John Darnielle on Star Wars and very strong rum

It’s always fun when the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle has a new project out because he goes out of his way to do interesting things to promote it. In this case his new novel, Universal Harvester, is out February 7 from publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and instead of just going out on a regular book tour (which he’s also doing, of course), he’s also reviewing rum for the Wall Street Journal and composing a ditty for the director of the new Star Wars movie.

The WSJ article (“One Very Strong Rum, Multiple Alternate Realities”) is classic JD, incorporating references to Joan Didion, James Beard, and one’s careless, younger self. My favorite quote is: “Add a tablespoon [of rum] to pretty much any standard cake recipe and you’ve got yourself the kind of grown-up dessert that’ll allow you to imagine yourself in a Fitzgerald novel, preferably closer to the beginning than the end.”

I sometimes forget that I became a fan of John Darnielle from his writing (for Michael Goldberg’s InsiderOne/Neumu and JD’s own Last Plane to Jakarta zine/blog) before I ever heard a note of his music. But once I heard his music I immediately became obsessed, scaring off most of my friends and family with my zealotry. I’ve cooled off since then but every once in a while I still geek out.

When I saw his tweets about a new song inspired by a jokey twitter conversation with Rian Johnson, I didn’t know who that was. As much as I love Star Wars I’ve tried (and apparently succeeded) in remaining spoiler-free when it comes to news about the upcoming movies. For anybody who doesn’t know: Johnson is the director of Episode 8: The Last Jedi.

Darnielle’s summary:

I was saying how there’s an urgent need to speak out about the many deeds of the ultimate Jedi who wastes all the other Jedi and eats their bones. Rian agreed, and told me to get to work, that the story must be told! So I wrote the song and recorded it with a little help from my kids, who you’ll hear excitedly jumping in and out of the room while I work. Enjoy!

Hear it below…

Continue reading John Darnielle on Star Wars and very strong rum

Bowie Gets Posted

One thing that probably isn’t thought about a great deal—or at all—is the subject of postage stamps. If they’re thought of, it is in the context of suddenly finding oneself in the need of one.

But they can be thought about in relationship to music.

That is, the U.S. Postal Service actually has a broad list of musicians that it has put on stamps over the years. This includes:
• Louis Armstrong
• Ray Charles
• Elvis Presley
• Johnny Cash
• Sarah Vaughn
• Janis Joplin
• Jimi Hendrix

Now it seems that while there is a number of philatelists who collect the first-day covers and press sheets (with our without die cuts), there are plenty of people who, when going into their local post offices in need of stamps and are faced with the choice between a pickup truck and Janis make the Mercedes-Benz choice.

Back in the day when comic books ran ads for things like “X-Ray Specs,” there were sometimes ads for stamps that were—and are—printed by small countries that were trying to cash in on celebrities, whether it was a stamp with a superhero on it or some voluptuous Hollywood star that happened to be in the news. One could argue that that was probably a more sensible approach financially for putting ink on paper than plenty of other alternatives. They’d seize something of topical interest and turn it into a stamp that would certainly never be used.

It used to be that in the U.S. someone had to be dead (see previous list) before they’d get their face on a U.S. Postal System stamp. That changed in 2012.

Which explains things like Harry Potter stamps. After all, the U.S.P.S. isn’t immune to a need for revenue, and presumably a whole lot of Muggles would be more than glad to have a Potter collection stashed away in an album.

Meanwhile, over in the U.K. the Royal Mail has announced that for the first time in its history it is devoting a stamp issue to an individual artist or cultural figure:

David Bowie.

That’s right, there is a set of 10 Bowie stamps that will go in sale on March 14, that include:
• The covers of Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, Heroes, Let’s Dance, and Blackstar
• Four stamps showing Bowie in live performances (The Ziggy Stardust Tour, 1972; The Stage Tour, 1978; The Serious Moonlight Tour, 1983; A Reality Tour, 2004).

Incidentally: the Royal Mail, after 500 years, was privatized in 2015. Clearly its motives are not unlike those of the aforementioned small countries. Or the U.S.P.S., for that matter.

Nana Grizol video: TV Song

Video: Nana Grizol – “TV Song”

Nana Grizol – TV Song

The press release calls them “Elephant 6-affiliated folk-punks” which, I’ll admit, is enough to get my attention. I don’t remember ever hearing either of Nana Grizol’s first two records, Love It, Love It (2008) or Ruth (2010), but I like the sound of this song enough that I might have to go back and check them out. The new album, Ursa Minor, is due March 31 on Orange Twin Records.

Continue reading Nana Grizol video: TV Song

The Ministry of Found

What was once angry might once again inspire volume

It was a few days after the election when I found nihilism lying broken in the street. Scuffed, half-crushed, and sharing a gutter with chicken bones and an energy drink that didn’t take, it still had spittle in its beard, metal shavings in its throat, and gave off the vibe of not having removed its leathers for a decent spell. And by the way, ‘you party?

Ministry’s Land of Rape and Honey was in the gutter at the bus stop. A half dead cassette, still broadcasting to Past Me. The iconic Sire Records logo was apparent on its banged up, off-white housing, next to all of those rabid, reverse paeans to a god called Fuck You. “Stigmata,” “The Missing,” “Deity,” “Golden Dawn,” “Destruction”. Electric guitar and bass, arc welded to unholy electronics.

Just like a car crash. Just like a knife.

Released in 1988, Land of Rape and Honey continued Al Jourgensen and Ministry’s evolution from a largely electronic, but definitely weird dance act into something much more angry, and louder. Today we talk a lot about dumpster fires, right? This music was abraded in flames, reflecting in a million jagged shards of the devil’s disco ball. In Hell, no one can hear you party, and that’s mostly because of Jourgensen’s mechanized yowl. Mr. Acidic Robot Sarcasm, he was pretty much over the putrid mud from the sky, the shit storm of propaganda. It was time to scream obscenities at the Conservative Establishment. Oh, and society? You’re a bunch of boring-sex-havers. The title track even hijacked the bashy 1985 slink of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” and applied skeezy synths and shouty polemic at maximum volume. You climb the mountain, you pray.

Past Me reveled in the pounding dystopian echoes of “Destruction,” how the martial beat and its bizarro hardcore punk churn resonated in my head. At a different bus stop, I cut its music video out of footage from the 1987 Patrick Swayze headband vehicle Steel Dawn. Back then I knew Reagan, Bush, and their cronies were schmoes, but I mostly wanted to max the volume on my Walkman in private solidarity with some scary people from the city who didn’t give a fuck about God, The Guv, or giving license to complacency. (Play it louder, blasted tape technology!) Land of Rape and Honey sounded like a middle finger built from amps stacked to the sky. And the sky could suck it, too.

Post-election, Current Trump, happening upon a bracing screed from my own past, I wondered how artists in the now will agitate the status quo. I fished out the remains of the tape, and said goodbye to the gutter. Our bus had arrived. We would make it in time.

JTL

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New Boss Hogg album coming soon: Brood X

Cristina Martinez and Jon Spencer are bringing back their New York art/punk/scuzz band Boss Hogg just when we needed them. We hadn’t heard from them since 2000’s Whiteout until they released a four-song EP in July. Along with veterans Jens Jurgensen on bass and Hollis Queens on drums, and newcomer Mickey Finn on keys, they’re releasing the full-length Brood X on March 24 on In The Red. Follow them on Facebook for all the latest revolutionary insurrection.

I’ve always thought Boss Hogg was cool. I still have my turntable mat from their eponymous 1995 album even though I got rid of the record years ago. I’m happy to hear they’re still making a ruckus.

And you can stream a couple of songs below…

Continue reading New Boss Hogg album coming soon: Brood X

What Do They Know?

One of the things that often happens when a performer—be it an actor or a musician—makes a political point is that there is a degree of dismissiveness among some—even among that person’s fans—, a reaction that has it, in effect, “Oh, she’s just an actress, what does she know?” (Or, as our President put it about Meryl Streep, “one of the most-overrated actresses.”)

We can allow these people to move us in their performances, but somehow that has nothing to do with their intelligence or capability or thoughtfulness. They are “just” playing or singing or acting. What do they know?

Of course, when it comes to the campaigning part of politics, it is all good to have the actors and musicians to come on stage with the candidates to lend support, be they Gary Busey or George Clooney, Wayne Newton or Bruce Springsteen. (Yes, I’ve made loaded choices of supporters of the candidates in the last presidential, but they are no less true.)

When Madonna says “Yes, I have thought an awful lot of blowing up the White House, but I know that this won’t change anything,” you’d think that the 58-year-old performer was going to be in charge of life-altering policies for literally hundreds of millions of people; when a presidential candidate says in a speech of his opponent, “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know,” it gets pretty much treated as though, “Oh, it’s just him being him.”

Actors or musicians, the thinking seems to be, really don’t know more than their crafts. Lawyers and real estate developers—they know lots about everything.

Don’t they?

Continue reading What Do They Know?

New Father John Misty video: Pure Comedy

Video: Father John Misty – “Pure Comedy”

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

Another feel good party anthem from everybody’s favorite optimist, FJM. No official info yet on whether this is from his third album or just another one-off single he’s been upping of late, but it appears that he and video director Matthew Daniel Siskin have been thinking about the miracle of birth and the inauguration of our new orange fuhrer.

Siskin, by the way, is Beyonce’s webmaster (or something).

Update: Clever nerds have discovered a cached merch page indicating that a new album, also titled Pure Comedy, is due March 31. Plus: album artwork.

Update #2: NPR reveals that Pure Comedy is due April 7 on Sub Pop Records.

Continue reading New Father John Misty video: Pure Comedy

“A Little Bit Rock and Roll”

Last week I had an encounter with someone whom I never imagined that I would meet—not that I ever even thought about meeting with him. Ever.

I was flying from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas. While in the scrum-turning-into line to board, I paid no attention to the person in front of me until I heard the woman who was scanning the tickets say to him, “I saw your show last week.  I really liked it!”

His back was to me. He was about 5’10”.  Medium build.  Wavy reddish-brown hair.  I glanced at his bag and saw a monogram: “DCO.”

And given where I was and where I was going, it struck me that I was next to Donny Osmond.

As a colleague had been upgraded to first class, and as I was boarding, as was Osmond, in coach, I said to Osmond that I was surprised that he wasn’t flying in the front of the plane. Which led to a bit of good-natured banter between the two of us about flying.

Osmond, of course, is an entertainer. He has been for the greater part of his 59 years, having appeared at age 5 on the “Andy Williams” show.

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2016 Soundscan Data: Total Music Sales and Consumption

2016 was a hell of a year, huh?

Music sales continued to fall, streaming continued to climb. Apple Music still kinda sucks. Spotify is just alright. Not a lot of excitement around new album releases. For me at least. I didn’t get into too much new stuff this year. The new release I was most excited by was the Monkees’ Good Times and seeing Mickey and Peter on their 50th anniversary tour was a thrill; I even bought a replica of the poncho from the “Randy Scouse Git” video! Other albums I enjoyed were new ones by Andrew Bird, Robbie Fulks, Wilco, the Handsome Family, Regina Spektor, and Two Cow Garage. I didn’t hear about Car Seat Headrest until they started showing up on everybody’s year-end lists, but I’m liking what I’ve heard of that, too.

I’m bummed about Prince and Leonard Cohen dying, regretting having blown multiple opportunities to see them in concert. George Michael, Sharon Jones, George Martin, Scotty Moore, David Bowie, Bernie Worrell, Glenn Frey, Leon Russell, Paul Kantner, Merle Haggard, Maurice White, Vanity, Phife Dawg, Carrie Fisher, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Jerry Heller, Fidel Castro, Nancy Reagan, Abe Vigoda, Garry Marshall, Garry Shandling, Grizzly Adams, Mrs. Brady, Schneider, Father Mulcahy, Big Ang… A lot of people died in 2016. A lot more are going to die in 2017. The Baby Boomers are in their 70s now. We can expect classic rockers to start dropping like flies. Prepare yourself. Let people know you care about them when you have the chance.

Until then, let’s look at the data from Nielsen Music via Billboard

Total U.S. Album sales (physical + digital in millions)

Total Album Sales (physical + digital albums)

2016: 200.54 million
2015: 241.39 million
2014: 257.02 million
2013: 289.41 million
2012: 315.96 million
2011: 330.57 million
2010: 326.15 million
2009: 373.9 million
2008: 428.4 million
2007: 500.5 million
2006: 542.4 million
2005: 618.9 million
2004: 667 million
2003: 687 million
2002: 681 million
2001: 763 million
2000: 785 million
1999: 754.8 million
1998: 711 million
1997: 651.8 million
1996: 616.6 million
1995: 616.4 million (I’ve heard the figure is 616,957,000)
1994: 614.7 million (I’ve heard the figure is 615,266,000)
1993: ~573 million (1994 was 7.4% increase over 1993)

Continue reading 2016 Soundscan Data: Total Music Sales and Consumption

Remastered, expanded edition of Elliott Smith’s Either/Or coming in March

Either/Or was the first Elliott Smith album I bought. Like a lot of people outside the Pacific Northwest my first exposure to Elliott Smith was the movie Good Will Hunting. Or maybe a pal put something on a mixtape. I can’t remember why but at the time I was opposed to buying soundtracks, so I picked up Either/Or essentially as a way to get my favorite song from the film: “Say Yes.”

I immediately became obsessed. Songs like “Ballad of Big Nothing” and “Rose Parade” had a melodic sensibility that appealed to the Beatles fanatic in me and the dark, clever lyrics were right up my Tom Waits-loving, low-life alley. The recording sounded like it was made by people who reeked of stale cigarette smoke and beer sweat. This was the 90s and bars couldn’t be divey enough for people like us. The dirtier and cheaper, the better. Elliott Smith sounded like a guy we might see in the corner booth at Teazer’s, sipping something in a rocks glass and nodding along and smirking when a not-too-terrible song got played on the jukebox. This is what I projected onto him anyway from listening to the album and looking at the cover photo.

We didn’t have wikipedia in those days so I had to gather clues by scouring the liner notes: “recorded at joanna’s house, my house, the shop, undercover inc., heatmiser house, and laundry rules.” The label was Kill Rock Stars, the home of Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. This was all we had to go on, to make up narratives of our own.

Years later, I’d finally get a chance to see him in concert, but the show was a disaster and he was a mess. A year and a half later, he was dead.

Since then, there have been a number of posthumous releases. First there was From a Basement on the Hill, a collection of the stuff he was working on before he died. In 2007 there was New Moon, a compilation of 24 outtakes mostly recorded between 1994 and 1997. I interviewed archivist Larry Crane back then about putting together that release. A couple years later I interviewed Crane again about what he found in the archives since New Moon. He said there probably wasn’t enough unreleased stuff to release another album, but “There are a lot of interesting alternate and live versions of songs though. I could see doing ‘bonus disc’ versions of the proper albums as a possibility.”

Continue reading Remastered, expanded edition of Elliott Smith’s Either/Or coming in March