Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: Sour Grapes

(Above: a titan of industry)

A few weeks back I wrote about the imminent backlash for the lo-fi revival movement. I opined that some of these bands might be wise to at least explore the possibility of making records in an actual studio so that the sound (and trendiness thereof) didn't overshadow their tunes. Little did I know that Psychedelic Horseshit actually wants to sound like Rihanna. Or that Mike Sniper is apparently the most powerful man in the music industry.

I can only hope Mr. Sniper hears this podcast and my support of bands of varying degrees fidelity and offers me a place in his empire. Put the auction for that Mad Virgins record in your watched items list? Yes, sir!

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Monday, April 27, 2009

How to Advertise Creative Bankruptcy Part II

A few months back I wrote a post deriding the awful, awful names of a bunch of blog buzz bands. (Alliteration!) I recently had a inclination to do it once again and had been compiling a list of the more aesthetically offensive monikers gleaned from the various mass e-mails I get from publicists. However, I had an attack of ethics, reasoning that these were all relatively unknown bands just trying to get a little recognition. There must be much more deserving targets for my ridicule. Maybe Jamie Kennedy's Heckler affected me more than I realized. I want to be a creator like George Lucas, not a destroyer like all those guys who correctly state that George Lucas hasn't made a good film in the past 30 years.

This weekend I ran into Pop Tarts Suck Toasted's Pat Duffy and told him of my aborted idea. He told me (I'm paraphrasing) "All these bands have PR behind them so it's okay to trash them." So if anyone has any problems with anything I've written below, I'd encourage you to head on over to PTST and take it up with Pat. (His blog also includes MP3s of most of these tracks if you actually want to give these songs a listen.)

Deer Tick "Long Time"
Not technically a bad name but points get deducted for adding further confusion to the marketplace with another "Deer" band. (See Deerhunter, Deerhoof.) Sometimes I wonder if these bands just get popular due to misplaced name recognition. People hear "Oh that Deer-something band is supposed to be good" and check out the wrong group but decide they like it anyway because that's what's hip. Crystal Stilts, Crystal Castles, Crystal Antlers... I dunno but one of them got "Best New Music."

I'm aware that's a pretty cynical point of view but keep mind I live in a place that elected a guy named Molinaro directly after a guy named Molinari.

But I digress... the track itself is inoffensive NPR-indie with some country affectations. If that description captures your interest you should probably be reading another blog.

Radical Sons "I'm So Sick of the 21st Century"
I concur with the sentiment of the title but from the sounds of it these guys actually never heard a band who made a record before 2001. I would almost swear that I saw this band play Luna Lounge hoping to take the same career path as the Strokes or the Walkmen. Is that retro already?

Phil and the Osophers "High Art"
Oof. With a name like this, I'd expect these guys to be playing pre-grunge modern rock covers to drunken Rutgers students at some club on the Jersey shore. Do you guys know any Dramarama? What's Matt Pinfield like in real life? Surprisingly, this song aint that bad: minimal, clean and catchy with some garage accents that don't evoke mere 60s revivalism. Give it a listen if your physician recommends three and half minutes of moderate head bopping a day.

Sunset Rubdown "Idiot Heart"
Pretty decent facsimile of the more commercial branch of early 80s post-punk. If you told me this was a lost Grauzone track I'd probably believe you. I guess that's a compliment.

Previously on Lost "Be My Constant"
A bad name yes, though when I was making notes for bands to include in the piece I had no idea they were actually writing songs about Lost episodes. I don't know if that makes it better or worse. I like Lost as much as anybody but nothing about this homemade demi-prog gave me a deeper appreciation of Desmond and Penny's relationship. Plus, now I can't do my long promised surf band tribute to Jim Starlin's run on Warlock without it seeming like a opportunistic knockoff.

Genghis Tron "Blow Back"
There were a couple of dudes from my old college radio station were really into metal (usually served black) and gabber techno. I'm pretty sure they would find this totally weak and deride the band with some kind of homophobic slur. I don't condone that sort of intolerance but, in this case, I can't really argue.

Screaming Females "Starving Dog"
I bet these guys like Primus. That's all.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sandinista! Scrutinized

A few weeks ago, I caught Julien Temple's posthumous Joe Strummer documentary, The Future Is Unwritten. While it did little to discourage the Clash's status as one of the most deified bands in rock history, the film commendably contained a lot less sycophantic hero worship than you might assume. Strummer actually comes off like a bit of a jerk at times. Most shockingly, it also brought to light an unreleased post-Mick Jones Clash track that isn't completely awful. Maybe the pre-Bernie Rhoades mix of Cut the Crap isn't all that bad. In any case, seeing the doc sent me into one of my periodic immersions into listening to a hell of a lot of the Clash. While The Clash and London Calling are universally (and justifiably) lauded as the band's finest moments, the album that I continually return to, perhaps only to try and make some sense of it, is Sandinista!

A two and a half hour long triple album, Sandinista! is a fascinating mess of a record. Recorded in fits and starts throughout 1980 when the band was riding high due to the critical and (moderate) commercial success of London Calling, the songs of Sandinista! are the product of a period when the Clash were both extremely prolific in their songwriting and seemed to be content with making any idea that came to them into a track for their forthcoming album. Genres were hopped and blended. Some songs, including lyrics, were made up on the spot. An unencumbered muse isn't a misguided or invalid approach to making records but instead of jettisoning any ideas that weren't working they simply decided to include everything they had recorded. And then some. If you believe the accounts of Marcus Grey's Last Gang in Town, the band made Sandinista! a triple LP in order to aggravate their record label.

In 1979, the Clash's self-titled debut was released in the US with a reshuffled track order and a bonus 7 inch single of two songs from the recent Cost of Living EP. When finishing up London Calling, the band asked their label if they could include another bonus record with their forthcoming album, to which the label agreed. The band didn't tell their label that the bonus disk would be a 12 inch, play at 33 1/3 and contain 9 songs, which is how the Clash managed to sell London Calling for the cost of a single LP. CBS Records was not pleased. A year later, the band had more than enough material for a double album, but rather than edit it down they had decided to pad it out to a triple, an act that seemed designed to further irritate their label and see how far they could push their contract's "artistic freedom" clause.

Suffice to say, they probably would have been better off editing than expanding. The desire to have enough material for a triple LP resulted in the inclusion of throwaways like the backwards "Mensforth Hill," Timon Dogg's "Lose This Skin," the kiddie remake of "Career Opportunities" and a whole bunch of dub versions on Side 6. Even without the intentional padding, a number of the Clash's original songs were sub par and sometimes redundant of some of the album's stronger tracks. After "The Magnificent Seven," how could "Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice) seem anything but inferior? The result was a collection that's about 1/3 terrific, 1/3 decent to good and 1/3 disposable.

Riding the good will of London Calling, US critics gave Sandinista! overwhelming positive notices including a 5 star review in Rolling Stone and the top spot in the year end Pazz and Jop poll. It's also very likely that many of these stateside reviewers still considered grand, ambitious, artistic statements ala Sgt Pepper to be the vanguard. In the UK, where the short sharp shock of punk was still relatively fresh, the reviews were much chillier.

It admittedly takes a while to fully absorb the entire set but it's ultimately rewarding. There are not only many worthwhile individual moments but as whole Sandinista! is a compelling document of a single year of unfiltered creative output from an excellent band. It's almost like a reissue of "sessions" from a classic record with all the bonus tracks folded into the main body.

Nearly 30 years later, the ease of using the skip button and the playlist programming ability afforded by MP3s has made Sandinista! a much more digestible experience. Personally, I've reprogrammed the album into dozens of 20-or-so song configurations. What really perplexes me is how haphazardly the album has been anthologized. An album as uneven as this is ripe to have its best moments plucked for mass consumption but often selections from Sandinista! that end up on various Clash collections seem as random and peculiar as the album itself. Maybe that's the point. How else to explain the inclusion of the disco pisstake "Ivan Meets G.I. Joe" and the "The Call Up" b-side "Stop the World" on The Essential Clash? Meanwhile, some of the album's finest moments remain buried as deep cuts: the weird folk-funk hybrid "Version City," the seething, passionate "Corner Soul," the soaring, majestic "Up in Heaven (Not Only Here), the nearly psychedelic "Charlie Don't Surf," and "One More Time" probably the best example of the heavy dub influence that permeates the entire album

Those tracks are included in the playlist below. There are many other fine tunes on Sandinista! but I'd encourage you to pick up the record and listen to it for yourself. If you already own it, maybe this will inspire you to give it a spin and post your own "best of" in the comments.

Monday, April 20, 2009

News Item: Internet Now Good for Wasting Time

In recognition of 4/20, I thought I'd present you the reason why marijuana will never be legalized:

I'm not really a fan of the green stuff myself though I do believe that all marijuana laws really do is turn otherwise law abiding people into criminals. However, the proponents for legalization of pot are usually people so chronically stoned off their ass it's hard to take anything they say seriously. People who have ideas like:
Low Self-Esteem Comedy Club Therapy Centers
A comedy club where you pay to perform on stage. The club has free admission and is pumped with laughing gas and everyone laughs at whatever joke (good or bad) you say on stage making you the most popular comedian and lifting your spirits.
It would definitely lift your spirits until the entire crowd dies of asphyxiation. You'd probably get more laughs at any open mic night featuring a living audience.
Ice Bong Mold!!
If you have seen the ice shot glasses you can buy, then you get were I'm going with this!! Make a silicone mold for a bong that you could fill with water and freeze!! It would prolly be one of the best tasting, cleanest hitting bongs ever!!!!! I have a thousand more ideas just like this.
I'm no physicist but I'm pretty sure taking fire to something made of ice results in melting.
Car Vaporizer
The automobile industry should make stoner-friendly cars.
Imagine a weed vaporizer on the end of the air conditioning duct of your car.
You turn on the AC and the vaporizer (I can piture(sic) a marijuana leaf button on the panel), close the windows and have a nice and hands-free high. Perfect for heavy traffic or long trips (yes, make it a pun).
You know what? Never mind.

Other topics range from timely to metaphysical to practical to (surprise!) culinary. I do have to admit that I've heard worse ideas from people who were stone cold sober than a giant peanut butter cup.

If you think making fun of the unique logic of potheads is far too easy you can also mock people about whom you know absolutely nothing using Omegle, a website that allows you to chat with strangers completely anonymously. Billed as a "service for meeting new friends," Omegle must be a godsend for people without AIM, G-mail, Facebook or any actual friends with whom to chat. One has to wonder what the over/under is for the timeframe when Omegle appears in a segment of your local news as haven for sexual predators.

(As far as we know, NOT sexual predators)
Personally, I use it to test the effects of early 80s west coast hardcore on the world at large.
You: I was in my room and I was just like staring at the wall thinking about everything
Stranger: NO! GET AWAY.
Stranger: And then?
You: But then again I was thinking about nothing
Stranger: Well
You: And then my mom came in and I didn't even know she was there she called my name
Stranger: Yesss
You: And I didn't even hear it, and then she started screaming: MIKE! MIKE!
You: And I go:
What, what's the matter?
You: And she goes:
What's the matter with you?
You: I go:
There's nothing wrong mom.
Stranger: Uh huh.
You: And she goes:
Don't tell me that, you're on drugs!
Stranger: Ooooh
You: And I go:
No mom I'm not on drugs I'm okay, I was just thinking you know, why don't you get me a Pepsi.
You: And she goes:
NO you're on drugs!
You: I go:
Mom I'm okay, I'm just thinking.
Stranger: wow, bad mom =(
You: She goes:
No you're not thinking, you're on drugs! Normal people don't act that way!
You: I go:
Mom just give me a Pepsi, please
You: All I want is a Pepsi, and she wouldn't give it to me
You: All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi, and she wouldn't give it to me.
Stranger: just one?
You: Just a Pepsi.
Stranger: so uh.
Stranger: are you high?
Your conversational partner has disconnected.
Take two:
Stranger: hi
You: I'm about to have a nervous breakdown
Stranger: ur a guy?
You: My head really hurts
Stranger: are u a guy or girl?
You: If I don't find a way out of here I'm gonna go berserk
Stranger: u must be a chinese guy,cuz u sound so crappy
There's probably some kind of lesson to be learned here. Maybe not the same one espoused by this guy, though I do agree that you neglect Angry Samoans at your own peril.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lost Bands of the Early 21st Century: The Tokeleys

(Photo courtesy of What a Way to Die)

In the post-Strokes signing frenzy of the early aughts, it seemed like there were thousands of bands in the New York area trying to get noticed. A lot of them fit pretty squarely into one of two revivalist styles: garage rock and post-punk. It sometimes seemed like every band was either aping the stiff angularity of a few select examples from the early Rough Trade roster or coping riffs from the Nuggets box sets. It was all entertaining enough initially but the law of diminishing returns quickly took effect. Some of these bands rode flavor of the month status to minor fame and fortune. Most have disappeared and are justly forgotten.

The Tokeleys can be accurated cited one of the forgotten, though in their case this is rather unfortunate. During their time as an active band they didn't get a tenth of recognition of, say, the Liars. This is likely because A) they didn't fit in with garage or post-punk crowds and there's nothing like being part of a tend to get one press and B) they didn't release any records aside from a pair of demos. Though heard by relatively few, those demos, the 8-song Nercopolitan Opera House and 4-song Sons of Horus, were mighty impressive. The Tokeleys easily matched the best of the garage bands for stomping rock action though their songs had genuinely weird dynamics, various elements coming in at sharp and unexpected angles. There was also singer/guitarist John Hogan's startlingly original lyrical content, obsessing over subjects like dead civilizations and extinct animals with wit and flair. Bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs may have thought they were skewing traditional pop topics like love and romance but Hogan and co. just sidestepped them entirely.

The Tokeleys were also quite the forceful live act, usually climaxing their shows with the magnificent "Megafauna" and its singalong chat of "We won't go back into the cave!" This song was recorded for what would have been the band's debut album. Regrettably, said album seems be lost forever, it's digitized bits moved into the recycle bin by a now defunct studio. The good news is that WFMU's Free Music Archive now has an entire Tokeleys live set streaming online and available for download.The session, recorded for the Cherry Blossom Clinic with Terre T, was previously available the 'FMU playlist archives but only as streaming audio for Real Player. Now it's available in MP3s of each individual track, so you can finally load "Megafauna" and several other songs not included on either demo on to your iPod. Oh, and if you don't have those demos already, you can download them here.

The Tokeleys split when John Hogan moved to California to get his master's degree though he still makes music in Ponce De Leon and Future America, the latter of which also features Tokeleys' bassist Dave Reich. They're also collaborating on a "musical audio-play miniseries" called Heretics. Drummer Evan "Funk" Davies is now best known as David Letterman to Tom Scharpling's Johnny Carson. Guitarist (and brother to John) Michael Hogan is now a big time journalist, interviewing the likes of Shia LeBeouf for Vanity Fair, which may well make him the most successful person to whom I've ever spoken.

So head on over to those archives and give the Tokeleys a listen. You can you were hip to them before they get the posthumous recognition ala Simply Saucer or the Monks they so richly deserve.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Apirl 8th, 1994

(I couldn't get a good shot of the Flipper t shirt)

Let me tell you kids about the 90s. There was this band from Seattle that changed everything. The singer was the voice of a generatation but sadly died far too young.

They were called Alice in Chains.

Ahem... but seriously, folks...

When Nirvana broke, I was pretty much the perfect age for them to have maximum impact on me. I had just turned 14, entered high school and was just starting to get into the whole rock music thing. I was already interested in "alternative" music (a term that was slightly less laughable then than it is now) and probably picked up the Pixies' Trompe Le Monde and Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque around the same time I bought Nevermind.

Of course, Nirvana was the band that became huge, thus increasing their importance in my mind. It also helped that a) the insane amount of press the band got allowed me to read all about them and b) being a lonely, alienated teenager made me identify with Cobain and co. more than I had with any other pop star prior. It was the only thing in my life close a cultural revolution in which I could sincerely feel I was participating. Even if something similar happened now or in the future, it wouldn't have same effect on the cynical jerk adult I am now. It may well be that I would have discovered Flipper or the Vaselines or Sebadoh (to name a few) on my own as my interests were already leaning that way but Nirvana certainly helped speed up the process. I owe them a lot.

That said, there's a tendency to romanticize the legacy of Nirvana from which I'd rather refrain. This undoubtedly at least partially attributable to Cobain's death, a rock star notion that Cobain himself probably have abhorred. Frankly, Nirvana's recorded output was slim and, though solid, not terribly impressive in hindsight: three studio albums, one a classic and two kind of spotty. Bleach was fairly unremarkable Seattle grunge with a few choice moments that gave an indication of better things to come. Nevermind remains the band's greatest accomplishment, some its best moments also its least obvious. You, me and everyone we know are probably fine with never hearing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" again but side two of Nevermind (with no hit singles) still absolutely kills. In Utero suffers from its intention to alienate its audience. Nirvana was better at emulating the Vaselines than the Amphetamine Reptile roster and even then many of the album's more melodic moments were less than inspired. If the studio albums don't quite paint the portrait of a legend, the band also had a wealth of excellent non-album tracks, which is good for some kind of extra credit. The "Dive"/"Silver" single might actually be the greatest thing they ever did.

It's pretty pointless to postulate hypotheticals, but you have to wonder if Nirvana would have continued to make worthwhile music or perhaps gotten even better had Cobain not decided to take his own life. Certainly, their popularity would have declined over the course of the past 15 years. They may have wound up something like Pearl Jam today, something of a cult band who may not sell millions of records anymore but retain a large and dedicated following. Ironically, Cobain derided Pearl Jam as grunge sellouts back in the day but their eventual fate closer matches the profile of principled musicians than the cliché of the beautiful dead rock star who "tragically" went too early that Cobain has become. What's even more ironic is that Nirvana's popularity and subsequent status as icons made "alternative" a profitable genre for any hack to exploit. The weirdos on the fringe never took over. Instead, there's a bunch of lunkheaded white guys groaning about their "dark" feelings (read: self-pitying) and crassly employing soft/loud dynamics without any of Nirvana's finesse.

Ugh, that last sentence made me too sad to want to write anymore. I just should have thanked them for turning me on to the Raincoats and that would have been that.

I'm All For Recycling...

...but I seriously hope these jackets were not made from used materials.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: Opening Day

Yes, it's the return of America's pastime played out on that perfect green blanket.

But enough about me sitting on my rug sorting though records.

Baseball is back and after seeing the Mets' big winter acquisition pitch a very stress-free ninth inning and the Yankees' big winter acquisition generally suck out, it's been pretty fun so far. However, being that the Mets stranded approximately 257 runners on base en route to scoring two runs, I can't say for certain that this October won't find me wondering if Citifield's Shake Shack facility made it all worth it. Either way, it should be a very unproductive six months for me.

In the meantime, the following podcast should make for an entertaining listen during a rain delay.

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