Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Music Library: Final Fantasy, Fiona Apple, fIREHOSE

Final Fantasy - Has A Good Home (2005), He Poos Clouds (2006), Many Live -> 49 MP EP (2006), "Peach Plum Pear," and Plays To Please EP (2008). Final Fantasy is a one-man chamber pop project, which is not a group of words that go easily together. Fortunately, the guy has serious songwriting and arrangement chops. The first album is very much oriented towards conventional pop songwriting and loop arrangements. The second album is an art-rock extravaganza that I cannot begin to parse. Wikipedia says that it is loosely based on Dungeons and Dragons and The Legend of Zelda, and is also a meditation on confronting death without a belief in God. I could buy that, sure. The first EP has singles with the art-pop sensibility of He Poos Clouds, and the Joanna Newsom cover is a fun track off of a different EP. The latter EP is just as lush and interesting as the prior work.

Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine (2005). Fantastic title track, and the rest is pretty ok, if not quite as distinctive.

  • Ragin', Full On (1986) and "Ballad of Ed fROMOHIO." So it was 1986, not long after the guitarist for the greatest American post-punk band had died in a car accident, leaving the other members - especially his best friend, the bassist - utterly bereft. A young fan in Ohio, one Ed Crawford, heard that the other guys were auditioning a replacement. They weren't. I mean, seriously: they couldn't, wouldn't have even considered the possibility. Dennes Boon was gone, and no one could fill his shoes. But Crawford talked to the guys on the phone and then decided the hell with it, so he drove all the way down to San Pedro to find the other guys. Luckily for him, those other guys, Mike and George, were (and are) actually wholly awesome human beings, and something about this Crawford kid's commitment convinced them that they should give it a go. And that's how you get from The Minutemen, who were the greatest post-punk band in the country - hell, in the world - to fIREHOSE, one of the greatest indie rock bands of the 80s and 90s. This album, their debut, is quite brilliant, if a bit thrown-together. The single is from the SST comp Taste Test #1, and features Ed Crawford, renamed Ed fROMOHIO by Mike Watt, telling his story to the tune of the theme from The Beverly Hillbillies.

  • If'n (1987), Live in San Pedro 1987, and Sometimes EP (1988). And by their second album, fIREHOSE had found a sound that wasn't the Minutemen, but their own thing. The brilliantly elliptical lyrics of the past had become something a little more personal, a little less political, but still funny and insightful. My favorite songs: "Making The Freeway," "For The Singer of R.E.M.," "Windmilling," and "Me and You, Remembering," the last of which I hereby nominate for inclusion in any further Voyager spacecrafts that we set out to inform theoretical aliens about our race. There's also a lovely acoustic track about the folk singer Elizabeth Cotten, a native of Chapel Hill, NC. After fIREHOSE split up, I was living in Chapel Hill, and I would sometimes see Ed Crawford/fROMOHIO out at shows, and I always wondered how heavily his love of Elizabeth Cotten played on his decision to move there. I only spoke to him once, just to let him know how much his music had meant to me, and he was a hell of a guy. The bootleg is one I found at the Corndogs website, a Minutemen tribute, and it's mostly material from the first album. The EP had two album tracks and one other song, which isn't among their best, so really, it's only that song that's part of my collection.

  • fROMOHIO (1989). If'n has a lot of my favorite fIREHOSE songs, but this is my favorite fIREHOSE album, where the boys flirt with country, folk, Tex-Mex, funk, and drum solos aplenty. The band is in fine form, and they sound like they're having the time of their lives. My favorite tracks: "Riddle of the Eighties," "What Gets Heard," and "Understanding." The first time I saw fIREHOSE play was on this tour, and it ruled my damn world.

  • Flyin' The Flannel (1991). This was their major-label sell-out album. Or so I heard at the time, but it sure sounds as idiosyncratic as all the other fIREHOSE albums. I don't love it quite as much as the previous two, but it's still a strong contender, with such tracks as "Epoxy, For Example," "Toolin'," and their fantastic cover of Daniel Johnston's "Walking The Cow."

  • Live Totem Pole EP (1992). On the shortlist for the best live album by a rock band, the Live Totem Pole EP features fIREHOSE doing five covers and two originals, and holy cow does it rock. First there's Blue Oyster Cult's "The Red & The Black," which had been a staple of the Minutemen's repertoire, but here, fIREHOSE plays it with speed and passion enough that it seems to be the only thing keeping the Earth from spinning off of its axis. There's a cover of Public Enemy's oh-so-sexist "Sophisticated Bitch" which is ten times more fun than any cover of a seminal hip-hop track by an indie rock band has any right to be. Then there's the Butthole Surfers' "Revolution Pt. 2," one of the few great tracks from Piouhgd, but fIREHOSE plays it better. The other two covers are Superchunk's "Slack Motherfucker" and Wire's "Mannequin," both excellent. The originals are Watt's "What Gets Heard" and "Makin' The Freeway," two of the more funky fIREHOSE tracks. Recommended, highly.

  • Mr. Machinery Operator (1993). The last fIREHOSE album was produced by J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., and it amps up the RAWK over the more experimental sides of the band. It has a pretty bad critical reputation, but I think it's a great album, even if it's not quite up to the heights of their best. Watt's out front singing more on this album, and I think it gave him the confidence to launch his subsequent solo career. I also like how casually profane it is, with songs about fucking, drugs, general smartassery, and Watt's statement of purpose, "Disciples of the 3-Way," which is not about ménage à trois, but how much he loves playing in a trio. I think he's only broken the trio format once, which I'll discuss more when we get to Watt's solo albums in the Ms, somewhere in mid-2010. Best songs: "Formal Introduction," "Herded Into Pools," and "Rocket Sled/Fuel Tank." Hate: "Hell Hole." Blah.


Anonymous 2:21 PM, August 13, 2009  

Great pic, love some Firehose.
--Ms. Obscurity

Hayden Childs 5:16 PM, August 13, 2009  

Me, too!

Anonymous 3:30 AM, August 24, 2009  
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