What's More Unbelievable?

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Greatest Song Ever Written

I wanted to close out Prog week with a short celebration of the greatest song ever written. There are a lot of songs that have probably earned that title over the years but today I narrow my focus on one shining single that towers over all others like a giant space turtle towers over other monsters. My choice for greatest song ever written is Rush's masterwork "Subdivisions."

It begins with a pulsing synth chord, possibly played by robots for an ampitheater full of robots. The sound is insistent, cold and clinical and perfectly sets the stage for the work as a whole. If you are not familiar with this song, let me explain a little. The song appears on Rush's 1982 album Signals and to me it perfectly encapsulates the early 80s world of mall culture, the birth of video games and suburban sprawl. I was 5 when this song came out and it immediately transports me back to that time of scuzzy guys with scuzzy moustaches parading around in worn blue jeans and no shirts through the hazy post-70s fall out of the early Reagan administration. By this point, Neal Peart had moved away from the sci-fi poetry of Rush's earlier albums and was writing more direct lyrics concerning the damage humans do to nature and to each other. The title refers to both suburban subdivisions as well as those that separate students in high school. I know, it's almost overwhelmingly deep but give them the benefit of the doubt. "Subdivisions" seems to be an autobiographical tale about a boy growing increasingly uncomfortable in the world he finds himself, looking desperately for a way out and finding no quick fix. He can only wish for a relatively painless end to the monotony and boredom of the conservative suburban life that surrounds him. As an escape from this living death, Neal turned to fantasy and a pretty massive obsession with drumming. Our protagonist in the song, who most every Rush fan will relate to in one way or another, finds no home in the various cliques in school or in the ticky tacky sameness of the suburban prison he finds himself in. Apparently, there is no D&D club at this high school. So the search for connection continues into the city but the busyness and empty distractions there provide no real solace or solutions. For me, this kind of adolescent uneasiness and unhappiness has never been articulated (musically and lyrically) as absolutely perfectly as in this song. The authoritarian voice bloodlessly repeating "Subdivisions," the gently hostile singing of Geddy Lee as he spits out the lines "In the basement bars/ In the backs of cars/ Be cool or be cast out" and the emotionless keyboard lines all work together to create an incredibly brilliant exploration of the horrors of modern life and the sometimes fruitless search for relief.

To me, rock and roll is not (solely) about greasers and leather jackets or stoners and shirts with fringe or satan and his minions; it is about finding another voice out there in the wilderness who shares your ideas and ideals and makes you feel a little less alone. I didn't discover this song until well after high school and by that time, I had already found my musical saviours to get me through the absurdity of my teenage years. Rush encapsulate that feeling of reaching out for just one person to share your journey with so even though I'm no longer 15 I can still relate to that common experience of bristling at your surroundings and hoping for escape.

If you made it this far, you might as well check out the video. Even if you find nothing here to latch onto and you wonder how such a terrible song could mean so much to me, at least you can enjoy Geddy Lee's odd, odd face and some great footage of vintage arcade action.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Roger Dean, Eat Your Heart Out

How serendipitous to visit the Onion AV Club today and see this feature list. I've only heard 2 of these 18 albums but instead of inspiring ridicule, this list just made me curious to hear the other 16. See how bad my sickness is? My favorite line - "what's with progressive-rock albums and their obsession with vanishing points?"

In Defense of Flute Solos

It's Prog Week here at Battle for the Earth, so let's keep celebrating. Now let me start by saying I'm not an overly knowledgeable prog rock fan but for the most part, what I've heard I've liked. I don't even know how I came about exploring the world of jazz-rock cliches and face paint and flutes, flutes and more flutes but I do know I like it. My father always had eclectic tastes and his equal love of Dan Fogelberg and Vixen I'm sure played a part in my musical tastes. We didn't grow up listening to the Stones or the Beatles in my house but we also weren't one of those no rock, only classical houses, we just listened to random bands ranging anywhere from Bread to Men at Work to Ratt to the Alan Parson Project. In fact, my father bought Licensed to Ill when it came out and helped introduce my brother and me to snotty New York rap rock. Somehow, all these disparate sounds created in me a love for overblown rock n roll, especially if it involves allegorical lyrics involving mythology or science fiction, cartoonish amounts of guitar noodling, several odd time signatures battling it out for dominance in the same song or concept albums. Oh lord, how I love the concept album.

Prog rock musicians are nothing if not committed. Some obviously lose the plot and sail off into the sunset following the shadow of something that was borderline embarrassing to begin with and in the process lose most of their audience and leave critics standing on the sidelines, chuckling about how very silly it all is but I've got to praise them for their determined single mindedness and refusal to edit that 14 1/2 minute Arp solo. Maybe it's something about the hermetically sealed world they live in that appeals to me as I seem to enjoy getting lost in the fantasy of it all. I didn't hear Led Zeppelin until I was in middle school but something about the Tolkien influenced lyrics and epic gestures really touched something deep in my core that I didn't even know was there to be unearthed. It's the same feeling I had when I finally read the Lord of the Rings trilogy at the age of 23. This fairy tale world full of created languages and fantastical creatures was the exact journey I wanted to be on and just imagining a sliver of the story today brings me joy. It's the same way with prog rock - the battles and imagery and endless musical detours captivate me, sometimes against my will.

King Crimson have a song titled, "Cadence and Cascade" on their magnificent album In the Wake of Poseidon. I played it once on our show and Mothra just looked at me, a puzzled look on his face. "Who is this monster sitting before me," he wondered, "and how can he possibly enjoy this sissy music." It is all hushed vocals singing about a man named Jade who is in the shade or something and there are flutes and I really had no idea how silly it all was until I saw Mothra's reaction to it and realised that I'm cursed to adore this junk for life. Just the mention of the band Rush is enough to bring a gleam to my eye and give me that nervous sick feeling in my stomach I love them so much. It's a love I am unable to share with those close to me. It's not that I haven't tried - lord how I've tried - but I jut can't convince anyone about the mind crushing awesomeness of it all. The battle rages on.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Haiku You

Tonight's show is probably the most esoteric and bohemian of the history of the show. What follows are haiku poems constructed of song titles with the artists listed respectively in parentheses.
Step Into the Light
We Call Them Pirates Out Here
I See a Darkness

(Archers of Loaf, Mark Mothersbaugh, Bonnie "Prince" Billy)

In This Home on Ice
You Don't Know (How Young You Are)
Till the Bitter End

(Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The 13th Floor Elevators, Magnetic Fields)

I'll Be Your Mirror
Stepping Into Tomorrow
In the Street, Today

(Lou Reed, Madlib, The Jam)

Houses in Motion
Beneath the Festering Moon
After the Ordeal

(Talking Heads, Guided by Voices, Genesis)

Before and Again
Pints of Guinness Makes You Strong
Drink To Me, Babe, Then

(Akron/Family, Against Me!, A.C. Newman)

Walking in the Rain
Overcome by Happiness
It's Been Worth the Wait

(The Ronettes, Pernice Brothers, Nate Ruth)

Lonesome Warrior
I Am the Light of This World
The Humans Are Dead

(Eric Bachman, Papa M, Flight of the Conchords)

O Valencia!
I Want the One I Can't Have
Six Different Ways

(The Decemberists, The Smiths, The Cure)

I Don't Wanna Die
In the Mouth of a Desert
Fuck This...I'm Leaving

(Unicorns, Pavement, American Analog Set)

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Plea for Forgiveness

Look at these gorgeous British lads. The top 4 look like any shaggy group from the 70s although sporting less facial hair. But check out that freaky dude on the bottom. He alone tips them from rock band over the cliff into the land of prog rock. What is going on here, Mr. Gabriel? How do you go from this (granted it's not a great start) to "Sledgehammer?" And you, Mr. Collins. How do you go from Genesis' bib overall wearing drummer to lead singer of the group that produced grade A stinkers like "I Can't Dance" and "Land of Confusion?" It's a pretty stunning decline from the glorious prog rock majesty of Foxtrot and Selling England by the Pound. Those albums are truly incredible if you can stand 23 minute suites about Revelation with passages in 9/8 time or songs about characters named "Bob the Knob." The 80s were not kind to the members of Genesis. Just ask Mothra about the travesty that is "Red Rain" and you will be met with a series of guttural groans and a diatribe on the utter worthlessness of Peter Gabriel. Phil Collins won over no one with his acting gig as the lovable scamp "Buster" in the titular film and Mike Rutherford was responsible for "The Living Years," which somehow reached number one on the Billboard charts. Please don't judge them on these sad statistics or that embarrassing picture alone and give their noodly indulgent years a chance. I promise you'll like them more than "Throwing it All Away." How could you not?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Linda Perry is the Devil

I have this little co-worker CK. She is small and very funny. She likes to sing along with the radio. She even likes to sing along when the radio is not on. Her voice is not great and often it is pretty atonal but her enthusiasm is boundless and genuine and it wins me over almost every time. The radio listened to here at work is not my choice and it typically ends up on some sort of mix station where the songs I like come as often as a bullet in Russian Roulette. There are a few songs that pop up now and then that are now off limits for sing-alongs per my request. These include, but are not limited to: "Kokomo" that infernal late period hit by the Beach Boys. "Everybody Wang Chung Tonight" an inexplicable hit from the 80s when seemingly every other song in the top 40 was some bizarre experiment which would rightfully never see the light of day in today's pop market. Say what you will about the sorry state of modern radio but at least we don't have to be inundated with nonsense like Wang Chung unless of course you are stuck in mix station land, as I am, where they seem to think this is still a great tune. One last song I want to point out as a guaranteed day ruiner is that goddamn "What's Goin' On" song by 4 Non Blondes. Everyone hates it. Everyone. Trust me, I asked around, but once it gets stuck in your head, it will bury itself like a tick and not even tweezers and rubbing alcohol will remove it. The stubborn chorus will stay behind, leaving you with those mind numbingly bad lyrics playing on repeat as you wish your collection of pens and pencils also had an icepick to jam in your ear. This one came on today and instantly was added to the "Do Not Sing" list but because Satan wrote it with a perfect understanding of how to write a melody that will embed itself into one's brain, CK found herself singing the chorus over and over again very loudly. As annoyed as I was to hear it again it paled in comparison to the self hatred it stirred in her. It's one thing to sing songs others hate but to find yourself singing a song you yourself hate - that truly is the work of the devil.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Jazz Purge

I remember when I was in college, I was being exposed to all sorts of new sounds and falling head over heels in love with each and everyone of them at a pretty rapid pace. Old timey country, blues, opera, modern classical, funk and jazz. Indie rock was still my mainstay but I was happy to fill my ears with a wild assortment of new noises. At one point in my Sophomore year, I found myself sick to death of all that boring indie rock and all the old standards I had relied on for years and wanted to sell my entire cd collection and start over fresh. I remember Frank Black's album "The Cult of Ray" as being the impetus for this desired purging. A major disappointment from an artist I thought I could rely on came at the exact right time to highlight what was lacking in my music choices.

I never did sell everything but it started me on a path of constant evaluation, reconsideration and revision of my music collection. It seems lately that every 3 months I am checking the shelves and pulling out the dead weight. I'm not someone who wants a showpiece, I want a vital, active collection that actually gets listened to. Nostalgia affects me as much as anyone, if not more, but I don't want to hang on to too many cds simply for sentimental value when I will never actually listen to them. I've gotten to the point where a memory is good enough.

So during my most recent journey through the stacks, I made significant discovery. I don't care for jazz very much. In college I fell for it hard - every era had something to offer me whether it was hard bop, swing, free or even fusion but over the years I find myself listening to it less and less. There are a number of reasons for its fall from grace, including:

1. No guitars. Unless you're way into Wes Montgomery (I'm not) or *shudder* John Pizzarelli, you're not going to get much guitar action in your typical plunk plunk toot music. I have recently accepted my addiction to and slavery to the guitar and jazz guitar just doesn't feed the sickness.

2. Too many damn solos. If Phish and the rest of the sea of jam band losers are acceptable to mock mercilessly, why not jazzbos? Whether on a guitar, flute or alto sax, wankery is still wankery.

3. No words. I like a melody to sing along with and it's hard to sing a jumpy little trumpet line for long without feeling alittle bit insane.

4. Terrible reissue nonsense. I like jazz but I don't love it which is too bad because many lables like to include alternate takes on their reissues. This wouldn't be such a problem were they to put the Take 3 version after the official release but they don't. Both Impulse and Blue Note, and others I'm sure, like to mix them right into the album so you sometimes get back to back versions of the same song. It's not a hobby of mine to play spot the difference between Bobby Timmons' solo during two different versions of "Sincerely Diana."

I'm not getting rid of all of it, I'm just cutting off the fat. The albums I'm excising have become background music and I feel guilty not giving them my full attention when listening but I just don't have any interest in putting them on these days. Maybe when I'm older I'll get my attention span back.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Arts n Farts n Crafts

Tonite we celebrate the avant garde pop stars, the misunderstood, the strange ones, the off key singers, the warblers, the vagrants and the unwashed. A musical feast for the whole family.

Talking Heads - Artists Only
Need New Body - Show Me Your Heart
Daniel Johnston - Sad Sac + Tarzan

Animal Collective - Leaf House
Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 - Millions of Years
Blek Ink - Don't Take Too Long
Gastr Del Sol - Thos. Dudley Ah! Old Must Dye

Bonny "Prince" Billy - Apocalypse, No
Akron/Family - Running, Returning
Nick Drake - Bryter Layter (partial), Hazy Jane I
Palace Brothers - Come A Little Dog

Truman's Water - Death to Dead Things
Panoply Academy Legionnaires - Do You (Want to) Grind?
Liars - Brocken Witch

Velvet Underground - Lady Godiva's Operation
The Microphones - The Glow, Pt 2
Les Savy Fav - I.C. Timer
My Bloody Valentine - Loomer

Nico - No One is There
Raincoats - Shouting Out Loud
Magnetic Fields - Kings

Devo - Smart Patrol / Mr. DNA
Patti Smith - Redondo Beach
Neutral Milk Hotel - Marching Theme
Bobby Conn - Virginia Split

Sonic Youth - The Burning Spear
Radiohead - Like Spinning Plates
Syd Barrett - If It's In You

Matmos - The Struggle Against Unreality Begins

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Shut Out!

So I turn on my computer today and jump on the internet only to have my greatest wishes crushed within seconds. Right there on my home page, Yahoo! (sadly my only source for world news), is the headline "12 Classic Movie Monsters." Finally, some front page recognition. So I click the link, as I advise you to do by clickling the title of this post, and right off the bat are the two classics, King King and Godzilla. No quibbles there. I mean, they're the salt and pepper (or Salt 'n' Pepa) of the monster kingdom. I think I speak for both Mothra and myself when I say I can only dream of getting a whiff of their pant legs so they're on top and rightly so but I continue on, hoping to at least crack the top 10. For those too lazy to click the link, I will review the remaining 10 here from awesomest to anti-awesomest:

The Balrog - Nerds unite and celebrate how unbelievably cool this monster of smoke and fire looked on the movie screen. A giant space turtle can inspire awe in most puny humans but this thing steals Godzilla's lunch money while the rest of us monsters just turn our heads and hope he doesn't come after us next.
The Sandworms of Arrakis - Supercool and absolutely terrifying in the books. Plus they somehow managed to keep their supercoolness in the movie version even while everything else was sucking around them. Sting in that metal codpiece with the oily, oily skin was frightening enough to make this list if you ask me.
The Blob - No arguments here. Squishy and deadly, an efficient killing machine.
Nancy Archer - Giant women are always welcome in the monster handbook.
The T Rex - Can't deny this veracious predator although it loses a few points for becoming extinct twice in the history of the universe.
Various Dragons - Yes dragons are pretty neat but choosing a flight of nameless dragons over a single, brilliantly named humongous Moth? How could they?
The Kraken - Good name, good old skool effects, lame fighting techniques led it to lose to Harry Hamlin on a Pegasus. Pfffft!
Quetzalcoatl - Seriously? This thing made the list? The author of the article never even saw the movie. Let me let you in on a little secret - this creature doesn't even get to park the cars at the annual monster meetings. "Top 12" my clawed foot!
The Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man - If you are over 8 years old, this joker shouldn't be anywhere near your list.
Unnamed Huge Mutant Creature - I won't acknowledge this choice and I won't respond to it.

So as you can imagine, Mothra and I are a bit miffed at this terrible compilation. Where is the love? I didn't fly millions of space miles to destroy various cities on this tiny planet just to be insulted by some slackjawed EW Online weasel. I demand justice. Evil monster justice.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Cloth on You

Weezer - Undone - The Sweater Song
The New Pornographers - Falling Through Your Clothes
Prince - Rasberry Beret

Sonic Youth - Dirty Boots
Black Sabbath - Jack the Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots
Bob Dylan - Boots of Spanish Leather

Stephen Malkmus - No More Shoes
Akron/Family - Shoes

They Might Be Giants - Nightgown of the Sullen Moon
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention - Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance
The Magnetic Fields - Underwear
Ex-Models - Brand New Panties

Beck - Feather In Your Cap
Yo La Tengo - Autumn Sweater
Spoon - Fitted Shirt

The Clash - All the Young Punks (New Boots and Contracts)
Boyracer - My New Shoes
Paul Simon - Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes

Elvis Costello and the Attractions - Green Shirt
Tom Waits - Pasties and a G String
Gram Parsons - The New Soft Shoe

Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones - Black Slacks
Neko Case - Soulful Shade of Blue
The Mountain Goats - Thanks for the Dress
Nick Drake - Clothes of Sand

Fugazi - Nice New Outfit
The Dukes of Stratosphear - Your Gold Dress

Jeremy Enigk - Shade and the Black Hat

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Star Fuckers - January 6, 2008

Our first battle of the new year! It was a fierce one as we traded snaps regarding celebrities. Politicians, musicians, former brainwashed militants, dead movie stars and more all made appearances during this exploration through song of the jetset lifestyles of the rich & famous. Let's reminisce...

Mountain Goats - You're So Vain
Islands - Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby
The Ramones - My Brain is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)
Yo La Tengo - Tom Courtenay

Tullycraft - The Lives of Cleopatra
Modest Mouse - Bukowski
Billy Bragg and Wilco - Ingrid Bergman

Wesley Willis - Kurt Cobain
Nirvana - Francis Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle
Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers - Pablo Picasso
David Bowie - Lady Stardust

Frank Black - Two Reelers
TMBG - Meet James Ensor
Dead Milkmen - Going to Graceland
Sebadoh - The Freed Pig

Neil Young - Pocahontas
The Kinks - Victoria
The Clash - The Right Profile
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Jo Jo's Jacket

Archers of Loaf - Ethel Merman
Misfits - She
The Dead Kennedys - California Uber Alles
Fugazi - Cassavetes

Sonic Youth - Tunic (Song for Karen)
Unrest - Cath Caroll
Smudge - Don't Want To Be Grant McLennan

The Pogues - Jesse James
Mississippi John Hurt - Casey Jones
Matthew Sweet - Winona

Sufjan Stevens - John Wayne Gacy jr.