Check out this track listing for Bettye LaVette’s upcoming album of all British rock songs, due out May 25. Traffic, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Elton John. It’s kinda weird, but in a good way. Who decides to cover the Beatles, and picks “The Word”? Or covers the Stones, and picks “Salt of the Earth”?
At least she’s finally properly releasing her version of “Love, Reign O’er Me,” the show-stopper from The Who’s Kennedy Center tribute that was requested so many times from some dude in the front row when I saw her live that she had to kiss the guy on the lips to shut him up.
1. The Word (John Lennon/Paul McCartney)
2. No Time To Live (James Capaldi/Stephen Winwood)
3. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Bennie Benjamin/Gloria Caldwell/Sol Marcus)
4. All My Love (John Baldwin/Robert Plant)
5. Isn’t It A Pity (George Harrison)
6. Wish You Were Here (David Gilmour/Roger Waters)
7. It Don’t Come Easy (Richard Starkey)
8. Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCartney)
9. Salt Of The Earth (Michael Jagger/Keith Richards)
10. Nights In White Satin (David Hayward)
11. Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad (Eric Clapton/Bobby Whitlock)
12. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (Elton John/Bernard Taupin)
13. Love Reign O’er Me (Peter Townshend) [BONUS TRACK]
There are reasons we like finding new places to play in Sonoma County. The jolt of the unchartered, the claim of presence, the raising of the flag. I relish the potential for disaster as much as I hope for the best—either way, it’s exciting. Los Caballos is a Latin dance nightclub in the old Shakey’s Pizza building on Cleveland that usually hosts tejano and salsa bands and, in at least one case, Latin Hyper, a fresh reggaeton band from Santa Rosa. This video is my favorite example of a normal night at Los Caballos, starring Los Vaquetones del Hyphy, a band in matching blazers, potleaf shirts and gasmasks who toss out free T-Shirts and Tecate before busting into their set. (“These dudes are clowns,” translates the comment.)
The turnout tonight at Los Caballos for StarSkate’s CD/cassette release show was encouragingly good. Hopefully the owners are down to have more indie shows, scratching their heads though they may be at the style of music foreign to their stage. Especially thrilling is that, like the North Bay Film and Art Collective, they’ve worked out an all-ages situation where those over 21 can still drink. It’s what I saw once at the Green Room in Tempe, Ariz.; a barricade running down the middle of the room, which isn’t nearly as awkward as it sounds.
Before StarSkate played, A Pack of Wolves turned in a great set on the nice, short triangular stage, flanked by a ‘Viva Mexico’ drum kit and pictures of Che Guevara on the wall. Is it just me or have A Pack of Wolves gotten extremely good in the last year or two? When they first started playing shows, I couldn’t shake a feeling that they were trying a little too hard to glom onto the dance-punk trend of the day, but seriously, they’ve really grown into their own. Cesco ended the set by announcing, “Thank you for watching us suck!” and then, off-mic, “That was our worst fucking show.” The tantrum was unwarranted; they played in this zone of professionalism made awesome by good new songs.
I last saw StarSkate at a house party on New Year’s Eve so crammed that their shadows on the ceiling were more visible than the band itself. To see them beneath nightclub cage lighting makes a big difference. They ruled. Similar to the compact sets pioneered by Universal Order of Armageddon, they play one uninterrupted 15- or 20-minute song, even when they need to change bass cables. There’s an unpredictability in StarSkate’s music, residing somewhere between planned and improvised, lit by a torch being passed from jazz to hardcore and back again. Their own description reads like the liner notes to a Strata-East album: “The band is currently studying the sacred science of sypathetic vibration theory,” it reads, “and experimenting with bending universal wave patterns to determine the qualitative form of mind and matter.” The Los Caballos crowd—including a couple old hippies, one burly bro with his thumb bandaged up, and some amused-looking staffers—were into it.
Also, here’s to the continued lifeboat for cassette tapes! I was at a Gilman show in January and I swear, four of the five bands that played were selling tapes. A friend of mine recently called it “the hipster calling card,” and yeah, it’s a trend. It’s one I can fully back. I’ve chronicled my love for tapes here and written about the thrust to make tapes in the 21st Century here, and I still get stoked when I can buy a new cassette. Five bucks for the StarSkate/BvP split, quick and easy, and how ’bout that artwork?
Los Caballos isn’t the only unusual place StarSkate is playing. Next weekend, they play this all-day thing with a zillion bands—another DJ N Front of a Coffee Shop JamSessions show—inside the Hall of Flowers at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds! No joke. If there was, oh, any information about it at all online, I’d link to it, but
as it is you’ll just have to somehow osmose the details from the universe, man. (Update: here’s a flyer, with no date. It’s Saturday, March 6th.)
When I was younger and prone to making grandiose claims based on whim and late-night conversation, I theorized, as teenagers do, that all love between two people must eventually run out of perpetual motion and die. The only problem, I thought, was that one person always notices it before the other.
Joanna Newsom’s Have One On Me is a long, tedious breakup album disguised as an “epic” breakup album, and for a lot of reasons, mostly musical, I can’t like it so far. (Context: I think Milk-Eyed Mender is total genius.) I listened to all two hours of this new record, in its plodding, turgid, formless non-glory, twice in a row. Then I opened the lyric booklet and listened again.
“On a Good Day” is such a wonderful piece of poetry that I have to quote it in full:
Hey hey hey, the end is near!
On a good day,
you can see the end from here.
But I won’t turn back, now,
though the way is clear;
I will stay for the remainder.
I saw a life, and I called it mine.
I saw it, drawn so sweet and fine,
and I had begun to fill in all the lines,
right down to what we’d name her.
Our nature does not change by will.
In the winter, ’round the ruined mill,
the creek is lying, flat and still;
it is water,
though it’s frozen.
So, ‘cross the years,
and miles, and through,
on a good day,
you can feel my love for you.
Will you leave me be,
so that we can stay true
to the path that you have chosen?
(The only problem, I thought, was that one person always notices it before the other.)
“On a Good Day” is one example of why people are saying that this is a more “accessible” record than Newsom’s first two, and I get what they mean, i.e. everyone can relate to heartbreak lyrics. But heartbreak lyrics are everywhere. I assert that a huge contingent of her fans loved Milk-Eyed Mender precisely because they couldn’t relate to the lyrics. Milk-Eyed Mender was such a left-field Oxford-English-Dictionary masterpiece, begging to be analyzed and untangled—and deciphering that puzzle brought a lot of people together (“Sadie is a dog?!”).
For most of Have One On Me, the songs feel unnecessary, their only purpose to fill space, like bad food. I appreciate the way it was recorded—uncompressed, and very “live” sounding—but very little of it compositionally jumps out as vital. Is that the point? “I am so deflated by love’s death that I can only wheeze?” If so, indulgence (!) and the Joni Mitchell comparisons can stick. Tiny little blues inflections creeping in to her phrasing, too, another sign of caution, though owed more to we’ll-have-a-time Hank Williams.
There’s just no valid reason for Have One on Me to be as long as it is, and if making a tape for the car, I’d whittle it down to…
Good Intentions Paving Company
On a Good Day
Soft as Chalk
Does Not Suffice (In California, Refrain)
…mostly for thematic reasons. For the last song on the entire set, the magnificent “Does Not Suffice,” a gigantic death-ending closes the album after the warmest Newsom gets to a fuck-you stanza; it’s refreshing because she plays the innocent what-went-wrong I’m-so-confused role the rest of the time (the female role, tiredly, that fits most listener’s narratives of a breakup album by a woman). Finally, she fights back and walks out amongst predatory noise. Bonus track would be “’81,” because of its melody. Other than that, what went wrong? I’m so confused.
From the garages and bedrooms of the Bay Area to the swank jazz lounge! Saturday kicks off the Dan-the-Automator-curated Audio Alchemy series at Yoshi’s, giving you a chance to strap on your rumpled suit you haven’t worn since high school prom and check out all the dudes you loved in Scratch. This weekend brings jaw-dropping innovator DJ Q-Bert performing with fellow Invisibl Skratch Pikl DJ Shortkut, collaborating with Adam Theis and the Jazz Mafia All-Stars with MARS-1. (Feb 27; Starts at 10:30; $20.) And get this—it’s not in the concert venue. It’s in the restaurant and cocktail bar!
Ten years ago and half a mile mile away, most of these DJs made a name for themselves at the Justice League on Divisadero, a no-frills smelly hard-drinking and smoking place that’s now the Independent. So it might feel a little weird to be witnessing the don’t-give-a-fuck style on the faders in the snazzy environs of Yoshi’s, sure. But several years ago, Kid Koala somehow convinced the hip-hop heads to sit down and be polite for his dinner theater performances, so maybe it’s not that strange after all.
Even more to the point: Hip-hop is basically the new jazz, and it’s awesome that Yoshi’s has been hosting a ton of hip-hop shows lately. De La Soul, Talib Kweli, Foreign Exchange, the Pharcyde, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Mos Def. Some early birders have complained that the shows start too late—midnight, in some cases—but in my experience, that’s when most hip-hop headliners go on anyway. Cut out the local DJ amateurishly blending “Peter Piper” breaks into “Ballroom Blitz” for way too long and get to the meat, I say.
Oh! Right, the series. Audio Alchemy sees the likes of DJ Q-Bert (Feb. 27), Dan the Automator (Mar. 13), Kid Koala (Mar. 27), Mixmaster Mike (Apr. 10) and Chief Xcel (Apr. 24). More info here. In related news, Wave Twisters is still the greatest scratch album of all time.
Sasha Grey, the 21-year-old porn star with avant-garde tastes—she reportedly digs Throbbing Gristle, Werner Herzog, Faust and Jean-Luc Godard—is set to release her first full-length album.
Grey’s experimental noise project aTelecine released their aVigillant Carpark 7″ last year on Pendu Sound (I wrote about it here), which was limited to 300, sold out quickly in preorders and then started selling for way too much on eBay.
In April, Pendu Sound will release the debut full-length LP by aTelecine called A Cassette Tape Culture, limited to 500 copies. Based on the mp3 sample, it’s actually pretty rad, believe it or not. Pre-orders are being taken now. (No word yet on the cassette version, which is limited to 23.)
The best part about this is all the horny old men who’ll be listening to abrasive clatter just because it’s made by Sasha Grey. How the hell can the most famous porn star in the world also be putting out noise cassettes? Ah, what a world we live in.
In other news, the Yellow Swans‘ new and final album Going Places is totally amazing. It might not be for everybody, but it matches my brain waves right now. You can stream it for free, on the Type Records site, here.
For this edition of On the Stereo, we welcome friend, musician and all-around talented freethinker Devon Rumrill. Drummer for the great hardcore band Archeopteryx, Rumrill is also beloved for his staggeringly creative electronic productions under the name Little Cat. I’d been to Devon’s house many times and noticed a disparate, unordered collection of records piled all over the place—records I’d either never heard of, or records so completely mundane that I’d have been challenged to discover in them any redeeming value. Most of them had $1.00 stickers on the cover.
I wanted to sit down with Devon and talk about records, because he’s entirely autonomous when it comes to generating opinions. Devon finds qualities in the world that you and I would normally miss, and so I asked him to have ready some of his favorite records he felt were underappreciated or unknown. We hung out for about an hour in his garage studio last week around the turntable, listening to and philosophizing about music, and the result—it’s really long, I warn you—unfolds below, with tangents into Cattlemen’s, the Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest, Michael Phelps, the AFM Recording Strike and the fact that mullets will always be ugly.
Included in the musical roulette are records by Groupoem, Mark Wetch, Saga, Tomita, The A’s, Gerry Hemingway, Mr. Oizo, the Peace Ringers, the Yeryabka Ukranian Folk Choir, Black Randy and the Metrosquad, Armed Forces, Jr. Chemists, Les Seldoms, the Inflatable Boy Clams, Attila the Stockbroker and Spitballs. Read on…
Groupoem – What You See Here, Hear Here, Say Here, Stays Here When You Leave Here
CSI: There’s a song called “The Frank Sinatra of Misery”?
D: And “Drink Beer ‘Til It Hurts.”
CSI: Also, “Why I’m the Roast of Beef.” These songs are all less than two minutes long.
D: And they’re awesome. I bought this at Saks Thrift Avenue, which as you may or may not know is the most old-ladyish of all thrift stores in Petaluma. It’s one of the best things I have. I haven’t listened to it in a long time.
CSI: What’s the hit?
D: “Drink Beer ‘Til It Hurts.” I think they just had a crazy guy with a microphone. One of those things—they couldn’t find a singer, so they just got a crazy guy instead, totally off from any tempo, really.
CSI: This is really incredible.
D: When I found it, it felt like a miracle had happened. Amongst all these Christmas records and shitty scratched Lionel Richie LPs, I find this.
CSI: Is he saying “I am… invincible?” This guy is just freestyling, really.
D: Yeah, they were like, “Dude, just get in there and scream some crazy stuff.”
CSI: Where are they from? Have you ever Googled them?
Saga – Images at Twilight
D: This band is called Saga, and they are awesome. They’re kind of a proggy Tenacious D, except real. Really, really good, and excellent. And check the cover out. It’s a horde of alien insects destroying a future city.
CSI: That’s New York! The Chrysler Building, the Empire State building, and the fuckin’ Twin Towers! The Twin Towers are being destroyed on the cover of this record.
D: This is prophecy, dude. This was made in 1979. This entire record is the jam. Whether the songs are funny, or good to listen to, it’s a mix. It’s good, it’s so good, I love this.
CSI: Now, see, I’m laughing at this, and you’re jammin’ out to it.
D: I’m laughing and jamming at the same time. See, that’s the thing that people don’t understand about my taste in music. I can find something to be retarded, and ridiculous, and silly—but then another part of me really appreciates it just to listen to it. It makes me happy to hear it, and that’s all I really need from music. It’s making me laugh, but I like this! It’s poppy, and it’s got a tinkly little keyboard, and it’s got this goofy man singing these funny things over it.
CSI: Do you think that in the last 5 or 10 years, music has gotten too intellectualized? Like there needs to be some meaning attached to music for people to enjoy it—there needs to be a concept story, or there needs to be some intellectual stamp of approval?
D: No. I don’t think so. I think that people are really confused right now because they’re so inundated with so many different types of things. Everything feels a little more watered-down in that respect.
CSI: A lot of times people get told how they should appreciate music. What’s of more concern to me is not people being told what to appreciate but how to appreciate it. No one can just say, “It fuckin’ rules, I like it, it makes me happy.” Like you just did—“It makes me happy.”
D: It has to be qualified by other things.
CSI: Yeah, exactly. Like, “Saga emerged from a very regressive prog-rock movement in order to blaze a new trail, infusing elements…”
D: I know what you’re talking about.
CSI: It’s always gotta be put into some context, it can’t just stand on its own.
D: A lot of my friends do that shit, and I just say fuck it. ‘Cause all the stuff I seem to like, no one else seems to like, and it’s always been that way. I don’t really care, man, I just buy a million $1 records, and sometimes a little magic happens. Like Saga. And I’m happy. That’s all I need. It doesn’t need to be contemporary, it doesn’t need to be something that’s already been approved. I’d rather it be something I’ve never heard of, and that maybe kind of sucks, but I want to find the thing that’s good about it.
CSI: Here’s something: three out of the five members in the band play moog.
D: See, that’s a lot of why I like this band. The synthesizers. Shit yeah, dude. No doubt. This kicks ass. So good. I like that dramatic thing, that over-retardedness. When they really ham it up like this, it’s so entertaining! And they know that! That’s why they’re doing it! I know everybody I know would probably think this is lame. Because it kinda is, if you qualify it. But I don’t see it that way. It’s technically amazing, and at the same time it’s really goofy and silly because it’s over-the-top. But it’s fun. I was into indie rock stuff for a long time, and it just bored me after a while. I wanted something fun. Also, this is non-pretentious. That’s the thing.
CSI: And they’re flaunting their non-pretentiousness.
D: Yeah. That’s all good, just being retarded, and I love it. Do you know Isao Tomita?
Tomita – Kosmos
CSI: This record is called Kosmos, with a K. He’s doing “Concierto de Aranjuez,” Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite.”
D: This dude was a pioneer in electronic music and nobody knows who he is.
CSI: I’ve heard of him.
D: But you worked in a record store, so of course you’ve heard of him! He’s not usually mentioned, and he’s awesome. All his records that I have are all really amazing. The way they’re mixed is really impressive, and he has a lot of different instruments. And back then it was a lot harder to do this sort of thing.
CSI: Check out his entire wall of keyboards, with plug-ins, and envelopes, and VCOs.
D: And you probably get two sounds out of that whole thing.
CSI: The way that records like this get incorporated into music today is through modern disco music and club music.
D: You mean like being sampled and shit? It’s true, but I mean, you lose all the dynamics. You have to listen to the whole record. That’s the thing about his stuff. There’s always these cool transitions, and weird explosions of sound. Where’s that A’s record you pulled out?
The A’s – S/T
D: This shit is so good.
CSI: They’re in leather jackets on the cover. One guy looks like Ric Ocasek, one guy looks like Johnny Ramone, one guy looks like Corey Hart, the other guy looks like Boy George.
D: They were kinda trying to bridge the gap between the new wave / punk fad at the time. But the record has a really good momentum, it just rocks. It’s just a great rock record. Again, it’s one of those ones that has a little bit of a goofy delivery, but the end result is just hella good.
CSI: For some reason there’s a typewritten label on the cover that says, “LISTEN TO ENTIRE ALBUM.”
D: Because, you gotta fuckin’ do it! I was like, dude! Yes! That’s true! You do have to listen to the whole thing, because it’s all good. That’s why you have to listen to the whole album. That’s why somebody fuckin’ typed that out on a typewriter back in 1980 or whenever.
CSI: That sounds like some fuckin’ kind of Smashmouth organ, though.
D: Don’t say Smashmouth! That’s fucked up! This is the ’70s and you’re comparing it to Smashmouth?
CSI: It sounds a lot like the Smashmouth version of “I’m a Believer.”
D: Fuck that. Trying to compare this shit to Smashmouth. Dude! It’s one of those records where you can feel that they had a lot of energy when they made it. It comes through in all the songs. It’s got that total schoolboy punk rock feel to it. You could tell these guys, this was their first major-label album, they were gonna fuckin’ do it, they were super into it. It’s kind of somewhere in between punk rock, glam rock and a little bit of new wave.
CSI: It’s incredible. It reminds me a little bit of that band you were in for one night, what was it called? Hoss? Boss Hog and the…?
D: Jim Jim and the E-Town Boys?
CSI: Jim Jim and the E-Town Boys! Which was, like, rock with a lot of passion and energy, and had no compunction about needing to be taken seriously.
D: It was definitely a joke band.
The A’s – A Woman’s Got the Power
D: So there’s a chick in a bathing suit with milk. “A Woman’s Got the Power.” Which isn’t a great song. This album is a little more, you know how a band, their second album sometimes, if they can’t keep the momentum going, it just gets kind of muddled? Maybe they got overproduced or something?
CSI: They overthought the recording of underthought songs, generally. That’s the second album problem. Also, they got rid of their leather jackets, and some of them are wearing white jeans.
D: Yeah. They got money. They felt entitled. Oh, this is terrible.
CSI: This is also, like you said, the first record you ever bought on eBay. How much did you pay for this record?
D: On the strength of their first record, ten dollars.
CSI: Ten dollars?
D: Yeah. Maybe less. This song’s pretty good.
CSI: This makes me want to fuckin’ win the Olympics. Remember when they asked… who was the swimmer who got busted for weed?
D: Michael Phelps.
CSI: They asked Michael Phelps what he listened to to get pumped up, and he said Lil’ Wayne, “I’m Me.”
D: Really? Lil’ Wayne? To get him pumped up?
CSI: That’s what he listened to before he competed in the Olympics.
D: That is surprising to me.
Mark Wetch – Ragtime Razzmatazz Vol. 2
D: We don’t really have to listen to this, because it just sounds like some old-timey bullshit. Ragtime Razzamatazz Vol. 2! On the Mighty Kroger! Cattlemen’s. “Played With Great Success.” What the fuck? Who puts that on the front of their record? “Played with great success?”
CSI: Mark P. Wetch does. Did you ever see him play at Cattlemen’s?
D: No, but I went to Cattlemen’s and I got a lobster there. ‘Cause that’s the place you go to get lobster.
CSI: Do you know anything about Mark P. Wetch?
D: No. Wait, you know shit about this guy?
CSI: He came to Piner High School once and gave a ragtime demonstration for the band class. He explained to us all about ragtime, what it was, played it for us. I believe, this piano that is on this record, he intentionally left out in the rain or something to get that classic old-time ragtime piano sound. The hammers all hardened from the weathering. That’s why they have a harder attack on the strings.
D: Do they have pads on the hammers, or is it just wood?
CSI: Sometimes people would put thumbtacks in ‘em to get this sound. He definitely does not perform at Cattlemen’s anymore.
D: So sad. Was he a regular performer there?
CSI: Every Wednesday night!
D: Played with great success.
CSI: I also heard they got rid of the bean girl.
D: Really? They had a banner up not too long ago that said “The Bean Girl is Back.” So… that’s exciting news? What the fuck is that, and it sounds really sexist.
CSI: You don’t know about the bean girl?
D: No. Does she have to wear shorts?
CSI: I’ve never been to Cattlemen’s, but I think it’s like the milkmaid girl, who walks around with buckets, or barrels cut in half and filled with beans, sashaying table to table, and she’s like, “How ’bout some more beans, big boy?”
Gerry Hemingway – Solo Works
D: I was trying to find this record for a long time. It’s really fucked up. This came through my in-laws, some weird jazz records they had. Some experimental business, I believe. Let’s rock out to this now.
CSI: I’m not sure if that’s the desired reaction from the composer.
CSI: Rocking out.
D: Yeah, no. But I’ll call it that. Active listening is rocking out.
CSI: It’s from 1981, and it’s dedicated to Baby Dodds.
D: Baby who?
CSI: Baby Dodds was a great early, early jazz drummer, he was the first guy to ever release solo drumming records. They were records where he played drums for a while, and then talked about a drummer’s place in jazz, and then played drums a little more, talked some more about drums.
D: That’s cool. This shit is like, a sample record. It’s got a lot of negative space.
CSI: I’ve got a lot of records like this, and I find myself listening to them a lot at night, and generally when I’m frustrated. Do you have an emotional state that draws you into listening to records like this?
D: I rarely listen to records like this. Probably because I don’t have more than one of them. But if I had more, I’d probably listen to them.
CSI: Records form Creative Arts Ensembles, and songs that are drawn out in this Anthony Braxton, we’re-making-up-our-own notation…
D: Exactly. I like this kind of thing. That’s what I’m saying. Make it up as you go. Make a record of you doing what the fuck he’s doing right here, do that. Do that and make a record of that.
CSI: And sell one copy.
D: That’s the problem with this world, is we don’t have more shit like this happening.
Mr. Oizo – Transexual
CSI: What the hell is that?
D: This is badass, it’s a Mr. Oizo record.
CSI: Who’s Mr. Oizo?
D: Mr. Oizo is a dude who, I don’t know if he’s French, but I think he lives in France. An electronic music guy. He initially got famous because he did a few ads for Levi’s jeans with this puppet, and he wrote a song, basically this one little looped song that this puppet would dance to in a car, and that was the entire ad. And the song was really badass. His most recent album is a little more club-worthy, but most of his other stuff is very cut-up sounding, plus samples and things.
CSI: This is 2007. “Contains a sample of ‘I Don’t Know What a Transsexual Is,’ dedicated to Wendy Walter Carlos. It’s hard to imagine playing this in a club and filling the dancefloor.
D: See, I would dance to this. I’d be all, “What the fuck is that? I’m gonna go dance to it.” I need to be confused before I’m motivated. Same with movies. I like them so much better if I’m confused. That means the movie outsmarted me, and then I’ve got some work to do.
Peace Ringers – S/T
D: My next selection for you is Peace Ringers. This is a record with bells, and I love it. It’s a bunch of girls with bells, and gloves on their hands. They’re cute. And they fuckin’ rule. This is authenticity. And awesome.
CSI: This is a stock cover you find on a lot of privately-pressed albums from the ‘60s. You’d make your master tapes, and send them to, like, Century Record Co., and they’d say, “Okay, which of our five or six covers would you like?” This was one of the options, and they’d print the title on with rub-on lettering. Are they from a high school or something?
D: Maybe. They look pretty young. Let’s see… Orange, California.
CSI: “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”
D: That’s vague. I like the way bells sound, I’ll tell you that much. DING-DONG!
CSI: Let’s listen to “Plink, Plank, Plunk,” first song on side two.
D: Shit yeah, that sounds like a winner. Oh yeah, this one’s a jammer.
CSI: It must be hard to be in a bell ensemble. It’s like if you got six people together to play a guitar, and everyone was just assigned one string. There’s some actual dissonance in this tune. Have you ever considered being a Salvation Army bell ringer?
D: Fuck no. Why would I do that?
CSI: You said you loved bells.
D: Yeah, ones that sound good. I don’t see a cow with a bell around its neck and go, “Ooh! That sounds awesome!” No, no, no.
CSI: Okay, what about the annual cable-car bell ringer competition? You ever see that on the news?
D: That, I know nothing about.
CSI: They’ll be like, “Alright, this year Lamont Johnson won the bell-ringing contest,” and they’ll cut to this guy going apeshit on the bell, just like DANG-DANGY-DANG-A-DANGY-DANG-DIGGY-DIGGY-DANG-DANG-DANG-DANG-DIGGY-DIGGY-DIGGY-DIGGY!
D: Do you have to do tricks?
CSI: It’s one bell, and you have to beat out the most compelling rhythm on it, I suppose.
D: So you have to be the most creative with one fuckin’ bell?
CSI: It’s great.
D: I like that competition. That’s simple. Kick ass with a bell.
Yeryabka Ukranian Folk Choir – S/T
D: This is some Russian shit, and it’s fuckin’ depressing and beautiful. Some of it is just traditional, but I like how Russian music has this weird thing where even the happy songs have this undercurrent of cold sadness somewhere in the background. You know?
CSI: Because they don’t have democracy.
D: It’s just hard there. Like this song is called “I Am Pretty, So Pretty,” but it’s kind of a morose song in a way.
CSI: This is on Melodiya, the Russian record label. There was only one record label in the U.S.S.R., run by the state, and they determined what the citizens of their country got to listen to. Can you imagine? We’re all pissed off about the Live Nation / Ticketmaster merger, whereas Russia for decades had one record label.
D: It could always be worse. Here’s “A Plank of Willow Wood.” This song really affects me a lot, it’s just real, you know?
CSI: Wow. She sounds like she just watched her husband get killed.
D: Yeah, it comes through. There’s some hard shit in there. I don’t know what she’s saying, but still.
CSI: It’s the blues of Russia. God, the timbre of her voice is incredible. Wow. How can a plank of wood be this harrowing?
D: Maybe there’s a body on it.
CSI: Lets hear “If the Violin Did Not Play.” It better be sad. Hey, this song’s happy! Was everything backwards in Russia in 1974?
D: Maybe so.
Black Randy and the Metrosquad – Pass the Dust, I Think I’m Bowie
D: This is a record that came through my uncle’s record collection that I inherited when I was 12 or 13. He had all these awesome weird records that nobody would normally buy, because he was into weird shit. I didn’t really like this record except for the “Shaft Theme” cover, but I just busted it out again because I couldn’t remember what the rest of it sounded like. It kinda jams. It’s not bad.
CSI: Wait a second! Those were intentional wrong notes on the bass! Listen to this again. And here: “Violation of copyright is punishable by five years in jail, $10,000 fine, or Islamic-style booty dismemberment.”
D: Booty dismemberment?
CSI: They will dismember your booty if you make a copy of this. If I’m not mistaken, Dangerhouse is the label that put out X’s first 7”, “Adult Books.”
D: It’s a little muddled in theme. But I don’t know. It’s okay.
Armed Forces – Let There Be Metal
D: Look at that cover! It’s a skeleton with a flamethrower!
CSI: It looks like D.R.I.’s “Violent Pacification.”
D: It’s all painted with tempera paints. I’m sure it sucks, but look at these dudes. Let’s listen to it. You wanna hear the song, “Let There Be Metal?” It better be good if they’re gonna call it that. You can’t call a song that and have it suck, but watch it suck.
CSI: Here’s something that happened in the ’80s that doesn’t happen now: Old guys in bands being worshipped by teenage girls.
D: Like Huey Lewis? The Huey Lewis band? Some band like that would never be popular now.
CSI: I mean, this guy on the back here looks like he’s 40. Right?
D: I think that these dudes are young. It’s just that now, dudes who look like this are old. So we can’t see earlier pictures of them and think of them as being young. I think these guys probably were about 23.
CSI: “Let there be met-aaaaal!”
D: This is some local band quality. It’s so half-assed. It’s just dumb.
CSI: “Give us metal, shout and scream. Metal rules, it has been deemed. So turn it up and crank it loud. Stand by metal, and be proud.”
D: “I wrote this at recess.”
CSI: Where’s that record you said was very special?
Les Seldoms / Jr. Chemists – Arizona Disease
D: I think we should listen to the whole thing. Jr. Chemists, as you can see, have an awesome drawing. “Building a Fort,” “Spooky Cooties,” and “Busyworms.” And then we got the Seldoms, “Native American,” which was probably the best song. So we should start there. This made me and Sean lose our minds with joy. I’m so glad that a record of this existed.
CSI: Even though “french fries” does not rhyme with “real.”
D: It doesn’t. And it doesn’t matter. This helped me realize you can just make music with whatever, it doesn’t have to be some serious shit. You can just have your friend bang on some drums, and then you can play some guitar kind of crappy, and sing something funny, and then somehow, that makes music and people will listen to it and it’s okay.
CSI: People who are a little bit older than us, that’s how they explain the first time they heard the Ramones: “It made me realize that you didn’t have to be talented to make great music.” But actually, the Ramones sounded really good. They were talented, they were recorded really well, and the songs were concisely written pop songs. But this…
D: This is bare bones. It’s not trying to fit in with some genre.
CSI: It’s not even trying to fit in with itself. It’s its own non-sequitur. Do you know anything about these bands, where they were from?
D: I wonder if they were from the Pacific Northwest, because that’s where my uncle lived and I got this from him. Further proof that he was by far the coolest person that ever lived in my family. This is like some Beat Happening stuff, bands that were K Records-ish. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is Pacific Northwest.
CSI: The vibe I always got from Olympia and K Records was they took really stupid stuff and reappropriated it into something that was cooler than you will ever be.
D: Isn’t like, the total hipster thing to do to take something retarded and make it the coolest thing ever? Like, grow a mullet and be like, “My mullet is the coolest mullet in the world”?
CSI: Yeah, take something that’s been discarded and rejected by society for not being cool anymore and resurrect it.
D: You know, the ironic T-shirt thing, ironic haircut thing—ultimately I think it really just has the same effect as the thing they’re making fun of, personally. You have a ‘hipster’ mullet, but it doesn’t matter ‘cause you have a mullet and a mullet sucks. You know? You “re-contextualize” the mullet, but it fuckin’ doesn’t matter ‘cause it looks like ass.
CSI: Yeah, but the “art” of the hipster is keyword: art. And art is about context. Unfortunately. Art is about context as much as it is about the thing that the art is.
D: It’s true, ‘cause context is kind of what defines meaning in the world.
CSI: But it’s too bad you can’t just look at a painting and be like, “Yeah, that painting’s rad, I like it.”
D: I can do that. Why can’t you do that?
CSI: I do. But you’re not allowed. You have to have some reason why. It’s kind of what I was talking about earlier.
D: Fuck not allowing. People think they’re not allowed, but they are allowed! You and I do that, so what’s the big deal?
CSI: I think that people get schooled or instructed in how to appreciate things all the time, from art appreciation classes, to jazz appreciation classes, to music criticism these days, which seems to be one giant indie-rock appreciation class. And people get instructed on how to like things instead of being encouraged to like them for their base value. They need to like them in the context of some other shit.
D: That’s the thing, they didn’t form their own opinion independently. They didn’t have the time, or didn’t take the time, to form their opinion. So they just adopted the general attitude.
CSI: Did you ever take music appreciation classes?
D: I didn’t really see the point. I was like, “I already appreciate music pretty good and I think I understand it.” That’s for people who don’t understand what the fuck music is, I think. Right? Isn’t that what those classes are for?
CSI: Are there people that exist who don’t understand what music is?
D: Yeah. A lot of people. Are you kidding me? Or at least in my mind, their version of what music is is so limited that it’s wrong. They think that music is this really small thing. Archeopteryx would not be considered music to a lot of people, you know? Their version of music is so minimal that I think it’s inaccurate.
CSI: Yeah, “That’s not music.”
D: Fuck it, it’s all music, that’s what I’m saying. And this record, right here, is a nonstop hit factory.
CSI: These kinds of records can be totally inspiring.
D: Yeah. I just get frustrated, man, ‘cause I feel like people don’t think about what their opinions are based on. They don’t think about why they think something about something. They just know that that’s how you’re supposed to feel about it. They don’t think, “What is that? Is there something in there that I can appreciate? What am I really looking at and why do I have this attitude? What is it based on?” They don’t go through that process, and that’s why they end up with these really weird preconceived notions of what’s music and what’s not music and this is good and that whole genre’s bad and I will just shut myself off from it. Instead of treating it on a case-by-case basis. That’s where I’m at.
CSI: I think, intrinsic in what you’re saying is that you used the word “think” and “feel” almost interchangeably, because thinking about music and feeling something when you listen to music is the same thing to you.
CSI: Maybe not everyone has that same connection.
D: No, I don’t think everybody does. Everybody thinks a little differently.
CSI: And feels a little differently, if they feel anything when they listen to music at all.
D: Some people aren’t affected by it that much. And some people, like myself, are obviously very affected by it. I think music is just a physiological manipulation. That’s really what it is. The art of manipulating the senses. I want to play the Inflatable Boy Clams.
Inflatable Boy Clams – S/T
D: This is a double 7”. I think they’re from Marin, because there’s a song about Marin on here. They’re an all-female band. Let’s play the song about Marin.
CSI: No way. (Gasp.) This is unreal. (Gasp.) Holy fuck.
D: And it’s great.
(Long silence while both parties are mesmerized.)
CSI: Goddamn. This is a little bit like the Shaggs, with the drums and the bass not always playing together. It sounds like she’s also making up the lyrics as they go.
D: I think my favorite records are these weird ones. Local-but-not-to-my-locale oddities.
CSI: There’s a handwritten list of songs from Not So Quiet on the Western Front stuffed in here. And another list, I think might be your uncle’s radio show that he programmed. It says, “Talk About: Shopping malls of San Jose. Inner ghetto of the Fillmore. Sinsemilla farms of Sonoma. New Flipper LP. New and improved. More shitty Flipper music. Punk scene, every image more political, also more burnout.”
D: That must have been my uncle. You know that Flipper was the band that played at my aunt’s wedding?
CSI: Are you fuckin’ serious?
D: Fuck yeah. My aunt who called me just before you got here. She was hardcore punk way back in the day. That’s how badass she was for, like, a minute. Do you want to listen to Spitballs or Atilla the Stockbroker?
Attila the Stockbroker – Cocktails EP
D: “Special Non-Disco Mix,” just to let you know that they hate it so much. It’s like when I see a heavy metal band that’s like, “We did NOT use keyboards on this album.” It’s like, who gives a shit? You just wanted to take a stab at somebody?
CSI: This band has a mandolin, with a flute and an accordion.
D: This is like some Irish-pub-with-a-phaser-pedal bullshit.
CSI: This is on the same label as the Dead Kennedys, Cherry Red.
D: He’s got the punk attitude, even though he’s just hitting the mandolin. Where are these guys from?
CSI: London. So he hates disco, and he hates prevailing trends in music. I think he just hates prevailing trends.
D: He’s an anti-contemporary kind of guy.
CSI: It’s as if he said, “What’s the most unprevailing thing right now? How about a mandolin?”
D: But he’s trying to spice it up a little bit with the phaser pedal! That’s what makes it hot and new.
CSI: He’s complaining about trends because they don’t last very long, but I can’t imagine his time in the sun lasted too much longer.
Spitballs – Telstar
D: I don’t know what this is about. They’re just covers, but I like this record a lot. And “Telstar” is a good song, if people don’t know about it. It’s a great instrumental from the past, back when instrumentals could be hits. Why can’t instrumentals be hits anymore?
CSI: The last time it happened was “Axel F,” I think, by Harold Faltermeyer.
D: That was a long time ago.
CSI: 1984 or something. Or maybe “Miami Vice.” Did you ever hear the “Miami Vice” theme song on the radio?
D: Maybe not. It could have been.
CSI: And then “Rockit,” if you count “Rockit.” That was definitely a hit. I’ve long been advocating for the return of the instrumental hit single.
D: I think that record companies are just unwilling. They’re like, “People wouldn’t respond to that.” But people would!
CSI: Well, they need a face to sell music now.
D: Yeah, it’s true, it’s all very image-based. Back then, people listened to the radio a lot, so it didn’t matter what they looked like. That was a big tragic thing, the radio. Nobody listens to the radio now.
CSI: In the early days of 78 rpm phonograph records, the vocalist didn’t even get top billing. It was “The Harry James Orchestra,” and then, if he was lucky, very, very small on the label, it might say, “Vocal by Frank Sinatra.”
D: And so they flipped it around because they realized they could sell more records by putting the hot chick with the microphone on the cover?
CSI: It was a combination of that, and there was also a recording strike by the American Musician’s Federation. So the only records you were allowed to record for two years in 1942-1944 were all-vocal records. So that’s how we got things like the Pied Pipers and the Ink Spots.
CSI: Yeah, ‘cause union musicians weren’t allowed to record because of the strike. But singers could do whatever they wanted. So singers started getting credited on records because of that, and when the strike was over, the damage was done.
D: Hmm. Weird.
Spent a good deal of time dwelling on Dilla today for a quick piece on Good Hip Hop’s J. Dilla Tribute in Sebastopol next weekend. Then, drove to Petaluma with Like Water For Chocolate on the tape deck. The weird thing about Dilla is that as far as I remember (and I’m a little older than most people who seem to champion his genius between every meal), nobody—as in, not one solitary person I knew—liked Labcabincalifornia when it came out. Or The Love Movement. Or Amplified. All really, really reviled albums, they were.
Whether or not Dilla was ahead of his time is as pointless as wondering, as I did today, if there would eventually be someone else who decided to swap up the kick drum and offset the snare ever so slightly. That stumbling burble, his trademark—someone else surely would have thought it up, just like someone would have shook their hips and howled sexual innuendo on TV if Elvis hadn’t. Right?
All of this is to say that rap production is in some interesting hands right now, and those still worshipping Dilla should hopefully see that his spirit lives on in intrepid creativity if not outright aesthetic. Right around the time Dilla died, the Pack, from the Bay Area, had a left-field hyphy hit with “Vans,” which rode on a tiny snap beat, a tssst-tssst hi-hat and a synth sent from Mars. Its spirit owed slightly to the Ying Yang Twins’ “Wait (The Whisper Song)” before it, and birthed a YouTube craze with the New Boyz’ “You’re a Jerk” in its wake.
Young L from the Pack released this new video for “Young L-E-N” today, and I hope its production hits the ears of mainstream beatmakers like Just Blaze. Not at all into the useless verses, but that’s hip-hop in 2010—the illest beats beneath filler lyrics. Dilla was lucky to have visionary MCs in the best of both worlds.
On Friday, May 21, Crosby Stills & Nash (anyone see their seemingly unrehearsed tour kickoff at the Wells Fargo Center two years ago?) headline the Sonoma Jazz Festival, or the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival, or, as it seems to be called now, SonomJaZZ+! Opening the show will be it’s-funny-that-we-need-to-point-out-that-she’s-a jazz singer Lizz Wright, who appeared with Herbie Hancock in Sonoma in 2008.
On Saturday, May 22, Earth, Wind and Fire will headline in the giant 3,800-capacity tent (will they play “Come on Feet” from Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song?), with the openers being “a Latin Jazz supergroup—we can’t give you their name yet.” (Malo? El Chicano? Azteca? War? Tierra? The Fania Allstars?)
As the Santa Rosa City Schools wrestle with budget cuts in music programs, maybe it’s time for them to think about hosting a quasi-jazz festival too—the Sonoma festival has so far raised $460,000 for Sonoma Valley schools in its first five years. (Come on, Mark Wardlaw! Book Rick Springfield and Joan Baez! Call it jazz, baby!)
Tickets to CS&N go on sale to the general public this Friday, Feb. 19, with a special locals-only deal on Thursday for those with a Sonoma mailing address. For more info, hit up the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival site.
Start lining up! As officially announced via Billie Joe earlier tonight, the great Pinhead Gunpowder returns to Gilman tomorrow night to play a benefit for Anandi Wonder, an old friend from Santa Rosa, longtime MRR shitworker and a wonderful person who’s been dealing with medical bills related to breast cancer.
Pinhead Gunpowder, Grass Widow and more play Friday, Feb. 12 at 924 Gilman in Berkeley. Starts at 7:30, $7-$10. All ages. Official confirmation here.
The last time Pinhead Gunpowder played Gilman, the first people got in line at 7:30am, and that was with the show being slightly hush-hush. This time around? There’s probably people camped out on the sidewalk right now.
UPDATE: Gilman is offering a complete free download of the show here.
The problem with being a jack of all trades is that no one believes you can really do it all. Just like people grow up to accept weird maxims like “more expensive is better,” so the pervasive line that artists with varied mediums of output are somehow always “spreading themselves too thin.” For some reason, we live in a world that demands the convenience of specialty—excel in your field, it says, and stay there.
Aaron Cometbus is well-known for his writing and his bands, but I’ve always rued the fact that his distinctive Xerox-style artwork hasn’t gotten its deserved due, and long wondered why he’s never had an official art show. Tonight, that oversight was remedied as 1-2-3-4-Go Records in Oakland hosted a long-overdue gallery opening of Aaron’s work.
Why did it take so long? As owner Steve Stevenson put it, “Aaron said that no one’s ever asked him before.”
Whatever the reasons for delayed appreciation—and really, I see no reason why Aaron’s art won’t be in the SFMOMA someday, probably after we’re all dead—the modest little curation of flyers, record art and personal archives on display at 1-2-3-4 Go through the end of February is a must-see, covering some classic icons (an original Crimpshrine flyer with the Cometbus #24 Peggy Lee image) and barely-seen innovations (an incredible flyer for a club’s last show, with photos of and word-bubble quotes from regulars about its importance).
Much of the art is wonderful, of course. But underlying Aaron’s transparency manipulations and intricate patterning is something deeper and more universal. The right of flyering as freedom of speech for the underprivileged is the concern of one beautiful 11×17 diatribe, expertly explaining a dilemma all to familiar to those who’ve hit the town with a bag of flyers and an Arrow T-50 stapler.
“The people with money have allotted the people with no money only certain spaces where they are allowed to be heard,” he writes. “These are called “community” spaces. These spaces total about 30 feet for an entire city’s communal needs. Thirty feet for all the lost dogs, lost wallets, charity raffles, punk shows, political rallies, summer sublets, yard sales, runaway children, art, and ideas. The posters pile up and are torn down, competing for the tiny amount of allotted space. How can you cover up a poster for a cute little lost puppy in order to advertise your cultural event?”
Aaron’s working methods have always been fascinating, and even after being tipped off, 20 years ago, that he used a Kodak IM-40 for halftones and reversals, no one could ever achieve the same effect on the same machine. Many cumulative hours can be spent staring into his layouts, wondering how the hell he got just the right look. Some tricks are hinted at in the show by revealing different stages of work—the various stages of the art that became Pinhead Gunpowder’s Compulsive Disclosure, for example, or the series shown at the top here that resulted in the flyer below—but as he said to me tonight, “It’s like magic. You don’t want to give away too much of the process.”
Unlike a conventional art show, nearly all of the pieces are photocopies and none are for sale. No one explains this better than Aaron, so I’ll just quote an excerpt of his artist statement:
My medium—pen, paint and xerox—was probably my mother’s fault. She was an artist, working in fiber and textiles. I was inspired by her use of shading and ability to define form with just a few lines, but I was also depressed to see her one-of-a-kind pieces go to rich collectors, never to be seen again. If I hadn’t already been drawn to means that were mass-produced, that would have done the trick. Xeroxing or silkscreening became an integral part in my creative process. Without that final step, the work feels incomplete, which is why—with few exceptions—it is copies you see on the walls here rather than the original cut and paste.
And so there you have it. Basic Radio’s “Meat Market” played on the sound system, a coffee pot that Aaron brought in himself sat upon the counter, the place filled up beyond capacity and a lot of overdue praise was lovingly heaped on Aaron Cometbus—artist, writer, musician, and a positive cultural instigator who’s never been content excelling in just one field. Thank goodness.
The Cometbus Art Show runs through the end of February at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records, 423 40th St., Oakland. Open everyday from noon to 7pm, with an excellent selection of punk and indie vinyl. 510.985.0325.