Monthly Archives: December 2013

FLAMING LIPS – First Cassette Demo 7” EP + The Flaming Lips 12” EP

Album: First Cassette Demo 7” EP + The Flaming Lips 12” EP

Artist: Flaming Lips

Label: Lovely Sort of Death

Release Date: December 24, 2013

Lips EP 1

www.theflaminglips.com

 BY FRED MILLS

 In 1984 the twisted Okies known as the Flaming Lips released their eponymous debut record, a 5-song 12” EP pressed on both green and red vinyl, and at only 1000 copies apiece it soon became a collector’s item in the wake of the band’s steadily rising star touring behind their underground hit LP Hear It Is. Their label Pink Dust/Enigma would subsequently reissue The Flaming Lips with different artwork and on purple vinyl, but that 12”, too, eventually went out of print.

 As the saying goes… it’s baaaaack! Reissued on the eve of Christmas by the Lips, The Flaming Lips arrives anew on green vinyl and with Wayne Coyne’s signature on the center of the record, pressed as a limited edition of 2000 copies. (It’s all over eBay as of this writing at grossly inflated prices, incidentally.Ed.) The pleasures of early Lips also arrive anew, from the opening goth-punk fuzz ‘n’ thud of “Bag Full Of Thoughts” and the gurning, echo-drenched psych of “Out For A Walk” (which suggests a Christian Death influence) to the Syd Barrett-meets-Led Zeppelin rawk of “My Own Planet.” The material, in its primitive-yet-powerful thrust, clearly foreshadows that of the Hear It Is full length.

Lips EP 2

 Meanwhile, a second Lips slab o’ wax has also surfaced in time for this year’s reindeer games: First Cassette Demo, comprising four songs from their 9/14/93 cassette demo that was circulated among fanzine writers and tape traders. It’s here as a 7” EP and the music makes for a perfect companion to the officially released stuff. The tracks are “Flaming Lips Theme Song,” “The Future is Gone,” “Underground Pharmacist” and “Real Fast Words, and of those tunes, “Theme” is the obvious standout, with its locomotive beat, garage-shock guitars and signature harsh/punk-fueled vocals. “Underground Pharmacist” is a near-revelation, too, displaying a distinctive Sex Pistols punk influence (listen for the tempo shift/breakdown near the end too), while “Real Fast Words” is doomy post-punk. None of it is essential listening in the larger scheme of things, but it’s still interesting in how it helps complete the Flaming Lips story—which includes the fact that Coyne’s brother Mark was on lead vocals initially—for those who weren’t in on it at the very beginning.

 Like the 12”, the single is pressed on beautiful colored vinyl (here, blue) in an edition of 2000, boasts Coyne’s signature on the label area, and comes housed in a thick stock poly sleeve with slipcase-style two-sided art sleeve. Clearly, this band knows how to sprinkle catnip out for collectors, and these two records make for quite a Christmas gift on any level.

 DOWNLOAD: “Flaming Lips Theme Song,” “Bag Full of Thoughts,” “My Own Planet”

ARCADE FIRE – Live Los Angeles/Oakland 2013

Album: Live Los Angeles/Oakland 2013

Artist: Arcade Fire

Label: Naughty Dog

Release Date: December 21, 2013

Arcade Fire live

www.bigozine.com

 BY UNCLE BLURT

 “What exactly is going on here? I don’t understand—what are you people doing?” Thus intro’d Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler, by way of jolting the Dec. 8 audience at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium, on hand for the annual KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas concert, into Reflektor-dom, into the here and now. Webcast to the masses, as was the previous night at Oakland’s Oracle Arena, it was a slightly pared-down event by AF standards, who had previously been seen at sundry marathon album kickoffs marked by costuming on both the parts of band and audience. Not to mention a barrage of canny p.r. schtick (such as a key appearance on Saturday Night Live followed by a “surprise” concert).

 Naturally the tape decks and hard drives across the globe were getting the two shows down, among them the web-centric Naughty Dog label, which has now yielded this two-disc set compiling both nights, the KROQ bash as well as the “Not So Silent Night” Oakland concert. Whattaya get? Well, first thing you should know is that there are a few taping glitches here and there, due to (disclosed up front by Naughty Dog) problems with the webcast. In places, too, the mix gets a tad wobbly, such as in the KROQ show’s “Joan of Arc” in which the vocals totally dominate the instruments.

 But while those issues are momentarily annoying, the sheer power of the overall audio experience ultimately negates ‘em. An early high point on Disc One arrives with Funeral’s masterpiece anthem “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” wherein if you crank the stereo—home speakers, please; none of this earbud shit for a band like Arcade Fire—you are very nearly transported to the arena, surrounded by shouting/stomping/ecstatic fellow fans. Meanwhile, on the same show’s “Wake Up” the band plays a succinct but serene tribute to Lou Reed by way of an a cappella snippet of “Walk On the Wild Side”—a smart audible when you suddenly realize they are launching into their ultimate anthem, “Wake Up.”

 The Oakland show is no less engaging. They open with the title track to Reflektor, instantly getting the whole room in motion, and then proceed to essay a solid bloc of fresh material from the album (“We Exist,” not one of the strongest songs on album, turns out to be a monster in concert, and it’s followed by “It’s Never Over” in a masterful sequencing stroke). In an out-of-the-blue segue, “Normal Person” unexpectedly draws a path from Guns N’ Roses’ classic “Sweet Child O’ Mine”—listen to the latter song’s guitar solo intro and compare it to the former’s recurring riff—and before you know it Arcade Fire is also tipping its collective hat to Lorde and her track “Royals.” And once again, the show closes with “Wake Up,” which you will have long ago done at this stage, possibly to the point of jumping up and down in the privacy of your own living room, regretting that you weren’t on hand for either of these shows.

 Never fear, punters. The band will be everywhere in 2014. No question about that.

 DOWNLOAD: Both shows, right here, literally.

 

ROEDELIUS SCHNEIDER – Tiden / LLOYD COLE & HANS-JOACHIM ROEDELIUS – Selected Studies Vol. 1

Album: Tiden; Selected Studies Vol. 1

Artist: ROEDELIUS SCHNEIDER; LLOYD COLE & HANS-JOACHIM ROEDELIUS

Label: Bureau B

Release Date: July 09, 2013

 

 Roedelius 7-9

www.bureau-b.com

 BY STEVEN ROSEN

 The avant-garde German keyboard player/composer/electronics explorer Hans-Joachim Roedelius is 79, but he’s not slowing down with new recordings or, most critically, new ideas. These two albums show him collaborating with very different partners, but able to find a comfortable and productive path on both to keep pursuing and refining his musical approach.

 He respects the beauty of quiet spaces in instrumental music – of music as a friend of solitude and peacefulness – without ever letting his work slip into pure ambience or soothing New Age-style compositions.

 He is not about making background music. His keyboard work has drive, shape and a certain revelatory forcefulness even though he avoids the speed-and-volume clichés that usually give electronic music its kick. (Although when he wants to, he can rock.)

 And he knows how to balance repetition with melody. Roedelius is more post-rock than contemporary classical and he can play a club or concert hall. (Also post-jazz – you can hear the ghosts of In a Silent Way or early Weather Report in Tiden, only free of extravagance.)

 Roedelius, an influence on Brian Eno’s instrumental music, first came to prominence in the daring, radical Berlin music scene of the late-1960s and formed Kluster/Cluster with artist Conrad Schnitzler and electronics musician Dieter Moebius. Roedelius and Moebius went on to create Harmonia with Michael Rother of Neu! So he’s an important part of the musical movement that have given us Can and Kraftwerk. He’s now based in Vienna.

 Tiden is his second Bureau B album with the younger Stefan Schneider, following 2011’s Stunden. Schneider, who provides the electronic treatments that work so well with Roedelius’ grand piano and synthesizer, was in a 1990s German-rock band called Kreidler, is now part of To Rococo Rot, and has issued solo albums as Mapstation.

 There are 13 songs, all involving and reasonably short. Schneider provides a droning foundation, with higher-pitched explorations, to semi-minimalist figures that Roedelius plays on piano in “Indie Woogie.” On “Toast,” the percussive, percolating electronic treatment creates a base for the launching of short, sharp guitar-like squeals. The composition proceeds with a metronome-steady beat, but there are so many little musical digressions peeling off and corkscrewing around the center that it is never robotic. Rather, it’s warm and human.

 On “Bald,” Roedelius’ piano work is slow and gentle and Schneider uses that as his home base from which to develop his own sound-making. The seemingly simple piano key-strikes and chords of “Anderer” seductively haunt.

 The album with Cole, Selected Studies Vol. 1, is unusual in that the British singer-songwriter/guitarist has neither written nor sung pop-rock songs for the project. And according to the Bureau B site, he’s not playing guitar.

 So for those wondering what Cole’s lyrical, romantic songcraft would be like with Roedelius’ spare, introspective keyboard work, this isn’t it. Roedelius, we are told, barely touches the piano. Instead, both are using electronics for sonic effects on this instrumental album.

 The 11 songs, or “studies,” offer a variety of sounds – at times you could swear there’s guitar playing, as on some of the high-pitched, intrepid electronic sounds of “Selbstportrait – Reich.” In particular, the interplay between Cole’s guitar-like electronic soloing on the goosy “Fehmarn F/O” and Roedelius’ organ-like keyboard is reminiscent of  “Light My Fire’s” classic instrumental break.

 Occasionally, the center of an individual composition takes too long to become evident and we wander into ominous-soundscape territory. That happens at the start of  “Wandelbar,” although after awhile Roedelius’ keyboards (including what sounds like ghostly grand piano) provide direction.

 Whenever the music’s compelling hold threatens to dissipate, Roedelius’ keyboard synthesizer provides personality, such as on “Virginie L,” where he patiently uses repeating motifs to build impact.

 Cole, a fan of Cluster, has an interest in experimental music and in 2001 had made an instrumental electronic album, Plastic Wood. He had sent that to Roedelius, establishing a relationship. It took more than a decade after that to get this recorded. It’s worth the wait. Please bring on Vol. 2 in 2014.

 DOWNLOAD:  “Toast” from Tiden; “Virginia L” from Selected Studies Vol. 1.

BANGLES, DREAM SYNDICATE, THREE O’CLOCK & RAIN PARADE 12/5/13, San Francisco

Dates: December 5, 2013

Location: the Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco CA

Paisley 2

BY JUD COST

 “Hi, I’m Vicki Peterson of the Bangs,” announces one of tonight’s (Dec. 5) performers over the pristine sound system of San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium. It’s the perfect insider’s intro to this scintillating evening that already feels more like a high school reunion than a rock show that’s reunited the bands from Los Angeles’ early ’80s, post-punk scene, the Paisley Underground. Only those who were there from the early days would have recognized “the Bangs” as the original name of the all-girl combo who would later hit the national charts as “the Bangles” with such national hits as “Walk Like An Egyptian” and “Eternal Flame.” “We are delighted to play alongside these great bands we worshipped: Rain Parade, the Dream Syndicate and the Three O’Clock,” adds Peterson.

 It was an idea I’d broached to many of tonight’s participants as the ’80s unfolded, and I was fortunate enough to interview them many times for such vital underground periodicals as London’s Bucketfull of Brains and The Bob from Philadelphia. I recall telling Pat Thomas, the man who founded San Francisco’s Paisley-friendly Heyday Records, that these four bands and others tarred with the same brush—True West, the Long Ryders, Green On Red, Game Theory, the 28th Day—should star in a poor man’s Woodstock some day to play together for one last, glorious weekend. Tonight is about as close as you could get, and it sounds even better tonight than it had in my feverish dreams.

 Created by uber-guitarist Matt Piucci, and the more sensitive fretboard tones of the Roback brothers, David and Steven, Rain Parade was the band I’d heard first from what Michael Quercio, frontman for the Three O’Clock, would soon dub “the Paisley Underground.” Wandering through San Francisco’s Tower Records in North Beach in 1981, I noticed a 45 single on the Llama label that featured a song called “What She’s Done To Your Mind.” A store clerk had taped a piece of cardboard to the record on which these words appeared: “Very psychedelic! Highly recommended!” That was enough for me. Spun the disc, loved its meandering, mind-bending sound and spent the rest of the decade traipsing after all the bands this little slab of PVC would help open the door for.

 The scene’s top dog for many, Rain Parade now features vintage members Piucci, Steven Roback and second guitarist John Thoman (sporting an Uncle Sam goatee), alongside three recent additions, drummer Gil Ray formerly of Game Theory, boatclub guitarist Mark Hanley and Sneetches bassist Alec Palao, take the stage with “This Can’t Be Today,” a twinkling gem from their debut album, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip.

 As well as a polite bow toward ’60s folk/psych heroes the Byrds and Pink Floyd, the songs immediately evoke memories of SF’s premier underground venue the I-Beam in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury. Take a deep breath and you can almost smell the acrid byproduct of clove cigarettes, an ’80s bad idea that might have nipped the tobacco epidemic in the bud all by itself if allowed to flourish.

 “Kaleidoscope” and “You Are My Friend” follow, flashing beacons from Rain Parade’s second longplayer, Explosions In The Glass Palace, whose cover depicts the perps sitting on the lawn in front of Golden Gate Park’s window-paned arboretum under fuchsia-pink skies. As it played out at venues as widespread as LA’s Club Lingerie, the Anti Club and Music Machine, as well as the Bay Area’s Old Waldorf, Berkeley Square and Wolfgang’s, the finale was usually the same hypnotic tune. “No Easy Way Down is a mesmerizing journey Piucci once described as “snake charmer music,” and a fittingly exotic climax to a fabulous set.

 A sweaty Piucci is ecstatic, afterwards. “Did you see me talking to (Bangles vocalist) Sue Hoffs?” he asks, grinning broadly. “I told her that song (‘What She’s Done To Your Mind’) was for her.”

 The Three O’Clock follows with Quercio on vocals and bass, Louis Gutierrez on guitar, an unidentified keyboardist and Danny Benair on drums. Their set tonight is utterly amazing, as fresh as a bag of bakery goods and as satisfying as an ice cold quart of milk. Anyone with half a brain could tell back in their prime that Benair was probably the best rock drummer ever, with a skill set that rivaled legendary studio/jazz percussionists like Shelly Manne.

 Quercio, looking like he’s aged about six months since then, still has the pipes to easily navigate the luscious melodies of his band’s best material with the ease of a limber young housecat. “Jet Fighter Plane” and “With A Cantaloupe Girlfriend” sound like they should have been AM radio smashes in their day. And the covers, my god, the covers! The Bee Gees’ “In My Own Time” is a pip, as is their eye-popping version of “Lucifer Sam,” shanghaied from Pink Floyd. “Sorry,” the tune they borrowed from the Easybeats, Australia’s version of the Beatles, shakes the Fillmore to its foundation, like similar workouts must have done back in this hall’s glory days five decades ago with appearances by Austin’s 13th Floor Elevators and San Jose’s Chocolate Watchband.

 And then came the return to the scene of the crime of none other than the Dream Syndicate led by Steve Wynn, the best talk-singer since the original purveyor of that risky art, the late Lou Reed.

 Back when I worked for the post office and could take an afternoon nap at home before punching out, I was snoozing on my couch with KSAN FM-radio blasting away when I was rudely awakened by what sounded like two locomotives colliding head-on in the night. I sat bolt upright as “Sure Thing” and “Some Kinda Itch” from the Dream Syndicate’s debut mini-album on the Down There label, washed over me like that corrosive goo Walter White used to dispose of corpses. It was Wynn’s ironclad rhythm guitar and psych-fretboard genius Karl Precoda doing battle as if the end of the world was about 20 minutes away in a radioactive cloud of feedback.

 Precoda and original Syndicate bassist Kendra Smith disappeared into the night long ago, but Wynn and skinsman Dennis Duck are back with Mark Walton on bass and Jason Victor on lead guitar to take the revived Syndicate along a slightly different path. Before long, Victor and Wynn are standing toe-to-toe trading blows like Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd of Television or True West’s Richard McGrath and Russ Tolman. Wynn’s successful solo career as leader of the Miracle Three has spurred him to upgrade his singing chops at the sacrifice of his talk-sing voice. So the early DS classics—”That’s What You Always Say,” “When You Smile,” “Tell Me When It’s Over”—veer off into other rooms with other voices. If Dylan can completely rewrite the melodies to his old stuff, why can’t Wynn do a little tinkering too?

 “John Coltrane Stereo Blues” is dedicated by Wynn to renowned Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cipollina. The dual set-closers still wield enough raw power “to raise the dead/And make the little girls talk out of their heads,” according to Mississippi guru Mose Allison. “The Days Of Wine And Roses” finds that same guy “out on the ledge again, threatening everything,” and the flickering “Halloween” must be one of the most sinister (and addictive) melodies ever put to wax.

 Below: some Three O’Clocks and some Bangles

 Paisley

  Before you’ve had time to recover from the first three rounds of this heavyweight title fight, the Syndicate Of Sound’s timeless garage rock anthem “Little Girl,” (another talk-sing knockout), blares from the Fillmore’s PA, and the Bangles are off and running. Hoffs on vocals and guitar and the Peterson sisters, Vicki on guitar and vocals and Debbi on drums and vocals, begin to ply their trade with their jangling treatment of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade Of Winter.”

 It becomes clear, though nothing is mentioned from the stage, that all the performers tonight are playing their early material, circa 1982-85. Thus, the girls do not remove the Egyptian from his weatherproof sarcophagus tonight to point his hands angularly in different directions. They do, however, unzip an achingly beautiful version of Big Star’s “September Gurls,” as well as a hearty rundown of “Live” by fabled LA combo the Merry-Go-Round. The girls also cook up a savory segue from the Velvet Underground’s “Waitin’ For My Man” to the song Prince wrote for them, “Manic Monday,” back when the Purple One was one of the Bangles’ biggest boosters.

 The breathtaking encore, with all hands on deck, is the equivalent of a diabetic being manacled and forced to eat his way out of a See’s candy store.  Everyone does the Pete Seeger hootenanny thing to the strains of the Byrds’ ” I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better,” “Time Will Show The Wiser” from Fairport Convention, the Velvet Underground’s “There She Goes” and then closes shop with “For Pete’s Sake,” the song the Monkees used as the credits rolled on their 1966 TV show.

 Always the diplomat, Wynn would wax euphoric about the event three days later on his website: “it was nice to find everyone was still making great music, getting along so well and open to whatever it took to make a memorable evening.”

 After falling down onstage and breaking his glasses, Piucci chuckles ruefully after the repeat showing of the entire program the following night at LA’s Henry Fonda Theatre. “I’m getting too old for this shit! I’m 55 years old,” he says, half laughing, half groaning. He doesn’t really mean it. As the Flamin’ Groovies’ ace guitarist Cyril Jordan once put it: “If you’re still doing music when you turn 30, you’re in it for life.”

 The cream of the Paisley Underground is living proof what a good life that can be, especially when you’re among old friends.


RHETT MILLER 12/13/13, Denver CO

Dates: December 13, 2013

Location: The Soiled Dove, Denver CO

Rhett

BY TIM HINELY

While I love the Old 97’s and have seen them many a time over the years I have not been able to connect with leader Rhett Miller’s solo records nearly as much. I had always passed on seeing him live when he has been solo and I think that might have been a mistake. On this cool December evening (Dec. 13, at Denver’s Soiled Dove) Miller pulled out all the stops and proved to be the consummate showman. Even more impressive when you consider one story he told of being in Seattle a few nights prior and a doctor telling him he has tonsillitis (“So if my voice cracks don’t laugh too much” and also, to the doctor “Hey doc, will I be able to sing tonight to which the doctor replied, “I don’t know, could you sing before?”).

Armed with only an acoustic guitar he started off with “Lost Without You” and then ripped right into “Won’t Be Home” (off of 2004’s Drag It Up) and then into “Champaign, Illinois” (Miller told the story about, since the song is a rewrite of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row”, asking Dylan’s manager if he could record the song, he sent it over, the manager replied that, “Yeah, Bob likes it and said you can keep half the publishing!”).

Before kicking into another song, “The Other Show”, the one the Old 97’s did with Waylon Jennings, he told a great story of Waylon trying to say the lyrics (that Rhett had written) elixir but Waylon kept saying excelsior. Finally Miller told Waylon to say it as “Annie licks her” to which Waylon heartily approved (Waylon to Rhett: “You’re sick boy, I like you”).

Miller didn’t stop there, he pulled more out of his seemingly endless bag of tricks. He kicked into “Singular Girl,” “Barrier Reef,”” “Four Leaf Clover,” “19,” “”Nightclub”, “Big Brown Eyes,” “Rollerskate Skinny, “Doreen” and plenty more.

He didn’t disappoint with the cover songs either tearing out Wilco & Billy Bragg’s “California Stars” and the Magnetic Field’s “Born on a Train.” For an encore he did “Holly Jolly Christmas” (after a rant about lame Christmas music being carted out this time of year) and ended it with a “Jagged” (off of 1999’s Fight Songs) which was a request from my friend Sarah.  Wow, what a night. To me a set like this further solidifies Rhett Miller being a national treasure. Rhett rules (side note: Miller promised another Old 97’s record and tour in the spring)!

YES – The Studio Albums 1969 – 1987

Album: The Studio Albums 1969 - 1987

Artist: Yes

Label: Rhino

Release Date: December 24, 2013

Yes

www.rhino.com

BY HAL BIENSTOCK

Yes is one of the most hated bands in rock and roll. To some extent, I can understand why (more on that later), but it’s mostly unfair. In an era when even the most hardcore fan of one-chord punk has grudging respect for Radiohead and The Flaming Lips, it’s hard to see why Yes is seen less an influence and more as a guilty pleasure at best, a joke at worst. After all, what is the Lips’ The Soft Bulletin if not a Yes album? Wayne Coyne even sounds like Jon Anderson at times.

The holiday season release of the 13 CD Studio Albums box set offers a good opportunity to reassess Yes while showing off both the band’s myriad strengths and serious failings.

Let’s start with the strengths. The three best albums from their 1970s heyday – The Yes Album, Fragile and Close to the Edge – are great records that hold up remarkably well. Do they have goofy lyrics about spaceships and mountains? Damn right they do. But these albums also are everything prog-rock should be. They’re ambitious, musically adventurous and played by serious musicians who are great at their instruments. Unlike most prog, they’re also chock full of hooks. Most of the band’s best, and best-known, songs are here: “Roundabout,” “I’ve Seen All Good People,” “Starship Trooper,” “And You and I.” All deserve another hearing. The band’s overlooked 1977 album, Going for the One is almost as strong. Unfortunately, it’s the last Yes album you can say that about.

Then there’s the good. The band’s first two albums, Yes and Time and a Word are often ignored, but both have a lot to recommend them. The band is still trying to find itself on these albums, but that process is quite a bit of fun to listen to, especially when they tackle songs by the Beatles, the Byrds and Richie Havens. Their 1983 comeback 90125 is also worth revisiting, although it’s marred by terrible early ‘80s production. Still, many of the songs are well-crafted, and I had forgotten how strange hits like “Leave It” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart” actually are.

Of course, no overview of Yes’ career would be complete without a look at the bad. And boy, is it bad. 1973’s Tales from Topographic Oceans usually comes in for the most criticism – understandable considering it was released as a double album with one song per side and was built around a concept that no one actually understands but supposedly has something to do with Eastern religions. The music itself isn’t all bad. There’s a decent 35-minute album in here somewhere, but who would bother spending the time to find it?

Its follow up, Relayer, is far worse. And 1987’s Big Generator, which is available for the first time in the U.S. in its expanded and remastered version through this set, is equally bad. I can’t see anyone ever hitting play on either one.

 The remaining albums, Tormato and the Jon Anderson-less Drama, both have their moments ( “On the Silent Wings of Freedom” “Tempus Fugit”), but are tough to listen to all the way through.

The set looks and sounds great. It includes the most recent expanded and remastered editions of the albums, and each disc comes with original artwork and gatefolds (although not the booklets that were packaged with original pressings of some of the albums).

As with any box set, the big question is: should I buy this? At a list price of nearly $75, it’s hard to justify, unless you’re a fan who for some reason never got around to buying the remasters when they first came out. For the price, you’re getting four very good to great albums and three good ones. Cherry picking the highlights is probably your best bet.  Hopefully this set encourages people to do that.

DOWNLOAD: “And You and I” “Starship Trooper” “Heart of the Sunrise”

 

THE GREEN PAJAMAS – November

Album: November

Artist: Green Pajamas

Label: Green Monkey

Release Date: October 15, 2013

Green Pajamas 10-15

www.greemmonkeyrecords.com

 BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 Most legendary lost albums begin with a backstory, and the collection that’s become the holy grail for Green Pajamas’ fans, heretofore entitled November (named for the month it was re-conceived) is no exception.  Originally intended as a live recording that would follow their seminal set Book of Hours back in ’88, it was ultimately nixed and given limited release only on cassette. Nevertheless, an attempt to remix the original tape for wider release resulted in endless nitpicking and the entire project was shelved until a decade later when the band gave it another go.

 Still, it’s taken fifteen years for the entire album to see the light of day, and while diehard fans might have lost patience with the marathon trajectory, they’re rewarded here with a slew of bonus tracks and a rare early glimpse of the Green Pajamas live in concert during their formative years, their guard down and pretty much having a go at whatever inspires them. (Note the enthusiastic, off the cuff rendition of “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” and what essentially became their title tune, the lovely “Green Pajamas.”) Elsewhere, early hints of their psychedelic stance take shape with “Strange City” and “Get Away,” although for the most part, #November# reveals an outfit clearly intent on rocking to the rafters. Lead off track “Mary Magdalene” sounds like a boozy replay of the Yardbirds’ oldie “I’m a Man,” while the stomp and shudder of “The Sickless Lovers Despise,” the kinetic surge of “Temple Sisters” and the cries of “Baby go down on me” that ring through “Down” suggest that they were happiest when they were able to exorcise their primal urges. While hardly revelatory in the truest sense, November is a prize find, a curio that now seems essential to the Green Pajamas’ journey.

 DOWNLOAD: “Green Pajamas,” “Down,” “Temple Sisters”

 

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Longing For The Past: The 78 rpm Era in Southeast Asia Dust-to-Digital Records

Album: Longing For The Past: The 78 rpm Era in Southeast Asia Dust-to-Digital Records

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Dust-To-Digital

Release Date: October 01, 2013

Longing for the Past

dust-digital.com

 BY CARL HANNI

 In their first decade + of existence, Dust-to-Digital Records from Atlanta (www.dust-digital.com) has quickly moved up to the increasingly crowded front of the reissue label pack based on the audaciousness and top-shelf quality of their archival releases. Their first release was a six CD set of rare gospel recordings, packaged in a pine box with a 200 page book. Since then they have released a steady stream of high quality, high volume releases of everything from rare Asian and Middle Eastern recordings to a massive John Fahey collection and obscurities from the outer reaches of the American musical vernacular, often in multiple CD sets with lavish, fully illustrated books serving as liner notes. 

 Even considering their high standards, Dust-to-Digital might have outdone themselves with their latest release, Longing For The Past, a four CD set of 90 78 rpm recordings released between 1905 and 1966. These recordings cover traditional musics from Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Burma, Malasyia/Singapore and Indonesia. It comes with a 272 page book with hundreds of rare photos, and, astoundingly, notes on every single track, no matter how obscure, as well as several essays on the history of the industry that released them, and the countries that they were manufactured for. One can only imagine the archival research that went into such an undertaking; your typical major or indie label release looks like child’s play next to the stuff that the adults here are putting out. 

 To immerse yourself in the music on these four discs is to enter a lost world, and to come face to face (or ear to ear) with musical traditions and forms that have virtually nothing in common with the music of the West. Working with different tonal scales, instrumentation and vocal styles than we are used to in the Western world, an entire, largely hidden universe suddenly comes sharply, sometimes bewilderingly in focus. It’s a lot to take in, and is perhaps best done incrementally. I did one disc at a time, and even that is so fully loaded with otherworldly, complex and sometimes jarring sonic flavors that I pretty much had to clear my head after each one before listening to anything else.

 The selections include pop songs of the day, traditional rural music, various strains of SE Asian court or classical music and numerous selections culled from various plays, film scores, stage productions, traditional storytelling and mythical dramas. Some of this  – Gamelan music from Indonesia, Thai pop, Molam – will already be familiar to hardcore followers of music of the world, and Sublime Frequencies and Nonesuch have previous done limited releases that cover some of the same territory. But nothing that I’m aware of comes close to the vast scope and highly detailed notation on each track, as well as the essays, photos, etc.

 One of my first impressions was; has Philip Glass or Terry Riley heard this stuff? While mad diversity abounds across the whole collection, the hypnotic rhythmic patterns of tracks like “Pleng Sen Lao Na 1” (“Offering of Alcohol to the Gods, Pt. 1”) by the Thewaprasit Ensemble (1950, Thailand), “Fawn Jao Sri Oi” by Kotsanabanthoeng Paired Piohat Ensemble (1950s Thailand again) or “Lom Phat Sai Khao” (“The Wind Blows Through The Mountains”) by the Ensemble of the Governor of Vientiane (1927, Laos) eerily resemble the work of Glass and other contemporary composers; if this isn’t the building blocks of modern minimalism, then what is?

 Nor surprisingly, the more recent stuff is both a bit cleaner sonically and slightly more familiar to Western ears. Tracks like “Lam Toei Jep Saep” (“Stinging Pan”) by Molam Nuanchan and Amphon Sangachit (early 1960s, Thailand) and “Hnit Kan Pyaing Hpuza” (“Love’s Double Destiny”) by Mar Mar Aye and the Mandalay Myoma Ensemble (1964, Burma) are essentially pop songs. To go much further into individual tracks and artists is to enter a labyrinth of mind bending musical variety and historical complexity. This is SE Asia, of course: a largely rural and agrarian part of the world that flourished for a millennia before becoming the punching bag for imperialist conquests and proxy wars in the 19th and 20th centuries, culminating, in a way, with the Vietnam war and the appalling Khmer Rogue genocide in Cambodia. 

 The liner notes reveal that the world of archaic Asian music had it share of pop stars, court favorites, record moguls, major and smaller labels and the occasional scandal. Many of these artists were undoubtably well compensated and lived lives of relative ease; on the other hand, other photos from the era reveal destitute and miserable looking collections of musicians who were obviously living on the edge. Outside of the protection of various courts or wealthy patrons, musicians have historically/generally lived pretty marginal lives until the advent of recording technology turned the tide in their favor to some small degree in the last few decades. The photo record of musicians included in the book with Longing For The Past is almost as fascinating as the music itself.

 Of course the packaging and book is the same top quality we’ve come to expect from Dust-to-Digital. And the audio quality of these recordings is, generally, remarkably high. Often working off of fragile, brittle 78 rpm discs that are 70 or 80 years old, the engineers employed by Dust-to-Digital have recaptured a level of sound clarity cleaner than we have have any reason to expect. The liner notes and essays by Jason Gibbs, David Harnish, Terry E. Miller, Sooi Beng Tan, Kit Young and co-producer (along with Steven Lance Ledbetter) David Murray (he also provided many of the recording and photos) are fascinating and put the wealth of music in several historical perspectives. Not the least of this is the tales of epic hardship that the original recording expeditions had to endure to secure some of the earliest recordings; imagine hauling bulky recording equipment up the Mekong River in crushing heat in war time to areas that have never seen a European before, and you get the idea.   

 So, Dust-to-Digital have presented us with a collection that will most likely stand as definitive for the foreseeable future. For the musically adventurous, Longing For The Past is one of the ultimate musical accompaniments for armchair traveling.

 DOWNLOAD: at will.

 

THE BOTTLE ROCKETS -The Bottle Rockets + The Brooklyn Side

Album: The Bottle Rockets + The Brooklyn Side

Artist: Bottle Rockets

Label: Bloodshot

Release Date: October 22, 2013

Bottle Rockets 11-19

www.bloodshotrecords.net

BY JOHN SCHACHT

It’s easy to overlook the socio-political backdrop that fueled a lot of the best country rock of the ‘90s. The genre’s heyday occurred on Bill Clinton’s watch, and through the prism of the Bush/Cheney years afterward is often remembered as a liberal paradise.

But it wasn’t a progressive’s idyll by a long shot. Clinton the Liberal dismantled the safety net in his own way, legitimizing the very idea that it was broken in the first place. In that way, he continued the work started by Reagan and Bush the First: overhauling a welfare system that barely needed tweaking (how’d that Wall Street reform work, Bill?), sticking life-long education loan-debt on students through bankruptcy law changes, and, most perniciously, gutting the nation’s industrial heritage through NAFTA.  Oh, yeah, he killed a retarded guy in Arkansas just to appear tough on crime and become president. Pretty nasty tell, frankly.

Next to that Ricky Ray Rector, hardest hit was the heartland, where Festus, Missouri’s The Bottle Rockets’ hail from. The band took as its songwriting mill-works the dying industry towns and rural flight and collapse that they’d watched daily all around them. That was especially true of their eponymous 1993 debut and its Atlantic Records’ follow-up the next year, The Brooklyn Side. Long out-of-print, both have been reissued by Bloodshot in a 46-track double-package that includes plenty of musical extras and a handsome 40-page tribute and liner notes pamphlet.

Originally formed by singer/guitarist Brian Henneman and brothers Bob and Tom Parr, the trio was joined by drummer Mark Ortmann and played under the name Chicken Truck in the late ‘80s. The Parrs quit and Ortmann went to Nashville to become a session musician, leaving Henneman as guitar tech/roadie for his friends Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy and Mike Heidorn, who became Uncle Tupelo and soon signed a record deal. Their manager, Tony Margherita, knew first-hand that Henneman had the goods, and offered him help. Soon Henneman re-formed his old band with Ortmann on drums, Tom Ray on guitar, and Robert Kearns on bass, renaming the outfit the Bottle Rockets. 

Like Uncle Tupelo, there are overt socio-political moments on both LPs to remind us, like canaries in coalmines, what was coming down the road. Just for starters, there’s “Welfare Music,” the scalding repudiation of the notion that assistance recipients are on the government gravy train. There’s also the anti-suburban sprawl rocker “Manhattan Countryside,” and “Wave That Flag,” a damnation of rebel flag-wavers. The latter works perfectly as a bookend to Neil Young’s “Southern Man,” only maybe even more so given that it’s coming from a state with as complicated and nasty a relationship with slavery as Missouri.

But the strength of the band’s first two LPs was their portrayal of the human toll these abstract economic and political movements take on working men and women. The characters in these songs aren’t held up as saints, but their trials are often not of their own making. “Kerosene” chronicles the life-and-death of a trailer-dweller who learns the hard way the difference between (cheaper) gasoline and kerosene, but the Bottle Rockets do so in heart-breaking, judgment-free fashion. “Get Down River,” a true country gem featured here in a live radio studio version extra, rivals Son Volt’s “Tear-Stained Eye” for the best song about disastrous Midwest flooding you’ll ever hear. The Crazy Horse-like “Lonely Cowboy” connects the lone rig-hauler with his Wild West roaming ancestors, lamenting the fact that he was born 100 years too late.

But like any good artist depicting what they actually see, rather than what they want to see, the Bottle Rockets aren’t taking ideological sides — contrast the working man’s lament of the gritty rocker “1,000 Dollar Car” with the extra “Building Chryslers,” a scathing portrayal of those assembly line workers whose union job security has turned them into greedy sloths. Then there’s the Thin Lizzy-like “Radar Gun,” the tale of a local deputy drunk on the power of his revenue generator. He comes off more criminal than protector, and clearly isn’t thinking too hard about the havoc his tickets wreak in the lives of the poverty-ridden bastards who collect them. The Bottle Rockets had gallows humor about all this, but portioned it out where appropriate. Just in case you’re wondering, for example, there’s nothing remotely NYC-borough cool about The Brooklyn Side (taken from a bowling term, actually and un-ironically) — just ask the jaded, twang-hating hipster getting lambasted over the rockabilly of “Idiot’s Revenge.”

Drinking may be the most obvious escape for these down-and-outers, but the Bottle Rockets’ sober reflections makes it clear it’s not the only vice people turn to for load-lightening. The grunge-y “Sunday Sports,” with its protagonist in boxer shorts forgetting about “the wife and kids and selling auto parts,” brings to life the old saw — “the opiate of the masses” — about the new Sunday religion. Even with the topic of love and its blinding promise, the Bottle Rockets add depth to the matter. The slinky “Pot of Gold” isn’t about money, but about the rush requited love is like. And with pedal steel and fiddle lighting the way, “Queen Of the World” waltzes boozily into your heart; love certainly is having to say you’re sorry, but when “any fool can that you’re queen of the world,” it makes it a bit easier. On the other hand, the classic honky tonk of “Hey, Moon” makes it clear that love’s got a dark and lonely side, too.

Twenty years later, you come away impressed by the unfaltering directness of the Bottle Rockets’ vision as well as the band’s tightness on record. The Brooklyn Side is the more sophisticated sounding record — though the band still sounds plenty gutsy, there’s major label polish here. (The difference isn’t Let It Be versus Don’t Tell a Soul polish, but it’s noticeable.) But that’s not a bad thing, largely because the songwriting is just as tight as on the rough-and-tumble debut.

The extras are plentiful and essential for any completist, though they’ve all been out there in the internet ether for years. Disc 1 includes Henneman’s demos done with Uncle Tupelo – for anyone familiar with the Mississippi Nights bootlegs, you’ll already know how well these acts sounded together. Even more crucial are the six 1989 Chicken Truck tracks from the early incarnation of the band. Many of these show up later on the two LPs, but these raw versions emphasize the band’s southern rock, Thin Lizzy, and early ZZ Top roots, especially in the vital guitar attack of Henneman and Ray. Disc’s 2 extras are fewer, but also include definite keepers.

These two LPs still sound vital two decades later, just as the copious musician tributes and journalist essays in the accompanying pamphlet declare. Part of that comes from the fact that country rock never really goes out of style because, along with blues, it forms one of the great bi-racial strains of the music’s melting pot DNA. But it also has to do with the Bottle Rockets’ no-nonsense approach to rock & roll, and the unflinching honesty that runs through every lyric and note.

These two LPs represent the height of the band’s output, a snapshot of life in the 1990s when the country turned its back on large swaths of its core. We needed bands like the Bottle Rockets to remind us of what we were losing; we could use them again.

 DOWNLOAD: “Gas Girl” “Kerosene” “Got What I Wanted” “Lonely Cowboy” “Welfare Music” “Gravity Falls” “I’ll Be Coming Around” “Idiot’s Revenge” “Get Down River”

 

MIKAEL JORGENSEN & GREG O’KEEFE — Mikael Jorgensen & Greg O’Keefe

Album: Mikael Jorgensen & Greg O’Keefe

Artist: Mikael Jorgensen & Greg O’Keefe

Label: Butterscotch

Release Date: October 08, 2013

Mikael

butterscotchrecords.net

 BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 This second, self-titled album by this unlikely duo — their first, under the name Pronto, was released in 2008 — offers a varied tapestry of synthesized melodies, some with vocals, but most of them without. Sounding at times like a movie soundtrack devoid of an actual footage, it’s mostly a celebratory set, filled with all kinds of audio imagery and not unlike the works of Wendy Carlos, Herbie Hancock and Tomita. Jorgensen (of Wilco) and O’Keefe began working on the album three years ago but subsequently decided to shelve it until Jorgensen opted to overdub the original instrumentation entirely with keyboards.

 The resulting collection of percolating beats, celestial sounds and synthesized soundscapes manages to capture a variety of moods, adding a surprisingly light-hearted feel to what might otherwise have been deemed an austere environment. A grand, widescreen epic like “Armz” grabs attention and shows their motives, but it takes a rollicking number such as “Don’t Wait” and the triumphant tones of “Esartee” to really get things rolling, so that by the time they reach “Bizdev” their playful purposes become obvious. All in all, the pair provides an interesting diversion but really no reason to leave their day jobs behind.

 DOWNLOAD: “Don’t Wait,” “Armz,” “Esartee”