Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Obscurity Interview #1: Hayden Childs

Yesterday I received advance copies of the upcoming novella of music criticism Shoot Out The Lights by some joker with the unlikely name of Hayden Childs. The book is told from the perspective of one Virgil Schlage, a failed musician obsessed with Richard Thompson because of the parallels Schlage perceives in their lives. During the course of the novella, Schlage is driving north along the Eastern Seaboard to repay a final debt to his ex-wife while he listens to and considers Shoot Out The Lights, the album he associates with his divorce and the end of his musical career.

Our From Here To Obscurity correspondent recently sat down with Mr. Childs, who eyed us shiftily as he stuffed his pockets with the complimentary cheese and crackers.

Obscurity: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today, Mr. Childs.

Childs: (murmurs unintelligibly while fumbling with his cell-phone)

Obscurity: We're in the same room, Mr. Childs. You don't have to text-message me.

Childs: (via text-message) Is ths rom safe?

Obscurity: Um. Ok, well... Could you speak about your book? Why did you write about Richard Thompson?

Childs: (whispering) Can I have some Chicken-in-a-Biskets?

Obscurity: I'll get my people right on that. But first, Richard Thompson - I think you'll agree - is a fascinating musician, and Shoot Out The Lights is arguably his darkest album. Why did you want to write about that particular album?

Childs: (louder) Is there more cheese?

Obscurity: NO! NO! NO!

Childs: You don't have to yell.

Obscurity: Say something about Richard Thompson, you (unintelligible) idiot!

Childs: Who?

Obscurity: Aren't you Hayden Childs?

Childs: Who?


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Music Library: Architecture in Helsinki, Arctic Monkeys, Arcwelder, Aretha Franklin, Armand Schaubroeck Steals

I'm going to start rating albums between 0 and 5 somethings which should be mildly amusing signifiers. But I'm too undercaffeinated to figure out what these should be. 0 = I'm going to erase. 1 = limited interest. 2 = 'sokay. 3 = decent. 4 = fascinating. 5 = headphone bliss.

Architecture in Helsinki - In Case We Die. Ever imagine what it would sound like if Poi Dog Pondering and Oingo Boingo set out to cover Magma and the later Talking Heads albums? Neither have I. But this is good, anyway. 3 somethings.

Arctic Monkeys - "Mardy Bum." Don't know where I got this. Don't know why. Generic guitar pop. 1 something.

Arcwelder - Sampler. This is a mix made by an Internet friend from a while back. I like some of the songs pretty well, but overall, it sounds like a bunch of early 90s bands sounded without bringing much new to the table. 2 somethings.

Aretha Franklin - I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You. A perfect slice of late-60s Memphis/Muscle Shoals soul with Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd at the peak of their recording wonder-twin powers. At least 5 somethings. More like 15.

Aretha Franklin - Lady Soul. The follow-up. I like it a little less than I Never Loved A Man, but that's like saying I like this Botticelli a little less than that one. They're both stratospherically great. What's best about this is that you've heard these songs a million times, but it's easy to forget just how freakin' phenomenal they are. Try to listen to "Chain of Fools" like you've never heard it before with that rubbery Joe South guitar, demanding bassline, horn punctuation (usually providing a "!" for the vocals), multilayered call-and-response backing vocals, handclaps, steadily increasing drumbeat, and tell me how you can resist that thing. At least 5 somethings, but more like 14.5.

Aretha Franklin - 30 Greatest Hits. Just a handful of these, actually. Nothing from the albums already reviewed, but mostly from later, overproduced work. Aretha's voice: great. The material: yawn. Some of the tracks: godawful. 2 somethings.

Aretha Franklin - Under Her Spell. This is some sort of Starbucks monstrosity compilation with a select tracks ripped out. I have only those songs that I didn't have already, which are mostly from the Aretha in Muscle Shoals period. Goes without saying that they're excellent, but I should have the source albums instead of this. 4 somethings.

Armand Schaubroeck Steals - A Lot Of People Would Like To See Armand Schaubroeck... Dead. A triple-LP rock opera of Schaubroeck airing the ample dirty laundry of his past. This opens with Schaubroeck confessing to robbing a church-among 32 other robberies-to his priest, followed by some scathing proto-punk VU-style craziness. He documents his arrest and incarceration, a nightmarish experience that obviously still plagues him. It's harrowing, incredible, unforgettable stuff, like Lou Reed, Iggy, and Patti Smith all rolled into a demented, possibly evil dwarf. 5 somethings. Or more. I haven't been uploading album images, but Schaubroeck's deserve a viewing.

Armand Schaubroeck Steals - I Came to Visit But Decided to Stay. Another concept album. This one is about a priest in love with a nun, Sister Jennifer. Their love is forbidden, as is suicide. So Schaubroeck, playing Father Michael, shoots his beloved dead. Then he goes to her graveside to drink himself to death. Unbelievable, right? Schaubroeck is just getting warmed up. 5 somethings.

Armand Schaubroeck Steals - Ratfucker. I don't have the live album that came between I Came To Visit and this one, Live At The Holiday Inn, but I'm always hoping some kind soul will give me a copy. Anyway, Ratfucker. I'm not sure where to start. I think the word "unhinged" would be best. This is unhinged music, maybe the most punk shit I've ever heard in my life, and I've heard a lot of punk shit. In the title song, for instance, Schaubroeck adopts the voice of a gang boss willing to do anything for money, and unafraid to list the possibilities. The music slashes and burns, the chorus screams in agony and ecstasy, and Schaubroeck completely loses his shit screaming, "TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT" over and over again, while dropping F-bombs like Al Swearingen imported into the 70s. Goddamn!, I say. It's a terrifying journey into the dark night of the soul, the album Lou Reed always wanted to make in the 70s while he was too strung out on smack, a Celine-like celebration of the death impulse. 18 somethings.

Armand Schaubroeck Steals - Shakin' Shakes. Unfortunately, I only have part of this album, and the rip is lousy. Anyone willing to hook a brother up would be most amply appreciated. This one sounds like Alex Chilton's R&B nightmares. Lovers of The Cramps or The Gun Club take note. 4.5 somethings.

Julian Cope's article on Schaubroeck is more extensive and better than mine, so go read it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Music Library: Antony & The Johnsons, Any Trouble, Aphex Twin, Apollo Nove, Apples In Stereo, Arcade Fire, Archie Shepp, Archies

Antony & The Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now. I also like most of Lou Reed's albums from the 70s, Roxy Music, Bowie, Eno's rock albums, and any number of other half-showtune glam tracks.

Any Trouble - "Dimming of the Day". Clive Gregson, who I mostly know as a Richard Thompson back-up singer, covering Richard & Linda Thompson's classic song with his pub-rock outfit. I've heard good things about this band, but this cover is pedestrian enough to discourage me from pursuing them further so far.

Aphex Twin - Richard D. James. Not my cup of tea. A friend gave me some Aphex Twin albums, and I've kept them to occasionally challenge my horizons. But while I like the melodies and noises pretty well, the over effect never really moves me.

Aphex Twin - 26 Mixes For Cash. Same deal, although I like what's happening on this album quite a lot. In small doses. But, Jesus, 26 in a row is a long time to put up with this sort of music.

Apollo Nove - Res Inexplicata Volans. A gift from the same friend, this is Brazil pop with strong tropicalista tendencies. I'm pretty sure that's Rita Lee from Os Mutantes singing on some of the tracks. The music isn't as wildly ambitious and dream-logical as Os Mutantes were, but I dig it, anyway.

Apples In Stereo - "Holiday Mood," "Stephen Stephen," and "Energy." My least-favorite of the Elephant Six bands. I dig Robert Schneider as a person and a producer, but his work does almost nothing for me. The first song is a Xmas track. The second is one he wrote for The Colbert Report green-screen showdown with the Decemberists. The last is off their most recent album. They all leave me cold.

Arcade Fire - Funeral. Everyone and their sister has heard of the Arcade Fire. I'm pretty ambivalent about them, though, and have been since I first bought this album. It sounds like a lot of 80s alterna-bands playing at once, which isn't a bad thing so much as an undistinguished thing. I hear U2, the Smiths, the Cure, and about a dozen others. All those anthemic bands that have heard of minor keys, basically. Sometimes it works on me (see The National), but usually I think it's good for a song or two, but nothing worth getting het up over.

Archie Shepp - "Attica Blues." I thought I had this whole album, but it appears that this is the only track I have. Must rectify soon.

The Archies - The Archies' Greatest Hits. I actually like bubblegum pop pretty well, but this is far too much Archies. I could cut this down to "Sugar Sugar" and "Jingle Jangle" and still have all the Archies I ever need.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Music Library: Animaniacs, Antietam, Antoni Wit/Messiaen

Animaniacs - "Yakko's Universe". I think I got this from David Smay. It's the formerly-popular cartoon characters singing about living in a notably secular universe.

Antietam - Music From Elba. This is music like a puzzle. Part post-punk, part jangle-pop, part roots-rock, and yet all art-rock, with three different lead singers coming together in strange, often discordant ways. Two bassists, one guitarist (the nimble Tara Key, one of the all-too-few female guitarists in post-punk's mid-80s flowering), a drummer, and some occasional sweet violin. I always thought "Elba" to be a reference to the often-flooded Alabama town, but most reviewers think that it's a reference to the island best known for Napolean's exile.

Antietam - Burgoo. Produced by Ira & Georgia of Yo La Tengo and sounding like it. This is a more coherent album with more direct songs (and only one bassist). I kinda miss the anarchy of Music From Elba, but I dig it on its own terms, anyway.

Antoni Wit - MESSIAEN: Turangalîla-Symphonie. According to Wikipedia, Messiaen explained this work by saying, "It's a love song." Also according to Wikipedia, he derived the title from two Sanskrit words, turanga and lîla, which roughly translate into English as "love song and hymn of joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death," and described the joy of Turangalîla as "superhuman, overflowing, dazzling and abandoned." As with most modern composition, I find it beautiful, but quite exhausting, and I lack the vocabulary and experience to explain why.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Music Library: Animal Collective + Catch-up: Acetone, Andrew Bird

Animal Collective - Sung Tongs. Man, this is sonic perfection. Just as hazy and trippy and pleasantly disorienting as any evening spent intoxicated with some of your oldest and most-loved friends camping miles away from civilization.

Animal Collective - "Baby Day" (B-side to "Who Could Win A Rabbit?" single). Not as great as any song on Sung Tongs, but a lovely blend of electronics and Beach Boys-like singing.

Animal Collective - Feels. Wait, THIS one is sonic perfection. This is what summer days during college felt like when I didn't have to work or go to school and had no plans other than hanging out with friends, maybe trying to find a pool to jump into, taking my dog for a hike in the woods, jumping off a cliff into Lake Nichols near Tuscaloosa, or just plain sleeping in the sun. I love the hell out of this album.

Animal Collective with Vashti Bunyan - Prospect Hummer EP. I love Vashti Bunyan's solo albums, especially her first one from back in the early 70s. Joe Boyd writes about how much he believed in her despite her nonexistant sales. As he was with many artists, Boyd was right. This collaboration is lovely and dreamy and pastoral, with Bunyan's honey-smooth voice dripping over the sharp edge of many of Animal Collective's other recordings. I don't know if I'd actually enjoy an album-length collaboration, but an EP is about a perfect length.

Animal Collective - Grass single. Since "Grass" is on Feels, I have only the two B-sides. "Fickle Cycle" is not all that great, and "Must Be Treeman" is actively annoying.

Animal Collective - Peacebone EP. "Peacebone" is also on Strawberry Jam, but this came out first, so I bought the single as wells as the B-sides. B-side, singular, really. The only track that isn't "Peacebone" or a remix thereof is "Safer," which is practically ambient with noise and unusually clear vocal (for AC, at least) front and center. The two remixes are neither necessary or illuminating. In fact, the Black Dice remix is annoying (they attempt some sort of approximation of the sound of the tape being eaten in Neu! 2, but it just doesn't work) and the Pantha Du Prince remix is just plain boring.

Animal Collective - People EP. I like the song "People," even though there is almost nothing to it. This EP has a studio version and a live version. The other songs are decent, too, if not as immediately arresting as anything on Feels or Sung Tongs.

Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam. This is the next full-length album after Feels, and it's a bit of a disappointment. The music is colder, relying on loops and noise over guitars and drums and losing, in the process, the neat mix of organic and artificial that marks Animal Collective's best work. Pushing the vocals to the foreground was not a great move, either. There's a few standout tracks, but overall Strawberry Jam's not one of their top-tier albums. I find that I like it more now than I did when it came out.

Animal Collective - Water Curses EP. I just bought this last night, so this is my first listen. It sounds a little more organic than Strawberry Jam, but it's not up the the heights of Feels. Very, very good, though. I'm interested to see where they're going to go from here.

Here's a few albums that slipped through the cracks up to now.

Acetone - If You Only Knew. This was a gift from a friend, so I wasn't sure what to expect. From the cover, I was guessing rootsy alterna-rock from the late 80s. Instead, it's lovely dream-pop pitched somewhere between Big Star's Third/Sister Lovers album and the Velvet Underground's self-titled third album. Without vocals, you might think it to be an outtake from Luna or Yo La Tengo. With vocals, it's its own thing.

Andrew Bird - Fingerlings. Live tracks from around the time of The Swimming Hour. Like that album, they sit somewhere between the retro-swing sound of Bird's earlier work and the forward-looking oddball-indie music.

Andrew Bird - Fingerlings 2. As Fingerlings is to The Swimming Hour, this is to Weather Systems.

Andrew Bird - Fingerlings 3. And, likewise, this to The Mysterious Production of Eggs. By this point, you can hear how Bird has perfected his ability to loop in real time onstage, suggesting a much larger ensemble than he actually has.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Book No. 16: Herman Melville - Bartleby The Scrivener

Is it cheating that I'm including a novella? Fuck it, I make my own rules, man!

Bartleby is a wonderful story, natch, and this is maybe the 30th time I've read it. I just spent too much money on the attractive Art Of The Novella printing. They have a great idea - printing great novellas in pleasant colors adorned only with the declarative font you can see at left. However, I paid almost $10 for mine, and the thing about novellas is that you can typically read them in about an hour, tops. So... worth it? Maybe and maybe not.

Anyway, if you've never read it, the narrator is a bureaucrat who is telling the story from years before of a young scrivener (sort of like an attorney and a copyist) who slowly retreats from his duties and eventually all trappings of life itself with the statement "I would prefer not to." Rather delightful for anyone who has glanced about their life and realized that the game is rigged and that the only way not to lose is not to play. That's a concept easier to imagine, of course, than it is to implement, as refuseniks will often end up with poor Bartleby's fate. The rest of us are on a pay-to-play plan.

Music Library: Animal Collective

Animal Collective - "Forest Gospel," Live February 9, 2001. Don't remember where I found this. It's from a radio show, sounds like, and very similar to all of Hollinndagain.

Animal Collective - Campfire Songs. Somewhat like camp counselors on acid attempting to cover one of Brian Eno's ambient albums. Not a song in the bunch, but there's a lot of strummed guitars and wordless singing.

Animal Collective - Here Comes The Indian. There was a brilliant review of this album in which Christopher Robin and his pals from the Hundred Acre Woods discussed Animal Collective while preparing for a rave. It's like that. This is the first one that sounds like Animal Collective in all its glory: lots of psychedelic loops, beats, noise, and electronics, sing-songy melodies that erupt into, well, animalistic screaming, Beach Boys harmonies, and a willingness to push the envelope wherever the songs leads, all resulting in a perfectly weird Americana experience.

Animal Collective - Live in Bristol 10/21/2003. This is a single track of an Animal Collective performance I ganked from the Internet. There's quite a few snippets of recognizable songs from Sung Tongs in and amongst the general weirdness. It's pretty trippy-delic.

Animal Collective - At the Dublab Summer 2003. Another single track of an Animal Collective performance. It's creepier (and earlier) than the Bristol performance.

Next time: More Animal Collective! Oh my god, is it obvious that I like them?

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From Here To Obscurity, founded ca. 2003, population 1. The management wishes to emphasize that no promises vis-a-vis your entertainment have been guaranteed and for all intents and purposes, intimations of enlightenment fall under the legal definition of entertainment. No refunds shall be given nor will requests be honored. Although some may ask, we have no intention of beginning again.

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