Monday, April 30, 2007

There Ain’t Nothin’ You Can Do About It

Long before the golden showers, "The Remix to Ignition" and song about "feeling on your booty," I knew that R. Kelly was a force to be reckoned with. It all clicked for me when I heard this track. I don’t have the MP3 handy, but I think the video is perhaps even better. Dig the tossed off aside about "some of the best cookin’ you ever had."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Love Me Again

I consider myself supremely lucky to have had a few good friends who worked in record stores, while, and this is key, never actually working in one myself. That way I had access to plenty of music-store-geek discussions, but I was spared the soul-deadening exposure to entire days of music appreciation and popular-taste condescension. Most importantly, my friends could tip me off to the good jams in the recent arrivals section. It’s kind of like being in the mob and having an informant in the police department. My good friend Josh worked at a record store in Nashville for a spell. He hooked me up with a few choice slabs of Anthony Braxton and Sun Ra vinyl, and once, while I was in the thick of a serious Zombies obsessive binge, focusing mainly on Odessey and Oracle, Josh sent me a compilation of singer Colin Blunstone’s post-Zombie solo material. At the time I had a hard time dealing with some of the grandiose chamber pop aspects of it, but I’ve since come around. They’re re-releasing Blunstone’s One Year, and upon relistening, you can hear traces of the hushed Nordic bossa of Nick Drake and the ambitious art-pop of Elvis Costello.

“Misty Roses” - Colin Blunstone

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Polvo: Calculate the Irony with Someone You Can Trust

Few people want to admit it, but indie rock makes fairly consistent, if half-assed, claims to high art. It usually comes in the form of arcane allusion ( I think of the time I saw Pavement in Asheville, NC at the start of the tour to support Wowie Zowie when Stephen Malkmus dedicated portions of the show to Josef Albers, Cy Twombly and other artists associated with the nearby site of Black Mountain College), or possibly in the status of the visual art that serves as album design (Raymond Pettibon, Devendra Banhart, Daniel Johnston, Kyle Field and others all have serious artworld gallery representation), and occasionally a lyricist or songwriter will have genuine MFA-certified fiction or poetry-writing chops (dudes from the Decembrists and Silver Jews come to mind), and there are plenty of indie rock musicians who have honest-to-goodness conservatory backgrounds, straight-up legit Western music skills – theory, orchestration, all that. And I guess one would also have to mention the cross-genre musical boot-strapping that some indie/fringe/college/alternative rock acts have gotten from the legitimizing attention of other musicians (usually classical and jazz players), like when people like Christopher Reilly or Brad Maldhau play tunes by Radiohead, or Nick Drake or that dude who plays hard-bop Pavement. And, sure, the music is supposed to be the thing, but what indie acts will be viewed as ground-breaking, forward-thinking strictly for their music?
I first heard Polvo because they were on one of Merge’s early split (?) 7 inch with some friends from Asheville, NC, the wonderful short-lived but wide-mouthed band Pure. Or maybe it was just that they were label mates. Can’t really remember. Anyway, I saw Polvo early on at the legendary Milestone club in Charlotte (I should add, incidentally, that Lefty played in a band that opened for Polvo once). There was a lot of wonderful detuned guitar. That was the biggest selling point. The interplay between the two guitarists was so unorthodox, it was like some mix of weird ethnic folk music – part koto, part vina, part balalaika – and inscrutable art composition, all somehow crammed into something loosely resembling a rock song form, or at least the drums and bass behind it all created that illusion. On top of all that, there’s the sonic equivalent of Dali’s melting clocks: everything all extruded and misshapen as if heard through a funhouse mirror. I know they get lumped in with Sonic Youth, who I have little use for. But this is more genuinely messed up than that. I love the way the glassy, tinkly high notes can dive-bomb into wobbly ultra-low bent strings, third chakra music, whack lopsided chinoiserie. The decoy raga intros. One of the other fantastic things about Polvo is that, being from Chapel Hill, they were serious college basketball and sports fans, which served as a powerful of-the-people antidote to the imposing clouds of off-putting hipster coolness that surrounded the band. The main dude was sort of a Russian scholar and amateur ethnomusicologist, I think he went on to play some with Helium and/or with the woman in that group. The other guy was like one of those Greek guys I went to junior high school with – all into the NCAA tournament. Very North Carolina.
I played in a band for a while. And we were once recording in Hillsboro for a stretch and we somehow arranged to make a pilgrimage to the Polvo house in Chapel Hill. My friends and I mostly sat on a porch, quietly in awe of what these guys were doing. I’m told that "polvo" means "powder" or "dust" in Spanish, but that, maybe in Argentina, maybe, it’s also slang either for orgasm or semen. The Argies have good slang, I’ll tell you that.
When I hear Polvo it drives home the fact that most bands may be operating with the idea that they’re doing something ground-breaking, but few ever come close. And rarely does a band pull off such a mix of being both deeply strange and powerfully tuneful. I love how they warned their listeners that they "just got a sitar, so be prepared." Although Polvo may be viewed as symptomatic of the whole ‘90s complex of bad-faith emotional/spiritual realities, the band diagnosed the era’s shortcomings as poignantly as anyone, and before Dave Eggers. A line from "Every Holy Shroud" - "Celebrate the new dark age with us, calculate the irony with someone you can trust."

"Lazy Comet" - Polvo (from Today’s Active Lifestyles)

"Every Holy Shroud" - Polvo (from Celebrate the New Dark Age e.p.)

"Downtown Dedication" - Polvo (from Shapes)

Friday, April 27, 2007

GUEST COLUMN: Rock Snob String Theory

Yesterday I lost $20 very quickly to Daylight Rambler, who won our "contest" by figuring out in about 14 seconds that lo-fi weirdos Karl Blau performed that stunning version of Tom T. Hall's "That's How I Got to Memphis." Today, we honor Mr. Rambler with some very expensive DSP air time. We're friendly that way. -- Lefty

First off, thanks to The Driftwood Singers for this opportunity (and the $20). I've been a fan of this site since they got a good review over at Tuning .

I can't count the number of times I've been at a party, talking to some guy in horn rims with a dixie cup of keg beer, and heard some version of the following phrase: "Every string part in rock/pop sounds like 'Eleanor Rigby'." To this I say two words, "Rock On."

David Essex - Rock On

While we're talking about strings, have you heard Alice Coltrane (who passed away this January) play the harp? It really doesn't sound like "Eleanor Rigby."

Alice Coltrane - Huntington

You know what takes a lotta balls? Calling yourself "Incredible". I know there's been a previous post here about Mike Heron, but I prefer Robin Williamson's voice, especially in this song.

Incredible String Band- First Girl I Loved

You know something, I think you haven't heard enough Vince Guaraldi. He had a great career before he became the musical voice behind the Peanuts cartoon specials; he even won a Grammy. I know you haven't heard enough Bola Sete, so here they are together.

Vince Guaraldi & Bola Sete- Star Song


- Daylightrambler

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Why Can't I Stop Buying Vinyl?

Answer: Because I am a sick person. And also because you really need to hear this shit!

1. It's an early 70s Judeo-Canadian earth muffin blowout! From Carole King's Writer (1970) and Anne Murray's Straight, Clean & Simple (1971).

Child of Mine - Carole King

Child of Mine - Anne Murray
Spaceship Races - Carole King
People's Park - Anne Murray

2. CONTEST!!! If you can tell me who this is, I'll give you TWENTY DOLLARS ($20). I mean it. Be the first to email us at driftwoodsingers at hotmail dot com and I will PayPal you.

[Ed. Note: Contest over! Daylight Rambler has identified the singer as Karl Blau. Mr. Rambler, the check is in the mail and you are an official Driftwood Singer for the day. We love you.]

That's How I Got to Memphis - ????

3. We're taking you back to yesteryear, kids. Paisley and peroxide. From the original high school vinyl copy that I played over and over and over again in the mid-80s!

Rain - The Cult

4. Mr. Poncho was onto this guy way before I was, but now that I own Golden Hits from 1965 I'm bought and sold.

Chug A Lug - Roger Miller

5. Oh Canada. You're so modest.

Early Morning Rain - Ian & Sylvia
Song of Canada - Ian & Sylvia

6. Richard Pyror was on the DL. From 1971's Craps (After Hours) on Laff Records.

F**k the Faggot - Richard Pryor

7. One of the things I discovered on the Time-Life soft rock infomercial and felt the need to explore. Curse you, Henry Luce!

Georgia - Boz Scaggs
Lowdown - Boz Scaggs

8. BWAAAAAAAAAAARHHRGH! From Joe Cocker!, 1969.

Delta Lady - Joe Cocker

9. There Stands the Glass got the word out before I did (hat tip to you, sir), but I've been meaning to trumpet the John Anderson love for a while. He's like George Jones with a higher emotional IQ. Or a less uptight George Strait.

Havin' Hard Times - John Anderson
John Anderson - Motel With No Phone

John Anderson - You've Got the Longest Leaving Act in Town

[Ed. Note: Thanks to slow motion radio music for turning us on to DivShare technology.]

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Pack-It-In Paradigm, Part XXIV

That last Grandaddy record kind of blew, I thought. I had high hopes, after the glories of Sumday and, perhaps even more, the Below the Radio "artist's choice" compilation that Jason Lytle, the main dude behind the band, put together. It was a prime example of 21st Century dystopian Californian hippie escape fantasies. The disc featured the heavenly music of Little Wings, and there's a great track by someone named Virgil Shaw. These are wonderfully lumpy creaky deadender odes, like Jimmy Buffett, only maybe add clinical depression, a former crystal meth problem, and a personality disorder to the general alcoholism.

And if you want to read an excellent account of some back-to-the-land dreamers, the new Vanity Fair has a great feature on The Farm, a hippie commune in Tennessee.

"Back to Eureka" - Virgil Shaw

Those Were Different Times

The permutations keep ... permutating. Through a series of idle clicks, I somehow stumbled on this footage of Bongwater on the great short-lived David Sanborn-hosted show Night Music (If you search for Night Music on YouTube, there’s a load of good stuff – from the Modern Jazz Quartet to the Pixies). If you’ve been following our postings about Roky Erickson, the Vulgar Boatmen and Jonathan Lethem, you might not be surprised that they’re doing a version of Erickson’s song "You Don’t Love Me Yet" – also the title of Lethem’s new novel. In other Roky Erickson/literary news, I noticed, while reading Entertainment Weekly, that Darcey Steinke has a new book called Easter Everywhere.

Bongwater doing "You Don't Love Me Yet" on Night Music

[Ed. Note: Now the New York Times has a review of a recent Roky Erickson show in Brooklyn.]

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Pride and Prejudice

As an experiment, I decided to hold down the "a" key on my keyboard for the length of time Charley Pride holds this extaordinary note on his version of the Hank Williams tune, "Kaw-Liga." Here goes:


I daresay this version is the best I've ever heard, not least for the weird and woozy pedal steel. This is from a truly awesome record called In Person from 1969, recorded live at a honky tonk in Ft. Worth, Texas, called Panther Hall. Aside from the pristine quality of the recording, it's also a fascinating historical document because Pride addresses the obvious: What's this black dude doing in a white honky tonk during the Civil Rights era? In his introduction to "Lovesick Blues," he acknowledges what people are thinking: "Why you don' sound like you s'pposed to sound," as he puts it in his aw-shucks patter. "It is a little unique, I have to admit." After a careful anecdote that requires a lot of filling in the blanks (about a white gal who apparently discovers he's black at a concert), the issue of Pride's authenticity as a country singer seems to be put to rest. Even so, you still can't help but suspect that Pride is a giant PR scheme by the Nashville record industry to appear progressive and assuage concern that "country" is code for "whites only." But in the final number, Charley Pride does something pretty damned sneaky: He closes with a version of "Cotton Fields" by Huddie Leadbetter, a.k.a., Leadbelly, subtly fusing black and white "country" without anyone the wiser. He says "for a couple'a three reasons," the song reminds him of "what I don't ever want to go back to doin' again." Considering the true roots of country music (the banjo is an African instrument, after all), it's the country-est thing he's played all night. And the crowd goes nuts.

"Kaw-Liga" - Charley Pride

"Dialogue" + "Lovesick Blues" - Charley Pride

"Cotton Fields" - Charley Pride

Interesting side note: Pride's black identity certainly wasn't addressed on the album cover.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

In his memoir, Carl Jung confessed to having a recurring dream about an underground vault that housed an erect penis wearing a crown. Veh-wee intah-westing, Doc-tear Jung... But who among us can claim to know what dark force rules our psyches? Our early childhood experiences shape our desires. This got me wondering: Is there a subconscious playlist that rules one's pop tastes? A Rosetta Stone of the ear? The ultimate song in the subliminal vault, wearing Satan's jeweled crown? I've aleady told you about the man with the watch on his ankle. Things stick with you. Allow me to lift the lid a bit:

MEMORY: I don't remember seeing this, but it's a close approximation of my musical Big Bang: Stevie Wonder playing a deep 7-minute rendition of "Superstition" (YouTube) on Sesame Street in 1972. A free-to-be-you-and-me vision of kids in bellbottoms and saturated Technicolor t-shirts living in a muppet ghetto triumphant with heavy funk.

DREAM: Of all the Pink Ladies, I loved Frenchy the best. When Frankie Avalon floated down from heaven in Grease -- tan, coifed and wise -- all I wanted was for him to escort the beautiful pink-haired Jewess out of the TV box and into my arms. I was eight. Freudian result: a barely repressed Broadway fetish forever sautered into my circuit board.

Beauty School Drop Out - Frankie Avalon

REFLECTION: Dewey Dell and I recently stayed up late watching a Time-Life infomercial for a 10-CD "Classic Soft Rock" collection. After watching one solid gold video clip after another, we concluded that our beliefs and feelings about music were formed by unrepentently hirsute men who sang like women and dressed in satin and denim.

Too Much Heaven - Bee Gees

MEMORY: When I was 11, I was so utterly obsessed with Kiss' 1975 LP Dressed to Kill, I even fell in love with the long silences between the songs. I waited in heavy, pulse-quickening anticipation for the first sludgy riff on "She" while studying Gene Simmons' clogs. I thrilled to the crackling LP quietude before the first acoustic pluckings of "Rock Bottom." The two sleepers were my favorites:

Anything for My Baby - Kiss

Getaway - Kiss

DREAM: My Philip Larkin edit: They fuck you up, your mum and dad/but Ronald Reagan was even worse! Truth is, I wouldn't have graduated from high school without the DIY anti-authoritarian rants of The Krayons, the best hardcore punk band in South Texas circa 1988-89. I used to leaf through piles of Maximum Rock'n'Roll while these guys rehearsed in the bass player's parents' basement. In craptastic audio cassette!

Reaganstein - The Krayons

Nor could I have survived without the hardcore metal of Angkor Wat, whose singer David Brinkman (a way-out-of-high-school employee of the local bread factory) gave lost souls like me the uplifting message we needed to ignore our teachers: "The answers you seek are inside yourself!" This is how we rocked it before irony took off, people. HARD.

The Search - Angkor Wat

REFLECTION: The 1990s happened and now I'm old. My friend Dave Wechsler produced my only authorized recording, an amalgamation of Frankie Avalon, Kiss, the Bee Gees and Pee Wee Herman into a single Jungian pop song.

Japan - Lefty

Last summer, when we were in Woodstock, New York, Dewey Dell and I helped Dave record a song for his new album, Vacations. What a fantastic record! Sounds like Harold from Harold & Maude grew up and became a wry singer-songwriter of the Lyle Lovett-Randy Newman school. That's Lefty on uke, Dewey Dell on fake Soweto-style backup singing. Roll credits...

We've Finally Come Home - David Wechsler


Saturday, April 07, 2007

To-Keep-From-Thinking Thing

Because my life has reached a code-five, core-melting, China-Syndrome, red-alert level of suckiness – a kind of sucking that we used to call "sucking out loud" - a sort of self-pitying foam of bathos worthy of the most sad-sack George Jones song(I keep thinking of the fate-beseeching ache of "These Days I Barely Get By" coupled with the general liver-perforation of "If Drinking Don’t Kill Me"),

and because I learned - from reading the newspaper, no less - that my employer, the newly sold Tribune Company, will no longer be contributing funds to employee 401K accounts, and because I’ve had the kind of stress-induced headaches that make me fear that my left eyeball might burst like a dropped egg, and because the assbags in charge of the housing office at the elite bucolic New England college where my wife teaches/works have yet again fucked up so royally and rudely that we may be faced with the prospect of moving for the fifth time in THREE years, and because I called home on the commute after work yesterday simply to see if there was enough bourbon in the house to keep my hair-pulling angst in check,

and because we’ve seriously started entertaining the idea of loading up the cars and moving back in with one of our mothers (probably in a basement) down south, but not before we pile pretty much everything we own into a heap and simply torch it, because of all these things, I’ve found myself turning to the questionable but sure solace of the most maudlin country music, Gary Stewart. I got turned on to Stewart by the great Oxford American’s last music issue. I already offered a little post on the joys of "Single Again" a while back. And after listening to a few other kernels of his boozy miserablist brilliance, I had to get a greatest hits collection. Turns out Stewart had a regrettable honky-tonkin’ streak. Another surprise came when I learned that he wrote the song "Back Slider's Wine," of which Jerry Jeff Walker (dissed mildly on this site in the past) does a superior version. So, even on a greatest hits collection, there’s some chaff to toss to the wind, but the ones that connect provide a brief bit of comfort. That’s all we can hope for. On this Easter weekend, I am banking, sweet Jesus, on some fucking rebirth.

"Drinkin' Thing" - Gary Stewart

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Part Mental

A co-worker turned me on to these guys. It’s got all of the requisites: a seeming fondness for the whole countripolitan scenario, as filtered through scratchy records and skittery beat snippets, counterbalanced by a junkyard aesthetic, a lo-fi front used to thinly obscure a high pop sensibility. People be championing Paul Williams; that’s a good sign. One of these dudes is also in Grizzly Bear.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Saturated Rocks: An Annotated Mix (A)

  1. Dyin’ For It – Mudhoney (B)
  2. Marigold – Nirvana (C)
  3. The Greatest Gift – Scratch Acid
  4. I’m Ready – Royal Trux
  5. 100% -- Sonic Youth (D)
  6. Hard On For War – Mudhoney (E)
  7. Blandest – Nirvana
  8. Juicy Juicy Juice – Royal Trux (F)
  9. Winner’s Blues – Sonic Youth
  10. Mary Had a Little Drug Problem – Scratch Acid (G)
  11. Curmudgeon – Nirvana
  12. She Said She Said – Black Keys (H)
  13. Bull in the Heather – Sonic Youth
  14. Yellow Kid – Royal Trux
  15. Dive – Nirvana
  16. Thorn – Mudhoney
  17. Flying Lesson -- Yo La Tengo
  18. Transfiguration – Screaming Trees
  19. Tom Courtenay -- Yo La Tengo
  20. Crooked and Wide -- Mudhoney
  21. Mr. Moto – Agent Orange (I)

A: I am warning you now this is an unabashed nostalgia trip with groups from the 80’s and 90’s, mostly 90's. Title refers to my suspicion that Sonic Youth and their ilk are best listened to when one has heard too much rock. What comes after rock perfection? SY.

B: I’ve come to appreciate Mudhoney more and more. The attitude, the longevity, the whole fuzzy thing. I even splurged and bought an LP on translucent vinyl. The record’s called Since We’ve Become Translucent. Track 20 is from that record.

C: This entire mix is inspired by the box set With the Lights Out, especially this song from the box.

D: Thurston Moore wrote some great liner notes for the box mentioned in C, which led me to Mudhoney.

E: This is the funniest anti-war song I’ve ever heard.

F: I missed out on the Royal Trux thing in the 90’s. Luckily Drag City is still printing these discs.

G: I have the split cassette single Nirvana and Jesus Lizard did, but I decided to explore Mr. Yow’s earlier efforts. I will never forget seeing the JL perform an impromptu gig on Lollapalooza’s second stage while in Yow’s words, “that fucking cunt and her band” were playing the main stage. Sacramento 1995. Sonic Youth headlined, with Diamond Sea a particularly stunning peak.

H: Those guys from Track 2 liked the Beatles.

I: Well that’s it. Not sure how that OC surf rock cover got on there. This felt pretty good. I haven’t posted in a while, been busy working my cubicle job and uh, y’know, just busy with worthwhile projects like setting up a MySpace page for our booze-loving red monkey. Things of that nature. See you soon.