Monthly Archives: April 2013

“Where are you? Children, are you walking through the air that is 50 degrees wrong? Are you walking under the tampered sky in the 10th year of no rain? We are millions trying to get dressed and go to work as screams travel back and forth inside our bodies, as our own shock and disbelief pulls on our faces. We push in the earbuds, Adele sings ‘Rolling in the Deep.'”

Bill Tale — better known as Reverend Billy, leader of the Church of Stop Shopping — in his 2012 book, “The End of the World”

Reverend Billy – Adele

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Shabazz Palaces, “An Echo From the Hosts That Profess Infinitum”

I was instantly enamored with Shabazz Palaces’ full-length debut, “Black Up,” when it came out in the summer of 2011. Instant gratification of that sort usually means I’d have lost interest within a year’s time, but not in the case of this Seattle hip-hop band — featuring “Butterfly” from Digable Planets — just as my admiration has not eroded for like-minded artists Bonobo, Kool Keith/Dr. Octagon, Gonjasufi, Kid Koala and THEESatisfaction, the latter of which makes an appearance on “Black Up.”

All of these artists have one thing in common: an affinity for tactility in sound. By that I mean that the music itself acts as poetry; no lyrics are necessary to convey the message. As Ishmael (“Butterfly”) Butler invokes on “Are You … Can You … Were You? (Felt)”:

“I can’t explain it in words, I have to do it.”

The only thing that’s happened in the interim is that, whereas my early favorite was opening track, “Free Press and Curl,” I now have trouble picking an overarching representative. I can’t complain about the Funkadelic-meets-‘Tron’-by-way-of-Gil-Scott-Heron tune, “An Echo From the Hosts That Profess Infinitum” — and as it happens to be the only track I’ve “starred” on Spotify, it’ll have to do, as I have more drinking to do.

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“It is for anyone who has ever had any interest in combining the joie de vivre that is the vigorous bouncing of one’s anatomical/spiritual/energetic molecules with the existential absurdity that is living in a world/country/economic system of injustice, war-mongering, and cultural ineptitude. Oh wait, that’s you. If you feel like it: come in your own crazy aerobics costume, whatever that means to you. Taste the sweat.”

Excerpt from The Knife’s announcement of its upcoming “Shaking the Habitual” tour, viewable in full here

The Knife – “Shaking the Habitual” tour

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St. Vincent, “Neutered Fruit”

It took me about a year to warm up to “Strange Mercy.” It’s frankly the most dissonant study of harmonics I’ve ever ingested that didn’t inevitably rise back up the pipe. Brian Wilson’s “Smile” comes close, but it’s as whimsical as it is unnerving. If it isn’t apparent from the cover art, something menacing is afoot on “Mercy.”

Annie Clark — St. Vincent when she dons her cape — lets it all hang out on her third album, creating a world that feels ephemeral and claustrophobic at the same time (which would be a strange kind of mercy). Clark has said she wrote the album while embarking on a “loneliness experiment,” which could be another way of saying she was depressed.

Choirs mingle with nerdcore and marching drums; woodwinds are given wedgies by gaggles of guitar fuzz. “Mercy” is definitely a concept “album,” not just a collection of songs. It’s nice to see that in the year 2011, during the Age of Instantaneity, the long-play format still holds meaning.

While “Cruel” has been deemed the nougat center of “Mercy,” it was “Neutered Fruit” that I first fell in love with, and it remains the track I look forward to hearing the most. Coincidentally, the song opens with a Beach Boys-esque homage — it could also nearly be confused as an outtake from Dirty Projectors’ 2010 masterpiece, “Bitte Orca” — and carries through with a chamber funk melody that both slaps and tickles one’s eardrums and -hairs. The song, exhibiting paranoiac traits, appears to be about God’s disappointment with a bunny rabbit, containing this poetic gem:

“I ate flowers in the backyard
A finely neutered fruit
Shot a hundred arrows at a knoll
A hundred sparrows blue.”

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“One night, I don’t even know what the fuck happened, but hell came to get me again. It was in a dream. I wrote these songs (that became the 1998 album, “Moon Pix”) that night, waiting for the sun to rise, because my house was surrounded by 150 trillion spirits pressing against my glass, trying to get in. It was fucked up and really horrifying. The songs were just like evidence.”

Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, in a September 2012 interview with The Fader website, which you can read in full here

Cat Power – Moon Pix

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“I’d go to hell to hear a good band.”

Cornet player Bix Beiderbecke, writing to his brother in 1921. Bix was notable for ushering in the jazz world’s space-race age by being jazz’s first genuinely gifted white jazz musician in the early ’20s.

Bix Beiderbecke – jazz space race

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“Armstrong’s scatting almost drove the English language out of the Windy City for good.”

Clarinet player (and owner of one of the best names ever) Mezz Mezzrow, referring to trumpet/cornet player Louis Armstrong’s impromptu scat singing on a 1926 recording of “Heebie Jeebies.” Armstrong didn’t invent scat singing, he wasn’t the first to record it, and the jury will always be out as to whether its use on the song was accidental or not — but one thing is certain: “Heebie Jeebies” set the jazz world on fire, at least in Chicago, where Satchmo was living and playing at the time.

Louis Armstrong – Scat singing

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The Yardbirds, “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”

Half of the lineup that in two years’ time would be known as Led Zeppelin were on hand when The Yardbirds recorded “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” in 1966. It was Yardbirds’ first single to feature Jimmy Page, who began on bass but had just switched to lead guitar. John Paul Jones, filling in as a session man, took bass duties.

The pairing of Jeff Beck and Page as dueling guitar leads creates something almost impossible for that era, back before technology had even been envisioned to handle such a commotion. It’s safe to say that nothing quite like Page and Beck on “Happenings” had yet been laid down on wax. It foretold the likes of The Stooges, Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath — and informed noisier counterparts such as The Who and MC5 — at a time when most of the heavies were embarking on magic carpet rides.

The dream only lasted for three singles, as well as a spot playing a Who-like band in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film, “Blowup,” in which the Page/Beck Yardbirds performed “Stroll On,” an update to its earlier cover of jump-blues classic, “Train Kept A-Rollin’.” Beck was thrown out of the band just as the “Happenings” single was released, in October 1966, leaving Page to play both leads, a feat he was fully able to realize.

“A-Rollin'” also happens to be the first song Led Zeppelin played together when it formed in 1968. So everything does move in circles, just like Darby Crash used to say, which I’m pretty sure is why The Germs covered Chuck Berry’s “Round and Round.”

Another interesting tidbit, discovered years after the fact, is that Pink Floyd had wanted Beck to replace Syd Barrett after Mr. Madcap left the band in 1967, but according to Floyd drummer Nick Mason, “None of us had the nerve to ask him.” But those are stories for another time.

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Barack Obama, with a copy of "Trout Mask Replica"

Barack Obama, with a copy of “Trout Mask Replica”

“The way Don got his ‘stage name’ was, [his] Uncle Alan had a habit of exposing himself to [Don’s girlfriend] Laurie. He’d piss with the bathroom door open and, if she was walking by, mumble about his appendage — something along the lines of: ‘Ahh, what a beauty! It looks just like a big, fine beef heart!‘”

Frank Zappa, discussing his friend Don Van Vliet — aka Captain Beefheart — in his 1989 autobiography, “The Real Frank Zappa Book”

Frank Zappa – Capt. Beefheart

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Lene Lovich, “Lucky Number”

There are a number of songs now regarded as classics that began life as B-sides — a phenomenon laid to rest when vinyl fell out of favor with the charts. At first, this might seem surprising, but it makes some sense when you think about it.

Studio bosses tend not to be equipped with the same strain of gray matter as people who appreciate music. A head filled with dollar signs is not likely to cater to, say, the silken tones of a nimble bass line. But WHO CARES! I’M THE BOSS AND I’LL BE PICKING SIDE A, SO WHAT DO YOU KIDS HAVE THAT I CAN SNAP MY FINGERS TO?? What’s that, you have a song you’re really proud of? Oh, that’s cute. We’ll put it on the other side. (Nobody’ll even know it’s there!)

Which turned out not to be the case, as I’m generally referring to the 1960s and ’70s, back before Nintendo or Twitter, when there was literally nothing to do other than throw huge darts at one another in the backyard for hours at a time. So you know Junior was bound to discover that there was another side to that 45 — and then a) proceed to fall in love with his first band, or b) continue that self-absorbed, unchallenged slug trail toward executivedom.

Now on to our track for the day!!! Lene Lovich’s biggest hit and best song, “Lucky Number,” started out on the dark side of her first single, 1978’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” a clunky, cheeky cover of the 1967 tune by Tommy James and the Shondells. The B-side was quickly rereleased and went to No. 3 in the U.K. It’s on “Number” that Lovich first showcases her startling vocal style, employing Betty Boop-like squeals and such, like a bubblier version of Nina Hagen. (Hagen, coincidentally was pals with Lovich and covered “Lucky Number” on her band’s second album, 1979’s “Unbehagen”).

Lovich and longtime cohort guitarist Les Chappell in the late ’70s were supping at the same trough as Talking Heads, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Devo and Siouxsie and the Banshees — and Lovich’s voice predated the likes of Cyndi Lauper and Toni “Hey Mickey” Basil. The good news that you might not know about is that Lovich did plenty of good work after this song, such as “Blue,” a bonus track (!) off 1979’s “Flex.”

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