Wednesday, January 16, 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.

The McTells "Alice"
Back when I posted that Bartlebees single I stated my general distaste for twee pop. Yet here I am posting another twee pop single. Maybe I do actually like twee pop.

Like the Bartlbees, the McTells were apparently pretty prolific though this is the only piece of their vinyl I own. And it's a neat little thing: two songs on side A and totally blank on side B. Why? I don't know but as I see the sticker on this for was only $2.49 American I think it was an effort by the Four Letter Words label to keep prices down. I would assume that getting a 45 pressed on only one side is cheaper than both. But enough about the medium, let's get to the music. It reminds me of the Undertones. Nothing wrong with that.

Play or Download The McTells "Alice"

My ignorance on display once again

Back in my last Paleontology for Dullards I commented that I thought the Reigning Sound lifted the riff from Roy Loney's "Scum City" for "I Don't Believe." Jeremy Scott informed me that "I Don't Believe" is in fact a cover of a 60s obscurity by the Memphis garage band The Guilloteens:

I kind of dig the Reigning Sound's version more but I do give the Guilloteens credit for inspiring not only Cartwright and co. but also Javier Bardem's haircut in No Country for Old Men.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Attention Brooklyn Residents!!

For those of you who like to leave the house every now and then I will inform you that I am DJing at The Diamond in Greenpoint this Thursday, January 17th along with my buddy Nate Knaebel. The Diamond is a really cool place that will appeal to the beer snob in you. None of the beers they serve here sponsor NASCAR if you get my meaning. Since Nate is a well-respected rock critic I asked him to write a little blurb for our gig:

Smart like a new suit and deep as space, our record mix consists of the finest power pop, punk, and garage (with maybe a little indie thrown in for the kids and some classic soul and R&B for the old headz). Call it what you will, rock will suffice for us.

Expect to hear: Times New Viking Jay Reatard Exploding Hearts Adverts Speedies Alice Cooper Pink Fairies Dead Meadow Marked Men Live Fast Die Oblivians Twinkies Stooges Wire Thomas Function Colored Balls Mission of Burma Prisonshake CCR Paul Revere and the Raiders Dictators Rubber City Rebels Radio Birdman Saints et al

Nate is also threatening to play the new Prisonshake single at least 6 times. (Why haven't I ordered that yet? I can surely afford the $1.50 right?)

Come join us, won't you?

Thursday, January 17th
DJs PB and Nate
at The Diamond
43 Franklin St
Greenpoint, Brooklyn
10 pm until Dave Pollack kicks us the hell out

Monday, January 14, 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.

Pere Ubu Cloudland
I can say without hyperbole that the early recordings of Cleveland's Pere Ubu (that would be their first few singles and the Modern Dance and Dub Housing albums) are some of the greatest in rock history. There were some precedents for certain aspects on Ubu's sound: the feral wallop of the Stooges, the mind-expanding swirls of Syd's Pink Floyd, the rhythmic inventions of Can, the surrealism of Captain Beefheart, Eno's synth experiments with Roxy Music, the omnipresent influence of the Velvets. However, the whole was more than the sum of its parts, a singular vision of primal thump and dark, foreboding atmosphere that's probably the closest any rock band has come to the irreverent transcendence of Dada. The band half-jokingly called their challenging take on rock music "Avant Garage." In hindsight some have labeled them as post-punk but that's a bit of a misnomer as the band's earliest singles predate the punk explosion. Rather, the band served as a guiding light for those inspired by punk but not content to replicate Ramones-esque down stroke and bash. Ubu's near total disregard for the conventions of rock pointed the way for Mission of Burma, Wire, the New York no wave movement and almost the entirety of Rough Trade's early roster. Unfortunately, by their 3rd album singer David Thomas had reverted to his parents' religion of Jehovah's Witness and the band stopped staring into the void, sacrificing their majestic peculiarity for being just plain weird. Their next few releases were interesting but hardly necessary and the band eventually called it quits.

A few years later Pere Ubu reformed with most of the original members returning and the truly bizarre (for them anyway) notion of making pop music. It's hard to say why exactly but Ubu's muse has always defied easy exegesis. For Cloudland, the 2nd album by Ubu Mk. 2, the group enlisted Pet Shop Boys/New Order producer Stephen Hague to smooth out their rough edges. Hague gave Ubu's batch of pop tunes a bright and inviting sound and buried Allen Ravenstine's amelodic synthesizers, a signature part of the Ubu sound, deep in the mix as to be barely audible. Long time fans cried sell-out and it's easy to hear why. At first listen Pere Ubu's new sound would seem to be a far cry from the dark beauty of their early records. Songs like "Bus Called Happiness" and the single "Waiting For Mary" sound like a deliberate attempt to score some kind of modern rock hit, approaching something like a cross between Talking Heads and the Pixies. However, the band's idiosyncrasies could not be completely obscured and their unique flavor precludes any of these songs from being bland. Some, like "Cry," were truly wonderful, sounding like sunnier variations on previous themes. Cloudland is far from Pere Ubu's most memorable work but it certainly sounds great while it's playing. If a new band without Ubu's history and reputation had put out Cloudland they probably would have been hailed as bold fractured pop geniuses.

Whatever Pere Ubu's intentions fame and fortune were not forthcoming and the band eventually reverted to the noisier sounds of their early days. I'm not going to go as far as to say that it's a shame the band didn't stick with the Cloudland sound but the album is an intriguing artifact of an experiment in retaining individuality in the commercial marketplace. The group may have failed but the result is still a captivating listen.
Price paid: $5 Rating: 100%

Sic F*cks s/t
The Sic F*cks (asterisk theirs, not mine) were a semi-infamous New York party band during the post-punk era, featuring an vaudevillian stage show which sort of played something like an lower east side B52s or a Rocky Horror Picture Show for downtown new wavers. Years ago I came across some brief live footage of the band from "Paul Tschinkel's Inner-Tube," an old Manhattan cable access show. The image of frontman Russell Wolinsky with whipped cream all over his face (at least I hope it was whipped cream) stuck with me but I'd never heard the band again until I happened on this 5-song 12-inch EP, their only vinyl. The first side of the EP is one song, "(Take Me to) The Bridge," an embarrassing and borderline unlistenable stab at James Brown-style funk (though honestly it's no worse than "The Crunge.") Side 2 really cooks though. It features 4 songs which maximize the party vibe by bringing the girl group influence implicit in many of the original CBGBs bands to the forefront. These songs, only one of which stretches past the 2 minute mark, revel in a certain joyous tastelessness though they're not nearly as profane as one might infer from the band's name or song titles like "Chop Up Your Mother." They're just trashy fun, sort of like the aural equivalent of a Troma movie. I can easily believe the Sic F*cks were an absolute blast to see live. If this EP only hints at that... well, it's better than nothing, I suppose. Note: The aforementioned Russell Wolinsky looks exactly like a cross between Julian Casablancas and Eugene Mirman except possibly slimmer than either.
Price paid: $8 Rating: 50%

Roy Loney and the Phantom Movers Out After Dark
Mr Loney was the vocalist and songwriter for the fantastic Flamin Groovies during their pre-"Shake Some Action" days. While the Groovies altered their sound to Byrdsian chiming guitars after his departure, it's not surprising that Loney retained the Sun Records-influenced sound of their early releases. As I'm a bigger fan of their earlier releases, this LP, his solo debut, was a pleasure to my ears. No, it's not quite Flamingo or Teenage Head but it's certainly in the same sonic vein as those two classic albums and only a notch or two below in terms of overall quality. In his time Loney was considered hopelessly stuck in the past but 30 years after the fact his work has aged remarkably well. His musical influences may have ended at the time Elvis joined the army but Loney never settles for mere Stray Cats-like imitation in crafting his own brand of down and dirty rock n roll fun. And fun it is, with much of the album stomping like Little Richard and shuffling like Johnny Cash. Point of interest: I'm pretty certain the Reigning Sound swiped the riff for "I Don't Believe" from Loney's "Scum City." I aint hatin', I'm just sayin".
Price paid: $6 Rating: 83%

Gram Parsons Grievous Angel
The hipster deification of Gram Parsons: I don't get it. Parsons' brand of California cocaine country rock is not exactly what the hipster masses usually reverie. Nobody's outside of middle aged members of Rolling Stone's editorial staff is going on about the genius of Poco or the Eagles. Yet they love Parsons. I've even had one dolt tell me that he thought Sweetheart of the Rodeo was the best Byrds album which is a statement of such extreme cluelessness that it made me distrust all future opinions emanating from his mouth.

I think comes to three factors. The first is that his records didn't sell particularly well which is a dubious reason for credibility but it's not surprising to find wanna-be obscurists overpraising could'ves instead of dids.

Secondly, Parsons died young and beautiful. Let's take a look at Gene Clark, who I'll use as an example because like Parsons he's both a former Byrd and blender of rock and country who also released a bunch of poorly selling solo albums. Clark had it all over Parsons in the tunes department. Just listen to some of demos included as bonus tracks of the reissue of his solo debut, Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers, and tell me even Clark's throwaways don't hold their own against Parsons' most lauded songs. Plus, Clark is an undeniably superior vocalist, one of the best in rock history. However, Gene Clark died drunk, haggard and middle aged while Parsons left a beautiful corpse. Yes, the juvenile dead rock star cliche that forces some members of society take the poetry of James Morrison seriously also applies to underground types.

Finally, like many members of the hipster cognoscenti, Parsons was a trust fund kid pursuing a bohemian fantasy. He may have aped the authentic but in reality Parsons had about as much in common with Buck Owens as Julian Casablancas does with Johnny Thunders. His untimely death begs the question: what was Parsons more interested in, making music or getting wasted with the Rolling Stones?

And how is the music he made anyway? Well, it's fine. I give Parsons full credit for certainly being better than the Eagles, Poco, et al. Songs like "Return of the Grievous Angel" and "Las Vegas" are as affecting as they are affected. The covers are a bit more problematic. Can anyone hear any version of "Love Hurts" in 2008 and not cringe? Look, I realize that authenticity is not necessarily an essential ingredient in creating terrific music. Creedence Clearwater Revival weren't really from the backwoods of Louisiana, were they? Whatever Parsons' roots it's his skills as a songwriter, interpreter and performer that are his legacy. And while he certainly displayed talent the results don't live up to the hosannas posthumously showered upon him.

Cosmic? Come on, guys.
Price paid: $7 Rating: 57%

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Can you make your best of '08 list already?

New York Magazine has a pretty interesting article on music file sharing (in particular the recently defunct OiNK) with a focus on albums being leaked before their street date. The gist is more or less than many of those responsible for leaking albums are actually folks who work in the industry. That's no big surprise, is it? Who else is getting promo copies before an album comes out? You could make a very good argument that the biz is perpetuating it's own downfall with it's ungodly number of promo copies, which this article more or less does. However, it doesn't really delve into the biz's hypocrisy of giving away 1000s of promo copies for just about every release then crying foul when the public wants the same access. Nor does it discuss their failure to adapt to new technology. I find a bit ironic that the industry's push of the compact disc format 20 years ago sustained them in the short term (higher suggested retail price, baby boomers replacing their beaten LPs) but would eventually be the impetus for its undoing. After all, CDs made the music digital and thus paved the way for easy and nearly instant one-click ripping. How many members of the music buying public do you think are taking the time to convert vinyl to MP3s? (I'm not talking about geeks like you and I. I'm talking about the people who buy Fergie and Rascal Flatts albums.) And perhaps if the industry wasn't quite so focused on pushing disposable pop then maybe the public wouldn't think of music as being disposable and would want it in a hard format.

But I digress. The article is worth checking out (even if I find the idea of "ripping crews" to be a bit hard to swallow). Here's an excerpt:

But it’s clear that even those whose careers depend on plugging leaks participate in spreading them. They just can’t help themselves. One label employee estimated that 90 percent of his friends in the industry download unauthorized music (which, it should be stated, is less controversial than uploading, but collaboration nonetheless). I spoke to a label owner who has liquidated almost half his CD collection. “I’ve downloaded music, yes,” he says. “It’s like masturbation— technology is at a point where you can’t prevent people from doing something they can easily do. That’s demanding too much of human nature.”

Read the entire article here.