Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Mercury Program - "Nazca Lines of Peru" from the CD From the Vapor of Gasoline

The Mercury Program From the Vapor of Gasoline CD coverWhile I don't think that the Nazca Plateau is home to any erstwhile landing strips for alien starships, I can sure understand how its eerie, arid and isolated windscape might just facilitate the imagining, at least among our more suggestible and our more visionary, of just such a series of fantastic runways.

I think that The Mercury Program might be some of those doing this imagining, actually, visualizing the primitive starport as it might have been 1500 years ago, an anachronism nestled like a piece of engraved platinum between the hardscrabble Andean foothills and the Pacific Ocean.

The Spider Lines of PeruThe band's music is nothing if not evocative, often spacious and always multilayered. Early on in "Nazca Lines of Peru," it's only Dave Lebleu's marvelous syncopated drumming that separates the tune from minimalism, all you hear is the buzzing of the bass and of the wind, all you see are the high white clouds sailing by. Later on, a webbed hand switches the starjets on, and the guitars roar, as the chromium gullwing of the alien ship disappears into the cerulean blue of the Sechura Desert sky.

And then, as quick as the hummingbird whose wings magnified 10,000 times are etched into the rusty landscape, it's only the echo of the wind and the vibraphones again, the Nazca tribesmen listening as the breeze blows across the lonesome plateau, watching the seasons change, waiting for the 20 minutes of rain each year, drawing another geoglyph onto the face of the desert every generation or so, waiting for the starships and the frogmen to return.

The Monkey Lines of Peru

The Mercury Program - From the Vapor of Gasoline - 04 - Nazca Lines Of Peru.mp3

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File under: Postrock songs named after UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Doktor Kosmos - "Distance Equals Rate Times Time" From the CD La La Love You Pixies!

La La Love You Pixies! CD CoverMany years ago--but not so many that I wasn't already a huge Neil Young fan--I came across and subsequently purchased this CD called The Bridge. It wasn't a Neil Young record, but it sure did have a bunch of his songs. "Hey Hey My My," "Cinnamon Girl," "Helpless," "Mr. Soul," and more, as a matter of fact.

It was, as it turned out, the first tribute album I had ever seen, and even though most of the cover versions on it weren't in the end all that good, The Bridge still has to be understood now as a very influential album, simply because of all the albums of similar format that have been released over the past 20 years.

the Bridge CD coverSeems these days like you can't throw a cybernetic stick into the e-commercial air without hitting a tribute album. We've seen the country music tribute to ZZ Top, the industrial band's tribute to Metallica, the bluegrass tribute to Led Zeppelin, the indie tribute to The Carpenters, and even the reggae tribute to Pink Floyd. A short but intriguing article in the most recent issue of Spin, written evidently at the conclusion of an informal but thorough international survey, claims that there are at least 48 of the things dedicated to The Ramones alone.

Surely they're not all worth listening to. But, leaving my bad experience with The Bridge aside, I'd bet a lot of 'em are pretty good.

You can probably approach a tribute album the same way you'd approach its shorter-form analog, the cover song: the more slavish the imitation, the less likely it is that the end result is going to be worth playing more than once.

Like, I know they're big Yes fans and all, but the LAST band who should be covering "South Side of the Sky" is Spock's Beard. And I'm not quite sure what Iced Earth thought they could bring to "The Number of the Beast."

A good cover version should be, purely and simply, totally invested in finding a completely new way to say the same exact thing.

Camper Van Beethoven interprets Sonic Youth's "I Love Her All The Time" as a hoedown. The genius Richard Cheese reimagines "Man in the Box" as a rumba. And Doktor Kosmos gets freaky with the vocoder to reinvent the Pixies.
That's what I'm talkin' about. . . .

What goes around comes around, that's for sure. The Pixies were one of the bands featured on The Bridge, with their version of "Winterlong." And now they're the ones being tributed! More than once, too. The Wikipedia page that keeps track of such things lists no less than seven Pixies tribute albums, including the Scandinavian obscurity featured here.

La La Love You was produced in Sweden at a studio you can't pronounce by an engineer you don't know who recorded bands no American has ever heard of. The webpage where I first heard about the project says that "[a]ll the cover versions on this disc are performed with love, and all are decent, though (of course) none equal the brilliance of the originals they are based on."

I don't know about that, though. These days I'm diggin' on Doktor Kosmos' version of "D=r*t" as well as I ever did the Pixies' . . . .

La La Love You Pixies! A Tribute - 12 - Doktor Kosmos - Distance Equals Rate Times Time.mp3

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File Under: Covers where they forget the words

Monday, March 23, 2009

Iggy Pop - "Neighborhood Threat" from the album Lust for Life

Iggy Pop Lust for Life album cover After being frustrated in our plans last weekend, when her employer pencilled her in for a Sunday shift, Melanie and I had the opportunity to see Watchmen over the weekend.

I thought the film was excellent, without being perfect. The infamous sex scene was not nearly as cringe-inducing as I had been led to expect, and critics who have disparaged the film for undue reverence to the source material have, I think, missed the point.

As a fan of the original graphic novel, I was fond of telling anyone who made the mistake of listening that the key to the movie's success was going to be Rorschach's character, as it was his journal and his voice that seemed to resonate most with the paranoid and claustrophobic universe Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons had created.

Panel from Watchmen with "Neighborhood Threat" lyrics

Well, Jackie Earle Haley was a motherfucker as Rorschach. He was tremendous, as hard and as uncompromising and as insane as Moore had envisioned his vigilante character, and the pathos at his end was as a result just as poignant.

Snyder scrambled the story a bit at the end, streamlined it, and though for a while, I thought the director was gonna wimp out and back down from the climactic tragedy, he didn't, and by the end, I thought the tale was told as well as it might have been despite the changes to the endgame.

One of my beefs with the production was expected: I'd known the production had axed the Tales of The Black Freighter sequences early on for reasons of space. Watching the movie, however, re-emphasized how important that parallel and contrapuntal commentary on the main plotline had been to the comic.

The second beef I had is what makes the movie's mention relevant here: its music. Moore had layered his story with loads of cultural references, lots of music, and Zack Snyder incorporated a lot of those references into his film.

Sometimes to its detriment, too. It's the one time when I might agree with the critics who found fault in the movie's faithfulness.

As you read the comic, it becomes quickly clear that Moore is a Dylan fan. He references a Dylan tune no less than three times during the course of the graphic novel. So when Snyder chose to run the opening credits over "The Times They Are A-Changing," it made perfect sense, especially considering 1) the historical montage that was running behind those credits and 2) that Moore had himself namechecked the song in Chapter XI.

But what possessed Snyder to use "The Sounds of Silence" over images of The Comedian's funeral? It's a good example of how inexpert music selection can confuse the viewer. Melanie actually thought the sequence was a flashback. And the thing is, not only was the use of the song anachronistic for the film, it also breaks the viewer's suspension of disbelief. Here you are watching a movie about comic heroes, and suddenly you have Dustin Hoffman in your head. . . . Cinematically, "The Sounds of Silence" in all its non-ironic uses will forever and irrevocably be associated with The Graduate, and The Graduate only. How come it's only Zack Snyder who doesn't know this?

Big Mistake, there, and for no real reason, either: Moore or Gibbons never mention Simon and Garfunkel at all.

Another big mistake in soundtrack selection was the use of Jimi Hendrix' version of "All Along The Watchtower" as Rorschach and the Nite Owl fly into Veidt's compound. Moore had appropriated the lyrics from Dylan's song when he titled Chapter X "Two Riders Were Approaching," and Snyder's editors managed to sync the line with an appropriate image of the two masked men tromping through the snow in the shadow of Ozymandias' Antipodean castle.

But a competent editing job does not a wise choice make. I will take issue with using Hendrix' much more well-known version, because of all the hippie/Woodstock baggage it carries that is quite irrelevant to the film, but the plain fact of the matter is, no matter whose version you use, when Moore quotes lyrics in print, the effect is much more subtle than the one you get when you play the music.

The '60's still have a long shadow and the cultural overtones to the use of either Hendrix or Dylan music are too powerful for the movie to overcome. The movie's overriding moods are of paranoia and claustrophobia and nervousness. No discredit to Dylan or Hendrix, but their songs do not invoke these feelings. It was a movie best adorned by "Psycho Killer" or something from Fear of Music. The Electric Ladyland stuff is not working.

The movie was set in an alternate version of the mid-'80's, and most, if not all, of the music used in the film should have been of, around, or influenced by that time. I was never a big fan on Nena's "99 Luftballons," but its use in the film (and of course, the comic) is absolutely appropriate, even apart from the song's nuclear symbolism.

And I know even less about My Chemical Romance than I do about Nena, but I will say that their cover of Dylan's "Desolation Row" as the first half of the closing credits rolled was well executed. Snyder managed to get another Dylan reference in, and the band managed to sound not like one of the late oughts' hitmakers, but rather like one of the Reagan Punk bands.

Watchmen Teaser posterAlthough I guess you'd have to say Nixon Punk, right?

Melanie thought the use of Leonard Cohen's music an inspired choice, a depressing poet and songwriter for a depressing universe obsessed with its own doom, but my own insight on Cohen is limited, so I'll leave it at that.

But in the end, my biggest response to the music in the film is disappointment that the soundtrack didn't include Iggy Pop's "Neighborhood Threat," when Moore gives the lyrics a marquee quotation on page 10 of chapter I, as Dan Dreiberg walks home, soon to find the absolutist lunatic Rorschach in his kitchen.

The song is a paranoiac classic, suitable for Travis Bickle and Rorschach both, and deserved to have been carried over into the movie as much as any song, as much as any plot device, as much as any character.

I understand that the DVD version of the film is going to include an animated version of The Tales of the Black Freighter. Maybe there's a little room for "Neighborhood Threat?"

Iggy Pop - Lust for Life - 8 - Neighborhood Threat.mp3

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File under: Market Consolidation Moves from Psychotic Punk-Rockers

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Voivod - "Fuck Off And Die" from the CD Rrröööaaarrr
Voivod - "The Unknown Knows" from the CD Nothingface

Voivod Rrröööaaarrr album coverVoivod Nothingface CD cover

Sometimes the most salient and illustrative comparison that can be made for a band is one with an earlier version of itself.

Witness Voivod, whose angle of ascent left a vapor trail that moves smoothly from the dissonant anarchy of "Fuck Off and Die" to the polished prog-metal of "The Unknown Knows" in three short years.

"Fuck Off and Die" is savage nihilism distilled to an almost pure noise, a music constructed to assault the ears in the same way its title when screamed out attacks the polite sensibilities.

The entire album's that way, actually. After a fairly consonant debut album influenced by Mötörhead and NWOBHM, the entirety of Rrröööaaarrr was a conscious turn towards atavism, a retreat from the metallic melody and form of War and Pain into spaces more influenced by noise punk bands like Scratch Acid or even No-Wavers Teenage Jesus and the Jerks.

Voivod War and Pain album coverIn places it's an almost impenetrable wall of slashing swords, and as much as I admire "Fuck Off and Die" and the rest of it for its fierce uncompromised posture, for its diehard advocacy of aggressive atonality, even I can understand that the noise of Rrröööaaarrr was probably not sustainable over time.

Not that Voivod had any inclination to remain in place. After Rrröööaaarrr was released in 1986, Killing Technology in 1987 would make as many departures from Rrröööaaarrr as Rrröööaaarrr had made with War and Pain. While the noise of their 1986 record was inchoate and so solid you couldn't see through, KT opened up spaces, so that you might almost term it angular. It's instructive to note that the band most similar to Voivod during its Killing Technology phase was die Kreuzen, a punk band on an interesting trajectory of their own, and whose October File was even spookier than Voivod's effort, while retaining the heaviness AND the angularity.

Dimension Hatröss in 1988 continued the band's cycle of change, as it filled the spaces opened up in Killing Technology with elements lifted not from punk or metal or noise but from prog. "Tribal Convictions" and "Brain Scan" are in places aggressively progressive and avant garde, respectively, while still keeping the core thrash element.

For Nothingface, that core element is for the most part gone, and what remains is a masterful superstructure of progressive metal, nearly absent of the very things that propelled the band only three years previous: no rage, no rawness, no dissonance, not even a fucking umlaut. Even Korgüll, the band's mascot, who is seen gleefully driving his Hatred Skull Death Tank on the cover of Rrröööaaarrr, and who had made appearances on every Voivod album through Hatröss, has been dispensed with. The band--almost as if it had planned it this way--had remade itself, and was celebrating the occasion with an almost intoxicatingly intense batch of prog-metal.

Voivod The Unknown Knows Inner ArtworkI remember when I first heard Nothingface upon its release in 1989, and it was one of the few times in my life I can remember when the music that I was into meshed with the books that I was reading. Without getting more specific timewise, the late '80's were my time for the cyberpunks, as I read novels like Neuromancer and collections like Mirrorshades. And in Nothingface, in its graphic blandishments and in its lyrics, Voivod had put together an album that dovetailed perfectly with the cyberworld I'd been ingesting in prose.

As much as I'd liked Korgüll and the brutal kingdom of thrash noise through which he roamed, I've got to admit, I don't think he would have been capable of such invention.

Voivod - Rrröööaaarrr - 02 - Fuck Off & Die.mp3

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File under: Noise metal

Voivod - Nothingface - 01 The Unknown Knows.mp3

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File under: Cybermetal

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mr. Airplane Man - "Jesus on the Mainline" from the CD/EP Mr. Airplane Man

Mr. Airplane Man CD EP cover
Jesus on the mainline
Jesus on the mainline
Jesus on the mainline
You can call him up and tell Him what you want

He will come in a hurry Lord
He will come in a hurry Lord
He will come in a hurry Lord
You can call Him up and tell Him what you want

When you're sick and you can't get well
When you're sick and you can't get well
When you're sick and you can't get well
Call Him up and tell Him what you want

Jesus on the mainline
Jesus on the mainline
Jesus on the mainline
You can call Him up and tell Him what you want

Jesus on the mainline
Jesus on the mainline
Jesus on the mainline
You can call Him up and tell Him what you want
My tenth grade English teacher, Dr. Moss, was fond of telling a story about William Blake, the English poet, painter and mystic. Seems that a traveling salesman had knocked upon Blake's door one fine English twilight, but the poet's wife had refused the man, saying that Mr. Blake was indisposed, being back in the garden, speaking on a most urgent matter with Jesus Christ. . . .

Though Blake is known to have actually set up parlor visiting hours for the spirits of Dante, Michelangelo, Milton, and the biblical prophets in his later years, and is known to have told a visitor that a particular painting of his was well-liked by the Virgin Mary, and he knew it because she had told him so, a quick check with Alta Vista and Google does not allow me to verify Dr. Moss' story.

William Blake:  The Pastorals of Virgil Illustration 1

Whether that's an indictment of Dr. Moss, or of today's version of the internet, who can say?

But no matter. Like Bob Welch wrote a century and a half after Blake's death,

[I]t’s a meaningless question
To ask if those stories are right
’Cause what matters most is the feeling You get . . . .
Did William Blake's hairs stand on end as he dined with Ezekiel? Does Margaret Garrett's rabid slide guitar give you the shivers? Are the two feelings related?

A blog that is better able to come to its point than mine says that "Jesus on the Mainline" is about "uncomplicated access to spiritual guidance." But that's at best only partially right.

What got me about Dr. Moss' story, and what gets me about the lyrics to "Jesus on the Mainline," is how both suggest that a comfortable and familiar relationship is possible with the deeply mystic.

At least for some, anyway. I remain an atheist, though I've always said that just one ecstatic vision would transform me into the most pious of believers. But that golden and ethereal radiance has yet to flash at me through my windshield during my morning commute. No Virgin Mary no John the Baptist no Shiva, no Buddha, no nothing.

One one level this is no surprise at all, but on another level, it's very disappointing. I'm more than a little jealous of anyone who can simply pick up their cellphone and get, not just canonical advice from a spiritual adviser, but also a personal interview with their own savior.

America is not a Catholic nation, and it has never been one. But I think that the Catholic ideal of how you're supposed to contact the divine through appropriate channels is for the most part accepted by believers in our Protestant land. *

Like, now you have your work cap on, now you have your Friday night drinking cap on, now you have your Sunday morning praying cap on. And each cap comes with a different superior you report to.

I'm an atheist as I've said, but these Protestant ideals have still been transmitted to me. It's unavoidable. So it's not the idea that such a supercharged spiritual life can exist as opposed to the normal, um, everyday world of bodies that is so beguiling to me. It is that the transition between the two can be so seamless. One moment you're making breakfast. The next you're picking up the phone and talking to God.

You don't have to be St. Bernadette of Lourdes, anyone can do it, if so touched. Don't need a cardinal, don't need a coach. This whole Jesus on the Mainline thing is very DIY, very punk. Very delta blues, too, if you think about the fact that there wasn't any kind of band vote needed when Robert Johnson made his decision down at the Crossroads.

In other words, the whole thing is very Mr. Airplane Man, the deep soul of the blues and the buzzsaw noise of punk, Mississippi Fred McDowell and the Stooges, tell 'em what you want. And Margaret's angelic voice sweetly singing a third thing entirely, passion and inspiration illuminating the whole package, wrap it all up 'n' put it out on your own label, who cares if everyone thinks you're crazy or brilliant or both?

Mr. Airplane Man - Mr. Airplane Man - 08 - Jesus On The Mainline.mp3

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File under: Picking up the phone and talking to God rock

Mr. Airplane Man CD/EP scan

* . . . even by the holy rollers and the born-agains, who despite the personal relationship with Jesus they'd been promised, still seem to conduct all their spiritual business with the mega-pastors and the mega-churches. . . .(Back)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Fripp and Eno - "The Heavenly Music Corporation" from the Album (No Pussyfooting)

Fripp & Eno (No Pussyfooting) album cover Let's begin with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Lethem, from his sometimes-impenetrable book of essays, The Disappointment Artist:
"The Heavenly Music Corporation" was a secret friend who flattered my wishes both to vibrate to the universe's pulse in some post-human sense, through the exclusion of banal seductions of language or melody, and to align with esoteric art, made by freaks from a pop-art future, beyond the ken of my teachers or family. Truthfully, I was using it as a white-noise generator. . . .

Crazy guy, that Lethem. Frippertronics gets him started on transhumanism. But no matter: instead of Lethem's wacky ideas on universal fibrillation, I'd like, rather, to focus here on his suggestion that Fripp & Eno's 18-minute piece, and the front-side of their two-song album, works best as a white noise machine.

Earlier in his essay (which he called "The Beards," and which ends his short but dense book), Lethem reveals that upon first purchasing (No Pussyfooting), he quickly decided that he loved "The Heavenly Music Corporation" and that he hated "Swastika Girls," the album's flipside. While "Corporation" was soothing to him, he found the B-side "compulsive, boiling" and intimidating.

Thing is, the two tracks don't sound that different to me. I happen to prefer "Swastika Girls" 'cause Fripp gets really smokin' with the guitar towards the end of that one, but really, there's not all that much to differentiate the two in my mind. Allmusic, as it turns out, is with Lethem on the Side One Good, Side Two Bad critique, calling "Swastika Girls" "disconnected" and lacking "form and structure," as if THMC wasn't itself sprawling.

I don't get the dialectic. If you like one, you should like the other, seems to me. Their approaches are similar, the textures are spittin' images.
I think, though, that Lethem and AMG both have their issues with the second track for the same reasons I like it: because of Fripp's burning solos that become pre-eminent there at the end. Hardly white noise, you know?

White noise implies static implies ambience with these people is the problem. Wikipedia quotes someone as saying that (No Pussyfooting) is a proto-ambient classic, and far be it from me to quarrel with an expert or even established opinion, but "The Heavenly Music Corporation" is a bunch of things. It's cerebral, it's dreamy, it's gadgetry-fetish, it's positively Godelian in its recursiveness, it's cloudlike, it's brain soup, it's kinky because of Eno's naked lady playing cards on the cover. But it is NOT ambient.

Lethem tells the story of how once he fell in love with the first side he would listen to the thing through headphones each evening as he fell asleep. Man, the mere mention of such a thing reverberated intensely with me. For it reminded me of the habit I had during my high school years of, once I had returned stoned to the bejeesus belt from a night of partying, listening to head tapes I'd made special for the occasion(s), full of if not Fripp and Eno, spacy Yes tracks and King Crimson and ELP and Pink Floyd and Vangelis and all the rest, proggy food for my dizzied and expanded head. Later in his essay, Lethem desribes listening to a part of Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond," and he says that in his stoned condition he "felt able to place each of the notes in a precise place in the air before [his] eyes, to watch them flicker and vanish like embers."

Cover of The Disappointment Artist by Jonathan LethemYes, yes, absolutely yes. That's why they pay the man, to get the things in his books so right. But the place where he gets it wrong for me, with the headphones and with the songs, is when he tells how the music would lull him to sleep, stoned or not. My stoned teenaged self never, ever fell asleep, not while the music was still playing, not while it was still moving, not while my brain could still follow the notes as they ran their crazy chase over the hills and far away and then back again, as they surveyed the ample spaces inside my besotted skull where a lost chord, or a savage lick, or a wonderous synthesizer part that goes whoosh could throw down a blanket and have picnic.

"The Heavenly Music Corporation" is not white noise, it's not static. As my concert-jersey wearing, pimply, pot-smoking, virginal, teenaged alter-ego could have very quickly told you, Fripp's guitar playing during "Corporation" is absolutely kinetic, the licks and the guitar lines anchor themselves to you and then dance freely about and perform pirouettes around all the objects in nearby space. Eno's concept of ambience occurs only when you are free to turn your attention elsewhere, be it towards sleep, or dinner or your pet cat or anything else. Not only does Fripp's playing demand your attention, but through the magic of Eno's tape recorders, its replicant twins and first cousins are just as insistent.

Rarely has an album cover revealed so much truth about the music contained within. On the cover, Mssrs. Fripp and Eno sit in a room lined with mirrors, and Eno at the least stares forward as the reflections recede into infinity. Can you imagine falling asleep in such a room? There's way too much visual stimulus as the mirrors reflect each other, each photon rebirthed ten or twenty times, to allow the misplacement of your attention, or of your consciousness. The music is that way, as well. If the burning sodium light of Fripp's playing, the way he makes his Les Paul sing, and then divebomb, is not enough to transfix you, Eno's modified Revox A77 tape recorders are sure to have you agog at their myriad gorgeous reflections.


Robert Fripp and Brian Eno - (No Pussyfooting) - 1 - The Heavenly Music Corporation.mp3

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File under: Mirror Music

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Velvet Underground - "I'm Not a Young Man Anymore" from the Bootleg LP Gymnasium

Velvet Underground Gymnasium LP coverThe popular understanding of The Velvet Underground is that they were an amazing band precisely because they were a band with a severe dialectic: composed of contradictions, this huge rock noise bandersnatch, half their canon constructed on a jagged foundation of withering feedback and screeching violas, still somehow capable of soft Sunday morning reflective balladry.

Well and good, but I was never much for that pale blue eyes jazz, and even if Nico had the stern ice goddess thing down, "I'll Be Your Mirror" just don't rock.

So it is indubitably the lordliness of the racket going on, when it's going on, that does it for me with the VU.

Maybe it's because their softer side fails to connect with me, however, that I have been able to recognize something that most others have not about the Velvets: they were also a whale of a motherfucking boogie band.

Witness the instrumental "Guess I'm Falling In Love" from the second outtakes collection, witness "I'm Waiting for My Man," witness that part of "European Son" before it falls apart, but most of all, witness the absolute groove monster presented here. When they wished to be, the Velvet Underground were capable of pinpointing that elusive cyclic rhythm and of then bashing the living shit out of it for as long as their song found necessary.

They were (again, when they wanted) a veritable coal-powered locomotive, wide bore pistons rising and falling, powering this freight train, chooglin' on down to Brooklyn/Queens, Mo Tucker in her disavowal of cymbals and in the way she stood up when playing, the perfect conductor, bassplayer Cale the engineer.

Just picture Maureen Tucker with a conductor's cap

Beyond the thunder of its inexorable groove, and mercifully putting aside my extended Train 'Round the Bend metaphor, what's also amazing about "I'm Not a Young Man Anymore" is that, while recorded live in April of 1967, it first saw widespread release only last year, and even then only on bootleg vinyl.

Is it better in my opinion than "Sister Ray?" I don't know. Maybe not. But it's definitely up there, top echelon stuff, cream of the crop. That a song this great from such an important band should escape notice and legal distribution for 40 years is nothing short of jawdropping.

The only thing that remotely compares is when the first Zeppelin box set came out in 1990. "Travelling Riverside Blues" had never been released after its 1969 recording, and it, too, knocked your fucking socks off. It was as good as anything Zeppelin had ever done. But its eventual release came after only a 20-year or so gap, and Atlantic Records had anchored itself firmly in the middle of the revenue stream when it did finally come out.

In terms of lost albums, Mahavishnu's Lost Trident Sessions come to mind, as do The Basement Tapes, for those inclined that way. But neither of those--or anything else I can think of--appeared after so long of a delay, or so unexpectedly.

So there's really no precedent for "I'm Not a Young Man Anymore," no reason at all given its circumstances for it to be as great as it is. Usually the stuff you'll find on bootlegs 30 or more years out is junk, yet improbably, "I'm Not a Young Man" delivers the groceries.

Some folks on the net have actually found it too improbable, suggesting that the band playing on Gymnaisum is a tribute or cover band, and that those who ponied up 35.00 on eBay for the vinyl, and those like me who are thunderstruck by "Young Man," are actually victims of a scam.

But c'mon, this is legit. Just listen: ain't no-one but the Velvets could have boogied like this.

The Velvet Underground - Gymnasium - 1 - I'm Not A Young Man Anymore.mp3

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File under: Protopunk

Monday, March 2, 2009

Squirrel Bait - "Sun God" from the EP Squirrel Bait

Squirrel Bait EP coverThe liner notes to Homestead Records' Wailing Ultimate sampler tell us that "'Sun God' is a song about a singer with a hangover during the summer who's too young to purchase the 'hair of the dog' and sweats uncontrollably."

As I sit here listening to Squirrel Bait, at the very least two days late, trying to think of anything at all to write about anybody at all, 43 years old and gonna be 44, the idea of anyone denying me purchase of alcoholic beverages for reasons of age seems impossibly remote, and the idea of my being at all pissed off over such a thing were it to occur actually seems somewhat quaint.

Yet somehow, the desperation and frustration which flow from the Squirrel Bait EP--surely one of the great teen angst records ever--remarkably seem vital and immediate to me.

It wouldn't be until Skag Heaven the followup that the band would record a song entitled "Kid Dynamite," and make the explosive reference explicit but on "Sun God," Peter Searcy still rasps on about how his mind's a timebomb ticking away. "Tiickiiing Awaaay," I might phoneticize it, but really, there's no way to communicate through words, on paper in pixels, the emotion Searcy conveys with his voice, and the way he roughens it, or bends its pitch.

Squirrel Bait

It's one of the problems with rock criticism, including mine, and the reason Eno started making ambient records: lyrics are easiest to write about, and the handiest tools with which to bang out a precis, but the least important to whether or not a song sticks in your craw.

I mean, if I highlight

I feel the power of the sun on my back
So good that he is God
My life, as my mind's ticking away.

the chorus of the song and the root of its power, even more so than that wonderful little stutter-step guitar line that keeps reappearing, your interest might at best be somewhat piqued by the imagery of the power of the sun on somebody's back. It at least holds the place until you get to the "mind's ticking away" part.

But Christ! when you listen to the song, each time Searcy sings "back" it's a fucking event . . . .the first time in introduction, the song's already swelling, "feel the power of the suun on MYY . . . back," pulling away at the last moment, after giving us a glimpse of the power shortly to follow.

And then the Albini-powered rocket guitar, and Searcy's expressive screams, and the song is at crescendo already at 1:30. It might almost be a dilemna, but then things quiet down, and the stutter step guitar again, and the chorus. But this time "back" is not de-emphasized . Searcy makes the listener wait an extra beat or two, and then he screams the word for all its worth, and it's cathartic release on an album sculpted for it.

I didn't describe what he was doing very well; it isn't easy to describe. But if you even got a ghost of the gist, you'll understand that these things, the delivery and the posture and the inflection and the accent, the desparation and the frustration, are way more important than the diction and the sequence.

Way more important than location or pedigree, too. If you've noticed, I try not to bother with things like Squirrel Bait were from Louisville, or their members went on to form Slint, or even stuff like Squirrel Bait probably influenced Nirvana. Things like that have nothing to do with why a song hits me, or the memories it dredges up, or the images it forms for me, and so I try not to write about them.

Lyrics can be that way, too, on inspection actually irrelevant, and sometimes I'll try not to write about them at all. But sometimes I slip, as when it's 9:00 and I'm two days late, and I have no clue what I'm going to write about, I got this great song, alright, but can't think of anything at all to say about it. . . .

and then all of a sudden I have.

The Wailing Ultimate Album Cover

Squirrel Bait - Squirrel Bait - 03- Sun God.mp3

128 kbps mp3, up for six weeks (Right click and save as target)

File under: Louisville Rock