Monthly Archives: October 2010

Nobunny – First Blood

January 01, 1970

(Goner Records)

 

www.goner-records.com/

 

So, who is that masked madman in
the filthy, furry bunny mask? He’s Justin Champlin, who may just be the world’s
oldest teenager. The energized bunny, who often plays stripped down to his
skivvies, wails out tunes about unrequited love, broken hearts, kissing his
little girl under an apple tree and other tales of horny teen angst usually
found in the lyrics of bubblegum and garage rock music. While the mask may
strike some as a gimmick, there are no gimmicks needed for Nobunny’s ability to
churn out authentic period rock that recalls everyone from the Chuck Berry,
Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee era, to the one-hit wonder tunes by the garage-punk
bands of the sixties, right into the pop-punk of the Ramones and especially the
Dickies. This guy has a knack for writing fun, slightly goofy songs that make you
want to jump around and be happy, which is probably why he’s gone viral across
the planet in the past few years. Everybody loves a good shot in the ass of
good ol’ rock and roll.

 

Nobunny drifted out of Tucson to
the Bay area several years ago, playing solo at first, and going through a
small army of band members since. First Blood is his second real full-length
album, if you don’t count the cassette-only Raw Romance from about a year ago
released on Burger. His Love Visions album from 2008 parody’s the first Ramones
album cover. His motto, rightfully so, is “Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.”
I believe a good gauge for real rock music is the length of a song, and these
11 tunes clock in at a thrifty 1 ½ to about 3 minutes each, just enough time to
kick ass, take names and get gone.  “Blow
Dumb” is the first time I can recall him doing a Velvets knock-off, right down
to the Lou-like aside, “Awww, here it comes.” Jerry Lee’s Killer piano-banging
style comes to play in both the masturbatory “(Do The) Fuck Yourself” as well
as the Ramones-ish “Never Been Kissed.” 
“Motorhead With Me” also wears the Ramones brand proudly. “Breathe”
slows down the pace and plods along like T. Rex’s “Telegram Sam”, embellished
with lethargic cellos, as well as some “huff, huff, huffs.”  One song that left me a bit cold on the first
listening, “I Was On (The Bozo Show)”, quickly caught up with its catchy
chorus, “I was on the Bozo show, it was a long, long time ago, went with my
favorite bro, sat in the way back row”, that I found myself humming the next
day. What starts off sounding like the guitar strumming and kick drum of “Give
Peace A Chance”, ultimately devolves into a demented version of the familiar
calliope circus theme music.

 

Nobunny claims to own only a few
records, so perhaps he’s pulling all of the music that he’s influenced by out
of the ether on his rabbit ears. He’s also a fan of Hasil Adkins, but instead
of “Do The Hunch,” I guess Nobunny would “Do The Hutch.” I advise everyone to
hop over to visit his Myspace profile and check out his photos and collection
of show posters. Great stuff.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Blow Dumb”, “Motorhead With Me” BARRY ST. VITUS

Various Artists – The Roots of Chicha 2: Psychedelic Cumbias From Peru

January 01, 1970

(Barbes) 

 

www.barbesrecords.com

 

It’s
not often that a single release gets to kick-start a full-on revival of a
largely lost musical form, but such was the case with Barbes Records’ 2007
collection The Roots of Chicha. Largely dormant (and all but unknown to
the outside world) since it’s hey-day in Peru in the late 60s and 1970s, the
remarkable musical melting pot of chicha was given a lease on life and an
outpouring of universal acclaim thanks to Barbes Records’ Olivier Conan and his
passion for chicha.

 

If
you’re not already in the know, chicha is a Peruvian hybrid of South American
cumbias and other dance musics, native Andean and Amazonian music and
Afro-Cuban grooves, all filtered through the pipeline of American psychedelic
and surf music that wrapped around the word like a tie-dyed octopus in the
1960s and 70s. Hugely popular with the Peruvian working class and largely
eschewed by the upper classes and musical establishment of the time, chicha was
some of the most joyful, good-time music ever produced and provided the
soundtrack to who knows how many house parties, street dances and dance hall
blowouts of the time. 

 

Barbes
Records has done us all a big favor by issuing The Roots of Chicha 2,
which collects 11 bands and 16 tracks recorded between 1968 and 1981. The only
hold-over from Vol. 1 is chicha pioneers Los Destellos, featuring the legendary
guitar player Enrique Delgado, generally credited as being the grandfather of
chicha. Their track “Cumbia del Desierto” could serve as a chicha primer:
tightly constructed and perfectly syncopated, it creates instant atmosphere as
Delgado’s guitar skips, weaves  and curls around a slippery, percussion
heavy beat. Elsewhere Manzanita y su Conjunto weigh with in w/three tracks,
including the spooky “Agua”and “Paga la Cuenta Sinverguenza” that features one
of the rare instances of a female vocal, and Los Wembler’s de Iquios provide
two numbers. Los Walkers, Los Illusionistas, Ranil y su Conjunto, the notorious
Chacalon ya la Nueva Crema and the rest all contribute top-shelf numbers.
Really, everything is completely outstanding, including the wonderful,
photo-studded liner notes and the bight orange cover, and you’d be hard pressed
to find a more vibrant, uplifting and danceable collection of songs anywhere.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Cumbia del Desierto,”
“Auga,”  “Siboney,” “El Diablo,” “Lamento del Yacuruna,” CARL HANNI

 

Blonde Redhead – Penny Sparkle

January 01, 1970

(4AD)

 

www.4AD.com

 

With
each new album. Blonde Redhead moves away from the abrasive second-generation
no wave trio that sprung up more than 15 years ago. No one can sustain that
type of ruckus for that long and Penny
Sparkle
creates some heady dance music, blurring the lines between
instruments and production. Like 2007’s 23,
Alan Moulder mixed the final product, but production chores were handled by the
team of Van Rivers and The Subliminal Kid (Fever Ray, Massive Attack), who
really give the band a new coat of paint. Drum machine and synth bass usher in
“Here Sometimes” which, while disarming to longtime fans, still sounds fairly
enchanting. That same can be said for vocalist Kazu Mazino, who sounds pretty
and sweet here and throughout the album.

 

Once you
get accustomed to its sound, Penny
Sparkle
‘s dreamier moments, like guitars initially thought to be buried in
the mix, reveal themselves. But the songs all seem to reside around the same
mid-tempo area, making the album drag during one sitting.

 

DOWNLOAD: “My Plants are Dead,”
“Love or Prison” MIKE SHANLEY

Monster Magnet – Mastermind

January 01, 1970

(Napalm)

 

www.napalmrecords.com

 

Monster Magnet is not a household name. With the exception
of the minor hits “Space Lord” and “Negasonic Teenage Warhead,” the masses
steadily refuse to accept the New
Jersey band as the heir to the classic rock radio
throne it should be. Why not? Perhaps Mastermind,
the eighth MM LP, holds the key.

 

The album oozes with thick, meaty hard rock riffs and loud,
distorted guitars, courtesy the great Ed Mundell and returning axeman Phil
Caivano, so that’s no problem. Leader Dave Wyndorf’s voice is none the worse
for wear from his recent health issues – he’s still got the feral growl of an
acid-soaked bounty hunter on the make. No issue there. The setlist overflows
with strong, imaginative writing that is by turns whimsical (“Bored With
Sorcery,” “All Outta Nothin”), satirical (“Dig That Hole,” the title track,
both of which poke holes in 21st century pretentiousness), anthemic
(“Gods and Punks,” “100 Million Miles”) and, shockingly, even poignant (“Time
Machine,” “Ghost Story,” “The Titan That Cried Like a Baby”). Nothing lacking
in that department.

 

Longtime fans might lament the lack of overt space rock
psychedelics that give the band’s best records so much color, but MM makes up
for it with good tunes and powerhouse performances. So if there’s nothing to
complain about, what is there to prevent Mastermind from conquering the radio format for which it seems to be best suited? Blame
cowardly programmers and lazy audiences who crave familiarity over freshness
for that, because there’s little reason to reject a band firing on all
cylinders like Monster Magnet is on Mastermind.

 

STANDOUT TRACKS: “Gods
and Punks,” “Ghost Story,” “Dig That Hole,” “The Titan That Cried Like a Baby” MICHAEL
TOLAND

Marshall Chapman – Big Lonesome

January 01, 1970

(TallGirl Records)

 

www.tallgirl.com

 

Marshall Chapman had made plans to finally follow up her
2006 release Mellowicious by
recording a duet album with her good friend, songwriter Tim Krekel. But Krekel
was diagnosed with cancer and passed away last summer. What was meant to be a
joyful musical union of two close friends was suddenly replaced by an album of
loss and memories. We should all be so lucky to have someone as talented as
Marshall Chapman to celebrate our lives after we are gone.

 

Big Lonesome is
something of a hodge-podge of Krekel -related material, but it hangs together
beautifully. The title track, which they co-wrote, was actually recorded in
1999, but never released until now. It’s an old style country song with a
gentle feel that is easy to imagine sung by Patsy Cline back in 1960. It sets
the tone of loss which permeates the album. This time, though, the song is
actually about Chapman waiting for her husband to return from a trip, so a
happy ending is implied sometime after the song is over.

 

Two other songs Chapman co-wrote with Krekel are also
highlights. “Sick of Myself” is a charming and whimsical wish for two people
who obviously respect and admire each other to be able to feel exactly what the
other does. Here, it’s sung as a duet with Krekel’s son Jason, who sounds
rather like his father. The other cut closes the album – it’s a live recording
of “I Love Everybody,” a clear fave from Mellowicious.
Here, Chapman and Krekel sing together for the very last time. They sound
enthralled by the simple, catchy chorus they have created. Eventually, the band
kicks in, and the power and the beauty of rock’n’roll itself comes pouring out
of the speakers. No better recording could exist to celebrate the magic of
Krekel’s musical life.

 

Chapman references this performance in “Tim Revisited,” a
song she sang to Krekel a few days before he died. It’s a stunning song of love
and joy and sorrow: “The last time I sang with Tim Krekel . . . While people
danced like life would never end.” Later in the song, Chapman sings, “If you
were there, then I don’t have to tell you / How we sounded better than the
Rolling Stones.” In notes for the album she has on her website (www.tallgirl.com), Chapman says she had
thought she was being hyperbolic until she actually heard the live recording
being referenced. While they don’t sound better than the Stones, they certainly
sound at least as good, at least for a few minutes.

 

The rest of the album, for the most part, finds Chapman
going through the stages of grief by creating beautiful, perfectly crafted,
simple songs. “Down to Mexico”
and “Mississippi Man in Mexico”
are mysteriously intoxicating songs inspired by a trip she took to that country
after Krekel was unable to accompany her. The latter song in particular
benefits from some overdubbed multiple guitar lines by the always welcome Will
Kimbrough. “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” is a wonderful song about the
process of recovery from loss. She doesn’t wallow in sorrow, simply states the
facts of loss, and clearly

 

Two cover songs fit perfectly in the context of the record.
“Going Away Party,” written by the great Cindy Walker and recorded originally
by Bob Wills, is a song about a different sort of loss. Marshall sings it beautifully, embracing the
words and the melody, making sure both are delivered clearly. Her phrasing is
perfect, wringing emotional nuance by emphasizing certain words and notes. Hank
Williams’ classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” has been done to death, but
Chapman makes it fresh by singing it as though she wrote it herself. She’s not
imitating, not acting, just feeling.

 

One other song deserves mention, since Chapman spends a lot
of time detailing the writing process of “Riding With Willie” in her new book They Came to Nashville (reviewed here). Like “I Love
Everybody,” which immediately follows, this is a celebratory song. It’s not
specifically about Tim Krekel, but it is about the journey of discovery and
connection to joy which makes life worthwhile. When Chapman sings “That’s the
way I like it,” she comes closest to capturing her definition of the meaning of
life – it’s all right there in the details, in the experiences, in the little
moments of pleasure which can be found again and again. Big Lonesome is chock full of them, for even the sadness of loss
reminds us of the beauty that has existed before.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Sick
of Myself,” “I Love Everybody,” “Riding With Willie” STEVE PICK

 

Old 97’s – The Grand Theatre Volume One

January 01, 1970

(New West)

 

www.newwestrecords.com

 

 

Have the Old 97’s gone glam? If the initial tracks off their
effusive new album are any indication, that prognosis certainly falls within
the realm of possibility. While earlier albums found them establishing their
own variation on the roots rock franchise, The
Grand Theatre Volume One
suggests they now have more rambunctious intents
in mind. That rowdy triple threat that commences the proceedings – “The Grand
Theatre,” “Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)” and “The Magician” soar
on rapid-fire rhythms and double-time tempos, as well as a fuck-all attitude
that suggests they’re ready and willing to throw caution to the wind. On the
other hand, when they opt to revisit their Americana origins, they do so with a
stern reverence that hews to traditional revelry. The brassy narrative, “You
Were Born To Be In Battle” likely wouldn’t sound out of place in the Marty
Robbins songbook, while the surprisingly somber “Let the Whiskey Take the
Reins” gives a aural nod to Sergio Leone’s foreign-made westerns, the kind that
once found Clint Eastwood with a poncho over his shoulder and a glint in his
eyes.

 

Mainly though, The
Grand Theatre Volume One
offers up the sort of unabashed exuberance that
the Dallas-based band have hinted at throughout their lengthy tenure at the top
of the country rock hierarchy. Although they reference divergent realms,
“Champaign Illinois” and “A State of Texas” smack of the insurgency of their
early cow punk past, each song an irreverent ode to destinations boasting
varying degrees of desirability.  Brassy,
ballsy, bold and defiant, the Old 97’s offer proof they’re still young guns at
heart.

DOWNLOAD: “The Grand Theatre,”
“Champaign Illinois,” “You Smoke too Much” LEE ZIMMERMAN

Posies – Blood/Candy

January 01, 1970

(Rykodisc)

 

www.rykodisc.com

 

Posies fans view the band’s 1993 album Frosting On the Beater as a watershed moment. Their other albums are
only slightly less beloved because singer-songwriters Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow
maintained consistently lofty quality levels-they just couldn’t surpass the total
brilliance of songs like “Dream All Day” and “Solar Sister.” With Blood/Candy, they’ve one-upped their
personal best. It’s a feast of sweet, coppery power-pop that’s at once familiarly
spacey and more down-to-earth. So how do you improve near-perfection?

 

For one, dare to be different. “Licenses to Hide” and “For
the Ashes,” are rather Beatles/Badfinger in scope; Auer’s and Stringfellow’s
trademark vocals are nearly unrecognizable. “Notion 99” adds a dash of garage
rock to the base, “Cleopatra Street” moves the galaxian sounds to the
background, and “Accidental Architecture” is a bizarrely appealing blend of
chamber pop, noise rock and ‘70s AM radio. Meanwhile, the radiant “Glitter Prize,”
is a virtual sister to “Solar.” B/C is
ultimately fresh and diverse with hallmarks intact, and undoubtedly the Posies’
finest work. 

 

DOWNLOAD: “Glitter
Prize,” “Cleopatra Street”
RANDY HARWARD

 

Listen To This

January 01, 1970

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

 

www.fsgbooks.com

 

BY STEVE PICK

 

Alex Ross is probably the luckiest and most deserving music
critic in the world. He has reasonably close to carte blanche to pursue
whatever interests he has in a regular column in The New Yorker, which he has written since 1996, when he was 28
years old. Because it’s The New Yorker,
he has the space to explore the music in depth, to mix deeply informed musical
understanding with a spectacular ability to capture the personalities of the
people who make it. Ross seems to have heard everything in the history of
Western music, and as he proved in 2007 with his first book The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the
Twentieth Century
, he can make even the most complex and difficult
creations seem compelling and inviting.

 

Where the prior book was an original work spelling out the
history of 20th Century “classical” music, Listen To This (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux) is a collection of
writings plucked mostly from The New
Yorker
in which Ross jumps around from place to place and time to time.
There are chapters on Mozart, Radiohead, Schubert, Bjork, Verdi, and Bob Dylan,
not too close looks at such subjects as the state of classical music in China, the decline of music education in the U.S., and the
ways in which music has changed because of technology. Ross is that perfect sort
of music critic – already carrying a huge amount of knowledge in his head, he’s
constantly re-thinking what he knows in light of new evidence and experience.
If there’s one thing that can be said about Alex Ross, it’s that he understands
there will never be a final word on any of the subjects he covers, but that
there is always something new to be revealed.

 

As a result, whether you are a novice completely unfamiliar
with any of the music which fascinates Ross, or a life-long fan, his writing is
almost guaranteed to let you discover something fresh and intriguing. Ross
takes great delight in ribbing those who think Mozart, for example, is merely
something pleasurable, or worse, something capable of improving the IQ of
babies. For Ross, the opera “Don Giovanni” should put the listener in a mental
panic. It’s an existential nightmare, a “crucifixion without resurrection,”
which makes Mozart a more profound experience than just a relaxing background
for those looking to show off their good taste.

 

Almost alone among those who have written about Bob Dylan,
Alex Ross is extremely well-versed in music qua music. While of course he
understands the importance of Dylan as a lyricist, and even the ways his lyrics
mesh with the music, Ross comes up with the following description of a live
Dylan concert from 1997: “And he is musically in control. The band’s pacing of
each song – the unpredictable scampering to and fro over a loosely felt beat,
the watch-and-wait atmosphere, the sudden knowing emphasis on one line or one
note – is much the same as when Dylan plays solo. You can hear him thinking
through the music bar by bar, tracing harmonies in winding figures. The basic
structures of the songs remain unshakable. There may be wrong notes, but there
is never a wrong chord.”

 

Ross writes lovingly of the mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt
Lieberson, who died at 52 of complications from breast cancer – it is
impossible to read this chapter without feeling the inexorable loss in the
world of a magnificent talent, even if you have never once in your life
encountered her music. You will most likely immediately go to www.therestisnoise.com, where
Ross has compiled an exhaustive selection of links to almost every piece of
music mentioned in the book, where you will find that Lieberson’s astounding
voice really does have the power, passion, and extraordinary control that Ross
argues convincingly was the “most remarkable” he ever heard.

 

There is one long piece completely original to this book. It’s
entitled “Chacona, Lamento, Walking Blues: Bass Lines of Music History” wherein
he connects a particular rhythm, and a particular descending series of notes
throughout the last 600 years of popular music. The chacona was a folk dance of
16th Century Spain
which got picked up and somewhat tamed by a wide variety of composers over the
years, culminating in spectacular fashion in a work by Bach. The lamento is a
particular four-note descending pattern which has steadily appeared,
representing emotional sadness, in music from all over the world. Ross shows
how the same pattern which invoked sorrow in Elizabethan court music turns up
as the basis for Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused.” In the process, he even
manages to describe a half-hour concert version of the song from the ‘70s in
ways that make an old punk rocker rethink the knee-jerk rejection of that
period as decadent.

 

Bjork and Radiohead are interview subjects in separate
chapters, and Ross puts their music in contexts far different from the pop
coverage we’ve seen so often. He also includes features on Esa-Pekka Salonen,
long-time conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Mitsuko Uchida (along
with many other teachers and students) of the annual Marlboro Music intensive
study program. Ross is a master at finding telling anecdotes, delicious quotes,
and scenes which capture the spirits of his subjects.

 

Even if you’ve read every issue of The New Yorker, Ross has rewritten, sometimes extensively, many of
the pieces included in this book. His prose is so rich yet readable, so full of
ideas and delightfully engaging that reading his work more than once is much
like listening to the music he describes again and again. Just when you think
you’ve noticed everything, there is some little detail capable of unraveling a
whole new world of discovery. 

 

 

Black Mountain – Wilderness Heart

January 01, 1970

 

(Jagjaguwar)

 

www.jagjaguwar.com

 

Monstrous riffs, molten sludge, the bludgeoning weight of
guitar overload-those have always been Stephen McBean’s stock in trade, and
never more so than on third Black
Mountain full-length Wilderness Heart. Yet where most of Black Mountain’s
1960s forebears were all-male affairs, this band has Amber Wells to shake up
the stereotype. Just listen to how her warm, vibrato-laced contralto casts a
witchy spell over the title track, making its head-thudding guitars, its
rampaging drums into something wilder, sweeter and altogether more
unpredictable. “Old Fangs,” too, has the palm-muted, ‘vette-on-blocks stomp of
classic Sabbath, yet synths and Wells’ singing brings its old-style menace into
the modern era.

 

As always, some of the most arresting moments are the quiet
ones: the loose, hazy harmonies of “Radiant Hearts,” the Neil Young-worthy shamble
of “Buried by the Blues.” Yet fundamentally, what’s interesting about Wilderness Heart is the way it melds
he-man classic rock with the rich country self-assured-ness of the band’s
distaff side. Maybe we can all get
along, after all.  

 

DOWNLOAD:  “Wilderness Heart,” “Buried By the Blues” JENNIFER
KELLY

Alain Johannes – Spark

January 01, 1970

 

(Rekords Rekords)

 

www.rekordsrekords.com

 

Alain Johannes gets around. A longtime associate of Josh
Homme, the multi-instrumentalist has collaborated with Queens
of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, Mark Lanegan, Chris Cornell and Spinnerette.
But his truest partnership was with musical and personal soulmate Natasha
Schneider, with whom he led the group Eleven. Schneider’s untimely passing in
2008 inspired “Endless Eyes,” the powerful opener to Johannes’ first solo
album.

 

Freely blending rock, pop and folk into a psychedelic
cocktail, Johannes’ music reflects the time spent with previous employers
without sounding much like any of them. From the haunted dream of “The Bleeding
Whale” and existential balladry of “Unfinished Plan” to the catchy pop of
“Return to You” and the stunning acid folk of “Make God Jealous,” Johannes
shifts modes and moods like a chameleon, but his shape remains the same no
matter what the colors. With exotic acoustic guitar work and soulful singing as
the backbone, Alain Johannes – dedicated
to Schneider – is a work of tuneful imagination and heartfelt emotional
release.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Endless
Eyes,” “Make God Jealous” MICHAEL TOLAND