Swinging Modern Sounds #47: A Further Miscellany
Last time I did a general sampling of things I’d been listening to in the prior six months, I got into a fair amount of hot water with the Taylor Swiftians. As with that column (Swinging Modern Sounds #40), this column collects a bunch of albums (and, in one case, a book by a writer/musician) that I have loved a great deal in the last six months, as well as exactly one album that I think is not worth the hype. It will be obvious which is which. As in the past, if there’s something you’re listening to that you think I should hear, send word.
1. Candy Tears
Pete Galub’s album Candy Tears came to my attention because he occasionally plays guitar in Brooklyn’s own The Universal Thump (who I mentioned in SMS #40, and elsewhere). In that context, he’s a mild-mannered and no-note-out-of-place sideman, but that reputation belies the unbuttoned excellence and intensity of Candy Tears, which has a punky mid-eighties vibe of the sort that Ted Leo is always trying to get at. Galub is a remarkable guitar player, a slightly reckless monster of the strings who aspires on that instrument to the madness of a Robert Quine or Richard Lloyd. The compositions on Candy Tears, meanwhile, are dire, hopeless romances by and large, and as a singer, Galub has something in common with New York voices like Johnny Thunders or Richard Hell—all over the place, but in a highly expressive way.
Where his technique as a singer is not notable for its conservatory qualities, he complements the lack of varnish with intensity and tragicomedy. He likes to burst unexpectedly into falsetto, or to go for the top of his range. Despite the riskiness of the approach, there’s not one song on Candy Tears that doesn’t have a sinister inventiveness and a great deal of charm. A lot of people in my part of Brooklyn like Pete’s songs, and you can see why. He is sort of an amalgam of things that are important to the last thirty years of rock and roll. You can hear Television in him, and The Replacements, and The Feelies, and The Clean, and The Individuals, and Freedy Johnston, and Pavement, and the dBs, etc. But his playing is so great and his songs so impassioned, that he transcends the density of influence and becomes totally his own. There’s something to be amazed about on every track on Candy Tears, and if he has not yet given you a reason never to look away quite yet, if he has not yet made his Blood on the Tracks, there is every reason to suppose that he could do so and soon will.
Carlton Melton is a band from the Northwest who record in a geodesic dome. They sound like Hawkwind at four in the morning, on the comedown from some amphetamine freakout. The songs take their time (there are only six of them on the band’s excellent recent album Photos of Photos, which title puts you on notice that they are well aware of the postmodern qualities of their space-rock revival), but even so, could be longer. Carlton Melton could play for twelve hours, like Oneida, or at the other extreme, like Phish. They could hire a stadium and just go all day and into the night, midway into a forty-five minute guitar solo when the sun comes up.
Sometimes there are little squiggles of synth in the mix that remind you of that high period of early psychedelia, Gong or Steve Hillage or Pink Floyd (before Dark Side of the Moon). It would be interesting to sketch out an argument that the geodesic dome somehow causes Carlton Melton to be unable to stop playing, but the truth is that they seem to play in the same way when they are on the road, away from the dome. The dome is used for generation of materials, I believe, and with a recognition that dark magicks are a must in the compositional phase. I asked Carlton Melton if they would compile a list of space-rock anthems, for your delectation, and it looks like this:
- Amon Duul II, “Soap Shop Rock”
- Bardo Pond, “FCII”
- The Beatles, “Within You Without You”
- Buffalo Springfield, “Expecting To Fly”
- Butthole Surfers, “Sweat Loaf”
- Helios Creed, “The Last Laugh”
- Brian Eno, “An Ending (Ascent)”
- Funkadelic, “Maggot Brain”
- The Grateful Dead, “Candyman”
- Hawkwind, “Master of the Universe”
- Eddie Hazel, “Lampoc Boogie”
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)”
- Loop, “Head On”
- My Bloody Valentine, “(When You Wake) You’re Still In A Dream”
- Pink Floyd, “One Of These Days”
- Qumran Orphics, “Live At The Blank Club”
- Red Krayola, “Transparent Radiation”
- Simply Saucer, “Electro-Rock”
- Spacemen 3, “Things’ll Never Be The Same”
- 13th Floor Elevators, “Slip Inside This House”
3. Daft Punk, “Give Life Back to Music”
I cannot in good conscience admit to liking Daft Punk. In the past, they have stood for everything I dislike about contemporary music, but with a winking, knowing insouciance that seems, well, consistent with some of the problems that fall under the rubric Paris. They are about triumphing over the abject by wholehearted indulgence in the abject. Their new album tries to replace all that is dead, inert, and lifeless about the Daft Punk formula with “live musicians,” and to make that palatable with nearly fascist levels of marketing. Some of the reviews I have read of Random Access Memories have suggested a theoretical adjacency to Steely Dan, and I think this is an appropriate way to describe this album—get the best players money can buy—excepting that the musical sophistication of the principal members of Steely Dan is not inconsiderable, and in the case of Daft Punk, there is no sophistication at all. Some benzodiazepine admixture of Steely Dan’s smoove jazz vibe admixed with a little disco (and, Nile Rodgers notwithstanding, it is not terribly interesting disco), and a little Kraftwerk—that’s what we have here. The we-can’t-sing vocoder thing becomes really old fast, the lyrics suck at a level that is fairly unprecedented, and the grooves are tired, like the artists themselves, who scarcely seem to play on the thing. And their idea of genuine and organic American music is the hideous vocal stylings of Pharrell Williams, that nails-on-a-blackboard voice that I associate with mediocrities from like, uh, a decade ago.
Look, I admire Giorgio Moroder as much as the next guy, I do. In fact, think “I Feel Love” is a masterpiece. But Daft Punk’s “Giorgio by Moroder,” despite the funny and tender spoken-word intro by Moroder himself, flattens a simulated (and rather pallid) Moroder synth figure with more of the soul-deadening Fender Rhodes tinkling (it abounds here) that sounds to me like what they play in the lobbies of bad hotels in L.A. in order to force submission. “Giorgio by Moroder” really somehow feels more like Vangelis to me than it feels like Giorgio Moroder. (There is some nice live drumming on this track, but you know what? There is nice live drumming on Steely Dan albums, too—the best drumming money can buy.)
And what about the transparently Yanni-ish opening to “Within”? Or the bland Ric Ocasek vibe of the autotuned Julian Casablancas collaboration “Instant Crush”? Or the Earth, Wind & Fire-lite of the big “hit” “Get Lucky”? Perhaps Daft Punk likes the fact that Pharrell’s voice is really bad and that the song sounds exactly Earth, Wind & Fire, who were kind of bad even when they were good—excepting “Shining Star.”
Every moment of actual musical quality, like the arpeggios of the strings (!) on “Motherboard,” is quickly followed by some arranging decision that is so turgid and embarrassing that you wince, e.g., the synth presets that supplant the strings, playing virtually the same part, but without conviction of any kind. “Doin’ It Right” manages to exploit Panda Bear at his own game, so that the delight in hearing him be this sonically accessible (not buried in the usual ocean of reverb) is ruined by the deracination of the song (Animal Collective, only stupider). The NASA audio field recording on “Contact” is so cringe-worthy that it’s hard to listen to. Even Kraftwerk wouldn’t be as lyrically dim-witted as this album, and that’s saying something: Touch . . . I need something more! Honestly, I do like the Paul Williams track, in fact, because it sounds so much like it came from a Muppets movie that I can only imagine it will piss off a lot of the mall teens who are going to think that this is an interesting album despite its near total lack of content.
Yes, as with Steely Dan, Random Access Memories is all a colossal joke. I get that. It’s like Nietzsche (really): the contradictions of the thing (the opposition between our need for music to affirm in some way and the inherently machined quality of all modern music) is meant to be alleviated by our awareness of the contradiction. Awareness collapses the dialectic, right? Daft Punk uses live musicians (shocking!) to play music that is so lifeless that it could more easily be played by somebody’s smart phone, and then they record vocoder over the top and/or autotune the vocals so that you remember it’s all simulated, and there is nothing organic or human left under the sun, not at all—even the opposition between simulated and organic is a simulation.
But none of this theoretical density prevents young men and women who think that smoking is a profound evocation of their liberty from dancing to Random Access Memories on the Cotes D’Azur, or in the clubs of L.A. “Give Life Back to Music,” in this sense, is an incredibly ironic title, the kind of title that overcomes you when you are laughing all the way to the bank, when there’s not a milliliter of genuine humanity in your track, nor even, really, in your entire album. It’s the album of the summer, yeah, which means that our summer is the summer of simulation, despair, inertia, isolation, cynicism, deadness, and waste. And maybe that is the summer we deserve. I think this album, right up to the noise fest at the end of “Contact,” is a hoax at your expense. I admire the thinking that gives us such things (as with Baudrillard or Guy Debord), but I don’t have to listen to this album, and, except when I’m in the Duane Reade picking up my benzodiazepine prescriptions, I’m not going to.
I am a fan of Rob Roberge’s novel The Cost of Living, which has the best grave-robbing sequence I have read in recent American literature. Roberge’s novel has a grimy, desperate quality that feels like a crime fiction, but isn’t at all. The voice of his first-person narrator could belong to some deeply afflicted flatfoot, but is instead the voice of a regular guy, a survivor, Bud, who used to be a famous musician and then descended into a spiral of opiates and anything else available. Roberge doesn’t allow a chapter to go by without a totally entertaining set piece, whether it’s the narrator beating the local would-be mafiosi at poker, or digging up a friend’s dead grandmother to see what jewelry she had on her at time of decease. It’s this, Roberge’s invention, that drives The Cost of Living. Roberge feels a little bit like a star of film and stage, spinning out incident in each act.
So: I admire Roberge’s fiction, and was thoroughly delighted to learn about it, but I also love the band he plays in, The Urinals, one of those seminal L.A. punk bands who eventually became somewhat competent, but who retain the artful simplicity and blunt-instrument expressiveness of the late seventies and early eighties. I got to play a few songs with Roberge at a book party for Yes Is the Answer, an anthology about prog rock that I appear in. I thought Roberge appeared in this anthology, too, but it turns out that he wasn’t in the anthology at all, and doesn’t know anything about the prog. I don’t know why he was there at all. He just was.
Roberge has short hair that hasn’t been brushed lately, and one of those beards that just kind of happened, and he wears some beads and a shirt that has 1970s-art-teacher-smock-ish qualities, and his overall appearance is at once shambolic and soulful and afflicted. We worked up five songs in twenty minutes, including two covers of “prog” songs, and it was really fun. I elected to interview him the next day (in Union Square Park, on one of the first hot days of summer, with a great parade of beautiful young people striding past), both to help promote his book and to talk a little bit about the nexus of indie rock and literary fiction these days.
Roberge had a lot to say about books, about his transcendental experience of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which he read (in the Vintage Contemporary edition) while a student at Emerson College. Roberge started reading because he couldn’t play basketball anymore (injury!), and his guitar-playing, too, dates to this period. At first he played mostly what he called jam-band stuff, but he quit playing for a decade or so while beating back a drug problem, and that would have been it for the guitar playing, were he not later teaching the drummer of the Urinals in a writing class in LA. The two became friends, and, later, when the band needed a guitar player, Roberge got drafted, despite his inability, he says, to play “a downstroke.” He seems to know a lot about the Paisley Underground in L.A. of the eighties and nineties, and, in particular, about the band called The Dream Syndicate, and wants to finish a book on that subject. He is also at work on an “anti-memoir,” one which calls into question the whole enterprise of memory. He lives with his wife, who has some health problems, in the desert outside of LA, but can’t wait to move back to the city. He once had a bodybuilder for an English teacher in high school, who specialized in ripping books in half, and that was how Roberge learned about Moby Dick, from seeing it ripped in half. And: he grew up in Connecticut, the same state where I grew up, in the Bridgeport that featured a flaming Long Island Sound and loads of political corruption, and, later, in Monroe, where his high school girlfriend was murdered (crime still unsolved).
Roberge’s life comes from him in a torrent—perhaps this is apparent—and is accompanied by frequent inquiries as to the appropriateness of the torrent and apologies for straying from the question at hand. I am summarizing now, because of the sad fact that the whole first half of interview was mangled by my fancy new digital recorder, and so the moving and reflective portion of the interview about whether the music informs the writing or the writing informs the music (more the former than the latter) is lost, as is some discussion about when the Urinals opened for Yo La Tengo, and he had to remind himself to remember every second, and the portion when we talked a little bit about relapse and about the difficulties of a long life struggling with the tendency to be addictive, that is lost, too, and in fact most of Rob’s excellent storytelling skills (which are not unusual in someone whose fiction features such fine storytelling) is not included here, because of my inability to operate the digital recorder, but, in a way, this is fine, because Roberge’s humanness, and his accessibility, and vulnerability, remind me of the time in which profilers, like, say Djuna Barnes, in her excellent interviews that are not exactly interviews, had to make do without digital recording devices, and had to, therefore, scribble down impressions of the subject without recourse to a perfect audio file.
In the same spirit, I once had to interview Neil Young, and I was so worried about the recording device that I didn’t use it, and just took notes, and notes turn out to be a good way to write an interview, and in this case, I am writing these notes myself, and they are to recommend to you not only The Cost of Living (Dzanc), and the music of The Urinals (try Negative Capability . . . Check It Out!, which is a bona fide masterpiece), but to recommend the person of Rob Roberge. There’s a reason why so many decent and creative people appreciate Roberge and his efforts. Oh, and having now lofted these notes into the realm of the old-fashioned Talk of the Town profile, I can in fact give a flavor of the man’s voice, from what remains of this recording:
Q: So what were the origins of The Cost of Living?
A: There was a story in my last collection…It was about a guy who had killed someone. I thought there was more to that story. I envisioned this as a linked collection. Like in The Things They Carried. There’s that guy who dies, and then a few stories later, he’s alive. For the reader, that changes everything. It’s like Oedipus. You know, the ending. I like the form of the linked collection. But with rare exception, none of them has felt like they built up to a novel. I think Jesus’ Son does.
Q: Did you read Ideas of Heaven by Joan Silber? That’s a kickass one.
A: I don’t know how the music stuff in this book started. I think I didn’t want to write an addict book. It’s a big part of my life, being a recovering addict, but I’m really tired of drug books. I wanted drugs to be a symptom in a book, no more than that. And, you know, also, I had a family suicide that never left me. And my girlfriend got murdered…in high school…on my birthday. It really shaped how I view resolve and closure. It shaped my unconsciousness. I had a lot of emotional things that I wanted to address, and I had to find a form for them.
Q: That’s how I want novels to be. When they’re too linear, that’s when I start to feel bored by them. What’s great about this book, The Cost of Living, is how character accrues. It’s not manipulative. The characters feel like people.
A: I try not to have ideas when I write.
Q: In the old days, in my classes, I used to write don’t think on the blackboard.
A: I was playing guitar with this buddy of mine who plays with Jimmy Vaughan. It was sounding pretty good. And he’s a real blues player, you know, he can play jump blues, and then he can play Chicago blues, not just bending notes in tune. We were playing together and I had my eyes closed, and it sounded good, had a nice groove. And then I opened my eyes, and I thought, He’s played with Eric Clapton, and then my fingers froze into a pretzel. And I thought most of the trouble in my life has come from my thinking when I shouldn’t be thinking and vice versa. I guess in the novel, the guy needed a job, and so I made his job music…
Q: The band in the novel is diametrically opposed to the Urinals.
A: They’re sort where Wilco would have been in 1998.
Q: Did you borrow details, or is it wholly imagined?
A: My experience, borrowed experience, and research, even though I never think of myself as doing research. The novel that I’m starting now is in multiple third-persons, and it starts with the Bikini Islands nuclear test, Operation Crossroads. I started reading for it, and I got fifteen books, and the DVDs with the government research. And my wife pointed out that that is a kind of research. So in this case there were a lot of rock books. And some experience.
Q: One last question: What’s your favorite rock and roll book?
A: When this started getting reviewed people started asking how hard it was to work in the rock and roll genre? And I didn’t even know there was a genre. Okay, let’s see, man, rock book.
Q: Every now and then I’ll give in and read Neil Young, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend in one fell swoop.
A: I liked Keith Richards, but he seems to be telling you exactly what you would expect Keith Richards to do. The one that’s sticking in my mind is Dean Wareham’s Black Postcards. I read it about the same time as [Bob Dylan’s] Chronicles [Volume One]. I don’t understand why people like Chronicles. I don’t understand why he should go out of his way to spit on the audience: I’m riding my motorcycle in New Orleans and suddenly I figured out a mathematical way to play the guitar…
Q: I’ve tried to so hard to figure out what he’s talking about in that passage.
A: That book angered me, and not in a good way. But I thought Dean’s book was a remarkably good book.
Also, Rob recently sent me his album of home recordings, called No-Fi, which includes some heart-rending songs about Moss Hart and Steve McQueen, and possesses of some of the best rudimentary drumming I’ve heard in a while. The stylistic approach is somewhere between Neil Young demos, Daniel Johnston, and Guided By Voices, which is just exactly where he should be. I love the guitar playing, above all, which definitely sounds like Tonight’s the Night, or Zuma, but it’s the emotional candor of the songs—which, despite the home-recording quality of the whole, is remarkable, and of a piece with the man’s work in other media. Roberge has a totally vulnerable quality, of the dangerous wasn’t-made-for-these-times vulnerability, and it’s a feature of this album. Also, there’s an instrumental called “Anarchy in the Circle K.” That is a title that just won’t quit.
5. Orchestre National de Jazz, Around Robert Wyatt
I buy just about anything Robert Wyatt–related. I cannot think of that many songwriters, these days, who mean as much to me as Robert Wyatt means. If the goal of a song is to explore the mix of regrets and feelings of desolation (punctuated with upsurges of joy, however ephemeral and imperfect) of adulthood, the crisis of dispassion and withdrawal that is middle age, then no one, really—and I include Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen on the list—is quite as good at summoning this mix as Robert Wyatt. So whatever he does, I will listen to it. Even demos or collections of obscurities. Yet another rendition of “I’m a Believer”? Definitely!
Because this Orchestre National de Jazz album is about the virtuosity of the arrangements, with guest singers (Wyatt appears on only a few tracks), I somehow let this album get past me for a couple of years. But then, in a drought of new Wyatt material, I took a chance. And what a great and unexpected trove of miracles this album is. You don’t even have to know the originals to see how fascinating the arrangements are here, most of which, I believe, are by one Vincent Artaud. This is jazz in the European sense, full of invention in the wind section, but not confined to a particular moment in jazz (as Jazz at Lincoln Center sometimes is). There is amazing electric-guitar playing, and some synthesizer, as well as orchestral writing that is as bright and sensitive as Gil Evans’s. It’s a contemporary recording, but with all the big-band sophistication you would expect from a jazz album of the fifties. And yet what I’ve said still does not describe what’s so splendid here. It’s the singers, partly, who manage to make Gallic these songs that are very, very British. The singers are so well chosen, and often it is their phrasing, off-handed, even casual, when counterposed with some really tremendous soloing, that makes this a jazz album, an album that is both reverential and playful without feeling disrespectful.
A fine example is the recording here of “Shipbuilding,” which is Elvis Costello’s song, not Wyatt’s, but which Wyatt made famous. What is so good about this song? It comes from the Costello of the Punch the Clock period, which is a particularly challenging Costello, in my opinion, though he did write well then about politics. “Shipbuilding” suggests the horror of the Falklands conflict, and of the militarization that accompanied it, but writ smaller, in the to and fro of the British economy that attended this militarization. It’s a song constructed around metonymy, therefore, and Wyatt’s frail tenor somehow spoke for the British everyman, as did his reputation for a postcolonial Marxism. A perfect meeting of singer and song. (Costello could not have brought and did not bring the same poignance to the material.)
The Orchestre National de Jazz replaces Wyatt with Yael Naim, the Franco-Israeli singer of the “New Soul” Apple commercial, a singer notable for smoky overtones that suggest the resignation and wistfulness of the narrator of “Shipbuilding,” as if “the wife” in the song is now singing the song, rather than some more distant observer. The beautiful arrangement of the winds in verse one is far tenderer than would be possible on a rock and roll album. “It’s just a rumor that was spread around town…” Nothing could be worse than the re-armament described in Costello’s song, but Yael Naim is almost powerless to stop what will happen—“it’s all we’re skilled in/we will be shipbuilding”—and the drama is overpowering, and deeply sad, especially when Artaud invents an instrumental passage for the last 1:30, including some heart-rending counterpoint between the saxes and the woodwinds, stately and sad, as if suggesting the drama of the whole, reiterating it, and then, in the final seconds, back to the unaccompanied winds of the intro, muted, like what you might hear at a jazz funeral. If I had a very favorite song in the last six months (and this would be to leave out anything from the new David Bowie album, or the new Mark Mulcahy album, which are my two favorite releases of 2013 so far) it would be this song, which I have probably played hundreds of times now.
6. Alex Chilton, Electricity By Candlelight, NYC, 2/13/97
You may have read about this recently released album—a bootleg, really, which was somehow recorded by a fan at the Knitting Factory during a set cancelled by reason of blackout. A pissed-off audience evacuated when the lights went out, but then Chilton came out into the midst of the few who remained, borrowed an acoustic guitar that happened to be on-site, and started playing. He didn’t stop for forty-five minutes, playing things from memory, ranging through country, jazz, standards, rock and roll, and even, incredibly a bit of singer-songwriter fare (“A Case of You,” by Joni Mitchell!). Not an original in the set, although Loudon Wainwright’s “Motel Blues” is now so much associated with Chilton that it sounds like a Big Star outtake.
The drummer on the gig eventually sat in, and the audience sang along with great gusto whenever it knew the words, which was not infrequently. A cover of Brian Wilson’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is particularly remarkable for the audience participation. It’s a ridiculous song to try to play on acoustic guitar because it begins the modular period of Brian Wilson compositions, and yet Chilton tackled it, and the audience sang the Al, Carl, and Mike sections against Chilton’s lead, and everybody was transported by the beauty and complexity of the song. It’s incredibly moving, frankly, incredibly moving, this album. It is the record of actual music, yes, music taking place among human beings (note when Alex yells “retard,” meaning slow down ahead, to the drummer) in a particular place, at a particular time, humans sharing something. Imagine Daft Punk attempting to do the same.
Anyhow, I got this album just about the time I saw the Big Star documentary, Nothing Can Hurt Me, recently released by IFC. I loved the doc, and wept repeatedly over the incalculable legacy of Big Star, which is in direct proportion to the dogged failure they all experienced during their lives. Sometimes Big Star is just too painful to contemplate, and I can only take that much pain on occasion. Electricity by Candlelight only amplifies the enigma that was Alex Chilton, as depicted in Nothing Can Hurt Me. Chilton, on Radio City and Sister Lovers was a confessional writer of hair-raising abilities, but he was also his worst enemy, and, outside of the confines of those two albums, he was the least confessional of modern musicians. Try looking for traces of Alex’s life on those later albums like Loose Shoes. The traces are there, but they are covered over with the style and archival energy. He almost dares you to give a shit. Alex, as if because of some kind of compulsion, repels the love, the huge abundance of love, as though it were effrontery to appreciate it. (I have a friend who ran into him a bar once, and it didn’t go well at all.)
The corollary of this no-tenderness-on-demand approach is that when the heat was off, so to speak, or when entertainment was least expected, Chilton rose to the occasion. And then some. Gigs that are unimportant? He gave his all to every one. And Electricity By Candlelight is an example of this. I saw Big Star play not long before this night, and Chilton showed up and played the songs, and occasionally smiled, but there was nothing like the warmth and hilarity on this recording we have. I think, in the end, it’s only people who are obsessed with “What’s Going Ahn,” or “September Gurls,” the people who long for that songwriter to have done more along those lines, who are going to find this album, this shitty low-fi recording probably made on someone’s hand-held recorder, electrifying, but that’s exactly what it is. This recording tells you more about what human consciousness is like (try “My Baby Just Cares For Me”) than anything I’ve heard lately, and the banter is the best new thing Chilton fans have had of the master in many, many years.
And there are even a couple of guitar solos that indicate that there was some actual talent for the instrument in that poor, lonely Alex Chilton, alongside the misery, heartache, and the refusal to write songs. It’s when he is most irreverent, most withholding, that he seems most free and most lonely. So buy this record, and then go and see Nothing Can Hurt Me, where Jim Dickinson admits that they banished Alex from the mixing sessions for Sister Lovers because he would have ruined the album.
7. The Swimming Pool Q’s
The Swimming Pool Q’s were an Atlanta band from the eighties with an indie-rock sound that you would associate, perhaps, with Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, or The Brains, or Translator, or The Dream Syndicate, featuring a two-guitar approach that is lyrical and sometimes brutal, and much more experimental than you would imagine possible in a pop/folk-oriented idiom. Best of all is the harmony singing of Anne Richmond Boston and Jeff Calder. Boston’s voice is a husky alto, and pretty folk/rock in its inflections, while Calder has a slightly more anarchic edge to him. They trade off in ways that make the most of each. The darkness of psychedelia and punk flavor these songs, and at their best (the self-titled album from 1984, e.g.), there is a real energy and abandon to this band. They were way, way, way better than a lot of things in the eighties, and now their backlog is rereleased on Bar/None, and they are playing gigs again, and I for one feel like I discovered something I would have liked a great deal back in the day, had I been smart enough to listen. Well, now I can, and you can too. These songs reward the attention that is, at this point, long overdue.
8. (Charles) Book & Record, “Sentimental Ape (Xiu Xiu remix)”
Look, I’m not even going to say much about this video, except that you should watch it. It’s as creepy and unsettling as “Andalusian Dog” or Eraserhead, and the remix which caused this video to be made is really noise-oriented and anti-dance-club in ways I find delightful. The band itself consists of a writer of speculative fictions called Zack Wentz, an engineer called Taj Easton, and backing vocalist/political operative Shelby Gubba. The idiom (I suppose) is industrial/electronica/laptop, but it’s a lot more than that. It has as whiff of the reservoir of the nightmare about it, and the threshold of outrage. And I believe you can get the whole album, Leftover Magic, direct from the artists themselves. That’s independent music for you. Where the artists get 100% of the reward.