2008/01/29

Posted by othiym23 Tue, 29 Jan 2008 23:13:44 GMT

Stuck in my head this morning: hey presto, more Wall of Voodoo! This time, it was “The Passenger”, which then shaded imperceptibly, in the way of amorphous post-dreaming music, into “Long Arm”, yet another Stan Ridgway ballad of sublimated resentment and alienation in the working class. And so concludes my dreamland tour through Wall of Voodoo’s debut EP.

2008/01/28

Posted by othiym23 Mon, 28 Jan 2008 19:15:36 GMT

Stuck in my head this morning: Wall of Voodoo’s “Can’t Make Love”, which more or less speaks for itself:

Well, I can’t make love
To the girls in this city
‘Cause the girls
Say I abuse them
And I won’t go out
With girls because
Girls will fall in love with you
Everybody’s lonely, that’s true
Maybe it’s psychology
I don’t know, I gotta move someplace

I can’t make love
To the girls in this city
‘Cause the girls
Say I abuse them
And I won’t go out
With girls because
Girls will fall in love with you
Everybody’s lonely, that’s true

Maybe it’s psychology
I don’t know, I gotta move someplace
Where the girls are easy
And it makes me miss my lonely city
And the girls are so easy
And it makes me miss my lonely city
And it seems so easy
But I can’t say the words that are on my mind

I’m a nice guy but I don’t love you,
I just wanna sleep with you.
I’m a nice guy but I don’t love you,
I just wanna sleep with you.

Well, I can’t make love
To the boys in this city
‘Cause the boys
Say I abuse them
And I won’t go out
With boys because
Boys will fall in love with you
Everybody’s lonely, that’s true

Maybe it’s psychology
I don’t know, I gotta move someplace
Where the boys are easy
And it makes me miss my lonely city
And the girls are so easy
And it makes me miss my lonely city
And everybody’s so easy
But I can’t say the words that are on my mind

chorus

I’m a nice guy… (repeats until fade)

old darkness

Posted by othiym23 Mon, 28 Jan 2008 00:51:04 GMT

Dark White didn’t make much of a mark; they (or he, as only one guy is pictured on the sleeve) made 500 copies of an EP in 1985 and disappeared. There’s nothing that original about The Grey Area, either. If you’ve heard WaxTrax!-era Ministry or Visage or a;GRUMH you’ve heard the various pieces of their sound. Sometimes the vocals are out of tune, or not delivered with much confidence. The recording is clean but unremarkable. The songs have the bouncing-octave minor-key synth lines you’ve heard in a million industrial / electro / electroclash / New Wave songs.

Of course, I like old dance-industrial a lot (as long as it’s not the turgid, tuneless churning of Antler-Subway bands like Noise Unit), and the way Dark White put everything together is actually charming. “Charming” may seem like an odd word to describe death-obsessed darkwave, but the band that made these tracks was young, and as such all the moodiness comes across as direct and earnest, and the whole package is so utterly and obviously a product of its time and place. The total Americanness of it all appeals to me. Over at Mutant Sounds, the commenters compare some of the sounds on the record to Big Black, and I don’t really hear that, but I do agree that the vocal delivery is pretty damn Midwestern.

Apparently this record trades for hundreds of dollars on eBay, so grab it from Mutant Sounds while you can.

I fell in

Posted by othiym23 Sun, 27 Jan 2008 10:03:10 GMT

I’m pretty sure there isn’t a bad version of June Carter and Merle Kilgore’s “Ring of Fire” (which most people know as Johnny Cash’s most famous song), but if there is one, neither of Wall of Voodoo’s versions are it. The pulsing synths and spare, spaghetti Western guitars bring out the sublimated tension that was sitting there at the heart of the song, hidden in plain sight, all along. (Cash’s decision to swathe the song in mariachi horns was an act of genius, but at odds with the song itself. I don’t miss them when they’re gone.)

There are probably songs with more famous backstories, but there can’t be many: June Carter and Johnny Cash met while they were both married to other people and Cash was a total wreck, due to various booze and pill addictions. Carter fell in love with Cash almost immediately, but was wise enough to realize he was a walking disaster area and kept her distance. She wrote the words for “Ring of Fire” during this time, and transformed what must have been awful feelings of unrequited love into a set of lyrics that are right up there with Elizabeth Barrett Browning in their clarity and urgency. They just jump right off the page. (I’ve wondered for a long time when, exactly, Johnny figured out what, and who, the song was about, and how that felt.) Eventually he got his shit together, got right with God, and married June, and they lived more happily ever after than not. The whole story is several sizes larger than life.

Wall of Voodoo must have known they were onto something when they recorded their version, because they did it twice. The first version is slow, sparse, and tense, and is the star of their debut EP. The second version, which they released on a single with a medley of Ennio Morricone themes performed live as the B-side, is considerably punchier and features one of Stan Ridgway’s best early performances. Ridgway has a terrific and uniquely American voice, and it’s in peak form here. There’s also some near-perfect post punk guitar soloing here, all feedback and atonality, which cuts against the grain of the original song but is in keeping with the sublimated urgency of the lyrics. While Wall of Voodoo wrote plenty of great songs (“Can’t Make Love”, “Lost Weekend”, “They Don’t Want Me”), this may be their best performance.

tangled roots

Posted by othiym23 Sun, 27 Jan 2008 00:58:00 GMT

Writing this blog is leading me into interesting terrain, as this recent batch of additions to my library shows:

  • The second half of Mordant Music's The Tower has been banging its way into my head far enough to make me take a leap of faith and buy the rest of their diverse and aggressively eccentric catalog.
  • I realized that I was entitled to download a bunch of Severed Heads' Op series outtakes due to having bought Op 2 a while ago, so I grabbed those.
  • Talking about Surgeon's awesome DJ sets reminded me to check his site to see if he had a more recent set than the ones I have, and indeed he did.
  • Finally, I've been accumulating a pile of crud from Mutant Sounds, so I added all that to my iPod so I could get to know it better. There is some amazing music that's been dug out of obscurity by that blog:
    • Tappi Tíkarrass, Björk's first foray into the post-punk sound that she refined in Kukl and the Sugarcubes, before she decided to become the most avant garde pop star ever;
    • a bunch of long out of print Hirsche Nacht aufs Sofas (HNAS) records from a parallel universe where Nurse With Wound were actually German, instead of merely being obsessive fans of Krautrock;
    • a whole pile of European art-damaged gothic post punk (Claustrofobia, Dark White, Epitaphe, Tango Luger);
    • some early records by the fucking tremendous Wall of Voodoo, whose Call of the West combines the miserably American, empathy-drenched humanity of Raymond Carver or Robert Stone with Ennio Morricone's expansive sound and Kraftwerk's electronic pulse – anyone who thinks the Wall of Voodoo story starts and ends with "Mexican Radio" is very much missing out;
    • a couple completely sui generis Japanese electronic / prog / jazz / avant garde records from the 70s, one of which was a collaboration between most of Yellow Magic Orchestra and the one Japanese Pop artist whose work I know well (Tadonori Yokoo – there was a semi-exhaustive survey of his work up at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo when I was there);
    • and a pile of random singles from the Mutant Sounds archives, including an awesomely out of character John Duncan track and a deeply weird couple of tracks by Duppi, a Japanese band I'd never heard of and will probably never hear from again. Mutant Sounds is so awesome that there's no way it's going to last.

Here's the full list. I've appended links to sources for most everything. Downloading the albums posted by Mutant Sounds requires you to deal with quasi-filesharing services like Rapidshare, Zshare, Bodongo and Megaupload; these services' wack-assed stabs at business models make getting at the archives a pain, but I assure you that if you like boundary-pushing music, it's worth jumping through the requisite hoops. A lot of this stuff is begging to be put back into print, if only by somebody like Hyped2Death.

  • Claustrofobia: Arrebato (Fobia) [ms]
  • Dark White: The Grey Area (private) [ms]
  • Epitaphe: Syndrome (private) [ms]
  • HNAS: Melchior (United Dairies / DOM) [ms]
  • HNAS: Music für Schuhgeschafte (Dragnet) [ms]
  • HNAS: Willkür Nach Noten (Dragnet) [ms]
  • Haruomi Hosono & Tadanori Yokoo: Cochin Moon (King) [se]
  • Mordant Music: Baud With You / Shot Away (Mordant Music) [bk]
  • Mordant Music: Carrion Squared (Mordant Music) [bk]
  • Mordant Music: Dead Air (Mordant Music) [bk]
  • Mordant Music: Fallen Faces / Dead Air (Mordant Music) [bk]
  • Mordant Music: Filthy Danceheng (Mordant Music) [bk]
  • Mordant Music: Petri-Dish (Mordant Music) [bk]
  • Mordant Music: The Tower: Parts I-XVII (Mordant Music) [bk]
  • Mordant Music: Travelogues: A Beautiful Vesta (Mordant Music) [bk]
  • Severed Heads: Op 1 (sevcom)
  • Severed Heads: Op 2.3 (sevcom)
  • Severed Heads: Op 2.9 (sevcom)
  • Surgeon: Neck Face (www.dj-surgeon.com)
  • Tango Luger: s/t (Invisible) [ms]
  • Tappi Tíkarrass: Bítið Fast í Vítið (Spor) [ms]
  • Tappi Tíkarrass: Miranda (Gramm) [ms]
  • Wall of Voodoo: Ring of Fire / The Morricone Themes (Index) [ms]
  • Wall of Voodoo: Two Songs by Wall of Voodoo (Index) [ms]
  • Wall of Voodoo: Wall of Voodoo (Index) [ms]
  • Tsutsui Yasutaka & Yamashita Yosuke: IE (Fiasco) [ms]
  • whacked-out singles from the Mutant Sounds archives:
    • Drinking Electricity: Shaking All Over / China (pop:aural)
    • Duppi: Velvet Night / はつねつのみやこ (Night Gallery)
    • Électric Max Band: Mick and Max / Knives, Feathers and Fire (Reprise)
    • Electro Static Cat: Lethologica (Freedom in a Vacuum)
    • Eskaton: Musique Post-Atomique (Eskaton)
    • John Duncan / Andrew Chalk & Christoph Heemann: The Elgaland-Vargaland National Anthem / Old Hive (Die Stadt)
    • Kevin Dunn: Nadine / Oktyabriana (dB Records)
    • v/a: Earcom 3 (Fast Product)

Somebody's Back in Town

Posted by othiym23 Wed, 16 Jan 2008 02:20:21 GMT

I always knew on some vague level that I “should” like Gram Parsons; he’s one of those names you can’t escape if you grow up with your nose buried in old Rolling Stone books, and The Flying Burrito Brothers were one of those California bands, like Little Feat or Quicksilver Messenger Service, that get namechecked frequently by Deadheads. I probably avoided them for exactly those reasons – they were eminently worthy, I was surrounded by Deadheads and I really, really hated the Grateful Dead with a passion. While I’ve since decided that’s pointless, because (among other things) the Dead wrote “Ripple” and a handful of other gorgeous songs, I don’t apologize for my former disdain; Deadheads did (and still do) drive me crazy with their blinkered way of assuming that a band didn’t exist if it didn’t share a stage with Jerry Garcia at some point.

And what do you know, Gram Parsons & The Flying Burrito Bros’ Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969 was recorded at a couple of live dates with the Dead in 1969 and I love, love, love it. Apparently these recordings had to be carefully pried from the suspicious hands of Bear, the Grateful Dead’s most dedicated recordist and custodian of the closest thing that exists to a comprehensive Grateful Dead archive (somebody should write a good, non-Deadhead biography of Owsley Stanley, because the dude has lived like three lives, all of them fascinating). I can only imagine why he took so much persuasion to allow Amoeba Records to turn these recordings into a widely-released double CD, but the quality of the recordings is amazing. It sounds like it could have been recorded last week.

Getting wanky about tape quality is one of the things I detest about Deadheads, so I’ll just move along and say the sound quality would be irrelevant if it weren’t for the fact that the band play astonishingly well. They make what they’re doing sound so easy, which is remarkable given that Parsons & Co more or less invented the style of country-fried psychedelia and R&B they were playing. Parsons famously coined the term “cosmic American music” to describe his sound, and it fits like a glove. It’s not a million miles from the Dead in sound, but it’s on a completely different spiritual plane. The fluid, confident guitar playing meshes perfectly with a set of classic high & lonesome country standards and is a bizarre and completely apt merging of Californian and Texan sensibilities. This sounds more graceful and assured than most studio recordings (of anybody) from the period, and I could listen to it all day.

The Telefones, "Bowling"

Posted by othiym23 Sat, 12 Jan 2008 11:12:17 GMT

Ladies and gentlemen, The Telefones (from Hyped 2 Death #3):

Don’t come around knocking at my door,
I don’t love you any more,
you won’t go bowling!

And don’t you call me on the telephone,
you know I won’t be home,
I probably will be bowling.

bowling, I like bowling (4x)

You ain’t nothing but an alley cat,
and worse than that:
you won’t go bowling!

You ain’t nothing but a gutter ball,
I think that says it all,
why won’t you go bowling?

bowling, I like bowling (4x)

(guitar solo)

YES!

(saxophone solo)

You ain’t nothing but an alley cat,
and worse than that:
you won’t go bowling!

You ain’t nothing but a gutter ball,
I think that says it all,
why won’t you go bowling?

bowling, I like bowling (4x)

YES!

(guitar solo)
(dual saxophone solo)

you can't say things like that

Posted by othiym23 Fri, 11 Jan 2008 06:57:36 GMT

What’s wrong with you, she said,
are you crazy?
You can’t say things like that,
you can’t say things like that.

You’re back to making waves.
Her messages are plain.
I wanna be her slave.
There’s a fire in my brain.

What’s wrong with you, she said,
are you crazy, or something?
You can’t say things like that,
you can’t say things like that.

“Kowtow” by China Shop (from Hyped 2 Death’s Homework #10: American DiY 1978-1989 A-C) is yet another beautiful piece of post punk psychedelia, with its woozy backmasked guitars, stylized vocals, drum machine rhythms, and mournful Let’s Active atmosphere (if you ever liked REM and you’ve never heard of Mitch Easter’s band, you should do something about that). The combined effect is a startling mixture of jangle pop and electronic psychedelia, and the oddly affecting (and affected) singing seals the deal. I need more of this stuff.

celebrate diversity!

Posted by othiym23 Thu, 10 Jan 2008 23:22:10 GMT

Maybe it's just a product of Chuck Warner's preoccupations, but I've noticed that where the songs on Hyped 2 Death's Messthetics series tend to have lyrics concerned with things like collective action, urban anomie, industrial decay, DiY culture, and getting wasted, the songs on the Homework series tend to be more preoccupied with, uh, girls, being bored and getting wasted. The difference is that Messthetics is British (and Irish, I think) and Homework is American. Are we really that shallow?

Also, the only real difference between Homework and Teenline is that the songs on the Teenline comps are way more likely to sound like Cheap Trick or the Stray Cats. I like Teenline a little better, except there's no songs by Christmas or Lester Bangs on Teenline.

case in point

Posted by othiym23 Mon, 07 Jan 2008 10:07:00 GMT

Following on from my earlier post, Citizen 23's "Janie's Got A Black Eye" is another brilliantly catchy snippet of rock and roll, packing social observation, a great (if muddy) post punk guitar solo, and a very catchy hook into a minute and a half. I can't believe it took me so long to pick up the Hyped 2 Death catalog. It's as essential in its way as the Anthology of American Folk Music, and just about as ground-level and vernacular.