Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New Release: Wounded Lion

Today sees the release of the self-titled debut album by Wounded Lion on the reliably superb In The Red label. I was on the fence on whether or not to feature this album as a new release. While it's more than worthy of a recommendation, I was struggling for anything insightful to say about these dozen tracks of affable garage pop. In preparation for this review, I wound up filling two pages of my handy reporter's notebook with solipsistic nonsense. I'll spare you the details. (Who says there's no editorial standards in blogging?)

Back to matter at hand, as I debated reviewing Wounded Lion I wound up listening to it quite a bit. With each listen, it grew on me considerably and I ultimately decided that my probable lack of worthwhile exegesis should not stand in the way of alerting you, dear reader, to this fine collection of songs.

Wounded Lion are not dissimilar to fellow Californians Nodzzz in their mix of rough simplicity and unrelenting catchiness. Actually, the band(s) I was reminded of most when listening to this platter were Big Dipper and the Embarrassment. Songs like "Hunan Province" and "Belt of Orion" seem to have inherited their sense of melody directly from Bill Goffrier's old bands, sources that are both fertile and infrequently replicated. This is not to suggest that Wounded Lion are merely derivative. Rather, they simply have fine apparent taste in influences. (Others according to their Facebook and MySpace pages: The Equals, Ivor Culter, The Eyes, The Sweet and Can. No qualms there.) And I would hope that readers of this page would know that any comparison to Big Dipper or the Embos should be considered a huge compliment. One can do a lot worse than blister pop for the 21st century.

Give this one listen. You may well wind up giving it several dozen more before you grow tired of it. Also be sure to check out their highly-entertaining, shoestring-budget video for "Pony People" below. Feel free to share it with your friends. It's just as meme-worthy as Lady Gaga's latest and doesn't feature any ironic-but-compensated-for product placement.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Do I Sound Like This?

(Video from the Village Voice. Link courtesy of Ben Johnson.)

Eh... maybe not. My speaking voice is much more lovely.

Update: First of all, I'd like to apologize for the fact that this video plays without prompting as soon as the page loads. I'm aware this is the reason we all left MySpace for Facebook. If it didn't think it was important (or at least pertinent) viewing for most of you, I'd consider removing this post entirely.

Secondly, I wanted to add some of my thoughts regarding Chris Weingarten's opinions of online music journalism and criticism. I would have liked to have done so when I first posted the video a few days ago but outside (read: real world) forces prevented this from happening. I went ahead and posted it anyway sans any of my commentary because a) I found it exceptionally compelling and wanted to share it as quickly as possible and b) I'm very much aware of the culture of "firsties" and I had the mild fear that within a few days this video would be exhausted and irrelevant.

In any case, Weingarten (who I confess, I've never read) makes many points that I myself have made in this space on more than one occasion. It's heartening to hear someone else call bullshit on the "hive mind" blog culture, especially when done as in depth and and colorfully as Weingarten does it: "It doesn't matter what someone writes next to the MP3" and "It's not how you best illustrate a keyword, it's how many times a day you can mention a keyword." Right fucking on.

While I largely agree with most of what Weingarten is saying here, I do have a major point of contention. He seems to claim that pre-internet music magazines were inherently superior to blogs. I won't deny that editorial standards were certainly higher ("some" as opposed to "non-existent") but Weingarten is making what more or less amounts to an argument for elitism and cultural hegemony.

Frankly, major music publications aren't and have never been better at exposing their readers to worthy music than blogs currently are. Take Weingarten's employers at Rolling Stone, who their former writer Richard Meltzer claimed "INVENTED the rock 'n' roll puff piece:"
Rolling Stone in the '70s was, as it remains today, a TRADE PAPER, a record industry HYPE SHEET, a promulgator of mass compliance in the Consumer Sector, a principal factor in the dumbing, maiming, and calming down of the public's taste for a rock-roll beast that had once indeed been not only wild & crazy but GENUINELY ANARCHIC.
That might be a little harsh or considered sour grapes but even a cursory look at RS's history will tell you that they were much more interested in James Taylors and John Cougar Mellencamps than Stooges or Minutemen. And it's not exactly like their non-music pop culture coverage is a recent phenomenon.

My problem with most music blogs is not that they are "lowest common denominator" as opposed to "legitimate" music coverage, but that they follow the trade paper/hype sheet format. It's a sad betrayal of the potential of 21st century communication.

I suppose the utopian ideal is something like thousands of digital fanzines, each reflecting the unique taste and ideas of their respective authors, created with ease and accessible to literally anyone in the world. In other words, individual expression instead of algorithmic-derived groupthink. It's an unfortunate fact that most major music blogs are utterly informed by music biz publicists. Thus, the prospect of free, unfettered exchange of ideas has been co-opted by the mechanisms of industry. Perhaps the internet did cause the death the mainstream but really the major differences are that niche taste (including Weingarten's unkillable indie rock) is much more susceptible to the above process and no one's getting paid.

One has to wonder if Weingarten finds irony in the fact that his video deriding art as meme may well become a meme itself. I suspect he'll find it just as ironic as I do every time I use my music blog to express my disgust with music blogs.

I wrote that I had never read Weingarten but it turns out this isn't true. He is the creator of Hipster Puppies. So he already knows exactly what it's like to be a meme.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New Release: The Endtables

Someone at Drag City has apparently decided that they are going to be the keepers of the punk rock archives. Last year, the label released arguably the most revelatory reissue of the year: Death's For the Whole World to See. This year, they may have doubled that feat with today's release of a collection from Louisville, KY's Endtables.

Like Death, the Endtables released a lone seven-inch during their lifetime, in their case a 4-song EP. And like Death, it's unlikely that anyone beyond those close to the band heard it until one of its cuts was included on the compilation of rare punk singles Bloodstains Across the Midwest. (The legally dubious Bloodstains series numbers in the dozens and covers many regions but that's a story for another time.)

However, unlike Death, who reveled in Stooges/MC5/Blue Oyster Cult-derived hard rock, the Endtables were not classicists. Their guitar sound, courtesy of band founder Alex Durig, was tinny and jagged, not thick, heavy metal-style. His noisy leads and solos recall the controlled cacophony of early Greg Ginn. Vocalist Steve Rigot was an appealing non-singer, intoning in a manner that can only be described as "yelp-y." Occasional effects take his vocals even further from the realm of rock 'n' roll convention. His performing highlight has to be a "Shout"-styled "Hey-ey-ey-ey" during the song "Trick or Treat" that sounds like equal parts unenthused mental patient and injured animal.

Even the band's name gave notice they were not interested in being punk-by-the-numbers, whether you take it as acceptance of the everyday as opposed to clich├ęd rebellion or as a Duchamp-esque readymade. Or maybe it's just the thing you stub your toe on when you're not looking. The Endtables were one of the early figures of Louisville's nascent indie/punk scene. (See the compilation Bold Beginnings for a thorough overview.) Without too much difficulty, one could trace a line of inspiration backwards from later Louisville bands like Antietam, Squirrel Bait and Slint to the Endtables' atypical approach.

The Drag City self-titled collection complies the band's EP, a pair of studio cuts from the same sessions and half a dozen live tracks. It's not dissimilar from the artsy-but-not-too-fartsy punk of Dangerhouse-era Los Angeles. Ideas flowing in from New York, Cleveland and the UK galvanized many into picking up instruments and doing their own thing, resulting in some of the most exciting rock music ever made. The Endtables were as fine an example of any of this thrilling moment in music history, just before hardcore orthodoxy set in. The tape fuck-up, we've-already-started-thanks-for-joining-us intro to "Process of Elimination" might be the best beginning to a punk song ever and has long been a favorite in my household. Now it, along with the rest of the Endtables output, can be in yours as well.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Unblinking Ear Podcast: The Customer Is Always Indifferent

As some of you may know, this podcast is available via subscription from the iTunes store:

Terrific. Except I couldn't help but notice two things:

Let me blow those up for you. There's this:

And this:

Seriously, folks. I don't ask for much.

Download the latest The Unblinking Ear Podcast
Or Subscribe via iTunes

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Used Bin Ubiquitous Bargains: Tommy Keene

Once a upon a time I would regularly run a feature in this digital pages called "Paleontology For Dullards," wherein I rated LPs I found in used bins with a percentage of what I paid for them. In other words, an esoteric title for a impenetrable concept.

In an effort to make this blog more user-friendly (and user-used), I've ditched this concept and it's place would like to introduce Used Bin Ubiquitous Bargains.

These are the LPs I frequently see fallowing in the used bins of record shops despite their quality and reliably low sticker price. They are the albums you can find easily, will only set you back 5 beans or less and are probably better than the whatever the hype machine is praising this week. All in all, they are ultimately both a wiser and more prudent purchase and better way to support your local vinyl vendor than most of the collector-bait that will be released on Record Store Day. MP3s from these albums will be posted as well, because I've learned that people like free songs more than reading.

For our inaugural UBUB (please pronounce this "you-bee you-bee" not "uhb uhb"), I cannot think of a more deserving candidate than Mr. Tommy Keene.

Keene was something of a critics darling back in the 80s. His pair of 1984 EPs, Back Again (Try) and Places That Are Gone, received glowing notices from big time R'n'R institutions Rolling Stone and The Village Voice. It's easy to hear why. Keene is an ace pop songwriter. A lot of what gets classified as power pop is too much pop and too little power, its practitioners favoring the slight and saccharine. That's not a problem for Keene. His melodies are seductive, never sticky-sweet. Even his most dulcet songs have the hint of a much fiercer, more primal animal. I've always imagined that when Westerberg fired Bob Stinson and tried to mold the Replacements into a less shambling, more professional unit, it was Keene's sound he was emulating. Indeed, Keene's records from this period sound like everything the post-Tim Mats should have been.

Keene's notoriety with critics led to a deal with Geffen Records where he debuted with 1986's Songs From The Film. Despite some now dated production (how high can we mix that gated snare?), the album remains one of the decade's best. Songs From The Film received a somewhat successful promotional push from Geffen, enough to get it to #148 in the Billboard charts. More importantly, it ensured that promo copies of the record have become a used bin staple for the past 20-plus years. Keene subsequently released an EP (Run Now) and another full length (Based On Happy Times) for Geffen before returning to the land of the independents, where he has happily remained since.

All of the records above can obtained without difficulty and on the cheap, with Songs From The Film being both the easiest to find and most highly recommended. Below is a sample of some of Keene's work: a song each from Back Again (Try), Places That Are Gone, Run Now and Based On Happy Times and two from Songs From The Film. Give them a listen and know that the next time you see a slab of vinyl with Keene's name on it in ye olde rekkid shoppe, you shouldn't hesitate.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

We Love Malcolm

...cause no one else does.

(Video via Jon Solomon.)

There's a lot of things you could call Malcolm McClaren: swindler, charlatan, opportunist, scam artist, provocateur, culture vulture, art school wanker, unrepentant exploiter, borderline child pornographer, shameless idea thief, narcissist. I'm sure McLaren wouldn't object to any of those being part of his epitaph.

Coincidentally, I just rewatched The Filth and the Fury a few days ago. The film certainly downplayed McLaren's contribution to his most famous association, the Sex Pistols. This was in some ways a refutation of The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (ironically, also directed by Julien Temple), where McLaren positioned himself as a Machiavellian mastermind assaulting culture and the Pistols themselves as mere puppets. The truth somewhere in between. There's little doubt that McLaren's concepts shaped the Sex Pistols to some degree. At the very least, he deserves full credit for dressing them.

Beyond even that band's considerable influence, McLaren's fingerprints are all over popular culture. Consider Bow Wow Wow's Annabella Lwin then consider the early career of Britney Spears. Consider his "solo" recording "Buffalo Gals" then consider Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot." McLaren was obviously more an ideas man than musician but his ideas have informed music culture for the past 30-plus years. Anyone who has enjoyed a bit of post-Situationist subversion mixed in with their pop product probably has McLaren to thank.