered all sorts of filth in a sweet Scottish accent – 10 p.m.'s never too early for muff, and yes, we could use a wank about now – while Kelly, actually quite handsome twenty years later, sans all that hair, played modest. They've aged well and sounded quite close to their recordings, though even McKee had trouble delivering the “man/boy” chant of “You Think You're a Man” without giggling. Not that it's an easy job – their Divine cover does have a chorus somewhat reminiscent of the “whore/nun” call and response of '90s SNL skit “Dieter's Dream.”

The show on the whole was a mecca of geek chic boys and indie kids from yesteryear, though the Vaselines' audience saw one token chick who resembled a bad LSD trip epitomized, as well as a couple engaged in face sex toward show's end. But the set ended on a high note, with an encore consisting of “Rory Rides Me Raw,” “You Think You're a Man” and “Son of a Gun.” New lyrics let us know that they've got nothing to say but they're saying it anyway – not that anything's changed, of course. Luckily, there's a small following that still gets the joke.

The Vaselines - Rory Rides Me Raw
The Vaselines - Slushy
Purchase the just-released Enter the Vaselines, which contains everything (!) recorded plus demos and live recordings.
The Tyde - Henry VIII
Purchase Twice.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Commie Talk.

This is sort of cheating the medium by emphasizing the most musical event taking place at a venue not known for music, but this is to say that there will be an open mic night at Libros Revolucion, the kinda sorta Communist bookshop in downtown Los Angeles that serves as a counterpart to New York's Revolution Books. While you, reader, may not be of a politically liberal (let alone ultra-leftist) mindset, it's sort of important to have places like this, an alternative option where you can find all sorts of Marxist literature and copies of the weekly Revolution newspaper and biographies of Black Panthers, because there's a lot of passion lacking in Los Angeles, and this shop is proof that - however skeptical you may be - there still exist people who study and perhaps pursue social causes. Sometimes we get comfortable and forget that there still exist people who aren't, and it's for them that said causes are worth pursuing.

That said, the shop is also volunteer-run, has existed for several decades on the same dingy block of W. 8th Street, downtown, and needs to drum up business in order to keep going. If crappy poetry and folk aren't your thing, they've also got regular events taking place, such as upcoming talks on evolution and Darwinism, and a discussion on a Revolution newspaper series by Revolutionary Communist Party Chairman Bob Avakian. Learn more on their website.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Adam Balbo - Fix

San Francisco's Adam Balbo comes from the Jeffrey Lewis/Adam Green school of folk; his lyrics are funny because they're awkwardly realistic, and because they're perhaps not supposed to be funny at all. Rambling and conversational, by a happy guy who's playing the sad bastard. Or, depending on your outlook at the time, by a sad bastard attempting to make a joke.

“Obligatory Highway Analogy” is sort of a perfect love song that, like all other songs on Fix, is aware of itself and its intentions, the love song for the man who's too embarrassed to admit that a trite metaphor really is sort of the thing that best describes a feeling: “Without you in the car with me the road is just a long-ass strip of cement with painted lines, a wicked fucking scar on the proverbial heart of this enormous continent, through plains, woods, mountains and, of course, the desert.”

“Self-Loathing Song,” alternately, is one of the many tracks on Fix that makes it easy to question whether Balbo's singing with too much of a wink to the camera, playing “emo guy” for a joke. But then, you hear it followed up with “The Girl at My Pity Party,” another sweet, sad bastard love song of nerd non-romance, and he seems genuine all over again.

The album alternates on the whole this way, and though it runs a bit long at nineteen songs (never mind that some of these nineteen are under a minute – this record is just too damn long-winded), there are some perfect anthems for geek love here, as well as a bit of nonsense about feeling like a wrapped piece of American cheese product (“Convenient Dinner”). This is the stuff of pitiful nights alone, and is likely ruined in a live setting, where others' giggles would turn your shared pity party into a crowd-pleasing wink of an ironic joke. Listen to this in privacy.

Balbo's released nearly a record a year since 2001, and the first four of seven are available for free download. All are available via Balbo's MySpace page. He's also looking for west coast tour spots this summer, so give a man a tip.

Adam Balbo - Obligatory Highway Analogy
Adam Balbo - The Girl at My Pity Party

How nice.