Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Alps (#9, 2008)

Head is peaking, into the clouds,
Body heavy, rooted in stone - you're The Alps.

"Labyrinths" from The Alps III (2008)

San Francisco's The Alps play more of that instrumental, cinematic, wide-screen mood music. But theirs is ethereal, dream-like and calming... like the soundtrack to an opium den. The same basic components make up most of the songs, but they're approached with different emphases. Piano, acoustic guitar, discordant but not unpleasant synthesizers, background fuzz lead, wordless vocals, xylophone.

Haven't tried this before, but I think I'm going to actually describe each song on the album. I don't think that's the strongest approach, but might as well experiment on this one.

1. "A Manha Na Praia" - A lively but quiet acoustic guitar figure, punctuated by xylophone, a bass synth drone and some zither gets layered on, some strumming eventually happens, then the edges fray. Hanging in space... like a cosmic trapeze artist, enveloped in cozy feedback. Earth recedes in the distance.

2. "Hallucinations" - Drums and bass lock in, and set the controls for the heart of low tide. Synth waves roll along, with guitar feedback and harmonious squelch riding above. A crescendo, or maybe just a slight shift in amplitude. In the open sea, does a mirage look like dry land? The night wind moans in sympathy, the barometer drops, and a storm of noise gathers. By morning, your raft is almost gone.

3. "Cloud One" - A slow acoustic strumbeat, then a descending line on piano. This sounds like a song. Slow, and the drums seem to be dragging it slower. Fuzz guitar solo below, or is it synthesized? The piano is growing insistent, but its legs are caught in the splashy cymbals.

4. "Trem Fanstasma" - Synth cicadas buzz occasionally, a bass guitar bullfrog croaks in the distance. Piano, xylophone and voice come out on the patio to enjoy the night air. It's peaceful and cool outside. The conversation is pleasant and relaxed. More wine?
[Great video.]

5. "Labyrinths" - The rhythm moves out, another descending piano line, a bed of subtle electric psych guitar, then the squelchy synths. The foreigner is in Italy on business, but he'd rather not go into specifics. No, he'll carry the case himself. A nod to the shady local that's been loitering around the hotel lobby all afternoon, who leaves immediately. The Embassy? Why, it's only a few blocks from here.

6. "Pink Light" - Wait, what? Two minutes of super-restrained Borbetomagus - saxes blow freely and intertwine amidst the reverberation. I'm not sure what happened.

7. "Echoes" - Now the synthesizers are intertwining, speaking in squiggles and bloops. A moaning woman intervenes, perhaps making peace. Or maybe trying to disable the irritable cybernetics. It never gets out of hand though, because they're in a silicon house of worship after all.

8. "Into the Breeze" - Like "Cloud Two." A slow acoustic strumbeat, then a descending line on piano. This is definitely a song. Slow, but the drums are trying to arouse it to wake. The piano and guitar respond, arising from the large pillows they'd reclined in - putting away the long pipe stem.

I can't believe I'm not finishing the 2008 Top 10 before October! How am I going to do the other eight 2000s before 2009's round-up?!

How to Download Internet Music

So, I recently remembered my own trial-and-error lessons in getting to that sweet, sweet internet music. Services like Rhapsody and Amazon and iTunes make it easy on everyone - because you're paying them to. But when you go out and get it yourself, there's a learning curve. So, here are a few tips - for what it's worth!

1. You've got to put the music somewhere. Somewhere on your drive, all the music's stored together. Probably in some nested folders under a root/library folder (something like "iTunes Music" under /My Music/iTunes/...). Most of the time, the next level will be Artists (or Compilations or Soundtracks or Unknown). Then, usually separate folders for different Albums, and the song files are in those folders.

The point is that you'll sometimes need to create new Artist and/or Album folders so the downloads and resulting files go someplace useful. Sometimes unpacking the download will create a new Album folder, and you'll have an extra level. Clean it up before Importing, or don't worry about it.

2. By far, the easiest are the Single-Song/File downloads (like Thru Black Holes Band or a lot of record labels. Just Right-Click the file link, and choose "Save Target As..." Navigate to the correct location (creating new folders with the Red Firework Folder button), change the filename if you want, and click "Save." Repeat for all the files/songs you're taking...

3. Sometimes a site might offer you the whole thing directly, but other times you'll be sent to a 3rd-party service (MegaUpload, MediaFire, and RapidShare are the big ones). Be wary of anything foreign or not ".com" - and generally consider the source of the link. Once there, Click or enter the generic info ("Free User," text-ID graphics, not your SS# or e-mail password), maybe wait for them to prep - then you'll finally Click to Download. Same as above: pick the location and "Save."

4. Most of the time, you'll be downloading a single folder that's been compressed for faster d/l. If the files are ZIP'ped, you should already have a default program to handle that (PK-Unzip). Just Double-Click the .ZIP file, and a window will pop up with the contents. Then drag/copy them where you need them, or whatever - it's pretty intuitive.

More commonly, you'll be getting a .RAR file - which is just a different format. You'll probably need to install a new program to unpack the files (either PeaZip or WinRAR). If double-clicking the .RAR file doesn't open the new program, you can set it up in Control Panel/Folder Options/File Types tab (for RAR files), or just Right-Click and choose "Open With..." Regardless, you're going to be Extracting the folder or files - probably into the same location where the .RAR file is.

Another thing these programs make easy is very large sets of files. If you download multiple related .RAR files (usually with "part.#" extensions), just opening the first one will recognize the whole series and Extract everything out together. Like freakin' magic!!

5. So, now you've got your all-new .mp3's - just Import the folder or files into your listening library (iTunes, whatever). That should be a control button, or at least in the program's File drop-down options. Or select the folder/files out of the player program, whatever you're normal playing process is. Enjoy!

[I didn't cover either Torrent downloads or FLAC files, but I'll do that sometime pretty soon. Maybe next week...]

The Audiobelisk

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Funky Lagos

The last couple of years have brought us an embarrassment of riches from Nigeria. Now you'd be forgiven for expecting me to start with Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock & Fuzz Funk in 1970s Nigeria, but no! It's awesome, but the right place to start is the recently re-released comp Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of 1970's Funky Lagos (2001).

"Kita Kita" (Gaspel Lawal) from Nigeria 70: Definitive Story

This was the grandaddy of the 21st century resurgence of West African genre compilation series. It has all the best western rock- and funk-influenced bands that litter the other records here (BLO, Ofo, Monomono, The Funkees), the big Afrobeat names (Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade), consistently high quality and diversity. And it's a double-CD on the cheap! "Kita Kita" (embedded above) is probably my favorite single song from them all. If those 7 songs don't convince you... I, I just don't know.

The follow-up comp Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump, Original Heavyweight Afrobeat, Highlife & Afro-Funk (2008) is a worthy successor, but a little heavy on Highlife. The main pop form of modern West Africa for decades, it's frenetically polyrhythmic party music. Hate to sound at all ungrateful, but I do prefer the more directly rock- and funk-inspired stuff a bit. Still, it's got plenty of terrific stuff - like Peter King's very smooth jam "African Dialects."

"Kenimania" (Monomono) from Nigeria Rock Special

Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock & Fuzz Funk in 1970s Nigeria (2008) - love these names! This is everything I assume that you want to hear: African rhythms, chanted vocals, psych guitar leads, rubbery basslines, rattly organs. These Soundway Nigeria Special collections are more focused than the Nigeria 70 ones, and this one has an almost garage-y edge. Still it is funky and rockin' good fun! Really it's a toss-up between The Definitive Story and this, so get both to be safe.

"Take Your Soul" (Sahara All Stars of Jos) from Disco Funk

Moving later into the '70s, next up is Nigeria Disco Funk Special: The Sound of the Underground Lagos Dancefloor 1974-1979 (2008). Time to get down! There's still some '70s rock influence, but more often it's horn charts and boogie rhythms. Good stuff all around - Bongos Ikwue & The Groovies, one great Joni Haastrup song also on The Definitive Story, and hard-driving potential themesong "Lagos City."

Finally, there's the double-disc set that got Soundway back in the Nigerian comp business, Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues (2008). It's got your random great songs, your Highlife icons, and more Monomono and The Funkees. So, it's not all Highlife and Juju - but I'd start with the others and build up to this massive collection.

Nigeria Special
Warning: This stuff is addictive. It's good music, it's fun to listen to, it's kind of cultural, but it's in recognizable styles that you might already dig.
So dig it!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Personal-Style Top 10 Film-Makers

Picture the scene. I wanted to do a movie-related Top 10, and decided on directors (since I'm a firm believer in auteur theory). But I didn't want to just have a standard list of the usual towering giants that everyone turns to. Plus there were names that kept lingering around, but for different reasons...

So, I decided on three different lists, but that's too much for one post. So this is the first in a trilogy. Here we have my own Top 10 directors, excluding what I consider the usual suspects. Next up will be exactly those - the Top 10 of mega-icons. Then finally, my Top 10 of shame: directors that I know I'll like, but that I've only seen one (great) movie each. And that I'm going to make an effort to dig into further.

Links are to Wikipedia, the Internet Movie Database, and some 3rd place - the most interesting I could find. Then a list of the movies I like, or at least remember enjoying in the (sometimes distant) past. The one in bold is extra special, and it's linked somewhere too. Then some other nonsense.

Miller's Crossing
1. The Coen Bros. [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
Joel Coen (b. 1954) / Ethan Coen (b. 1957)
Blood Simple (1984), Raising Arizona (1987), Miller's Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), No Country for Old Men (2007)

Man, the Coen Brothers made a lot of amazing movies, especially when you consider how many are genre exercises mixed with dark humor. Miller's Crossing stands out because the gangland's so original, the humor's more subtlely hilarious, and the cast is phenomenal. Finney, Polita, Turturro, Buscemi, even Gabriel Byrne. Up to this century, even the Coens' underestimated ones are all excellent!

2. John Sayles (b. 1950) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
Return of the Secaucus Seven (1980), The Brother from Another Planet (1984), Matewan (1987), Eight Men Out (1988), The Secret of Roan Inish (1994), Lone Star (1996), Silver City (2004)

Secaucus 7 was the pre-Big Chill, but I liked it on cable even back in high school. I personally admire Sayles - working his way up from writing horror schlock, developing independently, staying true. I even bought his book! Matewan is one of the best left-wing movies ever made, and was probably as influential on my early political thinking as the Dead Kennedys. Altman-esque in his handling of large ensembles, his feeling for humanity, and in sticking to his vision.

3. Terry Gilliam (b. 1940) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Time Bandits (1981),
Brazil (1985), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), Twelve Monkeys (1995), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

I've liked Monty Python, and Gilliam carried that anarchic feel at least through Munchausen, with decreasing silliness. Brazil deserves all the respect - DeNiro bit part!! It's lyrical, harrowing, funny, and eternally topical. Twelve Monkeys always seems underrated to me, maybe because the cast is more big-name than expected for such a sci-fi head-trip. If only he'd been able to make the Watchmen movie...

4. Sam Peckinpah (1925-1984) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
The Wild Bunch (1969), Straw Dogs (1971), The Getaway (1972), Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), Convoy (1978), The Osterman Weekend (1983)

I literally just learned that Osterman Weekend was Peckinpah - another mid-'80s cable-tv staple. Wild Bunch is one of the greatest westerns. Straw Dogs is a gut-wrenching revenge fantasy. McQueen and MacGraw together in The Getaway (plus Struthers and Slim Pickens). But Alfredo Garcia distills all of Peckinpah's ideas about manhood, honor, violence, love, hopefulness, hopelessness, and liquor. The doomed quest of a downtrodden man, like the movie itself, like the director himself.

Harold & Maude
5. Hal Ashby (1929-1988) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
Harold and Maude (1971), The Last Detail (1973), Coming Home (1978), Being There (1979)

Harold and Maude - so misunderstood. It's a youth culture film that tells the young not to get all hung up with their navel-gazing. It's a comedy with a lot of suicidal tendencies. It's a romance between a young man and an old woman, with plenty of opponents to voice their hearty disgust. It's light-hearted until it makes you feel strongly about these people. Don't get hung up. The rest of Hal Ashby's movies all have wildly different feels to them, but he was an effective professional.

6. Sidney Lumet (b. 1924) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
12 Angry Men (1957), Fail-Safe (1964), Serpico (1973), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976), The Wiz (1978)

Talk about someone who knew what he was doing. Every Lumet movie I've seen has been great, and I've only seen a small portion. Serpico, Dog Day, Network - that's a murderers row of '70s classics. But 12 Angry Men is simply one of the best ever. (I'm showing my left wing again, right?) Henry Fonda bankrolled it, and he wants to make sure you get the message. Be a decent person, a good citizen, stop being a jerk and a racist. America's depending on you, jerk.

7. John Frankenheimer (1930-2002) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Seven Days in May (1964), Seconds (1966), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

Seven Days in May will always be overshadowed by The Manchurian Candidate. But Rod Serling wrote it! JFK allowed filming in the White House for the first time! It's got Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas! It's about a possible fascist military plot to overthrow the kind, liberal president... (I'm doing it again, huh?) Anyway, Moreau is the most unintentionally hilarious film since the heyday of Ed Wood.

Spirited Away
8. Hayao Miyazaki (b. 1940) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001), Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

No politics in Miyazaki - well, except for the environmentalism in Mononoke. But Spirited Away is the best, a truly surrealistic Alice-in-Wonderland tale with even darker currents. The parents-turned-to-pigs-for-slaughter and demon-bathhouse-slavery themes might not be for the kiddies, but it did win an Oscar.

9. David Lynch (b. 1946) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
Eraserhead (1977), The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984),
Blue Velvet (1986), Wild at Heart (1990), Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Speaking of extremely weird scenarios, David Lynch made this one movie... or many. The Elephant Man is probably the place to start if not already into Lynch. It's a pretty serious, good movie. Eraserhead is just completely insane. And Blue Velvet is about the collision between a serious, good boy and a completely insane man. It goes surprisingly quickly from extremely disturbing horror to eminently quotable comedy - within the movie and as a whole.

10. Ridley Scott (b. 1937) [Wiki ~ IMDB ~ Misc]
Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Legend (1985), Gladiator (2000)

Although Gladiator was good, I still think Babe should have won the Oscar. Alien successfully kick-started sci-fi/horror as a legit genre. Great movie, but I wish it had been Blade Runner instead. Then we would have had 30 years of serious Philip K. Dick-inspired sci-fi head games set in film noir dystopian futures. Instead of Species or whatever...

Little more epic that I planned. More Berlin Alexanderplatz than Lawrence of Arabia! Next up: the heavy-hitters.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tom Carter & Christian Kiefer (#8, 2008)

These are the folk songs generations old everybody knows but somehow the tradition the common sound have broken down in respectful tones improvisational drones a new generation now.
Doo-dah, doo-dah.

"Camptown Races" - From the Great American Songbook (2008)

Tom Carter was in Houston pysch heavies The Mike Gunn during the early '90s. Then he followed up with the prolific Charalambides - quieter, folkier, more ambient, droney and feminine (and originally with Kyle Silfer). More recently, he's played in a variety of line-ups: solo, side-project/super-groups like Badgerlore, and one-off duos/combos.

Christian Kiefer seems to have furrowed similar ground, maybe a bit more traditional Americana but still on the edge. He (and others) received some NPR coverage for their one-song-per-president 3xCD project, and for a late addendum song for Obama. If I'd been paying attention to that, I wouldn't have been quite so surprised when Pitchfork reviewed the duo's 2nd album, From the Great American Songbook (2008). And positively!

From the Great American Songbook
Other than Beyond the Wizards Sleeve, this was the toughest to get ahold of, but I'm glad I didn't just download from iTunes. For one, the packaging is really super-fancy - with a separate cardstock liner notes insert for each song, written by such avant and folk luminaries as Tony Conrad, Sharron Kraus, even Byron Coley! Maybe it seems like I'm putting off discussing the music. I am.

It's hard for me to tell if I would really recommend this to too many people. It's folky, but not all mellow. It's droney, but rarely ever noisy. There are some drums and some vocals. It's all "covers" of old-timey popular songs, but they're hardly recognizable since they're mostly guitar-duo-plus improv. But to me, it's really amazing - to listen to intently, to drive around with, to have in the background. The whole thing is so fully-formed, well done, and just feels really right. It truly transports me - your mileage may vary.

I specifically chose "Camptown Races" because it's neither the most instantly catchy tune nor a death blues drone, and more typically instrumental than rhythmic or vocal - so I thought it was a good representative sample. Kind of a hub that the album's diversity could rotate around. See why it took me a week to move on to #8 of 2008's Top 10??

Indricothere Everywhere

With "Indricothere," you've got two ways to go:

A. The shredding Technical Blackened Death Metal solo project from Colin Marston - of Behold... The Arctopus, Dysrhythmia and Krallice (with Orthrelm/Ocrilim/Mick Barr)...


B. The 20' tall extinct megafauna that was a mash-up of rhinoceros, giraffe and dinosaur. The largest-ever land mammal!

If so, you should check out this hilarious video, made even funnier by the after-market Japanese sub-titles. It features computer-animated projectile birthing, computer-animated fresh-kill pooping, a vicious giant scavenger-hog, a horse-monster that grazes from the treetops - so you know it's from the BBC. Unfortunately, since this is Miocene Mongolia, no elephant-sized ground sloths (S. America) nor ridiculously chandelier-antlered elk (Europe). I love how they treat it like a real documentary - night vision filters, lens flare, even the film crew "disturbing" the big baby's sleep at one point.
So awesome.

Might have to get this series on dvd!

Legal Music is Fun and Free!

What does the word "corndogs" make you think of? The State Fair? Roadside frydaddy joint on the family vacation? Intestinal distress? Wrong!

The one and only correct answer is: "History Lesson - Pt. II" by the Minutemen.

Now, if that lesson was old news, maybe you thought of Corndogs, the ramshackle Mike Watt-related website. Great! Because it has a bunch of downloadables. The "full concerts" link brings up a good index - I count 9 for the Minutemen, plus later acts' stuff. But the whole place is worth exploring, to the extent that you get into it. The "odds and ends" section also has Minutemen stuff, like the vinyl-only tracks from one of the greatest records of the '80s (Double Nickels on the Dime). Also, the Lucky Sperms (Watt+Sonic Youth) 7" of Daniel Johnston and Beatles covers. Videos also for the d/l.
Get it!

(Damn) This Desert Air is no Minutemen - then again, who is? (Not too sure about those parentheses, nor about the New Jersey desert air...) But still, I saw them offering their debut EP (2007) at the StonerRock HQ and gave it a try. FOR FREE. It's really more like alternative music - maybe Stoner Lite? I dunno, but you can sort out whether you want it for free at the (parenthetical) bandname link, or take a look at this:

(D)TDA - seriously - has some connection with Exploding In Sound, which seems like a decent enough place, blog, live show organizer. And they (the band) are pushing their (the blog's) newest comp. It's apparently the third in a series, "Future Legendary," and it's 19 tracks of Free. As are the 1st two in the series: "Bands You Need to Know 2009" (from Feb) and "Recession Rock Revival" (May). You can stream 'n' sample all the tracks here.

I just discovered the comps part today while putting links together, don't think I even recognize any of the bands, but I'd bet there are a few worth checking out. Let me know if you find anything monumental - and I'll do the same.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Three Who Would Jam

These full lists and post lengths are getting a little out-of-control. So, I think a set of shorter, genre-specific collections are in order. (Plus, I'm really digging the video-making part...)

These are three jambands that might not be on your standard jammer radar (no usual suspects here). The Yellow Moon Band is more sunny and hippy. Causa Sui is more spacey and kraut-y, but with bongos and free saxophone... and Tia Carrera is more Texan and heavy ("freestyle metal" - think Earthless).

"Polaris > Chimney"
The Yellow Moon Band (UK)
Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World (2009)
Also available: "Maybach"

"Sun in June"
Causa Sui (Denmark)
Summer Sessions, Vol. 1 (2008, OOP)
Also available: "Red Valley" (from Vol. 3)

"Heaven" [edit]
The Tia Carrera (Austin, TX, USA)
Heaven/Hell EP (2007)
Also available: some live jam.

Five Comics Artists For Taking Serious

I fully realized four of my 15 books were comics-related, but I didn't really want to throw out a bunch of art (yet). Was going to do a list of 10, but it would have been way too many images - so maybe later. At any rate, here are 5 artists from the comic/strips world that should be universally known and beloved. For the art at least...

1. Winsor McCay (1867-1934)
Ancient cultures, uncovering impressive remains of still more ancient cultures, often attributed to their predecessors a superhuman stature.
The Comics Journal: Top 100 Comics of the [20th] Century (#5)

Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905-1914) was a psychedelic smorgasbord, a weekly Sunday newspaper strip (printed on a full page), and one of the finest artistic achievements of the 20th century. No lie. I'll have to restrain myself, because of this treasure trove of McCay-nia. I mean, wow! The space adventures, the dreamworld comrades, the riot of creatures, cities and palaces, the holiday celebrations - and (being dreams) always with the chasing and the falling. And always with the crash back to reality...

[Click each image for magnify-able super-size!]

4/30/1911[The "treasure trove" also has Nemo's predecessor Dream of the Rarebit Fiend and George Herriman's Krazy Kat - TCJ #1!]

One hundred years ago today: Sept. 26, 1909

Not only that, but McCay was also an animation pioneer (1914)!

2. R. Crumb / Robert Crumb (b. 1943)

The giant of '60s underground comix, Crumb started it all with Haight counterculture landmark Zap (TCJ #80) - and was also a pioneer of the realistic autobiographical comic, both alone and on Harvey Pekar's American Splendor. He continued to pollute the world with his crazy ideas, painful self-awareness, thick-legged women, and increasingly amazing technique. (The bizarre scenes, the emotional impact, the detailed cross-hatching!) The original highbrow/lowbrow art nexus, he continues to work on comics, album covers, and like The New Yorker. Resentful of his most famous work, Crumb has moved to France, where he now sketches old buildings. Seriously.

[Click images for super-size and more!]

A Short History of America
The Future???
PKDI Remember the SixtiesThe Little Guy that...
The documentary Crumb (1994) is also well worth checking out.

3. Chris Ware (b. 1967)

The new guy on the block, Chris Ware is the creator of the Acme Novelty Library (TCJ #17, 1993-), a series of art-object books published in different sizes and formats. Each issue contains a variety of content - ongoing stories, gag strips, fin-de-siecle design pieces, crushingly elaborate diagrams, robots, whatever... Ware's justifiably considered one of the most innovative artists in quite awhile. The book-length collection of Jimmy Corrigan stories is a must-own.

[Click images for magnify-able super-size!]

Writers on WritersAcme Novelty Library

4. Jim Woodring (b. 1952)

Jim Woodring tells surrealistic dream-logic stories of funny animals (silent) living in a harmful, nightmare world - where geometric shapes coalesce into abstract, organic forms that come alive as sidekicks. Architectural creatures and monstrous buildings, where terrible eyes menacingly watch, and Manhog might interrupt your nice picnic. Frank (TCJ #55) is the adventurous buck-toothed whatsis, kind-hearted and timid in a bizarrely unpredictable environment.

[Click image to magnify!]

You can also get a regular dose of stuff like this at Jim's blog:

Another Sickening Joke

5. Jim Steranko (b. 1938)

Sure, maybe Jack Kirby should be here instead, but The King's in every list or essay! Kirby did experiment with pop-art collage, but Steranko brought a whole new level of artiness to the game! Like Chris Ware, his work (actual covers/panel-lined pages) fits within a story or can stand alone. Especially when Nick Fury (Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.) went from WWII Howling Commando to psychedelic James Bond.

[Click images for super-size or something!]

Today Earth Died!

That last one I actually used as the basis for a Pong flyer. Nice, huh?

Black Metal Classics
Two Hunters - WITTR

Two Hunters
Since I've seen fit to make mockery of Black Metal song names, I figure I should set the record straight. Admittedly, I'm a dabbler - a "tourist" - in Black Metal, not at all hardcore. And I think there's no better starting point, introduction to the genre, than Wolves in the Throne Room's Two Hunters (2007).

So this one's for those not ready for True Norwegian Black Metal - like Darkthrone's influentially grim production, or Immortal's frostbitten anthems of the iceworld Blashyrkh. Wolves in the Throne Room (WITTR) are American (USBM), live out in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, and promote some sort of pagan ecological consciousness. The music is easier to get into because of the quieter intros and interludes, some ambient sections, significant dynamic and tonal shifts, relatively clear production, even operatic female vocals. But it's still basically Black Metal - despite both their and uber-kvlt BM fans' protests.

And yes, on the cover, that's a person in corpsepaint and ceremonial robe, kneeling in front of a giant tree root (or something). The logo is also pretty typical of Black Metal - symmetrical demonic pattern made from the letters in the band name, but barely legible even with some effort.

Track 1: "Dia Artio"

2: "Behold the Vastness and Sorrow" (pt. 1 / pt. 2)

3: "The Cleansing"

4: "I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots" (pt. 1 / pt. 2)

The vinyl double-album adds an extended version of "The Cleansing" and an otherwise unavailable song "To Reveal." They've released an EP and full album so far this year. Both worth checking out if Two Hunters leads you to follow down this dark and terrible path.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Been looking for a good reason for this one...

Zombi is a synth/drums duo, now from Chicago, who play horror-soundtrack-inspired neo-prog instrumentals. Great as it sounds! Due to the band name, they're mostly identified with Italian horror soundtracks - specifically Goblin's work for Dario Argento. But the biggest influence I hear is John Carpenter's synth work for his own films. Tangerine Dream gets brought up so much in interviews, that I'm looking forward to checking them out too.

So far, I like all the records. The first couple of EP's are the most derivative, with shorter "sequences." Cosmos (2004) and Surface to Air (2006) start introducing a bit more proggy epic-ness, Cosmos probably being my favorite... just barely. The newest, Spirit Animal (2009), is really epic - bringing in the whole multi-part suites and even guitars!

This is them performing live about a month ago, in their former hometown Pittsburgh. The song is "Infinity" off their OOP split-EP with Maserati (2009). It's their only one with an extended drum solo, but also their only video I could find. This song was playing on my iPod when I got in the car today - and while driving home, I was actually wondering if they ever played it live. Weird!

You can also stream this year's full album, Spirit Animal!

And... Zombi will be playing two more shows this December -
pack yer bags!!

12/18/09 ~ Santo’s Party House ~ New York, NY
12/19/09 ~ Johnny Brenda’s ~ Philadelphia, PA

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The 'Small' Big Star Discography

O my soul, Big Star. I was going to start the Tier 1 discographies with Hüsker Dü, being the biggest challenge. But with my recent acquisition of the Feel (alternate mix)/Mod Lang (unissued single mix) 7", and the recent 4-CD boxset - Big Star it is! [Note: the Pitchfork review originally said "nonsense-language backing vocals," but has since been corrected.]

If you're not already a big fan, the boxset doesn't seem like the place to start though. How about a combo-CD of the first two albums?!

#1 Record
#1 Record (1972) 9/10 - One of the greatest rock debuts of all time, and the only Big Star to include co-guitarist/singer/songwriter Chris Bell. Some people might say there's a weak song here somewhere, but they are wrong. This is the sound of major Beatles fans ('65-'66 esp.) nailing down an entire genre: power-pop. "Thirteen" manages to be simultaneously nostalgic, vulnerable and funny. "In The Street" would be covered by descendents Cheap Trick for That '70s Show's theme. The rockers ("When My Baby's Beside Me," "Feel") rock hard. The ballads ("Try Again," "El Goodo") are tender. Everything is in the right place - how did this fail to connect? And it only gets better!

Radio City
Radio City (1974) 10/10 - One of the greatest rock albums of all time, and this time it's all Alex Chilton songs. It takes the #1's ante and raises all-in. Opening with atypical funky butt-rockin' "O My Soul" (at top), it strings together highlight after highlight. The songs are all excellent, and played with a reckless joy that constantly threatens to explode - or implode. Almost literally perfect guitar pop! (Brilliant album cover too.) "Back of a Car," "She's A Mover," "I'm In Love with a Girl," "Mod Lang," "You Get What You Deserve" - all beyond reproach. And of course, the acknowledged pop masterpiece,
"September Gurls":

3rd or Third/Sister Lovers (1975/1978) 9/10 - Speak of imploding. That reckless joy? It is now crushed - by label incompetence, by band member defections, by commercial failure, by popular indifference. The band was over by the time anyone could get their 3rd released. And Chilton is angry, bitter, sarcastic, and sometimes despondent. The songwriting's still there, but the rock songs are now just nasty, the ballads practically suicidal. And their cover of the VU's "Femme Fatale" ("Elle est une femme fatale") fits right in.

So many tunes missing from YouTube, but I guess we're getting somewhere anyway. Just one among many excellent songs - "Kangaroo" brings in sonic experiments that basically prophesy Wilco. In fact, the drumbreak parts of "Via Chicago" always remind me of this song.

I've never bothered to get any of the posthumous live records, nor the reunion album, In Space (2005). I'd go see them live if they came to town, but it's not a priority. Big Star was in the '70s. One record definitely worth mentioning is the literally-posthumous Chris Bell solo collection I Am The Cosmos (1992). It's well worth getting, after the band albums. The title track is heart-breaking. I was going to call "Speed of Sound" an undiscovered gem, but apparently it was recently used in a movie.

As I mentioned in the original Bookshelf post, the Spin Alt Record Guide originally hipped me to Big Star. Just for full credit, two albums are in their Top 100 list.
Radio City at #7
Third/Sister Lovers at #56
Couldn't have them tying the Velvet Underground, now could we?

Hilarity Ensues: Phil Hartman

Today's the birthday of Phil Hartman (1948-1998).

Cult of Phil Hartman
Phil Hartman did a lot of stuff, but it all came together on Saturday Night Live. That late-'80s/early-'90s era was a true heyday. Second only with respect to the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players, maybe. I'd say Hartman lead the way. He did a lot of impressions (Reagan and Clinton), but how many people could make a sketch like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer funny? Maybe no-one else, most certainly no-one on SNL these days. I don't use the word genius lightly. But if such a thing exists, Phil Hartman was a sketch comedy genius.

From The Pee-Wee Herman Show, to NewsRadio and The Simpsons, he was always a low-key, second-line standout. From all accounts, as both a performer and writer. Anyway... for my money, the pinnacle of Phil Hartman is The Sinatra Group. This was the day we attacked Iraq, and Sting played a song instead of doing a monologue. He's great as Billy Idol, it's got Jan Hooks, Chris Rock, Mike Myers... Maybe it's because I already watched The McLaughlin Group weekly, and thought it was already hilarious. But this one gets my vote for Best SNL Sketch - Ever! A tour de force.

[Click to see at Hulu (sorry) - where it's not so tiny.]

Also, it's deeply satisfying that Joe Piscopo does. not. approve.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Radical Cover Art!!
Almaron - The Mike Gunn

Tom Carter: "Heeeyy! You got metal in my psychedelia."
John Cramer: "You got psych in my heavy metal!"

The Mike Gunn's Almaron (1993) was the Houston band's final release while together, their best and a double-album. The cover begged the question: "What's going on here?" Many such questions, actually. Most obviously, what's a pastel pink-yellow-blue cover doing on this monolith of heavy-psych? Is that craft landing, ditching, escaping those black waves? Is that an ancient aeroplane, or some futuristic/alien vessel? Can it be real?

Almaron was going to be the 2nd album cover in this series, but I would have considered other alternatives. Until I realized how rare the image is on the internet, especially at anything bigger than 200x200. Same with general info on such a great band. Plus, it's just plain cool-looking. So here we are.

The Mike Gunn tribute to Houston's Dry Nod:

The "sleeve" is credited to Reign of Toads, which I'm going assume includes the actual cover. A little research revealed that to be a contemporary zine, run by one Kyle Silfer. His credit for "percussion" and old Pik n Pak gig posters sealed the deal. Plus, there's his open admission to doing it, in RoT's Mike Gunn reviews.

One final thing to include in this collection of Gunn-ania. Gunn-algia? A mostly positive 1994 review from the Houston Press. I'm pretty sure the "Bullinga" quote is incorrect. I've always heard, "They ain't no kind of virtuosos" - which to my mind makes more sense than "virtuous souls."

Well, that and early (young!) The Mike Gunn, playing "Liska"
(with YouTube comments guest appearance by John Cramer) ~

Foreshadowing! The Mike Gunn reunited in 2007 at Rudyard's, and I attended, getting to meet Tom Carter - the subject of an upcoming post!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Shichinin mono samurai

In Japan, the guitar can be used like a knife...

Walter's on Washington
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Presented by Pegstar

Been looking forward to this show since it was announced. Mono is bringing their film-score-esque post-rock, kicking off their US tour in Houston! There will be quiet, sad-feeling passages, which explode into passionate crescendos. Songs will flow glacially, then rise in fiery triumph. Guitarists will be seated, audience members might weep openly.

[Back from show...]
They were really terrific! Don't have the energy to go into too much detail... But after the mammoth coda of "Ashes in the Snow," I turned to Mike and said I thought the bassist was going to transform into Kim Gordon. During the quiet build of a later song, he turned and said, "This would be great at Pompeii." Away from the pristine audio of Albini's studio, the live sound brought out a different side of Mono. The quiet parts were even more spare (no orchestra), with a definite Gilmour sound to some of the guitar. And the explosions were much noisier, confidently striding into Sonic Youthian territory. And sometimes noisy Floydian territory as well.

The bassist played xylophone to open "Ashes," and the drummer and a guitarist both played them later - that's a lot of xylophone! The bassist and drummer played keyboards at times. The guitarists both played Strats through Fender amps, the bassist an SG through a Sunn - it sounded good, like a real band. I think I expected a more 'perfect' sound, but I liked what I heard better. (Except for the crowd, which was lousy with jackasses...) "Pure as Snow" never stood out so much to me on Hymn to the Immortal Wind as it did live. One of the best songs they played!

They'll be ending the tour in Austin in just a few weeks, with tour opener Maserati. Hmmm...
Either way, Maserati's headlining at the Mink on the 19th!!

Hymn to the Immortal Wind
[The next day...]
I regret nothing!! Thought I was getting a cold yesterday, but was feeling totally good by showtime. Now, not so much.

Couple of more impressions: The lead guitarist sure kept that pick moving. I'd never connected it with Black Metal's favorite technique, tremolo picking. Just without the grim distortion, or lizard-demon vocals. The drummer used a sizeable variety of sticks and mallets, including some hefty sticks that sounded unique and exotic - and looked like nunchuks. They were huge, but actually sounded more delicate. The band was certainly a stoic bunch. Not that I expected a lot of joke-cracking, but beyond getting really into the playing, they remained a bit distant from the audience. I guess no mics and sitting down play a part.

Can't believe I hadn't noticed Mono live recordings at the Archive! Setlists don't seem to vary much from show to show, the NYC one in May looks about the same. That's the show on the 1st video above. (So far, the Sheffield show has the best sound of the recent ones.
"Lotta chicks though.")

Mono - LIVE!

[Houston Press 'review' placeholder moved down...]
Way more tasteful than Explosions In The Sky, far more skilled arrangers than Envy, Japanese post-whatever band Mono make remarkably heavy 11-minute suites that are less about abusing dynamics and more reveling in cinematic textures. Dainty, icy arrangements make Mono's lastest mutation, Hymn to the Immortal Wind, a delicate blend of Ennio Morricone and Isis.

Free Samples Music Video

On the Free Music posts (1st and 2nd), I didn't think to supply anything to check the music out first. Since it was for free and all... But I realized that my brief descriptions might not say much - or enough. So, here are 4 videos I threw together.

The Caretaker
"memory six" and "memory seven"
Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia (2005)

Thru Black Holes Band
"Smoking Glass Wreckage of the Alien Octopus Face"
Smoking Glass Wreckage of the Alien Octopus Face (1992)

"Ever Thus to Deadbeats"
The Map Is Not The Territory (2009)

maudlin of the Well
"Rose Quartz Turning To Glass"
Part the Second (2009)


Monday, September 21, 2009

UFO & Supermarionation

Just bought the DVD set of Gerry Anderson's UFO series (1970-71). He made a lot of television shows for kids in the United British Kingdom of England. But I've always wanted to see this one based solely on the show's intro. Groovy!

Gerry Anderson is mainly known for the dubious innovation of Supermarionation - science-adventure puppet action!

1960s theme songs and titles are go! There was:
Supercar (1961-62)
Fireball XL5 (1962-63)
Stingray (1964-65)

The most famous - Thunderbirds (1965-66):

And then the comedowns:
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-68)
Joe 90 (1968-69)

After the switch to live action, and failure of UFO, Anderson struck gold again with Space: 1999 (1975-78). Which I remember watching at my dad's house on those '70s weekends... [alternate opening]

Finally if you watched any of those videos at all, you must check out Peter Cook & Dudley Moore (Not Only... But Also, 1965-66).
Insanely hilarious!

Extending the non-music streak to 2 posts! Ex-cel-lent.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A List of Books That Stick With Me

Another Facebook list activity - for 15 books "you've read that will always stick with you." Without thinking about it too much.
Here's what I came up with...

[Title links go to most relevant review/article available.
Authors link to official site, or whatever I could find.]

Vonnegut, Dick, McCay
1. Galapagos - Kurt Vonnegut (1985)
The first Vonnegut I read, back at 16 or 17 - and still probably my favorite. Vonnegut became my go-to author at some point, and 20+ years later, he seems like an old friend or a cool uncle. This one has a perfect cast of defective characters, with a message that we are only what's in our genes. Especially when random disasters strike, and the future of humanity boils down to a shipwrecked and haunted cruiseliner. The root of my interest in popular science, specifically evolutionary theory.

2. VALIS - Philip K. Dick (1981)
The magnum opus of all psycho-religious meta-fictional auto-biographies. Unlike the rest of Dick's impressive body of science fiction, the author plays two parts (both himself) winding through his own memories of paranoid freakdom in '70s California, and of early-Christian paranoia in the 1st century Roman Empire. The gnosis beamed from an alien satellite drives Horselover Fat to process itself via compulsive graphomania, and he meets a child messiah through some psychedelic exploitation film-makers.

3. Little Nemo: 1905-1914 - Winsor McCay (2000)
The art is simply amazing, more amazing that it was produced on a weekly schedule, and more amazing still that it was printed full-page in newspapers around the country for a decade! The adventures in Slumberland progressed from strip to strip, each of which ended the same way - with Nemo awaking to his parents' annoyance at his boistrous sleep patterns. The art is huge, super-detailed and impressionistic, concrete images drowned in surrealism. With a little boy in pajamas running amok within (and with) the environment, everyone speaking in the most cramped speech balloons imaginable.

Ware, Spin, Hofstadter
4. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth - Chris Ware (2000)
One of the most beautifully designed and brutally sad comic stories around, collected from the Acme Novelty Library series. Three generations of James Corrigans live extremely human lives, full of disappointments, mistakes, and regrets. There are moments of sweetness too, but they always fade away (or self-destruct). The baroque turn-of-the-century-design style, newspaper-strip-abstract characters, and idiosyncratic obsessive-compulsive diagramming, all create a completely unique and affecting book.

5. The SPIN Alternative Record Guide - SPIN magazine (1995)
This book (now OOP) lead me down a number of paths I would otherwise have missed (or at least been delayed finding): Big Star, Have Moicy!, John Fahey, Nick Drake, and specific albums (post-Tago Mago Can, Eno-era Bowie). Despite lots of errors, it's a good reference book - fun to flip through and find something new or familiar. As always with Spin, Byron Coley's writing sticks out like a broken thumb caught in a peepshow coin-return slot.

6. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid - Douglas R. Hofstadter (1979)
What a weird book. You can breeze through some of the conceptual stuff, even when it's talking about the nature of human intelligence, conscious thought, and self-awareness. M.C. Escher and Alice In Wonderland are familiar enough to handle. Then you hit Bach's "The Art of Fugue" and "The Musical Offering," which is somewhat comprehensible... Then you're straight into set theory and Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem and higher theoretical math - and it's time to start the last chapter over. Despite (or maybe because of) the occasional difficulty, the process itself is thought-provoking, which makes you think about whether the difficulty is intentionally provoking thoughts about the thought-provoking difficulty, then you realize you're stuck in a reflexive cascade of self-referential loops. Which is like the core theme of the book.

Arendt, Dawkins, Morrison...
7. The Human Condition - Hannah Arendt (1958)
When I was trying to become a scholar, studying individual political action, this was all new to me. Getting through the dry, academic language of political theory, it breaks down to a whole book about how (and why) we do what we do defines politics and our humanity. The Labor-Work-Action ladder has always stuck with me. Also, Arendt was "a hip, hip lady" - leaving Martin Heidegger behind in Nazi Germany, hanging with Mary McCarthy's crowd, covering Adolph Eichmann's trial, coining the concept of "the banality of evil," and being an all-around intellectual icon.

8. The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution - Richard Dawkins (2004)
More science-y than The God Delusion, more action-packed than The Selfish Gene, this passes on stories using an oral-tradition-as-genetic-evolution metaphor. As we roll on back our evolutionary family tree, we meet our ancestor species and hear their stories, which illustrate different concepts of Darwinian evolution (natural selection, genetic processes, descent with modification). Things move briskly enough to make learning fun! Well, if you like the science readin'...

9. The Invisibles series - Grant Morrison/various (1994-2000)
There's a war going on, behind the scenes, and our universe is the front line. Technically, our physical universe is a manifestation of the intersection between two opposing realms - the Invisible College (committed to liberation and individuality) and the Outer Church (archons of enslavement and conformity). Of course to win, it will takes a freedom fighter/terrorist cell of: a mystical fetish spy-assassin, a female cop from Bed-Stuy, a Brazilian transvestite brujera, a psych-ward patient from a possibly-fictitious future, and a high-school punk who's probably the Buddha for the current age. Conspiracies are true, your irrational fears are justified, everybody is in on it, but no-one knows. BARBELiTH

10. The Turner Diaries - some nutjob bigot, 1978 (Don't go here!)
I thought I understood the ugliness of what racists thought. Man, was I ever underestimating them! Some of the most cliched prejudices are expanded to ludicrous extremes. New fears and hatreds are unearthed. And some of the most ham-fisted writing ever is committed to beatiful, pure, white, glorious, blank paper. Ruining it forever with disgusting black ink words, and creating a mud paper of mixed-up ideas and scary-crazy bitterness and rage.

From HellAnd the final five:

11. Outside the Dog Museum - Jonathan Carroll (1991)
Like the pulp magical-realism author, the more digestible Gabriel Garcia Marquez - I like most of his books about the same. This one for personal reasons.
12. If on a winter's night a traveler - Italo Calvino (1979)
The most fun you can have with experimental fiction. (They're all Chapter 1's!) I like some of his other books better, but this is where it all starts.
13. Travels in Hyperreality - Umberto Eco (1995)
Not tied down to a narrative and formalism gambits, Eco lets loose with tons of crazy ideas - mixing up comic book superheroes, the Middle Ages, universal myths, modern technologies, and drags all his obsessions to one syncretic party.
14. The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World - Thomas M. Disch (1999)
Lots of concepts here too, about how so many modern ideas take root in and are influenced by science fiction before being exported to reality. Goes well beyond "Arthur C. Clarke invented the geosynchronous communications satellite."
15. From Hell - Alan Moore/Eddie Campbell (1999)
Staggering in its vision, scope, and depth. The research! The footnotes!! Jack the Ripper executing ceremonial sacrifices - on royal orders - to bring about the modern age? Or something... It's so obvious! Plus, he solves the Ripper's identity - maybe...