Friday, December 31, 2010

The Dismemberment Plan - "The Ice of Boston" from the CD The Dismemberment Plan is Terrified

The Dismemberment Plan is Terrified CD coverThat this bittersweet celebration song from the same guys who brought us the powerful and poignant "Time Bomb" is, along with The Standells' "Dirty Water," one of the best songs about the city of Boston is certainly true, but also something you might guess at from its title.

But what you might NOT guess from the title is that it's also one of the greatest New Year's Eve songs ever.

It's that, too. Perhaps THE greatest. Can't think of too much competition, actually, once you get past Guy Lombardo.

"The Ice of Boston" is not a perfect song. When our hero tells us that he doesn't want to admit these pathetic ridiculous and absolutely true things about himself, affairs DO get fairly maudlin. Maybe he followed her, maybe he didn't, I don't really care.

The Dismemberment Plan Ice of Boston EP coverBut no matter: when he pops that third bottle of cheap champagne open, pours its chill froth all over his naked self, lets it drip through his scalp and through his chest hair, then stares down through his kitchen picture window onto the scads of drunken Bostonians gathered below, well, it's an all-time classic image.

And no song, ever, has captured the unexpected and unwelcome Call From Mother so very well. And I'm here to say no song ever will, either.

So, as the clock ticks towards 2011, as our public places become more and more clogged with intoxicated celebrants, as the skies in Boston or elsewhere become thick with fireworks smoke, and tinted orange with celebration, as someone, somewhere, slips on the muddy ice, let me say to my readers, to The Dismemberment Plan, and to everyone else: Here's to another goddamned New Year.

File under: New Years Eve songs

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Best* o' the Decade

The 30 best songs* of the decade that ends Friday, ordered only by year, one song per band. Actually I should say the best songs THAT I'VE HEARD, it's why I put the asterisk, because the way I get around to stuff, I'll be hearing the real best of 2010 sometime in 2015. But, anyway, these are good . . . .

British Sea Power the Decline of British Sea Power CD cover Panic! At the Disco A Fever You Can't Sweat Out CD cover
Gorillaz - "Clint Eastwood"
System of a Down - "Toxicity"
The Reverend Horton Heat - "Galaxy 500"
Songs: Ohia - "Blue Factory Flame"
90 Day Men - "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life"
British Sea Power - "Apologies To Insect Life"
Cat Power - "He War"
Killing Joke - "Asteroid"
M83 - "0078h"
Metallica - "Frantic"
The White Stripes - "Black Math"
Arctic Monkeys - "Cigarette Smoke"
TV On the Radio - "Bomb Yourself"
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - "Heavy Metal"
The Dead Hookers' Bridge Club - "Hung Like Whales"
Kylesa - "Eyes Closed from Birth"
Panic! At The Disco - "I Write Sins Not Tragedies"
Boris - "Woman on the Screen"
Disappearer - "Crownfire"
Neil Young - "The Restless Consumer"
Queens Of The Stone Age - "Battery Acid"
The Raveonettes - "Hallucinations"
Spoon - "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case"
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - "Bomb.Repeat.Bomb"
Russian Circles - "Youngblood"
Assjack - "Smoke The Fire"
Pelican - "Ephemeral"
High on Fire - "Fire, Flood & Plague"
MGMT - "Brian Eno"
Violent Soho - "Jesus Stole My Girlfriend"
Ted Leo Living with the Living CD cover MGMT Congratulations CD cover

The list as an iMix at Itunes, you can quickly preview and/or buy 28 of the 30 songs

The other two:

Dead Hookers' Bridge Club were probably the best South Florida band I heard during the aughts. They've long since broken up, and of course iTunes knows nothing about them. They were great though. I went up to one of the band members after a show this one time, and asked him if they'd heard of Pussy Galore. He said yes. "Hung Like Whales" is audacious, the way the best punk rock should be.


160 kbps mp3, up for six weeks

File under:Rock and roll

"Last Night A DJ Saved My Life" is 90 Day Men's best song of their latter day Whiskey Bar phase, and for some reason is not available on iTunes. It's probably not as good as "Methodist," but regardless of when it was recorded, "Methodist" seems to belong more to the 1990's 90 Day Men than to the 2000's version, don't you think?

90 Day Men - To Everybody - 08 Last Night a DJ Saved My Life.mp3

192 kbps mp3, up for six weeks

File under: Stuff that's Inexplicably Titled

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Vince Guaraldi - "Skating" from the album A Charlie Brown Christmas

We've all heard the old canard that the sense of smell is the most immediate one, the sense that is most directly and most vividly tied to memory.

And perhaps it's true. But I think it's still illuminating to note that when you talk to couples in love, they never describe something as "their smell." Yet most romantic couples with any kind of history at all together do have something they call "their song."

Sure, barbeque smells great, but music, to my mind, does indeed trump all in the way it can encapsulate memory and emotion.

Lovers share a life, and, to be sure, they share all the hassles and hardships which go with it. Having a song that you each can call ours, instant shorthand during stressful times for all the reasons you love each other, well, it's cement, a building material if you will for the lives together you've built.

One of the greatest joys of being in love is having a song you share. Conversely, and sadly, one of the greatest tragedies about falling out of love is how a song that was once a shorthand for joy becomes a shorthand for broken promises. You used to have the song, but it becomes lost to you.

Which is of course all the more reason to treasure what you have.

On the eve of Christmas eve this year, Melanie and I watched for probably the fifteenth time "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Melanie always gets a kick out of how the cartoon artists are credited in the titles not for art but for "graphic blandishment." And the stars in the nightskies above Linus and Lucy and Charlie and at the end of the long unfettered horizons past which they walk ARE beautiful.

Still from A Charlie Brown Christmas
Yet I think that the cartoon special is so universally loved because of Vince Guaraldi's music. They kept making Charlie Brown specials after Guaraldi's untimely death, but they're just not the same without his whimsical compositions and without his accomplished, syncopated playing. His music is as vital to the production as the characters themselves, probably moreso.

I was familiar with "Skating" long before it became cement for me and Melanie. It's funny actually: the very first time I heard the song, or at least the very first time I realized how great the tune was, it wasn't even "A Charlie Brown Christmas" that I was watching. It was another of the specials, not sure which one. It was probably one of the ones they made after Guaraldi passed. If I remember correctly, Charlie Brown won a spelling bee at his school and was rewarded with a trip to New York City for the championships.

He brought Snoopy along, and at some point the dog in his willful way decides to go iceskating at Rockefeller Center. It's late at night, and the rink is empty, Snoopy begins circling the rink, performing his pirouettes, and "Skating" begins to play. Though I like as well the scene at the beginning of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" where Linus and Charlie leave their wall and find the whole gang skating on the frozen pond, it is Snoopy at Rockefeller Center I see in my mind's eye when I hear the track unaccompanied by video*.

It's a fluid and glistening and wonderful clip, and "Skating" is a fluid and glistening and wonderful piece of music. But I think the most wonderful thing about the song is that Melanie and I call it ours.

To Melanie and to everyone else reading: Merry Christmas.

File under: Jingle Bell Jazz

*I still wonder what the name of that special was. It's probably the second greatest Holiday Cartoon mystery of my life. If you know the name of the Charlie Brown special or, especially, the name of the cartoon that had Jack Frost done all in angular pastels dancing on the icy rooftops, I beg you: please please leave a comment (Return)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Unique Pair

The only pair of songs as far as I know in rock and roll history:
song "a" by b, and song "b" by a.
The Fall of Troy Doppelganger CD cover Tom Waits Orphans CD cover

 2. Tom Waits - "The Fall of Troy"
The Fall of Troy - "Tom Waits"

Dead Man Walking Original Soundtrack Cover

Maybe you know of some others?

The short but distinctive list as an iMix at Itunes, you can quickly preview and/or buy both songs

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tom Lehrer - "Wernher von Braun" from the album That Was The Year That Was

Tom Lehrer That Was the Year That Was album coverI guess anyone reading this would be aware that Captain Beefheart died Friday.

Interesting, actually, that I wrote the sentence above the way I did. I didn't write "Don van Vliet," I wrote "Captain Beefheart," though the man hadn't used the Beefheart moniker in almost 30 years. If you think about it, the man who died Friday was famous as a painter. "Captain Beefheart" stopped making music in 1982, and in a very real sense, ceased to exist around that time.

Captain BeefheartAlthough I can't claim to be a fan of Captain Beefheart's music, though I can't discuss his notoriously difficult work with any sense of familiarity at all, that decision he made in or around 1982--to stop making music and go do something else--has always fascinated me.

Plenty of artists stop making music because the marketplace stops caring. A significant-enough group of others stop making music because they got themselves killed. But how many stop simply because they decided to?

Not many, that's for sure. Beefheart comes to mind, and--even more intriguingly--so does Tom Lehrer.

It may seem a little incongruous to speak of Lehrer--who very famously mocked folk music and was bitterly disdainful of rock and roll--on a blog called La Historia de la Musica Rock. Yet, I've been a fan of Lehrer's music for as long as I've been a fan of anyone's music. The memories I have of hanging out late-night with my old man in his den, when he would play me tracks from Lehrer's records, and explain the references when necessary are foundations for me--most of what I am and most of who I am has been set on top of them.

And hell, if we can forgive Elvis Costello his racist remarks, or forgive for that matter Captain Beefheart treating his talented sidemen like dogs, then I can surely forgive Lehrer for the mistake he made of characterizing rock music as "children's records." So let's treat with the dude for a little before coming back to his Captain Beefheart moment.

Lehrer can be a little tough to decipher these days, and I don't mean because he rhymed "Helen Gahagan" and "Ronald Reagan," in such a way that made it clear he and his audience understood Reagan to be the lesser-known of the two. It's not his references that have dated. We have Wikipedia for those who want to know more about George Murphy or Hubert Humphrey. What actually makes it tough is his musical context: pre-rock and roll, yes, but also absolutely unconnected to jazz or the blues.

Charlie ParkerIt's a lot easier to savvy Robert Johnson from the '30's, or Charlie Parker from the '40's, than to dig Lehrer from the '50's, because the idioms Johnson and Parker worked in came to dominate popular music even as Lehrer's beloved show tunes withered away in the popular consciousness.

About a month and a half ago, a writer at wrote an excellent piece on Lehrer. It's much better than anything I could have written (or am writing now); straightforward, well-researched and direct in the point it wishes to make about Lehrer.

Nevertheless, this otherwise well-written piece makes two mistakes about Lehrer that I found somewhat humorous. First one was the writer's expressed belief that of all the barbs that Lehrer had in his pocket, the longest and sharpest one was for the form he worked in, that he was purposely trying to deflate pop convention.

And he wasn't. Lehrer loved his show tunes. He has made them the secondary study of his long life. These days, we've all come to assume that through its unique charms, rock 'n' roll long ago cornered the market on urgency and venom. Which may even be true, but Lehrer tells us it's a mistake to believe that no other form might have been capable of saying the same things. And if Lehrer might have been something of an Angry Young Man, keep in mind that he was a young man from Harvard: to Lehrer, the sophistication that someone like Irving Berlin brought to a pop song was an essential quality. Lehrer didn't want to disembowel the Tin Pan Alley showtune; he just wanted to use it in his act.

OK, I'll admit it: the second mistake the article made is funnier. Because Lehrer, always always clever, used hanging rhyme and internal rhyme and slant rhyme, the writer compares him to modern-day MCs, and actually says Lehrer was "an arrogant nerd rapper with a taste for shock tactics."

Cole PorterNow that IS funny. Clearly it is difficult these days to understand Lehrer's context, because it has all gone away. The joke of course at which I laugh is that you do not need to invoke music which would have assuredly filled Lehrer with horror to reference his tools.

The show tunes and popular songs that Lehrer loved, the lyrics to them written by Lorenz Hart, or Cole Porter, or Oscar Hammerstein, were, as a matter of course, full of the same creative rhymeplay that Lehrer used. It was to them, quite simply, that Lehrer looked. He was no proto-rapper, and he felt none of the contempt he had for rock 'n' roll when he looked at the music that had been popular before it.

Not that I'm saying I'm some kind of savant on the subject, while the talented writer over at is some kind of schmuck. I have no great expertise in Tin Pan Alley. I'm sure I miss plenty of Lehrer's callbacks to the form that he loved.

All I'm saying is that as funny as Lehrer remains, he's tough for any of us below the age of sixty to truly comprehend.

KissingerThere's an urban legend that my father used to repeat to me about Lehrer, and why he quit playing music sometime after the release of That Was the Year That Was. Lehrer, it was said, gave up political satire after Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace prize in 1973.

Even as a ten-year old, even as I heard it from my father's lips, the tale made no sense. Here Lehrer wrote songs like "So Long Mom I'm Off to Drop the Bomb," riffing about "the agonizing holocaust," but Henry Kissinger was the last straw?

Not likely, I don't think.

The fact is--and here we're getting back to the Captain--Lehrer's decision to stop writing and playing the songs he was preternaturally gifted at creating remains mystifying to me.

Beefheart always said he was able to make more money painting, and even given that, his choice remains strange to me. But Lehrer's choice is unfathomable. Sure, he's a mathematics professor, and teaches the musical theatre he loves, to boot. He hasn't gone starving.

But how can you turn your back on something you're so good at, if critical and popular appreciation were not the issues? There may not be another musician of sizable audience anytime, anywhere, who has made such a cryptic decision, to staunch their muse.

Actually, the best comparisons might not be in the field of music, at all, but in sport. Lehrer not playing music is like Koufax not pitching.

Which brings up a question of its own: Might it have been some kind of pain which led Lehrer to walk away?

File under: Good Old American Know-how

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Cappella Top Seven

Cream Disraeli Gears Album cover Van Halen Diver Down CD cover
 7. Van Halen - "Happy Trails"
Yes - "Leave It (A Capella version)"
Todd Rundgren - "Lockjaw"
Suzanne Vega - "Tom's Diner"
Cream - "Mother's Lament"
TV on the Radio - "Ambulance"
Nomeansno - "Forward to Death"

TV on the Radio Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes CD cover Virus 100 CD cover

The list as an iMix at Itunes, you can quickly preview and/or buy all songs

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Elliott Smith - "Needle in the Hay" from the Album Elliott Smith

Elliott Smith self-titled CD cover
Just another workaday peon, that's me, another schmuck living a life constructed around sensible decisions, going to bed by 11:00 PM, so he can wake up by 7:00 and sit in rush hour traffic for 70 minutes, doing it over and over and over again, exchanging his life for a paycheck to exchange for a mortgage for what.

So as a person who has spent the majority of his adult life habitually fleeing from risk, and forever requiring of myself a moderation in indulgence, in behavior, in emotion, I have no idea at all how someone can become the vessel that a song like "Needle in the Hay" is poured from.

How is it that a man can be so stark and so desolate, how can he give himself so much over to the cold emptiness in constructing and conveying something so paradoxically beautiful?

When I hear Elliott Smith's music, when I hear the music of those like him, like Nick Drake, and Skip Spence and Syd Barrett, I don't think so much of fragility as I do of elasticity.

When I hear "Needle in the Hay" and think of Elliott Smith's life, I consider how we're all rubber bands, designed to expand and contract within reason, within the limits of our coefficients of expansion and retraction, never getting too crazy, never getting too melancholy, except for our artists and our insane, who stretch past the sensible limits habitually, in their ecstatic paroxysms and in their torturous depressions, and their band gets degraded, then they just snap.

File under: Live Fast Die Young

Friday, December 10, 2010

Snarky Advice for Aspiring Critics

I was over at Something Awful, checking out these designs they'd done for imaginary Criterion Collection DVD covers (you can see the rather amusing one they mocked up for that awful Cannibal Holocaust thing right here), and my eye was caught by a little featurette called "Everett True's Advice for Aspiring Critics"

Now, I'd never before heard of Everett True, but if he's famous enough to be asked by Something Awful to write something, you can be sure he's read by more people than yours truly. So, leaving aside questions of whether or not I myself am a critic, or even intend to be one, I followed the link to see if I might learn something useful.

Uh, nope.

I found Mr. True's 38-point list to be representative of that part of the Internet Which Sucks, snarky, superior, and most of all, of the very troublesome opinion that a cultivated apathy is the best attitude to take when approaching the arts.

Not to sound like Wavy Gravy or anything, but Back In My Day, people actually CARED about the music they listened to, and if they were driven to write about it, well, you could be sure they really, really, fucking cared.

Now, I guess not. And you kids get offa my lawn!

Anyway, I thought I might write a little rebuttal. I wasn't gonna go over all 38 of his points, and I only got through four before feeling the need to order a pizza, but these'll get you started, and I'll probably write some more tomorrow.

(To keep things compact, I've set it up where you click the point to see True's elaboration, and my rebuttal. Click it again to contract back.)

1) Don't ever attempt to apologise for holding an opinion.

2) 400 words good. 800 words fucking horrible.

3) Most musicians are cunts.

4) The music industry is not your friend. Unless you choose to make it so.

I May Not Be Perfect, but Parts of Me Are Pretty Awesome

Kyuss Blues for the Red Sun CD cover ZZ Top Eliminator CD cover

7. Cirith Ungol - "Finger of Scorn"
Pavement - "Best Friend's Arm"
Scratch Acid - "Eyeball"
The Raconteurs - "Hands"
Dinosaur, Jr. - "The Lung"
ZZ Top - "Legs"
Kyuss - "Thumb"

The Raconteurs Broken Boy Soldiers CD cover Pavement Wowee Zowee CD cover

The list as an iMix at Itunes, you can quickly preview and/or buy all songs

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Talk Box Top Six

Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan album cover Paul McCartney & Wings Goodnight Tonight 12-inch cover
 6. Peter Frampton - "Do You Feel Like We Do"
5. Joe Walsh - "Rocky Mountain Way"
4. Alice in Chains - "Man in the Box"
3. Jeff Beck - "She's A Woman"
2. Paul McCartney & Wings - "Goodnight Tonight"
1. Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan - "Tell Me Something Good"

Joe Walsh The Smoker You Drink the Player You Get album cover Peter Frampton Frampton Comes Alive album cover

The list as an iMix at Itunes, you can quickly preview and/or buy all songs

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Killing Joke - "Good Samaritan" from the CD Revelations

Killing Joke Revelations album coverAh, Jaz Coleman! Ah, humanity!

What vital place in the soul does the mystic hold?

With the mighty Killing Joke having in the last fortnight released their 14th album, Absolute Dissent, and it being as apocalyptic, perhaps, as any KJ album since Revelations, I thought it might be a good time to take a look back at the centererpiece (to my ears at least--YRMV) of that third album, the masterpiece of bitter irony and hermetic paranoia that is "Good Samaritan."

It's no (heh-heh) Great Secret that KJ leader Jaz Coleman has been and remains postpunk's preeminent mystic. He claims to have organized his life and his band around Rosicrucian principles, The Rosy Crossto have in fact created Killing Joke, to have recruited guitarist Geordie and bassist Youth into the band as founding members, through the influence of Rosicrucian ritual magic. He claims to be a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn.

And of course Revelations is adorned with the symbols and the purported symbols of Freemasonry. The T-square and the compass--perhaps the Masons' most recognizable sigil--are displayed on the back cover. Too, featured prominently on each side of the LP's record sleeve are reproductions of the great seals affixed to the dollar bill and to the pound note, the Eye of Providence and the caduceus having long since been imagined by conspiracy-theorists and mystics to have been placed in these seals by the Freemasons who founded each country's bank.

The title that Coleman chose for the album refers of course to The Book of Revelations, which is itself known by a variant title The Apocalypse. And it is the Apocalypse with which Coleman is consistently concerned. In 2010, with the Cold War consigned safely to history, the apocalypse referred to in songs on Absolute Dissent is couched in terms of alarmist Malthusian principles (as on "The Great Cull") or in terms of a Kurzweilian singularity (as on "Here Comes the Singularity," natch).

But in 1982, with the United States run by a born-again trigger-happy cowboy by the name of Reagan, and with the Soviet Union on the edge of instability as Brezhnev lay on his deathbed, Coleman can almost be forgiven if he saw the future's dark horizon in nuclear terms. Read the lyrics and it almost makes sense to split for Iceland and wait for Ragnarok there:

Bright clothes and smiles and we'll talk sunshine
Although the light bulb's dim
And my beach ball is getting dusty
And the fun wears thin - thin.
It's much the same everywhere
Diversions right and we're ready to dance

Complacency seemed to kill the cat
Curiosity led me on
On what foundation is your pedestal built
The great architect to a tower block
And Uncle Sam says it's not long now
And we can play our way
My Marvel comic says a hawkheaded man
Led to a brighter day
It's much the same everywhere
We're getting ready and we're ready to dance

Happy, so happy, I just accept the way things are
I'll stick to songs - that's real
So happy

La la la

Dark indeed, and not just for the bitter, bitter sarcasm that puts such future exercises in cynical irony as The Minutemen's "Number One Hit Song" to shame. Coleman is not trying to write his lyrics plainly. To do so would be to violate the cryptic traditions he holds so dear. Note, though, that Freemasonry's GAOTU is reduced to designing high rises. The End Times are no Golden Age, that's for sure. And--most saliently--mark well how our good uncle can envision a playtime unencumbered by any longer having to deal with his enemies right around the corner.

I've never been a comic book kind of guy, and the internet codices of the Marvel universe seem at least to this surfer even more indecipherable than those of the hermetic. However, it seems to me that the hawkheaded man might be Horus, the same Egyptian deity whose Eye is reimagined as the Eye of Providence on the back of that one dollar bill on the sleeve. But be careful of that brighter day, though: it might be the one for which Timbuk 3 suggests you wear shades.

The slow sad bitter rumination that is "Good Samaritan" notwithstanding, much of Killing Joke has always been at its core dance music, and their idea of doing the Danse Macabre has been of much influence to other bands playing industrial or gothic music. But Coleman, unlike some of these other bands who have copied KJ for expedience' sake, really seems to buy into this, telling Quietus as recently as earlier this year that
I'd like to party at the end of the earth. But we will either way – if we don't die, great, and if we die we go out rocking
Coming from someone like Trent Reznor, Coleman's comment might seem like calculated nonsense, but when it's 2000 years of commentary on Hermes Trismegistus that are being referenced, rather than some Ministry tune from 1987, the nonsense Coleman spouts forth is at least a little bit enchanting.



File under: Proto-postpunk, Going to Iceland and Waiting for the End of the World Rock