Friday, February 27, 2009

Your Daily Affirmation

Courtesy of Will Shatter and Flipper.

Now that you're in a great mood, why don't you head over WFMU and give them some money? Their fund raising marathon begins on Monday. If you need incentive to pledge other than the noble cause of sponsoring non-corporate radio and some better-than-PBS-level swag, a list of DJ premiums is now up. Besides, donating will be great karma for you. Don't pretend like you don't need it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

For The People Who Complain That MTV Doesn't Play Videos Anymore...

...I say this to you:

Have you actually seen any videos lately?

Trust me. You're not missing anything.

I happened to catch some of the Fuse channel's "Alternative" top ten countdown this afternoon. As to why I was watching Fuse in the first place... well, they were running a documentary on metal that included interviews with members of Gorgoroth and other Norwegian black metal bands. Needless to say, that's the kind of entertainment one shouldn't pass up.

Anyway, the top ten yielded many surprises to me:

1) Apparently, the Offspring are still making music.

2) Somebody thought it would be a good idea to put the Killers in "beyond the thunderdome" gear.

3) U2's new single is a combination of weird, processed boogie guitars and "Pump It Up"-style phrasing. It sounds like a more irritating version of "Wild, Wild West" by the Escape Club.

4) For some reason, people are not yet tired of that awful Kings of Leon song.

5) Rock videos for histrionic songs featuring sullen teenagers will never go out of style.

I also found out there's a band called The Airborne Toxic Event, who I'm pretty certain was named through the last internet meme (From Buzzfeed via the Onion AV Club):
Here's a totally random way to make your new random band's new random album cover. Post one! Go to “Wikipedia.” Hit “random” and the first article you get is the name of your band. Then go to “Random Quotations” and the last four or five words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your first album. Then, go to Flickr and click on “Explore the Last Seven Days” and the third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.
My result:

Yes, I am available for freelance graphic design work.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Touch and Gone?

It appears as though landmark independent label Touch and Go is shutting down its long running distribution wing. There's no word on how this move will effect their distributed labels, including indie powerhouses such as Merge, Kill Rock Stars and Drag City. This is indeed disconcerting news but at least it's not quite as bad as originally (and incorrectly) reported by Pitchfork, who said the label would no longer be releasing new music.

Below is the statement issued by label head Corey Rusk:
"It is with great sadness that we are reporting some major changes here at Touch and Go Records. Many of you may not be aware, but for nearly 2 decades, Touch and Go has provided manufacturing and distribution services for a select yet diverse group of other important independent record labels. Titles from these other labels populate the shelves of our warehouse alongside the titles on our own two labels, Touch and Go Records, and Quarterstick Records.

Unfortunately, as much as we love all of these labels, the current state of the economy has reached the point where we can no longer afford to continue this lesser known, yet important part of Touch and Go’s operations. Over the years, these labels have become part of our family, and it pains us to see them go. We wish them all the very best and we will be doing everything we can to help make the transition as easy as possible.

Touch and Go will be returning to its roots and focusing solely on being an independent record label. We’ll be busy for a few months working closely with the departing labels and scaling our company to an appropriate smaller size after their departure. It is the end of a grand chapter in Touch and Go’s history, but we also know that good things can come from new beginnings."
If you'd like to help keep the label in business, why don't you give them some much needed cash flow by heading over to their online store and picking up one (or more) of the many, many fine records they've released in the past 25+ years:

Slint Spiderland
For better or worse, the album that invented "math rock" but done with a lot more warmth and excitement than its imitators could ever muster.

Silkworm Lifestyle
It was only last week that I posted about my fondness for Silkworm. All their releases for Touch and Go are excellent. This one may or may not be the best of the lot but it's got an ace cover of "Ooh La La" to entice you.

Negative Approach Total Recall
Negative Approach's debut 10-song (!) seven-inch might just be greatest hardcore record ever. This CD contains their entire recorded output.

The Mekons Fear and Whiskey
The finest Mekons on record (outside of "Where Were You?") and one of the rare times a Hank Williams affectation is actually affecting.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Living With the Living
TL's 2007 full-length, considered by some his best yet.

Big Boys The Skinny Elvis and The Effigies Remains Non-Viewable
Collections for two of the better American punk bands of the early 80s, who both went far beyond the parameters of the standard, 1-2-3-4 punk-by-numbers sound.

Big Black The Rich Man's Eight Track Tape
I couldn't well have a discussion about Touch and Go with mentioning Steve Albini's drum machine noise assault trio, could I? This was their first CD release, hence the title. Contains the Atomizer album in it's entirety, which is as good an indication as any to see if your ears are suited to this band's particular brand of pummeling.

There's also plenty of worthy releases from bands like Polvo, Naked Raygun, The New Year, The Monorchid, The Ex, The Dirty Three and many more. You can check Pitchfork's list of 25 essential Touch and Go albums for further suggestions.

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: My Punky Valentine

Yes, I'm aware it's a bit late for Valentine's Day. However, if I'm being honest, it's not unusual for me to give gifts several days ex post facto.

I present to you the long-awaited (by no one) sequel to my original punk rock special, once again featuring nothing but vintage late 70s and early 80s punk rock.

Warning: This podcast contains strong language, discussions of serial killers, endorsements of violence against many people including law enforcement, facial mutilation and one band featuring a member who would later go on to be a prominent advocate for white power. On the other hand, it also contains one song that suggests drugs and alcohol are not a good answer to cure boredom. However, this song offers violence as a solution instead.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

This Moment in Slack History: A Bullet For Fidel

A Bullet for Fidel "A Bullet for Fidel"
A Bullet for Fidel was the nom-de-rock of Brian DiPlacido. DiPlacido cut his teeth in punk bands in his youth before strapping on a acoustic guitar and adopting a simple, reflective style. Superficially, he had a lot in common with any number of lo-fi acoustic strummers of the 90s (think Sentridoh) but in practice his songs had much more traditionalist bent. Prisonshake guitarist/Scat Records honcho Robert Griffin was a fan and Scat released several A Bullet For Fidel records, including this eponymous track from their debut 7 inch. If you like what you hear, this record and all the A Bullet For Fidel releases are available for sale from Scat for very reasonable prices. If you're the impatient sort, you can stream DiPlacido's only album, the quite excellent Cold Before Morning, over at

Download A Bullet For Fidel "A Bullet For Fidel"

Friday, February 13, 2009

Witness Protection: Entertainment's Best New Story-Telling Device

Witness relocation is no loner just for Larry the Cable Guy vehicles and Sopranos fan fiction anymore.

Exhibit A is Incognito, the new comic book from writer Ed Brubaker and creator Sean Phillips. The Brubaker/Phillips creative team previously collaborated on a pair of outstanding comic series, Sleeper and Criminal. At first, Incognito seemed like a bit of a retread of the former, which wasn't entirely a bad thing since Sleeper was one of those rare superhero comics I would recommend without reluctance even to those who aren't fans of the genre. The premise is rather similar: a superpowered, morally-ambiguous protagonist entrenched in an environment were he can't reveal his true identity or purpose. Plus, there's the "femme fatale" that seems to be every one of Brubaker's stories. However, the second issue, just released this past Wednesday, really brought the story into its own. Incognito's reformed supervillian protagonist is now faced with a situation where his urge to do good can only result in bad things happening to him. Besides that, this urge is less a penance for his former crimes than a way of satiating of his bloodlust. It's a original and gripping take on superhero mythology. Plus, Brubaker introduces a new antagonist who, to put it in the simplest terms possible, is scary as fuck. I'm putting Incognito on my increasingly short list of "floppies" I pick up on monthly basis and you probably should as well. A preview of the first issue can be found here.

Exhibit B is Delocated, the new non-animated Adult Swim series from Late Night with Conan O'Brien writer and top shelf funny guy Jon Glaser, which premiered Thursday night. The concept is that a family is simultaneously put into witness protection and starring in their own reality show. If that doesn't sound all that hilarious, I'm just not doing Delocated justice because the 15-minute pilot had me laughing just as much as either episode of The Office or 30 Rock broadcast the same night. Below is a very brief clip from an upcoming episode:

You can find the show's official Adult Swim page here. There's not much content there now but one would have to assume videos of full episodes will be up soon. Now if only I could get a video of Glaser's complete "Johnny Ding-Dong" performance he did for the Comedians of Comedy. "This guy's a dick! Ding-dong!"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Young Person's Guide to Silkworm

It seems like 2 or 3 times a year I'll find myself immersed in Silkworm's discography, marveling at their greatness. Since I discovered the band in the mid-90s, I've been trying to convince anyone willing to listen that this is band worth their time and money. Silkworm is one of those odd bands that seems to inspire total indifference or absolute devotion. To put it more bluntly, not that many people like Silkworm but those that do like them a hell of a lot. In the band's nearly 20-year career, they certainly had opportunities to expand their audience, graduating from tiny fly-by-night labels to big-time indies Matador and Touch&Go. However, they've never reached the levels of popularity of some of their contemporaries like Pavement or Yo La Tengo, to name two bands who have somewhat similar approaches to rock music. Speculating why certain bands gain recognition while others don't isn't exactly my area of expertise, but suffice to say I tend to think it has more to do with timing and luck than talent. I've never found Silkworm to be terribly inaccessible, especially compared to some of the paint-peeling noise than finds an audience in indieland.

So what makes this Chicago-by-way-of-Seattle-by-way-of-Missoula, Montana band so special anyway? When talking about one of your favorite artists, you always run the risk of hyperbole, something I generally try to avoid but that might be impossible in this case. To my ears, Silkworm's songs represent the promise of indie rock fulfilled: folding the creative explosion of punk and post-punk into the rest of rock history. It makes a lot sense that the band covered Fleetwood Mac and Comsat Angels on either side of an early 7 inch. There's a tendency for fans, critics and musicians to cleave rock history into pre and post-punk. (Just take a look at the Pitchfork 500 if you don't believe me.) Silkworm are fans of Mission of Burma and the Band. They recognize the aesthetic value of each and take cues from both of them.

This isn't to say that Silkworm is some spot-the-influence pastiche band. Far from it actually, as Silkworm's influences are fully integrated in into their playing and songwriting. The songs of bassist Tim Midgett and guitarist Andy Cohen evoke a range of emotions from playfulness to dread but rarely do they evoke the pretense of cribbing notes from other bands. Their songs (along with, on their earliest records, those of second guitarist Joel Phelps) just sound so damn human, as if they couldn't be anything else but a couple of guys casually locking in and playing exactly what they're feeling right at that moment. I suppose that sense of humanity is what I find so appealing about the band. There's no whiff of pretension in anything Silkworm has done, not even a notion of them saying to each other "this is the type of band we're going to be." Furthermore, the band's lyrical worldview seems completely honest, documenting the highs, lows and everything in between of life with an attitude that often feels world-weary but never defeated. Somehow, they also find fully appropriate musical backing for any feeling they want to conjure while generally sticking with the standard rock instrumentation of vocal, guitar, bass and drums. That's no easy feat.

Of course, it helps that the band is comprised of excellent players. Midgett's fat bass lines and the precise but hard-hitting drumming of Michael Dahlquist provide a rock-solid foundation and Cohen is simply one finest guitarists to ever emerge from the US underground. He'll spit out solos that would make devotees of Yngwie Malmsteen blush from indulgence and yet somehow it completely works within the context of the band's ensemble playing . Silkworm were modest guys making glorious music.

Sadly, the band's story came to a tragic conclusion when Dahlquist was killed in a car accident in 2005. Realizing that it wouldn't be Silkworm without him, Cohen and Midgett retired the name but still make music together in Bottomless Pit.

Below is a small sampling of Silkworm's work. Keep in mind that the band released nine full-lengths and numerous singles and EPs so this is but a sliver.

First up is the only video the band made, featuring Tim Midgett at the height of his Matt Damon-look-a-like phase and a budget of what I assume is about 15 dollars:
"Wet Firecracker" (from Firewater)

Next two songs each from Midgett:
One of the great all-time break up songs "Couldn't You Wait?" (from Libertine) and "Slave Wages" (from Lifestyle):

And Cohen:
The stomping "Into the Woods" (from In the West) and the reflective, fatalist "Sheep Wait for Wolf" (from Developer):

Bonus! Silkworm along Pavement's Steve Malkmus played a couple of a benefit shows in the late 90s as classic rock cover band The Crust Brothers. Here's their terrific version of "Heard It Through the Grapevine" with Midgett on vocals:

Just one indication of the devotion of their fans is that there's been a documentary on Silkworm in the works for a few years. It has yet to be completed but the trailer is on YouTube. It features testimonials from fans of the band whose opinion you might respect more than mine (Malkmus, Steve Albini, Jeff Tweedy):

Finally, I should mention that Tim Midgett invented the formula for Musical Correctness, something every critic-type/music lover should have memorized.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: Judged By The Company One Keeps

You know, I honestly thought the type of stuff I played was the antithesis of safe, soft NPR-approved indie rock. I suppose I'm not nearly as irreverent as I think I am.

Thus, the next podcast will consist entirely of punk rock songs about serial killers, child molesters and necrophiliacs. I've already got Mentally Ill's "Gacy's Place" and Solger's "Raping Dead Nuns" cued up. (And I'm not entirely sure that I'm joking.)

A quick note: This post was accidentally sent out via iTunes as a podcast because I linked an MP3 of Volcano Suns' "White Elephant." This was not at all intentional and I'll be more careful in the future. Thus far, no one has complained but since they got a free MP3 of a top 100 all time rock tune, why would they?

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Lux Interior 1946-2009

There are bands that are influential and there are bands so seminal they seem to birth entire subcultures by themselves. I'm not going to insult anyone's intelligence by using the term "psychobilly," and I'll admit that after couple of brilliant records the law of diminishing returns set in, but any artist since who's harnessed the raw power of primal rock n roll and wedded it with punk irreverence owes the Cramps a debt of gratitude. Their singer, Lux Interior, passed away today.

(I'm) Stranded (In the Office)

Since there's no song called "Pixel Shufflin' Blues," I'll just let the Saints classic explain why I haven't been posting as much as I'd like.

There is actual content forthcoming on this blog, including a new podcast, which should be up early next week. In the meantime, why don't you check out Doug Mosurock's best singles of 2008 podcast or give a listen to the incredible session AC Newman recorded for WFMU's Cherry Blossom Clinic?

Monday, February 02, 2009

It Was 30 Years Ago Today...

..that John Simon Ritchie poked his head out, saw his shadow and decided to overdose of heroin, thus giving a generation of maladjusted misfits a role model for self-destruction and anti-social behavior in the name of "punk." Sid, of course, didn't play a note on Nevermind the Bollocks, but since when was punk about the music? It's an attitude, man!

Happy Groundhog Day everybody!