All posts by T. Loper

Jandek – Glasgow Sunday

JandekGlasgow Sunday (Corwood Industries)

Until recently, Jandek embodied obscurity: forty albums, no confirmed name or face, no shows or interviews. Naturally, Jandek’s scattered (but devoted) fans rejoiced when he made his first live appearance in October 2004. Glasgow Sunday documents that performance.

Despite the hype (that you may or may not have heard) surrounding Mr. Mystery, only open-minded listeners should introduce themselves with Glasgow Sunday. In fact, one might wonder if this release is somehow a disingenuous plan to feel the spotlight and yet restrain public excitement. Not one track is remotely accessible, and Glasgow Sunday will not draw casual listeners to the music.

One could describe the sound as performance art by a creature who moans tolerable poetry above a band (Richard Youngs on bass and Alexander Neilson on drums) that sounds like it’s beating corrugated sheet metal with mallets. Glasgow Sunday might be a perfect addition to an already-existing, expansive Jandek collection—a milestone release. Other than that, avoid it.

The Sights – The Sights

The SightsThe Sights (New Line)

The Sights can be easily compared to The Strokes: they have a similar catchy feel, they’re edgy, and they don’t fuck around. See track one: “I’m Going To Live The Life I Sing.” But one thing’s for sure, the comparison ends here: right now, members of The Strokes are worrying about their careers, and they worry because of bands like The Sights.

If these Detroit boys follow their current path, continue to mine their talent—a pure, renewable resource—and stay original, current listeners will soon say, “I remember when The Sights used to play [insert small local club name here], and I could walk right up to the stage. Now, they’re headlining [insert name of hugely popular festival here].”

If The Sights are not already beyond playing the small clubs, anticipate an explosion in the near future, and latch on while you can. These Detroit boys are good—real good—and they’re the real deal.

Their self-titled release will make your summer. The Sights has everything: Beatle-esque harmonies, pop appeal, rock appeal—and I mean rock—and raw, original goddamn talent. Just take a listen to “Baby’s Knocking Me Down,” and you’ll know when the old west-style piano solo kicks in.

Download “Circus” courtesy of New Line Records.

Thrill Jockey – Looking for a Thrill DVD

Various Artists – Looking for a Thrill (Thrill Jockey)

Traveled to Chicago last weekend. My mission, among other things, was to catch an instore appearance at Tower Records and witness a lineup including locals like Califone and the hip hoppin’ All Natural. Catharsis abounded—on and off stage—and the afternoon proved to be the perfect atmosphere for a celebration: the release of Thrill Jockey Records’ new DVD experiment, Looking for a Thrill: An Anthology of Inspiration.

Excerpts from the 330-minute compilation played between sets, and I browsed Tower’s goods as Thurston Moore described the Cramps’ first show: opening for the sadistic, addictive stylings of Suicide.

Tim Rutili, mastermind behind Califone, has described the DVD as “inspiring” and “highly recommended.” And even though he makes an appearance in the film, one need not question his motives: all profits go to Greenpeace, which allows you to feel good for giving to charity.

While you bask in personal satisfaction, you can watch Bjork’s face light up as she talks about her two-year-old kid and bleating car alarms, you can listen to Rutili’s story about desperately wanting John Popper “to walk,” and (in Rutili’s words) you will see percussionist Ben Massarella, who “looks like Clark Gable and talks about Miles Davis.”

Looking for a Thrill is a masterpiece about illumination. Order it now, and within a few days you will have answers to some of your musical ruminations and, naturally, new questions too. Order it now and watch a shaggy Vic Chesnutt talk about Melanie, Orwell, and his reflection. Watch Ian Mackaye talk about Lux Interior throwing up onstage. Watch everyone talk about the Ramones. Watch it.

Hoover: Family Reunion

HooverHoover at the Black Cat

January 22, 2005, Washington DC

Before you read it, I guess you should know that I never actually made it to the show due to the blizzard. I did drive about half of the 4 hours, though.—TL

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Reunions bring together the long lost and they encourage nostalgic pangs of happiness, awe, and occasional sadness. Some of the best and worst are family-related. The best are a pleasant surprise, the worst happen on Springer. But some of the most common reunions—or at least the biggest—are the rock tours where a troupe of geezers gather—often overweight and celebrating baldness like CSN, possibly wig-adorned like Kiss, or zombified like the Stones—as if they still believed in the musical product, not their annual gross. But because they’re basically confirmed deities, the rock gods can do it, and they seem to mingle with the most elite Himself.

Continue reading Hoover: Family Reunion

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie: Music from the Movie and More

Various – The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie: Music from the Movie and More (Sire)

Kid flicks that appeal to both parents and kids are a rarity, and the same brand of TV shows are only slightly more tolerable. When some Hollywood goons noticed square yellow keyrings hanging from the rearview mirrors of a few college jokers, the execs realized that the SpongeBob movie had a rare potential to please the kiddies and be simultaneously hip as Hell.

Alright, some people got suckered into seeing it and surely, some people have been suckered into buying the soundtrack. But you’re smart, you guessed it, it’s half for the college crowd with tracks by the Flaming Lips, the Shins, Wilco, and Ween, and the kid/adult gap is strategically buffered with a short and semi-tolerable cut by the age-bracket-defying moneymaker Avril Lavigne. The rest is like using fine beach sand instead of ClearEyes.

Do yourself a favor: get the good songs from iTunes for $4.95 and put them on your iPod. You know which songs to get. Anyway, if you or your kid needs a SpongeBob fix, flip on the TV show. If your kid wants to get the soundtrack, just dig out something equally child-friendly, like Ween’s classic Chocolate and Cheese (just ignore the parental warning) and that will end it, hopefully for good.

Warning: SpongeBob apparently advocates tolerance toward homosexuality! Gasp…

Mark Lanegan Band – Bubblegum

Mark Lanegan BandBubblegum (Beggars Banquet)

“Hey, fuck you, lady…I’m just trying to do my job here. Do I come down to the 7-11 and unplug the Slurpee machine when you’re working? Do I go to the Greyhound station and kick in the bathroom stall when you’re trying to make a buck? You know, Mom, I know we’ve had our differences, but do you really have to do this?” — Mark Lanegan in response to a heckler, December 12, 2003

Years ago, in the liner notes to the Hype! soundtrack, a documentary of the Seattle grunge scene, Lanegan was described as as a “sensitive redneck poet.” He also happens to be incredibly badass. It is even rumored that Lanegan was once admitted to a hospital with a collapsed lung, only to immediately sign himself out because he refused to miss a gig.

Lanegan may appear cadaverous, but he’s certainly alive as his solo efforts prove: 2003’s Here Comes That Weird Chill EP and now the full-length Bubblegum in 2004. The album title, of course, is misleading, because listeners won’t find a pop song anywhere. However, Bubblegum proves addictive and is a great accomplishment. One can’t help but sigh at the Mark Lanegan Band’s lineup which includes Duff and Izzy (of GNFNR), PJ Harvey, Greg Dulli (of Afghan Wigs and Twilight Singers), Dean Ween, and even the impeccable Brian Deck. Lanegan is careful, however, to avoid the perils of other superstar lineups. He does not let his friends’ talent overshadow his, and he does not hide Bubblegum‘s loose charm with irritatingly precise studio magic.

Bubblegum is the first of Mark Lanegan’s solo work to effectively combine his experiences in the grungy Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age with his affection for acoustic music. Here, Lanegan’s perfect baritone graces both spare acoustic and dense electric tunes.

Concerned fans of the Trees and the Queens need not worry that Lanegan has left his hard-living life, and Bubblegum contains enough drug and alcohol references to worry listeners that Lanegan won’t be around to continue breaking ground. Nonetheless, as long as he lives, he will likely remain one of the fiercest singer/songwriters in rock and roll.

MP3 of “Cripple Creek” from the More Oar Skip Spence tribute available via Epitonic.

Califone – Heron King Blues

CalifoneHeron King Blues (Thrilljockey)

Heron King Blues is the most chaotic of Califone’s studio releases, and though they share the same cavern in Rutili’s memory, this album maps something entirely new for the band and for rock music. It has been likened to the band’s two live releases Deceleration I and Deceleration II: soundtracks composed and performed live with a feature film, or improvised alongside film loops. These live recordings prove how daring the band is, but they are not for the weak of heart—and certainly not for the weak of heart who, on a whim, decides to play the CD (especially Deceleration II) while driving alone at 3AM—or for listeners unwilling to be a little scared.

While some of the album is a result of in-studio experimentation, improvisation, and jigsaw-like puzzle-piecing, the songs on Heron King Blues are complete—not just half the presentation. Rutili’s lyrics provide the wholeness that the Deceleration releases leave for the imagination. His voice and images easily substitute for what’s lost when listening to the movie soundtracks without a projector in the back, flaring.

In “Lion and Bee,” Rutili sings in quiet, enigmatic intricacy: “Beggars breathe / all one lung / all one engine choir / looking lost / and left undone by the riverbed / sending off winter.” The song ends with Wil Hendricks’ fading organ. “Two Sisters Drunk on Each Other” is vastly different. It begins with a drumbeat like Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” that sends the speaker reeling, a funky piece of the nightmare.

Only Califone’s previous listeners will admit they’ve heard anything like this before, but these same fans will no doubt admit that Heron King Blues is altogether new and unheard-of. New listeners are in for the greater surprise, but should beware: it’s the kind that leaps from behind a corner squawking like the a heron and laughing as the victim collapses to the floor, curled in the fetal position.

Rocky Votolato – Suicide Medicine and The Light and Sound

Rocky VotolatoSuicide Medicine and The Light and Sound EP (Second Nature Records)

Rocky Votolato is a man cloaked in the kind of duality found only in nature and lore. His voice is unpolished but resistant, his music can be soft as wax, while also tough and sturdy like a cedar rooted to a mountainside. His voice too, like fresh timber, occasionally oozes sap, but not too much. Inside Rocky, as in a cedar’s needled branches, are flitting birds with insulating feathers and powerful wings: enough to withstand a cold season, and strong enough to return every New Year.

Votolato is known for his duality: he performs with the rock group Waxwing (not to be confused with Detroit’s the Waxwings -ed.), and also solo acoustic. Seth Warren (Red Stars Theory), Casey Fobert (Pedro the Lion) and mixer/engineer Chris Walla provide assistance on his latest solo efforts, but in all his endeavors, Rocky is unmistakably the fearless leader—even amidst his solo work’s nakedness and Waxwing’s electrification.

Suicide Medicine and The Light and Sound EP reflect the rippling aspects of humanity in songs about love, murder, and warm blood, and his voice’s liquidity provides a tranquil feeling, but also evokes a hidden central current.

On these two cds (The EP was released on May 20, 2003, and the LP was released September 16) the songs alternate and blend like seasons. Votolato makes it truly possible to get the uncommon—and best—of both worlds without seeming overdone: he evokes the pain of cold as well as spring’s rejuvenation, and he experiments on all levels: within the album, within the song, within the verse. Truly, he and his band have found a way to successfully move from knuckle-scraping guitar chords to delicate fingerpicking while maintaining a smooth and intuitive, yet complicated sound.

Votolato is a self-proclaimed “hardworkin’ guitar pickin’ man” who belts ’em out above his drummer’s brushes and in perfect harmony with the backup vocals. On Suicide Medicine‘s “Death – Right,” he sings, “Inaction acts as a blade across the throat.” And as he plucks his way though cavernous orchestration, it becomes evident that Votolato needs no guide: he chooses his pains and pleasures, and balances them like nature’s blind justice.

The Light and Sound EP complements Suicide Medicine in many ways, and both discs are connected like tree and earth. In A Discourse on Killing, Votolato sings, “So I want to hit somebody / With a baseball bat / Break his fucking knees / And take pleasure in it / And I know it is not right.” Lyrics like these help prove that Votolato is a modern songwriter set in old ways, and his words echo the dark traditions found in “Delia’s Gone” and “Little Sadie.” Votolato, just like the old folk singers, breathes love, murder, and sometimes politics.

These are Votolato’s strongest releases to date. They should not be considered perfect or necessarily accommodating, but his relationship with unsettling traditional music both exhibits and foreshadows a positive natural growth. This is to his benefit, as he must realize, because he leaves room for future challenges.

Various Artists – The Amos House Collection, Volume III

Various Artists – The Amos House Collection, Volume III (Wishing Tree Records)

A house is a place where people escape rain and snow, where parents raise babies, and sometimes where musicians record. Some people own their houses, some live in others’ houses, some live in condemned houses, and some have no houses, by choice—but more often ill fortune.

Guilt is a powerful tool. However, a tool even more powerful than guilt is the knowledge that someone is already fighting pain in one way or another, with no personal gain in mind, and no fear of sacrifice. Here, even those with no idea where to begin need only make an easy decision: buy one hell of a collection—two compact discs with a surprisingly consistent lineup—and simultaneously help some lost Providence, Rhode Island residents.

Similarly, anyone interested in beginning a rewarding search for new music can turn to this collection. Even set aside the fact that twenty groups contributed new or previously unreleased songs with a selfless goal in mind. Volume III is basically a list of lower-profile musicians who write songs more skillfully than nearly everyone in the mainstream.

Wishing Tree’s own elf-ish lady, Emily Sparks, immediately steps back from the rest of the set’s philanthropic feel with her song, “Find Your Own Fire,” and although it is gripping and well-realized, her first words “Find your own fire / Stop playin’ with mine” seem to imply the kind of selfishness found in the streets and among people with little or nothing to share.

Skipping tracks is basically unnecessary on this collection. Spoon‘s acoustic, energetic “Jonathan Fisk (Demo)” complements Sparks’ uniqueness, A quiet track from another Wishing Tree artist, Richard Davies, is similarly different, and a medieval-sounding track from British folk hero James William Hindle follows perfectly.

The mood picks up with Wheat‘s “Long Shadow, USA—Wheat vs. Tim Rutili,” (recorded in Califone-friendly Clava Studios and mixed by indie superman Brian Deck) in which Scott Levesque’s “Come on, come on, come on,” challenges and comes head-to-head with T.R.’s crushing, explosive guitar. An epic battle ensues, and in the dust clouds that follow, amazed listeners witness Rutili’s victory celebration, as he leads Califone in an intense rendition of the Stones’ “Ventilator Blues.”

The second disc is just as good, and even boasts a sorrow-drenched track by Wilco called “Let Me Come Home.” In all, The Amos House Collection, Volume III is near-perfect in its lineup, contribution, and message.

Truly, this collection invokes a multiplier effect: although charity alone should leave buyers with a kind of satisfaction, the music is equally rewarding. Each listen brings new appreciation for what’s hidden in the independent underground—certainly, whatever the mainstream is, this is something entirely new and different, and reinforces the notion that rock and roll will never die. Just as the charity helps to jumpstart some near-lost lives, this collection brings new sparks to rock and roll.

Pole Position – XO

Pole Position – XO

Pole Position’s website cites influences such as “Portuguese fado and Brazilian bossa nova to kraut rock, seventies Italian pop, prog rock, crypto-homo rockers, and fierce determination.” For an EP with only five songs, that’s a lot of influences.

While the singing immediately evokes images of Thom Yorke racing his Porsche down an English back road, Pole Position have to fear an eternity in pixilation-plagued Atari land. Don’t get me wrong. Daniel Da Silva seems to have an ear for lyrics, an obvious talent at the keys, and a propellant falsetto, but Pole Position’s EP only approaches the likes of Kid A, and XO feels doomed to a similar kind of obscurity.

Da Silva’s falsetto and Rui Guerreiro’s electronic instruments are a dead giveaway to English prog influences, but Pole Position doesn’t deserves only grief for their work. After all, even Radiohead started somewhere. XO is their first release, and it’s obvious they have a sound, it’s just an old sound…from 2000. But their songs are simple and effective like an old Atari joystick. What matters is that Pole Position actually has potential.

Unfortunately, Thom Yorke has one of the most recognizable voices in rock today, and Daniel Da Silva’s is nearly identical.