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stuart murdochhhh.

conny oberst.

also, do scene kids still exist?

James Chance (on right)

James Chance (on right)

Elvis impersonator style vocals, ski goggles, MJ covers, songs about Christmas with satan, 10 minute epics worthy of being called art, bands influenced by James Brown and Albert Ayler. What does this list mean to you? Probably nothing unless you’re already familiar with the amazing late 70s/80s New York rock movement, No Wave. No Wave to me is basically an extension of the punk ethic but synthesized with the experimentality of Jazz, the groove of Funk, and the stuff of nightmares (or dreams). Many No Wave songs border on incredibly difficult to listen, while others are catchy, melodic and erudite. What they all have in common is a rejection of the high gloss production styles that began to emerge and develop into New Wave during the 80s, the result is an amazing collection of diverse bands (mostly with short, hard to find catalogues) who played their hearts out and made music history in the process.

Suicide (the band with aforementioned Elvisy vocals) is one of the first bands that embody No Wave. They preceded the movement by and large, but their method of music making places them right along their later followers such as DNA, Mars, Lydia Lunch, and James Chance. Composed of two members, one on vocals and the other on some sort of demented drum machine from hell, Suicide composed some terrifying and beautiful music. Their first (of two) self titled albums features a few favorites of mine. Ghost Rider (in this live performance you get to see the keyboardist, Martin Rev sporting his signature Stunner Shades) is a 2.5 minute meditation juxtaposing comic descriptions of the flaming-skulled superhero who is “lookin’ so cute” and a repeated refrain of “America, America is killing its youth!” Interpreting this song is somewhat difficult, but taking it at face value, the lyrics, delivered in their typical style, are framed perfectly by the repetitive and demonic pounding bass that sounds something like a machine from the fure bent on destruction.  Suicide is in some ways less typical of the no waves, long songs are something of a rarity with the others, but the 10 minute long Frankie Teardrop is worth the listen, assuming you’re okay with being left confused and a little scared. Alan Vega conjures an atmospheric tale of despair and loss. Crushed under the weight of impending poverty, Vega’s Frankie progresses in lunatic fashion and plots the murder of his family, himself, and eventually continues to hell. The tale is told with a more subdued accompaniment but punctuated with blood-curdling screams. The song build up and culminates with “we’re all Frankies, we’re all lying in hell[sic].” No description can really capture the entire feeling of this song, I suggest a careful listen.

Hopefully Suicide hasn’t completely scared you away from No Wave, because it indeed does have a lighter (but still subversive) side. James Chance (who had several bands, including the Contortions and James White and the Blacks) combines pop songs with a free jazz aesthetic, driven at high tempo and with plenty of grooving to go along with it. In the Contortions incarnation, James Chance explores pop music in a most subversive way. His cover of “Can’t Stop Till You Get Enough” is unrecognizable at first due to its high tempo and the singing style, but once you get to the chorus there is a big AHA! moment: Chance converted a dance-pop hit into a fast-driving, sax-riffing, free jazzy masterpiece. In a way, James Chance is to music and Andy Warhol is to the visual arts, subversive yet still aesthetically appealing. But it doesn’t end with cover songs, the Chance original compositions take some of the Suicide-style storytelling and give it a “lighter” side. Christmas With Satan’s “protagonist” commits suicide and winds up at His Infernal Majesty’s own yule-tide bash. The strange who-knows-what-mode main riff noodles along joined by Christmastime favorite melodies. The best part is that this strange song was apparently Chance’s response to his record label’s request for a contribution to a Christmas song compilation. James Chance’s bands always had highly skilled musicians (in contrast to some of the other No Wavers who favored the DIY-thing), and this is seen in the high level of inventiveness, playfulness, and musicality of most of his tracks.

The heart of the 80s No Wave scene wasn’t James Chance, but the artist in whose band he originally played, Lydia Lunch. Playing as Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Lunch’s groups were essentially the first proper No Wavers. Lunch music is substantially harder to find than Chance’s or Suicide’s, and as such I only have the four tracks from the No New York compilation to go by. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks music is much slower and atmospheric that The Contortions, and shares little in common other than the uniting ethic of subversion. In a way, this is what makes No Wave so interesting; all of these bands stretched their ideologies into different directions and each created music unlike anything else happening before or since. The Closet (on No New York) is a poetic and disturbing plea from a middle class female, trapped by her life in suburbia. Lunch torturedly screams over crashing drums and bleating guitars and reaches an emotional depth that is riveting.

So get off your ass (or stay on your ass if you buy it on Amazon) and contort yourself!

No New York
James White and the Blacks – Off White
James Chance and the Contortions – Soul Exorcism Redux
Suicide – Suicide (First Album)

Sleep - Dopesmoker

Sleep - Dopesmoker

If I were a completist, I suppose I would begin an expository on Stoner Rock with its widely acknowledged “prime progenitor,” Palm Desert’s Kyuss. Instead I will begin with another band, also from Palm Desert, who I believe has equal claim to the title father of Stoner Rock.

While not historically accurate in any way, I imagine the origins of Stoner Rock looked something like this: a desert, 1990, sleeping bags and tents interspersed with beaten down vans carrying worn down guitars and vintage tube amps, long haired early 20s dudes pass around joints and bongs, random girl friends and other bohemian ladies giggle loudly as their aforementioned long-haired early 20s dudes pass bongs and begin to set up amplifiers (I don’t know where you get electricity in the desert, but you can pretend a wizard did it or something because that’s pretty cool), the dudes turn all knobs to 100 million (except “bright” anyone who uses “bright” has no place here) and what resulted is immersive, slow, complex, clever, and funny.

Stoner rock itself is something less like music and more like a whole body experience. Especially in Sleep’s epic Dopesmoker, a 63 minute long romp involving “weed priests,” “herb bails tied to the backs of beasts,” and “desert-legion smoke covenants.” You listen to Stoner Rock even while sober and it’s amazing. It’s hard not to get immersed in the worlds created by these artists. You’d think after 63 minutes of slow progressions, you’d get bored, but the songwriting is amazing. Every note means a lot to the overall composition, you have to wait 3 minutes before you’re rewarded with the drums, even longer for vocals, 14 minutes in there is a great solo that feels just right. In (good) stoner rock, the parts are placed together so that each one is important, the magnitude and volume of it all creates an atmosphere that is highly appealing (I believe) to anyone looking for something new and different from most other genres of rock and metal. With an open mind (and bong in hand [just kidding kids, don’t do drugs]) check out some stoner rock!

This is one of my favorite albums of all time.

It is the third album from the Icelandic band múm. They couple lush electronic soundscapes and pulsing rhythms with the most beautiful organic instrumentation one could possibly instrumentate. Pair this with the delicate childlike whisper-singing of Kristín Anna Valtysdottir scattered throughout the record and you obtain what could very well be the most gorgeous album ever recorded.

I’m pretty sure it’s safe to assume every artist from Iceland is damn near amazing, what with the country’s track record of Sigur Rós, Björk, and the lesser known Amiina, and Stórsveit Nix Noltes (which includes current and former members of múm).  That leads in to a bit of a sad thing for me, which is that the original lineup of múm is no more. Twins Gyða and Kristín Anna Valtysdottir left the original 4-piece band, which has since inflated to over 8 members. Gyða actually left before Summer Make Good, but it still turned out to be 100% good. Unfortunately, once Kristín decided it was time to focus on solo material (under the name Kría Brekken), the band had to undergo a massive transformation; one that just isn’t as great as the previous incarnation.

BUT. We must not spend our time lamenting. They did leave us with three brilliant albums [Yesterday Was Dramatic…Today is OK, Finally We Are No One, Summer Make Good], and truth be told their subsequent album [last year’s Go Go Smear The Poison Ivy] wasn’t bad when you consider it on its own merits.

Anyways, here are some songs.

Weeping Rock, Rock

Island of the Children’s Children

Summer Make Good was released in 2004 on Fat Cat. Be watchful of a DMM 180g vinyl reissue of múm’s second album Finally We Are No One sometime in the near future. It’s aaaalmost as good as this one.

Keep it ril.
CIN_ S_FF_RY

P.S. I hope somebody is reading this.

DAN DEACON
BROMST

Dan Deacon goes more organic, employing the use of many live instruments amidst his synths. Have a  listen.

Dan Deacon – Snookered

Dan Deacon – Woof Woof

Bromst is released March 24th via Carpark Records.

Also, be absolutely sure to see him April 17th, when he will be playing in some caverns in Burnet, TX, where he will be playing with the full 15-piece ensemble. Get your tickets at Transmission Entertainment. Dan Deacon shows are always the damn best. Don’t miss it.

Cina

It’s come to my attention that Chumbawamba (who have been active since 1982) released an album in 2008.  Even more surprising than that, this is the title of said album:

The Boy Bands Have Won, and All The Copyists and The Tribute Bands and The TV Talent Show Producers Have Won, If We Allow Our Culture To Be Shaped By Mimicry, Whether From Lack Of Ideas Or From Exaggerated Respect. You Should Never Try To Freeze Culture. What You Can Do Is Recycle That Culture. Take Your Older Brother’s Hand-Me-Down Jacket and Re-Style It, Re-Fashion It to the Point Where It Becomes Your Own. But Don’t Just Regurgitate Creative History, Or Hold Art And Music And Literature As Fixed, Untouchable And Kept Under Glass. The People Who Try To ‘Guard’ Any Particular Form Of Music Are, Like The Copyists And Manufactured Bands, Doing It The Worst Disservice, Because The Only Thing That You Can Do To Music That Will Damage It Is Not Change It, Not Make It Your Own. Because Then It Dies, Then It’s Over, Then It’s Done, and The Boy Bands Have Won.

—————————————————-
MEC, you have a new mission: bring Chumbawamba to campus.

Jarvis Cocker is a worthy addition to any overblown award show performance. Oscars, take note.

NEW Akron/Family album

Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free

I’ve got the dang flu, so I’ll keep this short.  This album is really sweet. Here is the first track. It is bangin’.

Akron/Family – Everyone is Guilty

The album comes out May 5th on CD/LP via Dead Oceans

They’ll be around for SXSW.  Don’t miss ’em.

–CCIINNAA!!

When you talk about a band like Belle and Sebastian, it seems to me like all too frequently you’re just beating a dead horse — they aren’t really a band that there is something “new” to say about, they have had a longish career filled with some truly wonderful albums and can be described as “sardonic, witty, clever, poppy.” Blah de blah de blah, so I doubt I am introducing anyone to them, but perhaps, if you already have some of their albums, this will inspire you to look at them again.

I was introduced to B&S as a freshman in college at the behest of my roomate at the time. Most of the music I listened to then was hardcore or metal with some occasional overly sentimental angsty teen crap. I got the album “If You’re Feeling Sinister” first, and when I pressed play I felt like I was introduced to a whole new world musically and lyrically. The opening track “stars of track and field” is a slow, understated song, delivered in Stuart M’s typical way. Beginning with a very quiet acoustic intro, we begin to learn about various characters and their lives via the cynical narrator. The music builds fantastically, to sound like every music critic ever, it is “lush.” The percussion is very much in the back ground, but the basswork sets a nice pace to the song while the guitar smoothly dances about a major key. An organ mumbles somewhere in the back grounds and during the build ups we hear ramping drum sounds, mounting guitar work and a sense of tension, released by a return to the stripped down interstitial portions. The song has a horn solo which, as a rare thing in music, doesn’t seem like a gratuitous afterthought. All the while this beautiful, ornate music tells a story that is at times playful, at times harsh and thoroughly human.

Needless to say, given this strong reaction to the first track on the album, I couldn’t help but listen more and more to my new favorite band. I’d say that comparisons to The Smiths are somewhat fair, in that both made great pop songs with clever lyrics, but whereas Morrissey seems to deal with personal experiences and interractions between humans around him, in-media-res, Stuart Murdoch seems to occupy the position of some sort of anthropologist-cynic, judging the characters in his stories with a fair, but brutal hand, all the while avoiding seeming mean-spirited.

After listening to If You’re Feeling Sinister constantly for a few months, I found myself diving further into B&S’s oeuvre, from the much rawer “Tigermilk” an album compositionally similar to Sinister, but adorned with a kind of lo-fi sheen that gives it a very unique place in their whole body of work. Two years after Sinister Belle and Sebastian released The Boy With the Arab strap. For some reason, with this album, while not reinventing themselves as seems to be required for a band to be truly great, they continued to develop their own person idiom, and some of the songs on this album are my favorite, “It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career” which tells the stories of two people destined to be fantastic charlatans, careers punctuated by a premature stroke. Something that is also awesome about this album is the fact that it got a .8/10 by pitchfork, the very spiteful reviewer opened the review with “Mediocrity is not a punishable crime, but if it was, Belle & Sebastian would be enjoying their last meal right about now.” Ouch. I’d feel sorry for them but it’s a truly fantastic album, if anything I feel sorry for the reviewer who seems to be incapable of enjoying music. He goes on “Are we still learning from the Mel Bay book of guitar? Where are the interesting chords? Only the title cut offers up something fun, and that just sounds like a glorified Hollies song.” Where are the “interesting chords” seems to strike me as particularly comical. Would the album have been good if they decided to have 13 minute long psychedelic jams in Eb mixolydian? No, and I think the fact that they refrain from engaging in self indulgent experimentation indicates the overall quality of their albums, the have a style which they develop and perfect — who cares what key a song is in if it’s good.

But that is not to say they can’t misstep. If there was a low point of their career I’d say it was 2000’s Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant. For some reason this album is obsessed with the harpsichord and flute. The songs sung by now ex-member iIsobel Campell are just kind of flat and never particularly grabbed me. Certainly this is probably the most baroque of their albums. But that is not to say it’s lacking in fantastic moments. In fact, one of the most beautiful and funny songs they wrote appears on this album. The Model is a sort of duet between Stuart’s tenor and Stevie’s baritone as they hope through a story about a model whom the narrator simultaneously loves and despises.

I am just going to pretend the album Storytelling doesn’t exist since I down own it and have never heard it so that I can continue onto 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress. This album seems to indicate the direction they would follow in the future with more electronic piano and drum influenced songs, with more bass and less guitar. The track Step Into My Office, Baby is hilarious and even has an awesome music video to go with it.

Other standout tracks are “Asleep on a Sunbeam” which is very different from a lot of their songs, lacking in cynicism and sardonic humor, it is just a very sweet, sentimental song which complements the vocals of Sarah Martin, and I’m a Cukoo, which also has a badass video:

After diving head first into very poppy music with . . . Waitress they returned to rock with the very guitar heavy 2006 album The Life Pursuit. This album has more “whole band singing” moments than previous efforts and captures the more interesting instrumentation of Fold Your Hands and combines it with the pop sensibilities into a new form that fits them well as they have evolved into an indie rock icon over the past 13 years.

I highly recommend almost all of their albums, but if you ever want to get into them, I’d recommend If You’re Feeling Sinister first, because the title track alone makes it a fantastic album with emotional complexity I haven’t seen in many releases by any other artist.

-CB

This is a band you must know and love.

THE NEXT TIME THEY COME TO TOWN (there were rumors that it’d be SXSW) YOU ARE REQUIRED TO SEE THEM.

It was hard to find videos of them with good sound quality, but here are the best ones.

The full band:

An acoustic show in an apartment:
Vodpod videos no longer available.

and their awesome Take Away Show…

These songs are from their 2007 album Rise Above, which was band mastermind Dave Longstreth’s reimagining of Black Flag’s album Damaged. This album is one of my favorites of 2007.  Be sure to check it out. Something else to look forward to? TWO new DP albums coming out this year. Yup. Life’s good.

Stay champions.
Cina ❤ ❤ ❤