All posts by Derek Phillips

Check Your Head at 30

Nevermind (sic) what you’ve heard, this is the most important album of the 90s. Released on April 21, 1992 with relative quiet, it was the sneaker album of the summer of ‘92 and raised the bar for both alternative music and hip hop and obliterated the lines between in the process.

I remember clearly when this album hit me–and it was at least a month or two after I bought it at Crazy Larry’s, the video/music shop where I worked in Grand Rapids. I was visiting my friends at Kalamazoo College where Jake Brown was on campus for a summer session and we were all lazing around the kiddie pool we’d set up to get through the midwest humidity. The pool’s name was Tony and we were very clearly the cool kids on campus, even though I wasn’t even enrolled. So it was no surprise we were blasting the latest Beastie Boys album, but what struck me was when some bros rolled up in an orange Jeep Wrangler with the rag-top removed and “Pass the Mic” at full volume. The alternative was about to become the mainstream.

At the time, I was derisive. I mean…that’s what we were supposed to be. This was the era when worlds were colliding–uncomfortably, sometimes. Alternative and hip-hop were subversive, the whole point was to side-step the mainstream. But good is good and greatness transcends. There is no better soundtrack for the cultural collision of the early 90s than Check Your Head, itself a collision of sounds, ideas, vibes, culture.

It has everything: Hip-hop, punk, jazz, funk, inside jokes. And it was the B-Boys stretching as musicians with fewer samples and much more contribution of musical tracks from Ad-Rock, Mike D and MCA. Rather than sampling groovy tracks from obscure 70s soundtracks, they were creating their own. That’s some meta shit and it was what we were all doing in some way. We were borrowing clothes from our dads’ closets and pairing up wide collars with Pumas. It was a pu-pu platter of clothes, music, art, film…everything. I didn’t quite realize (let alone appreciate) at the time, but it was a time of creative explosions where the weird was valued and applied as a hue to our post-adolescent awakening. I don’t know what any of that means, but it was a vibe.

And so thirty years on I still listen to Check Your Head a lot and unlike other albums of that time, it doesn’t fill me with much nostalgia. I think it’s because it still sounds revelatory. It still sounds new. Sure, it still brings me back to that kiddie pool in the middle of the quad were college kids were experimenting with new ideas and stumbling along the way. But it’s almost as if it’s a movie, not a memory, playing in my head. And every time I watch it, I see and hear something new. That’s genius.

Beastie Boys HD : Live In Japan ( Pro Shot ) - 1992

 

Continue reading Check Your Head at 30

New Jack White video: Taking Me Back

Video: Jack White – “Taking Me Back”

Jack White – Taking Me Back (Official Video)

Directed by Jack White. From Fear Of The Dawn, due April 8 on Third Man.

Lego-man hair aside, Jack White usually has pretty good taste. He’s built his entire empire on the fact with his various Third Man enterprises. From the record label, to the store front, to his design studio, to his return to the day job with upholstery, Jack White has put his three-headed stamp on some pretty cool shit.

So it’s a little odd to hear what sounds like every Guitar Center’s sales guy’s worst nightmare of a song belching out as the first single of a promised two-album run. This song has everything: Big riffs, squelchy tones, freaky tremolo and keyboard banks from 1996. [End: Stefan skit]

Just the same, I’m looking forward to hearing more from Detroit’s estranged son. With two albums boasting 23 track between them, there’s bound to be some gems in among the rough cuts.

Fear of the Dawn is due out on April 8, 2022 with Entering Heaven Alive following on July 22.

New Lorde video: Fallen Fruit

Video: Lorde – “Fallen Fruit”

Lorde - Fallen Fruit

Directed by Joel Kefali and Ella Yelich-O’Connor. From Solar Power, out now on UMG.

Hey, remember when Billy Bragg and Wilco started digging through Woody Guthrie’s old boxes of unfinished songs and put out two really solid albums of that material and then Jay Farrar was all like, ” I want in on that!” and Billy Bragg released a third album of that Guthrie material that Jeff Tweedy thought wasn’t up-to-snuff but it was cock-blocking Farrar so whatever? Wild times.

“Fallen Fruit” sounds like Lorde’s take on an unfinished Elliott Smith song and let me tell you reader, I am all about it. I miss Elliott Smith being in thew world--a lot. Lorde channels his mastery of melody and melancholy with just a hint of danger in “Fallen Fruit.”   She hits right on target and the result is a lovely reminder of what we’ve lost with Elliott Smith gone from the world but what we still have in writers like Lorde.

New Spoon video: The Hardest Cut

Video: Spoon – “The Hardest Cut”

Spoon - The Hardest Cut

From Lucifer on the Sofa, out February 11 on Matador.

It’s fucking weird out there, gang. I mean…when is it not weird anymore? Are we forever stuck in this real-life Chinese curse of “interesting times” where a half-wit gameshow host dictates the ebb and flow of current events in exile at his faux palace in Florida? Is this it now?

It’s good to have something to look forward to and who better to deliver than the most consistently good band of the last 20 years? The press release says, “Spoon’s tenth album, Lucifer on the Sofa, is the band’s purest rock ‘n roll record to date.” And by God, that’s exactly what we need. Returning to their roots in Austin, Texas for recording, the first single is indeed a scorcher.

Here’s how I imagine the video treatment being pitched:

Opening title: Spoon, The Hardest Cut [slasher film type]

Interior 1: Spooky house set with eclectic, Victorian-leaning decor. A cast of odd characters evenly spaced and rhythmically rocking.

Interior 2: A small study (upstairs or downstairs from Interior 1). A female is tied to a chair facing a menacing male holding a knife.

I won’t give away any more spoilers but suffice it to say this is a Lynchian freakout that’s perfect for the song…and the times.

Britt Daniel describes the sound of the album as, “the sound of classic rock as written by a guy who never did get Eric Clapton.” If that isn’t the perfect description of GLONO’s beat, then I don’t know what I’m doing here.

“I spent a lot of 2018 and 2019 listening to ZZ Top.”

Eh…close enough.

New Tristen: Athena

Video: Tristen – “Athena”

Tristen - "Athena" (Official Music Video)

Video by Tristen. From Aquatic Flowers, out June 4 on Mama Bird.

Tristen is my current obsession. Not in a made-for-tv stalker way, but in a new-found musical crush way. I was floored by her last single, “Complex,” and had it on repeat for days after Jake first posted it. She’s clever and has a really interesting sense of melody. She also looks just like the grown up version of Eleven from Stranger Things, but that’s a conversation for another fan forum.

Eleven from Stranger Things
Eleven? Tristen? Athena? Who knows?

So I was excited when she dropped her new single, “Athena.” It’s a spooky, neo-psych number that retains her voice, but filters it through Anton Newcombe’s poncho. Which, of course means…I love it.

Listen to Tristen explain the back story to the song after the jump.

Continue reading New Tristen: Athena

New Paul Weller: Cosmic Fringes

Video: Paul Weller – “Cosmic Fringes”

Paul Weller - Cosmic Fringes

From Fat Pop (Volume 1), due May 14 on Polydor.

Paul Weller has made his bones as a man looking forward and back. The Jam was a “youth explosion” built on riffs and themes of a Britain ten years in the past. Style Council was neo-soul, with not a lot of emphasis on the neo. So it shouldn’t be a surprise when the Mod Father dabbles a bit in some vintage sounds. But this? Erm…

Layered synths and throbbing bass float this song along with punches of distorted guitar. Should Gary Numan make a cameo, I’m not sure anyone would notice. I get that the kids are all gaga for the 80s, but I’m not sure if this is the modern world I was hoping for.

XX

Glorious Noise turns 20 and my have things changed. 

Twenty years is a long time, especially in the Information Age where time bends and flips unto itself in meta ways. Digital Culture is not measured in years but memes…in Scaramuccis. To think back on twenty years of Glorious Noise is more than my feeble Gen X mind can even really do or bring any sense to. Still, I must try because it’s the only reason to even participate online anymore.

When we started Jake had to jigger a light hack to even allow comments. The Internet promised to democratize information, but to even have two-way conversations required some level of technical ability most normies didn’t have. So at first, it was still us broadcasting to you. It was our turn to be the gatekeepers and tell you what was cool out there, and more often than not what wasn’t cool. It was fun and basically what my friends and I did at every party we ruined in Chicago. We got loud and debated the legitimacy of the host’s music collection. Now that everyone streams, can we even do that anymore? Where’s the fun?

For a while the site made some money, which kept us online and allowed us to throw parties and launch a record label. You know all this because we mention some version of the site’s history each year at this time. I mention it now because nobody makes money online anymore. Even porn is free. So we don’t throw any parties anymore and we don’t put out our friends’ records. 

I don’t write this as a whine, but to list a few more examples of how things have changed. We didn’t launch the site to make any money and now we’re back to the beginning. We do it now for the same reason we started: because we like to talk about music. Maybe not as much as we used to, but still…

So happy birthday, GLONO. I am pretty proud that this site has been running for twenty years. We’ve found and shared a lot of really cool music in those twenty years and my one true hope is that somewhere along the way, that music changed your life.

Father John Misty - In Twenty Years or So

Sylvain Sylvain Dead at 69

As original member and guitarist for The New York Dolls, Sylvain Sylvain inspired countless kids in bedrooms around the world to pick up their guitars, dab on a bit of rouge, and start a band. The Dolls’ influence on rock and roll is well documented and will continue as long as there’s a need for loud, campy rock and roll--and that need never goes away.

But Sylvain also inspired my all-time favorite rock show heckle; one that I use to this day, regardless of the artist or situation. Like the Dolls themselves, it is equally specific to the moment it was first uttered and evergreen. 

It was at The Cactus Club in Milwaukee where my new bandmate and pal Mick was reunited with his band Men From Mars to open for Sylvain. I was late because I couldn’t find my way to the club and passed my turn several times before catching a glimpse of the front door and swinging a hard left on a wet road. I made it in to catch the end of Mick’s set and caught up on beers and chit-chat with Mick. Then it got loud.

Sylvain’s band kicked in hard. I can’t remember what song they opened with but I am pretty sure it was a Dolls’ tune. You know, to get the crowd ready to roll. They were pretty tight but swinging and Sylvain sounded good. He worked up a sweat quickly and eventually wandered into the crowd, guitar in hand so we could all get hot, hot, hot together. This was a few months after September 11, 2001 and we were all looking for an opportunity or reason to find some community. As a New Yorker, Sylvain obviously had some very close and personal feelings about what had happened in New York and what was happening in America as a response. He lit into a rant…a preach for loving each other and not giving in to prejudice or paranoia. He was hitting a high when the heckle rang out like a shot:

Play “Trash,” hippy!

It was incredibly offensive and incredibly hilarious, the perfect interruption for an emotional moment as only a Midwesterner can deliver. Sylvain laughed and nodded his head as if to say, “Yeah, yeah. Ok.” and we were back to rocking and sweating.

Sylvain died today after a two and a half year battle with cancer. Of the original line-up, only David Johansen remains. We have the records, we have the songs, but we’ll never get to hear Sylvain play “Trash” again. That’s a real drag.

New Teenage Fanclub: Home

Video: Teenage Fanclub – “Home”

Teenage Fanclub - Home (single edit)

From Endless Arcade, out March 5 on Merge.

You can never go home again. Yeah, it’s a cliche and painfully overused but it’s overused because it’s also painfully true. You can wander the streets of your neighborhood but they’re slightly different, like in a dream. Old haunts are under different names, old friends are…older. So, no. You can’t go home again, but one of the magics of music is you can return to familiar feelings. Neurons deep within the folds and creases of your brain can fire again. You can’t go back, but you can imagine what it would be like if you could. That’s how I feel when I hear the jangle and harmonies of Teenage Fanclub.

Teenage Fanclub - Everything Flows BBC Session

My introduction to the Fannies was like so many bands and artists in my youth: via mixtape. Jake had slipped in an alternate take of “Everything Flows” onto a yellow Maxell cassette. The loud guitars layered with pristine harmonies seeped perfectly into a brain already prepped by an obsession with The Stone Roses.

We get older every year
But you don’t change
Or I don’t notice you’re changing

Nearly thirty years on, Teenage Fanclub is still chugging. Their long Scottish locks are shorn and their skin isn’t as smooth, but whose is? The raucous youths who stormed Reading in 1992 are now more mature, more refined, more…still. And maybe that allows more space for the songs themselves. Maybe I’m just getting older too.

Teenage Fanclub - Reading Festival 1992

The new single, “Home” is classic latter-day TFC. It’s pretty and touching and nostalgic without being morose. Give a listen and feel at home again, if only for four minutes.

Teenage Fanclub: web, twitter, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Election 2020: Where Angels Play

From the National Affairs Desk:

It’s day-whatever in the never ending 2020 election and despite the long, drawn out process, there aren’t really any surprises. Sure, expectations weren’t met as far as a blue wave sweeping across the Senate and state houses, but those expectations were more wishes and dreams than realistic results. We are, after all, in a country where a lunatic has maintained a 40+ percent approval rating. In the end, the characters are playing their parts as we would expect, as in a trite sitcom, which is maybe all we are anyways.

Sitcoms have a formula and one of the truest components of that formula is the Golden Moment (known in the biz as the “moment of shit,”) where all the loose ends are bound up and the lessons of the day are learned. Here we are as a nation at our moment of shit and I have to wonder what lessons have we learned?

First: A Beginning

There’s been a bit of chatter out there about Abraham Lincoln and his first inaugural address. The south had seceded and Lincoln wanted to cool shit down and speak directly to those people who’d left the Union. Lincoln knew that the cost of a civil war would be terrible (though ultimately a cost we’d have to carry) and tried to plead with the south to reconsider:

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Lincoln was an optimist. He believed in the human spirit and that deep, deep down we are good people, bonded more by what we have in common than divided by our differences.

Couple that with Donald Trump’s first (and only) inaugural address where he painted a bloody picture of American carnage and unending grievances. Almost from the beginning, Trump drew battle lines and called on his followers to remember whose side they’re on:

The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital,  there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes starting right here and right now. Because this moment is your moment. It belongs to you. 

It’s true that America’s working families were not in on many of the triumphs; they had been left to flounder as billionaire’s raked in more. But that was directly due to Republican tax policy and corporate pandering. Four years later, billionaires have billions more and you got a $1200 check. Did that feel like your moment?

Now: An Ending

It’s the Friday after the election and we’re still waiting for the race to officially be called even though we all know Biden has won. And I do mean we all know. Donald Trump doesn’t want to face it, but he knows it’s over. He knows Biden got more votes and his only play now is to simply deny. Donald Trump has lived a lifetime of denial; of his responsibilities to his wives and children, to his creditors and business partners, to his patriotic duty to pay his fair share toward what Makes America Great, and to the reality that every fraud eventually gets caught. 

SAD Donald Trump has spent the last several days trying to undermine faith in our most sacred system by undermining the integrity of our votes. We are nothing if we lose faith that we, the people are in charge. Rather than admit that Joe Biden had the better campaign and vision to garner more votes (by 4 million and counting), Donald Trump is trying to tear down the whole system around him. By doing so, he’s further boxing himself in. How can he admit defeat and follow the tradition at the heart of our nearly 245 years of self-rule and peaceful transition of power by conceding?

Four years ago, Hillary Clinton did it. Her first words were for her country:

Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans.

Sure, she was disappointed and probably shocked and had a couple not-so-subtle jabs in the full text of the speech, but she’s a patriot and wished for the best for America. Right up to the end, she saw the promise and the possibility for America:

Finally, I am so grateful for our country and for all it has given to me. I count my blessings every single day that I am an American. And I still believe as deeply as I ever have that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our convictions and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us. 

Can you imagine any of that coming from Donald Trump? If this week is any indication, we’re in for two and half months of his undermining bullshit. I doubt he’ll concede at all or even show up to participate in the peaceful transfer of power at Biden’s inauguration. We’re likely to have two and a half more months of the oil barrel of lies we got last night. The vote is not rigged, you fucking lost. As we were told in the aftermath of 2016: Get over it.

The Stone Roses - Where Angels Play (audio only)