Books Are Music Too: Yo, George!
George Clinton has written his memoir and in doing so continues to do things his own creative way, starting with the title. Does he call it something classic or brief like “My Story” or “A Life”? Of course not. The actual title of the book is “Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?” because, of course that’s the title. This is, after all, THE one-and-only George Clinton we’re talking about.
It’s an entertaining book that takes you through his entire career, from the early days of The Parliaments, to the creation of both Parliament and Funkadelic, and beyond. George is honest about some of the negatives in his personal life, including the bad business deals and the drugs. But he also gives nice behind the scenes info on the creation of many P-Funk songs.
One sample of the interesting stories in the book: George says they took a break during the recording of the classic “Get Off Your Ass and Jam” and someone he describes as a smack addict wanders into the studio and offers to record a guitar solo for $25. George thinks : Why not? The kid lays down some guitar, not even stopping when the track ended. George was so impressed he gave the guy $50 and he went on his way. The band was even more impressed on listening back to the solo later and it made it on to the record. But George has no idea who the guy was, was never able to find him, and never saw him again.
Like Uncle Jam himself, even the book cover is funky and cutting edge. “Blipp” the cover and you’ll enter another dimension of the book and hear some music.
I was able to experience Parliament/Funkadelic live a couple times (probably somewhere in the 1978-1980 period). I remember being entertained at the stage props (including the bird on the cover of “Motor Booty Affair” flying out over the crowd), but mostly by the vast number of people on stage and the varied costumes and antics. It was a party for sure, and it blew my young mind.
So allow me to use George’s book as an excuse to dig into the Trapezoid Archive and share something which I believe they gave away at one of the shows I attended. It was a flexidisc with a fan club application on the sleeve…
…but inside was a small card explaining the music on the disc was an unfinished song and there was a contest to write the lyrics. [You can visit my Facebook page to see larger versions of these photos.]
I’m sure I made an attempt to write some amazing, original and funky words that I never mailed in, but they are now (thankfully) lost to the winds of time. I wonder, though, if George might give me another chance?
The Early Stages: Waiting Around
If the internet is a highway, as it’s often described, I often find myself standing by that road listening to the music that drives by; always hopeful for that one special “vehicle” that will pick me up and really transport me. But, much like the narrator of one the fantastic songs described below, I sometimes feel like I’m spending my time waiting around for a ride that never comes. When I am occasionally moved by something like the music of the band The Early Stages, I am reminded that the occasional lift is worth all the waiting.
Wow, did I just completely torture that whole driving/music metaphor? Sorry…let’s move on to the important stuff.
Among the influences The Early Stages cites on their Facebook page is “most Flying Nun stuff.” That legendary New Zealand record label is probably a good place to start to describe their music, but that’s just one small piece of the picture. For me, there’s also a healthy dose of Swell Maps in the mix not only in some of the sound but in the way several of their songs feel like they could fall apart at any minute, but they never do. I can also pick out subtle touches of The Embarrassment, Sonic Youth, Ride, A Certain Ratio, and many other great bands. I suspect everyone who listens will hear his/her own hints of other favorites, but don’t get bogged down in the “sounds like” game; this music stands very tall on its own.
There are three releases currently featured on the Music page of their website. Their most recent three-song offering starts with “Waiting Around for Rides”; it can be described as both shambolic and epic. It adds some nice flanged guitar to the mix about 2 minutes in that grabs me every time. “1992” is slightly more poppy but also slightly askew and features one of my favorite lyrics “You look like the Son of Sam, that’s before my time, oh man.” The third track “The New Sunrise” is, dare I say, Televisionesque?
Another 7-inch the band released includes “Wizard in the Fog” which, along with “Under the Overpass” features more layered instruments and vocals similar to the “Waiting Around…” tracks; the quality and vibe is consistent. The last song on this record, “Summer in Vermont”, starts off with a chord progression that to me brought to mind the opening of Patti Smith’s “Summer Cannibal.” I’m not sure if that’s an intentional homage or purely coincidental, but it’s a nice upbeat tune juxtaposed with some not-so-upbeat lyrics.
The oldest vintage here is the single “Silver Hills” which is a bit rawer musically, but maintains the strong lyrics and catchy melodies of the other songs. “I woke up at the base of the Silver Hills/I looked at you and you looked like Stephen Stills” starts off the recounting of a rough time, where things never seem to get much better. Meanwhile, the “B side” “The Next Time We Meet” would have put this band in good stead among the early Cherry Red label’s roster.
You don’t need to wait around for a ride that never comes: Check out their website…find them on SoundCloud…buy their vinyl…or go ahead and move to Austin if you have to and catch Ike, Alex, Josh and Bridget live. Just make sure to climb aboard.
Dreadzone: Get Ready For A Brainstorm
Do you know Dreadzone? If they somehow have slipped through the cracks for you, you are in for a treat. They evolved from the original Big Audio Dynamite and this apple did not fall too far from the BAD tree…maybe moving a bit more towards a dance zone, but maintaining lots of great elements from their prior group. Dreadzone have just rereleased their 2001 “Sound” album (adding two remixed tracks) and if you missed it the first time you are advised to seek it out.
“Sound” opens with the great 1-2 punch of “Return of the Dread” and “Crazy Knowledge”; two high energy dance floor fillers that include, among other elements, some samples (including a couple well-known snippets used by BAD) and a couple lyrics that offer tips-of-the-cap to some classic reggae tunes. My favorite track is “Black Rock And Roll” driven by its great guitar.
Overall, the album is loaded with dance beats, and mixes it up with singing, rapping, dub and reggae influences, some occasional rock guitar, and the aforementioned sampling. It manages the trick of sounding both familiar and fresh. The longish-tracks (virtually all clocking in at over 5 minutes) allow you to get lost in the grooves.
While I have not had the pleasure of seeing them on stage, whenever I read comments about the band they always get high praise for their live performances. I understand they are touring during the last quarter of 2015; here’s something to whet your appetite:
See/Hear: You and The Night and The Music (and The Police Scanner and The TV Show)
I recently ran across two music/media sources that I cannot recommend enough.
The “You Are Listening To” website is really fairly simple to describe in one sentence: Live police scanners playing over ambient music. There are individual feeds set up for a number of major cities. Whatever is happening live on the police radios interjects over the music. There is something kind of perfect about the combination and it’s addicting too. While there is drama – When are they going to get to that guy who’s having difficulty breathing? What’s in that suspicious package? - there are also lighter moments… a cop just called in to say “someone just reported a very large turtle in their yard.”
The idea (and the website) came from Eric Eberhardt (or Eggberhardt on Twitter). A couple online sources indicate the inspiration came as a result of the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series in 2010; through a series of small events that night, he ended up listening to the SFPD. He was also playing music and apparently had a “eureka” moment that the two went well together. The website also includes a few variations on the theme and an opportunity to build your own mix.
Peak Signal 2 Noise is a group of like-minded artists who had the opportunity to “create a televisual show covering the finest in messed up experimental music and film…. in, around, of, for, to and from Sheffield… and the global network of likeminded noise-niks…” It apparently airs on a UK TV station, but even if you are nowhere near Sheffield you can still watch the episodes online. The shows feature lots of live (mostly) experimental/noise music, odd performance art, and humor.
Episode #9 may be my favorite. Most of the shows open with a short, strange noise/visual element, which reappears through the show to create a boundary between acts. This one includes several people wearing an odd mechanical glasses/nose/mustache combination. One of the more lengthy pieces in this show is a live performance by Brown & Gal; drones, treated vocals and processed sounds including the playing of the rims of various glasses. It’s a very sensuous performance and is particularly beautifully filmed. There is also a section featuring Joyce Whitchurch; among other elements her performance features a hula hoop, painted sheets, a health club, and some music from a Sheffield band most will be familiar with presented in a highly interesting way.
The creators of the show make a confession on their site: “don’t tell anyone, but none of us have owned a TV for about 5 years or more… shhhhh…..” Perhaps that actually helps their creative process! But I think there would likely be a lot less non-TV owners in Sheffield if there were more shows like Peak Signal 2 Noise.
Live Reports: Banda Magda, The Tallest Man On Earth, Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear
Recently the missus and I ventured out of Chez Trapezoid to catch some live music, and I’m happy to report we were three for three with good shows. I was especially pleased as we had no idea who two of the three acts were before witnessing their performances. I’d like to tell you about it and, as a bonus if you read through this entire post, you’ll find out who has the photography talent the Trapezoid family.
First we caught Banda Magda. We were about 15 minutes late (what’s with a concert starting on time, anyway?) but were instantly captivated. Magda Giannikou has a wonderful stage presence and voice (even though she later told us she was fighting some throat issues, but we didn’t think it had any negative impact at all). The show was a trip around the world with some really engaging music that evoked the feel of different countries. I think I counted about 17 languages used in Magda’s singing.
Another pleasant surprise was that the keyboard (and occasional horn) player was none other Justin Stanton of Snarky Puppy fame. Apparently there is some regular cross-pollination between the two groups. The entire band, though, was really excellent. They gave off a vibe of having a great time (percussionists, I’m especially looking at you), and that certainly carried out to the audience. Magda even invited an oboe player to join part of the show – someone she happened to meet (at a college workshop she recently gave in another state) who happened to live in our area. In a word, the entire experience was delightful. Needless to say, the CD we picked up at the show is now on heavy rotation and the music is being “forced” on our friends.
By the way, at the time of this writing Banda Magda has a PledgeMusic campaign going for “Tigre, a collection of songs, instrumental music, stories, and short films about the many faces of fearlessness.”
And here’s my…ummm…excellent (?) photo of Banda Magda:
Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear is another group that grabs you instantly, and another one that was new to me before I sat down in their audience. The band is actually made up of the all-too-common rock concert staple of a mother/son guitar duo. Wait, what? That’s right, mom and son. And they were a great team, as you might guess. Madisen especially has a really amazing voice, rich and expressive (think maybe Darius Rucker with a wider range), but Mama adds a great counterpoint. They have really intricate tunes, and on stage present an overall relaxed and friendly vibe. The word for this one: sweet.
Here are Mrs. Trapezoid’s actual excellent photos of Madisen & Mama and of the next act I’ll mention:
Last but certainly not least was The Tallest Man on Earth. Our son Rhombus had turned us on to TTMOE (which is actually the performing name of Kristian Matsson from Sweden). His music has been heard a lot in our home this year. Truth be told, as we’ve been listening over the recent months I was much less captivated than my son or spouse. For me, though, seeing him live was a much different (and better) proposition.
Kristian is a captivating presence as he floats around the stage. And his voice had more richness than on record, which really added greatly to the performance. Unlike me, Mrs. T had no reservations about the band going in and thoroughly enjoyed the show as well. I’m sure the fact that Kristian was wearing what might be The Tightest Jeans on Earth (TTJOE) had nothing to do with her enjoyment of the show. And TTMOE clearly has a dedicated fan base, as evidenced by the many people around me singing along with all the songs.
To all three bands I say: Please come back; we’re already looking forward to seeing you again.
Reading Room: Johnny Tales, plus Letters from Bournemouth
Pete Jones: musician, survivor, and man about town (I presume). Pete plays bass for the mighty Department S and is also the ex-bass player for two other long-time favorites - Public Image Ltd. and Cowboys International. You know, now that I look at the names of those bands together it strikes me they could be part of the same corporate conglomerate…but I digress. Pete’s Twitter feed @jabberjab recently alerted astute followers (ahem) to his series of what he calls “Johnny Tales” about his time in the aforementioned PiL.
The stories are posted on the Department S website and describe interesting snippets of his career and the “glamour” of the rock-n-roll lifestyle. But mostly, they recount his history with PiL and, specifically, with one Mr. Lydon. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well (as it never seems to with Johnny). Regardless, Pete demonstrates resilience and a great sense of humor.
Although only tangentially related, I discovered another site through @jabberjab that might give you a chuckle or two. Wilf Turnbull and Derek Philpott are (apparently) retired gentlemen from Bournemouth. They have set up a website where they have posted numerous letters they have sent to a wide range of musicians and the responses they have received. The letters generally ask questions or challenge the artists based on their song titles or lyrics which are taken, inevitably, too literally by these pensioners.
All the letters sent by Messrs. Turnbull and Philpott can be by turns corny, clever, challenging and digressive, but they all have tongue planted firmly in cheek. The responses they have posted generally play along and are quite funny as well. And at worst, I guess this whole project keeps a couple senior citizens off the street and out of trouble.
One of the responses, on behalf of PiL, is a great letter from none other than our friend Pete Jones (remember him from a couple paragraphs ago?). He responds “on behalf of the 45 or so employees of the corporation (41 of whom sadly have been made redundant over the years).” It’s more good stuff from Mr. Jones.
Books Are Music Too: Hip Hop Family Tree
Sometimes it just grabs you that something you are looking at is a real labor of love. I recently ran across two volumes of Ed Piskor’s “Hip Hop Family Tree” and this is one of those things. It’s a lengthy comic that covers the history of hip hop from the mid-1970’s to the early 1980’s, and it’s an absolute blast. These are history books, but they are great combination of funny, entertaining, educational, and, for some of us, a nice trip down memory lane.
Ed does a great job of tying together the many strands of hip hop history. There are stories of people you probably never heard of along with those that went on to international acclaim. He does a wonderful job showing links – how one DJ influenced another, how one innovation led to the next, etc.
Although I wasn’t in NYC at the time, I knew some of these stories because the scene was leaking out to other places. I happened to live somewhere that had a great “urban” radio station and I recall hearing the Fatback Band song “King Tim III (Personality Jock)” which was the first rap on vinyl (and is, of course, discussed here). Around the same time I recall visiting a club near a local college campus and the DJ was spinning and rapping from the booth. It was an exciting time musically from my more remote location; the panels in these books do a great job of conveying the excitement and constant evolution that was occurring at the source.
He pulls no punches, laying out the good, the bad and some of the ugly. His drawings are great and they include fun touches, like Afrika Bambaataa always being drawn about twice the size of everyone else, which probably somewhat reflects his actual size and also figuratively represent his influence on the scene.
One thing I learned? I got the background story on Pumpkin. I had a 12” single called “King of the Beat” by Pumpkin that was basically a beat used to mix with other records. I had no idea that he was linked to Bobby Robinson who ran Enjoy Records through his record store and had laid down beats for him.
Ed also adds some nice discography detail at the end of each volume with will send you to youtube or your local used record store. If you appreciate these books, the series continues on boing boing, where Piskor regularly posts new drawings and stories which presumably will eventually find their way into book form.
It’s a Small World: Makunouchi Bento and Kaneel
Long time Trapezoid favorite Makunouchi Bento is back. In one of their final acts of 2014, the Romanian duo of Felix Petrescu and Valentin Toma released a three song EP called “Lighthouse Stories” which is wonderful in many ways.
Before listening, do yourself a favor and read their description of the music. As with all things Makunouchi Bento, it’s absurd, funny, touching and mysterious all rolled into one. According to MB, the lighthouse that inspired these songs is not something built with traditional materials “but old smoking pipes…donated kindly by the sailors of Seven Seas.” What is real and what is imagined? We’ll never know and that’s part of the fun. But as much as I enjoy a good story, the music is even better.
Opening track “Mariner's Staircase Swing” calls your attention with a loud whistle and gets right to a lot of the strange(good strange) electronic sounds I expected. Then, about a minute in, what sounds like a bass-guitar-drums jazz combo jumps in. Has Makunouchi Bento gone acoustic? Felix assures me it’s “just us two as usual and everything is carefully and heartfully programmed. No live instruments. We can't afford that...”
“Telegrams for the Little Sea Winds” is up next and brings on the funky “drummer.” This one really swings with an infectious rhythm and guitar line. The song is further punched up with horn samples interjected about half way through the track. Just try not to bob your head while listening to this one; it’s simply fantastic. Closer “From Mortise to Tenon” meanders a bit more than the other tunes; it’s a bit more of a cinematic collage, but still retains some of the jazz elements from the other songs.
Overall, a great addition to the Makunouchi Bento discography; this lighthouse shines brightly.
So what of the small world mentioned in my title to this piece? Well, a few days before “Lighthouse Stories” was released, Kaneel released an album called “What You Hear Is What You Deserve.” I noticed among the credits it said “Mastering: Felix Petrescu (half of Makunouchi Bento).” Kaneel (actually Guillaume Richard from Paris) told me through an email conversation “…Felix has been busy coaching me (he's doing so for a decade) and mastering the final renders, he's a true gentleman.”
Guillaume directed me to his own website for more information about the title of this album. Reading through the lines that appear on screen and on his Bandcamp page, what I took away I would sum up as this: He who looks for the positive and he who looks for the negative both usually find it. After a three year hiatus, Kaneel seems to have ended up at a better place, turning whatever negativity he was feeling into motivation and an answer to his critics.
This album is for people who like electronic instrumental music. These tracks generally incorporate some 80’s sounding synth keyboard layered with some nice rhythms and other electronic noises. You’ll hear many styles of electronic music from over the last 3-4 decades quoted or hinted at in these nine songs.
On the downoad page the commenters tip the track “Désescalade” as their favorite. That song has some nice double bass sound at the beginning, then a slow rhythm track and keyboard are added; more electronic effects are phased into the background and the track builds to a bit of a majestic sound as the mix thickens. Two other tracks struck me, though: “À coup de poing” has an ominous synth over a sharp, punchy rhythm track. It’s one of the more agitated in this collection. “Vous piétiner” has a slow swing beat, with the heavy sounding rhythm nicely offset by some lighter keyboard and synth play.
And one final small world note: As I was poking around Kaneel’s website I noticed he had released some earlier stuff on the Canada-based netlabel Camomille, which coincidentally was the first netlabel I reviewed several years ago on this site. I guess it’s a small world after all. [My apologies if that put’s THAT song on a loop in your head.]
2014 List of Things: Seven Items This Time!
I’ve made fun of best of/year end lists in the past for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they usually seem to come out before the year actually ends. So I had to laugh last year when Beyoncé dropped a well-regarded album in mid-December 2013 after most music lists were already out. Undaunted, many list makers have just included her in their best of 2014 lists. What are the rules here, critics?
Anyway, here in no particular order is my now traditional “List Of Random Music Things Related To Most Of 2014!”
MOST FUN ALBUM THAT YOU PROBABLY WON’T FIND ON ANY ‘BEST OF’ LISTS: “REV” by Reverend Horton Heat
“REV” is aptly named; from the instrumental opener “Victory Lap” through the next twelve tracks you can hardly catch your breath. It’s a record full of energetic surfy, twangy, rockabilly and roll. Just what the Reverend ordered.
BEST FREE MUSIC DUMP: De La Soul
I loved “3 Feet High and Rising” from back in the day, although really, who didn’t? It’s remained in my personal rotation since it was released in (gulp) 1989. But you know how it is, like many people I got busy with kids, jobs, and that cult (long story)…I just didn’t follow De La very closely (read: “at all”) thereafter. Well, earlier this year, the group gave away most of their older music which gave me a chance to catch up a bit. Wow. There is some really great stuff in their catalogue; shame on me for taking so long to re-engage. Do yourself a favor: if you haven’t kept tuned in to Pos, Trugoy and Mase, get back on the bandwagon. They're still going Strong Island.
By the way, this category “Best Free Music Dump” is not to be confused with…
BEST FREE DUMPED MUSIC: U2
“Dumped”, as in Apple Megacorporation dumped the new U2 album “Songs of Innocence” into everyone’s account. Perhaps you heard about this? It was mentioned on one or two websites. But also “dumped” as in some (many?) people wanting to dump the free music back out of their accounts. Not me, though; I likely would have bought the album unheard anyway. Plus, as an added bonus, I think it’s pretty good (as I discussed previously). Thanks for the free music, huge corporation!
FAVORITE WEBSITE OTHER THAN MINE: Netlabelism
OK, this is shameless self-promotion, but aside from this here site I’ve also started contributing reviews to Netlabelism.com, The Netaudio Magazine. I’ve been a long-time support of netlabels and have been reviewing releases for several years on my site, Netlabelism was looking for writers, my attorney’s negotiated with their attorney’s, and the next thing you know I’m a contributor. Not to brag or anything, but my agent negotiated a sweet deal…I make two times as much per story as I do on my own website. Let’s see…that’s two times zero…hey…wait…what?
BEST NEW-TO-ME MUSIC GIFTED BY A FAMILY MEMBER: “Atlas” by Real Estate
I got some really great music gifts from family this year. Well, I get great music every year now that I think about it (thank you Amazon wish list and family that don’t mind getting me “the same thing” for birthdays and Christmas). The “Scared To Get Happy” indiepop box set, The English Beat box set (That’s “The Beat” for my friends in Europe), several reggae and dub compilations, I could go on, and will if you ask me to or even stop averting your eyes for one slight moment.
My son Rhombus tries to do his part keep me up-to-date with stuff he likes, and he surprised me with this cool little record by Real Estate. It turned out to be right up one of my alleys; maybe they’ll make it on to “Scared to Get Happy 2.”
BEST LIVE SHOW – OLD BOYS DIVISION: Pixies
Again, I’ve written about this elsewhere on the site, but they were awesome. And loud, did I mention that? My ears are still ringing a little; I’m sure it will stop any month now.
BEST COVER CD FROM A MUSIC MAGAZINE: The Wire
Which CD from The Wire, you ask? ALL OF THEM. I always make sure to pick up issues with their Wire Tapper compilations (although if there are any generous benefactors out there I’m missing 1-3, 9 and 23). They are always interesting, challenging, enlightening, and a joy to listen to. In fact, I’m starting a new series in 2015 dedicated to them. For now, collect ‘em all, trade ‘em with your friends.
See you next year. I mean, for this list. Please come back before next year for other stuff.
The Flowers of Hell: The Art of Synaesthesia
Although they are new to me, The Flowers of Hell have been around for over a decade and have quite a discography. I’ll be honest with you; this band photo was the first thing that caught my attention:
I clicked over to their Soundcloud page and right at the top is a cool cover version of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere.” It’s got some different instrumentation than the original and the female vocal adds a nice texture to the song.
To various degrees, they generally mix typical instruments used in classical music with some rock instrumentation. They describe themselves as “a trans-Atlantic group of 16 or so independent experimental musicians led by synaesthete Greg Jarvis.” Synaesthesia is a neurological condition which, in Jarvis’ case, causes him to see sounds as visual shapes around him.
Their music is difficult to pigeonhole. They have an album of covers but don’t be fooled by the classical instrumentation; these are not plain vanilla orchestral covers, but instead mix the instruments, the musicianship, and rock sounds in very clever ways. They have an amazing take on “Mr. Tambourine Man” that sounds like a lost Velvet Underground and Nico track.
Moving to a very different place on the musical spectrum, their song “O” is 45 minutes of awesome. It sounds like an orchestra warming up before a concert, but is clearly more organized than that. Various instruments come to the fore and just as quickly move to the background, snippets of songs appear and quickly float away… at times it’s beautiful, at times more chaotic. I’ll give it my own “O” - Otherworldly. I’m guessing it may also be a good example how the synethaesia impacts the music…I could almost see the shapes coming and going over the duration.
Also on their resume, The Flowers of Hell have the Lou Reed seal of approval (if that does anything for you). Not sure if it was the Velvets vibe to many of their tracks or their version of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” (here titled “O Superheroin”) that caught Lou’s attention, but it doesn’t matter; Lou was right about this group. Laurie Anderson, by the way…also Lou Reed approved.
Twitter Feeds: Volume III (or the Grandson of Volume I)
In this edition of my occasional review of wonderful things Twitter has brought to my attention, we have a corrector, a carbie, and the meaning of “no.”
The always entertaining Andy Partridge is on Twitter @xtcfans. I’ve really enjoyed his series of tweets that start with “THE CORRECTOR” where he goes on to share interesting XTC tidbits or to clear up misconceptions about the band that have filtered into the world. He also gives some fun "inside info" with his HTSXTC (How To Speak XTC) tweets. For example:
Love it, but Wikipedia beware.
If you want something musical for your eyes, check out Australian photographer Carbie Warbie. He specializes in photographing musicians and captures lots of great live concert pics of bands visiting Down Under. He regularly tweets out his latest work and has quite an archive on his website. I like repeatedly clicking on the “random” button and seeing who pops up.
Finally, for this entry, we have Puppet Rebellion. They formed a little over a year and a half ago in Manchester. Their “No Means Yes” EP was released in March of this year, and it’s quite good. In their edgy post-punk sound I can hear hints of Interpol and maybe some of the atmospherics of Coldplay too. Meanwhile, the fourth track on the EP (called “Green Eyed Monster”) really rocks; I bet it’s a show stopper live. And it looks like some of you lucky people in the UK can catch them live in October.
And aside from the music, I learned a handy tip at their website about cooling beer. Cheers.
U2 – Songs for Someone…and Everyone
No doubt the biggest music news this week had to be One Direction announcing their new single…no, wait… that’s not even close! Of course, the real big news centered around the new U2 album “Songs of Innocence” which was basically given away for free to everyone on earth.
I’m always surprised at the vitriol directed at U2. Look, I understand some people don’t like their music or the perceived arrogance of Bono or any number of other issues that are raised (“They avoid paying taxes,” “They’re in the pocket of Apple,”etc. Pick your issue.). With knives sharpened and at the ready, many discussed this new music in the context of whatever gripes the particular writer is harboring about the band. Personally I think the things U2 does outside of their music fall far more onto the positive side of the ledger than the negative, but your mileage may vary.
So can we just talk about the music? While I’m still fully absorbing this album and I doubt I’ll be championing it as among their best work (hello Rolling Stone magazine and your five-star review…really?), I will say I think it’s very good (much better than average) and a worthy and enjoyable addition to their catalogue.
The overall theme of the songs (as highlighted in the liner notes) centers on looking back - on where they started, their influences, and early life experiences. I would definitely say it’s one of their better recent albums; there’s more grit and energy evident. At times U2’s music can seem almost constructed for how it will sound during their stadium tours, but this one mostly has more of an edge (small “e”) and seems to let it fly. I like that.
A few tunes stand out after several listens. “Volcano” with its New Order-ish elements, the muscular “Cederwood Road,” and a track dedicated to Joe Strummer called “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now.” That last track, intentionally or not, sounds like it’s written in the style of some of the later Strummer music. A few of the tracks don’t move me [including “Iris (Hold Me Close)” and “California (There Is No End To Love),” and not just because of all the parentheses], but ask me again in six months and that may change.
One other common criticism I heard this week, over and over, was annoyance that this album was just delivered (a/k/a force fed) automatically to everyone with an Itunes account. Hopefully that won’t become a common music distribution method. I can understand some minor displeasure for people who don’t have any interest in this, or any, U2 music; if you fall into that category I hope having to delete those files was the worst thing that happened to you all week.
As for me, I’ll just say thanks for the new music and add it to the rotation.
Calling All Astronauts: Hands Up, Who Wants To Die?
He borrows a famous line from a song by The Birthday Party, but Calling All Astronauts’ vocalist David B erupts with his own take on his band’s latest. CAA serves up six flavors of their song “Hands Up, Who Wants to Die?” on their identically named EP.
Why would you want an EP with six versions of the same song on it? Well, in this case, play them back-to-back and you might not even realize you are hearing the same song (unless you catch the title lyric). So what’s your pleasure? Are you a Goth fan? Check out “Hands Up, Who Wants Goth?” Prefer Drum and Bass? Check out “Hands Up, Who Wants Drum and Bass?” And if you are squarely in the camps of Metal, Electro Dub, EBM, or Dubstep, well, there is something for you too.
My favorite version is “…Metal” with its heavy guitar crunch, but they are all good. I’m loving the skill and variety of production on exhibit here.
Aside from lending his voice to the proceedings here, David B is the social media voice of the band as well. He’s very, very active…and interactive…on Twitter, sharing opinion, observations, laughs, and music (along with the “occasional” plug for CAA itself). I can vouch for his good taste in music and recommend CAA worthy of a follow and/or a like. However, I feel as a public service I should provide one warning: big fans of Bieber and his ilk may want to steer clear.
Paris: Part the First
The Trapezoid family had the opportunity to visit Paris just about this time last year. I had always heard the Paris referred to as “The City of Light” but after my trip I concluded they should change the nickname to “The City of Music.” I heard great sounds everywhere I turned.
On my first full day there, attempting to shake off some jet lag, I took a stroll and came upon an outdoor market. On the edge of the market there was a small community band playing and singing, and people were passing around sheets of paper with song lyrics so you could sing along. Lovely.
But that was just the beginning. It seemed everywhere we went there were street performers, accepting tips and often selling their own CD’s. Considering they were on a public sidewalk, the guys in the photo on the left had quite a set up …including a real piano. Not quite as easy to transport as a guitar. The couple in the photo on the right set up one evening when we were dining in an outdoor café. They serenaded all the diners and passers-by for a few songs then moved on. Fantastique.
Some video samples of musicians we encountered are available on my facebook page.
Joe Strummer: The Autograph
Following up on my recent Joe Strummer interview story…
Toward the end of the interview Joe said he believed a future president will have been in the audience of a Clash show. I joked that maybe it would be me. (Note: It looks unlikely that will occur at this point, but if I change my mind can I count on your vote?) Right at the end of the interview you may hear me asking Joe for an autograph. He says sure, so I hand him my copy of “The Cost of Living E.P.” and he pauses and looks up at me and asks “This is yours?” He seemed a little taken aback, but certainly not in a bad way. Just…I’m not sure what. Surprised to see it in the US? Impressed I had a copy? Maybe he wasn’t expecting the trip down memory lane?
Regardless, he signs his distinctive signature and then adds something else and hands it back to me as he is escorted out by Kosmo. Aside from his autograph, he wrote it was for me and under that wrote “Prez?” You can probably imagine how amazing that was for me. I was doubly impressed because he remembered my name without asking; I had nothing with my name on it and he only heard my name once when we were introduced at the start of the interview.
So, yes, I was on cloud nine.
Take Five: Minutemen
One of my long-time favorites is the much lamented band Minutemen. They had a too-short life span but an incredible amount of great output. The talented trio, consisting of D. Boon, Mike Watt, and George Hurley (who was not only a great drummer but also developed some of the best hair ever to grace a rock-n-roll stage), were built on punk but mixed in elements of almost any other genre of music you care to name. And they were punks as I think of it…not necessarily defined by their appearance or speed of their music, but by their attitude and the joy gained by following their own path. The opening line from one of their songs says it best: ”Our band could be your life.”
Today I want to mention five of their songs that I highly recommend. Really, I always tell people to start with Double Nickels on the Dime. The breadth and quality of songs on that (double) album are amazing; it is considered a classic for good reason. But perhaps you just want to dip your toe? Here are my five favorite Minutemen songs:
The driving “This Ain’t No Picnic” from Double Nickels on the Dime also happens to be one of the few songs they made that resulted in an official video. Minutemen were known for the brevity of many of their songs; they had to add a bit of music to flesh this one out for video purposes:
Another track I love from Double Nickels is “History Lesson - Part II.” The title might seem to imply this song is a sequel to “History Lesson” from their debut album The Punch Line. Not even close. That track was a funny, angry, quick history lesson about General George Custer. “Part II” is actually a very sweet song about the Minutemen and their journey as “corndogs from Pedro” to having their lives changed through punk rock:
As with many of their songs, “Paranoid Chant” from Paranoid Time is blend of classic punk, politics, humor, and is over before you know it. “Working Men are Pissed” from The Politics of Time somewhat follows the same formula, although the humor is dialed down on this one. The great “Party With Me Punker” was, I believe, originally on a Various Artists compilation but also ended up on the Minutemen compilation The Politics of Time. It’s yet another slice of energy, humor, punk, and social commentary that is the hallmark of so much of the band’s output.
Since Minutemen always gave you a lot of songs for your money…for a bonus in this edition of Take Five I offer five additional Minutemen songs, listed here solely for their great titles, starting with my favorite:
“God Bows to Math” from Double Nickels on the Dime
“Maybe Partying Will Help” from Double Nickels on the Dime
“Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing” from Double Nickels on the Dime
“Dreams Are Free, Motherfucker!” from Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat
“Shit You Hear at Parties” from The Politics of Time
Diggin’ The New: 1Q14
OK business people, just under the wire before the end of the current fiscal period, it’s my quarterly report on some music-related items I’m enjoying during this endless winter.
The @PUNKandSTUFF Twitter account gives followers regular helpings of early punk and….well…stuff. They post pictures and facts related to (mostly) 70’s and early 80’s UK punk/post-punk bands. If that era and music are your sweet spot, follow them and you’ll look forward to the surprises your Twitter feed will have waiting for you every day.
Sitting at your computer shivering from the cold? Head on over to Cyprus Dub Community Radio for some great music that will warm you up and leave you feeling every little thing gonna be alright. You can get a fix of reggae, dub and related music at any hour of any day or night. They also feature occasional live shows, including appearances by our friend Dub Thomas (from the Dubophonic label featured here previously).
And fans of reggae will also want to check out Irie Magazine which started publishing in late 2013. Each issue is loaded with great photos, interviews, stories and interactive links to music and other information. Here’s a bit of a scavenger hunt for you - look for the great picture of Capleton seemingly defying gravity in the current issue (#3). If you want more roots, rock reggae and respect in your life, sign up for a free subscription and they’ll deliver every issue right to your email.
I recently ran across Horace Panter (a/k/a Sir Horace Gentleman) on Twitter. He is, of course, bass player and co-founder of that amazing band The Specials. Over the years he has been involved in various artistic endeavors: he has continued to play music, written a memoir, held teaching positions, and in recent years has revealed another side of his talents - his paintings. His website features his work, much of which has a music theme of one sort or another. I particularly like his “Cassettes” series.
Twitter Feeds: Volume II (or Son of Volume 1)
This is an occasional series where I share a few things that I’m enjoying that I’ve discovered through the magic that is Twitter.
DM-KD is a collaboration between two musicians out of Munich, Germany. Before getting together, Marco Seibt had a project by the name of domestic-music and Katka Spychala worked under the name Kata Dumur. Combining their talents AND their band names (hint – look at the initials), they have two great, somewhat dark, electronic tracks posted on their website. Fans of earlier 4AD bands like, say, Clan of Xymox should definitely check this out. Their site also mentions some involvement with Boris Blank, so we’ll put that in the “plus” column; any friend of Yello is a friend of mine.
Royale is a four piece band from Boston. Their Twitter feed says they are “Post gypsy chamber rock revival” which is a great description of…something, but probably not their music. Their music tends toward clean sounding bass-guitar-drum indie rock. Their “Long Gone” EP is a great way to sample them. From the catchy opener “Take A Minute” to the more dramatic title track to the sparse late-night vibe of closer “Can’t Seem To Leave” you can pick out lots of influences (Kings of Leon and Death Cab For Cutie to name only two) but nothing that pigeonholes them as a “sounds just like” band. And if you like their songs, they also have other fun stuff available on their Soundcloud page, including some cover songs of well-known artists (Etta James, The Strokes) and even some Christmas songs. Ho ho ho.
Calling All Astronauts round out today’s selections. They are self-described as an “Electro Goth Punk three-piece.” They may favor a punk look, but from what I’ve listened to I’d say the music leans toward the first two descriptors (and throw in “Industrial” for good measure). The music is loud and driving. If it’s not clear, that’s a good thing.
They mention their sound has been compared to Nine Inch Nails, Killing Joke and Marilyn Manson, but I’ll add another one; when the guitar and vocals kick in on their most recent song “It Could Have Been Lust” (currently free to download) I was reminded of Sisters of Mercy. When you visit, also look for “Red Flag” on their Soundcloud page. It will get your blood pumping for sure.
Films Are Music Too: A Band Called Death
A very touching documentary on the Hackney brothers from Detroit who formed a proto-punk band called Death in the early 70’s. As the story unfolds it almost seems like it was made up by a Hollywood screenwriter but, as you know, real life can often be stranger than fiction.
Two of the brothers, Bobby and Dannis Hackney, are our primary guides through “A Band Called Death.” They are so engaging right out of the gate that you take an immediate liking to them and know you are in good hands. Their stories about the band and their family are sometimes filled with laughter and other times just raw emotion. It beautifully tells a parallel story of family along with the story of the music.
Without giving too much away, Death was an outlier in the early 1970’s in a city where Motown was king. But they pursued their rock-n-roll vision, encountering road blocks along the way. One surprising problem was the name of the band; today it hardly raises an eyebrow but back then it created some real issues. At one point, unable to land a record deal, they self-release a 7-inch single called “Politicians In My Eyes.” Listen to the first 45 seconds of this song and tell me this couldn’t be Bad Brains:
You learn about the short life of the band and what the brothers get up to after Death is set aside. The prophetic words of brother David (“One day the world is going to come looking for this…”) foreshadow their rediscovery. In a circuitous route that involves music fans, industry insiders, the sons of one of the brothers, and some seemingly impossible twists of fate, Death finally gets their due over three decades after they probably should have been lauded.
The good news (aside from a really excellent documentary)? Ultimately a Death album was released; “…For The Whole World To See” is now available, and Death finally found their audience.
Here’s a link to the official movie site, and you can also check out the music here:
Ian Rubbish: Brilliant
If you’re a punk (especially version 1.0) with a sense of humor, or a fan of The Clash (as I might be…ahem), you MUST check out the Ian Rubbish website.
He both pays tribute to, and has some fun with, the early punk scene in general…
…and The Clash in particular (with Mick and Paul seeming to have a good laugh along as well):
You can download “The Best of Ian Rubbish EP” for free at Ian’s website, but if anyone has a mint condition copy of “Camden Reckons” available please contact me immediately. It’s an aching void in my music collection.
Concert Notes: Pixies
I got to see Pixies, one of my all-time favorite bands, live and in person for the first time a few nights ago. For some reason I go through various emotions leading up to a show like this with a beloved band. First I’m excited to get tickets but then I start to psyche myself out a little leading up to the show. What if they phone it in? What if they only play new songs? What if they are just bad… will it ruin the band for me forever? This always ends up with me thinking, right before show time, “I’ve made a horrible mistake buying these tickets, I just know it.”
Well, at the end of the day there was nothing to worry about with this band. Pixies came out and cranked through a ton of classic songs (and a few new ones) and sounded great. They kicked off with early gem “Bone Machine” and skipped around their catalogue the rest of the night. “U-Mass,” which had been bouncing around my head all day, was the third song they played. It was very nice of them to get that one out of the way early for me. Interestingly, I don’t believe they played any songs from their album “Bossanova.” Have they disowned that album for some reason? Regardless, there was plenty of other great music to fill the night.
The band did not say one word the entire night to the crowd. They acknowledged applause with a wave or a nod but just kept their heads down (sometimes literally) and simply cranked out song after song. I thought the energy of the crowd flagged a little bit during a couple of their newer songs, but this may be from lack of familiarity. The likes of “Blue Eyed Hexe” and “Bagboy” sounded fine live and fit well into the set.
Of course Frank Black/Black Francis tends to be the center of attention and was in good form, but drummer David Lovering had his moment on “La La Love You,” including holding up his hand to delay the crowd applause while he got in one last unaccompanied round of the chorus. And I could not stop laughing when guitarist Joey Santiago had some fun during “Vamos.” During a lengthy guitar solo he played with the guitar parts more than he touched the actual strings, playing with switches and even unplugging the guitar and playing with the cord from the amp. It sounded great and every once in a while he would stop to make a “rock star pose,” arms aloft, eliciting applause from the crowd. Both he and the rest of the band seemed quite amused too.
Missing from this tour is long time Pixies bassist Kim Deal. While Mrs. Trapezoid was particularly disappointed about that, I thought new bass player Paz Lenchantin played and sang really well, not missing a beat if you will.
They ended the main part of the show with what is probably one of their more well-known songs, “Where Is My Mind?” While the music was really loud all night, they did one brief encore and for finale “Planet of Sound” it sounded (and felt) like they turned the amps up to and beyond eleven. My ears were blown out as I staggered out onto the street, as was my brain. I’ve never felt so happy being disoriented and having pretty much non-working ears, but that’s what a great band can do to you.
[Thanks to my friend Sabrina for the pics! More unedited photos at my Facebook page]
Take Five: Joy Division
Even if you are a casual Joy Division fan you surely know the brilliance of their song “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” But perhaps that’s all you have heard? Or maybe, like some of the young friends of my son Rhombus, you only know of Joy Division because you heard the song "Let's Dance to Joy Division" by The Wombats. Regardless, despite a relatively small discography, Joy Division is rightly lauded as one of the all-time great bands. I thought I would mention five of their songs that aren’t “Love Will Tear Us Apart” that are favorites of mine.
The Kill – This is their most straight-ahead punk song, which makes sense because this is one of their earliest tunes. It dates from around 1977 when they were known as Warsaw. I don’t believe it was ever released until it turned up on later JD compilations. It’s barely over two minutes of energy and out.
Digital –That awesome Pete Hook bass kick off this track. The tension builds with Ian Curtis singing “I feel it closing in…” Then release with aggressive guitar and shouted chorus. The pattern repeats several times. It’s exhausting but amazing. This first appeared on “A Factory Sample,” an early Factory Records compilation composed of two 7-inch records which included other artists.
She’s Lost Control – This is my one selection that appears on one of their two studio albums, specifically the undisputed classic Unknown Pleasures. Strange sounding electronic rhythms, echoes and sparse guitar draw us in. Ian’s lyrics talk about “she” but probably somewhat describe his concern about his own epileptic seizures.
Transmission – This was released as a single. Again the bass starts us up, but the band quickly joins with a solid danceable beat and typically enigmatic lyrics. On the surface he seems to sing simply about dancing to the radio. However, his vocal performance suggests it might not be that simple as Ian gets more and more desperate until the song suddenly trails away. “Dance dance dance to the radio” indeed.
Dead Souls –No doubt my favorite JD song. This was originally released as the b-side of a limited edition single. As with many of their songs, there is a build-up of tension, then the guitar introduces some violent energy, before it ebbs as if the energy can’t be maintained for the duration. The song then builds and explodes again. It’s over two minutes before the singing starts. Haunted vocals repeat “they keep calling me.” It is intense, but I guess “Intense” is the word that probably best describes Joy Division.
Makunouchi Bento: The Past, The Future, and The Mysterious Mr. Higaru
One of my favorite discoveries in the last several years is Romanian duo Makunouchi Bento. I have previously written about their excellent album “Swimé,” which is still a favorite, but there is a lot more of their fantastic music out there. And the big recent news from that band is that now it’s all in one convenient location.
Makunouchi Bento is Felix Petrescu (a/k/a Waka X, a/k/a…well…see below) and Valentin Toma (a/k/a Qewza, a/k/a Toma Carnagiu). They have been putting out music for over a decade and show no signs of letting up. Their releases have been spread out on various labels and websites so for a fan it could take a little work to track it all down. Enter one wonderful Bandcamp page. There you will find 21 different albums and EP’s on the main page, and a few more gems if you click on their “Recommendations” link. And they kindly have it all available for free download (although you can also show some love and make a donation).
Valentin and Felix often display playfulness and humor both in their music (for example, a track on “Avebell” is called “Bell Lugosi is Dead”) and interviews. They were kind enough to answer a few questions for me about this gathering of their work and some other topics. I started by asking, now that they have assembled their entire discography in one place, what is their reaction?
Felix: “It's such a mixed bag, it's such a magnificent display of human errors and weakness. A whirlwind of thoughts, stories and emotions. It's the breadcrumb trail that leads to our stories.”
Valentin: “And yet, it's not quite a surprise, we've always been pretty much aware of our back catalogue and the evolution of our sound within these 13 years. Following back the breadcrumb trail (unaltered by time), we remember everything with joy.”
To me most of their work seems inspired by a particular concept or a story. Sometimes this is clear in information included with their music, sometimes it’s less obvious. I asked for a little insight into their creative process. Specifically, I wondered if the concepts and stories come first, then the music, or if they come up with the music first and develop a concept later.
Felix: “It works both ways. Sometimes we have the story and illustrate it with sounds, sometimes we have the track that fires up our imaginations. The stories are always "there" for us. For me, every sound or song unfolds an intricate story. They work together, never alone. If the artist won't build a world for his work, what should be expected from listener?!”
Valentin: “The most important thing is we always start with an idea, something that stands out and makes the song particular, in a way. Be it an interesting story or an unusual sound.”
Not to get too greedy considering all the music Makunouchi Bento has made available, but I also asked what we could look forward to next.
Felix: “Latest project was a DJ/VJ project called "Science Night", played just once, unfortunately. We are preparing the start for new album in January 2014, an album as serious as Swimé.”
Valentin: “Not to mention the "Red Slippers Room" open-playlist, a collection of little experiments we made in 2013 that might continue in 2014 alongside the work on the new album. Also, some surprise remixes and collaborations could pop up anytime, should Chronos be a good lad.”
So where to begin if you are new to Makunouchi Bento? I asked if they had any personal favorites. Valentin said “I have this alter-ego called Toma Carnagiu (a Romanian pun, that is), that might assemble a mix of his favourite Makunouchi Bento tracks, at some point in 2014.” In the meantime, I’d personally recommend “The Guardians of Rare Pieces: Compilation Tracks,” “Remix Box Ichi,” and of course the aforementioned “Swimé” as good mix to start enjoying this band.
Oh, and what about this Higaru character? Their early album “Himette” includes a track called “Mr. Higaru’s Love Nest.” I’ve also noticed that name other places (email address, etc.). So I had to ask what I labeled the most important question: Who is Mr. Higaru?
Felix: “Higaru is one of my alter-egos, a Japanese psychotic student, a puppet in our aural puppet-shows. Maybe, someday, Higaru will be the main subject of a full ep or lp. Only he knows. Cogito, ego sum!”
Valentin: “Or maybe it's a four-eyed pirate, arr! Ask no more, or you'll walk the plank!”
Spoons: Something Old, Something New
Spoons (one of the first bands I wrote about for this site; specifically concerning their amazing song "Nova Heart") have surprised their fans with a little Christmas gift; two previously unreleased songs. In fact, they are apparently the oldest and newest Spoons tracks.
The song “Alphabet Eyes” is the first official Spoons song. It never made it on to record, so this is a rough practice/demo recording. They were apparently throwing off the prog-rock shackles of their earlier incarnation (a band called Tryst – how perfect is that name for a prog band?). Although I can still hear a slight hint of their past in the synth on occasion, this is definitely a more pop/new wave tune. The first 20 seconds of the song are electronic noises that sound like very early Devo. Then the rhythm track kicks in, while synth and guitar alternately come to the fore. Overall it sounds like a theme song for some futuristic television show (in the vein of “Telstar” by The Tornados). An imperfect mix, but a really great tune and fun to hear.
“Snow Globes” is described as a Christmas song, although that is not really evident to me from the lyrics. It kicks off with a driving guitar and quickly adds some dream pop backing. The song gets very dense as the main echoed vocals are added. There are lots of layers to this dramatic track. Spoons say this song is “one of our latest.” Perhaps a sign there will be new material in the coming soon? Hope springs eternal…
Thanks for the Christmas gift, Spoons.