Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Music Library: Dinosaur Jr. and Akron/Family

Dinosaur Jr.:

I found myself standing next to J Mascis at a Consonant show at SXSW 2004. Although drunk and close to utter exhaustion, I thought it would be a good idea to strike up a conversation. So I told him how much his albums had meant to me through my life, especially You're Living All Over Me. I babbled for a while, and then realized that I was babbling, so I said something like, "Oh shit, you have a reputation as a guy who doesn't suffer fools gladly, and here I'm jabbering like a goddamn fool, so, uh, I guess I'll shut up and stop bothering you." Through all of this Mascis just looked at me without changing expression. Finally, he said, "Where are you from?" I said that I'd grown up in Mobile, AL, which didn't have much of a punk scene when I was a teenager, but I live in Austin now. He just nodded, as if I'd told him something important that somehow helped him understand and move on, and he said basically, "ok, bye now." Then he wandered off to go talk with Clint Conley. I tell this story not because I think it explains anything, but mainly because my friends think it's hilarious that when I get drunk and stumble onto a celebrity, I have an uncanny ability to tell them something they already know, which is specifically their own name. "Hey, you're Eugene Mirman" I will say in a a typical example of my stirling conversational skills. In this case, I tried to break the mold, but with exactly the wrong guy. I know now that Mascis was trying to be a more spiritual and connected person at the time, which may be why he waited until I finished babbling to wander off, but man, I'm the worst at talking to people who have made art that I care about, which is why I'm a terrible interviewer. I should have learned my lesson by now.

  • Dinosaur. The first Dino Jr album is a little undercooked, although still charming. It reminds me a bit of the first Meat Puppets album, although it's infinitely more competently made. Still, they share a sense of struggle to pull their visions out of the hardcore scene and recast them into something new. J. Mascis apparently told Lou Barlow that his aim was "ear-splitting country," and that was definitely the road he was on.

  • You're Living All Over Me. It don't get much better than this. Mascis has taken the reins and is turning out the blueprints for all indie rock to follow: loud-quiet-loud dynamics, throwing out the verse-chorus structure when he needs to, deeply personal lyrics delivered impassionately over howling, insistent, breathlessly compelling music. And Mascis was all of 21 when he made it, the talented bastard.

  • Bug. Opening with the sublime "Freak Scene," Bug rocks like a crazy person coming apart at the seams. Everything I just said about You're Living All Over Me is true of Bug, as well, although maybe a little bit less so. Just a little. If at all. In fact, the heck with it, if You're Living All Over Me is a five star album, Bug is a four-and-99/100 star album.

  • Green Mind. Then J had Murph fire Lou. And Dinosaur Jr signed to a major label. And J barely even let Murph play on the next album. But it was still good. Different, but good: slicker, a little less dynamic. J was trying to figure out how to make his ideas go over to a bigger audience, and he was pretty successful at that.

  • Where You Been. The best of the major-label albums, this one has Murph on all the tracks, new bassist Mike Johnson on all the tracks, and J sounds like he's having a lot of fun. The songs are pretty great throughout, catchy and on fire.

  • Without A Sound. Then there was one. J fired Murph and made this one all by himself. The first track, "Feel The Pain," is one of Dinosaur Jr.'s finest moments. Everything else, not so much. Most of the songs slide by and I can't remember them seconds later. In indie rock, being dull is worse than being lousy. This is dull and lousy.

  • Hand It Over. This one is a contract-fulfillment album. The songs are actually songs, though, and J seems ready to go out with a bang. He retired the Dinosaur Jr. name afterwards, and seemed ready to move on with his life. That was 1997.

  • Beyond. But, perhaps inspired by a chance encounter with an aging fan at SXSW 2004, the original trio of Dinosaur Jr. unexpected decided to reform in 2007 and start producing music again. And, lo and behold, it was freaking great, which, when you consider the ten years since the previous Dino Jr album and the nineteen years since this trio had played together, is nothing short of miraculous. But I'll say this: Beyond is awesome, as good as the band was in their prime, and I won't say that lightly, couldn't possibly say that lightly. And, good lord, is "Been There All the Time" a killer track. I held off on buying this for a few months, because I couldn't believe that they could actually be making good music again, but they are, and wow, god bless 'em for it.

  • Farm. And the good music continues, history be damned. This album just dropped last week, so I've only listened to it through maybe four times, but old times are new again. Highly recommended.



Akron/Family - Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free. It's not as immediately gripping as 2007's Love Is Simple, but the 2009 Akron/Family album is a first-rate example of what happens when the hippies get weird. I mean, make no mistake, this is hippie music in large part, but consider this: even the Grateful Dead were interested in the avant-garde. Their music wasn't necessarily avant-garde; in fact, it was often (although not always) dull jamming over two chords. But they liked the idea of incorporating the avant-garde into their music with the idea that the avant-garde made their music more heady and fun. Akron/Family gets that in spades, and these hippies are continuing their process of making avant-garde hippie music for the intellectually curious masses. They also put on a monster live show, so go see them do their thing in person.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Music Library: Devin Davis, Devo, Dexateens, Dexter Gordon, Dictators, Dim Stars

Devin Davis - Lonely People of the World, Unite!. Top-notch pop-rock album from a one-man band. This came out in 2005. Shame he hasn't done anything since.

Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!. Asked and answered!

The Dexateens - Teenager EP, The Dexateens, Red Dust Rising, Hardwire Healing, Lost and Found, and Singlewide. The Dexateens are the best damn thing to come out of Alabama since peanut butter. Which seems unfair now that I've written it, because The Dexateens aren't a fucking great Alabama band; they're a fucking great band. Since their first singles came out in 2000 (I actually only have four of those, which are included on the European release Teenager), they've gone from being a decent punk band to a downright inspired alt-country act with a pure pop heart. Their self-titled album had the band in transition from one to the other. There's a lot of fun in their Stooges-on-the-turnip-truck style of the time, but the solid big-guitar rock of the last four albums is a treat that keeps getting better.

Dexter Gordon - Our Man In Paris, Homecoming: Live at the Village Vanguard, and Sophisticated Giant. Bud Powell kills on the first of these, a document of the state of bebop circa 1963. The latter two were recorded in the late 70s, but they sound like 1957. Sophisticated Giant is a recording of Gordon with a big band that sweetens its retro feel with some lovely Ellingtonia.

The Dictators - Go Girl Crazy!. The missing link of proto-punk between Detroit and NYC, the Dictators were loud, silly, and absolutely brilliant.

Dim Stars - Dim Stars & Dim Stars EP. Remember? Me and you talking 'bout Dick Hell, remember? Sorry, meant to say that this "supergroup" featured Richard Hell, Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, and producer Don Fleming. Bob Quine plays on some tracks, too. The album Dim Stars and EP Dim Stars are entirely separate affairs. And Hell sounds great, which is, well, great.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Music Library: Destroy All Monsters, Destroyer, Devendra Banhart

Destroy All Monsters - Bored. DAM were an arty protopunk band when Ron Asheton of the Stooges joined them in the late 70s and (apparently) pushed them into some sleazy-ass rock & roll. This is that sleazy-ass rock & roll.

Destroyer - This Night, Destroyer's Rubies, Trouble In Dreams. One of the most interesting aspect of David Bowie's career is how he both built and celebrated a type of rock that had previously been mostly the province of moderately talented kids kicking around in a garage while simulataneously denying the simplicity that those kids built their garage rock around. On The Man Who Sold The World (which is my favorite Bowie album), the guitars snarl, the vocals swell and swoop, the drums reach out and insist that you move, but yet the songs themselves are practically showtunes in how they morph from one thing into another, following an internal logic that subverts the three-chord truth of, say, the Count 5ive. If you're wondering why I'm talking about Bowie's early career in a review of Destroyer, the main project of New Pornographer Dan Bejar, then, well, you've never listened to Destroyer. Bejar takes Bowie's strategies and uses them to expose his soul. The songs are faintly ridiculous in their celebration of rock excess - lots of wailing guitars, "da da da/la la la" refrains, catch-you-in-the-throat dynamics - but they're like Bowie's showtunes as well, built around a central conceit that is never simple and always demanding of attention. Phenomenal. I resisted Destroyer at first, Yer Blues being the first album I heard. I think it's an unusual album for them/him, driven by synths and MIDI vocals. But when I heard Destroyer's Rubies, I was blown away. And yet I haven't been very active in pursuing his back catalog, because the music is important and demanding enough that I feel unable to give it the attention it deserves. I should move more swiftly.

Devendra Banhart - Oh Me Oh My...The Way the Day Goes By the Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit, Rejoicing in the Hands of the Golden Empress, Niño Rojo, and Cripple Crow. The iPod is now - and has been for a few years - the primary way that I listen to music, which is important because I rarely listen to full albums outside of this project. I used to, by golly, but today it's all about the shuffle. Anyway, this is significant here because while I appreciate Banhart's music quite a bit, I find the whole of these albums a little overwhelming. I don't think I'd ever listened to any one of these in its entirety before today, other than Cripple Crow, which is a little different from the others. And, see, here's the thing: I don't know that I would cut any single track, because I generally like them and enjoy them when they crop up in the shuffle, but the whole album all together is the difference between having a nice chat when you run into an old hippie friend on the street and spending a week in his apartment. But Cripple Creek is just great, heads or tails above the acoustic Banhart albums by virtue of having an actual band playing on the songs.

Devendra Banhart & Jana Hunter - s/t. This is a self-titled split album between the two named artists. Side one is all Banhart playing a few tracks acoustic, including a handful from Niño Rojo. Side two is all Jana Hunter, a talented indie folk songwriter in her own right.

The Dead, The Unfaithful, and the Society of the Spectacle

Is it terrible that I really don't have much of an opinion on Michael Jackson's passing? I really love the Jackson Five's Greatest Hits, like Off The Wall, find Thriller vaguely embarrassing, and don't care much about the rest. I guess I should care that he integrated MTV and FM radio. But I don't really. That was hardly the same thing as integrating, say, the Montgomery bus lines or Greensboro lunch counters. There was money to be made for everyone involved by letting Jackson's videos onto MTV, and everyone got rich. Jackson got rich enough to turn himself into a reclusive weirdo who may or may not have been a child predator. So, uh, yay? I suppose his children deserve our sympathy, but jeez, when didn't they deserve our sympathy? I feel a little sympathy for him as the survivor of an extremely fucked-up upbringing, but, to tell you the truth, it's like feeling bad for polar bears at the zoo. I can see that they're in an alien environment and don't know what to do about it, but neither do I.

I feel empathy for Mark Sanford, a guy who I actually despised before his humanity cracked out of him during his press conference the other day. Good for that guy for having a real heart underneath his unfeelingly grey bureaucratic exterior. Perhaps he could use it to help the people of his state who need help rather than following it halfway across the world after a love that he knew was doomed from the outset. I hope that, if he was sincere, he resigns from his job. I hope he doesn't reconcile with his wife for the sake of his career. I hope that other Republicans learn something about the messiness of real life, as opposed to the Platonic ideal of interpersonal relations to which they hold everyone who isn't themselves. This may be akin to hoping that pigs will fly to my house to personally donate bacon to the cause of my breakfast tomorrow, which we'll have to postpone while we enjoy the late-June Texas snow on the ground in the morning.

And tough for Sky Saxon of the Seeds to pass on the same day as Farrah Fawcett and Jacko. Fawcett wasn't much of an actress, but she was decent in Altman's Dr. T and the Women. Saxon was a rock deity, albeit a minor one. Here's to letting all three of the celebrity deceased rest in peace.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Music Library: Deerhunter, Delfonics, Dengue Fever, Dennis Wilson, Department of Eagles, Derek & the Dominos, Descendents, Desmond Dekker

Deerhunter - Cryptograms, Fluorescent Gray EP, Microcastle, and Weird Era Cont. I sure liked this band when I first hear them, but too much in a row gets mighty tedious. Here's the deal: Deerhunter sounds a lot like their influences: My Bloody Valentine, Wire, The Fall, Can, all of which are among my favorites. So, yes, good influences. And they're not bad at mining those influences, but they rarely rise above them. So I think I'm grading them on a sliding scale, giving them a little extra credit because I like what they're trying to do moreso than I like what they're doing. Cryptograms manages to work up a full head of steam while only occasionally providing tracks that are identifiable as songs. But the atmospheric tracks work pretty well, and it still mostly works for me. The EP has a handful of actual, honest-to-goodness songs on it, and that's not a bad thing at all. Microcastle, which received a lot of acclaim on its release last year, pushes further into real songs - pop songs, even - but unlike ever other music critic alive, I don't really love the album. I like it fine, but I don't think that it really has much that distinguishes it from a whole lot of other indie pop. It and its odd-duck twin Weird Era Cont made my year-end best-of list, but I probably rated them too highly with the aforementioned extra credit. This is a good indie album, but not a great one, but the great tracks stand far above the so-so ones. Weird Era Cont is the full-length bonus album that dropped at the same time as Microcastle, and it is more of a atmospheric album like Cryptograms. And it's pretty good, although, again, it fails to move me like my favorite music does.

The Delfonics - La La Means I Love You: The Definitive Collection. Ah, yes. A little Philly soul to ease my worried mind. Thanks, Jackie Brown!

Dengue Fever - Escape From Dragon House. A band for whom the phrase "East Meets West" was coined, Dengue Fever is an LA-based band that plays music apparently based on those Cambodian garage compilations that came out a few years back fronted by an honest-to-goodness Cambodian singer. Excellent.

Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue. Poor Dennis looks so sad in the photo on the front. In his past: the heyday of the Beach Boys, Two-Lane Blacktop, a friendship with Charlie Manson and deep sense of guilt and regret over the Tate/LaBianca murders. In his future: a tumultuous relationship with Christine McVie, a quickie marriage to his cousin Mike Love's daughter, a whole lot of drugs, and death within five years. This is a beautiful album, though. You'd never realize that Dennis was considered to be the least-talented Wilson brother.

Department of Eagles - In Ear Park. One of the guys in Grizzly Bear was 1/2 of the duo that makes up this band before joining Grizzly Bear. For this album, he brought 2 of the other 3 guys from Grizzly Bear into the studio with them. And this sounds almost exactly like a Grizzly Bear album. Which leads me to wonder why this isn't a Grizzly Bear album.

Derek & The Dominos - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Ha, yes. I've written in the past about how much I can't stand Eric Clapton, but here I am listening to Derek & The Dominos. Duane Allman's presence carries a lot of water for me. But it could be a shorter album, definitely, without losing anything vital.

The Descendents - Milo Goes To College, "Weinerschnitzel" from Liveage, and Somery. I loved the hell out of the Descendents when I was in high school. Thought a bit about buying a few more of the albums I'd like to hear again before reviewing them here, but I figured that the chance was that I'd only listen to, say, All, only about as much as I listen to any of these, which is to say, rarely verging on never. Which isn't to say anything negative about the Descendents, one of the mightiest and most fun hardcore band of the original hardcore scene, but about me, an aging guy who doesn't get the same thrill from this band that I used to get. But I remember the thrill, which makes me nostalgic/happy and a little wistful/sad at the same time.

Desmond Dekker - The Original Rude Boy. A major figure from the ska and rocksteady period of Jamaican music, Dekker recorded such massive tracks as "007 (Shanty Town)" and "Israelites," which are among the best reggae songs. This is a career best-of, and man, does it cook. Recommended for people who like music.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Music Library: Deee-Lite, Deep Purple, Deerhoof

Deee-Lite - World Clique. Ubiquitous in my first year of college! I actually sorta like the whole funk-disco album, but I'm not often feeling the right mood for it.

Deep Purple - "Hush" and "River Deep, Mountain High." If you didn't know that these guys would go on to be a Spinal Tap-ish British metal band, these tracks would lead you to think they were a great Nuggets band. "Hush" is a killer track all the way through. Their version of "River Deep, Mountain High" is a little too far into the portentious/Stonehenge side of blues-based British music, but once it gets going, it's definitely fun. Wish I had the original of "Highway Star" to round it out.


  • "The Pick-Up Bear," Holdy Paws and Halfbird. Never picked up the first Deerhoof album The Man, The King, The Girl. These are the 2nd and 3rd albums, both with the original guitarist Rob Fisk. Halfbird, the 3rd album, was actually recorded prior to Holdy Paws. Both feature quite a bit of the jagged Deerhoof style, although Holdy Paws is far more song-oriented than Halfbird. "The Pick-Up Bear" is an early (1995) single from a compilation. Don't know the line-up on that, but it's an unholy mess of skronk.

  • "Appetite" and "Blood On The Floor" (from In Formation: A Tribute To Throbbing Gristle). After Fisk left the band, Deerhoof recruited John Dieterich, who has remained Deerhoof's primary guitarist since. These two tracks, a contribution to an indie movie I've never seen called Charm and a Throbbing Gristle cover, would have been the first releases from the new Deerhoof in 2001. They don't much sound like the Deerhoof to come, the former featuring more-or-less ambient music with noise on top and the latter being a stripped-down song with Satomi Matsuzaki singing and playing bass while the others make noise on what sounds like children's instruments.

  • Reveille and "Sweet Knight Brugmansia." A quantum leap forward, Reveille is the sound of Deerhoof grasping transcendence. After a short intro, the band cranks into "This Magnificent Bird Will Rise," a statement of purpose signalling that the new Deerhoof is reborn, phoenix-like, with a purpose far greater than avant-noise skronk, although they're far from leaving it behind. But "This Magnificent Bird" is the first song that captures their kitchen-sink approach that combines the skronk with pure and lovely pop, hairpin turns, silly noises, and a sweetness that more or less caramelizes before your very eyes. Awesome, awesome, awesome. The single is from a collection called If the Twenty-First Century Didn't Exist It Would Be Necessary to Invent It. I gotta say that I like how Deerhoof doesn't just recycle album tracks for compilations, but instead record and release a new song, even if it's an ungodly mess.

  • Apple O'. The follow-up to Reveille takes on love and creation. It's brilliant and fun (two words that will frequently describe the upcoming Deerhoof albums!), and was apparently mostly recorded in a single day. That sounds right; it has that sort of light feel of friends making music on the fly. And "Panda Panda Panda" is one of my favorite songs, despite its inherent and necessary silliness. Oh, and they've added a second guitarist, Chris Cohen, on this album. The twin-guitar chicanery adds to the fun. The album ends with a couple of acoustic tracks that were recorded later.

  • Milk Man and Bibidi Babidi Boo. Milk Man is my favorite Deerhoof album. It's a concept album about the title character, a mythical being who steals children into his dreamland (as depicted on the album cover, he's a pretty scary dude despite the cuteness of the fruit that pierces his body). Building on the stripped down two-guitar rock of Apple O', Milk Man is both more rocking and more subtle and adds more instrumentation and the creativity on display is rather overwhelming. I love the hell out of it. Bibidi Babidi Boo was a free online EP of live tracks from around the same time that includes a few Peel Sessions.

  • Green Cosmos and "Weak In The Knees". Green Cosmos is a fun EP that has Matsuzaki singing in her native Japanese. It's skronkier than Milk Man, but also more willing to resort to odd studio tricks that hit my ear in just the right place. Milk Man's a stronger album, but this is a great little dessert. The single is from a collection called My Malady, and it has the same sort of thrown-together feel as many of their non-album singles.

  • The Runners Four. About twice as long as every album that preceded it, The Runners Four takes its time visiting all the little nooks and crannies that make Deerhoof so interesting and fun. Lots of great pop songs, ambient jamming, skronky eruptions (that somehow end up being as catchy as the out-and-out hooks), usually within the same song.

  • EP and "Chi-Tan First Guitar." The EP was a free online gift from Deerhoof on the occasion of Chris Cohen's leaving the band. It's all one track, including a cover of the Beatles' "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," Canned Heat's "Goin' Up the Country," and songs by My Bloody Valentine and Herman's Hermits, all interspersed with live versions of Deerhoof's own tracks over a fun 20-odd minutes. The single is mopey piece from a Kill Rock Stars sampler.

  • +81, Friend Opportunity, and 2007 Free EP. With Chris Cohen gone, Deerhoof was back to being a three-piece. +81 is an EP with the first single from Friend Opportunity plus four tracks from Deerhoof's prior era as a three-piece, around the time of Reveille. Friend Opportunity, which was released a month or so later, adds more rock and funk to the Deerhoof sound, coming up with something that is most definitely related to prog-rock without actually being prog-rock. Great, great stuff, although the somewhat formless nearly-12 minute closer is a misstep, especially following the sublime "Matchboook Seeks Maniac." The 2007 Free EP is another collection of odds and ends that turned up at the Deerhoof website in September 2007. One of the most fun tracks is a hip-hop mashup featuring "Believe E.S.P." that the band found online.

  • Offend Maggie. Deerhoof added a new 2nd guitarist, Edward Rodriguez from (among other bands) The Flying Luttenbachers, for their 2008 album Offend Maggie. I didn't much cotton to this one at first. Maybe it was the occasional AC/DC-soundalike riffage. Maybe it was just that it didn't sound like a great leap away from the past and I had reached Deerhoof saturation. Maybe I just needed to give it more time. Whatever the reason, I sure like it now, although it's still not one of my favorites.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Music Library: Death of Samantha, Deathray Davies, Decemberists,

Death of Samantha - Where the Women Wear the Glory and the Men Wear the Pants. Death of Samantha was a Cleveland band that later contributed members to GBV and Cobra Verde. This is a great twin-guitar album, but the highlight is the cover of Peter Laughner's "Sylvia Plath."

The Deathray Davies - various tracks from Drink With the Grownups And Listen to Jazz, Return of the Drunk Ventriloquist, and Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory. S'okay. Indie rock.

The Decemberists - 5 Songs, Castaways and Cutouts, Her Majesty The Decemberists, Billy Liar EP, The Tain, Picaresque, The Crane Wife, Picaresquities, and "Clementine." Notice that the new one isn't on this list? That's because I heard it streamed on NPR (if I recall correctly) before its release and realized that I really despised it. However, I quite like the bulk of Mr. Meloy & Co.'s output. I think (and perhaps this dates me) that the less the Decemberists try to rock, that the less they try to match Meloy's ambitious lyrics with ambititious-but-deathly-dull prog(gish) rock, the better they are. In fact, one of the Decemberists' best tracks is the rapturous "Los Angeles, I'm Yours," which recalls the lazy, glistening cocaine-rock of Southern California's mid-70s heyday. But Meloy's best hat is when he makes fake Brit-folk, something like a more polished Fairport Convention. Picaresque is the shaggiest dog in their collection, a full head of greatness over the very good likes of Her Majesty. The Tain, which I quite like for all of its silliness, was the first step towards the Decemberist's ugly prog side, but it had the benefit of not really trying to rock. The Crane Wife is another step down the road, more rock-ish sounds that are far to fussy to ever approach rock (and, god help us all, long sections that sound like Emerson, Lake, and Palmer outtakes), but Meloy's pop skills (mostly) save the record. Picaresquities is an EP of B-sides and "Clementine" from an album of Portland musicians recording Elliott Smith songs. I will go a step further and say that I actually like Meloy as a person, at least as he has revealed himself in interviews and in his excellent 33 1/3 book on Let It Be, and I seriously hope that his future music appeals to me more.

Music Library: Dead Boys, Dead Kennedys, Dead Meadow, The Dead Milkmen, Dead Prez, Dean Martin, Dears, Death Cab For Cutie

The Dead Boys - Young, Loud & Snotty. Aptly named punk album anchored by the excellent tracks "Sonic Reducer" and "What Love Is." The Dead Boys were built on the punkier half of the amazing mid-70s Cleveland band Rocket From The Tombs. The other half went on to become Pere Ubu.

The Dead Kennedys - "California Uber Alles." All the DKs I need.

Dead Meadow - Feathers. Psych-rock band from Baltimore fronted by David Simon's nephew. I don't much care for them, unfortunately. I mean, they're okay, but noticeably short on memorable riffage.

The Dead Milkmen - Big Lizard In My Backyard. Awesome fun album that I loved like crazy when I was 16. Listening to it was a blast.

Dead Prez - Let's Get Free and "Hell Ya (Pistol Pete Remix)." I like my hip-hop to be a head trip.

Dean Martin - Greatest Hits. Dead Prez is going to hate this, but Deano completely upstaged them.

The Dears - Gang of Losers. These guys had quite a bit of hype a few years back with this album. I really don't understand why. It sounds like near-generic sub-Smiths indie rock. I mean, I don't hate anything on this album, but I don't like any of it, either. When a song ends, I remember nothing about it. I can't even decide if I should delete it. It doesn't move me now, and I don't know if it will ever move me. I'd be surprised, but sometimes you have to leave room for surprise. I'm left with a Big Hmm.

Death Cab For Cutie - "405," Transatlanticism, and Plans. As with The Dears, I have no idea why these guys are such a big deal for certain music fans. The music doesn't annoy or offend me, but I can't recall a moment where I thought anything close to "wow," and I can remember nothing at all about it when it's over. Wallpaper music.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Music Library: David Kilgour, David Olney, David S. Ware, David Tudor, Dawn Landes, Daylighters, db's, De La Soul

Sorry for the delay. It took a little while to get back into the music library groove after taking a vacation last week. Also, after hearing so many positive things about Wesley Willis, I intend to give the man's work another shot. So, back to the Ds:

David Kilgour - Here Come The Cars and Frozen Orange. Kilgour is the frontman of The Clean, and the former is his first post-Clean solo album from 1991. The latter is an album from 2004 (which would be post-Clean reformation) with Lambchop backing him up. Both are freakin' exquisite, further proof that Kilgour is one of the great songwriters of his generation.

David Olney - High, Wide, and Lonesome. Decent Americana songwriter.

David S. Ware - Wisdom of Uncertainty, Surrendered, and The Freedom Suite. Transcendence! Skronk! Transcendence! Ware is a saxophonist with one foot firmly placed into Coltrane's last blast of music with his quartet, which produced some of the best music of the 20th century. Obviously Sonny Rollins is an influence, too (as seen in his album-length cover of Rollins' The Freedom Suite), but the avant-garde also plays a big part in Ware's sound. Awesome.

David Tudor - Stockhausen: Klavierstucke (Piano Pieces). Tudor is, of course, a name I usually associate with John Cage, but it's fun to listen to him bang out the atonal Stockhausen music. I sorta wish I'd paired this with Cecil Taylor.

Dawn Landes - "Young Folks." A folky cover of the Peter Paul & Bjorn hit.

The Daylighters - "Mad House Jump." Psychobilly!

The db's - Stands For Decibels, Repercussion, and Christmas Time Again. Seminal Southern-fried power pop that takes a page and a half from Big Star and another half-page from Stiff Records.

De La Soul - 3 Feet High And Rising. Ah, the old school. One of my favorite schools.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Some Thoughts On Wesley Willis

In my music library post that included Daniel Johnston, I said:

Some people conflate him with Wesley Willis, whose popularity is mostly
built around his mental illness. Willis is a sad case, it seems to me, as every
mention of him had this ugly "let's gawk at the crazy guy" tone to it. Johnston,
though, is a great songwriter despite his illness.

In comments, cbean45 said:

Wesley Willis was an unstoppable as a freight train in both his art and music .
He loved what he was doing and most fans felt his joy. He felt he was living his
dreams and getting paid. He was happy as a clam.
It's taken me a couple of days to respond because I wasn't sure how to respond. I don't really have an opinion about the well-being of Wesley Willis himself. If he benefitted from his fame, good for him. I understand that he was homeless before he became popular, so I'm glad that he made some money and found some happiness towards the end of his life.

It's the attitudes of his fans - at least the ones I knew - that bothered me, which was my point in this post. There always seemed to be an ugly dose of exploitation in the fans I knew. They liked Wesley Willis because he was mentally ill and his songs sounded like the work of a mentally ill person. Does it make your enjoyment ok if you make someone's life better although your enjoyment is tied up with your desire to see him humiliated, especially when he doesn't know the difference between positive attention and negative?

I don't know the answer to that, actually. I think the answer is hell no, but I'm sure someone will find something that I enjoy that walks that same line, and I'm sure that I have a good reason why it's different, but it's hard to say definitively here. That's not quite right. The answer is definitely hell no, and I'm sure I'm a hypocrite, too.

The Wesley Willis fanhood seems like exploitation to me, but there's certainly a lot of entertainments that are built around the humiliation of the entertainer, even if the entertainer doesn't know that he or she is being mocked. It does seem especially ugly when the entertainer is both mentally ill and African-American, as Wesley Willis was. And knowing both of these facts seemed to be essential to enjoying Willis' music, at least in the case of those I've known who considered themselves Willis fans.

And I do think that Willis is quite different from other mentally ill performers, such as Daniel Johnston or Roky Erickson (although Roky is apparently doing much better these days). Both Johnston and Erickson were recording before their illness became apparent, and I think fans can listen to their music (or enjoy Johnston's art) without knowing that either has had psychological issues. Willis was a homeless and unmedicated street musician when his career started. His songs are pretty crude, too, and that's from an avowed Jandek fan. I don't think you can separate Willis's songs from Willis the man, whereas Johnston's and Erickson's songs have been successfully covered many times and have a life outside of their creator. That's why I find the cult of Wesley Willis uncomfortable: I see no difference between the listening to his songs and listening to a crazy black street musician make a fool of himself. The pleasures are one and the same, and I can't condone the former without feeling tainted by the latter.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Music Library: Dave Brubeck, Dave Edmonds, David Bowie, David Byrne & Brian Eno, David Cross

Dave Brubeck - Time's Out and These Foolish Things. I like Brubeck and wish I was more familiar with his work outside of "Take 5."

Dave Edmonds - "The Race Is On." Boy, I love George Jones's original. This one's okay.

David Bowie - The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, Aladdin Sane, "He Was Alright (A Song For Marc Bolan), Pin Ups, Diamond Dogs, Station To Station, Low, "Heroes", Lodger, Scary Monsters, Let's Dance, Singles Collection, "Let Me Sleep Beside You," Heathen, and Reality. I was originally going to break these out, but I realized I just don't have that much to say about the guy's work. Brilliant, transformative, y'know, all those kinds of adjectives. I think The Man Who Sold The World and Station To Station are my favorites. I should pick up the two late 60s albums and Young Americans sometime. Got almost no use for the later stuff, although it's far from offensive.

David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. Less a sequel to My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts than a David Byrne album with Eno production, this album wasn't even close to being a contender for one of my favorites of last year, but it's not anywhere close to terrible, either.

David Cross - The Pride Is Back. The audio from the 1999 HBO David Cross stand-up special, recorded back when he was pretty reliably funny. Ah, those were the days.

Music Library: Danny Elfman, Danny Thompson, Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, Darling New Neighbors, Darling Violetta, Das Damen, Datsuns

Danny Elfman - "This Is Halloween." From The Nightmare Before Christmas, natch.

Danny Thompson - "Dargai." I became aware of Danny Thompson from The Pentangle and from his work as a part of Richard Thompson's band (no relation). I later noticed that he'd played with every British folk figure since the 60s, including John Martyn, Nick Drake, and many others, even T. Rex. I'd heard his jazz band Whatever on the collaboration album he made with Richard Thompson, Industry. And I saw on eMusic that he'd recorded this track, an instrumental Scottish dirge that RT originally appended to "Dimming of the Day" on Pour Down Like Silver. And it's okay. I should get the rest of this album, at the very least.

Darcy James Argue's Secret Society - Infernal Machines. Argue's an acquaintance, so take that for whatever caveat you need. His big band album, which I wrote about here recently, is aces.

Darling New Neighbors - Darling New Neighbors and Every Day Is Saturday Night. DNN leader Elizabeth Jackson is a friend, and she makes loopy, literate, and fun alt-country with a healthy dose of funkiness. Good stuff.

Darling Violetta - "Angel Theme." Yes, I am a nerd.

Das Damen - Das Damen, Jupiter Eye, Triskaidekaphobe, and Marshmellow Conspiracy EP. Psychedelic SST band that later found work backing Arthur Lee in one of the later versions of Love. The first three albums are often great psych-rock that is not too unlike the work of The Screaming Trees. The last EP was their make-or-break moment (which unfortunately tended to the latter). As a response to Michael Jackson buying the Beatles catalog in the 80s, the last track on this EP is a straight-up cover of "Magical Mystery Tour" titled here "Song For Michael Jackson To $ell" and credited to the members of the band. Chutzpah!

The Datsuns - Sampler. Kinda unoriginal punk stuff. This was a freebie that I've never really liked but never hated enough to delete, either.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Music Library: Dan Crary, Dan Deacon, Dan Penn, Dan Zanes, Danger Doom, Danger Mouse, Daniel, Daniel Johnston, Daniel Lanois, Danielson

Dan Crary - Lady's Fancy. Dan Crary is a bluegrass flatpicker legendary among fans of old-timey music. On the 10 instrumentals that make up Lady's Fancy, he demonstrates his considerable speed and improvisational chops, plus an impressively light touch that belies how very close to impossible what he's doing actually is. Real bluegrass flatpickers are as enamored of technique as the nerdy dragons-n-metal set, but with a feel for tonal interpretations of traditional folk songs that is similar to how soloists in classical music distinguish themselves. Of course, the problem with old-timey bluegrass, as with technical metal, is that it tends to sound the same after awhile. Crary is the real deal, a technical master who plays with feeling, but his songs sometimes linger a bit longer than they should.

Dan Deacon - Spiderman of the Rings. This 2007 electronica album is a mish-mash of geeky dance pleasures (which was an oxymoron when I was a kid). I really should pick up this year's follow-up.

Dan Penn - Do Right Man. Dan Penn wrote or co-wrote a bunch of the classic soul sides from the late 60s, which pretty much earns him a place in heaven even if he and Alex Chilton don't see eye to eye after the whole Box Tops fiasco. Anyway, this 1994 album has Penn singing some of his classic songs with an ace Memphis soul band behind him. And with material like "Dark End of the Street" and "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man," two of my absolute favorite songs, he kills. There's a throwaway on here, too ("Memphis Women and Chicken"), but in such heavy company, who cares?

Dan Zanes & Friends - Family Dance. Dan Zanes used to be the creative force behind the Del Fuegos back in the 80s, but in the 00s, he's become a family man playing songs for kids. I bought this, after hearing a number of other parents testify that as far as children's music goes, Zanes isn't so bad. Which is true, but that doesn't mean that I want it in my rotation. My kids haven't taken a shine to it yet, but I imagine I'll hear plenty of this in the future.

Danger Doom - The Mouse & The Mask. MF Doom and Danger Mouse collaborating on an album dedicated to the 2005 Adult Swim line-up. And it's freakin' awesome, perhaps even more awesome because of how easily it could be so very bad. Doom is, of course, the highest, laziest, and nerdiest of all rappers, Danger Mouse is the DJ with the mostest, and Adult Swim shares their off-kilter, reference-heavy senses of humor. There was an EP collaboration, too, but I never picked it up. Housecleaning point: MF Doom's new album is under the moniker DOOM, which I've filed under MF Doom, so it won't show up in the Ds. I should probably change that, though, since Viktor Vaughn is under the Vs, King Gheedorah is in the Ks, and Madvillain is in the Ms, and those have as much reason to be filed under MF Doom as the new DOOM album.

Danger Mouse - The Grey Album and "Somersault" [with Zero 7]. The former is, naturally, Danger Mouse's famous mashup between Jay-Z's The Black Album and The Beatles' self-titled album that is usually called The White Album. This album has been rightly called one of the best mashups of the genre (is it a genre?). Compared to the others I've heard, it's heads and tails above the competition. The latter track is from some pop conglomerate calling itself Zero 7. I've never heard the original, but this remix features MF Doom rapping and Danger Mouse's typically transcendent glitch-pop.

Daniel - "Death Metal Warmup Exercises." I loved heeeeeeerrrrrrrr. I loved heeeeeeerrrrrrrr. But now she's gooooooooone. Ah, that's a funny couple of seconds there. A capella cookie-monster vocals!

Daniel Johnston - Songs of Pain, Hi How Are You, More Songs of Pain, Yip/Jump Music, Continued Story, and Fun. As The Devil and Daniel Johnston made clear, there are a lot of contradictions about Daniel Johnston. For one, Johnston is a ridiculously talented songwriter, despite how harsh and primitive his songs may sound at first, but his mental illness has always pushed an uneasy line for casual fans. Some people conflate him with Wesley Willis, whose popularity is mostly built around his mental illness. Willis is a sad case, it seems to me, as every mention of him had this ugly "let's gawk at the crazy guy" tone to it. Johnston, though, is a great songwriter despite his illness. For a guy who spent time in the state mental hospital, he's done very well for himself, too. His songs have been covered by too many artists to mention. I think Kathy McCarthy's album Dead Dog's Eyeball is the best, giving his songs the sympathetic accompaniment that they cry out for. But even in Johnston's originals, despite the screechy vocals, the crude chord organs, the low-fi tape-machine vibe, the sophistication is there but buried. Anyway, Johnston is an odd duck for me, too: I love Johnston's music, but prefer the cover versions. A few Johnston originals are fun, but a whole album can be overwhelming, and several in a row, as I listened to in preparation for this post, was far too much at once.

Daniel Lanois - "Jolie Louise." Oh, I really, really, really don't care for this.

Danielson - A Prayer For Every Hour, Tell Another Joke At The Ol' Chopping Block, Tri-Danielson!!! (Alpha), Tri-Danielson!!! (Omega), Fetch The Compass Kids, Brother Is To Son, The Kid EP, Ships, Danielson Alive, and Our Givest (Remix). This is everything Danielson has done. I bought a copy of Ships after reading a rapturous Pitchfork review, but I couldn't really get into it until I saw the documentary about Danielson. But that documentary opened the door for me onto their (his?) music. So here's the deal: Danielson means either The Danielson Famile, under which name the first five albums appeared, or Brother Danielson, which graced the sixth album, or just Danielson, which appeared on Ships, the most recent full-length. These are all helmed by one Daniel Smith, the eldest son of the large brood of an ex-priest and an ex-nun. The Danielson Famile consists of Smith, all of his brothers and sisters, and his art-school buddy Chris, plus various spouses they've gathered throughout the years. The music is off-kilter stuff, influenced by various indie rock demigods like Captain Beefheart, the Minutemen, Beat Happening, the Pixies, and so on. Most of the songs deal with Smith's attempts to negotiate a Christian good life in the very tempting secular world, and there's plenty of questioning and second-guessing along with the happy happy joyful stuff, which is how it reaches a guy like me. Smith's voice is not an easy instrument, as he tends to deliver his lyrics in a testicle-rattling falsetto squeak that takes some getting used to. But he's a talented guy mining a very appealing vein of music, and I appreciate what he does. The best of these is Ships, the first one I started with, but, like I say, it took me a while to appreciate it. I'm more fond of the albums immediately preceding it (Brother Is To Son and Fetch The Compass Kids) than I am of the previous albums, but they all have their pros and cons. Oh, and some hash has been made of how Smith took a young Christian musician from Detroit named Sufjan Stevens under his wing, and suddenly Stevens is popular while Smith remains on the fringes of indie rock. Lemme say that I don't think Stevens stole anything from Smith. I do think Stevens learned something about crafting his vision from Smith, but I think the basic elements come from Stevens himself, and I think that Stevens, with his youth, gentler voice, and radio-friendly music, had opportunities to reach an audience that would never embrace Smith's pricklier music. And I think that Smith himself would agree with me, and those people out there defending his honor on the Internet are not doing either Smith or Stevens a service. That's my mostly uninformed $.02, anyway.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Music Library: D. Boon, Daft Punk, Dale Hawkins, Dale Watson, Damião Experiença, Damien Youth, Damned, Damon & Naomi

June is brought to you by the letter D! This is also the point at which I cannot conceive having anything interesting to say ever again! This is letter 4 of 26, meaning that I will tell the same jokes at least 22 more times.

D. Boon - "Vietnam," "Themselves," "My Part." Mr. Dennes Boon, taken from us far too early, playing some of his songs alone on an acoustic guitar.

Daft Punk - Homework and Discovery. See, this I like. Much more than the Chemical Brothers, at least. It has all of these little moving parts, but, like Rube Goldberg-designed clockwork or analog robots banged together from toasters and theremins, you can appreciate the logic and enjoy the wit behind it all without having to give up oscillating your metallic groove thing.

Dale Hawkins - "Suzie Q." Yep, indeed. With future guitar god James Burton on guitar.

Dale Watson - "Hot Texas Christmas Day" and "Silver Bells." Hard to feel these in June. Man's got twang, though.

Damião Experiença - Planeta Lamma. In the words of the WFMU blog, Damião Experiença "may be the Brazilian musical equivalent to Little Howlin' Wolf, or even Jandek." That seems to be the best way to describe this odd mix of tribal drumming, screechy harmonica, wailing made-up language, and randomly played guitar that might be blues, might be bossanova, and might be someone just hitting notes at random. Ganked from a Brazilian Nuggets blog.

Damien Youth - "Traveling." Dunno where this came from. Probably a free download from eMusic. New Orleans-based pop songwriter. Not too bad.

The Damned - Damned Damned Damned and Smash It Up: The Damned Anthology. Damned good and damned fine, although I love them so much more in their early career.

Damon & Naomi - With Ghost. I love me some Michio Kurihara, but I'm not that familiar with Ghost's output. And I haven't listened to very many of Damon & Naomi's post-Galaxie 500 albums. This is a lovely album, a little trippy and very sweet, but it alone hasn't pushed me to seek out more.

A brand-spankin' new onion for my belt


Monday, June 01, 2009

Music Library: Cuong Vu, Cure, Curtis Mayfield, Cut Copy, Cypress Hill

Cuong Vu - Pure. Free jazz by Vietnamese-born trumpeter with a feel that's at least half based on film noir soundtracks. Several tracks sound like the entire instrumentation is trumpet, distorted guitar (which may also be distorted bass), and drums.

The Cure - Staring At The Sea: The Singles, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, and Disintegration. I was not much of a Cure fan when I was a teenager, and I feel a little old for them now. I mean, they're alright. If I'd listened to them more when I was 16 or 17, I think I would still feel nostalgic for them, but I didn't and I don't.

Curtis Mayfield - People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Story. Three discs spanning Curtis Mayfield's career from Civil Rights-inspired soul singer to street-conscious funkmeister to the dance-oriented music of his later period. The guy was a national treasure, and it's a shame that he experienced so much tragedy in his life and that his life was cut short.

Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours. Is it just me or are these guys a hybrid of OMD and ELO? I don't understand the love that's directed their way. It's not terrible music by any means, but it's not that interesting, either. Especially when you consider that Daft Punk is coming up in my playlist in the very near future.

Cypress Hill - Black Sunday. It is only through considerable research that I have uncovered the shocking truth about Cypress Hill: they like weed.

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