Friday, January 30, 2009

An Individual Just Like Everybody Else

You know how you think you're really cool and different? Well, it turns out you're not:

I can't say anything about this that Amelie Gillette over at the Onion AV Club Hater didn't already say better except to note that, yes, this does actually exist. Perhaps I shouldn't make fun. I could certainly stand to lose a few pounds. Thank goodness I can now do it indie-style with the help of an instructor who looks like a reject from the Rock of Love Bus. (Though, as it turns out, she's actually a reject from A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila.)

In other "indie" news, it's just been announced that Paul McCartney will be headlining this year's Coachella festival, though not Katy Perry as was reported by indie cred king Ryan Seacrest. No word on how Macca will handle this 100-plus degree heat but I bet his rider is better than Ariel Pink's.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Money Well Spent: Sally Crewe and Volcano Suns

There are two (three, if you want to get technical) good reasons for you to head to ye olde record shoppe today.

The first is Your Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, the latest record from Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves. As I'm sure you know, Sally and her ever-fluctuating backing band have already released one of the decade's best albums with their debut, 2003's Drive It Like You Stole It. Wait... you didn't know that? Well, you really should since Sally is one of the finest authors of pop music around right now. Her songs are pretty much everything one could want from a pop tune: direct and immediately affecting, but displaying a depth that becomes apparent on repeated listens. Subject matter rarely strays from matters of the heart, which is a pop music staple to be sure. It's a tribute to Sally's craft that her take on love and romance never ventures into trite or drippy territory. I can probably count the number of songwriters who pull the above off on a regular basis using both hands (and maye a toe.) In other words, Sally's breathing some rather rarefied air. Her skills as a tunesmith have earned her fans like Spoon's Brit Daniel and Jim Eno (both of whom appear on Drive It) and power pop-legend Tommy Keene (who will occasionally take a break from his legendary status to be the Sudden Moves' bassist.) I know that's an impressive group of pals but frankly, her material is even more impressive.

Below is the video for "English Medicine." Get on board this train now, people.

Also coming out today are reissues of the first two Volcano Suns albums, The Bright Orange Years and All Night Lotus Party. This will mark the first time these fantastic records are available in the very popular compact disc format. This may mean Volcano Suns will lose their status as some kind of rock snob badge of honor, being that it's no longer necessary to own a turntable to to hear the band's best material. However, if you're hearing these albums for the first time and are suitably blown away, you probably deserve to join the club anyway.

Volcano Suns were the project of former Mission of Burma drummer Peter Prescott and whatever guitarist and bassist felt like playing with him at the time. While never quite garnering the kudos his former band received, the Suns' records were nearly as essential. Prescott and co. were a much more playful outfit than Burma, eschewing much of their music-theory stodginess in favor of rocking out with abandon. This is not to suggest that the Suns were some quotidian meat-and-potatoes outfit. Just give a listen to "White Elephant," a song that serves as a microcosm of everything that was great about Volcano Suns, and has long been a personal anthem of mine. Prescott bellows his waggish parable of the collector as scraps of noisy post-punk guitar help shape a tune that's tightly constructed and melodically rich. At the risk of sounding like a hyperbolic fool, independent rock (and perhaps rock music in general) doesn't get much better.

As for which of these albums you should buy first, it's hard to say. In terms of quality of the original albums, All Night Lotus Party gets a slight nod. However, these reissues are adorned with bonus cuts which complicates things a bit as ANLP's are weaker, containing a "dub" take on "Walk Around," a cover of "Ballad of Bilbo Baggins," a Spinal Tap-esque "Jazz Odyssey" and some less silly material. The Bright Orange Years, on the other hand, contains the fabulous "Sea Cruise/Greasy Spine" single and (what I assume) is material from the original pre-record Volcano Suns lineup featuring Gary Waleik and Steve Michener, both later of Big Dipper. Plus, there's a cover Prince's "1999." My advice: buy both. Merge Records is offering a package deal of both CDs for only $20. Volcano Suns may not have gotten more than a passing mention in Our Band Could Be Your Life but these albums stand alongside the titans of 80s indie rock and hold up quite well.

Ex post facto update: Also released on this date was Ghosts, the new album from Denton, TX's The Marked Men. It may not quite measure up to their previous album, Fix My Brain, but that was as fine an example of blistering pop-punk as anything released in the past 10 (or 20?) years. The new album is worth a listen though and it's streaming online in it's entirety here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Paleontology for Dullards: Super Brevity Vindictive Edition

(Come on feel the nice)

So I've been ruining this "Paleontology for Dullards" feature, where I rate records I've found in used LP bins by assigning them a cash value, for a while now. No one cares, and I'm okay with that. However, I check out Chunklet Magazine's website yesterday and see they've posted something called The Under $7 Seventy, wherein they list 70 albums worth a listen that are readily available in used bins for seven dollars or under. Then I see a similar thread on the Terminal Boredom Message Board. Neither would bother me so much except:

A) Both have more comments than I've had for anything I've ever posted.

B) I'm still peeved at Chunklet for including, in their latest print issue, a bunch of jokes I made in their comments section without giving me any credit. (Though to be fair, it's really more about the glory than the credit.)

C) These guys are are just listing records. I'm writing full reviews here. Granted, they're reviews all of my dozen or so readers complain are too long and dense but I'm making an effort, dammit!

Thus, I've decided to one up them. Instead of just listing album titles or trying to string together coherent thoughts into paragraph, I've chosen the perfect middle ground: one sentence record reviews.

I think this method should work out well since no one really cares to read more than a sentence at a time in this day and age anyway. I'll readily admit some of the sentences are run-ons but no one cares about grammar anymore either.

(Oh, and please don't mention that I swiped this whole idea from Tim Midgett's $2.99 Wax Necessities in the first place. It's not online anymore and therefore you can't prove anything.)

The Damned Strawberries
First-gen punks show depth and don't suck at it as they later would.
Price Paid: $7 Rating: 85.7%

The Bee Gees Odessa
A very listenable double LP that doesn't quite live up to "lost classic" status but the red felt cover feels mighty nice.
Price Paid: $7 Rating: 100%

Stiff Little Fingers Go For It!
This album could be proof that the members of Rancid listen to bands other than the Clash.
Price Paid: $8 Rating: 75%

Dead Fingers Talk Storm the Reality Studios
Old dudes pose as punks with more credible results than the Police but not quite as exciting as those first two Stranglers albums.
Price Paid: $7 Rating: 71.4%

Melanie Candles in the Rain
The hippy-dippy anthem "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" is a pretty incredible song though I still prefer Strapping Fieldhands' version.
Price Paid: $3 Rating: 66.7%

Neil Young and Crazy Horse Re⋅ac⋅tor
Sludgy, long songs from Neil and the Horse that's far from his best work though "Shots" is an absolute killer.
Price Paid: $2 Rating: 100%

Celibate Rifles Mina Mina Mina
Yet further evidence that Australia is the second most rockin' continent in the world.
Price Paid: $3 Rating: 100%

To Damascus Come to Your Senses
Listening to the musical advice of Joe Carducci is not always a good idea.
Price Paid: $2 Rating: 50%

Green on Red s/t
Green on Red made this awesome EP for their debut then, like almost every other Paisley Underground band, had more or less negligible remainder of their recorded career (except for the Dream Syndicate, who made a full album before becoming negligible).
Price Paid: $8 Rating: 100%

Chris D/Divine Horsemen Time Stands Still
Knitters Poor Little Critter on the Road
Danny and Dusty The Lost Weekend
L.A. post-punks go Americana with varying results.
Chris D Price Paid: $3 Rating: 100%
Knitters Price Paid: $5 Rating: 80%
Danny and Dusty Price Paid: $5 Rating: 40%

Holly and the Italians The Right to Be Italian
Of all the albums I've purchased featuring artists who had a song on Rhino's DIY series, this is probably the least essential, and please note I own a Human Sexual Response album.
Price Paid: $5 Rating: 20%

Loudon Wainwright III Attempted Mustache
Within about ten seconds of the first cut it becomes evident that this guy is waaaaay better than his super annoying son.
Price Paid: $3 Rating: 100%

Midnight Oil Diesel and Dust
Commercial rock in the late 80s that's not totally toothless and is therefore commendable though being Australian helps.
Price Paid: $4 Rating: 50%

The Inhalants s/t
U.S. 90s garage punk that's extra dirty, extra simple, extra stupid and, therefore, extra tasty.
Price Paid: $2 Rating: 100%

Adult Net The Honey Tangle
It seems as though someone convinced Mark E Smith's ex-wife she's a member of the Bangles, which actually turned out to be a pretty good idea.
Price Paid: $3 Rating: 100%

Alan Vega Saturn Strip
The former member of Suicide, Ric Ocasek and Al Jourgensen (credited here as Alain) team up for an effort that's less than the sum of it's parts, though one could make the case that the Ministry association counts negatively towards the total.
Price Paid: $4 Rating: 50%

Big Dipper Slam
Major label debut that's much-maligned (and not included on the recent Supercluster collection) but sounds decent to my ears.
Price Paid: $2 Rating: 100%

Townes Van Zandt For the Sake of the Song
This just sold for 70 bucks on eBay and which means my investments are turning out better than most of the country's.
Price Paid: $8 Rating: 100%

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: In the Name of Love

"We don't want the glamour the pomp and the drums/the Dublin messiah scattering crumbs"

Instead taking the usual route of many rock radio stations and playing U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)" repeatedly on MLK day, as opposed to playing any actual, you know, black artists, I decided to simply do neither.

I'll remind you all once again that this podcast is now available via iTunes but instead telling you to go through the inconvenient drudgery of the iTunes store, I'll just give you a direct link. Feel free to write a review while you're there. Try to toss around the word "handsome" if possible.

Download The Unblinking Ear Podcast
Or Subscribe via iTunes

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dear Random Facebook Advertiser,

I might do pretty well in a quiz about the Rolling Stones because I'm a big fan but I have to admit my knowledge of the Crypt Keeper is fairly limited. Did he have much of a career outside of introducing and concluding each episode?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Why I (sort of) Hate Radiohead

(Whither, Thom Yorke?)

I've been taken to task for my comments on this blog dissing Radiohead, including saying that they've ruined rock for an entire generation. I may have been slightly exaggerating for effect. Still, they have a lot to answer for.

This isn't to say I think Radiohead is terrible or anything. They're just not my cup of tea and never have been. I first heard the band like pretty much every one else. "Creep" was a song that captured the zeitgeist of those self-effacing 90s so totally that I fully expected them to fade once the alt-rock trend petered out. However, it turned out the band was more talented than, say, Local H, and a few years later the band released their "masterpiece," OK Computer. I had a d-bag roommate at the time who played that album constantly which might be part of the reason I never took it. That tidbit notwithstanding, those Pink Floyd comparisons were probably a lot more right on than anyone wanted to admit at the time. Subsequent albums impressed many with how adventurous and challenging they were but it might have just seemed that way to listeners who probably grew up listening to Green Day and Weezer. When the band released In Rainbows, a friend asked me what I thought of it and I said I hadn't heard it. He wanted to know why since I could just download it for free, my reply being that if I wasn't willing to pay for it, I probably didn't want to listen to it that badly anyway.

Of course, taste is subjective, and it might be that Radiohead's musical values are simply at odds with mine. They're a band that favors calculation over immediacy, sound over songwriting, grandiosity over intimacy and histrionics over subtlety. I'm more than willing to admit that they apply these values to their music as well as or better than anyone and it's not as though those other elements are totally absent but, again, not my cup of tea. And when I hear those values picked up by other bands who don't have the ability of Radiohead, it makes for some rough listening. I'm reminded of a comment one of the members of Slayer made about 80s hair metal in some VH1 documentary (I'm paraphrasing): "It's like Van Halen turned up to 100... but in all the wrong directions." Similarly, one could make the case the past decade or so of independent rock has been Radiohead turned up to 100 and in all wrong directions.

How many times have we heard variations on the riff from "No Surprises," a song that aims to be ethereal but winds up sort of plodding?

How many times do we have to hear some motherfucker try and sing like Thom Yorke? He has the pipes to pull it off. Most don't. And when someone tries to sing in that style and they can't.... man, it's like stepping on a cat while wearing cleats.

How many bands, following Radiohead's example, have misguidedly turned to electronics and atmosphere when they wanted to expand their sound (or were just out of ideas) despite being novices or perhaps clueless about electronic music in general?

And, of course, there's fucking Coldplay.

The above might seem a little harsh. Radiohead undoubtedly has more than a few affecting songs in their catalog. Plus, their willingness to not always take the easiest path to success, whether it be the "pay what you want" digital release of In Rainbows or simply not repeating formula, is quite commendable. One could even make the case that since I'm not intimately familiar with the band's oeuvre, I'm in no position to judge. (And they might be right.) However, as someone who grew up on indie rock, I definitely saw huge shift in the scene around the time OK Computer was released. Until then, even more studied bands like Pavement and Slint were somewhat punk-derived and the DIY ethos of punk were still quite prevalent in indie rock. Then suddenly, Johnny Rotten's "(I Hate) Pink Floyd" t-shirt meant nothing. I'm not claiming that indie music prior to OK Computer's massive influence is inherently superior but it did seem like most of the ideas and values that attracted me to underground rock in the first place were falling by the wayside. Sterile, NPR-approved rock was the new vanguard.

I'm aware one could make the same argument about any band who've influenced a lot of junk through no real fault of their own, including the Beatles. Truth be told, I'm not super crazy about them either.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Enter Blandman: Rock Hall 2009

(Above: Jeff Beck explains to filmmaker Marty DiBergi that these go to 11.)

Metallica, Run DMC and Jeff Beck lead the latest group of inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Also: Bobby Womack, Little Anthony & the Imperials and Wanda Jackson.) Once again snubbed are the Stooges, who are turning into the Bert Blyleven of the Rock Hall.

The inclusion of Run DMC will probably continue the debate from last year, when Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were inducted, over whether hip hop groups belong in the "rock and roll" hall of fame. It doesn't really matter since they clearly are being inducted. What's marginally more interesting now is what hip hop acts will be included in the future. I can make an educated guess based their criteria for rock acts: artists who sold well and had at least a modicum of critical respect. LL Cool J? Possibly. MC Hammer? Definitely not. Public Enemy is probably a shoe-in but the whole Native Tongues posse probably won't make it. Dr Dre will make it in though NWA may not. Puffy? Let's just wait and see on that one.

Jeff Beck is already a (well-deserved) part of the rock hall as a member of the Yardbirds. Honestly though, if the Yardbirds are the standard can anyone say with a straight face that his solo work deserves equal recognition?

And that brings us to Lars and co. Question: being that the biggest metal band ever is named "Metallica," does that prove that it really doesn't matter at all what you name your metal band? No word if the induction will bring on a new round of litigation from Excel.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: A Little Late for the Best of '08

(The above calendar is on sale at eBay. Cheap.)

As I promised just under three weeks ago, I deliver to you my Best of 2008 Podcast.

I'd also like to take the opportunity to remind you that the Unblinking Ear Podcast is now also available via the iTunes store. I noted this in the post for my prior podcast but I thought I'd mention it again just in case you were busy with last minute Xmas shopping and missed it. Just search for "unblinking ear" in the iTunes store and you can subscribe for free. In these unsure economic times, it's the best use of your entertainment dollar.

Download The Unblinking Ear Podcast

Friday, January 09, 2009

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

I started doing this regular feature a while ago thought I haven't posted any song from old sevens inches in over two months. The reason? (Besides laziness, of course.) Well, it was my original intention to chronicle lost tracks especially if they had never been on CD. However, in this information age things done seem to get lost anymore. You want examples?

Huggy Bear's Long Distance Lovers EP is available along with every other Huggy Bear 7 inch here.

Belreve's "The Sky Is Falling" is available for free download from Slumberland, who are also selling a CD compiling all the band's releases.

Pufftube's awesome, awesome, awesome version of "Boys of Summer" is available on their what I thought would be unlikely to exist myspace page.

Greenhorn's "Through the Thick of It" was included on Mike Lupica's terrific Anti-Static Podcast, which has a similar concept to what I'd hoped to do but is much better executed. (April 9th, 2008 edition, in case you wondering.)

All were 7 inches I had pulled from my collection with intention of posting them. I suppose I needn't had bothered. I did manage to find the below ditty, which legitimately seems to be unavailable elsewhere. (Fingers crossed, fingers crossed.)

The Ampersands "Postcards"
I can't even find too much info on this band other than that they were a four-piece from Australia. This single was one of two they released, both on Harriet Records, a label that is very well regarded among the twee set. From this example, it's easy to hear why: a near perfect two minutes of fey, kissyface pop.

Download The Ampersands "Postcards"

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

(Not) An SNL Digital Short

Kind of a weird choice for Andy Samberg and The Lonely Island to follow up "Jizz in my Pants." And is it me or have the budgets for this stuff gone way down? Maybe it's the economy.

Luckily, the good folks at Victim of Time have the scoop.

Out of Print Digital Relics: Subway Sect

Subway Sect
We Oppose All Rock and Roll
One of the first ever British punk bands, the Subway Sect are sadly underrepresented by their recorded output. Gigging as early as 1976, the band was managed by Clash manager Bernard Rhodes and one suspects his commitment to that band may have kept the Subway Sect off vinyl. The band managed to released a pair of singles in 1978 but also recorded an album's worth of material which has never come to light and is quite possibly lost forever. Subsequently, all members of the band were fired except singer Vic Godard, who formed a new version of the Subway Sect. This incarnation put out the Subway Sect's late debut, What's the Matter, Boy?, in 1980, featuring drastically reworked versions of the band's early material.

It's a shame, as at their finest the Subway Sect reveled in abstraction in way very few Brit-punk bands did at the time, predating the cool detachment of post-punk by a couple of years. When their peers were pogoing to the blueprint of the first Ramones album, one might imagine Godard and co. spinning "Little Johnny Jewel" repeatedly. While they certainly didn't have Television's chops, Subway Sect perfectly capture an important aspect of the punk movement that's all too often overlooked in favor of clich├ęd notions of rebellion: creative people inspired to use rock music as a medium to express their ideas, instrumental proficiency be damned.

There have been a few attempts to anthologize the band. Rough Trade released A Retrospective (1977-81) in 1985 and in late 90s there was a double CD summarizing all of Godard's musical activities though it seems to have fallen out of print. For you, I present We Oppose All Rock and Roll, a CD reissue of Rough Trade collection from the Overground label. The first six tracks come from the original band: both of their singles and two unreleased cuts, "Parallel Lines" and "Chain Smoking." (If you care about such things, it's worth nothing that the former was included in the Pitchfork 500.) I can't tell you where they come from since the CD booklet has little to no information but I'd assume they're either from the lost album, outtakes from the singles or perhaps BBC sessions. The final six tracks feature later versions of the band. Four are from a 1979 Peel session and retain much of the old group's fire. The remaining two are examples of Godard's pop (post-rock?) aspirations. The otherwise unreleased "Spring is Grey" is middling but "Stop That GIrl," from a 1981 single, is stunner. Backed by the Black Arabs (the band that did the disco versions of Sex Pistols songs for The Great Rock n Roll Swindle), Godard's croons sweetly and sincerely enough to make you a believer.

The first 2000 copies of We Oppose All Rock and Roll came with a bonus 3 track CD of songs from the lost album, which I've included. The fidelity is terrible but judging from what other bits of the album have surfaced, it's likely as good as can be expected. Godard actually reassembled the Sect a couple of years ago to rerecord the lost album in its entirely as 1978 Now. I haven't heard it though I would guess it still isn't the same as hearing the group in their prime. Sometimes one just has to come to terms with the fact that some things are just gone forever.

Download Subway Sect We Oppose All Rock and Roll

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Ron Asheton 1948-2009

It's unfortunate that this sad occasion marks my first post of the new year.

Multiple sources are reporting that Stooges/New Order (US)/Destroy All Monsters/New Race-guitarist Ron Asheton has passed away at 60. Here is the Guardian UK's report.

I'm sure there are many more fit than me to eulogize Mr Asheton so all I'll say is this: for years, whenever the topic of the Stooges came up, my summation of their work would be something like "Fuck James Williamson. Ron Asheton is the man!" That might have been a bit harsh but while Raw Power is fully enjoyable record, for me, few rock bands could ever hope to match the feral wallop put forth by Asheton's riffs on the first two Stooges albums.
Probably even more than Iggy, Ron Asheton was the Stooges.