Thursday, January 31, 2008

Todd vs. Todd

A guy told me once that every town has a Frank Zappa fan. If that’s a true statement, then let me add that every other town has a Todd Rundgren fan in it. My old hometown was no exception, except it took car trouble to learn about it.
Now I had a couple of Todd Rundgren albums before my MGB convertible decided not to start one Saturday night. It was a great, unreliable two-seater that was a joy to drive in the summer and a freezing, rear-wheel drive nuisance during the winter months. There always seemed to be something wrong with it, alternating between major repair and minor issues. One of those minor issues was that it sometimes wouldn’t start. And when I mean “wouldn’t start,” I mean the engine gave no indication that you were turning the ignition at all.
The guy that would fix the car happened to be the only guy in town that fixed MG’s. He didn’t really even have a car shop; I swear to God that his primary source of income was fixing golf carts, which probably doesn’t bode well for MG enthusiasts, but nonetheless, he would agree to tinker around with my car and it frequently would run after he looked at it. He explained why my car wouldn’t turn over and showed me how to fix it, probably because he was tired of dealing with me, and after being armed with such mechanical knowledge, I was able to figure out how to start it from that point forward.
But until that time I, and the girl that I was making out with, were stranded.
I parked the MG on a dark side street and leaned over the stick shift for a kiss and when we both decided to move to a more comfortable location, I discovered that the car wouldn’t start. We walked down the street to a stop sign and flagged down a car, a pedestrian Oldsmobile station wagon, with hopes that they could drive us to my companion’s working vehicle.
The rescuers were two girls a few years older than we were and one of them, the driver, was the older sister of a friend of mine. I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me, but after a brief introduction, we both acknowledged that we had heard of one another. This made the car ride a little more relaxed as the two girls continued to converse while we rode in the back seat. Apparently, they were returning from some drama of their own where my friend’s sister had just broken up with her boyfriend. The soundtrack for the breakup was an album by Todd Rundgren’s Utopia.
Both girls seemed familiar with Rundgren, which was unusual since Utopia was not the type of band that was played at all on radio stations in Southeast Iowa. After professing their love for Todd, I made it my mission to learn more about this dude that shared my first name.
While the older girl’s love was apparent, it seemed that not many other people loved them. Every Todd Rundgren and Utopia album that I found and eventually purchased always seemed to be lodged in the cutout bin.
Oh well. There’s nothing wrong with saving money.
I didn’t start where I needed. I started with Back To The Bars, a double album that I picked up next to nothing. When I opened it, I discovered that one disc was warped to the point of being unplayable. The other sides were good enough for me to purchase Healing, a much more electronic effort than what I expected. The second side is pretty good to get high to.
I moved on to the Utopia output.
The first was Swing To The Right, a fairly unremarkable effort with one good side and the other a fairly mundane one.
And then I was offered the chance to borrow Utopia’s eponymous-titled 1982 effort that happened to be autographed by all of the members of the band including Todd himself.
I forgot to return that album and still have it today. One of the lessons I followed was to never, NEVER, loan out my albums to anyone. Give me a tape and I’ll make a copy for you. It was a practice that I later learned true collectors always followed. It appears that the sap who loaned out an autographed Utopia album didn’t follow this creed. Don’t worry; the dude got it with a bunch of other free shit from an Uncle or someone who happened to work at a radio station. In other words, he didn’t appreciate it as I did. Plus, he loaned it to another friend who, in turn, loaned it to me after he made a copy. Plus, the rightful owner later slashed one of my tired at a high school dance (unrelated and unknowingly) with a pair of other douche bags who thought it would be a riot to slash everyone’s tires.
Utopia was a good record, three sides in length (yes, three) and chocked full of two-and-a-half-minute pop jems that hinted at Rundgren’s power pop heights.
I later got Oblivion from the cutout bin at a Tower Records store in California that miraculously survived the trip back to Iowa in a car during the hot summer months. I love this record and there’s a good chance that you’ll hate it. First of all, the production values are horrific. Every song is covered in an 80’s glean that sounds silly. And it’s not just the sound; it’s the way the whole thing was mixed. It blows my mind that Rundgren allowed his name on a record with such a shitty production.
Nonetheless, I liked it enough to pick up……Something/Anything. Yes, the album that I should have started with was the last one I purchased. Was it an epiphany? Pretty much. I discovered that I wasted a lot of time with those other records, Utopia and otherwise, and my fixation with Todd ended. I mean, once you get to the top of the mountain, there’s not a lot of point in continuing to climb it. And Something/Anything is the top of Todd’s mountain.
Besides, Rundgren never returned to the power-pop masterstroke of that album again, so why would I be obligated to follow him down into paths that merely avoid those characteristics that brought him so much success to begin with?
The album that prompted this entire discovery was The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect. It was playing in that girl’s station wagon and I later got a cassette copy for myself. It’s the record that features the song that most people recognize for: “Bang On The Drum All Day.” It’s a throwaway (and most of Effect is, in fact, a bunch of throwaways) and shamefully overshadows “Drive,” the best song on this effort. “Drum’s” resilience amazes me; there are at least three or four teams in the NFL that use it when their team scores a touchdown and it remains a perennial favorite on rock station’s Friday afternoon playlists. In both cases, I’m positive that there are better choices available, but for some reason, this knock-off Rundgren track gets all the airplay,
Nonetheless, Effect was poor enough for me to stop looking to my namesake for anything remotely consistent and, at the risk of offending someone in every other city in America, to stop looking to him for something, anything, better.

Todd Rundgren & Bebe Buell Photograph by Bob Gruen

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pig Destroyer - Phantom Limb

True story: I put on Pig Destroyer’s latest album Phantom Limb and went about my business. It dawned on me that you can’t really “go about your business” with a Pig Destroyer album playing in the background. As a matter of fact, the moment that I realized I was brutally getting hit upside the head by the sounds ripping through my Bose speakers was seven minutes into Phantom Limb (the moment the music ends, only to be replaced by an radio segment about a man who was burned alive). So while the audio onslaught was momentarily eased, I looked up at the player and stared slackjawed at my cd player.
I’m already on the seventh track.
I shouldn’t like Pig Destroyer, and there’s a very good possibility that you won’t either. At the same time, I’m familiar with the term “deathgrind” metal, I’ve perused a few Jim Goad’s writings, and have a strange affection for any band that feels the need to rock without the aid of a bass guitarist.
Pig Destroyer carries similar traits and, therefore, I’m curiously drawn to them. And because Phantom Limb is so unrelenting in its brutality, I’m encouraging you to ignore your dental work and allow Pig Destroyer to kick you in the teeth.
There’s little in terms of melody, hell, let’s be honest, there’s little in terms of listenability, but there’s an infinite amount of riffage, aggression, and double bass drum kick to make you feel like quitting your job and becoming a full time cast member of Heavy Metal Parking Lot or an interviewee for Slayer’s War At The Warfield dvd.
I’d quote a lyric or two from some of the songs like “Girl In The Slayer Jacket” or “Fourth Degree Burns” but I can’t understand a fucking word of what vocalist J.R. Hayes is screaming about.
And that’s exactly the way it should be.
The second time Phantom Limb lets up is at the end, immediately after a sample of “Medication time. Medication time.” From One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, the sound of crickets and a distant radio transmission playing Ray Price’s “I’ve Got A New Heartache” appears and continues for seven minutes (the longest track on the disc) before abruptly ending.
Throughout it, I kept waiting for something to jump out at me, scaring me like one of those shitty flash videos. Instead, they let the crickets continue with an occasional passing car, allowing the listeners to fully appreciate the violent skull fucking that was the first 31 minutes (!) of Phantom Limb and wallow in the unease it created.
And what a half hour it is: 14 tracks of devastation uncommercial grindcore that as heavy as anything you’ve heard this year or, perhaps, in your lifetime. If the idea of having a half hour of uncomercial grindcore in your collection isn’t appealing to you, then stay clear. But for me, I’ve found solace in having Phantom Limb close at hand, at the ready to kick the shit out of anything that’s in your set.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

These Go To Eleven

I recently did a review for a newly acquired purchase of Rhino’s Heavy Metal Box. The review is over at Glorious Noise, but I wanted to do a little companion piece here, sort of an “it’d be cool if the box set had this” list.
Without getting into the usual suspects (Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, etc.), I thought it would be good to throw out a couple of tracks that would have added to the set for me. Consider that these tracks are by no means scientifically considered; I don’t imagine they would have much relevance for anyone except me and my reasons for inclusion are entirely superficial.
Motley Crue “Shout At The Devil”
I didn’t even notice the Crue was missing until I got the thing and started listening to it. I kept expect to hear something, fuck, even “Home Sweet Home,” but no. There is not a goddamn Crue song to be found here and those pieces of shits should be ridiculed for not being included. I can only imagine that it has something to do with money as they obviously parlayed financial struggles into a superficial reunion tour, even though they had to prop up Mick Mars throughout the entire run.
Seriously, you can’t discuss 80’s metal, include a piece on the entire Sunset Strip scene and not have a fucking song by Motley Crue! I remember Brad Brode coming to school in ’82 and showing a bunch of people at lunch a rock magazine with an ad for Too Fast For Love. It was based on the same picture that they used for the record sleeve: the one where all the members are dressed up all leathery in front of a huge pentagram. That image alone was enough for Brad to go “I’m going to get this” and, true to his word, he did. We went over to his house after he got it and I think I may have been the only one turned off by Vince Neil’s voice and Roy Thomas Baker’s strange production values. It sounded much weaker than I expected. When you have pictures of the band posing in leather, fire and pentagrams, you logically expect them to be totally brutal and not glammy. They won me back with Shout At The Devil and I did eventually come around to Too Fast, but Shout remains the band’s pinnacle and is deserving of some inclusion on Heavy Metal Box.
Autograph-“Turn Up The Radio”
I know, I know. Its total cheese and very little meat. This hard-rock anthem was (obviously) a one-hit wonder, but it was one of those songs that, when you heard it, you knew it would be huge. I went to a kegger once during high school out at this place called the sand pits just south of town next to the Des Moines river. It was like that kegger scene in Dazed & Confused except Autograph’s “Turn Up The Radio” was playing as I walked up to the party. Regardless of how stupid this song is, you’ve got to admit, that’s a near-perfect celluloid moment.
Helix-“Rock You”
See “Turn Up The Radio.” Another kegger, another anthem. This time it was indoors and someone had the good sense to throw in a Helix cassette. Perhaps a little more rockin’ than Autograph, but just as stupid. With it’s moronic chant of “Gimmie an R-O-C-K! Whacha got? (Rock!) And Whatach gonna do? (Rock You!),” and a name that’s equally stupid (Helix? Like a three-dimensional twist or a DNA helix?), you get exactly what you’d expect with a song called “Rock You.” I vaguely remember the video for this and, if I recall correctly, the lead singer had a tooth missing.
Def Leppard-“No No No”
I’d even take “Let It Go,” “High ‘n’ Dry,” “Lady Strange”…but “No No No” reminds me of yet another party (see a pattern?). This one was Bobby H.’s, a next-door neighbor that loved Kiss and other things metal. His parents were out of town and his older sister “supervised” a makeshift drinking party. For one partygoer, I’ll never forget this, the sound of Def Leppard’s High ‘n’ Dry album was enough to get him to sit on the couch in his denim jacket and bang his head in time to the music. Bobby was playing the record version, and at the end of “No No No,” there was a lock-groove where Joe Elliot’s yell of “No!” is repeated over and over, without stopping. This didn’t stop our drunken metalhead from trying to match him, stopping only when someone removed the needle and replaced the record. I think they replaced it with Kiss’ Lick It Up and I left the party as a result.
Kix-“Midnite Dynamite”
If you’re going to include fucking Poison in the Heavy Metal Box then for fuckssake, you’ve got to include Kix. Those guys completely lifted Kix’s stage show, which sucks because Poison couldn’t hold a candle to Kix musically and the only thing that brought Brett Michaels more notoriety than Kix vocalist Steve Whiteman is that he was cuter. So while Poison moved to L.A. to get closer to the major label’s tit, Kix continued to tour up and down the East Coast, endlessly and thanklessly paying their dues with little national recognition. A few of us did notice, particularly after one of the music channels played a Kix club performance during their support of Cool Kids. That album doesn’t rock as hard as Midnite Dynamite, which should’ve sold more copies than Look What The Cat Dragged In.
Any one of those songs would’ve appeased me more than, say, Manowar which is blessed with a spot on Heavy Metal Box with a song that contains the line “May your sword stay wet/Like a young girl in her prime.” Horrific. And metal shouldn’t be horrific. Stupid? Sometimes, but never to the point where the band is trying to convey some kind of Medieval imagery and is forced to include a line like that.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Baker's Dozen Best Rock 'N Roll Documentary Films

Preface: Like other Baker’s Dozen lists, this one is a living document, created only from the movies that I have seen and including none that I’ve heard are good, but have yet to see. I’m sure that once I have seen some of the ones you’re going “What about…” right now, well sir, maybe those fuckers will be added at a later date.
But until that time, feast your eyes and submit to...

The Baker’s Dozen Best Rock ‘N Roll Movies Ever Made-Documentary Style

  1. No Direction Home
    The only way you can successfully create a documentary about one of music’s most important music figures of all time is to commission one of film’s most important directors of all time. Scorsese not only weaves a very compelling account of Dylan ’61-’66, he adds new dimensions to songs that are perfect in their own realm. The other commendable thing that Scorsese does is make you want to go out immediately after viewing the movie and buy a couple of Dylan albums. Throughout it, Dylan himself gives modern commentary that offer little in terms of sage advice but plenty in making Bob Dylan come across as just a regular dude from Minnesota.
  2. The Filth And The Fury
    Julian Temple rebounds incredibly from his other Sex Pistols movie, The Great Rock ‘N Roll Swindle, by focusing on the people in the band rather than spinning the myth that Malcolm McLaren originally weaved. These were not the smartest individuals in the world, but the hyperactive speed (for the time) rise to notoriety made everyone a helluva lot wiser. Except for Sid, of course, who struggled to maintain without the aid of caretaker Johnny Rotten. In one of the most moving scenes, Rotten breaks down as if he failed while trying to protect the dim Vicious. Great filmmaking that captures the excitement of the volatile London ’77 scene and shows the humanity of the band like never before.
  3. Dig!
    I went into this film a Dandy Warhols fan and came out of it a Brian Jonestown Massacre fan. Oh sure, I still enjoy the Warhols a bit, but like head-Dandy Courtney Taylor, I fell in love with Anton Newcombe’s madcap antics and free-fall into self-destruction. And self-destruction to Anton means taking the band down with him. Obsessively documented, this slice of life from two of rocks most notable players in the 90’s underground scene (and the dichotomy of one band hell-bent on achieving success while the other band violently reacts to the prospects of it) is a remarkable sight.
  4. Some Kind Of Monster­
    At the time this movie was released, I was firmly an enemy of the Metallica camp. The Black Album wounded the band’s integrity, but Some Kind Of Monster killed it. At the same time, the fact that they allowed this movie to be released at all makes it the most rocking thing they have done since …And Justice For All. Throughout it, but particularly during the moments with the creepy life coach, you just want to grab each member and yell, “Wake the fuck up!” Apparently, Jason Newstad did, and he left the band immediately before filming began.
  5. The End Of The Century
    They pretended to be four dumb bruthas from N.Y.C., but this documentary shows how they were anything but stupid. The type of film that leaves you feeling like The Ramones were the greatest rock ‘n roll band ever. The shocker: Johnny and Joey spoke relatively little to one another thanks to a lover’s triangle. And now three of them are dead?! That just ain't right, man...
  6. The Kids Are Alright
    It felt like the end of The Who when Keith Moon died, and this documentary from around the same time, felt like a great way to canonize the group on the eve of their retirement. The band picked up Kenny Jones and soldiered on for a few more albums, but this documentary proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the The Who once ruled the world. Probably the only movie on this list that contains pyrotechnics….and not the legitimate kind either. I cannot think of any other lip-synching television appearance as exciting as The Who on The Smothers Brothers show.
  7. The Decline of the Western Civilization, Part 2: The Metal Years
    While it certainly didn’t do much to enhance the credibility of heavy metal, it absolutely showed how entertaining it was. From Ozzy’s scrambled eggs to Chris Holmes drunk and pathetic in his fucking pool, you can’t make that shit up! And to this day, I have no idea what the fuck London had against the Soviet Union. Of course, most of you have no idea who the fuck London even is.
  8. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
    How lucky was it that the film was rolling while Wilco was making their masterpiece? Pretty lucky, especially considering that they also were going through inter-band turmoil, being dropped from their label, and finding better days at the end of the entire drama.
  9. Westway To The World
    Quite simply, it’s the film that turned me into a major Joe Strummer fan. Sure, I was a fan of The Clash prior to Westway (it’s why I bought it, yo) but hearing Strummer’s Everyman and unimposing delivery, I can’t think of a better hero to have.
  10. The Last Waltz
    Another Scorsese landmark, particularly for implementing a rotoscoping technique to remove a cocaine booger from one Neil Young. I will confess to not fully appreciating The Band and, as a result, this film was actually given to me as a gift. Nonetheless, it’s a very informative and entertaining documentary, even if it fails to answer the question “What the fuck does Neil Diamond have to do with The Band?” It also demonstrates, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Robbie Robertson is an egotistical prick.
  11. The Fearless Freaks
    Wayne Coyne is the kind of guy that I’d like to live next door to. He’s one of those genuine people that views life in a very unique manner and his enthusiasm about living it at the fullest. Even mowing the lawn is provided with a bent perception and his retelling of an armed robbery while working at Long Johns Silver’s is hilarious. All of this is counterbalanced with guitarist/drummer/keyboardist Steven Drozd’s on-camera heroin addiction and bassist Michael Ivins receding hairline.
  12. Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars
    This was a toss up: T-Rex’s Born To Boogie or this, the last performance of Bowie’s Ziggy character. Two things put the Ziggy movie on the list: the fact that Bowie’s band had gotten so shit-hot that they could’ve performed the set in their sleep and at the moment where David/Ziggy tells the audience to “Shut up” during one of the acoustic moments. After you’ve heard the T-Rextasy frenzy of some of the teenage girls that made up Bolan’s performance, you’d wish he’d uttered the same words too. Oh, and Mick Ronson delivers one of his best solos ever on film too.
  13. Kurt & Courtney­
    Anyone that gives screen time to the Mentor’s El Duce drunken claims needs serious criticism. At the same time, you have to hand it to director Nick Broomfield’s decision from going from a movie about the “murder” of Kurt Cobain to Courtney Love’s manhandling of the Cobain legacy. I remember thinking that the film was a little harsh on her and that she was rightfully protective of her dead husband’s legacy. But now, I think that Broomfield may have been the first person to figure out that Love was nothing more than an opportunistic con, which means that she probably fit in perfectly with a wack job like El Duce. And Rozz Rezabek’s on-camera breakdown, the one where he goes “And a kinder, gentler Charlie Manson is still fucking Charlie Manson…So don’t fuck with me Courtney!” Priceless.
Some honorable mentions include:

Urgh! A Music War
Missed it by this much: there's enough shitty performances here to knock it from the list. At the same time, some of the good performances (XTC, Devo, The Cramps, Wall of Voodoo) are awesome enough to recommend this flick.

Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii
The performance is awesome. The behind the scenes at the Dark Side Of The Moon recording session is staged. And the director's cut animation that they tacked on is completely retarded. Thanfully, the dvd issue allows you to watch the original version without the retardedness.

Don't Look Back
Another Dylan entry. Another D.A. Pennebaker entry. Dylan before the motorcycle crash and the only reason it didn't make the list is because No Direction Home includes a lot of the same footage, including the parts where Bob freaks his shit on an interviewer.

Stop Making Sense
I used to love this movie and, to some extent, I still do. But the moment I learned that the Talking Heads overdubbed some of the performances during the mixing process, some of the magic was lost for me.

There you go again. Clicking on the comment button to add your own two cents.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tegan and Sara - The Con

Effectively transitioning themselves from Lilith Fair card players to intriguing pop songstresses is impressive on paper, but it’s even more stunning on some moments of Tegan and Sara’s latest release The Con.
Keep in mind that pop music often homes a few bad eggs and yes, there are enough here to make a decent sized omelet. But when you consider how clever and infectious the Quin sisters deliver the album’s finer examples, you tend to forget all about those rotten eggs.
There’s a new wave feel to the twin’s delivery and a very subtle difference between their overall vocal sounds; you can identify who composed and performed what. The arrangements occasionally reveal their original acoustic origins, but Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla, who’s a great choice to help the two test the pop waters. He manages to bring the record closer to Kate Bush’s The Dreaming than they could have ever dreamed up themselves. And I love The Dreaming, which means I’m feeling smitten about Tegan and Sara’s latest effort.
Speaking of the early 80’s, holy shit, I kept feeling fascination over The Con’s skinny tie snare ‘n high-hat propulsion and Human League keys. When Walla and the sisters lose sight of how charming their voices sound in this retro backdrop they start swinging at anything. “Are You Ten Years” ago, the album’s lowpoint, whips out a woefully unimaginative electronic drum pattern to propel a woefully unimaginative vocal rap.
Judging from The Con’s lyrical content, the main source of inspiration for Tegan and Sara’s latest selections is (again) those moments when love’s adverse effects are just as deep as the euphoria love initially creates. From it’s precautionary first hints (“You take your time coming over here/I think that’s for the best”) to it’s inevitable break-up (““I’m not unfaithful/But I’ll stray/When I get a little scared”), the con is that they buy into love’s sales pitch every time and, every time, they seem to get their heart broken.
Which means that the only thing that separates The Con between its predecessors is the new paint job Walla conjures up in the studio. However, no worries: there’s enough honesty and originality within the sheen of his pop clear-coat to give Tegan and Sara a new benchmark and, potentially, a larger audience.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise

Friday, January 18, 2008

Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo

I don’t think I’ve ever fully acknowledged the importance of Saturday Night Live in exposing new artists to me. Allow me to do it now: Peter Tosh, Talking Heads, The B-52’s, Kate Bush, and Devo all entered and warped my little mind because my parents were lackadaisical enough to let me stay up late on Saturday night.
It took a few years to appreciate Devo. Actually, it was a friend in ’79 that made the first move towards Devolution. I think we were subconsciously competing against one another in who could get the best new thing first and he actually won out on a few occasions. I don’t even think he liked some of the shit all that much, it was just the idea that he could get a few cool albums before me that was satisfaction enough.
Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! was one of those albums that he, we’ll call him Tim because that’s his name, got through Columbia house. One of the other albums was by Kansas, so there you go.
I remember giving him a bunch of shit about Q/A, partly out of jealously and partly because I had no idea of what Devo was about. All I knew was that they had a guy with a golf hat on the cover, some character named Booji Boy on the record sleeve (along with some pretty cool Devo merchandise items you could buy), and a strange declaration of “actual size” typed across the golf dude’s forehead.
The music, specifically their cover of “Satisfaction,” was a little too much for my Cars-loving head to take at that age. So I berated Tim for getting such a juvenile and cartoonish album.
But the joke was on me, even if Tim didn’t fully appreciate what he had inadvertently discovered.
Which was a kick ass, quirky and unique rock album that defied a proper definition, so some lame-brain called it “new wave.” It was “new” because nobody at that point had the good sense to associate the athletic kids with pinheads (or “homos” for that matter), wrote songs about mongoloids that work among us, or people getting clobbered by falling satellites.
And nobody had an answer for the music either, with its strange time signatures, guitar/synth combinations fueled by nervous energy, all corralled by incredible hooks, Q/A is one of those albums that only later proved to be the classic album it was.
I understand it now, fully appreciate it, and listen to it quite regularly; when I start the album as I leave my driveway in the morning, it ends perfectly when I pull the car into the parking lot at work (but only because I have to forward past “Satisfaction” as it skips because of a scratch on the disc).
After I put away my unfounded dismissals, I allowed myself to become a spud. By high school, we sang “Mongoloid” on our way to speech contests, and by college Devo had become because fully realized heroes (thanks in large part to the Ryko released Hardcore, which featured an early look on Devo’s punky origins).
Perfectly produced by Brian Eno, Q/A’s brilliance lies in how it took these punk origins and honed them into something fairly complex. Their imagery, as humorous as it may be, only serves as a distraction to how brilliant this album really is and something that they’d never be able to come close to again.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Awesome Color - Awesome Color

I know it’s kind of chickenshit to suggest this, but I’ve always considered the annual Baker’s Dozen lists as kind of a living, breathing thing. It’s not as if I just do a list of my favorite albums and then forget about it because, inevitably, I discover something that I missed from that specific year and fall in love with it. With that being said, the opposite is also true; there are albums that I’m very infatuated with initially and then years later I think, “Why did I feel this was so great?” The Mars Volta immediately comes to mind.
Therefore, I occasionally change my Baker’s Dozen lists and it appears that I may have to do so for 2006 as the Dinosaur Jr. show last December introduced me to a band that I have never heard of before.
After enduring a very shitty local garage band of middle-aged dudes, we prepped for the headliners and then returned to The Picador to the delightful sounds of a three-piece bashing away at some straightforward rock action.
Initially, the friend I was with made a comment about the drummer being so young, and I too thought, “Wow, he’s just a kid.” The key word is “he” as I discovered a pair of lumps on the chest of this flailing percussionist and discovered that it was a chick keeping time. To be honest, I was a little bummed because I actually thought the idea of having an underage kid that looked like a skinny beach bum with dirty blonde hair playing drums was pretty fucking cool. The fact that in reality there’s a chick drumming for the band didn’t detour me from thinking they were good, it’s just not as unique as it was when Mo Tucker spent a year here last week.
The band I’m referring to, Awesome Color, is a three piece from New York City and they specialize in that hard-to-fuck-up genre of Motor City riffage while they excel at maximize at keeping that genre remarkably pure, honest, and a lot of fun.
I did the right thing by approaching the trio after the show and shelling out $10 for gas money and a copy of their debut cd. They had cassettes available to of other material, which I thought was completely cool until I remembered that I was running out of devices that could actually play a cassette. In retrospect, I should have bought one, as one of my newfound goals is to support people who kick and scream against advancing technology when there’s really not much wrong with the technology it’s replacing.
I made a comment to vocalist/guitarist Derek Stanton that they did a really good job that evening and he seemed appreciative enough. I inquired about the merch and said that if the cd were half as good as their live show, I would be happy with it. The aforementioned female drummer, Allison Busch, suggested that their live shows are typically much better than the performances they capture on tape.
At the same time, I learned after playing Awesome Color that it’s not far from the raucous rawk that I witnessed in the flesh. In fact, there are aspects of it that occasionally improve on it.
The album, produced by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and made available on his Ecstatic Peace! label, is a finely honed tribute to everything Stoogy and is, without question, more of a Stooges record that The Weirdness ever was. Iggy would have been much better off handing over a jar of peanut butter to this power trio as there’s more spirit and respect to his Ann Arbor band’s legacy that he could ever muster by revamping the Stooges’ font. For Christsakes, the young ‘uns even bring out an “L.A. Blues”-esque sax solo on “Hat Energy,” which is reason enough to convince you to pursue these guys (and gal) on some kind of format while advising you not to miss ‘em if they show up near your backyard.
As awesome as this band is (and let’s be honest, Awesome Color is a truly awful name for a band), there is nothing groundbreaking going on here. At the same time, it doesn’t have to be, because they execute their influence with so much passion that it sounds just as exciting as the first time you heard Fun House. Because of that, I think it’s time to make room for a little bit of Awesome Color somewhere in my “best of” list from ’06.
There’s time for you to consider it too.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Accept - Metal Heart

It is very easy to find some humor in Accept. Lead vocalist Udo Dirkschneider sounds like he has raked a Brillo pad across his larynx, which is cool if the band you are fronting is a metal band and Accept is definitely a metal band. Then, you see him, a little chubby dude with close-cropped hair and sporting a camouflage outfit and all of the seriousness that Accept tries to throw out is completely gone. Watching Udo work takes a lot of energy just to stifle your giggles.
Many years have passed since I’d heard the band’s sixth album, Metal Heart, but I remember considering it as a very good record and, perhaps, the band’s highpoint. After listening to it again, I now must admit that I could have been wrong about such high praise.
It starts with the epic title track, a song so fucking brutal that it actually fades all of the other instruments out of the mix for the Wolf Hoffman guitar solo and it still manages to sound hugely important. “Metal Heart” is a testament to how great Accept could be while it also manages to set the bar too high for any of the subsequent songs on the album to reach.
Part of the problem is that the rest of the album doesn’t attempt to reach the heights of the title track. Instead, they try to reach the heights of the mainstream metal audience that they first tasted with their last album, Balls To The Wall. There was nothing compromised on that album and, essentially, they were fooling themselves if they thought that by incorporating a few additional melodic moments they’d be able to climb up the charts. If there were any doubts that they’d be able to become household metal names, just re-read the first paragraph again to find out why they couldn’t be.
To facilitate their ill-advised commercial assault on America, Accept enlisted Scorpions producer Dieter Dirks to oversee Metal Heart with the hopes that he’d be able to introduce the same commercial appeal he provided the Scorps. The thing is, the Scorpions write songs about partying, pussying, and rocking. Accept writes songs about the apocalypse, oppression and malcontent. Not a winning formula for radio and we already saw the band’s un-photogenic appeal from the video to “Balls To The Wall.”
But for every bit of gloss and melody that Dirks’ helped create, he also brought a dramatic production quality, which does work in some songs (see the title track, the eerily claustrophobic “Dogs On Leads,” the Wagner-esque “Teach Us To Survive,” and the operatically overdubbed male vocals on the closer “Bound To Fail”).
Accept works best when they shoot for these types of grandiose arrangements instead of worrying about increasing their record sales. Who knows if it was the record company that thought they’d be able to sell metal songs fronted by a little man with a raped larynx to the general public, but my guess is that they would have done just fine following their own fairly unconventional direction.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

You Might Be My Lucky Star

Back when I was a high school, a few friends of mine introduced me to Saint Mary’s Academy. It seemed that Saint Mary’s was the place to go on Friday nights as it was an all-girls school and they held weekly dances there. The great thing about Saint Mary’s was that the girls could mainly be described as “troubled” as the general population consisted in large part of girls from Chicago sent to this remote location on the other side of the state when they became too wild for the parent’s to maintain.
Their loss was our gain.
Saint Mary’s incorporated a strict Catholic curriculum and the nuns that lead the school were fairly used to (and ready for) any teenage boy shenanigans. Nevertheless, we would make the fifteen-mile trek upriver to the dormitory on Friday nights to scope out these worldly ladies and introduce them to our corn-fed charm. Looking back now, I’m sure that they knew we looked like dorks, but their hormones were to a point where they really didn’t give a shit.
To be fair: neither did we. The only time we really devoted attention to this school was when we were sans girlfriends at our own school. Guys have hormones too, which is a polite way of saying we were looking for some easy trim.
That’s not to suggest that we ever got any. Getting a girl past the nuns was extremely difficult and just getting to second base with one of the chicks was equal to getting contraband into a prison. Seriously, you had to secure a lookout in the rec area (or outside in the courtyard if it was nice enough) in order to hustle your dangerous liaison behind the upright cafeteria tables just to make sure you weren’t caught by the ladies of Christ.
After a while (meaning after a year of trying) it got to be a bit too much. I mean, you really only got about five hours a week with your special someone and it was hardly ever alone. The girls never had long distance phone privileges, which meant you never got to talk to them unless you were willing to foot the bill yourself and call during the allotted hours.
Of interest is the fact that this Catholic girl’s school was located in one of the Mormon church’s most revered stopping points: Nauvoo, Illinois. Now, the Mormons have since bought the property that Saint Mary’s was housed on, effectively running the Catholics out the same way that they were run out (somewhat) nearly a century prior. In other words, don’t go looking for some Saint Mary’s poontang now because it ain’t there.
How does this story relate to anything remotely musical you may ask? The irony here isn’t on the push-and-pull of various religious entities; it’s with the irony that this is the place where I first heard Madonna.
In the fall of ’83, the lone boom box in the rec room at Saint Mary’s Academy incessantly played, thanks to the aid of the auto-reverse feature, the debut album of Madonna over and over. On one Sunday afternoon (you could visit the girls between lunch and Sunday dinner), I counted at least six consecutive spins of this album. As the synthesizer arc of “Lucky Star” announced the arrival of the seventh play, a sassy black girl marched over to the boombox and yelled “If I hear this “Lucky Star” shit one more time, I’m gonna break that tape in half.”
I love the Catholic imagery of Saint Mary’s combined with the Catholic imagery of Madge and, I must confess, that I’ve been a fan ever since. It’s weird how Madonna is still able to make hits while Saint Mary’s isn’t around to save souls like it used to, if it was even able to while it was up an running. To be honest, I don’t think there was a lot of hope for the girls of Saint Mary’s Academy to begin with.
Or maybe it was the endless subliminal messages of Madonna’s first album that ended up tearing down the walls of that curious institution.

OCD Chronicles: Led Zeppelin "In My Time Of Dying"

So I had to go to a funeral, which means that I had to pack music for the drive even though I’ve got an infant in the back seat that likes to talk and a four-year old next to her that likes to talk and a wife next to me that would rather talk to a four-year old and an infant that hear me talk. It’s because I usually say shit like “You know what album I haven’t heard in twenty years that’s really good is Devo’s Freedom Of Choice.” By the time I explain to her “It’s the one with “Whip It” on it.” She’s already singing “B-I-N-G-O” with the kids.
So I turn on the stereo and sing to my own shit, and for this trip I packed Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. I packed it for two things: because I know the wife has heard the song “Kashmir” and she’s always complaining that I never bring any music that she’s ever heard of. The other reason was because we were going to a funeral and all I kept thinking about was “In My Time Of Dying.”
When it came on (song three, side one, for those of you who remember the gatefold vinyl version), I turned up the stereo beyond the level of acceptance and got “the horns” from my old lady. Strangely enough, she left it at an acceptable level despite the topic and for reasons that I can only ponder that it was because….she likes Led Zeppelin.
And who doesn’t?
Well, I suppose if you’re a dj that has to man the obligatory “Get The Led Out” segment on the old heavy repeating playlist, you probably do, which is a damn shame because radio programmers need to be shot.
Seriously: if there’s one thing about Physical Graffiti that I know it’s that there are a long more songs from it that classic rock radio needs to consider.
“In My Time Of Dying” is one of them.
If my wife likes “In My Time Of Dying” then who’s to say that the audience classic rock radio is trying to capture (read: 18-34 males who drive Ford trucks through the Hardees drive thru on their way to the titty bar) wouldn’t like that song either. Sure, it’s not a very happy tune, but neither is “When The Levee Breaks” and I’m sick to fucking death of that one.
So I’m totally grooving on Page’s badass slide work on “Dying” while Plant’s going “Oh my Jesus! Oh my Jesus!” over and over which makes me put on my rock and roll professors hat and explain to my wife that the part at the end where Robert goes “Cough” after somebody coughs was removed on initial cd pressings of Physical Graffiti. That deletion brought about an uproar from Led Zep fans who wrote Atlantic Records to complain about the omission. All subsequent pressings have that infamous exchange.
Now every time I sing “Cough” ala Robert Plant, the SLF knows exactly what I’m talking about.
There’s hope for her yet, I suppose.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

T.S.O.L. - Dance With Me

There seems to be two camps in the entire Goth punk circuit: those who dig the Misfits and those who dig True Sounds Of Liberty. I may be in the minority here, but I liked T.S.O.L. more.
Dance With Me is sometimes considered landmark SoCal punk album, but most of that high praise may be coming from people who should know better. The reality is that Dance With Me is a shitty and barely credible display of rumdumb macabre housed in simplistic three-chord punk rock.
And I love it.
It’s not for everyone, which was in consideration when I rated this thing, but for me it’s a shining piece of my early forays into punk rock, when songs about necrophilia were cool.
Seriously, “Code Blue” may have been the vilest song ever recorded at one time, with lines like “Don’t even cry if I shoot it in her hair/Lying on the table she smiles and she stares” it’s far from fucking Shakespeare, but now it just sounds silly. Which is exactly what it was back then, but as you age, you’re told that you’re not to like silly stuff.
Fuck that shit! Practically any fan of the electric guitar would acknowledge that the riff on “Code Blue” is pretty sweet, despite the fact that almost anyone could learn how to play it after a few tries. That’s the essence of rock music, and if all these guys know how to do is throw a few creature-feature lines about fucking dead chicks because none of the chicks at school like ‘em, then so be it.
When T.S.O.L. works at trying to sound really creepy, they simply start throwing horror movie plots around and begin every line in a first person narrative. “Silent Scream” features lyrics cobbled together from old Vincent Price films (“I’m the wooden mallet/The sharpened stake/I’m the precaution you forgot to take”) to the point where you actually lose track at how scary the character is because of all the clich├ęd lyrical overkill.
When T.S.O.L. isn’t trying to use scare tactics, they mine topics from other places like spy movies (“The Triangle”), unrequited love (“Love Story”) and general teenage alienation (“I’m Tired Of Life”). None of Dance With Me is groundbreaking now and, to be honest, none of it was all that groundbreaking then. Essentially, most of what T.S.O.L. did was understand that they weren’t really cut out for making much of a political or social statement in their music and they left that tasks to more of the more memorable bands from that same era (Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, etc.). Besides, everyone knows that even though Ed Wood movies aren’t that scary, they’re still pretty fucking awesome.

Friday, January 11, 2008

You Must Be Logged In To Do That!

There’s plenty of good reasons why haven’t been logged in. First of all: another death. This time someone who was only around two years older than me. Fucking cancer again. One of those situations where it’s here, it’s gone, repeat, repeat, and then the effected person just says “You know what? I don’t want to go through this any more. I think I’m done.”
It’s awful, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t make the same choice, even with so much to live for.
And one of those things decided that she wants to crawl, stand, and get into shit. Which essentially means that my eyes have to be on her a lot more instead of behind the laptop. Even when I do get behind the laptop, she thinks the a/c cord going into it is a pretty cool thing to yank on. When I ask her to stop, she heads for the cords behind the dvd player and then cries when she gets stuck trying to unhook the “s” video plugs.
On top of all this, the real job decided that “mandatory overtime” is required to catch up on all the shit that got put behind during the holidays. I know enough to understand that there’s no such thing as “mandatory” overtime. Legally you can’t require anyone to work overtime, but I know that companies sometimes are able to pull sneaky shit (like suggesting on your evaluations that you don’t meet expectations on teamwork because you didn’t buy in on the whole mandatory overtime thing) and I’m too broke to really fight. Besides, in two months when they don’t allow overtime, I’d be bitching about that because I’m a fickle motherfucker.
Through all of this, the music remains, albeit in a very embarrassing form. Yes, I’ve pulled out a few Jethro Tull albums and, curiously, a few bits of juvenile So-Cal punk. Sometimes you need just a few chords and sometimes you need a whole bunch.
With a flute layered on for good measure.
More to come.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Bob Seger - Smokin' OP's

From what I’ve been told, the early Bob Seger albums are supposed to be revelatory. For years, from several reliable sources, I’ve been encouraged to examine his first few albums to get a taste of Seger in his natural Motor City rocking mode.
So I chose Smokin’ OP’s, with little consideration for the non-too-clever title that translates into “smokin’ other people’s songs,” on the basis that this was his first album after being dropped by Capitol. He later returned to, and had enormous success with, that label, but it’s interesting to hear how he handled getting the boot.
How he addressed it was, to quote another Motor City group, to kick out the jams. Smokin’ OP’s is a very loose and rocking affair, filled with performances that were probably noteworthy back in their day.
On the other hand, there’s very little on Smokin’ OP’s to be noteworthy today. The arrangements are well rehearsed, but they do little to warrant the claim that they actually “smoke” the original versions.
It ends with a pair of Seger originals, “Someday” and “Heavy Music,” both legitimately good tracks but hardly revelatory; “Someday” tie-toes around the singer/songwriter phase that he pursued in the mid-70’s while “Heavy Music” mines the same path as “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” did during his early efforts.
When added together, Smokin’ OP’s is a decent document of a bar band at the top of their game, but hardly a release that would get you to think differently about Bob Seger.