SEWERS OF MARS #18
Mar 10, 2010, 16:19
Apologies for the extended absence, friends. My midnight wiffleball league has hogged up most of my free time, and these weekly watermelon growing contests aren't going to emcee themselves. It took a spat of no longer recent releases to get me over to the ol' Gateway to sing from the rooftops. Here are a few notables.
The Horse's Ha is a fantastic new band featuring Freakwater / Eleventh Dream Day stalwart Janet Beveridge Bean and brit James Elkington of The Zincs, getting by with a little help from such Chicago notables such as Fred Lonberg-Holm. The debut album, Of The Cathmawr Yards (Hidden Agenda) is a compelling set of country noir songs influenced as much by bossa nova and cocktail jazz as from English folkies like Fairport Convention or Pentangle. The entire album is sophisticated without feeling stuffy, and doesn't miss an opportunity to cut loose (Elkington's propensity for spontaneous-sounding, dynamic guitar solos on songs like "Liberation," Bean's death ballad dourness on "Asleep In A Waterfall). The literary bent can occasionally feel a tad forced (the band is named after a Dylan Thomas short story), but that's nitpicking. Of The Cathmawr Yards is a unique and compelling listen, and a very encouraging debut.
I have written enthusiastically of Grails in these, err, pages before, and Acid Rain, a new DVD featuring music videos and live performances, should provide enough of a bounty to convert acolytes of Godspeed and Goblin alike. No 'stoner iconography' is neglected in the music videos—pyramids, flying saucers, hot occult babes, native ritual and stoned nature scenes abound. These short films are thematically consistent (with the possible exception of the evolution-themed "The Natural Man") in that they all present a non-linear, kaleidoscopic accompaniment to Grails' heady brew of psychedelia, drone and dustbowl American wasteland music. The visual accompaniment succeeds in paying homage to the surreal mondo / cult videos of the double feature era, cartoonishly spooky and presented with a knowing wink. The bonus features here—the obligatory tour footage, some other random live clips, and scenes from the studio session that yielded the band's incredible contribution to the Latitudes series—show a band in total control. Seeing drummer Emil Amos in action leaves little doubt as to why Al Cisneros tapped Amos to replace the departed Chris Haikus as the drummer in Om. The live gigs are nothing if not a showcase for Amos's powerhouse drumming—dude's a monster. This is not to say that the rest of the band is not equally engrossing—this is a group that can seamlessly segue from what sounds like Paul Wall remixing King Crimson's Earthbound to a powerful wash of drone and quasi-ethno clatter, while still retaining a distinct sound. The footage is amateurish but serviceable, and while the mix does favor the drums, there's no better entry to the charms of this magnificent and still-very-young band.
Don't get me wrong—I'm elated to see a band like Eat Skull getting critical accolades over, say, those sissies Fleet Foxes. But the problem with a lot of this new 'noise punk' stuff is that I still have yet to attend a party where anyone actually plays any of these records. I'm proud to have been one of Tyvek's earliest champions—on this very forum, as a matter of fact.* While I admit I haven't kept up with the myriad singles and limited releases the band has issued over the past two years, I was eagerly anticipating their Siltbreeze debut. Not only does the s/t album not disappoint, it's a near perfect distillation of everything great about this band. Anthemic, aggro punk tunes that split the difference between The Germs and The Clean are featured alongside stoned psychedelic vignettes, minimalist rave-ups and chiming, surprisingly melancholic guitar playing (check the second half of “Hey Una” if you think I'm pullin' your leg). There is a timelessness and exquisite attention to detail on Tyvek that very few of the band's innumerable contemporaries can match, not to mention bona fide hooks. I included the exhortative soon-to-be-classic “Stand and Fight” on a mix CD and the first few times it came up, I kept forgetting I was listening to a current band. Haters are already hating on this album, so you know it's something special, and something tells me it's gonna sound bad-fucking-ass blasting from the speakers at my next cookout. Awesome.
Los Angeles's Radio Records, established in 1928, was the site where “White Christmas,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Mack The Knife” were originally recorded. On July 4th, 2008, mere weeks before being shut down to make room for a new Persian restaurant, Neil Hamburger and His Too-Good-For-Neil-Hamburger Band played a free benefit show at the historic site, the results captured for the DVD release Western Music & Variety, who else?—Neil Hamburger and the Too-Good-For-Neil-Hamburger Band. Following a brief guest introduction by Dr. Demento and a couple of smokin' instrumental warm-up numbers by the band, America's Funnyman proceeds to play tunes from his exemplary Sings Country Winners album from last year ("available wherever anything is sold” and reviewed by yours truly HERE), tell dry jokes, and repeatedly berate the small audience. Shot in a stylized sepia-toned flicker, Western Music and Variety is most successful when the viewer allows him or herself to imagine they're witnessing an actual has-been country star in decline, having a late-period career meltdown on, say, public access television. It's only when the camera pans the crowd—a mix of self-satisfied hipsters and entertainment-starved stragglers, from the looks of it—that the fantasy is compromised and the entire shebang begins to reek of anachronism. Hamburger the character / caricature has always been a man out of time, and his tragedy is satisfying as entertainment only relative to how long one is able to suspend disbelief. The group is aptly named—guitarist Dave Gleason, bassist Atom Ellis and drummer Prairie Prince—are a superb backing band, and, doubling as straight men, they're also perfectly cast. When the incorrigible Hamburger repeatedly mistakes the title of his album, coughs up particularly nasty phlegm directly onto the microphone, and hurls ice at a 'zipper-lips' in the audience, the band members maintain a unified visage, equal parts icy cool and mild befuddlement... As singers go, Hamburger's a great entertainer. Inter-cut with hokey 'variety show' type antics (crude edits, lame jokes, cue cards, dimestore props), the songs here are played as straight as might be expected. An especially impassioned and raucous cover of the Bee Gee's "I Started A Joke" is a high point, as is an out-of-nowhere cover of American Music Club's “Hula Maiden.” Hamburger changes the lyrics to his "The Recycle Bin" and appears to 'lose it' at the end (“Fuck this song and fuck all of you!")... His distinct brand of standup, an acquired taste on the best of days, elicits the expected moans and groans, as Hamburger goes topical, targeting Smash Mouth, Big Macs, Applebee's, Nickelback, Alien Ant Farm, KFC, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Sally Field, The Warped Tour, Eric Clapton, TGI Friday's, Linkin Park, The Red Hot Chili Peppers (and their 'composer' Anthony Kiedis), Aerosmith, Carlos Santana, Paris Hilton, Martha Stewart, Britney Spears, 'disgraced rapper' 2Pac, and, err, The Osmonds. Best joke?
Q: Why did Britney Spears get so addicted to cocaine? A: Because Kevin fed-her-lines.
An overview of the German synth punk band 39 Clocks—more heard of than heard—is long overdue. Luckily, the tireless De Stijl label has released Zoned, which serves as a primer for the band's distinctly austere, psycho-beat take on post-Velvets avant dada weirdness. The album offers up the best album cuts from the band's brief seven year run (80-87), presented, inexplicably, in reverse chronological order. For a bunch of Fluxus-inspired shit disturbers, though, the band wrote some great tunes to go along with their more impish “punk” tendencies. While “New Crime Appeal” is more Loaded than White Light / White Heat, “You Can't Count The Bombs” is pure atonal garage mayhem, complete with harmonica. Suicide is another obvious touchstone here, even if you discount that the duo—clad in black clothes and ubiquitous shades—had a penchant for disrupting the status quo at venues, where they often performed with vacuum cleaners and circular saws. The band's greatest song remains “DNS,” their earliest track, which both predicts early, pre-Olson Wolf Eyes (think the s/t Bulb album) and imagines a more nihilistic, less laconic Jacobites, showcasing a band too cool to care, transcendent and just plain great in spite of itself. Now, how about a Beyond The Implode anthology? An Endtables box set? Hey, it could happen. This is De Stijl, after all! Bless their crate-digging hearts.
It's hard not to compare Larry Jon Wilson to Townes Van Zandt. The two songwriters were friends and roommates, and share similar obsessions. The Georgia-born late bloomer (Wilson didn't begin recording until his mid-thirties) made four beautiful albums for the Monument label, ran with the outlaw country crowd that included Guy Clark and Van Zandt, and appeared in the film Heartworn Highways before dropping out of site for nearly thirty years. His first new album since that time (s/t, Drag City) is cause for celebration, and the fact that it rivals—possibly bests—his work on Monument and that's nothing short of remarkable. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, with only the occasional violin overdub added later, the album is a stark testament to Wilson the songwriter, Wilson the singer / guitarist, and, perhaps most of all, Wilson the interpreter. Recorded over seven days at a hotel room in Florida, the production—if you could call it that—is suitably hands-off. These are first takes, and what the album lacks in variety it more than makes up for in haunting intimacy. If you think Wilson's cover of Dylan and Willie's "Heartland" is poignant, wait'll you hear "Whore Trilogy," a suite of songs comprising a cover of his friend Mickey Newbury's nearly perfect “Frisco Mabel Joy.” It's hard not to compare this album, with it's hushed, plaintive mood and Spartan production, to Johnny Cash's final recordings with Rick Rubin, but, with all due respect, Larry Jon Wilson is better than any of those albums, and my favorite record of the year.
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