Silence of the Links

I was online when it happened. I think I had just downloaded a Nirvana bootleg, despite wondering whether its contents were already on the “With the Lights Out” box I owned. I had recently downloaded, listened to, and dug on some Arthur Russell stuff a blog had posted, and decided to further investigate his oeuvre via the other links provided. Except that when I clicked on the link, it went to an FBI warning. Huh, that’s weird. Must be a stale link from a DMCA takedown request or something. I should really decide whether to download these things sooner, and not let them fester starred forever in my feeds. Tried another link, same result. Hmmm, OK, did I click on something funny and get my browser taken over? It was very strange that everything would be fine one second, and f’d the very next.

I was really bummed when Megaupload bit the dust. Of all the file deposit sites used by mp3/flac blogs, I very much preferred MU, because they didn’t engage in a lot of the usual nonsense of all the other sites, like throttling download speeds for non-paying users, annoying captcha stages, misleading “download” buttons/links, etc. Mr. Dotcom was a real stand-up dude that way. It was funny to learn more (or any, actually) info about MU. I had no idea that such money could be made from running one of those sites. I guess maybe I just figured they were some crazy freedom loving Swedes or Russkies or whoever, although I’m not sure I had even formulated that vague a conception of who they might be.

I have to say I was a bit surprised to see how scared shitless everyone suddenly became, with a number of other sites turning off file sharing capabilities or preventing all U.S.-based IP addresses from connecting. Even more mystifying and disappointing was that most of the music blogs I had been following threw in the towel and either stopped posting or erased their blogs, even though there still remained a number of other file sharing sites they could’ve used. Beyond other worries that could be mentioned, I guess it’s a bummer when all the music you’ve ever shared just got erased. People posted comments about the “end of an era” and “fun while it lasted” and “we had a good run of it for a while”, and so on. WTH, people?

With all that, it did start to feel like the end of the era. I’m hoping it’s just a pause, though. Really, I could use a pause. Especially with my recent nomadicity, I haven’t had a chance to listen to music as much as usual, and particularly not to recently downloaded stuff. And I have tons and tons of now bittersweetly stale MU links (among others) still in saved RSS posts. When I just had enough time I was sure to go through them all and figure out which of those many albums by artists known or unknown to me that either sounded vaguely intriguing, had supercool artwork, or had been raved about by the blog poster as classic and/or totally necessary, would be worth my time to download, tag, catalog, and eventually, maybe, actually listen to…

At least one blog I follow has finally snapped out of its non-musical funk and started posting again, albeit in a more careful manner. Hopefully more will follow. Those out-of-print lost-classic albums aren’t going to discover themselves, are they?

On a LavDi kick

Just listened to the studio version of this song about 35 times in a row.

This was taped in 2007. In other news, 2007 was half a decade ago and I have become old in body and spirit, though I was already. I have music tattooed on my brain. I pass by joggers with wires going into their ears and think, “why didn’t I think of that?”. What will people make of the 00’s anyways? Will they even have a reputation, musical or otherwise? Maybe that’s a good thing, I don’t know. All I know at this point is that skunks follow me wherever I go, sooner or later. They say cabin fever is worse than the skunk spray, but that’s just crazy talk.

Studio NewZ

My band is going in to the studio in April. We’re not a start up enterprise anymore; we’ve been playing together for almost two years now, so we’re of the opinion that all this time and focus should show. So we’ve been taking some added steps to insure success.

For starters, once we realized the band was pretty solid it drew back all the attention on the singing because ultimately that’s going to be the focus. And if your band’s name actually starts with the full name of the lead singer, well, even more so. So we started a looong search for a vocal coach which ended up with us finding this lady. Here I cut this part of the story short because we just engaged with Emily and I don’t have enough to report other than I’m excited about this. The approach is geared to exactly what we are doing: help us with our harmonies and phrasing on these songs of ours. This simple request is harder to find than you might think.

We also know which studio we are going in to and we know the set up. We know that while we can record live, we will have to wear headphones and we won’t be in the same room with all our gear.

In a way, this is a blessing for me since I’ve wanted to convince my band to rehearse using headphones so we could get improved recordings in our own studio. I went online to purchase a headphone amplifier/distributor and a couple more headphones. Here’s a shout out to Sweetwater Sound because this stuff was amazingly affordable. I hope to upload something for you from our own efforts because this has been very successful. I am equally excited about doing further recording at Studio 312 (our own studio) as I am about going in to Carter Co Recordings.

So. Our approach now to rehearsal from now until we are set to record mid-April is to focus on the six songs we plan to record. Play/record a bit with amps. And then play/record sans amps with headphones. I’m being very critical of all our bad breaks. And also of tone problems with guitars etc.

I hope this proves fruitful. Identifying issues is one thing. Successfully fixing them may be another.

And April could come way too soon.

Tithing the band

“There is a heavenly account with your name on it…Every seed of faith you have ever planted has been deposited in a heavenly account with your name on it…As you would receive a corresponding ‘receipt’ from a bank here on earth when you make a deposit, you are the holder of a heavenly receipt with God. And by your faith, you can tap into your heavenly account with God any time, according to His Word.”- Oral Roberts
 

OK, as I’ve made clear before, I have some basic issues with Kickstarter. Look, you think Hank Williams would have been on kickstarter?  Hell fucking no!  But that aside, there is a line to be crossed there where people take their audience for granted to such an egregious level that you may as well toss in poor ol’ Jesus’ name into the mix and get a show on TV.   Oral Roberts meet The Dirty Guv’nahs.  Now of course The Guv’nahs haven’t gone so far as to say that the lord will “call them home” if they don’t meet their goal but there is something just horribly sleazy to me in the way they grovel for cash.  Here is what you are greeted with on their website (emphasis mine):

We Are Partners! (Photo: Ashley Hoskins Photography)

“THANK YOU SO MUCH! We are completely amazed at how supportive you guys have been! This update is to let you know that The Campaign is Not Over! You have successfully helped us pay for the recording budget of this album ($20K)… but the overall cost of this album (including promotion, music video(s), mixing, mastering, and distribution) will easily approach $50,000! Because we have decided to stay independent, we will continue to stress the fact that You are our Record Label! THEREFORE… we have set some new goals, and we have created some new reward packages! GOAL #1. If we reach $30K then we will be able to pay for 3 Months of Publicity and Radio Promo…” and so on…

Wow! Does this sound a little familiar?

Oooooh, The Lawd has seen how ya Dirty Guv’nahs fa-yuns gave and he was evah so pleased but the right and powerful Lawd knows you can do bettah… much bettah. Sho we asked you for $20,000 and you gave that and moe, but the good Lawd wants you to dig evah so much deeper into that pocket.  Give more and the goood Lawd will favah ya with some new Reewa’d Packages. Hallelullia!!!! Amen Brothas and Sistahs.

Now, I know a lot of bands that can record an album a hell of a lot cheaper than $20K and those records can sound pretty solid.  Hell, I know people who recorded with Steve Albini for a hell of a lot less.  But that is neither here nor there, what gets me is that they turn around and ask for more?!!! What a bunch of fucking ungrateful douches!  You just got $20K… fuck no, you got $36K at this point and you still want more?  Wow!   Their fans may see it differetnly but all I can think of  when I see that picture of the band as they hold-up their cardboard sign at the corner of the digital intersection, is the words of the great Ignignokt whe he raised his middle finger and said…

"I hope he can see this 'cause I'm doing it as hard as I can."

 

All the boys think she’s a spy. . . or an undead creature of the night

My wife and I were watching some ’80s music videos this morning when she noticed something odd.

“Bette Davis Eyes,” by Kim Carnes (1981):

“Thriller,” by Michael Jackson (1982):

Kim Carnes, 1981:

Michael Jackson, 1983:

COINCIDENCE?!?!?! . . . .

On a sort of unrelated note, does anybody else find it odd that MJ’s date doesn’t notice that the guy in the movie they’re watching looks just like him?

Is Muppet rap funny?

Digging deep into the buried strata of pop culture from two months ago: I wasn’t a huge fan of The Muppets overall- too much sad, nondescript new guy, too little Swedish Chef– but the low point was definitely the song “Let’s Talk About Me,” the god-awful rap delivered by Chris Cooper’s villainous oil tycoon:

Entertainment Weekly described this scene (which features Cooper dancing around his office in a Muppet version of a rap video) as “brain-pausing, spit-take inducing lunacy” and “one of [the Muppets’] strangest big-screen moments.” I’ll grant that it’s a weird scene.

However, I don’t think the song or the scene themselves are all that weird. To understand this scene, you have to know that, because music was such a big part of the show, the world of the Muppets was tied in to pop music in a very deep way, even to the extent that there are Muppet characters (the Electric Mayhem) who have specific referents in the real world of rock and roll: Keith Moon, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Dr. John, Gato Barbieri. Numerous pop musicians appeared on The Muppet Show, and for pop music performances to happen on the show, so far from being remarkable, was part of its very structure.

But when The Muppet Show was on the air, hip-hop wasn’t much more than a gleam in the eye of a few DJs in the Bronx. The last widely seen Muppet film (The Muppets Take Manhattan) was made in 1984, the better part of a decade before the gangsta rap explosion. There’s no overlap between the world of the Muppets and the world of hip-hop.

Therefore, I don’t really think that what’s weird about this scene is the song or the action themselves. I think what’s weird about it is simply that the Muppets have never done a rap before. So the weridness is simply the incongruity of seeing a 60-year-old white man and a bunch of puppets performing a pastiche of gangsta rap.

In my opinion, that’s as far as the “joke” goes, because the song that Cooper performs here is really stupid. Sample lyrics:

I got more cheddar than some super-size nachos
Got cash flow like Robert has De Niros
I use more greens than Vincent Van Gogh
I make the baker make my bread out of dough
No, don’t eat it though- it’ll make you ill
There ain’t no flour in a hundred-dollar bill

As I mentioned, this is essentially a pastiche of a rap song, constructed out of the signifiers that are used in pop culture to represent rap lyrics: boasts about having money, expressed in the form of awkwardly phrased rhyming analogies and bad puns. Not only is this an old joke, it’s barely even a joke at all, because this is actually what some people think rap is. In fairness, this used to be sort of true- 20 years ago.

I don’t find this scene funny. But that doesn’t mean that the idea of finding humor in the juxtaposition of Muppets and rap music is completely without merit.

I think the Bert & Ernie one is my favorite, probably for the clip of Ernie rapping while Bert tosses and turns in bed.

Ultimately, the Muppets may have to engage with hip-hop in the same way they do with other pop music. Today, rap has been popular for nearly as long as rock and roll had been when The Muppet Show debuted, and if Mick “Bitch” “Rocks Off” “Sister Morphine” Jagger can be a Muppet, then surely the day can’t be too far off when Jay-Z, or at least ?uestlove, is rendered in felt.

Relevant:

Anyway, if the problem with “Let’s Talk About Me” isn’t simply that it relies on the juxtaposition of Muppets and rap, maybe the problem is that gag rap songs aren’t funny.

Let’s see if we can find some evidence for that.

Hrm.

The Community Christmas rap is especially instructive, because Donald Glover’s verse is a lot more enjoyable than Danny Pudi’s. Why? He’s a better rapper! Interestingly, Pudi’s most absurdly hilarious line:

If years were seasons, this December
Would be the December of our December

is similar structurally to one of Cooper’s from “Let’s Talk About Me:”

If something’s for sale consider it sold
I’ve got so much gold I gold-plate my gold

but the impact isn’t the same, because as mediocre as Pudi’s rapping is, Chris Cooper’s is downright TERRIBLE!

Sorry! I loved you in Lone Star, man.

So I think the lesson here is not that joke rapping isn’t funny, or that Muppets rapping isn’t funny, but that poorly performed rap isn’t funny (unless of course the joke IS that it’s poorly performed). Which makes sense; would it be funny to hear Chris Cooper performing a ridiculous folksong badly? No; it would be funny to hear a ridiculous folksong performed well:

Frankly I think it would be hilarious if Chris Cooper were a really good rapper. Unfortunately, it’s apparently not as easy as it looks.

To bring this all home, I feel like I need to point out that not only can rap be funny as a joke when it’s well-executed- it can be hilarious even when the music itself is not a joke. As someone who was into Weird Al (who has at least two other raps that I could have used above instead of “White and Nerdy!”) before any normal-people music, I think that’s one of the things I appreciate most about hip-hop.

Charm City Indie Rock Smackdown

The Village Voice’s Pazz and Jop poll, the definitive year-end music list compiled by surveys of critics all over the country, hasn’t come out yet. However, when it does, based on a completely unscientific survey of stuff I read and people I know, I’ll be surprised if the album Civilian, by the Baltimore band Wye Oak, doesn’t appear on that list somewhere.

That is to say, people seem to like this record quite a lot. I bought a copy after watching their performance on Late Night.

Most of the time, network TV performances from bands I like don’t do a lot for me. Sometimes things just don’t sound right. Or the clarity of the mix reveals that the singers can’t quite hit the notes they’re aiming for– much harder to look past in a recording, even a live one, than a concert. Or the performance reveals the limitations of the source material. Wye Oak’s performance, by contrast, benefits from a perfectly constructed song and Jenn Wasner’s powerful and skillfully deployed voice. And of course Andy Stack’s ability to play two instruments at the same time.*

Unfortunately, I must say I haven’t been able to get into the album the way I figured I would after seeing this performance. None of the other songs strike me as being as structurally perfect as “Holy, Holy,” and even with that song, the live version makes the album version sound a little tame. But that’s OK, that’s not really what I wanted to talk about anyway. Thinking about this album a while back, it struck me how much Wye Oak reminded me of another indie rock band from Baltimore, fronted by a woman gifted with a naturally beautiful alto-range voice, that recently put out an NPR-beloved album graced with a perfectly structured song.

Lower Dens, featuring former Houstonians Jana Hunter and Will Adams.

Obviously this isn’t an NBC-caliber performance video (or maybe it is, har har!), but I hope you’ll excuse that. The things that I love about seeing this song are the same things I love about the Wye Oak performance: the vocal performance, and the way the structure of the song transmits itself through the musicians.

However, while there are certain superficial properties shared between Wye Oak and Lower Dens, their music doesn’t sound very much alike. Civilian is light on guitar and drums; instead, the band uses keyboards and overdubs of Wasner’s voice to create rich, lush, glowing combinations of sounds. It’s a very warm and pleasant-sounding record, oriented around melody expressed vocally. That is to say, the aesthetic is “pop:” pretty songs, sung in a pretty way. (That’s a reductive way to put it, but as anyone who has performed in public can tell you, it’s a lot harder than it sounds!)

Lower Dens’ Twin-Hand Movement, on the other hand, is driven by thudding drums and twangy guitar. Both Hunter’s voice and the guitar are frequently masked by reverb and distortion. At times, the record is murky, dissonant, or just plain harsh. This isn’t to say the record’s not good. It’s very good. But its aesthetic is bohemian: it uses sounds that aren’t inherently pleasing to create compositions that are meaningful or striking- even beautiful, but not in the same way that Wye Oak’s songs are.

So even though Lower Dens and Wye Oak are playing the same kind of music, narrowly defined- “indie rock-” they’re doing it with aesthetics that are almost diametrically opposed. This isn’t even limited to the music itself; you can see it the song titles: the elevated “Holy, Holy” vs. the subversively gross “A Dog’s Dick.**” You can even see it in the way that the artists are marketed. Take a look at these press photos of the two bands, both used on Stereogum:


It’s dangerous to read too much into the apparent opposition here. It of course does not translate to any kind of relationship between the people in the bands. What’s interesting to me is that fact that two bands from the same city, playing the same kind of music at the same time, could end up artistically opposed in this way, however that may have happened. I think one of the defining characteristics of “indie rock,” at least to the extent that that phrase means anything anymore, is its ability to encompass both music that’s basically sub-mainstream pop and music that is underground for artistic reasons.

I started wondering if it there were other Janus-faced pairs of bands out there, where one had a “pop” and one a “weird” aesthetic.

Superchunk and Polvo, from Chapel Hill
Jawbox and Shudder to Think, From D.C.
The Sea and Cake and Tortoise, from Chicago
Silkworm and Shellac, from (Montana by way of) Chicago
Rocket from the Crypt and Drive Like Jehu, from San Diego
Sleater-Kinney and Unwound, from Olympia
Bright Eyes and Cursive, from Omaha
Parts & Labor and Pterodactyl, from Brooklyn

It occurs to me that a lot of the truly great bands of indie rock are capable to embodying both sides at the same time, or switching between them: Mission of Burma. The Melvins. The Pixies. Sonic Youth and Pavement are among the most skilled at this. I once saw the band Sebadoh described somewhere (the Atlanta alt-weekly Creative Loafing perhaps) as “is-it-punk/is-it-pop,” which I’d say is getting at the same thing. I think you could make an argument that some of the modern bands that have been consistently well-received in the indie rock world do this; I’m thinking specifically of Deerhunter and the Animal Collective. Women are another example, although they sit more on the “weird” side.

I think you could use this idea to construct a definition of the notoriously slippery idea of “indie rock” that’s about as good as any: rock music that sits somewhere on the continuum between pop and bohemian aesthetics, while- importantly- taking account of both of them. At least, that’s more or less how I’ve always thought of it.

Bonus Lower Dens!

* Aside for guitar nerds: check out Wasner’s fingering. If I recall correctly, she plays this song tuned to D#-G#-C#-G#-B#-F, which is a half step up from D-G-C-G-B-E, which is a variation on a tuning called Taro Patch, which is used in Hawaiian slack-key guitar. The hell?
** True, Twin-Hand Movement does have a song called “Holy Water,” but it also has a song called “Two Cocks Waving Wildly at Each Other Across a Vast Open Space, a Dark Icy Tundra,” so I think on balance my characterization is justified, much as this entire post is justified by the opportunity to type the name of that song.

The Things My Friends Did

I realized something a couple of days ago: in 2011, for the first time since 1999, I didn’t set foot in a recording studio1. That makes me a little sad. But not too long went by before I realized that every year I hear more records that I like from friends and people I know. That cheers me up a lot, and I thought it would be fun to round these up, as a celebration of all the talented musicians I’m lucky enough to know. In more or less chronological order, I present: the year in music made by my friends.2


Bull Thieves

Technically this came out on December 28, 2010, but fuck it, because I really like this and I want to talk about it. This is a new project from Lance Walker of Hands Up Houston, Ojet Records (which is apparently active again!) and whole bunch of Houston bands. This is by far my favorite thing that he’s done; it’s a mix of heavy guitars and electronics, with some really strong melodies. It reminds me a lot of Justin Broadrick’s post-Godflesh “shoegaze metal” band Jesu.


El Camino, by The Gary

The fruit of a trip to the 2010 Electrical Audio summer picnic, this EP was recorded by Steve Albini, a natural fit for the hard-edged yet forthright sound of this Austin trio. Bassist Dave Norwood is one of my favorite lyricists working right now, and drummer Paul Warner, a guitar player who’s only been behind the kit since 2008, continues to improve; this the first record they’ve made where he sounds completely comfortable, I think. Guitarist Trey Pool, late of Sad Like Crazy, has nearly enough treble in his guitar here to rival Albini himself! One of the best rock records from Austin this year.


Constant Future, by Parts & Labor

The second installment of the third period of this Brooklyn noise-rock band features one of the best songs they’ve written (“Never Changer”) and, according to my wife, the best drum sounds ever recorded. P&L announced a couple of months ago that they’re going on “indefinite hiatus” after a show in February; at least they’re going out on a high note (coincidentally, this was also the last record I reviewed for 29-95). I do wish that I’d had a chance to see them in a non-festival setting at least once in the last four years.


Space is a Place, by Western Standards

The sophomore album from Houstonian Major Miller’s one-man ambient project followed its predecessor by less than a year. I quite like both of them. This one seems more concerned with rhythm and movement than the first, and Miller seems to be moving toward longer compositions as well- an impression that is partly supported by the two other albums he released this year, which I didn’t even know existed until 5 minutes ago. Jeez Major what are you trying to do to me here, some of us have lives you know!


Erin Edmister and Three Tons

Found in the Alley described his country-rock band as “of an ilk that, if I were not a part of it, would blow right be me in a heart beat.” To be honest that’s probably true of me too and almost everyone else here. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the craft that clearly went into this project. Well done, Kilian.


Don’t Be So Cruel, by Something Fierce

The third album from this Houston punk power trio is the most self-assured and melodically strong record they’ve made so far, and it earned them the beginnings of some national attention this year. I have to be honest though, there’s something I don’t quite get about it yet; part of the problem may be that I don’t know what box (punk? garage? indie rock?) to put it in. I need to spend some more time with this one.


Get Split, by The Energy

For this Houston punk band’s second album they made the songs shorter and faster, but it would be tough for them to be any meaner, considering the first album’s preoccupation with violence. Rather, vocalist Arthur Bates took a left turn into paranoid delusion, with results that are “off” in a really interesting way. It’s pretty damn hard to do something new and exciting in punk rock, but the Energy manage it somehow. Highlight: Chris Ryan doing an unintentional impression of Matt Freeman from Rancid. I just love this band.


Arabia Mountain, by The Black Lips

Over the course of their last few albums, the Black Lips have increasingly come to seem less like a fun retro-garage band with hilariously unpredictable live shows and more like legitimately good rock songwriters. I think this is the best record they’ve made.


Strong Drunk Hands, by We’ll Go Machete

The first full-length record from this Austin group, fronted by Paul Warner (who also plays drums in the Gary), benefits from the addition of stone cold pro Rachel Fuhrer on drums. WGM sound a lot like Hot Snakes to me, and I think they share some of the same strengths (they rock) and weaknesses (not a lot of variety); it sounds a little like they’re still trying to find their voice a bit, although this record has a lot of awesome, heavy punk riffs.


Summer Panic, by Killdeer

This throwback indie rock quin(?)tet is co-fronted by Mari Pool, formerly of Sad Like Crazy, and also features Chris May of We’ll Go Machete on bass. This debut EP is lovably shaggy and quite tuneful, not unlike SLC. Bonus points for having a song called “Killdeer Fight Song.”


TIME

Chris Ryan of the Energy and Black Congress (and a bunch of other bands), proprietor of the late, lamented studio Dead City Sound, played and recorded every track on this epic psych-rock album. I don’t think too many people even knew he was working on it before he announced it on Facebook last summer. I like almost everything Chris has ever done, but to tell the truth I’ve had a hard time getting into TIME. I feel like I can hear some of Austin psych band the Black Angels here- I know Chris is a fan of them, and I’m really not at all, so that may be coloring my perspective a little. I will say that this record sounds awesome, and I do like that Chris threw in covers by Them and Spacemen 3, which I think give the record a little more variety and context. And I have a history of being disproportionately resistant to bands with long, repetitive songs. Perhaps, as a friend used to say, “I’ll listen to it until I like it.”


Excalibur, by The Mathletes

I cleverly tricked Joe Mathlete into sending me a copy of his first non-CDR release by promising to write about it on NAP right before I was about to stop writing completely for four months. Sucker!3 Belatedly, Excalibur, as one of the only fully-orchestrated things that I’ve heard from Joe, is a stellar showcase for his talent for arrangement. I love the variety of styles and sounds that he works with, and the wounded-yet-detached intimacy with which he sings. I would recommend this highly for fans of They Might Be Giants or the Mountain Goats.


American Honey, by Roky Moon and BOLT!

I totally forgot that this came out and never even bought a copy. It’s on my list to get when my eMusic subscription renews later this month. Sorry, Jeoaf!


Phantoms, by Ume

These Houston expats took a big step in the journey of breaking out this year with the release of this dreamy, glossy, propulsive record. It’s quite pretty. The highlight for me is a reworking of “Hurricane” from their first album, featuring Ronnie Barnard of the Kants and Handdriver on drums. Also: translucent pink vinyl!


Snake People, by Balaclavas

In a continuation of the theme of Houston artists being in a hurry to get their music out. Balaclavas’ second LP followed their first by only 18 months. 2010’s goth-rock masterpiece Roman Holiday was one of the best-made and most unique records I heard last year- that I’ve ever heard from Houston, really- and Snake People suffers a bit from comparison, coming off to me as a little thinner than its predecessor, and less considered in production. On its own terms, though, it’s plenty good.


August, by Still Lost Bird Music

Speaking of unique records, August is an Americana record with lyrics drawn from poetry, made by a composer and music professor named Simon Fink, with whom I used to play in a roots-rock band called Gross National Product. Repurposing poetry in this way isn’t like covering a song, for which royalties, but not permission, are requred; it’s necessary to either get permission from the artist or use poems in the public domain. Fink chose the latter option, which means that all of the poems are at least 80 or so years old. One is from the year 1505. Contrary to what some people think, popular song lyrics aren’t even close to being poetry, and using a poem as a song lyric sounds odd, because the language is so elevated. Using old poems sounds even stranger, almost like a song written in a foreign language. But Fink is such a talented and seasoned songwriter that not only does the poetry fit into the music, but listening to the words is absolutely essential to appreciating this remarkable and quite beautiful record. The title track is one of my favorite songs of the year.

Fink played stripped-down live versions of three songs on the Central Standard show on the Kansas City NPR affiliate, and I almost prefer those to the album versions.


Fall Tour 2011 East and Live!, by Indian Jewelry

I kind of think Indian Jewelry’s ad-hoc releases are easier to get into than their major albums, because the arrangements tend to be a little more stripped-down. That’s how I felt about the 2008 odds-and-sods collection Fake and Cheap, and this tour CD hits the same spot for me. Apparently a number of these songs are culled from their VHS release Sufi Headbanger. Sample song titles: “Guns;” “Freak Pride;” “Heart of a Dog;” “Slouchback With Gills;” “Against Nature;” “Headless in Gaza;” “Wallbangers.” Boom goes the dynamite.

An Indian Jewelry live record turns out to be a shaggier, crazier, more aggressive version of the records, which is to say it pretty much kicks ass. For best results play very loud after midnight with the lights turned off.


Lexington 2125, by Dry Nod

Speaking as someone who is not only too young to have seen Dry Nod but too young to even have met more than a couple of people who have seen them, this band occupies something of a mythical position in my idea of Houston music history. I have the live album, but this is something else entirely, some kind of ur-text for the Mike Gunn and LP4 and Dunlavy, etc. I’m guessing anyone who’s reading this has already heard this record so I won’t say any more except that this record is pretty great. Essential listening for anyone who has gone to an indie rock show in Houston in the last 20 years. Well done, Roberto.


Spills Out, by Pterodactyl

The third LP from this Brooklyn trio is more melodic than what they’ve done in the past, but no less strange. While Jesse Hodges (formerly of When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth and my faves the Tuxedo Killers) was in Pterodactyl when they made 2009’s Worldwild, he’s a much stronger presence on this album, contributing a warped pop sense that I wouldn’t have expected from his previous work. It contrasts nicely with the frantic, overlapping yelp-singing of guitarist Joe Kremer and drummer Matt Marlin. Pterodactyl’s sheer difference from other rock bands makes their music sound absurd, and yet the love of harmony, and of sound itself, that it transmits are so innocent that it pierces me to my core. I love this band so much.


Nine of Clubs, by Good Times Crisis Band

When drummer David Hobizal delivered this LP to me, he went down the tracklist naming the songs that he tracked in 2009. Gutarist and bandleader Bill Corsello manages Emo’s, and the transition that the venerable Austin venue has been undergoing for the last two years prevented GTCB from finishing this record or even playing any shows for a long time. My understanding is that they have no plans to perform even now, rendering the album a true labor of love I suppose, since it’s unlikely many people will even hear about it. It’s kind of a shame, as the dizzying geek-rock of Nine of Clubs blows away their first album, which was pretty good in its own right.

I was theoretically supposed to audition to play bass in this band at one point, and hearing this record, I’m kind of glad I didn’t, because I doubt I could have measured up to the musicianship on display here. Damn but it would have been fun to try though.


Abnormal Vergence, by Brainworlds and Expo ‘70

Guitarist Mason Brown has performed in a wide variety of independent rock bands, but even so, I wasn’t prepared for the starkly avant-garde solo project Brainworlds when he debuted it in 2008. Brown’s take on the guitar-drone genre is maximalist, building layers upon layers of wailing and whooping, and his live shows have steadily become more and more impressive. When I saw him in Austin last summer, it was kind of like the musical equivalent of watching remixed whale song interpreted as a 3D laser light show. And that’s how I guess would describe this album.

On my wish list for 2012: a split LP between Brainworlds and Western Standards.


Uberchriist

My brother Colin’s take on black metal has much the same tongue-in-cheek rock geek quality as his take on speed metal, Chopper. This is indicated partly by the name of the band. the cover of the cassette4, and select song titles (“Ancient Ziggvrat,” “Lord ov Pain,” “Alcoholocavst II,” “Black Svpremacy”)(extra piss-taking credit for using the letter V in place of both U and F), but also by his tendency to alternate orthodox scrape-and-screech black metal with midtempo stuff that sounds not all that different from blown-out versions of Chopper or his shoegazey indie rock band, Hollow Stars. I approve, not just because Uberchriist serves as a welcome antidote to the self-seriousness of black metal, but also because I think the riffs are pretty good. And also because the bandleader is related to me.


Roam 4 the Holidaze 3

For the third year running, the winter solstice brought an edition of this Atlanta compilation series, put together by David Matysiak of Jet By Day and Hollow Stars. It’s a mix of warped, ironic Christmas material (“Jingle Bells” on a Casio; “If I Die Before Christmas” by Old King Cole the Younger, AKA Cole Alexander of the Black Lips; a reading from A Christmas Carol on an answering machine) and odds and ends of varying weirdness from various figures in the Atlanta music scene, including Brainworlds, Matysiak’s indie-folk band Coyote Bones, and Hollow Stars. The aesthetic of R4TH is neatly summed up by the inclusion of not one but two tributes to recently deceased indie music superfan Kim Jong Il, one of which is credited (naturally) to CMee and the Selves.

And with that: Happy New Year, friends of mine. Happy New Year, everyone.

1. This and this did come out this year, but both were recorded in 2010.
2. Obviously I didn’t like every record the same, and I don’t have the same amount to say about every record. And of course, I may have forgotten something. Please don’t be offended, guys.*
3. In all seriousness, sorry Joe. I did not do this on purpose, I swear.
4. Tapes: WHY?!?

* Except Jeoaf and Joe, you guys can be offended if you want to I guess 🙁

Farewell 2011

2011 was kind of a banner year of awfulness – everyone has one of those sooner or later – so I’m kind of looking forward to 2012 myself.  It’s easy to complain and drone on when you have one of those years (believe me, I have)  but then you run into something that puts things into perspective like this.  This is a video from a Texas teen who had long suffered from a heart condition.  There is something very sweet, hopeful, and courageous in this two-part video that I find very touching and human.  I’m sure some folks will find this corny or naive but I’ve found that some of my favorite people are corny and naive, so sue me. The Houston Chronicle reported that a week after he posted this , he died. That was Christmas Day.  Take from this what you will.

Night Train

If you’re not friends with Jonathan Toubin, then you haven’t met him. He is one of the most likable folks I have ever known; and if you’re with Jonathan you’re where the party’s at. But even better to get him to yourself as his catalog of Rock n Roll stories is hard to beat. The only negative I can think of is exactly what is going on right now: if you know Jonathan then you must be, as I am, completely soul-crushed.

Jonathan is currently in critical condition in a Portland, OR hospital four days after becoming the victim of one of the most bizarre and grotesque accidents I can imagine. He was pinned to the back wall of his hotel room, under a cab that smashed through the exterior wall of his room when the cabbie lost control of her vehicle due to a “diabetic emergency.” He is far from recovery and the situation is no news is no news at this point.

Toubin is now quite well known as DJ Jonathan Toubin (aka New York Night Train). He travels the North American club circuit doing his dj thing which is a very particular schtick: he only spins 45’s and mostly 60’s Soul. Before he became a New York dj he lived for a long time in Austin where he played in many memorable bands (Noodle, Cheezus, the Hammiks) and made many connections that have served him well throughout his career.

Before Austin, Toubin lived in Houston which is where I met Toubin. I was 18 or 19 years old and he was a few years younger than that. He wanted to be my band’s manager. You couldn’t find a more enthusiastic teenager. He’d where black dress shirts and a western bolo.  I can’t imagine what the club owners thought of him at the time. But us guys in the band quickly grew to admire him; and we’ve been friends ever since.

I’m still friends with a few guys from that band -including the bassist, Noah, who lives in Portland where Jonathan is now in ICU. We’ve been in touch quite a bit lately as Noah has been at the hospital, along with Jonathan’s family who have all flown in to Portland to be with him.  Yesterday when I called Noah, we talked shortly about Jonathan (there’s really not much to convey at this time unfortunately) and then Noah felt compelled to tell me how much he missed me and expressed his love. It was almost too much to take. I am literally crying right now thinking about it.

Times like this make you count your blessings. They expose the poetic fragility of life. They crush your soul.

Okay.

God dammit Jonathan. You’re always at the center of everything. I can only imagine now you’ll be at the center of the debate over the growing problem of diabetes in this country; and at the center of the great transition to driver-less taxis.

You can keep up with Jonathan’s status and learn about upcoming benefits for him here.

I love you guys.

-Kilian

 

p.s. photo above courtesy of Arman Mabry