So I seem to be back to having Lester Bangs & Birdland’s “Kill Him Again” stuck in my head. It’s so agonizingly close to being a work of genius, in the same way that, say, Foreigner’s “Jukebox Hero” was. It would just need slightly less eccentric singing, or slightly tighter production, or something, and it would have been a perfect nugget of slightly leftfield rock and roll.
(People like to hate on Foreigner because they kept going way too long and because their songs were easy to like, but “Jukebox Hero” is as much about being young and being in Foreigner as it is about hitting the big time. I don’t think that would have been enough for Bangs, because he would have recognized Foreigner for the phonies they were, especially by the time they put out 4, but I think he probably would have admitted that “Jukebox Hero” is about as perfect a pop song as you’re likely to find. Anyway. I’ve loved that song since I was 9, and just about everyone I knew back then did too, so it bums me out to see people my age trying to act like they were always too cool to like Foreigner, or Loverboy, or Night Ranger. 80s hard rock 4EVA!)
Thinking about Lester again reminded me of Bruce Sterling’s story “Dori Bangs”. It’s an alternate history story about a world in which Lester Bangs met Dori Seda and they fell in love and didn’t both die way too young of dumb things (a combination of a bad cold and cough syrup abuse on Bangs’ part, respiratory failure caused by a flu and busted lungs on Seda’s part). Googling around for Sterling’s story ended up leading me to this page, and I think Ray is essentially correct. I love “Dori Bangs”, but that’s because I love the ideas in it, not because it’s a flawless story. There’s a lot more Lester than Dori in the story, and that just doesn’t seem right or true to me.
Dori Seda and her work aren’t very well known anymore, which is, to put it mildly, too bad. I only discovered her because she had a few comics in Twisted Sisters: A Collection of Bad Girl Art, which a girlfriend got me as a gift a long time ago. Dori’s stories are raunchy, self-aware and deeply funny, and she had a wicked way with a line. She lived in Berkeley and San Francisco’s Mission, and both places were a lot scuzzier than they are now. She makes early-80s grimy San Francisco and her friends (and dog!) come alive in a way that makes me feel like I missed a swinging party.
It’s easy to see why Sterling would have been wanted to speculate about what would have happened if these two oversized characters had hit it off, but in reality, probably nothing would have happened. Lester was famously retarded with women (although, according to Cynthia Heimel, yet another larger than life rock and roll character, he had his moments) and Seda’s love life wasn’t simple or strings-free enough for her to run off and marry a hairy New Yorker with self-esteem problems.
But it’s a nice idea.
Stuck in my head this morning: a medley! Of All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors songs. Mostly it’s just “I Am Where You Were” (one of the band’s most full-throated, krautrockinest (and derivative) shoegazer epics), but in my dreams it turned into half a dozen other songs from ANLLF’s self-titled debut and Flat Blue Line.
I just noticed that the xylophone part in “I Am Where You Were” is highly reminiscent of the intro to Yes’s “Changes” (from 90125), a comparison I highly doubt ever occurred to anyone in All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors, or indeed anyone else. Great. Now I have that stuck in my head instead.
Stuck in my head this morning: “The Number Knows Its Name” by All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors and “The Eerie Bliss and Torture (Of Solitude)” by Xasthur (from the flawless Xasthur / Leviathan split – Xasthur’s Keeper of Sharpened Blades (and Ominous Fates) does nauseating things with sound and still leaves me slightly in awe), which is what I get for writing about both of them so much over the last few days. Eccentric electronic pop + relentless anti-life black metal = a mashup way more avant garde than Xenakis or Penderecki.
Stuck in my head this morning: an indistinct admixture of Thom Yorke’s “Skip Divided” (both the original version from The Eraser and the (superior, bass-heavy) Modeselektor remix) and Torche’s “Fire”. I find myself without a whole lot to say about The Eraser; it’s a solid collection of gloomy post-rock that sounds nice but doesn’t really contribute anything new. It’s the rare album that’s surpassed by its remixes. And Torche make an appearance in my post-sleep haze mostly because I was writing about them right before I went to sleep last night.
I should be in bed for real, but after my last posting about Torche, I can’t let go of something that’s been nagging at me for a couple months now: wot up with re-recording your first album, dudes?
The original version of Torche’s self-titled first album was released by Robotic Empire back in 2004, and it’s a monster of heavy music carved into catchy bite-sized pop song chunks. I have already attested elsewhere to its greatness.
The band are perfectionists (something that comes through effortlessly in their immaculate craftsmanship, barring their sometimes off-tune singing), and for reasons I don’t completely understand, they decided to partially re-record and completely remix the album and rerelease it in 2007. The only immediately obvious changes are that “Sex Addict” has become an instrumental (losing its charmingly direct chorus of “AND I’D LIKE TO TURN YOU ON” in the process) and a bonus track’s been tacked onto the end.
I think re-recording it was a mistake. It bespeaks a lack of confidence in the material that’s unfounded. The new version has heavier low end and sounds more like a conventional metal album, circa 2007. But I think I get what whomever engineered the original was trying to do: there’s a buzzy lightness to the original mix that reminds me of the hard rock I heard on the radio when I was a kid. Stuff like Boston or Aldo Nova (or The Cars!), where the compressed, midrange-heavy mix would sound good on cheap car stereos, and the absence of bass gave an airy feeling that really accentuated the pop hooks that give Torche’s music so much of its appeal. There are a million heavy bands out there cranking out tectonically heavy sludge, but very few of them have the skill to put together a set of songs like Torche. The band should have stood by their original work, because it was worth standing by.
Stuck in my head this morning: “Matilda Mother” by The Pink Floyd. The way the song begins, with a gentle organ fade-in and a slow build into song-ness, is a lot like the process of waking up. Of course, the song is also full of half-submerged mommy issues, so take from that what you will.
Speaking of The Pink Floyd and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the remastered 40th anniversary re-release of that album has been out for a while, in a couple of different editions. There’s a 2-CD version with both the stereo and mono mixes of the album, and a 3-CD deluxe hyper über version that appends a disc of semi-rarities, as well as a bulky clothbound book-like package that contains excerpts from one of Syd Barrett’s notebooks. The logic of all this is suspect; there have got to be far more people interested in unreleased material from Barrett-era Floyd than there are audio geeks who want to compare the two mixdowns, and the rarities themselves could stand to be more rare. If you’re inclined to pick one or the other up, get the three-disc version; the packaging is fairly gratuitous, but you also get “Arnold Layne” and the original, much weirder version of “Matilda Mother”, which had to be withdrawn because it *cough* stole its lyrics from a children’s poem by Hilaire Belloc.
Stuck in my head this morning: China Shop’s “Kowtow”, only this time with all kinds of gratuitous funky horn accents. Strange things happen to songs while I’m sleeping.
Stuck in my head this morning: “Throwing Back the Apple” by Pale Saints mashed up with “Hand in Glove” by The Smiths. Both are the lead tracks from their respective albums (In Ribbons and Singles, respectively). Both are excellent ways to start albums, with catchy guitars and bouncy rhythms. They don’t really combine all that well, though.
So I was listening to The Smiths and reading allmusic.com, as I do, so I could maybe put together a few of the pieces of how the combination of John Mahar and Stephen Morrissey got to be just so potent. allmusic.com mentioned the controversy surrounding The Smiths' "Reel Around the Fountain", and I was all, "is that the same song as 'Virginia Reel Around the Fountain'?", which sent me rooting through my collection (man, is it nice having all my CDs ripped) so I could remember that no, "Virginia Reel Around the Fountain" is a Halo Benders song that Doug Martsch included on the Built to Spill live album.
But then I was trying to remember what the other covers were on that album, so I had to pull it up. I had this vague memory that they'd covered a song by The Rock*A*Teens, which they hadn't (there's just a really boring-ass cover of a Lee Perry song and a largely gratuitous version of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" with some fabulously wanky guitar soloing), but after all that I just had to hear The Rock*A*Teens' "Hwy R" – from the Matador 15-year retrospective, Old Enough To Know Better – three or four times. It's a thunderous, fuzz-drenched 6/8 epic with lyrics that remind me of nothing so much as Sparklehorse in a particularly generous frame of mind, with maybe a tinge of Archers of Loaf (oddly enough, all these bands are from southeastern states). I could listen to it all day.
That reminded me that I'd been meaning to check out other stuff by The Rock*A*Teens, so I headed over to Rhapsody, and lo and behold, we have a whole bunch of Rock*A*Teens. I found the album that "Hwy R" was taken from, and I clicked on "Hwy R" to see if it was the same version. It was a totally different song. Weird. This stuff happens on Rhapsody a lot, though. There's a lot that can go wrong between a song is recorded and when it's ready to be heard on Rhapsody.
Some futzing around with the other tracks on the album
revealed that the song I've loved for the last 3 years was actually called "It's Destiny", which is a more fitting title for it anyway, and that somebody at Matador got confused when they were putting together the compilation [nuh-uh, see below]. And just in case you were wondering: man, the Rock*A*Teens sure are talented at that style of echoing, layered avant garage. Awesome! Must hear more!
I end up going on one of these insane tangents two or three times a week. Get used to it.
UPDATE: Further research on allmusic.com indicates that the song is, in fact, "Hwy R"! I always forget they have song samples on their album pages. Great. Now I have to remember how to get someone to fix the album on Rhapsody.
Stuck in my head this morning: "Swingboat Yawning", the lead track from Rollerskate Skinny's second album, Horsedrawn Wishes. Horsedrawn Wishes is a strange extrusion of echoing beats, aimlessly wandering melodies, mooing guitars, overpressured psychedelia, and lyrics that make no goddamned sense at all, and "Swingboat Yawning" is of a piece with the rest of the album. The album's strangeness and consistency has weird consequences, because when I hear any song from this album in my head, it almost imperceptibly shades into any of a number of other songs (in particular "Swab the Temples" and "Speed to my Side" – two of the most brilliantly deranged pop songs I've heard) on the album.
Horsedrawn Wishes is like an ornate Brian Wilson album informed by My Bloody Valentine's noisy excesses (Jimi Shields, Kevin Shields' brother, was in Rollerskate Skinny), only made on a shoestring budget. Rollerskate Skinny get compared to Mercury Rev, the Flaming Lips or Spiritualized when anybody mentions them at all – they haven't been a going concern for quite a while – but this album sounds mostly like itself. I love it but it always makes me feel a little creeped out and queasy after I listen to it, due to its swaying, seasick nature.