Monthly Archives: June 2008

“Shine in/Shine on”

Boredoms – “Super Going” from Super Ae [1998]

Here is some mind-expanding minimalist drone punk to laze away a summer Sunday with. Boredoms at 2006 Intonation Festival (pictured above) blew me away with volume and rhythmic attack, but they lacked the tunefulness (albeit in the loosest sense of “tune”) this song soars with. Enjoy.

Can’t buy me Boredom

Posted by Glenn


Filed under 1990s, Experimental, Post-rock, Prog Rock, Psychedelic, Punk, Space rock

“He never helps out in the yard”

The Feelies – “The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness” from Crazy Rhythms (1980)

The Feelies, Television, and Talking Heads form some kind of unholy late-70s triumvirate of nervy New York dorkitude. I don’t know the work of Glenn Mercer & co. as deeply as I know that of Television and Talking Heads, but I have a feeling the Feelies may be the best of the bunch. The vocal delivery is as good as Byrne at his best (check the “awright” at 2:17, just after the song’s big plot twist); the rushing guitars at the climax of the song more than illustrate, they embody the lyrical content; the band seems constantly pushed to the breaking point, in the best punk tradition.

If you like, check the usual Internet sources for more–it looks like Feelies CDs are hard to come by these days.

Try the Feelies at Amazon

Posted by Glenn


Filed under 1980s, Punk, Rock

“You leave me [breath sound] breathless”

Jerry Lee Lewis – “Breathless” [Single, 1958]

He grew up playing piano with his cousin, future televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, married his 13-year old cousin (Lewis was 23 at the time; she was his third wife) and goes by the nickname “The Killer.”  Jerry Lee Lewis was Rock and Roll’s first wild man.  Once, very early in his career, a Nashville producer suggested Lewis switch from the piano to the guitar.  Offended, Lewis reportedly replied “you can take your guitar and ram it up your ass!”  “Breathless” is one of the Killer’s first singles, recorded in 1958 on the venerable Sun Records label.  I love the sound of the drums and the rockabilly groove on this track.

I am interested in the origins of things, and this is a fine example of the origins of rock music.  Everyone knows “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” so I wanted to post a song that, while it was a single in 1958, is relatively unknown today.  It is songs like this and artists like Lewis that enabled today’s rock music – if not all of today’s popular music – to exist.  We as music fans have a debt to pay to these old rock and rollers; the least we can do is give them a listen every now and again.  These old songs are not lyrically or musically complex (though the Killer was/is a hell of a piano player) but in a way, that makes them more pure.  Their simplicity certainly makes them easier to enjoy.

Buy the Killer

Posted by Adam


Filed under 1950s, Rock

“But I prefer…alcohol!”

The Clash – “The Right Profile” from London Calling (1979)
The Clash – “Gates of the West” from Super Black Market Clash (1994) [originally on The Cost of Living EP, 1979]

Two lesser-known Clash songs, both of which feature top-notch vocal performances by their respective singers. (That’s Joe Strummer on “The Right Profile” and Mick Jones on the smooth-as-butter “Gates of the West,” natch.)

The above photo of Monty Clift comes by way of Stanley Kubrick, an SWR fave. Check out Kubrick’s photo book.

Buy the Clash

Posted by Glenn


Filed under 1970s, Punk, Rock

“Tell it to me slowly”

The Zombies – “Time of the Season [UK mono mix]” from Odessey & Oracle [1968]

As a young boy, I was captivated by this song.  The hushed forthrightness and swagger of the narrator disturbed me.  Nevertheless, I wanted to be the guy who could walk up to a girl and ask “What’s your name?/Who’s your daddy?/Is he rich like me?”  Damn.  I’ll never be that threatening/alluring.

This gem was written by Zombie Rod Argent whose keyboard passages define Odessey & Oracle as much as Colin Blunstone’s characteristic vocals.

Buy it here

Posted by Jordy


Filed under 1960s, Psychedelic, Rock

Hammocks, et al.

Tren Brothers – Gold Star Berlin from Ep [1997]

I just found out that the Tren Brothers are playing at Schuba’s in Chicago. Against my better judgment, I purchased two tickets and a round-trip plane ride in order to witness this event. Why, you ask?

Mick Turner and Jim White (two thirds of the Dirty Three) create loop-based, off-kilter sunset reveries (my friend says this should be called “the hammock song”) that demonstrate the perfect fact that they have insane chops and have transcended them. This band is good. Really good. Better than most everything in my music collection. So if you’re in Chicago, you should really make it out on Saturday. Their current tour is tonight in New York, two dates in Canada, Chicago on Friday and then a couple more dates in Canada. If you can call that a tour.

So go, already. Buy your tickets here.

Also, buy the music here

Posted by Phil


Filed under 1990s, Instrumental

“Now it’s Friday.”

Migala – Suburbian Empty Movie Theatre from Arde [2001]

I first heard Migala on a covers record of Low’s I Could Live In Hope and it was spooky. In researching their back catalog, I found that they used to be an experimental noise band.


Regardless, this song off their first US release for Sub Pop makes me feel really, really good whenever I listen to it, and since it’s raining and I’m still at work, well, I thought I’d give it a shot. Hopefully it works for you, too.

Disappear for half the night. Disappear

Posted by Phil

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Filed under 2000s, Rock

“I have made a cake like that in my own home once or twice”

Palace Music – “Untitled [live]” available on Lost Blues and Other Songs (1997)

If I wrote songs, this is what they’d sound like: raw, rollicking, inspired.

I cannot stress enough the value of this Palace Music collection.

I just ordered the new B ‘P’ B album. I hear it’s good. Item: stay tuned to Drag City for the new Silver Jews album next week.

Posted by Jordy

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Filed under 1990s, Live, Rock

“For the sake of future days”

CAN – “Future Days” from Future Days (1973)

Imagine sitting in on a jam session with Can in the early 1970s. That must have been something to witness. Even their studio recordings attest to their unCANny unity as a group. They sound like one, highly coordinated machine. Yet what separated Can from Deutschen contemporaries like Kraftwerk was their ability to sound eminently human. Borrowing from jazz, they took German precision to groovy depths that put their music in stark contrast to the intentional alienation of more automated, electronic artists.

For CAN beginners, I recommend Tago Mago (which contains “Halleluhwah,” the single greatest jam of all time, I shit you not) or Ege Bamyasi.

Can you dig it?

Posted by Jordy


Filed under 1970s, Experimental, Rock

“The sun is gonna burn into a cinder/before we ever pass this way again”

Cat Power – “Silver Stallion” from Jukebox [2008]
The Highwaymen – “Silver Stallion” from Highwayman 2 [1990]
Lee Clayton – “Silver Stallion” from Border Affair [1978]

Here we have three versions of the same song by three different artists. The three versions of the song are all very different and as such, elicit very different moods. Clayton’s electric guitar-drenched original sounds almost triumphant, while The Highwaymen do a pretty straightforward country rendition. My personal favorite is the most recent version, sung by the nonpareil Cat Power (real name Chan Marshall). Ms. Power’s version evokes the sadness of the classic ramblin’ song. Her voice sounds as if she’s spent a few too many late nights drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes, and she woke up early one morning singing this song with a sleepy, hungover resolve to make a change in her life.

I have a thing for female singers with smoky voices, and Ms. Power is my current favorite. I discovered her just recently, after seeing her eccentric, mesmerizing performance on Letterman. Shortly after watching that performance several times over (thanks to TiVo) I picked up her Jukebox album, which is a curious collection of covers ranging from “Silver Stallion” to Kander and Ebb’s “New York, New York” to Dylan’s “I Believe in You” along with a few of Ms. Power’s own songs, including a great re-working of “Metal Heart” from her 1998 album Moon Pix.

Ms. Power has a penchant for doing a lot of odd covers and making them all her own. Jukebox is her second covers album, the first being 2000’s aptly titled The Covers Record. In addition to having a terribly sexy voice, Ms. Power has a pretty interesting story as well. This 2006 New York Times article (in addition to this blog post, of course) offers a nice introduction to the world of Cat Power.

Despite a cleverly deceptive opening paragraph, this post is really about how great Cat Power is.

Posted By Adam


Filed under 1970s, 1990s, 2000s, Country

An Exceptionally Brief Primer on Some Ambient Music

Brian Eno – “1/1” from Ambient #1 Music for Airports [1978]

Stars of the Lid – “Even If You’re Never Awake (Deuxieme)” from And Their Refinement of the Decline [2007]

If you have never heard “1/1,” then what the hell is your problem. This is the eponymous and seminal work of ambient music, a genre now flooded with dreck not nearly as thought-out as Eno’s work. Just reading the liner notes to records like “Music for Airports” and “Discreet Music,” you can see how much thought Eno put into the process of making ambient music. It’s not just keyboard drones, you see. It’s the method, and this is what makes Brian Eno more interesting to me than John Cage. Cage was all about ideas while Eno focused on means. Cage’s ideas were (are still) of the utmost importance to modern conceptions of music and what it should be, but Eno always had the engineer’s mindset. He would wrap loops of tape around the steel legs of office chairs to sync up the tape differently. He would set up a soundsystem to virtually run itself until external stimuli interceded. And I suppose that he and Cage were never that much different. It’s just that Eno’s creations were so much more accessible, so much less cerebral, that some dumb college junior could hear this and be instantly devastated. I’m telling you, most people who hear John Cage just get angry. People hear Brian Eno and they melt.

But all this is not to pet the already velvet ego of Brian Eno. He gets enough praise, some of it undeserved (Paul Simon’s Surprise, anyone?). What I would like to contend is that Eno never gave his idea of ambient music enough weight. From the liner notes to Music for Airports:

Whereas conventional background music [ed: he refers to Muzak] is produced by stripping away all sense of doubt and uncertainty (and thus all genuine interest) from the music, Ambient Music retains these qualities. And whereas their intention is to “brighten” the environment by adding stimulus to it (thus supposedly alleviating the tedium of routine tasks and levelling out the natural ups and downs of the body rhythms) Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think.

Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.

See? He’s very much onto something, with the importance of ambient music to create space, both external and internal, but he ends with that dilly of a quote. Ignorable? Sure, it’s noble to become smaller, to shy away from attention. But the weight of “1/1” is undeniable.

And it is this very weight that has been explored, spelunked, and mapped by Stars of the Lid. This is music that demands your attention, even in its minimalism. Because so little is happening at such a slow speed, the payoffs are three times as good. Trust me. A trailing synth wash followed by…wait! Wait! No! Wait! ANOTHER SYNTH WASH. Aah. There it is. And it sounds really boring on paper, but it just isn’t, in large part because their instrumental diction is impeccable, and nowhere is it more apparent than on this song, particularly at 3:36, 5:25, and 6:04. It isn’t just loop-based or long for the sake of being long. It’s a real, written-out song, with movement and parts and feeling. Everything has an important part to play, and they all come together, a dozen undeniable parts, and form something beautiful, compelling, and interesting.

One quick example: Listen to the piano in “1/1,” and you will be sweetly lulled into contemplation as the theme gets repeated throughout the whole song. But listen for the piano in “Even if You’re Never Awake” and it’s instantly clear, the whole song stops for this one tiny bit of what sounds like an upright played in the room next to yours underwater. And that’s why Stars of the Lid trump Eno: they make no grand statements about the nature of music or the place of ambient sound in this our modern world. They have simply created an unignorable soundscape. While their methods may not be as novel as Eno’s, they rightly bypassed the ignorable qualities of Eno’s methodology and went straight for the heart of the interesting. And then they flew away with it, light speed.

Ignore it here

Get interested here

Posted by Phil


Filed under 1970s, 2000s, Experimental, Instrumental

“I love to see you dress before the mirror”

Bob Dylan – “Abandoned Love” from Biograph (1985)

This is my second post here. The powers that be asked me to become a regular contributor, so I’ll be here posting from time to time.

“Abandoned Love” was recorded during the Desire sessions but was struck from the album in favor of “Sara.” This meant that this gem was left in the vaults for ten years until the 1985 release of the Biograph box set, which is unfortunate because this track would have made a good album great. “Hurricane” is a classic, “Isis” became a staple of the Rolling Thunder Revue (during which Bob liked to go white-face, as pictured above), and “One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)” is among Dylan’s best songs. The only real laggard on the ablum is the boring, over-long “Joey,” but I usually find myself skipping over “Oh, Sister” and “Sara” as well. That said, watch for future posts by me on material from Self Portrait.

“Abandoned Love” is more obviously about the disintegration of Bob and Sara’s marriage than anything on Blood on the Tracks, which makes it especially interesting, and is probably also the reason it was not included on Desire. Bob probably thought one song that was explicitly about his wife was enough.

Amazon-ed Love

Posted by Adam


Filed under 1970s, Rock, Singer-Songwriter

I’m ready

Akron/Family – “Italy” from Akron/Family (2005)

There’s something very important about this band that I can’t put my finger on. It’s one of those things that sits in the back of your brain on its haunches for months at a time and then, suddenly, hits you with incredible bombast, with a cinder block on the base of your neck. “Where did this come from?” you say. And then it’s not only bombastic, it keeps reaching up, one giant snare drum hit or cymbal crash at a time; check out the transition at 4:43 to hear what this sounds like.

This is one of my favorites from a very solid album, easily Akron/Family’s most accessible. This bombast is not only reserved for transitions in quiet little “freak-folk” songs; see Akron/Family’s later catalog for straight-up noise combined with Zeppelin-esque riffs. Like I said, this band is important. Who else is doing this, or doing it like this?

Buy it here

Posted by Phil


Filed under 2000s, Experimental, Folk