Monday, December 29, 2008

What the Kids Thought Was Great in 2008

(Hint: it definitely wasn't SSD.)

I posted my best of 2008 list on Friday and the general reaction I got from my friends over the weekend was "I didn't I know any of the bands on your list." Or alternately "I didn't I know any of the bands on your list except for one," the Vivian Girls being the exception. My retort probably should have been "Well, I didn't know any of them either until someone told me about them" thus casually diffusing any implications of cultural elitism. Unfortunately, I didn't think to say that until just now.

One friend told me I should do another top ten but this time list records people know, which is sort of an odd proposition. Hey guys, I know I told you the stuff I really like but just to let you know I'm with it here's a bunch of records you're already familiar with, shuffled into a slightly different order than all the other year-ends you've been reading. I actually thought it would kind of funny to do just that and denounce my previous list as being too snobby or perhaps imply that none of its bands actually exist other than in my mind. However, as with most things I think are funny, I run a huge risk of no one but me getting the joke.

My ultimate decision was to give my thoughts on the top ten tracks of the year as decided by the folks at Pitchfork Media, who are as good a barometer for what the kids listen to nowadays as any. I purposely avoided reading the write-ups of each track as to not have the opinion of the author sway my thought process in any direction. I hadn't heard most of these songs until I listened to them just now, or if I had I didn't really know who the artist was. That doesn't make me better than you or anything. It just means that we have different interests and tastes. Stop being so insecure, goddammit.

10: Estelle
"American Boy"
I like this song. I've heard it many times at clubs/bars/wherever-guys-with-laptops-"DJ." It's readymade-for-the-dancefloor pop fluff but it's good pop fluff. It's involving and memorable and it doesn't insult the listener's intelligence. I still might like "Single Ladies" (Number 23 on the Pitchfork list) better though.

09: Portishead "Machine Gun"
Even at their mid-90s peak, I was never a fan of Portishead. That "Nobody Loves Me" song was pretty ubiquitous back then and it was decent enough aural wallpaper. This song however is a thoroughly unpleasant listen and not in a good Electric Eels-kind of way. Some might call that "challenging" but to my ears it's just kind of repetitive and lazy-sounding.

08: Air France "Collapsing at Your Doorstep"
Songs like this are fodder for my theory that most music fans these days mainly use music to provide a non-distracting soundtrack to dozing off on the subway. I'm sure there will be more examples before we get to the end of the list.

07: Cut Copy "Hearts on Fire"
I heard a friend of a friend of mine play Cut Copy at a BBQ this past summer and I remember liking one of their songs. It might have been this one but the fact that I'm listening to it and still don't remember if it was or wasn't is probably not a good sign. Is there any way I can possibly discuss this song without mentioning New Order? I suppose it was inevitable that hipster band emulation of Joy Division a few years back would be followed by NO copyists. There are worse sources of inspiration to be sure but this cut reminds be more of New Order's post-Technique output than their 80s peak. And it's not even half as good as "Regret."

06: Deerhunter "Nothing Ever Happened"
I know more than a few people whose opinions on music I respect that dig Deerhunter plenty. However, when I first checked out the band a while back via the cuts on their myspace page, they didn't make much of an impression and I never bothered to explore further. I gotta say though, this song is pretty good. Good enough to make me want to check out the rest of the album. I'll get right to that after I'm done listening the rest of the dozen or so albums in my "I guess I missed this one" pile.

05: M83 "Kim & Jessie"
Sounds a bit like the Brains' original version of "Money Changes Everything" crossed with Flock of Seagulls' "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)." And we all know what prolific, artistically-rewarding careers those bands had. An attractive, lush sound but I wish that the band would have been kind enough to provide something in the way of a hook as well.

04: Santogold "L.E.S. Artistes"

03: Hot Chip "Ready for the Floor"
I like Hot Chip's song "Boy From School." Nothing else they've done has impressed me very much. This is no exception.

02: Fleet Foxes "White Winter Hymnal"
This is the band that also won PFM's best album of 2008, a choice so controversial that even noted Pitchfork apologist blog A New Nuance publicly disagreed. (A move that's somewhat like Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche.) I've actually never heard the band myself. I heard someone describe them as "they're kind of like My Morning Jacket but not as good" and that was enough to keep me far, far away. However, when I read Popmatters' Joe Tacopino say that on this album they "reinvent themselves as Hüsker Dü," it made me somewhat intrigued. Um, Joe, are you sure you're aren't confusing Fleet Foxes with a completely different band? You know, one that sounds like Hüsker Dü? Because this sounds like the Shins covering the O Brother Where At Thou? soundtrack.

01: Hercules and Love Affair "Blind"
This is the best song of the year? Really? Really? If I wanted to hear a shitty version of Blur's "Girls and Boys," there's plenty of examples on YouTube.

Friday, December 26, 2008

What Was Great in 2008

Besides, you know, the obvious.

Instead of a very extensive year-end list like I did last year, I decided to simply give a list of 10 records which came out this year that I am very, very happy I purchased. I'm not going to pretend this is a "best of" list as I'm sure there are more than a few worthy records I missed in the past 12 months. As more year-end lists trickle in, I'll hopefully get myself caught up.

Still, none of the below albums are crying out to be usurped. It took some trimming to get it down to ten. In no particular order other than the order they occurred to me:

1 Thomas Function Celebration (Alive)
Here's what I wrote on this blog after seeing Thomas Function back in April:
On Tuesday night I had the pleasure of seeing Thomas Function perform at the Annex here in New York in front of a crowd of maybe three dozen or so. Lately I've been verbalizing to anyone who will listen that I think bands should only do 20 minute sets. This probably started shortly after seeing Jay Reatard, who blasted through a set of about a dozen song in about that time. I get bored easily I suppose and usually about halfway though many bands' sets I become restless and wonder if I couldn't be spending my time better elsewhere. But damn me if Thomas Function didn't keep my attention for the duration. So much so, that without hesitation I plunked down $20 for their LP and both 45s they had for sale (All on colored vinyl! Take that, digital age!) despite the fact that I have about $25 in my bank account until my next payday. Hell, if that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is. I've seen the band compared to Television and the Modern Lovers but that's really only telling half the story. They're nowhere near as punctilious as the the former or as coy as the latter. Thomas Function play their off-kilter pop songs with an unabashed enthusiasm that's won that them a following with the usually suspicious of anything cleaner than scuzz garage crowd. I know it's only April but the band's debut album Celebration is going to be hard to beat for record of the year.
I can't say for certain whether or not Thomas Function retained the title for '08 but when it came time to list the best of the year, Celebration was the first record that came to mind

2 Prisonshake Dirty Moons (Scat)
The world waited 15 years for Prisonshake's followup to The Roaring Third and, unlike Chinese Democracy, it wasn't a huge disappointment. Dirty Moons is not the tight, leave-no-fat-untrimmed affair that The Roaring Third was. It's loose, expansive and filled with ideas, befitting a band whose released a box set(!) as their debut album. There's pummeling straight-up rock tunes, tender ballads, mini-rock operas, a 5-song suite, tossed-off minute-long jokes, tunes that stretch past the five, six and ten minute marks, and what feels like everything in between. And yet, it all holds together quite well. For all their ambition, Prisonshake still comes off like the band who could take the stage at your local bar and rock the shit out of the place as effortlessly as if they were tying their shoes. Robert Griffin remains one of the best guitarists to ever come out of the American independent underground, gorgeously lyrical at one moment and bringing the noise the next. I don't know if Dirty Moons is going to win Prisonshake any new fans, but the world is much richer for its presence. It's good to have you back, boys.

3 Thee Oh Sees The Master's Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In (Castle-Face Records / Tomlab Records)
John Dwyer's most famous project, the Coachwhips, never really did it for me either way. His new (side?) project, Thee Oh Sees, is another matter entirely. Primitive? Sure. Retrogressive? Hardly. The issue I have with a lot of neo-garage (or neo-whatever) acts is that they're all too often content to simply recreate the sounds of a bygone era, offering little in the way of innovation or even individuality. Drenched in reverb, Thee Oh Sees recall primal rock without ever sounding revivalist or particularly derivative. You can hear bits of everyone from Billy Childish to the Scientists to the Red Crayola in their sound but, like a master chef, they use these ingredients to create something entirely their own. Plus, there's as much emphasis on songwriting as there is on sonics. Making a cool noise is fun and all but unless one is using it to shape good songs the appeal is limited. Dwyer and company never loose sight of that and the result is one of the best records of the year.

4 Meth Teeth Bus Rides EP (Sweet Rot)
My favorite 7 inch of the year. Here's what I wrote about it back in April:
If you told me these guys began life as a Beyond the Implode tribute band I might be forced to believe you. Meth Teeth revel in the static like many of today post-Messthetics bands but there's a creepy, almost Barrettesque psych vibe going on here. Brings to mind early SPK covering Skip Spence or perhaps the Strapping Fieldhands doing likewise with the Mudhutters. Very impressive. Apparently only 500 copies pressed so don't sleep on it.
Full-length is supposedly in the works for '09. I'm looking forward to it tremendously.

5 Vivian Girls s/t (Mauled By Tigers/In the Red)
Yes, there's been a wave of hype about this Brooklyn-three piece and, of course, the inevitable backlash. (In fairness, being interviewed by John Norris will harm anyone's cred.) Who knows what the future holds for Vivian Girls? Are music biz-type assholes tripping over themselves to snatch the band up and turn them into the Pussycat Dolls for the Pitchfork set? Will the band ditch their inspired amateurism for professional sheen? Will they collapse under the pressure of the position in which they suddenly find themselves? Do they even have another good record in them under any circumstances? Did it stop being fun a long time ago? All valid questions but when the needle hits the wax on this baby, none of it matters. For the 21 minutes that Vivian Girls is playing, their magnificent DIY-pop renders all flavor of the month concerns irrelevant.

6 Oxford Collapse BITS (Sub Pop)
Nearly every review I read for Oxford Collapse's 2009 album, BITS, seemed totally off the mark, whether trying to lump them in with some kind of lo-fi reaction against orchestral indie rock (a valid point but not the best place to make it) or displaying general cluelessness. Perhaps the reason the crits find the OxC difficult to review is that they can't be easily pigeonholed. They're a band that follows their muse, not trends. When they first began performing earlier in the decade, it seemed that every band in New York was co-opting the angular sounds of British post-punk. Gang of Four and Joy Division soundalikes were more common in the city than service interruptions on the N/R line. The Oxford Collapse, however, were mining the less celebrated but no less fertile territory of US post-punk, taking cues from innovative but virtually unremembered acts like the Embarrassment, Pylon, and the Urinals. While this meant that the band was overlooked in the post-Strokes major-label signing frenzy, fast forward a few years and most of the post-punk revival pack is gone and/or forgotten while the Oxford Collapse have released their fourth and most consistent album yet. They may well be doomed to languish in the same semi-obscurity as their heroes but anyone with a taste for adventurous indie rock would do themselves a service by picking up BITS. The OxC's other 2008 releases The Hann-Byrd EP on Comedy Minus One and "Spike of Bensonhurst" 7" on Flameshovel are also highly recommended.

7 Hank IV Refuge in Genre (Siltbreeze)
I liked the Hank IV's 2006 debut, Third Person Shooter, well enough that it made my list of best albums for that year. On their second platter, they've really upped the ante, stripping away any traces of hobby band silliness for a potent dose of stomping, howling punk rock. Singer Bob McDonald has got to be one of the best frontmen in rock music today. His voice sounds like equal parts Brian Johnson and John Brannon and on stage his antics shame men half his age. This is definitely a band you should experience live. Just pick up Refuge in Genre first as you'll most certainly want to be able to sing along. You just try and resist yelling "She's got!/Dirty poncho!/Drop dead gorgeous!" whilst pumping your fist in the air.

8 Eddy Current Suppression Ring Primary Colours (Goner)
Sometimes it's hard to explain exactly why a band stands above the pack. Eddy Current Suppression Ring plays garage punk, plain and simple and lean and mean. There's no angle. No bells and whistles. Nothing to make blogger/critic/hype machine-types to perk up their ears and say "Oh, isn't that interesting!" So what makes ECSR better than the rest? It's that's indefinable quality called... I don't know... talent? For example, how did ECSR know that dropping out all instruments besides guitar in the middle of "Which Way to Go" before bringing them all crashing back in would up the intensity tenfold? Or how did they know to have singer Brendan Suppression croon over the jangly "Wrapped Up" instead of his usual Mark E. Smith-style declarative recitation? Or that the slow burn of "Memory Lane" followed by the crash-and-bash "Sunday's Coming" would be the perfect way to kick off the album? Beats me, but I suppose that's why they're a fantastic rock band and I'm sitting in front a keyboard struggling to tell you that you'd be a fool to pass on this album. The best Aussie rock band since the Saints? Okay, that's a bit of an overstatement but it got your attention, didn't it?

9 Nothing People Anonymous (S-S)
The name Nothing People conjures images of a Manson family-esque cult of hippies. Instead of preaching the good vibrations of peace and love, they've adopted a philosophy of nihilism, as if they spent a bad acid trip staring into the void and never fully came back. I know nothing of the Nothing People's living habits but their music is nearly an aural equivalent of the above: a twisting and snarling psychedelic maelstrom intent on producing tension. And as befitting a cult, this record comes in innocuous yet oblique packaging and in a very small pressing of 600 copies, LP only. If you can't find one at your local record shoppe, write the fine folks at S-S Records and see if they can sign you up for reprogramming.

10 The Lines Memory Span (Acute reissue)
I pride myself in knowing a thing or two about the British DIY scene of late 70s/early 80s. I was bugging dealers at WFMU Record Fair looking for Homosexuals records when you were still trying figure out how Thom Yorke gets his hair like that. So how did I totally miss the Lines? The short answer is that they were obscure in even for a genre that was in and of itself obscure. That's why I'm thank the creator everyday for people like Dan Selzer and his fantastic Acute label. Memory Span compiles all the Lines' singles and EPs along with a pair of unreleased demos to paint a portrait of a remarkable band. Their first single, the stunning "White Night" sounds at least 10 years ahead of it's time, like something a Creation-label shoegaze-y outfit would be proud to call their own. The remainder of the collection is equally impressive. Even at their most jagged, the Lines are melodically rich and inventive. Try to imagine Robyn Hitchock backed by Grotesque (After the Gramme)-era Fall for an approximation. About a month ago, Acute also released Flood Bank, which collects both of the Lines full-lengths. I have yet to pick it up. Now you know what to get me for Xmas. (Ed. Note: I was planning on posting this list before December 25th.)

A podcast containing songs from the above (as well as more than a few honorable mentions) is coming soon.

In the meantime do check out the '08 lists of the below from folks whose opinion on musical matters I respect probably a lot more than yours:

Nate Knaebel
Doug Mosurock plus Still Single Best of Podcast
WFMU's Terre T
WFMU's Evan "Funk" Davies
WPRB's Jon Solomon
Matador Records Staff and Artists
More to come.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: My Christmas Gift to You

Please do not take the above image as an endorsement of assault, Santa Claus or Christianity.

This podcast does not contain any Christmas music.

Instead, my gift to you is that this is my first Podcast available through the iTunes music store!

Just search "unblinking ear" in the iTunes store and you'll find my podcast to which you can subscribe for free. You'll also see an episode of Carl Sagan's Cosmos for some reason but that will cost you a buck ninety-nine. Anyway, subscribing will allow you to automatically download my podcast via iTunes anytime I post a new one. (There is probably a 24 hour or so lag, FYI.)

You'll still be able to download and listen here if you so desire but I'm all about providing convenience. I'm not so much about it that I would figure out how to so this months ago when I first started the podcast. Though I will say that saving it for Christmas instead of International Nurses Day probably has more of a universal appeal.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Until we get early Necros material reissued...

...this will have to suffice as the greatest moment of Midwest hardcore:

(Pic courtesy of WFMU's Beware of the Blog.)

Say what you will about Blagojevich. How many other governors would campaign next to a guy intent on recreating the cover of Tesco Vee's Dutch Hercules EP?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Paleontology for Dullards: A Consumer's Guide

"Paleontology for Dullards" rates records I've found in used LP bins by assigning them a cash value. For further explanation, please see my original post here.

Drunks With Guns s/t
Many years ago I was lucky enough to stumble upon a copy of Drunks With Guns' Second Verses LP. Though I enjoyed it thoroughly, I was told that despite containing the awesome Alter Human Industrial Fetishisms 7" in its entirety, the LP did not actually represent the band at their finest. The self-titled LP, a comp of their first two 7 inches plus an extra track, was the pukka DWG. And after listening to this, I find it hard to disagree.

For those who've never experienced the glory, try to imagine punk band just as powerful as Minor Threat but sort of their aesthetic opposite. Instead of taut and speedy, Drunks With Guns were sloppy and plodding. And instead espousing a generally positive philosophy of mental acuteness, they were about a negative and nihilistic as they come. You can practically smell the cigarette butts and stale beer wafting from the grooves. (Or maybe I just get that impression from the cover shot.) Singer Myk Doskocil doesn't so much sing or even scream as much as he vomits up total contempt for humanity as the band churns away behind him. Many since have tried to emulate Drunks With Guns mixture of misanthropy and primitive rock action (Pissed Jeans is recent example) but few have matched their potency. And the preceding isn't enough to pique your interest, then song titles like "Dick in One Hand" and "Punched in the Head" probably won't either.

I must stress that this is not the original Archvillian/Chopper 1987 pressing but the 1999 Demolition Derby/Nitro! reissue. I still paid $15 for it. It was still worth every fucking penny.

(Caveat emptor: Not the most comradely bunch, Drunks with Guns split up and members formed two separate bands, both called Drunks With Guns. Records from this era should be avoided.)
Price Paid: $15 Rating: 100%

The Jam In the City
I've never been as much of a Jamophile as some but I like most of their records just fine. Paul Weller was an undeniably skilled pop tunesmith even if his reach sometimes exceeded his grasp and the soul affectations got to be too much after a while. Here, on the Jam's debut, Weller's skills were still in nascent form and the band simply bashes away at appropriated sixties mod at punk tempos. The energy level never seems to drop below blinding fury and the band's chops are up to the task but considering what they would later accomplish, the Jam's lack of ambition is somewhat startling. They seem content to reenact a bygone era rather offer new ideas. It doesn't seem probable that they would become one of the most important British groups of their era. Clearly, their best work was ahead of them.

Still, In the City succeeds on it's own modest terms. The title track is an absolute monster and fully deserving of it's classic status. None of the other cuts come close to equaling it, but most ("Away From the Numbers" and "Takin' My Love," for example) are high-energy fun. The album is far from the greatest artifact of class of '77 Britpunk, but it's a good one.
Price Paid: $10 Rating: 60%

The Smiths The Queen is Dead
This is the first Smiths album I've ever owned. Yeah, really. Morrissey, Marr and co. never really did it for me except as a singles band, maybe. The Smiths are enjoyable in short bursts but Mozz's schtick really grates on my nerves in larger does. And I wasn't going to drop money in the amount of double digit figures for Rough Trade imports to possibly have my mind changed. Though when I saw The Queen is Dead available for under 5 bucks, I figured I'd give it a listen. Have I changed my opinion? Slightly, perhaps. I was able to get through the entire record without really grimacing but that may have been because the band put the best songs on Side 2, which is about 80% brilliant. ("Vicar in a Tutu" is okay though if I could never hear it again for the rest of my life I wouldn't lose any sleep.) Or maybe it's because Mozz is in a more playful mood than usual. Or maybe it's just the talent of Johnny Marr shining through. Whatever. I still like the Go-Betweens better.
Price Paid: $3 Rating: 100%

The Move Looking On
This is first album on which you can hear the path crackpot/genius Roy Wood took for more or less the rest of his career: saving concise poppy statements for singles and using albums to stretch out with his more ambitious ideas. The LP features seven(!) songs, none of which you think were by the same band that recorded "(Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree." This is also the first Move album to feature Jeff Lynne and one can certainly hear the embryo of ELO. This is art rock, through and through, though to their credit the Move never lose slight of the "rock" part of that equation and never let wankery get in the way of melody. On paper, the album's blend of highfalutin prog and hard boogie may appear to be a recipe for disaster. However, so gifted were Wood and Lynne as arrangers and composers that it rarely sounds pompous or lumpy in practice. Emerson, Lake and Palmer couldn't dream of such vitality. Wood has done more enjoyable work before (and after) but in it's own way Looking On is an example of "rock as art" on the level of Sgt Pepper or Tommy. Do keep in mind I'm not particularly fond of either of those records.
Price Paid: $7 Rating: 85.7%

Thursday, December 11, 2008

God Save The Cream(y, Rich, Buttery Taste)

(Video courtesy of Chunklet.)

It's a long way from "There must be meaning/Behind the moaning/Spreading tales/Like coffin nails" but I guess 30 years will mellow a guy out.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Cranky Old Man Discusses New Music

Girl Talk: What the fuck is this shit?

In my day, DJs used samples to serve the song, not be the song. And they at least had an MC to provide some original content.

If you look at what someone like Grandmaster Flash was doing back in the early 80s and what Girl Talk is doing now it might be similar of the surface but it terms of creativity it's miles apart. It's not like digging through crates to find records to sample and getting a funky drum break from the Steve Miller Band or something. Girl Talk isn't Ultimate Breaks and Beats. It's all songs people know! It's a bunch of ringtones spliced together.

Are we so bereft of ideas? Are our attention spans so short? Is the motto of the current generation of music makers "why be creative when you can be clever?"

And what's with the new Kayne West album? Has he been listening to the Postal Service non-stop or something? And look, I know the guy has the freedom to do whatever he wants with his records, something any pop artist would be lucky to get, and I commend for not simply repeating the formula which gave him the most commercial success but, come on, give the Auto-Tune a rest, will ya? I don't even think Kayne has to sing on his own records. Couldn't he just give someone a call who can actually carry a tune and have them sing on the album? All these hip hop guys seem to have a hard-on for Chris Martin anyway. Imagine the crossover appeal!

I do like the new Beyoncé single though. Maybe not enough to put a ring on it, but still...

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: It's that Time of Year Again

How do we know it's getting to be winter here at Unblinking Ear HQ?

Very simple.

Every time I go lift the needle from my turntable, I get an electric shock. It makes me feel like I'm singing Big Country's biggest hit.

Anyone with advice on how to avoid this will get a prize... of some sort. Maybe I'll just burn those CDs I promised you months ago.

(I'm aware this post is a little late for Black Friday but I thought about recording a new podcast then. That counts for something, right?)

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hyperbole Time! The (Actual) Greatest Cover Song Ever

A few weeks back Jason Heller at the Onion AV Club offered his opinion on the Greatest Cover Song Ever. I'll give him points for being idiosyncratic though if we're talking cover songs on the B-side of a Touch & Go seven inch from the 90s, I'll personally take Mule's cover of "To Love Somebody."

However, the greatest cover song ever is actually this:

In the era in which we live, I certainly don't want to fan the flames of racial intolerance. H owever, I will note this may be the only known example of a white English rock band doing a song better than a black American soul singer. Apparently, Richie Unterberger feels much the same way.

Actually, hold that thought. I forgot about "Shack Up."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Someone Tell Kevin Shields He's Officially Past Due

...or Mrs. Rose's Lil' Fussbudget Wastes 13 Million Dollars

So it's finally here. No, not Prisonshake's awesome, 15-years-in-the-making, follow-up to The Roaring Third. That came out a few months ago. I'm talking about Chinese Democracy.

I loved Guns N Roses as a kid. Appetite for Destruction absolutely floored me at the age of 10. (Though that will happen when you're a pre-adolescent and someone is saying "fuck" constantly.) GnR were probably the first rock band I ever really cared about. However, I'm not one to wallow in nostalgia. Like most things I enjoyed as a child, I have quite a different opinion as an adult. I'm not going to pretend that Guns N Roses were more than they actually were anymore than I'd say that He-Man and the Masters of the Universe featured some really sharp dialogue.

Appetite for Destruction was and remains a good to great slice of hard rock. As much as some its songs have been played out over the past 20 years, it's hard to deny the power of songs like "It's So Easy" or "Nightrain" or even "Sweet Child O' Mine." It's no wonder that GnR stood head and shoulders above the rest of the party hardy LA glam metal pack. Their sound was grimy and raw, not processed and inviting. And while their lyrics depicted the same Dionysian lifestyle as their peers, they did so in a less frivolous, more realistic manner, acknowledging that actions had consequences. Nothing about Guns N Roses felt sugarcoated.

Still, being better than Poison or Mötley Crüe is no great accomplishment. Standing next to dwarfs will make anyone look tall. Guns N Roses got a lot of credit for simply not being awful. They may have been the best thing the LA glam scene barfed up but if you hold them up to their influences (I'm thinking Alice Cooper, Stones, Aerosmith, Rose Tattoo or AC/DC) GnR were just passable: a solid hard-boogie band with punkish leanings featuring a handful of exceptional songs and a weirdly charismatic frontman.

Which brings us to Axl. Axl, oh Axl. I'll acknowledge the substantial role he played in Appetite's commercial and artistic success but it seemed as though subsequent releases succeeded in spite of Axl rather than because of him. It might seem like nothing in comparison to the wait for Chinese Democracy but do you remember the constant delay for the Use Your Illusion albums? The band even went on a summer tour in '91 before the albums were released because they just weren't ready in Axl's mind. And when they finally were released, how much of them felt over produced and fussed with? Unnecessary and distracting overdubs abounded. And let's not forget Axl's unfortunate Elton John/Queen fixation coming to fruition.

Skip ahead 17 years. Add in a hell of a lot more time and money to needlessly mess around in the studio. Now subtract any of the other elements besides Axl that made Guns N Roses interesting in the first place (namely the contributions of the other members of the band). Given that equation, how good could anyone expect Chinese Democracy to be?

So let's get to it:

1. Chinese Democracy
I first heard the title track/first single a couple of weeks ago when a friend played it for me at his place. My first impression was that it was better than I thought it would be. It actually sounds like a rock song. A bloated, overproduced rock song but a rock song nonetheless. The public won't reject it out of hand as I thought they would and the album will probably move a few units. Not enough to recoup the 13 million dollars spent on it but it's only money, right?

2. Shakler's Revenge
Starts with a noisy intro that would do early SPK proud. After those brief seconds of pleasure, the song pretty much sucks out the rest of the way, the highlight/low point being a guitar solo that sounds like warmed over Vernon Reid or Reeves Gabrels.

3. Better
This isn't too bad. You can certainly hear where all that money went at the very least. It makes sense that this is the second single. If Axl's goal is to be "Better" than his competition on rock radio right now, which is like Nickelback and Linkin Park I guess, much in the same way he outshined Warrent then mission accomplished.

4. Street of Dreams
Uh oh. Piano intro. Are we going to be subjected to Axl's Elton John fixation again? Yes, we are. Never my favorite aspect of GnR it at least provides a nice breather from the pseudo-industrial obnoxiousness of the first three tracks. Over production is still full effect though, with a string section that would embarrass Billy Corgan.

5. If the World
What the hell is this? Flamingo disco? But don't worry rock fans. The processed guitars come in soon enough. As I mentioned earlier, in revisiting the Use Your Illusion albums, it occurred to me how many of the songs were ruined by Axl's fussiness and perhaps OCD-related need for "perfection." Just off the top of my head, check out "Double Talkin' Jive" or"Pretty Tied Up" for an evidence. Chinese Democracy thus far is nothing but Axl's fussiness with no raunchy blues-based songcraft (usually courtesy of Izzy Stradlin') to provide relief.

6. There Was a Time
I'm really getting sick of these synthesized strings. Dizzy Reed is really trying to make himself essential isn't he? This song is dreck. Pretty exemplar of what I was fearful this album would be. Six and a half minutes long too. This is getting painful.

7. Catcher in the Rye
More piano. Sort of sounds like the Faces being covered by, I don't know, Filter or somebody. That's not a compliment. And "Catcher in the Rye?" Does anyone beyond the age of 16 still consider that book profound? I mean if you're not stalking a celebrity. This song is approaching the 6 minute mark as well. Fuck, I'm only halfway through the album. This is turning into some kind of endurance test. David Blaine's got nothing on me.

8. Scrapped
Axl harmonizes with himself a cappella in the intro, like some kind of clueless, white-trash Beach Boys. Another rock song which, thankfully, only goes to three and minutes. Still about three and half minutes too long. 17 years and this was the best you can do, Axl? The chorus of "Don't you try and stop us now" is kind of hilarious in this context. No one has been trying to stop you, Axl. And we've got free Dr Pepper to prove it.

9. Sorry
Shit. Another 6 minute plus reflective song. Why does Axl think that deep emotions can only evoked though turgid and plodding arrangement? I curse anyone who told him that "November Rain" was a great song.You know how sometimes the authorities will blast hard rock at high volume during stand off situations to try and break the opposition? I totally understand that now.

10. Riad N' The Bedouins
I guess the "n" apostrophe means it's supposed to be a kick ass rocker. It's not half as good as "Dust N" Bones" though. The pace is lively and the chorus melodic enough to make it the most tolerable song since the third track. Who are Riad and the Bedouins anyway? Are they some historical or literary figures? Remind me to Wikipedia later.

11. I.R.S.
It's definitely a bad sign when a song begins and I'm checking the track length to see how long I'm going to have to sit through it. I can't believe Chuck Klosterman gave this a good review in the Onion AV Club. Oh wait. Yes I can.

12. Madagascar
Myspace has interrupted the album for a second time to tell me that Meiko's album is available for download for only $1.99. "As heard on last night's Grey's Anatomy." Welcome to the media of the new millennium. Though like the media of the old millennium, she's easy on eyes with negligible musical talent. Anyway, back to Chinese Democracy. Horns and strings intro then more mid tempo tedium. The horns and strings don't even sound real. You would think that Axl spend some of the 17 years and millions of dollars to hire actual string and horn ensembles. Or maybe he did and just processed the hell out of them to sound like shitty synths. Whoa, sharp left turn here. Instead of a guitar solo there's a trip-hop breakdown and a Martin Luther King sample. What does that have to do with anything? Only Mr. Rose knows.

13. This I Love
This ought to please fans of "Estranged" if any of those exist. Just one more song after this. I can do this. Just a little further to go. I usually try to listen to records at least three or four times before I write about them. That isn't going to happen here.

14. Prostitute
Actually kind of pretty especially considering the ugly song title. The Scrotum Poles' "Pick the Cat's Eyes Out" still takes the title for widest ratio between ugliness of band name and song title to loveliness of the tune. I'm waiting for the hard crunch of guitars to arrive though. There we go. Thankfully they don't continue for the duration of the song. Lyric sample: "What would you say if I told him that I'm to blame?" I would say that within six months you'll be on the phone with Slash and Duff to see if Velvet Revolver is still an ongoing concern now that Scott Weiland is out of the band. I wonder what his solo album is like. It wouldn't surprise me if it's even worse than this but at least it didn't cost the gross national product of a third world nation to make.

Chinese Democracy will be probably be a moderate success. I fully expect it to debut at number one on the charts. There's enough mystique around Guns N Roses and the album itself to guarantee that. Whether or not the fans will be satisfied remains to be seen. I am pretty surprised that the album seems to be getting generally positive reviews from major critics. Is the bar really that low nowadays? It seems to me that the only way to really enjoy Chinese Democracy is to actually be Axl Rose.

Axl, if you're reading this and want to mention me in an updated version of "Get in The Ring," please do. I could really use the exposure.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hüsker Dü: Hardcore '81

Or Hüsker Dü, headband-era, if you prefer.

About a year ago I wondered aloud if I needed a good reason to post a live clip of Hüsker Dü. (Answer: no.) Now, I actually have a reason. Some enterprising chap who goes by the handle of HUSKERchout has a ton of rare Dü footage on his YouTube channel, including an entire show from September of 1981.

The common story with Hüsker Dü is that they were a hardcore band who later transcended the limits of the genre via experimentation and increased songwriting prowess. That's about half true. Two points that poke some holes in that theory:

1. Hüsker Dü was an awesome hardcore band. They were not some generic, barely competent learn-two-chords-and-bash-away outfit ala SOA or DYS or whatever three letter acronym you can think of. Hüsker's hardcore was taut and powerful, holding it's own against Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Negative Approach and any other titans of the genre. Bob Mould's signature dexterous guitar sound was in place very early though between the blinding velocity and the fact that the band's debut LP, Land Speed Record, was recorded live and lo-fi it was sometimes hard to tell. Just check the evidence below:

Had Land Speed Record been recorded in a studio with any degree of fidelity, there's little doubt in my mind it would be as highly regarded as, say, SSD's Get It Away, whatever that's worth.

2. Hüsker Dü played more than hardcore from the beginning. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's heard their debut 7", "Statues/Amusement." After feeling they may have went too far in the direction of college radio accessibility for their first single, the band overcompensated by going too far in the other direction for their first album. Subsequent releases like the In a Free Land EP and the Everything Falls Apart album got the balance just about right but early non-hardcore Dü songs like those below were never officially released or even recorded in the studio. Tis a pity:

I'm hoping somebody someday will assemble a definitive set of early Hüsker Dü material for official release. (The Everything Falls Apart and More CD was very good but there's more work to be done.) Come to think of it, the entirety of Hüsker Dü's SST back catalog could use the deluxe treatment. The 25th anniversary of Zen Arcade is next year. Some one get on that, please.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

That's When I Reach For My Controller

(Above: Presumably not Martin Swope's set up.)
Three songs each from US punk-era legends Mission of Burma and the Dead Kennedys are now available for download for use in the very popular Rock Band 2 video game. Each song will cost you 160 Mircosoft points or one Libram relic. (Wait. I might be thinking of the wrong thing.) No word on the development of the Pere Ubu MMORPG. Apparently, players were annoyed with the interruption of rocking out to go knock on strangers' doors to try and change their religion.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Out of Print Digital Relics: 100 Flowers Discography

100 Flowers 100 Years of Pulchritude
For those who don't know, Los Angeles' 100 Flowers were originally known as the Urinals. As the Urinals they released three 7 inches on their own Happy Squid label, all of which are justifiably revered by punk record collectors. For a complete rundown of Urinals' activities do check out the still-in-print-for-now Negative Capability collection. Deciding to ditch the silly/risqué name and get serious they became 100 Flowers (who, for the record, featured the exact same lineup as the Urinals.) Under this moniker the band released their first and only full-length album as well as a single and EP. They were sometimes called an American counterpart to Wire, who took a similar path from minimalist bashing to angular cool. They have also been cited as an influence on the Minutemen, who covered the Urinals' classic "Ack Ack Ack Ack." On the DVD of the Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo, one can even see footage on of D.Boon giddily pogoing during 100 Flowers' final performance and carrying one of their members through the crowd after the show, as if celebrating a championship win. These references are helpful but as is often the case with a band this unique, they don't really tell the whole story. Simply put, 100 Flowers' recorded output is among the finest examples of American post-punk, holding their own against not only the Minutemen, but also Mission of Burma, the Feelies, the Embarrassment, Pylon, etc.

Nearly all of 100 Flowers discography was collected on the now out-of-print 100 Years of Pulchritude CD: the self-titled album, the Drawing Fire EP, the "Presence of Mind" 7" and a handful of compilation and unreleased cuts. Happy Squid's website stated that this collection was due come back in print in early 2008 but since it's yet to materialize, here it is for your listening pleasure. I also recommend you take a look at this post on the quite excellent Detailed Twang blog, which not only offers better written biography and exegeses but also a pair of 100 Flowers songs that were not included on this compilation. And don't forget the Urinals collection, Negative Capability, well worth your time and money.

Download 100 Flowers 100 Years of Pulchritude

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

How to Advertise Creative Bankruptcy

It's simple, really. Just give your band a terrible name.

I was looking through the very popular and useful Pop Tarts Suck Toasted blog yesterday and noticed how many bands nowadays have awful, awful names. Not that a bad name automatically means bad music. (I am a fan of the Bassholes, after all.) But the old "judging a book by its cover" axiom isn't exactly true either. If one is going to show the poor taste and judgment of giving his or her band a shitty name doesn't it stand to reason that the same taste and judgment is not going to produce worthwhile music? Nine times out of ten, it's probably the case. Unfortunately, there are only seven examples below (all culled from MP3s provided by PTST, click on over there if you want to give them a listen) so that tenth time looks to be beyond our grasp. I was sincerely hoping that at least one of these acts would transcend their moniker but...

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart "Everything With You"
Fey, kissyface pop with a heavy Smiths influence. Actually, "pop" might be too strong a word as most pop music has hooks. Pleasant enough though the group doesn't really transcend their (obvious) influences. Coming soon to the soundtrack of a Juno ripoff.

Iran "Buddy"
Michener rock! Speaking of bad names, this is apparently TV on the Radio-related. I'm not a fan of TVotR but nothing I've heard of theirs is anywhere as dull as this. Honestly, this is barely a song and the lackadaisical Malkmus-derived vocals aren't helping matters.

Fake Male Voice "OMG!!!FMV!!!"
Also TV on the Radio-related! Could pass for a Prince deep cut though the purple one does have some rather, um, idiosyncratic ideas regarding quality control. Sexy enough to get you laid under the influence of the right drugs (I'm thinking paint thinner) though the apple chewing during the coda kind of ruins the mood.

Fight Bite "Swissex Lover"
Intro recalls one of the "songs" one could make a on and old Casio by letting it play in bossa nova or waltz mode and changing keys every so often. Then the vocals kick in. Did I say "kick?" I meant "prance." Rivals above Iran track for dubious claims to songhood. And it's like twice as long! Or just seems that way.

Dream Bitches "Bad Luck Bill"
New wave-y garage pop with female vox similar to that dog. Aggressively catchy but gets repetitive and wears out its welcome before the second verse. Cute quickly devolves into annoying sort of like Raven-Symoné during her Cosby years.

Blitzen Trapper "Gold for Bread"
Imagine Tom Petty was less interested in writing songs than making in weird noises. Then imagine his talent was sucked out through his eye socket by Jeff Lynne. Points added or deducted for "Mississippi Queen"-esque guitar tone.

Dent May & his Magnificent Ukulele! "Meet Me in the Garden"
Sample lyric: "The softest boy in Mississippi/Would like to know/Why you're so pretty/Whoa whoa." Yes, he rhymed "know" with "whoa." No, I'm not fucking kidding. Definite Brian Wilson (and possible Bacharach) fixation but doesn't have the skills or the pipes to pull off anything more than a pale imitation. If there's anything worse than dumb guys who think they're smart it's guys who try and sing even though they can't. I bet he gets all kinds of action from the ladies though.

Okay, I'll admit the above is sort of mean and probably proves the Staten Island Advance correct in calling me a jerk. (Though a winning jerk.) These are all fairly small bands trying to get a little recognition. They're the little guys, the Joe the Plumbers of the indie world, and here I am maligning them for no good reason. That is, of course, unless you consider trying to prevent my readership from stumbling into bad music a good reason.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Congratulations on Voting! You deserve some VOM

Don't these videos make you proud to live in the land of the free?

There was a time when I would invite new friends over my place, put on the Angry Samoans True Documentary VHS and fast forward to the VOM videos just to see their reaction. If they laughed hysterically, I knew I was in the presence of a kindred spirit. If they were bemused and a flabbergasted, I knew they'd probably never make it to my top friends on myspace (if such a thing had existed at the time.)

Incidentally, I know I usually post YouTube clips when I'm too busy and/or lazy to post anything else. This time is no exception. Actual blog content probably back next week! Sit tight until then, proud Americans!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: Halloween Do's and Don't

I would just like to say that if I see any men dressed as Heath Ledger's Joker or women dressed as Sarah Palin tomorrow, I'm going to punch them in the face.

Conversely, if I see any women dressed as the Joker or men dressed as Sarah Palin, I'm going to give them a hug.

Download The Unblinking Ear Podcast

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

This Moment in Slack History: Morsels from the Last Great Era of the 7 Inch Record

"This Moment in Slack History" collects songs from 90s indie 7 inches. For further explanation, please see my original post here.

DiskothiQ "Massapoeg"
DiskothiQ was the band led by Peter Hughes, sometime bassist for Nothing Painted Blue and current member of the Mountain Goats. All three bands were heavily associated with the Shrimper Records scene of the mid 90s. (Check out the Abridged Perversion comp for a good sampling of the label's product.) Shrimper began by releasing extremely lo-fi cassettes but eventually branched out to vinyl, putting on this 7" in 1994. Packaging innovation!: a 3/4 sleeve with sand glued into a pattern on the back. Perfect for fucking up your other records. DiskothiQ made a few full lengths before disbanding in 2000, most noteworthy being their Football Albums: two discs, one for the NFC and one for the AFC, and a song for every team. No kidding. These and their other full lengths (including an unreleased album) are available as FREE mp3s from the band's website if you want to give them a listen. "Massapoeg" is not on there, however, and for my money it's the highlight of their career.

Download DiskothiQ "Massapoeg"

Note: If you enjoy this little feature I infrequently do on 90s indie 7 inches, I highly recommend you check out Mike Lupica's Anti Static Podcast for WFMU which is back in action after a hiatus of a few months and, frankly, a lot better than my nonsense.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Best. Craigslist Post. Ever.

From the Pittsburgh>Missed Connections:

Will you "B" mine? - w4m - 20 (Liberty Ave, Bloomfield)

I was on Liberty Avenue near (but not exactly at) the Citizen's Bank near Pearl, and I caught you out of the corner of my eye. You were a 6'4" 200 lbs black man, and, I must admit, you're way sexier than any of the 72 year old men I've been hanging out with recently.

I know I might not be exactly your type, but I'm wondering, will you "B" mine?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Presumably numbers 904 to 933

It's been brought to my attention that last couple of posts (excluding the half-assed Rudy Ray Moore obit though I did beat the New York Times by 2 days) have been seething with negativity and loathing for my fellow man.

While it's easy to criticize (and fun too!) I'm not here to be divisive or make my many readers feel like lesser beings because of their musical choices. I'm here to to share the music I love with the world. Can you feel the love, people? Anyone want a hug?

Thus, I bring you, in no particular order, the 30 best albums that did not make KEXP listeners' top 903 albums list. These albums are all great to brilliant (or 4 and 1/2 to 5 starts, if you prefer) and deserve to be in your collection. All are from artists not included on the list in any capacity. This is because a) nitpicking which Kinks album is best is a subject for another post and b) I'm going to assume that most anyone who likes Sonic Youth will pick up Bad Moon Rising eventually. (Though I'm probably wrong.)

Please note: I am not judging the KEXP listenership for the exclusions of below albums even though you would think a Pacific Northwest station would show some love to Greg Sage and the Wipers or at least have enough Cobain acolytes to be hip to the Raincoats. I just hope they all somehow find their way to my little corner of the blogosphere and discover these musical treasures. And hey, they did have the good taste to include The Dream Syndicate's The Days of Wine and Roses, so who am I to judge?

Real Kids s/t
The Soft Boys Underwater Moonlight
Flesh Eaters A Minute to Pray a Second to Die
The Saints Eternally Yours
Angry Samoans Back From Samoa
The Bats Daddy's Highway
The Fall This Nation's Saving Grace
The Embarrassment Death Travels West
Flipper Generic
Descendents Milo Goes to College
The Feelies Crazy Rhythms
Prisonshake The Roaring Third
The Wipers Over the Edge
The Gun Club Fire of Love
Silkworm Firewater
X Ray Spex Germfree Adolescents
The Pretty Things S.F. Sorrow
The Zombies Odessey and Oracle
Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers L.A.M.F.
Michael Hurley, Unholy Modal Rounders, Jeffery Fredrick and the Clamtones Have Moicy!
Tommy Keene Songs From the Film
Dag Nasty Can I Say
Pere Ubu The Modern Dance
The Raincoats s/t
The Rip Offs Got a Record
Jay Reatard Blood Visions
Ponys Celebration Castle
Reigning Sound Time Bomb High School
Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves Drive it Like You Stole It
Roy Wood Boulders

And to put my money where my mouth is here a guarantee: If any of you go to the WFMU Record Fair in New York this weekend, buy one of these albums and don't like it, I will buy it from you at the cost you paid for it. Offer good on LPs only!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

With apologies to anyone who might be playing it...

...after experiencing more than a few, I've concluded that the CMJ Music Marathon is more or less a bunch of marginally talented people yelling "Me too!" at the top of their lungs.

(Most images of the CMJ logo are kind of boring, so here's a picture of CM Punk wrestling Samoa Joe)

Yes, there are hundreds of bands playing in New York over the next couple of days and a few of them are even good. However, is it crass to suggest that all these worthy bands will be playing NYC at some other point when one wouldn't have to elbow their way through a bunch of should-have-been-wet-spots-on-the-sheets with passes who are only at the show because a) they think they should be and b) are getting in for free? Should "passes will be honored" be a prerequisite to going to a rock show?

I know most bands feel like they have to play the game but given the current state of the recording industry is that really a wise or necessary move?
As the parents of most of my ex-girlfriends have wondered loudly to their offspring, don't you think you can do better?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Moderate Rock Made Easy

...or Further Proof that Radiohead has Ruined Music for an Entire Generation.

Just after my post on Wednesday about the editors of Pitchfork's attempt to stick it to Jann Wenner, I learned that Seattle's KEXP radio made their own attempt at a definitive list of the music enjoyed by dull young white people. However, this list was voted on by their listeners rather than dictated by the powers that be (whomever that might be). Of course, one could make the case that the opinions of the listeners are informed by, altered and inseparably linked to decisions of the programmers, be it those at KEXP, PFM or elsewhere. This begs examination of the relationship between source and target, the ideas of collective agreement and perhaps even the fundamental flaws in democracy itself.

I was going to write a lengthy analysis of the list tackling these issues but instead I'll just post the following excerpt which I think you'll agree explains it all:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Eating a Dead Horse

...or A 6.8 out of 10 in Canon-Defining.

Come November 11th, the world will be groaning audibly.

Bashing Pitchfork is about as tired and pointless as reading Pitchfork so I'll give them this: at least they had the decency to release this on the Tuesday after the election thus insuring that a large percentage of the Obama-voting populace would not be staying at home, writing angry message board posts debating the placement of Neutral Milk Hotel.

For what it's worth, I'll still take Rock, Rot or Rule as the ultimate argument settler regarding all matters musical.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: Math in the Real World

This is my 13th podcast. (Ooh scary!)

Made 2 days after my 31st birthday. (Palindromes!)

I played 3 bands whose name starts with a V. (The 22nd letter.)

It features one record of which only 100 copies were pressed. Another which has only 2 known existing copies. (I don't have either of the originals.)

And the most important use of math in this podcast is that I finally figured out how to use Audacity's "envelope" tool which means I could lower the volume on my mic levels. (Which were, frankly, way too high.)

Now give it a listen and I'll be 1 happy camper. (Thank you.)

Download The Unblinking Ear Podcast

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Out-Of-Print Digital Relics: Wire Rarities

As unlikely as it seems, vinyl is not the only sort after medium for rare music. An increasing number of CDs are falling out-of-print and fetching high prices on eBay and Amazon. Sure, you can probably find just about anything via Soulseek or some other file sharing service but I thought I'd make things easy for you.

Behind the Curtain (Early Versions 1977 & 78)
Due to adult-type obligations, I'm unfortunately going to have to miss tonight's WFMU-sponsored Wire/Times New Viking show. However, I thought it was still a fine opportunity to share with any other Wire fanatics this 1995 collection of live and demo material from the group's very earliest days. I believe the first six tracks are from the same show that produced their cuts on the The Roxy London WC2 compilation. Once you hear their take on JJ Cale's "After Midnight" you'll... well I was going to say something about Eric Clapton but chances are if you like Wire you already know he's awful. The remaining cuts are all demos some of which are of otherwise unreleased songs. Of special interest are the last 10 cuts which are songs that later ended up on 154. If you've ever considered the arrangements on that album to be somewhat fussy, it's stunning to hear these songs in more visceral, stripped-down form. It wouldn't necessarily say these versions are superior but if your favor the straight ahead minimalist impact of Pink Flag to later abstractions, you might find them preferable.

In "40 Versions," Wire sang:
I never know which version I'm going to be
I seem to have so many choices open to me
It's not hard to see another unique event
When you miss the beginning and you miss the end
Pretty self aware, I suppose. Behind the Curtain is a neat little window into the group's process. Not the best place for neophytes to start by a long shot but if you're like me and Justine Frischmann you'll find it a fascinating document.

Download Wire Behind the Curtain (Early Versions 1977 & 78)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Remember when I used to write a blog?

That was a lot of fun.

I'll be getting back into it very soon. I've just been quite busy of late, dear reader, and unable to devote much time to the semi-entertaining nonsense that constitutes this patch of space of the interweb. I'm quite proud to say that what's been occupying my time are actually legitimate adult activities. (And by "adult" I mean "mature." Not "pornographic.")

There will be new posts forthcoming in near future including and Out-of-Print digital relic, a digitized 90s 7 inch and my finds from the Brooklyn Record Riot a few weeks ago which should provide content for a new podcast and an edition of Paleontology for Dullars.

If you feel the need to send me an angry e-mail regarding the lack of updates, you may want to install Google's new Mail Goggles service.

Now if only Amazon would do the same thing. I wouldn't be left wondering what I was thinking when the 20th Anniversary Edition DVD of Robocop showed up at my door.

I think you just saw about half of the bonus material of the unrated version.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

If I have my nose turned in the air...'s only because I'd rather not look you in the eye.

As the Staten Island Advance has seen fit to remind me, I'm have sometimes described myself as a snob when it comes to the rock stuff. Of course, I've been called a snob many times before I started calling myself one. The first instance was probably during my teen years when a classmate vehemently called me a snob for saying that Unrest was better than Pennywise. (I'm not sure if history has proven me right on that one.) It's happened recently as well. The editor of A New Nuance chided me as a snob for not particularly looking forward to the second Arcade Fire record and saying that I found Clap Your Hands Say Yeah as "dull as dishwater." (In case you don't remember, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was a band briefly popular in 2005.)

Using the historically tested method in identity politics of turning a negative into a positive, I decided to adopt the word for myself thus negating its derogatory power. (i.e. "Snob" is my N-word.)

What's fascinating to me is how well it's worked. Almost too well. When people call me a snob, it's a pejorative. When I call my self one, I'm self-aggrandizing even if I mean it in a tongue in cheek, self-effacing way.

When I tell a friend I don't enjoy a particular artist he or she likes, I'll follow it up with "But I'm snob, so, you know..." I don't mean this to imply that I have better taste than anyone else and can't be bothered with your inferior myopic nonsense. I mean that I have a huge personality defect that makes me very particular and judgmental about music generally made with guitars so heed not and listen to what you like.

A similar point was made in this week's Popless column over at the Onion AV Club. Noel Murray writes:
It's odd how defensive people get when they mention certain bands or movies, like, "I know people will jump on me for this, but I really like Groundhog Day," or "I hate to admit it, but The Bee Gees have some good songs." There's an assumption being made, that the world at large has agreed that some things are meant to be taken seriously, while others are "guilty pleasures" (or just plain "suck").
(For the record, Groundhog Day is a great film and the Bee Gees have some outstanding songs, particularly on their first few albums. However, the band Murray mainly uses to illustrate his point in the introductory essay is Steely Dan, who are awful. But that's neither here nor there.)

I've often wondered the same thing. Why do people get so apologetic for liking Justin Timberlake or Amy Winehouse or even the Killers? They sell millions and millions of records! Tons of people like them! I'm the one who likes the wacky fringe shit! I should be apologizing for contemplating if if the Disco Zombies song "Drums Over London" is racist or simply sung in character. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, that's exactly my point.)

For all these reasons I've decided that I need stop referring to myself as a "rock snob." (Also because the other "self-described music snob" in the AWE piece likes these guys thus proving the term totally ineffectual at conveying my personal taste.)

I may have to go on a little hiatus from this blog until I come up with a better term to describe what kind of music I cover here. (And not because I'm going to be really busy with work and other things for the next week or so). The best I can come up with so far is "dumb smart guy rock." Can you do any better? Please share.

Speaking of "dumb smart guy rock" I was lucky enough to catch Thee Oh Sees and Sic Alps at Brooklyn's favorite illegal performance space/sauna on Sunday night. So good were they, I briefly forgot about the awful, stomach-turning events of that afternoon. Their respective 2008 releases, The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In and US EZ, are highly recommended.

Also highly recommended for those in the New York City area is the Tyvek/Thomas Function show at Cakeshop this Friday, October 3rd. This marks the first time that two of the bands from this blog's "Make This Band Your Myspace Friend" feature have played together in New York. (Especially noteworthy since I've only done the feature 4 times.) Unfortunately, I won't be able to make it as I'll be attending a wedding but don't let that stop you from going. In fact, you might have a better time without my presence. I can be a bit of a snob from what I hear.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: Awe Inspiring!

Okay maybe it's not that awe inspiring. Maybe I sound more like I just ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich using bread that probably should have been thrown away like two weeks ago.

Anyone who wants to make me a home-cooked meal will get their band played on the next podcast. Despite others' claims of my integrity, I'm really not above a little quid pro quo.

Download The Unblinking Ear Podcast