Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Future Shock Revisited

Or best new music vs best music of all time, Part II

December... when everyone around me seems to be participating in the same end-of-year activity while I procrastinate the inevitable. But enough about Xmas shopping.

Many music writers and publications are now releasing their Best of the Year and Best of the Decade lists. I suppose sharing mine is somewhat obligatory. I already did a preliminary best of the aughts earlier this year, which I am loathe to revise and rank despite the fact it might be the only list of its kind to not include Wilco, Radiohead or the Arcade Fire. I will, however, add a new category to spotlight a handful of albums I missed the first time around:

Oldie Indies Have Fundie
Yo La Tengo And Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
Silkworm Italian Platinum
Guided By Voices Earthquake Glue

I could probably also include a defense of the all-but-forgotten Hot Hot Heat's Make Up the Breakdown, which may have edged out the Strokes' debut for the best album of the last-night's-fucking-party, new-wave-of-the-new-wave, cocaine-and-tight-pants aesthetic so prevalent in the early 00s.

As for the music of 09, this sort of wound up the year of records I liked but didn't love. The album I (and more than a few others) were most anticipating this year was Tyvek's debut full-length. The general consensus was that its somewhat scattershot and sprawling nature was a letdown after the focused brilliance of their initial singles. I can't necessarily disagree. It's "merely" one of the best records of the year instead of the life-affirming event for which some were hoping.

The very mild disappointment didn't end there. Meth Teeth debut full-length didn't match the excellence of last year's Bus Rides EP, despite duplicating a couple of its songs. Likewise, Thomas Function, Vivian Girls and Thee Oh Sees all put out decent records that weren't as good as 2008's respective efforts. The Thermals follow up to The Body, The Blood, The Machine didn't have the impact of that record. (Though, post-Bush's America, could we expect it to?) The Box Elders debut was fine but just a little on the pedestrian side for my taste. I suppose I was expecting something a bit more "out there" after hearing the band talked up such a degree.

Nevertheless, I liked all of the above well enough and recommend that you hear them. I'll still take them over the lo-fi-approximated-for-emo-kids of Japanadroids, that obnoxious Das Racist song or whatever the hell Pitchfork winds up choosing as its record of the year.

There were some records that didn't let me down though.

Bucking the above trend, the Nothing People's second album is arguably stronger than last year's debut. The new Reigning Sound was well worth the wait. I dug the Girls album in spite of the hype. The Mayyors 12" lived up to the hype. Ditto for Kurt Vile's Matador debut. Times New Viking returned to form. Jay Reatard finally delivered a proper (and worthy) follow up to Blood Visions. The Fresh and Onlys' Woodist album impressed. Grass Widow mixed angularity and melodicism in way that never fails to charm me. Pissed Jeans dropped another impressive chunk of ugliness on the world. The new (and final?) Marked Men album delivered exactly what you'd expect, which isn't a bad thing at all. Daniel Francis Doyle and Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves both released albums that totally flew under the radar but are well worth your attention.

Well, it appears there are over 10 records above, which seems to be the minimum round number needed for an end of the year list. I don't really feel like itemizing though. Why don't you do it for me and I'll let you know how close you are? I even bolded the band names to make it easy for you.

While you're busy contemplating the 21st century, I'm going to push the clock back about 30 years. I suppose I should really stop being surprised that obscure bands from New Zealand have videos, even if no one in the US saw them at the time. The prior discovery of clips by the Verlaines and This Kind of Punishment yielded no small amount of amazement from me but you'd think they would have prepared me for the clip below. However, this song pre-dates either of those videos (and MTV, for that matter) and it's for song from 3-track single, not a full album. Plus, it's not even the A-side!

With this wealth of videos for Flying Nun bands, how come I never saw any on 120 Minutes when I was growing up and taking notes on the whole "alternative rock" thing. It would have saved me a couple of years, at least. Dave Kendall was holding out on us, the ponce.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: It's a Bit Rich

The folks at Paste magazine have given us a real think piece in their best of the decade issue on the evolution of the hipster. This probably would have been a bit more potent had the the Hipster Handbook not already mocked these archetypes much more effectively six years ago. That's not very deck. It's also a bit ironic as I'm pretty sure that every one of their selections for the decade's best music, movies, TV shows and books are issued to one as soon as they sign a lease in Williamsburg. However, I suppose it's ultimately a brave move as they run the risk of alienating their core readership on hipsters who love to scoff at other hipsters while denying their own hipsterdom. See you all swingin' on the flippity-flop!

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Children's Crusade: Scorpio Moon EP

Doug Gillard has accumulated quite the resumé as the guitarist for Death of Samantha, Cobra Verde, Gem, Guided By Voices and many other artists. He's also the author of one of your favorite songs. (That would be GBV's "I Am a Tree.") Before any of those bands, the 19-year old Gillard formed Children's Crusade with Starvation Army's Fraser Sims. With Sims on vocals and Gillard playing all instruments, the pair recorded an 8-song cassette-only release in 1984. By the time of their second recording session the following year, the band has been fleshed out into a full lineup, but Gillard preferred to once again handle all the instruments himself. The session went unreleased at the time as Gillard joined Death of Samantha and the group faded into non-existence.

Five years later, Scat Records issued the cuts from the final Children's Crusade session as the inaugural release in their "Cleveland Archive Series." Upon listening to them, it's hard to imagine that songs as outstanding as these sat unreleased for years. The A-side, "Blue Venus Aflame," is a six-and-a-half minute epic, sounding something like rougher-edged Roxy Music. (Not a bad thing at all.) The two cuts on the flip are also remarkable: the anthemic straight ahead rock of "Your Time Is Through" and the weird Gang of Four/Captain Beefheart amalgam of "St. Jack's Bible." Though limited to only 1500 copies, the seven inch is still available from Scat and will only set you back 3 bucks.

Download Children's Crusade Scorpio Moon EP

Monday, November 23, 2009

Out of Print Digital Relics: The Chosen Few

I've posted a handful of these Out of Print Digital Relics but I haven't done one for a while. This is because it seems like pretty much every album I've considered posting has already been posted elsewhere by someone else. (Even This Kind of Punishment.)

However, I recently was talking with some friends of mine about the recent Death reissue, and opined that if they dug that band's reworking of vintage Detriot rock action, they really needed to hear Australia's the Chosen Few. Alas, the band's mammoth The Joke's On Us EP was no where to be found on the internet. I could have sworn I had seen it before. Perhaps the Chosen Few are litigious types. (I guess I'll find out soon.)

In any case, The Joke's On Us, the Chosen Few's only release, is definitely on my list of top 10 punk rock singles of all time. (I included a cut from it on one of my all punk podcasts.) It's an absolutely vicious take on the Detriot sound, surely learned by way of Radio Birdman's Dennis Tek. It has all the nasty guitar riff-age one might expect but it's played in ferocious manner akin to early US hardcore. It's like the soundtrack to a riot erupting at the pub. The Joke's On Us is right up there with the Negative Approach single as one of the purest expressions of sonic violence ever committed to vinyl.

The EP is included in its entirety as the first six tracks on the Root & A Beer CD. The remainder of the collection is made up of never-released studio and live cuts, including covers of the similarly minded Radio Birdman, Johnny Moped and Coloured Balls. As you're listening to it, head on over to to read a much more thorough history of the band.

Download The Chosen Few Root & A Beer

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: I Got Nothing

Usually when I post a podcast, I try to share some witty, often unrelated commentary along with it. This is to give you, dear reader, something to briefly read while listening to podcast, marginally increasing its entertainment value.

This time around, I don't have anything for you. Here are a few of the topics I was considering:

My attempts to enter the portmanteau "fungratulations" and the phrase "I got tarantulas in my pantulas."

The fact that I made this podcast using the Apple program GarageBand for the first time and how while trying to figure out how work it, I was lectured by this kid.

Checking out a webcam chat site on a whim and discovering that all is it is a bunch of dudes stroking their dicks. (In hindsight, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised.)

What I've decide I hate most about the Xmas season: jewelery commercials.

All were dead ends,

So here's my latest podcast. Try to find something clever to say on your own.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I Like Things

(Photo of Grass Widow and the Brooklyn Museum taken from Flickr)

I have a propensity to gripe. A good percentage of my blog posts are complaints, in one way or another. I'm often moved to write for the purpose of offering a counter argument. I'll see something that gets the "kids" excited, such as Dirty Projectors or the Pavement reunion, but doesn't quite sit well with me for whatever reason and that's enough to get my fingers tapping on the keyboard. Am I being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian? Am I sucking the fun out of everything?

Some have told me I am on both counts. I prefer to think of it as keeping people honest. Dissent is an important thing. Ideas are not valid until they're scrutinized. Plus, I'd like to think all the negativity is actually a by product of passion. Cynicism birthed from idealism and all that. I take rock music (perhaps far too) seriously, and when it's not all it could be, I feel compelled to comment. It's my own version of electric white boy blues. ("Electric" meaning an internet connection and not amplification in this case.)

Still, there is the fear that I'm turning into the Phil Mushnick of music blogging. I actually scrapped a post on Pitchfork's review of the Girls album for fear I was repeating points I had already made. (Though I did include a bit of it in the post I eventually created in its place.) Being a crank is one thing but being redundant is far worse a crime.

Besides, there's a lot I do like and I'd much rather share the good than vivisect the bad. Of course, I do share music I enjoy every time I make a podcast but frankly, doing it via prose is much more challenging. I owe it to you, dear reader, to at least make the effort.

So, here. A bunch of things I like:

Last Saturday I managed to catch two things I liked very much. As part of a corporate-sponsored bit of altruism, I saw the recently opened Who Shot Rock & Roll exhibition as well as a performance from San Francisco's Grass Widow at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition is a real stunner, transcending cliched rock star worship. It posits the photographers who shot these musicians are artists whose work defined the image of rock n roll, perhaps even more so than the musicians themselves. It's not the biggest revelation for anybody who's been paying attention, but seeing the lot of these images in the same place, ranging from the obvious (Pennie Smith's shot of Paul Simonon smashing his bass) to the obscure (Justin Borucki's shot of unknown punk rockers S.T.U.N. at CBGBs), is a compelling experience.

Grass Widow somehow managed to be equally impressive. The all-woman trio released their self-titled debut long-player earlier this year and finally made it to New York for a series of seven or gigs over the course of a single weekend. (Lots of day/night double headers for these ladies.) The album is one of the year's best, further evidence that great musicianship and technical prowess do not have a correlative relationship. Grass Widow's songs are relatively simple but take unexpected turns, their angularity tempered by surprisingly lush three-part harmonies. The closest antecedent is probably the Raincoats but like most remarkable bands, mere comparison doesn't do Grass Widow justice. Their album has just been repressed by Make A Mess Records and is also available via iTunes. A more recent 4-song 12" EP on Captured Tracks is also recommended.

I like other new records too. A couple of months ago I noted that there were a bunch of noteworthy releases which all came out in a relatively short period. I'm slowly making my way through the pile and have found the below to be particularly ear-pleasing. (Caveat emptor: my ears are pleased by things that frighten most other humans.)

The Fresh & Onlys Grey-Eyed Girls
Second album from this group, who apparently already have a third slated for release on In The Red next year. I haven't heard the first one but I'm looking forward to the third after hearing this. Kind of reminds me of the aspect of New Zealand post-punk bands that reminds me of 60s garage. I'm not sure if that makes any sense but if it sounds appealing to you, you'd probably dig this record a lot.

Times New Viking Born Again Revisited
A return to form after last year's somewhat disappointing effort. I've wondered aloud if TNV might do themselves a favor by going into an actual studio with a sympathetic producer/engineer. I'm not saying hire Ric Ocasek like fellow hiss-loving Ohioans Guided By Voices did, but maybe someone who could replicate their live sound. In any case, the new album proves I often don't know what the hell I'm talking about. They haven't cleaned up a bit and still knock it out of the park.

Pissed Jeans King of Jeans
A terrific third album of heavy punk sludge from one of the best post-hardcore outfits going today. Often compared to mid to late period Black Flag (the good parts, I hope), I actually hear a lot of the Birthday Party in the new album. Singer Matt Korvette stretches vocals into twisted, tortured forms just like vintage Cave. The band retains their sick/wicked/juvenile sense of humor. If you don't find a cut like "R-Rated Movie" hilarious, then you probably think this past year was the best season of Curb Your Enthusiasm yet.

I like other things besides records. TV, for example. And the best show on TV right now just might be Adult Swim's The Venture Bros. Why might it be the best show in television? Well, it has the deep mythology, rich backstory and character development of a show like Lost while being just as funny as anything else on the air right now. It's really the best of both worlds. Like other Adult Swim shows, The Venture Bros get a lot of mileage out of "geek-recognition" humor (as the Onion AV Club called it). However, unlike the Family Guy/Robot Chicken school of let's-throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks gag comedy, The Ventures generally stay within their universe of "kiddie pulp" (i.e. superheroes, boy adventurers) though even other references (a Hunter S. Thompson pastiche and David Bowie himself are major characters) are fully integrated into the story. Plus, it's the best looking animation on Adult Swim by some distance.

You know what else I like? Reading. And the most entertaining prose book I've read this year is Mike Edison's I Have Fun Everywhere I Go. Subtitled "Savage Tales of Pot, Porn, Punk Rock, Pro Wrestling, Talking Ape, Evil Bosses, Dirty Blues, American Heroes, and the Most Notorious Magazines in the World," Edison's biography details his career as a kind of lowbrow renaissance man. Edison wrote and edited for various wrestling dirt sheets, stroke books and skin mags, all while maintaining a parallel career as a drummer for a series of low-rent garage rock bands. And that doesn't even tell half the story. The book certainly contains all the drug consumption, fornication and general debauchery one might expect, but Edison's writing is sharp, involving and good-humored, transforming what might have been lurid sensationalism into literate earthiness. Even if it wasn't, wouldn't you want to read the life story of a guy who was publisher of High Times and buddies with GG Allin anyway? Oh... Evil Knievel is in there too.

My personal favorite anecdote: After Edison balked at writing a gay-oriented smut book under the premise that he simply didn't know the subject matter, his editor told him "You got a hole, and you got a pole, and that don't change. Now sit down and write your fucking book." Pure poetry.

The year's best book, sequential art division, would have to be David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp. Mazzucchelli made a name for himself in the 80s, penciling a pair of critically acclaimed and hugely popular superhero comics with Frank Miller writing: Daredevil: Born Again and Batman: Year One. He was an in demand artist and could have had a long and profitable career drawing men with capes. However, Mazzucchelli decided to give up the superhero racket and focus on art comics. His work since has been been anything but prolific. His major works in the past 20 years have the Rubber Blanket anthology, which lasted three issues, and a graphic novel adaptation of Paul Auster's City of Glass.

His first entirely self-penned and illustrated graphic was finally released earlier this year and I have to say Asterios Polyp was well worth the wait. It's an auteur comic through and through, as interested in the way it tells its story as much as than the story itself. Form comments on content and vice versa. Mazzucchelli does things with color and line work I've never seen done before. For example, characters are drawn in different visual styles (right down to their shapes and fonts used for their speech balloons), which represent their differing philosophies. As two characters become romantically involved and their philosophies are found to be compatible, their style merge into one. When the characters argue, they separate. It's a simple tactic that pays off brilliantly. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Mazzucchelli plays with the comics form to comment on the subjects of identity, academia, aesthetics, philosophy and fate and it would not surprise me in the least if Asterios Polyp is quickly acknowledged as one the great works of its medium. (Please read Douglas Wolk's New York Times review of the book for a more thorough analysis.) I should note that Asterios Polyp is not as heady or challenging as I'm perhaps making it sound. It's a total delight to read. I went through the whole thing in one sitting.

So there you have it. That should keep you occupied for a while. Hopefully, you'll find the works above more rewarding than the scathing dismissal I nearly wrote on New York Magazine's suckjob cover story on Brooklyn bands who take the rock out indie rock. What's the line from that Buzzcocks' song? "Now I can stand austerity but it gets a little much/when there's all these livid things that you never get to touch."

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Man and His Books

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: Let's Pretend

Tis nearly All Hallows' Eve, when the whole world plays dress up and pretends to be something that they're not. From the above shot of The Hills star Audrina Patridge, we can only assume that her costume is that of

1) A fan of one of the dumbest and inexplicably enduring bands ever, whose image of "real punks" is slightly more cartoon-ish than the Chipmunks' version of the same, and who have inspired more bad music and poor hygiene than the Grateful Dead


2) A poseur

A third possibility is that she's method acting in preparation for a role, much like that chick from Twilight was possibly doing when she was spotted sporting a Minor Threat t-shirt Comic Con. (She's playing Joan Jett in the upcoming Runaways biopic. Yes, I know it's an anachronism but I don't know if she knows.) However, I'm not entirely sure that Ms. Patridge has ever "acted" in anything. Perhaps I'm being too harsh. If one can simulate something resembling human emotion in a scripted pseudo-reality show, you've got to have some thespian skills.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Girls Vs Girls

Or best new music vs best music of all time.

Though I've been hearing about San Francisco's Girls for a while now, until recently I never made an effort to listen to the band. Some of this is due to the public drubbing the band took on a thread on the Terminal Boredom message board (an invaluable source for music info and sub-Comedy Central Roast juvenile mockery). More of a factor is that band shares a name with the excellent defunct Boston new wave/post punk band, The Girls, and I felt some kind of weird and perhaps misguided allegiance.

Boston's Girls only released one single during their lifetime, the phenomenal "Jeffery, I Hear You." It was released on Pere Ubu's Hearthan label and it's easy to hear why Ubu felt a kinship. The Girls similarly mixed the electronic experiments of Eno's Roxy Music and the motorik of Krautrock with a more straightforward primal rock thump, at times resembling a more severe version of Ubu's Ohio neighbors Devo. The A-side of the single was collected along with a bunch of the band's demo material on a posthumous release in the mid-80s entitled Reunion. (It wasn't.) This essential document has been out-of-print for years and never released on CD. Fortunately, the good folks at Mutant Sound have made the album available for free MP3 download if you want to experience the glory.

It's a tall order for these new Girls if they want to usurp the title for best band with that moniker. (There have been others as well.) I don't think I would give the band's debut full length, Album (we can only hope they're fans of Flipper and not mid-period Public Image Ltd.), the 9.1 out of 10 it received on Pitchfork. This partially because I round down but also because I don't think record merits quite such a high grade. Girls' band of progressive yet somehow guileless pop is mostly effective and impressive in its breadth, even if it does get a bit cutesy and/or indulgent on occasion. Still, I've probably listened to Album just about as much as any record released this year, which may indicate that it's still growing on me. In any case, it's an undoubtedly promising debut.

(Incidentally, Tom Breihan's Pitchfork review is a prime example of what's wrong with the current state of music criticism. After beginning the piece by detailing the the trials and tribulations of Girls frontman Christopher Owens, Breihan acknowledges that this bit of backstory has next to nothing to do with the band's music, writing "you don't need to know one word of that first paragraph to hear it as what it is." Is that so? Then why the hell did you bother telling us?)

2009 Girls:

1979 Girls (ironically culled from a two year old Matblog post):

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: Priceless

Who knew that the power of music could transform a middle-aged desk jockey into an incredibly obnoxious-looking modern hipster? At least that's what implied by the Mastercard commercial running ad nausem on TBS during the MLB playoffs. You would think that he would become a younger version of himself but no. I suppose it's possible that he may have also been mulleted and mustachioed in his glory days. Perhaps Mastercard didn't want to shell out the money for the publishing rights to an Eddie Money track.

Should you listen to this podcast and feel yourself morphing into a paisley-shirted English psych rocker, skinny-tied new waver or indifferently-dressed gentle bedroom recording artist, just remember: it's not what you listen to but how you accessorize that makes you annoying to those who gaze upon you.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Project Mersh 21st Century

This is surely old news by now, but even upon initial announcement the impending reunion of Pavement didn't exactly make me convulse in anticipation. This is for a couple of reasons. Despite more or less growing up on indie rock in the 90s, I never felt as deep a connection with Pavement as I did with other bands from that era. They were a band I respected but never really cherished.

Sure, Slanted and Enchanted was, and remains, a brilliant record. However, by the time of the release of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, I began to find the band's deep sense of sarcasm and undercurrent of privilege and entitlement to be somewhat off putting. I've never been a fan of over earnestness but when a band trades in ironic (and, frankly, elitist) detachment, it's difficult to form an emotional bond with them. A little sincerity and conviction go a long way. Malkmus had announced he was "crowned the king of it" back on "In the Mouth of a Desert" but actually appearing with a crown (and scepter and cape) in the "Cut Your Hair" video was really pushing things. One might be tempted to call me a snob for my less than total devotion to a band this well regarded but that's a bit hypocritical. Has there ever been a rock song more steeped in snobbery than "Range Life?"

Furthermore, the band's reunion seemed depressingly inevitable anyway. They can just be added to the ever growing list of bands who've recently reunited to capitalize on the new indie audience: My Bloody Valentine, the Jesus Lizard, the Pixies, Superchunk, Dinosaur Jr., Polvo. I could go on. And "capitalize" is absolutely the correct term. There's no reason to think these bands would be making music together again if it wasn't for monetary gain. The indie audience of the 21st century is simply much larger than when they originally played. I don't blame these bands for attempting to profit from a greater demand for the type of music they purvey. I wish them good fortune. Nor do I begrudge anyone for wanting to see a much-loved band they were too young experience the first time around. I was certainly front and center when Mission of Burma first reunited. However, there's something disheartening about bands who were once champions of music that was made without regard for commercial considerations suddenly getting on stage for little reason other than money.

This is representative of a philosophical shift in indie culture that's marked the last decade. Once a movement centered around independence from mainstream pablum and music industry (and, by proxy, capitalist) values, indie music (I hesitate to classify much of the recent vintage as any kind of "rock") has become merely a niche taste for a particular demographic, interchangeable with any other from a marketing standpoint. The AV Club's Erik Adams pretty much hit the nail on the head when he called today's indie "songs that are used to sell today’s iPods and Zooey Deschanel movies" in his recent review of Cymbals Eat Guitars.

In the pre-internet age, indie culture was driven by fans. That "fan" is short for "fanatic" is absolutely apropos in this case. It took a level of commitment and literacy. Knowledge was achieved by sorting though countless fanzines and record guides, word of mouth from discerning record store employees and college radio DJs, and trust in labels that reliably put out good music. Now, information on nearly any band is just a Google search away. Being a fan of a band like the Clean was once a sort of secret handshake. Coverage of the Clean's recent album, Mister Pop, was wide and unprecedented for a band that toiled away on and off for nearly 30 years in semi-obscurity. That the album (which is fine, by the way) is their first full-length since the release of Merge's easily available and modestly hyped, career-spanning 2CD anthology of the band's material is no coincidence.

The accessibility granted through 21st century technology, be it general information or the music itself via file sharing, eschews the cultural fluency of old school fanaticism. Whether or not this new approach is inherently inferior is debatable but it seems to me that there's a difference between reading about archeology in a textbook and actually going out on a dig. The dilettante can claim expertise with minimal amount of effort.

I am not such a Luddite that I believe that these modern methods don't have an upside. That a band as good as the Clean has gained greater recognition is undoubtedly a good thing. However, as the audience for indie music increases and it becomes more financially viable, its already loose defining qualities become even more amorphous. "Indie" has always been an umbrella term, used to cover an array styles and existing on a slippery-slope to meaninglessness. Not for nothing did Sebadoh's 1991 name-dropping, open fan letter "Gimme Indie Rock" have a large amount of eye-rolling mockery mixed in with its affection. Still, there was a sensibility and kinship there beyond being an alternative to pop. By contrast, that anyone has ever considered major label, chart-aspiring bands like the Killers or Kings of Leon to be "indie" is a joke, a fundamental misunderstanding that somehow got warped into a truism. In 2009, indie seems to exist only to cater to consumers of a specialized taste. It's not even an opposition to the Kaynes and Lady Gagas of the world, but additional product for those who crave something a little different.

One could make the case that the accessibility granted by the hyper-communicative nature of the internet has opened up possibilities for independent bands. The popularity of a band like the Shins earlier in the decade is probably at least partially attributable to this. On the other hand, one could just as easily argue that these new avenues have been readily co-opted and exploited by savvy music marketers and have all but obliterated any grassroots connection to the music. Pop music mechanisms of "breaking" new artists remain firmly in place, even if they travel through different paths. The mass marketing infrastructure of the source broadcasting to the target has been adapted to appear hipper and less obvious, gradually usurping legitimate word-of-mouth. It is perhaps naive to think that the taint of commerce had never previously been a part of indie culture but it's inarguable that that taint has ever been more prominent than it is now.

Tom Lax of Siltbreeze Records, on sending the first Times New Viking album to Pitchfork:
I did send one to Pitchfork for review and after a while I e-mailed to ask if they got it. In response I got an e-mail asking me if I'd like to advertise. I didn't and it never got reviewed. So the more things change, the more they stay the same, don't you think?
Then again, when I saw Times New Viking around the time of Present the Paisley Reich, they played a cover Pavement's "Box Elder." Perhaps, the flood of 80s and 90s band reunions shows that today's indie audience craves something more authentic and is resisting the hype machine. That may just be wishful thinking.

Speaking of which, I hope they play "Debris Slide."

Friday, September 11, 2009

Up With Negativity: Vivian Girls and Meth Teeth

Eight months since the new administration took office, I guess we've given up on this "hope" jive. At least that's what one might infer from the very similar titles of two recent releases: Vivian Girls Everything Goes Wrong and Meth Teeth's Everything Went Wrong.

I've very publicly defended Vivian Girls in this space before but I couldn't help but wonder if their sophomore full length, which follows their self-titled debut album by less than 18 months, would be anything worthwhile. A number of scenarios for any band in their position could have yielded disastrous results.

Under the pressure of sudden notoriety, a band might feel the need to "make a statement" and wind up drowning in ambition. Forcing yourself into new sonic territory in which you're not comfortable can possibly yield interesting results, but often it means you're just not playing to your strengths.

The Vivian Girls could also go the route of simply rehashing their debut. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that but it would augur for the law of diminishing returns setting in sooner rather than later. Future releases might be considered wholly redundant.

Finally, any band for whom amateurism is intrinsic to their appeal might be rendered inert by going "pro." Genuine enthusiasm goes a long way in rock music. Better execution means greater clarity of a band's ideas but could wind up exposing those ideas as not being very good in the first place. Just consider all the hardcore bands who got some chops and started playing shitty metal. Hell, consider Pavement after they kicked out Gary Young.

Fortunately, the Vivian Girls manage to avoid the above missteps. Everything Goes Wrong is neither a huge departure from nor total retread of their debut. Rather, it plays as though the band's moderate success has granted them validation. Their obvious gift for melody remains unabated as they grow more assured and confident, freely adding new wrinkles to their sound.

Moments on the album are both more sophisticated ("Can't Get Over You") and harder rocking ("The End," which recalls their heroes, The Wipers) than anything on the debut. The band's songwriting is tighter and and, while no one is going to mistake them for math rock, their playing has gotten more assertive. They even engage in a bit of Velvets-style stretching out on "Out For The Sun." This more varied approach is mildly obscured by the samey production, which also makes the record feel a bit overlong. At one and a half times the length of the debut, this might have been inevitable.

I've never considered the Vivian Girls to be novices bashing away without a clue but there's no denying that a lack self-consciousness and pretension is part of their appeal. It seems fitting that any sonic expansion they've made on Everything Goes Wrong feels unforced, and that is key to the album's success.

Meth Teeth released one of my favorite records of last year, the Bus Rides 7" EP. I've been looking forward to their debut full length tremendously and it does not disappoint. The Portland band offers a noisy, aggressive take on psych-tinged folk rock. In an earlier review, I compared Meth Teeth's songs to the to the quiet, ominous psychedelia of famous acid casualties Skip Spence and Syd Barrett. Those are fairly apt comparisons but neither were ever so brazen. Much of Everything Went Wrong sounds as though internal demons have been driven outward and thrashed about. The band is capable of more harmonious, less foreboding moments as well. The album's opener, "Never Been To Church," sounds like the jangle of the Byrds if Crosby's connection had given them weed laced with roach killer.

I suspect that the general reaction to the release will be something along the lines of "Another lo-fi record of Woodsist. Ho Hum." It's understandable that one might suffer from lo-fi malaise at this point. However, Meth Teeth stand above the fray and Everything Went Wrong is worthy of your attention.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: Punk Rock for the Workers!

Happy Labor Day, everyone. I thought I would treat all you laborers to a special podcast of that most proletarian of art forms, punk rock. Never mind that my last all punk rock podcast was on Valentine's Day. Or that the first one was for no real reason at all. Or that most of the songs on this podcast have little to no political content. Or that punk rock as the music for and by the working class is pretty much a total fallacy. Or that this is the absolute most inappropriate thing to listen to while relaxing at a BBQ.

Yeah, just forget all that and, um... I had a point, didn't I?

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Dancing About Architechture (Again)

For the past few days, I've been thumbing through one of my all-time favorite books, A Whore Just Like The Rest: The Music Writings of Richard Meltzer. Lest you think the title is an indicator for some kind misogynist rant, it's actually an ironic comment on Meltzer's status as a music scribe, mocking the cozy relationship between the rock press and record label publicity departments. Despite a chapter entitled "Quid Pro Quo," Meltzer was nothing like the rest. Like his peer (and friend) Lester Bangs, Meltzer wrote about rock in the first person. Time and time again, directly and indirectly, he argued that there was no way to experience music outside of the context of your life. You can call it "new journalism" or "gonzo" (Meltzer hates both terms), and point to it as the parent of the navel-gazing and pseudo-sociology that passes for music criticism these days. (Yours truly, guilty as charged.) However, the difference is that Meltzer spoke a language of high ideas in a voice that was consistently funny, insightful, opinionated and engaging. There's a full chapter entitled "Prime Wallow," which contains record "reviews" from a period in 1973 when Metlzer made a point of not listening to the records he was reviewing. It's probably the book's most entertaining section. Lester Bangs died young and became the rock crit role model and martyr, but Meltzer was the better writer.

In any case, there's nothing quite like reading the work of one your heroes to make you contemplate your own work. (Or betray its influence. Just take a look at all the parenthetical phrases, one of Meltzer's favorite techniques, in the preceding paragraph. I'll stop now.) The frequency of my posts has slowed to a crawl of late. At first, I simply figured I had little which moved me to put pen to paper. However, upon review of some of my more prolific periods of blogging, I discovered that I used to be content to throw up a link to some other website and write a little commentary. Or if I felt particularly desperate for material, I'd simply embed a YouTube clip I found worth sharing. Nowadays, I tend to save this sort of activity for my Facebook wall and my circle of friends therein. Synergetically speaking, this makes no sense. If I were a more industrious type, I'd start a Twitter account where I'd share my hit-and-run musings with subscribers while promoting the blog and podcast at the same time. I'd save the meatier bits for the blog and use Facebook for its proper function of spying on girls I think are cute.

It's not that I think my FB status updates are without worth or wit. A recent example: "Paul Bruno can't follow the logic behind naming the Marlins' stadium after the first Fang album." Funny stuff, if I do say so myself. However, given the lack of substance in the world of music blogging, and the fact that I've complained about this lack of substance on more than one occasion, I feel the need to say something about something. Having a point is usually a good thing. I'd like to think one thought-provoking essay is worth a dozen paraphrased-from-the-publicist "This Week's New Releases" posts. (Which is why I should post at least once every three months.) While my posts have been less frequent, the ones I have written are generally pretty long, which I suppose makes up for it. Length isn't a virtue in and of itself, of course, but when trying to use premises and reasoning to form a valid argument, one might as well take advantage of the lack of mandated word count. It's using the 21st century for the best, I figure.

There's no getting around the fact that effectively writing about music is a difficult task. When I say "effective," I don't mean getting someone to buy an album, which if you know your audience, is relatively easy. Keyword + signifier + comparison to better known band + thesaurus = a tidy prop to generate interest and possibly move some units. This approach maybe conveys the general aesthetic to the probable consumer but says nothing about execution, which is ultimately what's most important.
Oh, it's a movie about superheroes? Well, is it The Dark Knight or Fantastic Four? "It ain't what you do/it's the way that you do it," Mark E Smith sang in "Copped It." Above all else, music is evocative and how it goes about the task of evoking is the source of its power. I try my best to convey this, fully aware that no matter how much verbiage I spill, it's nowhere near an equivalency for actually listening to the damn thing. I can only hope to add some depth to the experience or perhaps shed some light on some artists who have evoked enough in me that I can't help but feel they should be part of your lives as well. Yes, I file my tax returns under "enjoyment enhancer."

While 2009 has been a fairly lean year for quality releases thus far, there's a whole bunch of new product out now or soon that shows potential. Through purchase or promotional freebie, new releases from the Clean, Times New Viking, Polvo, David Bazan, TV Ghost, Meth Teeth, Vivian Girls, Yo La Tengo, Pissed Jeans, Grass Widow, Box Elders and Kurt Vile are all in my cue for listening. I'll either write about them or I won't.
I'm not getting paid to create propaganda pieces to promote the health of the music industry. (Actually, I'm not getting paid at all.) If I think they're worth sharing, I'll undoubtedly play them in my podcast, which neatly sidesteps the whole dancing about architecture conundrum by giving your ears direct access.

Still, there's one recent release I feel I should have covered and that's the latest Reigning Sound album, Love and Curses. The band's first new release in 5 years should have been enough to qualify as noteworthy. I nearly tacked on my thoughts about the album to the Jay Reatard review I did last week. There are more than a few parallels to link JR and Reigning Sound's Greg Cartwright. They're both from Memphis. They both emerged from the same garage-punk scene. They both were previously in bands of whom I was aware but considered less than spectacular (JR's Reatards and Cartwright's Oblivions). They both released one of the decade's best records (Reatard's Blood Visions and RS's Time Bomb High School) on the same label (In The Red). Hell, they even worked together, as Reatard engineered the Reigning Sound's Too Much Guitar album. However, I ultimately felt that treating Love and Curses as an addendum to anyone's else release would be doing it a disservice. It's a fully realized statement which has little to gain and nothing to prove via the crutch of association. (So I just tacked it on to a
solipsistic rant instead. Way to go, author.)

More importantly, I felt that there's just no adequate description for the Reigning Sound for someone who hasn't heard them. Writing about them was an daunting propostion. In the most basic sense, they play garage rock heavily influenced by soul music. For many, this may conjure visions of affected white nergoisms played over 60s-inspired raunch, and that's simply not the case. For the Reigning Sound, soul music isn't window dressing, it's deeply encoded into their musical DNA. It's got soul. And depth and nuance and smarts and all the other qualities of great music that are easy to hear but hard to define. The group rocks forcefully and convincingly but it's on their frequent slow jams where it's plain to see the band is something
special. Cartwright is simply the finest writer of the rock ballad since another Memphisian, Alex Chilton. The guy is a national treasure but nothing I can say is going to convince you the way his music does.

So instead, I'll just fall back on that old CMJ standby of "Recommended If You Like."

RIYL: Stax Records, the Rolling Stones' very best work, essential art, affirming existence, owning one of the best records of this (or any) year, rock music.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Reverse In Utero: Jay Reatard's Watch Me Fall

Yes, I realize this is a bit late but if I wanted to meet deadlines, I would try try to get paid for this stuff instead of giving it away for free.

Advance word about Jay Reatard's debut full-length for Matador was that it was a departure from the aggressive sound of the titanic Blood Visions album. The words "poppy" and "wimpy" were thrown around. More to the point, an inside source said that it was "very New Zealand." This shouldn't really come as much of a surprise as Mr. Reatard did an ace cover of a Go-Betweens song on the B-side to his first release following Blood Visions. (The Go-Betweens are, of course, not from New Zealand but they're in the neighborhood, geographically and musically.)

It's understandable that Mr. Reatard would want to alter his sound not only to progress as an artist but to dissociate himself from a trend that he himself helped initiate. Even though Blood Visions was ignored by most major music outlets, it's clearly become a yardstick of neuvo-DIY and Jay himself has become probably its most recognizable figure. It's a situation that reminds me a bit of Nirvana following up Nevermind with the abrasive In Utero. Grunge was going pop and Nirvana did the their best to separate themselves and challenge their audience. Jay Reatard, while not playing for the same stakes as Nirvana did, is more or less doing the same here. Some have whispered "sell out" but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Jay could have presented the world with Blood Visions II and with certainty garnered the immediate acclaim that should have been granted the original. Instead of bringing the expected fuzz and fitting his peg neatly into the hole that's been assigned to him, he goes clean and melodic. It's a brave and commendable move.

Besides, Watch Me Fall is ultimately not that radical a departure from Jay Reatard's past work. Part of what made Blood Visions so potent was his gift for melody and tight song construction. He's simply brought these elements to the front while stripping back the noise. Guitars jangle instead of roar. Some songs could be called "pretty" without irony. If you didn't think Jay Reatard was capable of writing ace pop songs, you probably weren't listening that closely in the first place. The only thing that prevents the album from being a complete success is actually Jay's sharp voice, which is better suited for punk than pop. Even when he's trying to enrapture or soothe, he still sounds biting and sarcastic. But hey, at least he stays in key.

The final verdict? Well, it's not as good as Blood Visions but, honestly, few records are. Upon hearing an (illegally) downloaded version of Blood Visions back when it came out, I immediately left my apartment, got into my car and drove to the nearest record shop to purchase a concrete copy. It felt necessary. Watch Me Fall, by contrast, is merely pleasurable. Still, 33 minutes of pleasure is a lot more than most records provide.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: Indie Girl Hip Tattoo

As much as I like to think of myself as the antithesis of the sort of blogger who has a "false sense of importance when they're oftentimes just regurgitating press releases and tour dates," I'm not above blatantly directing a little web traffic my way. On examination of the stats for this blog, I've noticed the occasional "referring link" from Microsoft's new search engine, The search terms are usually some combination of "hip tattoo," "girls," "indie," "music" and (at least twice) "tiny redhead teen," which brings them to this particular post. I figured I might as well direct these folks to a more recent post where they might serendipitously become a fan of my podcast. Or perhaps curse me out in the comments section.

Some of my regular readers might find this transparent grab for hits a bit crass. I can understand that but at least these are all terms that have directed people to this blog before. It's not like I'm fishing using search terms like "Anna Paquin True Blood nude" or "Michael Vick" or "Michael Jackson death conspiracy" or "health care tea party" or "Megan Fox nude" or "James Cameron Avatar spoilers" or "cash for clunkers" or "Radiohead leak free download" or "Chris Brown Rihanna nude." That would be going too far.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Case Studies in Hype: Dirty Projectors and the Beets

(Please note the lack of a string section above)

There's a hilarious bit from the comedy duo Scharpling and Wurster about the fictional rock band Mother 13. In the role of singer Corey Harris, Jon Wurster explains how his fledgling major label rock band sounds like a cross between The Clash, the Who, Led Zeppelin, R.E.M. and some other well-regarded, A-list rock bands. However, when he plays his band's single, what one hears is lifeless rock only remarkable for how generic it is. Scharpling is incredulous, accusing Wurster of mentioning those bands as an attempt to use their credibility for his own gain.

I couldn't help but think of this "cred by association" when I heard Dirty Projectors covering Black Flag's Damaged album. Well, they don't exactly "cover" the songs but rather offer a reinterpretation from memory. This canny stunt would bring the Brooklyn band lots of attention, which culminated just a few months ago with the release of the follow up to the Rise Above project, Bitte Orca. The album received nearly universal acclaim and has made the band into one of the bigger names in the indie community.

The problem is Dirty Projectors are more or less the exact aesthetic opposite of Black Flag: studied, precious and overly intellectualized. There's absolutely nothing visceral or immediate about their music, which evokes nothing other than how clever its composers must be. Forget about hitting the listeners as hard as a classic punk tune. They don't even have the impact of the average top 40 pop song (Those songs tend to have hooks). I have trouble imagining Dirty Projectors as music that someone "enjoys." It's music that one appreciates if one convinces oneself that is for the best.

The Dirty Projectors never met a vocal affectation or sharp timing change they didn't like, employing them whether or not they serve the tune. Weird for the sake of weird, as Moe Szyslak would say. Old school rock fans may deplore modern bands like Vampire Weekend and MGMT, at least those bands have a backbeat and seek to move the listener. Dirty Projectors just pile on the quirk and hope it adds up to something. When the band strips away their more histrionic tendencies, such as on the single "Stillness in the Move," the results approach listenable. This happens far too rarely on Bitte Orca for the album to be of use to anyone but those who'd rather marvel at a band's "ingenuity" than be engaged by their music.

The Beets, on the other hand are almost ridiculously simple. The band's Spacemen-3-meets-Beat-Happening-style garage pop gained them a good amount of recognition in a relatively short period. I caught the band a few weeks ago and I was initially impressed with their unique style. However, by the end of their set I found myself rather bored as their sameness of sound relented into monotony. This was clearly a band with potential but seemed to be unworthy of the praise they were receiving.

However, I think the root this band's particular hype comes from intentions that are sincere and well-meaning. In the film Ratatouille, the character Anton Ego gives a speech about the role of the critic, concluding that the critic's ultimate purpose is the "defense of the new." "The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends," he states. I think that often people, particularly if they are in some kind of gate-keeper position, will see a band like the Beets and realize they've got something going even if they have not quite figured it all out yet. So they try to give the new some friends and talk up the band to status they may have not quite achieved as of yet. Of course, there are bandwagon-jumpers who will immediately take to a band like this as they are the sort that relish in being able to say they were into this awesome shit before anybody else. Suddenly, the band has a following and those on the outside are scratching their heads saying "What the hell is big deal about these guys?" It's sort of like a single A-prospect being brought up to the majors and everybody wondering why he's hitting .220.

Of course, in these accelerated times, bands can achieve a modicum of fame much more quickly than they could years ago. In the past the above process might have taken three years, in which time the band may have matured and developed to the point of definite potency (or they could have broken up and that would be that). Now, this process could take three months. Bands are hyped to the heavens and then quickly discarded for not living up to perhaps unreasonable expectations. There was great quote in the 2006 Pazz and Jop poll wherein a critic notes (I'm paraphrasing, I can't find original quote) "The first time I heard of Cold War Kids was when I heard that everyone is sick of hearing about Cold War Kids." That about sums it up.

The Beets may well have a great record in them. Let's not write them off before they can accomplish it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Matador Records: 20 Years is Two Decades

20 years!!! So many Matador memories. Going to CBGBs for the first time to see a Matador New Music Seminar showcase (and still having the Bunny Brains 7" to prove it). The finale of the label's 10th anniversary show where Jon Spencer joined Yo La Tengo onstage for a rendition of "Slack Motherfucker." The time Robert Pollard bought beer for my underaged self at Sideshows by the Seashore on Coney Island and was inspired to write "The Official Ironmen Rally Song" as I vomited over the boardwalk. (Note: one of the preceding statements is untrue.)

Matador has sometimes been the object of ridicule among less than enlightened music snobs, partially for their occasional dalliances with evil major labels Atlantic and Capital. Yeah, fuck them for making a profit and attempting to expand the audience of their artists. Truth be told, a few labels in history have discographies as adventurous, diverse and high in quality as Matador, and even fewer have been able to do it for as long. I don't think it's hyperbole to state that modern music would be very different if not for the label's influence. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.

To commemorate the label's anniversary, my colleague at Pop Tarts Suck Toasted put together his list of the Top 20 Matador Albums of All-Time. I'm not going to argue with his choices (though, being the contentious type, I certainly could) but it inspire me to create my own Mata-list. I was considering making my own list of their best albums but that seemed a little predictable and dull. Does anyone really care if I think the SF Seals' Nowhere is better than Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain?

So instead, I thought I'd present to you
The Top 10 Matador Records You Don't Own:

10 Yo La Tengo "Shaker"
I'm sure many of you own a good chunk of the albums Yo La Tengo have released on Matador, and possibly a few EPs and rarities collections as well. This seven inch was their first release for the label, arriving just a couple of months before the Painful album, and has unfortunately gone unnoticed by a lot of YTL fans. It's simply one of the finest songs from a band with too many great songs to count: a dark and menacing psych-tinged rocker blend that gives one reason to think the band was paying close attention to the material coming out of New Zealand's Xpressway label at the time. The band apparently thought quite highly of the song as well. They selected it as the first track on their Prisoners of Love career retrospective. Plus, the flip, a cover of Richard Thompson's "For Shame of Doing Wrong," aint bad either.

9 Come Eleven:Eleven
Probably the best album in the long career of Thalida Zedek (Live Skull, Uzi, Dangerous Birds). Teaming with Chris Brokaw, a brilliant guitarist whose work remains one of the underground's best kept secrets, probably helped. Together their guitars interlocked to chart dark and bluesy sonic territory explored by few before or since, with the rhythm section providing rock solid foundation and Zedek's raspy wail cutting through the maelstrom. Their surprisingly reverent cover of the Rolling Stones' "I Got the Blues" gave some clue as to a blueprint, but originals like "Off to One Side," "Sad Eyes" and "Fast Piss Blues" display a style and power that's utterly individual and totally compelling.

8 Bettie Serveert Palomine
There was brief period where it looked like Bettie Serveert might get swept up the the whole "women in rock" trend of the mid 90s. You have to wonder if a lot of people though singer/guitarist Carol van Dijk was "Bettie." In any case, it wasn't to be as the masses decided they'd rather listen to the insight offered by Meredith Brooks and Tracy Bonham. It's unsurprising as BS was far too subtle for the mainstream. A quick listen to the near-hit "Tomboy" provides evidence of that. Pop music often gets its potency from persona, immediate identification with the singer as protagonist. While blessed with a clearly gifted vocalist, the tune derives its power from the ensemble playing of the whole group, with subtle shifts in dynamics providing tension and release to frame van Dijk's warm and evocative voice. The band matches this feat throughout much of Palomine, and if their subsequent released never quite topped it, few bands have made an album as memorable.

7 Babylon Dance Band Four On One
This one takes some explaining. The Babylon Dance Band were one of the Midwest's earliest post-punk bands. After releasing a handful of singles the band split up and some members went on to achieve a modicum of fame as Antietam. In the mid 90s, for whatever reason, the original band reunited and recorded this album. Perhaps, there was just a sense of unfinished business, as this disc is more vibrant and immediate than anything Antietam did (to my ears at least). The band's unique combination of angular post-punk and subtle Americana underpinnings is surprisingly warm and moving, with singer Chip Nold sounding like Pere Ubu's David Thomas returning from the brink and forced to deal with human concerns. Had the band recorded and released this during their original run, one suspects that they'd be regarded along with Mission of Burma, the Embarrassment and Pylon as one of the greatest post-punk outfits the US has ever produced.

6 Railroad Jerk One Track Mind
Bios for Railroad Jerk jokingly(?) described the band as "industrial folk" but that description isn't that far off. Actually, it suffices fairly well for RJ's unique stew of New York noise, roots music and who-knows-what-else. Try to imagine the Voidoids jamming with the Band and you're maybe halfway there. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion took a similar approach to deconstructing trad rock but while Spencer and co. may have gotten the accolades and sizable following, the truth is they never made an album this good.

5 Love Of Diagrams Mosaic
A much more recent release than most of the albums on this list, Mosaic never garnered as much attention as it should have. Nearly every time I'd play a song from it at one of my DJ gigs, someone inquired about who it was. And why wouldn't they? Aussie trio Love of Diagrams displayed rare musical empathy as players, creating a rich and nuanced sound that most faux-orchestral 7-piece indie rock outfits couldn't hope to match. And they rocked. Hard.

4 La Peste s/t
In their original incarnation, Boston's La Peste released exactly one single, the thundering classic "Better Off Dead." Their self-titled Matador release collections that single, and handful of demos and a 1979 live broadcast on WBCN. Taken together, they paint a portrait of absolute titans of US punk rock, on par with the Pagans or the Germs. Their songs are melodic and memorable, containing undeniable hooks and played with blinding speed and fury. Matador has released a handful of reissues during their 20 years, but this one is arguably the most revelatory and essential.

3 Bassholes Long Way Blues 1996-1998
Not even their best album (that would be the double LP When My Blue Moon Turns Red Again, released the same year on In The Red), this collection of home recordings is nonetheless one of the finest records of the 90s. Lo-fi before (or after?) that could be considered a selling point, the Ohio band rips through absolutely savage garage blues stompers like "She Shimmy Wobble" and "Turpentine" and it's not hard to imagine that they've had immediate contact with the fellow who tuned Robert Johnson's guitar. Others cuts, like "Angel of Death" and "Cabooseman Blues," are more quiet and intimate, which makes their profound weirdness all the more disturbing. It's tempting to claim to that the Bassholes two-man blues set precedent for the success of the White Stripes, but the truth is, despite Jack White's attempt to turn himself into some kind of living kabuki doll, the Stripes never recorded anything as nearly bent as this.

1 & 2 Silkworm Firewater and Developer
I've already written extensively about my love for Silkworm so doing so again would probably be awfully redundant. However, I will point out that these two records may well be the most essential in a discography that was consistently excellent and your record collection is incomplete without them.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: Timing Is Everything

(Almost certainly not on Christopher Nolan's agenda for the Dark Knight sequel.)

For the first time since April, I've completed two podcasts within the same calendar month. This podcast comes just two weeks after my last one. (Well, 17 days, but who's counting?) Yes, I'm very proud of my newly punctual work ethic.

Of course, I haven't updated this blog with anything else in the month of July. I suppose I needed a bit of mental break. I know it would have been nice if altered you, dear reader, to this development. However, you can probably count on a more prolific August, as I've written some rough drafts here and there. Those should be polished up and ready to post in the near future. I'm a lot like Mr. Nolan in my need to perfect my ideas for public consumption. Sure, none of my ideas have grossed $533 million but I think you'd have to admit they're not a bad as nipples on the batsuit either.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: Pump Up The Volume

So my home computer finally died a couple of weeks ago. As much as I'd like to blame this for my less than prolific posting of late, it's not exactly the case. Luckily, my mother was nice enough to lend me her laptop until I can scrape up enough cash to buy a new computer. (Thanks, mom!) After good deal of struggling with various technical difficulties, mainly trying to get the damn mic input to turn off the voice recognition software, I am able to present you with a new podcast. I bet Happy Harry Hard-On never had these problems, even when he was being chased by the FCC. Then again, I never had Samantha Mathis write me an anonymous mash note. Now that would have made it all worth it.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

MJ at the Crossroads

"It was totally unfair that it didn't get Record of the Year and it can never happen again." -Michael Jackson, disappointed that Off The Wall only received one Grammy.

On the night of February 27th, 1980, a disheartened Michael Jackson returned to his home, his Best Male R&B Vocal Performance Grammy in his hand. It was a consolation prize, he thought. Any award with that many qualifiers in its name is barely an award at all.

He walked in the door and the beast was waiting for him.

"Hello, Michael. I know you're upset. I would be too if I were you. It was unfair. 'What A Fool Believes' as record of the year? It's a joke. You were much more deserving, especially after all you've been through.

But I can help you, Michael. What if I told you that your next album could not only sweep the Grammys but be the biggest selling album of all-time? And you, Michael, would be the biggest pop star in the world, adored by not just millions, but hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions. And the children, Michael. They would love you more than anyone.

You wouldn't have to answer to anyone, Michael. No one could tell you what to do. Not the press. Not the record label. Not your family, Michael. All of those who tried to keep down in the past would come to you begging for your help, begging for just the lightest caress from your Midas touch. They would be yours to appease or deny. You'd be an entity of your own, untouchable.

I could show you things, Michael. Things you wouldn't believe. Things you would think defy the laws of physics, like how to move backwards and forwards at the same time.

It could all be yours, Michael. Let's make deal."

Michael made the deal and everything the beast promised came true. Thriller and its many hits, including the title track with its occult overtones, were a pop music phenomenon like the world had never seen.

But soon, the beast came for Michael's soul.

Michael's music slowly became less soulful, no longer working in the black R&B idiom but instead playing professional pop for greatest mass appeal.

His appearance also began to betray his African-American heritage. His nose became skinnier and his skin progressive paler. Eventually, he just didn't cease to resemble a soul brother, but barely looked human at all.

His essence corrupted, Michael developed a fascination with young children. Proximity to their innocence helped him regain a small bit of what he had lost. He attempted to express his affection for these children in a manner his eroding moral compass thought perfectly appropriate.

Soon, people began saying the most awful things about him. He was still known throughout the world but no longer as a superstar. At best, he was a punchline from which the most hackneyed comedian could elicit a laugh. At worst, he was a monster.

Michael did his best to persevere. Thirty years after his deal with the beast, Michael had hoped to tour again, performing his music in front of a smaller but still sizable following of fans who continued to be devoted to him. It was all he had left. As the only possible source of pleasure remaining in Michael's life, the beast took him to hell before the tour could begin.

The timing was perfect for the beast. He had a busy weekend ahead of him fulfilling the terms of his deal with Michael Bay.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sky Saxon RIP

Sky Saxon, leader of 60s "flower punks" the Seeds and author of one of my favorite songs of all time (see below), passed away this morning. Literally a few moments after I heard the news, CNN reported that Farrah Fawcett also met her demise today, so it's looking unlikely that Sky's passing will get any coverage from any mainstream media outlets. This is unfortunate as surely the composer of the below made a considerable contribution to culture:

Obviously, just a few a hours later, even bigger news broke.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

This Shitty Decade: A Dry Run

(Justin or Kelly?)

We're just about 6 months away from the end of the 00s and we're hearing surprisingly little fanfare. Perhaps it's all coming in few months. Or it could be that the past ten years are something we're collectively trying to forget rather than recapitulate. In any case, I've been pondering a list of the best records of the decade that was and I've decided to share a preliminary list with you.

Albums are grouped according to cultural significance and will be ranked and dissected at a later date. I've not included any releases from this year or last as I'd like those to have a bit more time to sink in before determining long-term musical correctness. Certainly, some are likely to make the cut.

You are more than welcome to share your thoughts on any albums you think I've missed. This will likely result in me thanking you for reminding me or making fun of your terrible taste. Comment at your own risk.

Post-9/11 NYC Trust Fund Rock
The Strokes Is This It?
Interpol Turn on the Bright Lights

Better Refutations of W's America than John Kerry Offered
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Hearts of Oak
The Thermals The Body, the Blood, the Machine

Stuck In The Garage Without the Motor Running
Dirtbombs Ultraglide in Black
White Stripes White Blood Cells
Reigning Sound Time Bomb High School

Punx Snot Dead
Jay Reatard Blood Visions
Marked Men Fix My Brain
Times New Viking Dig Yourself

Music on the iPod of Teenage Girls Who Have a Crush on Michael Cera
Belle & Sebastian The Life Pursuit
The Shins Oh, Inverted World
New Pornographers The Electric Version

Smart Pop UK
Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves Drive It Like You Stole It
Futureheads s/t

Smart Rock North America
Destroyer Streethawk: A Seduction
The Oxford Collapse A Good Ground
Ponys Celebration Castle

Post-post-hardcore Shenanigans
Hot Snakes Automatic Midnight
Pissed Jeans Shallow

Radiohead Was Cribbing Notes But You Didn't Notice
Clinic Internal Wrangler
The Notwist Neon Golden

I can't help but notice I didn't include any of Spoon's four albums from the past decade here. They certainly deserve to be but I cannot at this time decide which of these albums is best. Once I'm told by a respected media outlet in their summary of the aughts, then I'll know for certain. I don't want to go out on a limb and look like a fool. Collective agreement is what having a blog is all about, right?