What's More Unbelievable?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

I Think I Like the Jaw Disorder Better

Tomorrow night is band theme song night on the Battle. While searching for tunes that fit the bill this week I've been surprised to find how many there are out there. Gwar has one, which makes sense, but so do the Pipettes. Mothra and I are culling the best of the best for the show so tune in if you can. One song which I was sure I'd play is "Theme Song" by Too Much Joy but after revisiting it 10 years or so after my last listen, I can't bring myself to inflict such misery on the audience. I used to love this band, or at least I loved their third album Cereal Killers. It came out when I was 14 and seems perfectly suited to the juvenile concerns and sense of humor of a 14 year old. Their songs about pirates, Frankenstein and The King of Beers were just a hair cooler than "Weird Al" Yankovic and equally silly so I loved them instantly. Plus their jangly college rock sound went down smooth and easy. I sold all my TMJ cds long ago and never looked back although I've always had a special place for them in my heart. After listening to most of the album again, I'm slightly embarrassed for my teenage self and the guys in the group. It's way overproduced, there's some popping funklite basslines that haven't aged well and most mysteriously, there's a lot of growling in the vocals. A lot. It's pretty weird. Anyhow, here's the song that won't make the cut tomorrow night. I'm sure you'll agree that it's subpar at best and uncomfortably similar to Barenaked Ladies "If I Had $1,000,000" at worst.

Theme Song - Too Much Joy

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Singing Love Songs to a Disembodied Head

Push play to listen while you read.

I just started reading Alex Ross' incredible book, The Rest Is Noise, which covers the breadth of classical music in the twentieth century - a topic dear to my heart. I first fell in love with this stuff in college and have been fascinated by it ever since. The amount of differing genres and experimentations in the last century are innumerable and I can't wait to revisit them all in this giant tome. As I cycle through the years, I'll no doubt be inspired to share some of my favorite pieces here.

Today's gem is from Richard Strauss' opera Salome, which upon its debut in Graz was lovingly dubbed "satanic" by critic Ernst Decsey. Strauss had a knack for choosing thought provoking and controversial subject matter. As Ross writes:

"In his songs, Strauss made a point of setting poets of questionable reputation - among them Richard Dehmal, infamous for his advocacy of free love; Karl Henckell, banned in Germany for outspoken socialism; Oskar Panizza, jailed for 'crimes against religion, committed through the press' (he had called Parsifal 'spiritual fodder for pederasts'); and John Henry Mackay, the biographer of Max Stirner and the author of The Anarchists, who, under the pen name 'Sagitta,' later wrote books and poems celebrating man-boy love."

You can clearly see, he had the lock on awesome source material. Salome was no different. Using Oscar Wilde's play, Salome, as its base, Strauss' opera tells the story of a Judaean princess who performs the infamous Dance of the Seven Veils for her stepfather, Herod, before demanding the unusual (even for early 1st century standards) reward of John the Baptist's head. So enjoy the final scene as Salome sings a demented love song to the disembodied head of the future patron saint of Puerto Rico. The music perfectly captures her insanity, vacillating between gauzy swooning and unsettling dissonance. After her gorgeous solo, Herod decides he has seen enough and orders the guards to crush her to death as the orchestra shrieks, abruptly ending the opera and leaving the audience in stunned silence.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Grabs You By the Seat Of Your Pants

MGMT - Kids
Bon Iver - Woods
Hot Chip - Wrestlers

Can - Yoo Doo Right
Animal Collective - Summer Clothes

Sigur Ros - Gobbledigook
The Apples In Stereos - Sun Is Out
Akron/Family - Running, Returning

A.C. Newman - There are Maybe Ten or Twelve...
The Dodos - Jody
Crooked Fingers - Cannibals
Empire of the Sun - Walking On a Dream

Ratatat - Mi Viejo
Fleet Foxes - Quiet Houses
Pavement - Unfair
Shearwater - Century Eyes

Crystal Castles - Black Panther
Guided By Voices - The Brides Have Hit Glass
High Places - From Stardust to Sentience
Built to Spill - Out of Site

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Maps
Explosions In The Sky - With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept
My Bloody Valentine - Come In Alone

Queen - Lily of the Valley
The Decemberists - Eli, the Barrow Boy
Andrew Bird - Anonanimal
Little Joy - Don't Watch Me Dancing

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Good Candidate For Best Day

Tuesday was pretty amazing. A momentous event unlike any I've seen before that had me giddily anticipating the date for weeks beforehand. On January 20, 2009, A.C Newman, Andrew Bird and Animal Collective all released new albums. An astounding windfall of awesomeness and that's just the A's. I've already mentioned Animal Collective's bewitching Merriweather Post Pavilion but the other two records are also pretty wonderful after the initial listens. More whistling brilliance and violin serenades from Mr. Bird and another heaping helping of slow burn classics and finely crafted pop gems from Mr. Newman.

But what about Mr. Obama? Doesn't he merit a mention on this otherwise historic day? Of course he does and not just for the obvious reasons that his groundbreaking ascension to presidency is such a big deal and not just because he has already created a world of change in the discouraged and disappointed across the nation. Today I salute Obama not just for his intelligence or his command of the language or his seemingly well grounded moral compass but also for his refined taste in music. Maybe I'm being petty but I just feel better having a Wilco fan in the White house.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Open Up Your Throat

Years ago, when I lived in Baltimore, I worked with a woman who was taking a year off between high school and college. I was working in the AV department of a college library where the summers are typically dreadfully slow, except when the horrid Montessori student teachers would descend on us for their multi-week training session. It was great having her around because she was pretty out of the loop when it came to pop culture so I got to introduce her to masterpieces like the final episode of Freaks and Geeks and this insanely bizarre collection of Survival Research Labs videos that we had in our collection. She repaid this cultural education by telling me interesting stories about going to a Waldorf school where they banned tvs and did knitting as part of their course work. Coming from my media-saturated suburban upbringing, this was a world I never knew existed and I love hearing about it.

Our conversations eventually turned to music and she told me about her brother who went by the name Panda Bear and recorded odd, experimental music that she respected but didn't really get. There was a local bookstore which featured avant garde musicians every once in a while and one night her brother and some friends put on a show there that got them banned from the performance space for good. Something involving fake blood and/or chicken feathers leading to a horrible mess in the bathroom. At the time, I was obsessed with experimental music and I wanted to know more about this guy but she soon left for college in Vermont, he went back to Brooklyn and I went back to managing boring student workers and helping the jocks fulfill their Spanish video requirements.

Years later I met up with her again and by this time, her brother's group Animal Collective was starting to get a bunch of good press and become a pretty big deal in some music circles. Sung Tongs and its surprising melodicism had brought them a whole new audience. She gave me a copy of Feels saying that she still didn't fully understand where it all came from but it was her favorite so far. I found, and still find, this fascinating. To have a sibling who you are close with but who creates music that puzzles you and causes you to wonder, at some level, who is this person? By making this music, it allowed her to see a part of her brother she was not privy to otherwise. Listening to songs someone wrote is always a way of peeking into that person's soul but to have such a close realtionship with the author adds a whole other level that intrigues me as you are no longer simply a passive observer but someone with a more intimate knowledge of the creator which colors the whole experience.

Listening to their albums, I can only imagine what it must be like for her to hear this musicas it is so personal and mysterious and emotional and unlike anything else out there. Animal Collective just released their latest album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, and it's stunning and brilliant and makes me love them even more. So who are these guys making these insane albums full of whimisical madness and crushing joy? They seem perfectly normal in interviews but they certainly have touched on something otherworldly and ethereal. Animal Collective's songs are strangely timeless and timelessly strange and right now they are one of my favorite things in this world.

Brother Sport.mp3 - Animal Collective

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Visit from Rodan, Martin & John

Famous People! Extra Monster! Insufferable Patter!

The Martin Luther Kinks - Seasonal Reign
The Kinks - Mr. Churchill Says
David Bowie - Andy Warhol

The Two Man Gentleman Band - William Howard Taft
They Might Be Giants - James K Polk
Neil Young - Campaigner

The Pixies - Alec Eiffel
Futureheads - Man Ray
Beulah - Gene Autry
Interpol - Leif Erikson

Neko Case - John Saw That Number
Beastie Boys - Shadrach
Silver Jews - Rebel Jew
The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again

Chuck Berry - Roll Over Beethoven
Uncle Tupelo -Acuff-Rose
fIREHOSE - In Memory of Elizabeth Cotton
Tom Lehrer - Alma

R.E.M. - Exhuming McCarthy
Pitchblende - A Penny For The Guy
John Wesley Harding - Hitler's Tears
Neutral Milk Hotel - Holland, 1945

Steve Martin - King Tut
Spinal Tap - Stonehenge

Fess Parker - Davy Crockett
Dion - Abraham, Martin & John

Lilys - Leo Ryan (Our Pharaoh's Slave)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Goodnight RZA. Goodnight GZA.

What makes good music to fall asleep to? Something quiet, perhaps. It seems appropriate to choose something soothing and not too intrusive. For Dorian, my 3 year old son, it's the Ramones. They are probably his favorite band at the moment and he'll listen to them in any situation but you can always tell he's ready for a nap when he comes to you in the middle of the day and asks you to put a Ramones cd on. He's typically asleep by song 2. I was recently playing the guitar so he and and I could have a sing along jamboree and I asked him what bands/songs he wanted to play next. "The Ramones!" he shouted. I should have seen it coming but I didn't so after fumbling through 3 or 4 of their songs I looked over to him and found him nodding off on the couch. Songs about Burge King and slugs are apparently the ultimate sleep aid. Try it on yourself sometime.

When I was in 4th grade I would fall asleep to the radio every night, making use of the sleep function on my clock radio. Top 40 radio was my Nyquil of choice at the time and some nights were more sleep inducing than others. I was usually out within the 30 minute limit I set up but one particularly special night saw me pushing the limits as the dj was debuting an amazing single by new (to me) band Bon Jovi. "You Give Love a Band Name" woke me out of my slow descent into slumberland and had me up for a while pondering the awesomeness of what I had just heard. For some reason, I was certain that they must look like Menudo, all clean cut and super cool. I was more than a little surprised when I saw the video later that week and discovered that my night time imaginings were horribly, horribly misguided.

My favorite story of music to fall asleep to involves my friend Kevin. His cd collection was always horribly organized and it got to the point where none of the cases actually matched the cds inside. Instead of trying to amend the situation he turned it into a game. When he was ready to go to sleep, he would search through his cd piles, scattered across the floor of his room like a rug, and pick the case of an album that would be a nice, calming end to the day. It didn't matter to him what was inside, by choosing that case he had committed to listening to whatever cd was within. One time he opted for the case of a soft and pleasing record, early Palace Brothers or Slowdive or something, and ended up with The Wu-Tang Clan. It must have been a rough night trying to drift off to dreams with ODB barking in his ear.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Rise of the Lycans

TV On The Radio - Wolf Like Me
Wolfmother - Woman
The Nomads - Where The Wolf Bane Blooms

The Mountain Goats - Up the Wolves
Cat Power - Werewolf
Iron and Wine - Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)

Matt Sweeney and Bonnie "Prince" Billy (Superwolf) - Death In The Sea
Syd Barrett - Wolf Pack
Sea Wolf - You're A Wolf

Howlin' Wolf - Nature
Sam the Sham - Little Red Riding Hood
Wolf Parade - We Built Another World
Misfits - Wolfsblood
Lone Wolf and Cub - I Will Hammerpunch Your Clavicle

Les Savy Fav - What Would Wolves Do?
X - The Hungry Wolf
Guitar Wolf - Fujiyama Attack

Voxtrot - Raised By Wolves
R.E.M. - Wolves, Lower
Wolfie - Forget About Friday
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Fin, Ch'han dal Vino from Don Giovanni

Marijuana Wolf - Hell Yeah
Gemini Wolf - Sleep Marchers Sleep
Peanut Butter Wolf and Oh No - Oh Zone
Dead Prez - Wolves

Ramones - Howling at the Moon (Sha La La)
Los Lobos - El Cuchipe
Peter and the Wolf - Where Summer Goes
Bon Iver - The Wolves (Act I and II)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Get That Glow Stick Out Of My Face

On Thursday, Jerry Greenfield (Jerry from Ben & Jerry's) visited where I work to scoop ice cream for all the employees and share some hilarious stories about the birth and eventual loss of his company. He talked about the trials of trying to sell ice cream in Burlington in the winter when it was 20 below and let us know about Ben's penchant for cooking octopus over an open fire. It was fun to hear our founders and Jerry trading stories about two Vermont based businesses that were started by people who had no grand designs and no idea what they were doing really. It was also fun to get out of work for an hour and eat a giant bowl of ice cream.

Listening to Jerry made me think of my short lived infatuation with Phish, that much reviled Vermont institution who, even though much of their output bores/bugs me, I love dearly. They're a bunch of dorky guys who are so totally obsessed with music and being goofy that I can't help but hold a special place for them in my heart. Back in 1999 & 2000, I had a chance to see Phish twice and loved the shows, especially the second of the two. Instead of the noodlery that they were famous for, at this stage in their career, Phish seemed more interested in exploring waves of sound and playing long, spacey interludes than simply "jamming" which is a word that typically makes me gag.

Due to various reasons (burnout, personality conflicts, a high consumption of non-prescription drugs) the band has had various hiatuses and reunions since then. They recently announced a 10 day tour this summer and I would love love love to go see them at one of the shows. Say what you will about their fans, their music, their song titles, etc. but they know how to put on a show and any band who consistently plays 3 sets a night for upwards of 3-4 hours is alright in my book. As I said, I don't love everything they do and the whole tailgating, burrito eating, "I need a miracle" element of the fanbase can be annoying but for someone as fascinated by Frank Zappa, musical exploration and prog rock as I am, they push many of the buttons that make me salivate and beg for more. Jimbama is also looking to luck into a ticket because the man's got a hacky-sack jones like nobody's business.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Revisiting the Classix: Squirrel Nut Zippers

Did the swing revival really happen or was it all a fever dream? I remember Listmaker sharing his copy of Squirrel Nut Zippers' 1995 debut The Inevitable and quickly falling in love with the sound of a bunch of North Carolinians doing the Lindy hop. I remember seeing "Swingers" and developing a serious man crush on Vince Vaughan. I remember hearing tales of an absurdly named band from out west called Cherry Poppin' Daddies and thinking that name would get them exactly nowhere. And then all of a sudden Gap ads are on tv showing squeaky clean kids leap frogging each other to the crazee sounds of Louis Prima and "Zoot Suit Riot" is somehow a national hit and the words "Cherry Poppin' Daddies" are on everyone's lips? I guess the revival really did happen but now I wonder was it all as lame as it seems in retrospect and were all these bands just cashing in on a trend?

The only group lumped into the whole "swing revival" movement that I cared about was Squirrel Nut Zippers and they never seemed to jive with all the rest of the bowler behatted dapper fellows in bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy or Royal Crown Revue. Instead of looking to Louis Prima or Cab Calloway for inspiration, they seemed more obsessed with Billie Holliday and Django Rienhardt. More gypsy jazz, less 23 Skidoo.

Hot is the album that put Squirrel Nut Zippers on the map. It still holds up incredibly well probably because it seems less like a band riding a fad and more like a bunch of young jazz freaks somehow stumbling into the national spotlight for a brief period before resuming their anonymity. This album came out in 1996 and 2 short years later when the followup Perennial Favorites was released, Squirrel Nut Zippers were a distant memory in American pop culture, handily replaced by Limp Bizkit and their mook rock brethren. I don't mourn for the short career of Squirrel Nut Zippers but I do still have fond memories of my infatuation with them and the 3 albums I have are all fantastically played and extremely listenable. They, for the most part, avoided the horn saturated silliness that tainted the neo-swing groups and that consistently works against all modern ska bands.

What I like best about this band, and this album in particular, is their restraint. Groups like The Brian Setzer Orchestra are always trying to turn it up to 11 with their squawking horns and amped up in-your-face energy but Squirrel Nut Zippers understand that they don't need to stick your head in the bell of trumpet to get you excited. Album opener "Got My Own Thing Now" is a brilliant beginning full of incredible interplay between the musicians and will get you dancing straight away without the need for a giant neon sign reading "SWING!" Along with their toe tapping, revved up numbers, they are also able to write gorgeous ballads as long as you can stand Katharine Whalen's bizarre, Billie Holliday aping vocal mannerisms. "Meant to Be" is an incredibly tender and lovely song that I can't imagine coming from any other band from the era. Squirrel Nut Zippers are a sadly underrated band tainted by the bad memories of the plastic 90s. They really captured the heart and the joy of the music of the 20s and 30s without being a cliche or a parody. More jump and jive, less of the wail.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Book Review: Swordfishtrombones

If you are a music obsessive like me, simply listening to an album over and over again isn't enough for you. You want to read interviews with the musicians, pore over the liner notes, study the artwork, read the thank yous and memorize the name of their music publishing company. For the complete music nerd, the 33 1/3 series of books is a pure joy. Each book is an in depth examination of some classic album or other. Many are vaunted records by the usual suspects (The Clash - London Calling, The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street, Nick Drake - Pink Moon) but they also have some oddball choices too (The Afghan Whigs - Gentlemen, Celine Dion - Let's Talk About Love).

I've read a few so far and they're all pretty interesting but the quality of the book tends to depend more on the stylistic tics of the author and it can be torturous to find yourself at the mercy of a writer who has no interest in exploring the things you want to know about a cherished favorite. I can't imagine any of the books topping Kim Cooper's endlessly fascinating story of how In the Aeroplane Over the Sea came to be. The exuberance and chaos of the album pour forth from every page but not every entry in the series is as magical as this one. Andy Miller nearly kills all enjoyment of The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society by getting waaaaay too in-depth about the recording process and Matthew Stearns tries a bit too hard to be hip and neo-beat with his writing on Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation. Meat is Murder was turned into a fictional tale by Joe Pernice but it somehow manages to be both an interesting short story and a impressionistic summation of the album's themes. John Darnielle just published a semi-fictional account of Black Sabbath's mammoth Master of Reality and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

I recently finished David Smay's well researched examination of Swordfishtrombones by Tom Waits. I was never a huge fan of Tom Waits' early albums recorded during his jazzhobohemian era and of the eight albums he recorded during that period, only Small Change still remains in my collection. With Swordfishtrombones, Tom Waits got a lot more interesting and his albums took a dramatic shift towards the wonderfully bizarre. The book touches on all aspects of his career and how his collaborations with Kathleen Brennan brought him to his creative apex and allowed him to fully explore his twisted creativity. He also sums up Tom Waits' gravitation towards the raw, dirty and bizarre with this fantastic line: "Tom Waits writes the kind of blues that has snoots in it." Indeed. I highly recommend this exploration of a modern classic to anyone even remotely interested and if you want me to send you my copy, let me know. I will happily trade with anyone as my goal is to eventually read every entry in this ever growing series and continue feeding my addiction.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

X and the Ys

Elvis Costello and the Attractions - Riot Act
Jonathan Richmon and the Modern Lovers - Roadrunner 1
Prince and the Revolution - Let's Go Crazy

Booker T and the MGs - Outrage
Kool & the Gang - Rhyme Tyme People
Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces - Searching For My Baby
Huey Lewis and the News - Stop Trying

Kenny Rogers and the First Editions - Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Even the Losers
Eddie and the Hot Rods - Do Anything You Wanna Do
Richard Hell and the Voidoids - Blank Generation

Billy Riley and His Little Green Men - Flyin' Saucers Rock 'N' Roll
Johnny Kidd and the Pirates - Shakin' All Over
Joe Bennett & the Sparkletones - Boys Do Cry
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts - Victim of Circumstance
Pinocchio and His Puppets - Fusion

Neil Young and the Shocking Pinks - Cry, Cry, Cry
Dick Dale and the Deltones - Del Tone Rock
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band - Bandlands

Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans - Why Do Lovers Break Each Others Hearts
Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers - Teenage Love
Reparata & the Delrons - I'm Nobody's Baby Now
Neko Case & Her Boyfriends - We've Never Met

Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys - White House Blues
Iggy Pop and the Stooges - I Wanna Be Your Dog
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Hopscotch Willie

Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers - Soldier's Joy
Ko and the Knockouts - If I
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - Biomusicology
Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band - Vampire Suite
Stella Chiweshe and the Earthquake - Sawura Wako

Sidney Bechet and His New Orleans Footwarmers - Preaching Blues