Best Lyrics: Magnetic Fields – Distortion
The album title, Distortion, refers to the Psychocandy-esque fuzz that permeates every song on this album—making it sound drearier and more hungover than anything you’d expect from Magnetic Fields. But holy bejeezus, the lyrics are a goddamn hoot. Some reviews of the album have actually complained about the lyrics in particular, citing Stephen Merritt’s ongoing “downtrodden, sad-sack schtick,” causing me to wonder if Noel Coward could very well be out of work if he was born in the 21st Century. Making mirth out of the morose is a tight market these days, apparently.
From “The Nun’s Litany”:
I want to be a topless waitress
I want my mother to shed one tear
I’d throw away this old, sedate dress
Slip into something a tad more sheer
I want to be an artist’s model
An odalisque au naturel
I should be good at spin the bottle
While I’ve still got something left to sell
From “Too Drunk To Dream”:
Sober, life is a prison
Shitfaced, it is a blessing
Sober, nobody wants you
Shitfaced, they’re all undressing
No one should listen to any Magnetic Fields album before they listen to 69 Love Songs, but for the already initiated, the sharply pained ribaldry of Distortion’s lyrics will remind you of at least one of a hundred reasons why you fell in love with the band in the first place. They’re playing two nights at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco on Feb. 28-29, and man, is it ever sold out.
Best Sonic Quality: Black Mountain – In The Future
I saw Black Mountain late last December and it was undoubtedly one of the year’s highlights. I drove down to the show in San Francisco on a complete whim and had no idea what to expect, brandishing only an ardent fascination with their self-titled debut, released three years ago.
The lights went down. The guitar amplifier billowed smoke. The drums illumined with each bass kick. The voices of Amber Webber and Stephen McBean cavorted together, intertwined, above a thundering morass. I was stupefied.
In The Future doesn’t quite capture all of Black Mountain’s hazy bombast, and its songs aren’t as classic as those on the band’s first record, but it’s a mind-transporting headphone album nonetheless that just sounds great. They’re playing at the Independent in San Francisco on Monday, Feb. 4.
Strange New Band: MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
They’re too hippie-sounding for the fixed gear crowd but they’re, like, too concerned with their own image for the stoner crowd. I still can’t figure out if I like ‘em or not. Their video, though, is an absolute work of art. So, yeah: strange new band.
Prevailing trends in World Music compilations are funny things. After Paul Simon’s Graceland, the record market was flooded with South African compilations; after Buena Vista Social Club came the glut of Cuban compilations; and between U2, Enya, Riverdance, Loreena McKennitt, Sinead O’Connor and Titanic, the ‘90s had a good ten-year run of hot-selling, yawn-inducing Irish compilations.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact genesis of the latest compilation trend, but lately people can’t seem to get enough of psychedelic music from around the world.
Whether it’s imported from West Africa (Luaka Bop’s excellent Love’s A Real Thing), Ethiopia (the crazy vibraphone sounds of Mulatu on Ethiopiques Vol. 4) or Brazil (Love, Peace and Poetry: Brazilian Psychedelic Music), world psychedelic music is super-duper hot right now. So hot, I hate to say, that lame-ass collections have started popping up under the false banner of “psychedelia,” corruptly hornswaggling us poor music hounds into chasing the diluted coattails of a trend that, barring any basement discoveries of Os Mutantes or Alla Pugachova outtakes anytime soon, appears to have run its ethno-trippy course.
Case in point: The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias From Peru, which is a very fine collection of dance bands from ’68-’78. The music, played largely by working people from poor backgrounds, is tropical and percussive, sometimes utilizing surf-style electric guitars, farfisa organs and moog synthesizers. The culmination of sounds evokes hot, dry days, dirt roads, lush foliage, and butterfly collars, and though rudimentary, it embodies the flavor of its era.
It’s pretty groovy. But is it psychedelic? Not in the slightest.
Just as film sequels are prime fodder for disappointment, music trends can industrially produce truckloads of hoppin’-on-the-bandwagon mediocrity. The difference is that it’s harder to trace the lineage of music trends, which don’t share franchise names as much as movies do. If they did, it’d be easier to sniff out the perpetrators—like if the Dave Clark Five were called “The Beatles Part II.”
But when a certain catch phrase does catch on and starts making the cash registers ring (a mixed blessing for world “psychedelic” music), you can bet your Salvadorean hookah that copycat products will line up and run the whole damn thing into the ground.
I’ll never forget the time I bought Oliver Nelson’s More Blues and the Abstract Truth, excited as all hell ‘cause I’d just discovered his flawless The Blues and the Abstract Truth album. Realistically, More Blues was a decent enough jazz album, but man, he shoulda just called it something different. Similar disappointments have plagued otherwise fine compilations like Night Train To Nashville Vol. 2, Bay Area Funk Vol. 2 or California Soul Vol. 2, all of them overflowing with weak sauce in inevitable comparison to each series’ kickass first volumes (get them now, if you know what’s good for you).
I won’t even start in on the obvious losers like Metallica’s Reload and Run DMC’s Back From Hell, or b-side cash-ins like Sufjan Stevens’ The Avalanche or Ghostface Killah’s More Fish. We’d all just get depressed. On the bright side, a small handful of sequels are warranted— Julie London’s Julie Is Her Name Vol. II isn’t that bad, come to think of it. But, you know. That was 50 years ago.