Monthly Archives: September 2009

Various Artists – Where the Action Is: Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968

January 01, 1970



The ‘60s L.A. scene has long
been a red-headed stepchild to the psychedelic explosion in San
Francisco and the folk renaissance in New York. While L.A. Nuggets won’t make anyone forget about those scenes, it does make
a strong case for L.A.’s importance in its own
right, while showing how the music of the ‘60s led to the cocaine-fueled soft
rock now commonly referred to as “the L.A.


The set is divided into a four discs covering Hollywood bands, suburban bands, studio stars and the
introduction of country and psychedelia. Like 2007’s San Francisco Nuggets it mixes huge names like
Buffalo Springfield and the Mamas & the Papas with both lame imitators and
unknowns that, for one song at least, were equal to the superstars. Perhaps no
band hangs over this set as much as The Byrds, who appear twice themselves and
many more times in the chiming 12-strings and harmonies of their peers. Summing
up the journey the set chronicles is Love, whose first entry, “You I’ll Be
Following,” is a Byrds imitation, albeit a very good one. A year later, they
made “You Set the Scene,” a nine-minute psych-folk-orchestral masterpiece. The
development of other artists is also apparent, from The Motorcycle Abilene,
which featured a young Warren Zevon to the set’s most surprising track, “Last
Night I Had a Dream,” a blast of garage rock from Randy Newman (yes, that Randy Newman).


Nuggets compilers
often describe their sets as alternative histories of music. This set won’t
rewrite the history books – many of the best tracks are by the biggest names – but
it is a great listen and, with a beautifully-annotated coffee table book, a
must-have for anyone interested in ‘60s music and the roots of many of today’s


“You Set the Scene” (Love), “Jump Jive & Harmonize”
(Thee Midniters) HAL BIENSTOCK


Will Work for Drugs

January 01, 1970

(Akashic Books)






Never trust anybody who proclaims they “just don’t give a
fuck.” Especially if they do so in ALL CAPS. If that declaration were true, they
wouldn’t actually have to make it. Lydia Lunch does just that in the first
piece in her latest book, Will Work for
which gathers short rants, ravings, polemics, demagogueries,
autobiographies, interviews, and fictions published in small journals over the
last few years.


Best known as the frontwoman for the No Wave act Teenage
Jesus & the Jerks, Lunch is one of many self-made women to emerge from the
rundown New York
of the late 1970s, with a cross-media approach that involves not only singing
and writing, but filmmaking, photography, spoken-word, and performance art. For
better or worse, she writes prose that shrieks from the page, brutally
descriptive and pungently evocative. She’s most compelling when tethered to
even a loose narrative, as in “1967” and “The Beast,” whose elusiveness
suggests the haziness of either memory or narcotics. But mostly, Will Work
for Drugs
is full of rambling quasi-essays about how awesome New York was, how war is
a cancer on society, how new mothers are always self-involved, and how Jerry Stahl
is a fucking genius, goddammit.


These entries grate, not simply because her riffing becomes
repetitive and not simply because her vitriol quickly grows comically
hyperbolic (unintentionally so, I’m assuming), but because Lunch writes not to
understand the world, but to make sure the world understands her. She really
does give a fuck.


Cymbals Eat Guitars – Why There Are Mountains

January 01, 1970



buzzed-up Gotham indie band unleashed this
debut earlier this year, now reissuing it with snazzier artwork.  Maybe it’s appropriate for a group of
music-geek kids who were raised on online mags that they grab at a number of ‘90s
and new millennium touchstones. 


Joseph Ferocious (wotta name) has been studying his Modest Mouse and Bright
Eyes to get the right yelp and honed his songwriting skills on Arcade Fire
bluster and Pixies-like whisper-to-scream climaxes.  But instead of being a slavish pretender, he
comes up with a pleasing mash-up of his record collection. The majestic opener
(“…And the Hazy
Sea”) and
string-swirled closer (“Like Blood Does”) go through complex,
multi-part sections before working their way into frenzies. In between,
Ferocious and friends mine a sweet, bouncy Elephant 6 sound
(“Indiana,” “Wind Phoenix (Proper Name)”), shoegaze walls
of guitars (“Share”) and gentle, sentimental reverie (“Cold
Spring”).  It’ll definitely be
interesting to see what they do now that they’ve gotten attention (and
hopefully avoid a sophomore slump).


Standout Tracks: “Living North,” “… And the Hazy Sea” JASON GROSS


Vic Chesnutt – At the Cut

January 01, 1970



Having made the transition from quirky troubadour to
occasional jam band wannabe, and, more recently, to a brooding philosophical
observer, Vic Chesnutt revisits his Southern roots with an album full of grave
gothic imagery and darkly ominous overtones. Chesnutt takes a pensive, almost
melancholy perspective throughout the majority of these ten tunes, maintaining
a hazy fog and dense shadows that seem to linger like a shroud on practically
every note.


Yet despite these darker designs, Chesnutt shows his usual
flair for conveying haunting narratives populated with awkward and obtuse
characters, underscored by slow, somber melodies. “I stumbled so innocently
over all the obscene boundaries,” he moans in “Concord Country Jubilee,” giving
due credit to poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Chesnutt’s intentions are often
vague; deciphering songs such as “Granny” and “It Is What It Is” becomes akin
to weaving one’s way through a cryptic maze. Still, At the Cut provides an able blend of atmosphere and intrigue,
making this a fascinating encounter every tentative step of the way.


: “Granny,” “Coward” LEE ZIMMERMAN


7 Worlds Collide – The Sun Came Out

January 01, 1970



years after initiating a superstar session under the banner of 7 Worlds
Collide, Neil Finn reconvenes a gathering of family and friends to make more
music for a worthy cause.  The first
incarnation coalesced for a live concert in support of Doctors Without Borders
and featured such notables as Eddie Vedder, Tim Finn, Liam Finn and Lisa
Germano.  This time around, several names
are different, but the line-up’s no less impressive – Wilco, Johnny Marr, KT
Tunstall and assorted other Finn family members have opted to join in the
proceedings.   Benign motivation still
reigns, with proceeds going to Oxfam, the group dedicated to eradicating
poverty worldwide.


the musicians don’t fall back on favorites. 
Finn forsakes the notion of reworking classic songs from his personal
catalogue and gives the group greater flexibility in tapping their own sources
for original material.  Happily, the
gamut pays off; with two dozen tracks spread across two discs, the quality is
uniformly first rate, no small feat considering the large number of
participants offering input.  Any hint of
ego is effectively subverted and what emerges instead is a fairly orthodox
collection of mostly mainstream pop songs tinted with the odd bit of
ambiance.  The sweeping, string-laden
“Too Blue,” a swaying “All Comedians Suffer” and the pop pleasantries of
“Duxton Blues” assure accessibility, while the quiet piano ballad “Riding the
Wave” and a soft acoustic “The Ties That Bind Us” help maintain an overall air
of tranquility.  The participants may be
playing it safe, but the eeriness of “The Cobbler” and a rhythmic instrumental,
“3 Worlds Collide,” enhance the atmospherics and add to the edginess.


The Sun Comes Out seems to live up to his name, but in doing so, its
lofty sentiments overshadow any tangled shadows that might have added to the
intrigue.  Fortunately, charitable
motivation provides reason enough for this effort to shine.


Standout tracks: “Too Blue,” “All Comedians Suffer,”
“Riding the Wave” LEE ZIMMERMAN


Kris Kristofferson – Closer to the Bone

January 01, 1970

(New West)



Forty years ago, Kris Kristofferson had his songs recorded
and turned into hits by the likes of Roger Miller, Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash,
and Jerry Lee Lewis. And he became a successful recording artist in his own
right, despite the handicap of a voice which could best be described as a
sincere and delicate croak, albeit with an evocative sense of phrasing. After
detours to the world of acting, Kristofferson’s popular success evaporated, but
he kept on writing songs worthy of standing next to “Sunday Morning Coming
Down” or “Me and Bobby McGee.”


Closer to the Bone is only Kristofferson’s third album of new material in the last fourteen years,
all produced by Don Was. Like 2006’s This
Old Road
, Bone has something of
an elegiac feel to it. At 73 years of age, Kristofferson is acutely aware that
life is a precious gift, and that the moments of love found here and there
within it are even more deserving of attention. “Darlin’ take all the time that
you’re given / Be all you know you can be,” he sings in “From Here to Forever,”
and that’s not the vacuous advertising line of a Marine Corps commercial, but a
word of wisdom given to his children. Once, freedom may have been just a word
for nothin’ left to lose, but now, Kristofferson seems more interested in what
there is to gain.


Since he doesn’t record at the rate he did when he started,
Kristofferson may have pulled some of these songs out of his extensive file
cabinet of material. “Good Morning John,” written about his old friend Johnny
Cash, was actually recorded previously by another old friend, Waylon Jennings,
back in 1985. It’s not insignificant that these two Highwaymen partners have passed
on, especially in a song which references staying true to a friend for life. It’s
also worth mentioning that the guitarist Stephen Bruton played on this album
shortly before he passed away from cancer earlier this year. Elsewhere on Bone, Kristofferson sings of the ways we
keep memories alive of those we knew, most notably on “Hall of Angels.”


If there were country singers looking to the classic
songwriters for new material, “Let the Walls Come Down,” with its sing-along
chorus and its neat little rhythmic trick at the end of each verse, could be as
big a hit as anything he’s written. And, a brief coda to the album is provided
by what Kristofferson says was the first song he ever wrote, at age 11 (in
1947!) reveals he started off with a cynicism he’s long since abandoned, with
the hook line being “The happiest day of my unhappy life was the day you set me
free.” After all those beautiful songs of love, life, and memory, it’s nice to
remember that wordsmiths like Kristofferson begin with the ability to be


Standout Tracks: “Sister
Sinead,” “Good Morning John,” “Let the Walls Come Down” STEVE PICK


Simon Joyner – Out Into the Snow

January 01, 1970

(Team Love)


At times, it’s hard to tell where Simon Joyner’s favorite
records end and he begins. The way he talks as much as sings his way through
“Ambulances” while the violinist does her best John Cale, it wouldn’t sound
more like the Velvet Underground if he threw in a line about selling his body
for smack. A song with “Sunday Morning” in the title follows, but it feels more
like an early Leonard Cohen song (“Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” perhaps).
There are traces of Dylan everywhere, from the nine-minute opening track, “The
Drunken Boat,” to the drunker-sounding final track, “Roll On.” And Joyner even
strains his voice into a higher register on “Last Evening on Earth,” the song
that sounds more like Neil Young than Reed or Dylan.


If you’re wondering why you’d want to bother with a record
this indebted to old masterpieces you could just as easily throw on instead,
it’s that he’s done a brilliant job of capturing what made those masterpieces
matter in the first place. And it’s not like anybody else is doing better
versions of this music at the moment. When’s the last time Dylan sounded like a
younger version of himself? And Joyner’s always had two aces up his sleeve –
the kind of voice that makes this kind of music sing (or kind of sing) and the
lyrical wherewithal to keep you coming back for more.


Standout Tracks: “The Drunken Boat,” “Ambulances” A. WATT.


Madness – The Liberty of Norton Folgate

January 01, 1970

(Yep Roc)


It’s been nearly 10 years since they’ve hit us with an album
of original material (although there’s clearly something to be said for The Dangerman Sessions Vol. 1, which
found them paying tribute to a handful of their favorite ska and reggae songs
as well as “Lola”).  So forgive them if
they’re overflowing with ideas on this horn-fueled concept album – “an audio
guide to the greatest city on earth,” as they call it.


There’s even an overture, the aptly titled “Overture.” And
if most songs are closer in spirit to “Our House” than “One Step Beyond,” well,
there’s no shame in that. At this point, they’re probably better at writing
post-Ray Davies thinking-person’s Brit-pop, best exemplified by the bittersweet
“Sugar and Spice.” It begins with a wistful verse about the type of love one
tends to fall in at the tender age of 16, then follows the clearly smitten
couple through the hopeful early days of marriage (“a second-hand fridge and a
washing machine”) to a Motown-flavored chorus whose upbeat rhythms can’t
conceal the sadness of “Sugar and Spice,” everything was so nice. Now it’s just
not the same.”


Other highlights range from “Idiot Child,” a barbed character
sketch whose singalong chorus could pass for a musical cousin of “Come on
Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, to the album-closing title track, a
shape-shifting epic that seems intent on cramming every bit of social
commentary one might care to make on England into a 10-minute pop song.


Standout Tracks: “Sugar and Spice,” “Idiot Child” A. WATT.


Fool’s Gold – Fool’s Gold

January 01, 1970



Timing can be a bitch or a blessing. The LA
band-as-collective Fool’s Gold releases their debut record of lithe,
African-influenced dance-pop with a Hebrew slant on the heels of Vampire
Weekend supremacy and a new album from Matisyahu. Valid or not, comparisons are
inevitable, especially with the former. Such is the nature of music criticism
and wonkery.


This is not really fair, though, as Fool’s Gold’s musical
range and motivation are very different animals from these other bands. Yes,
bassist/vocalist Luke Top sometimes makes an unfortunate choice by appearing to
mimic a generic African patois, at least when he’s not singing in Hebrew, which
he does on much of the record. But the music that Fool’s Gold makes is expertly
woven into rich tapestries of poly-rhythms, percussion, horns, and spidery
guitar lines. The album’s opening track, “Surprise Hotel,” is the band at its
best, mellifluously and smartly embarking upon a journey through West African
melodies. Indeed, Africa is the source for
most of the record, but it’s not the only inspiration. “Poseidon” finds the
band flirting with ‘80s indie-pop, something the members would most likely
proudly acknowledge, as guitarist Lewis Pesacov cites The Smiths as one of his
many influences.


Fool’s Gold goes way beyond Graceland as a reference
point, and Luke Top’s nod to his Israeli roots is really not the same as an
orthodox Jew doing dancehall reggae. So let’s let bygones be bygones and ignore
recent events, because Fool’s Gold’s music offers too much pleasure to write
off as just another drop in the bucket of popular trends.


Standout Tracks: “Surprise
Hotel,” “The World is All There Is” JONAH


Fresh & Onlys – Grey-Eyed Girls

January 01, 1970



The Fresh & Onlys’ self-titled debut earlier this year
established the SF garage psych outfit as one of the best new bands of 2009. This
second full-length, just a couple of months later, intensifies the sound,
pushes it into slightly darker, more echoey corners, and, overall, strengthens
the case. The songwriting has gotten stronger, spookier, funnier (the album’s
first line observes, “You don’t have to pray/for beautiful skin/when you
live/in a black coffin”) and the band has improved noticeably with practice. There’s
nothing radically different about Grey-Eyed Girls, as compared to the
first record, just a sense that everything has been nailed down a little harder.


If you’re just getting to the Fresh & Onlys, here’s the
lowdown. Sometime in the mid-‘00s, Black Fiction songwriter Tim Cohen hooked up
musically with Shayde Sartin, a Bay Area go-to guy who has worked with Skygreen
Leopards, Kelley Stoltz, Citay and the Papercuts. Cohen’s background had been
in hip hop. Sartin was into punk and psychedelia. The two started writing songs
together, eventually accumulating boxes and boxes of tapes. Wymond Miles came
in to play guitar. Kyle Gibson joined as drummer. Heidi Alexander sings. Their
first album was loosely structured, rough and charming, all handclapped,
jangly-strummed enthusiasm and Barrett-esque whimsy.


Now, a summer later, we come to Grey-Eyed Girls. It
is by no means immaculate – you can hear a dog barking pretty clearly in one
track and people in the band talking in others – but still considerably more
cohesive and well-put-together than the first. As before, there’s a pronounced
1960s vibe to the Fresh & Onlys sound, a paisley swirl in their slouching
guitar lines and rickety rhythms. This time, though, it’s a bit more ominous
than before, pointing to the out-there art-garage of bands like the Creation rather
than the tailored pop of the Beatles/Kinks/Zombies.  Cohen’s voice is enveloped in a cave of spooky
reverb throughout, lending a macabre edge to “Black Coffin” and “Invisible
Forces,” and a Britpop romanticism to “No Second Guessing.” Yet while the
vocals billow and expand, the band has turned tight, tight, tight underneath.  There’s a hard headlong rush to rockers like
“D.Y.” and a tensile strength even to tea-time fantasies like “What’s His
Shadow Still Doing Here?” The guitars, hard-scrubbed and urgent, push forward
in even the most fey and delicate songs. Bite in expecting clouds of whimsy,
and you could break a tooth on the hard musical core.


Grey-Eyed Girls works better as a straight-through
listen than its predecessor, suggesting that not only is the band getting
better at writing and playing – they’re also figuring out an overarching
aesthetic. Last time out, there were some very good songs, some duller ones,
and a lot of fluctuation in style and mood between tracks. This time, every
song seems like an integral part of the album, leading one to the next in a
streamlined procession. All of which means that this unusually productive band
is very good now and likely to improve. Better keep an eye out for the next
album in, oh, maybe a month or two.


Standout Tracks: “D.Y.”, “Invisible Forces” “Black Coffin” JENNIFER KELLY