Tuesday, June 27, 2006

black fireworks

Bad night's sleep last night.

Not entirely sure why, I was fairly well exhausted from the prior night's little spat with insomnia, but once our dog got to barking right as I was looking down at the flowery ravine of sleep (probably about midnight), I slipped the groove and was lost for a couple of hours. Many things spinning around my mind, things I need to do, things I haven't done, things other people need to do, things I couldn't do that night because of my burning eyes from all that sleep I wasn't getting the NIGHT BEFORE...so you see it was easy to fall into the little malfunctioning loop that makes our little inner computers belch the viral program "Don't sleep."

I never get out of bed. People say you should when you have insomnia, but to me that's surrendering. I get up I turn on the TV, I crack a book, that's fifteen minutes, at least, in the journey where I'm not trying to sleep. And to not try, well, then you're just awake. So, stubbornly, I'm not awake, but I'm also not sleeping.

"Rabbit in Your Headlights," by UNKLE

This song sounds like insomnia feels, except when I can't sleep Danny Aiello hardly ever shows up in my dreams to murmur soothing things about death, dying and angels. Perhaps he should.

I don't know if I had insomnia the night I found the video for this song on MTV2 or something, but I know it was late at night (and, for that matter, I'm pretty sure the main character in Jonathan Glazer's little opus has a wicked case.

(No, wait a minute, it's pretty vital you see that video. If you never have you're in for something great)

Really nice atmospheric stuff here from the pairing of DJ Shadow and Thom Yorke, held on the shoulders of one of the darkest piano leads committed to tape. The song's narrator, as the title might indicate, is a victim--or sure sounds like one backed by Shadow's hissing paranoia and gloom. He's tired but still fighting, he just can't help himself. It's like beating your head against the wall but...I can see that wall's about to give. I can tell the guy is strong, but with a little help from the video we can see how strong. We should all be so lucky.

Friday, June 23, 2006

bleary eyed and on the wing

Good morning, fellow citizens.

The world looks different when you're forced to see it at six a.m. I don't want to incur the wrath of those of you out there who wake up at this unpleasant hour on a regular basis by saying how terribly unfair it was I had to wake up so early, but suffice to say it's not how I prefer to operate. And it's unfair.

Of course it was work's idea, but luckily I didn't have to go to my biege little desk surrounded by biege little walls and biege marled carpeting. Have you counted the number of shades of biege in the average office? It's fairly remarkable, like some experiment in color denial. It was promised a few months ago that our area would be spiffed up very soon and made into a less-hostile place to be, but, well, that seems to have been tabled for now. And really, short of ripping down five hundred flourescent light fixtures and punching about 36 holes in the wall to allow natural light onto our pink little faces, what could be done? A pig in a prom dress is, after all, still a pig.

But that's neither here nor there. The point is I rolled out of bed, rested my head on the kitchen table while my antique laptop booted up, and Got The Job Done. The world out there, oh it'll get its entertainment fix, you can bet that. You're welcome, world.

So ANYWAY, I've got a couple of hours now until I have to return to the hive and I've resolved to do something productive with it. (Hello, everyone.) But before going off to the gym or something completely ridiculous, I need to wake up. The bagel didn't do it. Taking out the trash didn't do it. And watching the dog consider releasing a bowel movement in the backyard, well, that wasn't much of a jolt to the senses either. So, yes, this is a song cue if I've ever heard one.

'Supernaut,' by Black Sabbath

Woe to you, oh cloudy thoughts and tired limbs. Flee, motivational difficulties and wee crunchy granola lingering in the corners of my eyes. Tremble under the weathered boot of BLACK (expletive) SABBATH.

I swear, I'm not some mullet-bearing metal-head (despite some of my prior posts). In the future, honest, I'll lay down some of the acoustic stuff that's made friends gently tease me about my age. The jazz stuff that's made other friends question my ears, or at times, my hygiene (the hippies, they love their jazz). But, yes, again it's time for the Big Rock Bang Bang.

Sabbath is stupid. We know that, it's part of their charm. A lot of great rock and roll is proudly, profoundly, perfectly stupid. The Ramones. AC/DC. The Beach Boys? Singing about surfing and sun? Not that bright, man. There's plenty of rock out there that reaches transcendence through wit and coherence (Destroyer, Radiohead, Wilco and the like). But, if you need to just wake up, just shake your head and $#@%! get on with it, you need something from the back row of the class, something that sets aside the dictionary and musical theory books for cricket bats and pipe bombs.

Sabbath does that, probably better than anyone else, especially this track from the weirdly less-heralded album "Vol 4." Released in the magical year of 1972, "Vol. 4" is for the most part 50-odd minutes of coke-fueled metal excess (witness the jaw-droppingly ridiculous messianic front man cover image), but for a few tracks--"Supernaut" in particular--Sabbath is every bit the leather-clad top fuel dragster your older brother always said them to be.

The gargantuan, driving riff that carries the song sounds like someone playing a Gibson SG with a Harley Davidson. The drums sound like street repair. And Ozzy, well, he's Ozzy. He's not a mumble-mouthed drip like we've seen on MTV. He's 45 feet of heavy metal godhead, screaming against all that unholy racket and rising directly above it.

I first heard this song prior to Primal Scream's set for their "XTRMTR" tour. They were still setting up and I was dealing with the odd sensation of really--no, REALLY--enjoying a song that could've only been from Black Sabbath. Black Sabbath? I mean, that voice. That continent-sized guitar. This was Sabbath, my brother's band of choice in the early '80s, and this was me, an indie free jazz shoegaze dance rock-loving twenty-something in L.A. in 2000. What the hell was going on? I had to find the song and buy it immediately.

Time to wake up.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

like a cast shadow

Have this nice little post about last night's belated viewing of "Walk the Line" percolating in my head, but since I woke up late I figured I'd pass along a little something to further the little rah-rah "Work=Bad" post from yesterday.

And, lo, there was color-blocked synthpop.

Let me add that I'm not a fan of the Faint (though, I have to admit, I liked Depeche Mode the first time around). And, as an aside, what the hell happened to these guys? Along with Captain Bright Eyes they were doing as much as Alexander Payne to put Omaha on the pop cultural map. Then, *poof* everyone seemingly decided at once that they'd rather feed their 80s revival needs from another source. Very odd--or maybe not. Maybe this is just what happens when you put out an album with an icky title like "Wet From Birth."

ANYWAY, this in my book is the peak of the Faint, all angry synths and flattened out Soft Cell vocals. I could've posted the song and been done with it (and still may), but I think it gains a bit of steak once you add in the undeniably awesome (flash?) animated video. Really impressive stuff with Reservoir Dog-suited worker bees jumping in front of Rhino-fronted subway trains. The video may be a little dated since it probably went 'viral' (in the parlance of our time) a few years ago, but all work still makes pretty little homes.

Also...if you enjoyed the Akron/Family magic that was laid down yesterday, take in this fun little live set they delivered in WNYC studios last November. Fun stuff, if a little disjointed by the enthusastic yet oddly somnabulent words of the show's host. Why do so many public radio DJs sound so similar? Discuss and show all work.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

feeling the spirit

Dayjobs suck.

Hardly a controversial stance, I realize, but I felt it needed to be said. I'm not just speaking metaphorically, no, they really and actually do in fact suck. They suck out your energy, your spirit, your desire to put down the remote/beer/cat and create something. Or at least mine does.

There's probably a few people out there within the sound of my little megaphone who have dayjobs that are actually what you would be doing anyway, regardless of pay. In fact, for the sake of the future of our society, I'd like to pretend most of you are so lucky. But based on the thumbnail sketch I've worked up among my friends, damn near no one enjoys their job. "Politely tolerates" is probably a better description. This is something we donate 8-10 hours of our lives doing, and a high percentage of us would so much rather be doing something else, but we've grown to appreciate the paycheck, the security of a 401K humming around in the background, and the comfort of knowing that if you trip over a curb and shatter your clavicle that the health care provided by your ever-loving employer will mend you back to health.

So you try and make do with your job, make your peace with it. You compromise. Maybe when you get home you just want to relax and forget the last few hours, like me. Watch a few images flicker on the blue box in your living room and giggle at the funny, funny things. Then you go to bed when you're tired and before you go to sleep you make a silent promise that tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow you'll stop kicking and maybe find the joy in your job, or, even better, you'll come home and work on Your Own Thing, something that's better than what you use to fill your refrigerator and that one day, hopefully, you'll be doing full time instead.

Maybe you make good on that promise, or maybe you have a bad day, a long day, and you just want to rest when you get home. Shut down. Watch the funny, funny things. And the circle goes round and round.

I think this explains the popularity of "American Idol."

So, it's times like these where I need a boost, particularly when it's been a few weeks since I've been able to sit in front of a keyboard and watch anything meaningful spill from my fingertips. Maybe it's the flourescent lights I sit under, maybe it's the basic brain atrophy instilled by said day job.

Today's boost is brought to you by Akron/Family.

"Raising the Sparks," by Akron/Family with M. Gira

Psychedelic rock as tent revival. For those of you put off by the overused rubric "psychedelic," don't be. In fact, come with me and above all come along with them and take in this celebration.

The curtain rises with this devilish guitar intro, sounding like some late 60s band trying to channel 'evil' in the days before Led Zeppelin copyrighted it. But then the bass and guitar swirl around eachother into this churning, trance-like melody and, harmonizing, Akron/Family release some nonsense about a man with sparks in his chest. Then, somewhere around the minute and a half mark, all hell breaks loose and the ritual begins. It's nothing complicated, just some melodic chanting built on repeating "yeah" over and over and faster and faster until just when you think it's only building a bridge to another part of the song it gets louder, more assertive and takes over. You can just imagine a gathering in the center of a forest with shirtless, bearded men circling a campfire as sparks fly upward. One is beating on a drum, another is beating on a wooden block while others are writing poetry, drawing shapes into the earth. Conjuring.

A minute later and the strangely spiritual nature of the proceedings takes hold, with the instruments dropping away until only gospel handclaps and exultations to "Raise the sparks!" remain, voices intermingling and joyeous noises and shouts that could be speaking in tongues all the way until the churning guitar lead comes back again and takes us home. Spent, but recharged.

Raise the sparks. They're still inside us, no matter what.

Buy Akron/Family's split with M.Gira here

Monday, June 19, 2006

serve the servants

(Weird. No matter what I do the word 'servants' somehow looks misspelled.)

Longer post coming later today, but I had to pass along this post that appeared on the LA Times' Vegas blog the other day. I'm not an avid reader or anything as much of the goings on in Sin City would make my eyes cloud over, but here's word on a nice little stunt the Hard Rock Cafe pulled with their very own autographed Kurt Cobain guitar. Seems the Hard Rock didn't like that Kurt scribbled "Fuck the Troops" on his guitar and thus scrubbed out the offending naughty word, leaving a guitar only saying the non-sequitor "The Troops!" greeting paunchy gamblers as they come in from the desert heat.

So how do you like that? Not surprising in the least given what a corporation like that is capable of, but is that their right given that, after all, it's their guitar now. Or, are they violating some sort of statute protecting Cobain's grafitti as 'art'? Unfortunately, I probably side with the former but it's still just a sad, disgusting thing to do. Hey, if you were going to go to a Hard Rock ice cream parlor or whatever it is they've got their thumbs in right now, don't. Actually, if you were going to go to such a place you should probably just close your browser and go look for music news from Tower Records. We're just not fit for eachother.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

horses and a fresh bottle


Last night was Calexico, joined by Black Heart Procession and Salvador Duran. This was my first night of live music since Coachella, which would be embarrassing if I could say I'd passed on a show that I really wanted to see since then. Yep, not to be a snob or a sloth but, well, I'm going to be a little bit of both. Hey, I'm a newly married man and I have a vivid recollection of the '80s (and parts of the '70s, for that matter). Seeing just any random show for the sake of seeing a show doesn't need to happen as often anymore.

HOWever, I do love me some Calexico. I'm not sure when that love really took hold--I think it may've been during the tour with Iron & Wine where they were trying out new material from the then-unreleased "Garden Ruin." It was that show where the Tucson band--at least to my mind--crossed over from an engaging southwestern-flavored curio to a multifaceted, genre-hopping powerhouse that can pull off anything from mariachi to straight-up pop to chaotic space rock--and all in a 45 minute set. (And, by the way, if you don't yet have "Garden Ruin," you really should.)

Opening the show was Black Heart Procession, who, to be fair, I certainly should like. They're moody, they're atmospheric, they sing about sad and probably morbid things and they do so bathed in blue and purple light. But for whatever reason I can't help pegging them as San Diego's Calexico but without the chops. Black Heart's a little more noir, sure, but all in all they just haven't grabbed me beyond a song or two. They're better live than on CD--particularly their more energetic, rock-geared side--but for the most part their midtempo stuff all started blending together. Working the bowed saw into your sound can do that. Although, I have to say, their look surprised me. For some reason a press photo of theirs from years past had me thinking they'd look like a Cuban lounge act (again, by way of San Diego), but in reality they were a lot more bearded and scruffed up than that. In fact, when the lead singer wasn't playing that saw or his guitar his long hair, gruff beard and sunglasses made the band briefly resemble a biker bar karaoke. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

"Why I Stay," by Black Heart Procession

Calexico, on the other hand, were solid. Their show hadn't changed much since that Iron & Wine date, though they did add a terrific guitar-driven detour midway through "Not Even Stevie Nicks" that was just gargantuan, and only assisted by a huge video screen projecting black and white footage of racing accidents. With horns, vibraphone, upright bass, and the occasional pedal steel, Calexico's blending of musical traditions doesn't feel like trying on a costume or searching for some exotic drama to back their songwriting; it's a genuine celebration.

Another nice surprise was the addition of Salvador Duran, who you may remember from his booming, oddly left-field contribution to "In the Reins." A beaming Joey Burns introduced him saying they had brought him along to "blow your mind," and after this 50-something Mexican man in a suit softly announced this was his first time in California he performed three songs that transformed the Henry Fonda Theater into a smoky ranchera bar in Monterrey. His fingers flickered across his guitar strings, his voice soared through the theater, and when his feet weren't stomping an amplified beat against a wooden box his mouth was somehow creating barnyard noises in time with the song. Joey Burns knew what he was talking about.

Calexico closed their set with one of Duran's original songs, which I'll surely misadentify as son if I try and place its roots, but suffice to say it involved an hypnotic call-and-response chorus between Duran and Burns, and you couldn't help but move along with it. For that night and at that moment, the border was a little closer.

And that's the beauty of Calexico, particularly during a time when parties are considering stringing a fence along the border not far from Calexico's home town. All this fear of people and languages and culture crossing from one side to the other without permission, but in their world, in the Henry Fonda theater that night, there were no borders, no need for fences. Just people, their music, and a good time. Powerful stuff.

Here's a sampling:

"Flathanded and on the Wing," by Calexico
(very noirish and sparse instrumental from the tour-only "Travelall"--yes it's 13 minutes and yes it's worth it)

"Crystal Frontier," by Calexico
(jangly and anthemic road music, from the tour-only "Aerocalexico"

Buy these from Calexico's site

Saturday, June 10, 2006

four on the floor and four in the air

Against better judgment and certainly against my physical capabilities, I headed out this morning at the unreasonable hour of 9 a.m. Granted, not such an unreasonable thing every other day of the week, but on a Saturday--on a Saturday with the faintest whiff of post-wine cottonmouth lingering--it was an irregular, if not unpleasant, wa to kick off your weekend. At least at first.

Not to ruin that kind of build-up, but it was really all right. My car was bathed without incident; I was allowed to sit and read (David Foster Wallace's first book of essays) undisturbed (though I think I made one portly fellow with yesterday's Sports page a bit uneasy as I sat down next to him to wait for my car); and my car was returned to me cleaner than I'd left it. There was some concern about the incredible amount of doghair still clinging to my trunk, but a trip to a 'traditional' drive-thru-and-wash-your-own-damn-car hut took care of that.

It was a cloudy morning. Every morning in June in Los Angeles is cloudy. I have to say it's something I've grown to love. It's sort of a gentle entry into the typically too-hot summer, like being taken out to dinner and fed a nice delicate dessert before being thrown against the wall and vigorously beaten about the head and shoulders.

But all in all, it was an uneventful trip. Except for one moment, a little bit of time I got to share with someone else out and about. There was this guy who accelerated by me in his black boxy sports car on the way home. I like to think his name is Cobra because that's what was written across his back window, along with an enormous cartoon rendering of a viper ready to strike that I assume was in accordance with the good people who made the black (5.0?) Mustang he was piloting. There wasn't an incident to be had here either, really, but as I briefly accelerated along with him through the intersection I caught a look at his face--as is my habit for people with odd cars or driving habits (and no, I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this).

The driver, Cobra, was probably in his late 30s or early 40s--hell, maybe he was my age, but the manner in which his life was spent had clearly diverged from mine. His face was a tanned and weathered topographical knot of valleys and grooves, highlighted by what appeared to be a still-healing gash along his left cheek. What had happened to Cobra? Was he in a recent knife-fight? Was he grazed by a thrown piston as he checked under his own or someone else's hood? Was this why he seemed in such a hurry?

Then he was gone, and we went about our Saturdays. G'bye Cobra. This one's for you...sorry about the length, I know you've got places to go.

"Cobra," by My Morning Jacket

Yes, this song's a little goofy, and yes, maybe it could've been wrapped up in 8 minutes instead of 24, but...you have to admire its spirit, its sense of the journey. It opens with a burgundy pleather jacket groove, with its rubbery disco bass and drums compressed nearly to a diamond's sharpness, the whole thing smells of muscle cars and cheap cologne. Jim James is calling out from the bottom of that well of his, warning that he knows somebody, and it seems like a pretty fun ride. Then the whole thing comes apart at around the 7:26 mark and becomes this noisy, wideopen blues-funk jam that comes close to rattling the whole song apart, but then a drum machine comes to the party and things get a little more hazy, a little more hypnotic. A Fender Rhodes stops by for a drink, then a lonely banjo ends the party with a chorus of angels. How'd we get here now?

The whole story could've only been resolved in 24 minutes. It's the Cobra, after all. You going to tell him no?

Buy MMJ's delicious 'Chocolate & Ice' EP.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

whipping the horse's eyes

With apologies to Calexico (who have an excellent instrumental of the same name on the equally excellent Feast of Wire), that's what this song sounds like.

Boris, "Pseudo-Bread"

I first heard Boris through a post on Coolfer pairing them with Sunn0))) as a study of the rise of dark metal on Southern Lord Records, which dovetailed nicely with a New York Times Magazine article from a week or so ago that was along the same lines.

(As an aside, why can't the Times Magazine do such things when I deign it appropriate to drop the five bucks? Last time I picked it up they did a long exposes on Google and its work in China. Certainly a more important story by many measures, but if given a choice I know which story I'dve turned to, and I think you're with me. Okay, back to the big rock sound.)

Boris aren't quite Sunn0))), on a lot of levels (that is, they use drums, vocals and some traditional song structure). The song posted on Coolfer was a lot brighter than the one I've posted here from these Japanese noisemakers, kind of like Sigur Ros and Mogwai in a knife fight. For this song, Mogwai has won, and for some reason they're torturing Billie Joe Armstrong with ropes and sticks. I'm not sure what Billie Joe is yelling about here, but since he hasn't sounded this serious--or this Japanese--in a few albums, I'm betting it's important. Meanwhile, the rest of the song stomps over your head and just keeps kicking like you tripped in front of a stage coach. And what's the stagecoach driver doing? See? It's a circle, it goes around.

Get some Boris in your life. No really.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

i shall be released

Y'ever just know you're about to embark on a crap day?

You're not even sure how it happened--you wake up perfectly fine, get out of bed without mashing your toe into your nightstand/dresser/bedframe, and manage to make some coffee without burning yourself and/or lighting your kitchen on fire. And yet...something's amiss. Something goes a little wrong, maybe it's just a little thing, and poof! you're hip deep in a morning grumpus. The entire day's suddenly thrown off its axis, and whatever lay ahead before that moment has suddenly started diverging toward something deeply other, something with Rube Goldbergian contraptions set in place to trip you up, slow you down and, yes, piss you off.

Turn to something good. In this case an old song twice removed, one that not only trumps the master but also reveals a new master's skills to be akin to that kid in the back of art class knuckle-deep in his right nostril:

"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," Them (Featuring Van Morrison)

You know the first few minutes of this song (even if you don't think you do). It's that languid, water-logged intro that Beck snaked for "Jack-Ass." You loved that little guitar or keyboard dither or whatever it was, didn't you? And not to take anything away from Beck, but, well, I'm going to take a little away from Beck. I mean, sample all you want, that's Mr. Hanson's gig, but what's really important is I can't believe that such a weird, warped sound came out of a band that was recording over 30 years ago. Effects pedals are magic. Never forget that.

And also never forget Van Morrison has been nicknamed 'the man' for a reason (and check out rbally's boot of a show of his from 1970 for further proof. No liquidy guitar textures that time around, just That Voice, all butterscotch and nails). Once that intro passes, all that's left is Van's youthful rasp, angry and resigned all at once, poking out above every part of the song like some crazy volcanic formation.

There. Today's not so bad, is it?

ps--I just noticed what today was. Awfully appropriate song to ease us into the End Times, don't you think? Bottom's up, fellow citizens.