Table of Contents: Music


For Your Pleasure, 2010

OFF!, in which the Circle Jerks’ Keith Morris, 55, records the de facto sequel to Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown EP 32 years later – proving just how elusive pure punk is, creating a flat-out total work of art, and this year’s best record. The irrepressible egghead’s Small Craft on a Milk Sea has this year’s best title and a suite of exquisite ambient constructions, of which “2 Forms of Anger” is the “loud one.”

Of Montreal’s False Priest was a flamboyant mess sloshing around the precision glam of Coquet Coquette – my favorite song of the year. “Silver Jenny Dollar” is a cat’s cradle of baroque obliqueness from Dan Bejar, this time with loungy doo-wop whoah whoahs – the high point of the otherwise okie doke New Pornographers disc, Together.  (Thanks as well, New Pornos, for the tip-offs on Outrageous Cherry and Circle C – the northern lands do hold obscure and wonderful mysteries.)

The 40 years that separate the hand crafted psych of Kelley Stoltz and Big Boy Pete mean little – fitting then that these two consummate craftsmen have found each other. Their co-recording of Pete’s “Baby I’ve Got News For You” anchors Kelley’s uniformly excellent To Dreamers.

Bless you, whoever finally digitized “Magnetic Shoes,” a one and a half minute spray of power pop silly string that ruled my Walkman in high school. “The Day the Earth Stalled” and “Diego Garcia” are ace sides from old heads… The Psychedelic Furs played the best show I saw this year; honorable, too, going out like they came in, playing blistering sets in smaller halls, rather than jiving for tourists at casinos.

You are a talented man Mr. Murphy. Good to have you back Mr. Foxx.

Music Go Music? Melodramatic Scandinavian pop, shot through with heavy doses of prog, and alternating between pulsing euro disco and lush orchestrated pop – recorded in 2008, released in 2009, discovered in 2010, and my most favorite new band in ages…

I developed a weakness this year for what Robert Christgau, in a helplessly admiring review of Quarterflash’s 1981 debut, called “music for stewardesses.” “Goodbye To You” is a prime example of the form and its enduring awesomeness needs no further annotation.

Thank you Roky, for returning, and Captain, for being.

DOWNLOAD THE COMP, HERE. Happy New Year!

The Free Design’s Chris Dedrick: 1943-2010

Sad news. Chris Dedrick, the lead singer/songwriter for ’60s cult favorite lite-psych group the Free Design died last Friday… One of the great critical faves/commercial flop stories in rock, their complex harmonies, deceptively simple melodies, orchestral arrangements were hugely influential for many retro-inclined indie bands, most notably Stereolab.

Their first album, Kites are Fun, produced by space-age pop maestro Enoch Light, is a classic, and contains their finest single moment – “The Proper Ornaments.” The song is a rare thing indeed – a flower-power indictment of shallow consumerism and suburban detachment that actually convinces – with quietly devastating power:

There’s your brand new car, sir, here’s your hat and gloves
There’s http://www.mindanews.com/buy-accutane/ your pretty wife, sir, whom you almost love
There’s your color TV set and your impressive pad
There’s your little baby girl you’re almost glad you had

Such a pretty dress, miss, such a graceful walk
Bubbling femininity, authoritative talk
There’s your man he’s prominent; treats you like a queen
All your little secrets kept, your reputations clean
The proper ornaments of life.

It’s all about the ominous “almost…” I’ve always thought it should have been the opening theme to Mad Men – it concentrates the entire existential drama of Don Draper into just under three minutes. Listen, below. More info in their career and records here.

Free Design: Proper Ornaments [download]

[audio:http://shepelavy.com/audio/FreeDesign_ProperOrnaments.mp3]

Raygun… Naked Raygun.

Everything I love about the legendary Chicago band Naked Raygun is embedded somewhere on this, the cover of their latest 7.” A foxy cat-suited astro-cutie making a space jump while trailing a 50’s era satellite is not only awesomeness incarnate, it’s a great distillation of the whole Naked Raygun vibe.

Raygun filtered basic anxieties through the context of their cultural obsessions: comics (esp. Batman,) post apocalyptic movies, cold war espionage, car mechanics, and oddball dictators, to name a few at random. The result was muscular, brainy and cool and it extended to every facet of the band – amazing songs, striking album art, and effortless swagger & charisma (plus one of the great logos in rock – that raygun-R is the only tattoo I’ve seriously considered.) Recording again after close to a decade, it’s easily my favorite record art of the year, and a most welcome return.

Naked Raygun: Just for Me (B-Side) [download]

[audio:http://shepelavy.com/audio/NakedRaygun_Justforme.mp3]

Single of the Week: Plain Wrap B/W Fashion

Two bands in their unformed early days stumble headlong into recording classic sides of timeless power pop. In 1983 Plain Wrap were freshmen in SoCal’s hardcore punk scene, opening for the Crowd, DI, TSOL, Adolescents and Social Distortion. Their first single Magnetic Shoes is a one and a half minute continuous spray of day-glo power pop silly string. (This version is off the legendary Flipside Vinyl Fanzine comp, complete with their bratty prank call to Billy Idol’s manager)

Fashion formed in 1981 in Birmingham, UK, with a lumpy mix of punk, early New Romantic synth and splashes of dub reggae. The B-Side of their third single Sodium Pentathol Negative, is a hot mess of melodramatic Bowie damaged art-rock poured into Joe Jackson’s suit and cut to trim. (It’s among the many high points on IRS Records Greatest Hits Vol 1 & 2, along with cuts from the Stranglers, John Cale, the Fall, and Buzzcocks)

Both songs sound like they were composed in front of a mirror and, frankly, sound best in front of one. They’re the kind of obscurities that make you form bands in your head just so you can imagine covering them in your encore…

Plain Wrap: Magnetic Shoes:

Fashion: Sodium Pentathol Negative:

Single of the week: Waterloo Sunset b/w September Gurls

Big Star’s September Gurls and the Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset – Their respective jaw dropping awesomeness is well established and beyond dispute, yes, and Waterloo is held by many to be the most sheerly beautiful song rock and roll has produced. Still, for the past couple of days I’ve see-saw-ing wildly between them trying to decide, in the end, which song is just a bit more gorgeous.

What’s fascinating about the songs how similar they are – from a certain vantage, they are practically cousins. Musically they share a basic structure – a seemingly haphazard and unstable combination of gossamer delicacy and muscular sinew. That fragile balance underscores the the poignancy of each song perfectly – in the case of Waterloo a single life affirming moment when Paradise blooms on earth – while with Gurls, the way we drift back and forth from heartache to resignation and back again. And each seems on the verge of flying apart, mimicking the impermanence, hence the magic, of life itself.

I dunno… I think in the end September Gurls gets the nod. When I fall down the rabbit hole of Waterloo Sunset my reverie is intense but short. The sunset is Ray Davies’ vision, not mine, and it never really transfers. Where as with Gurls, the needle always drops down somewhere deep in my memories and I feel like I could fall between the spaces of “I loved you” and “Well never mind” and September and December forever.

Big Star: September Gurls:

Kinks: Waterloo Sunset:


 

John Foxx

Some photographs and art by John Foxx. Foxx, driven to merge his love of the cracked pop art of Roxy Music with the exhilarating rush and tabloid sensibilities of the Sex Pistols, formed the first, and still astonishing, version of Ultravox! He left to pursue purely electronic music, and under the name Dennis Leigh, established himself as a successful graphic designer and artist, working on book covers for Salman Rushdie and Anthony Burgess, among others.

Critic Robert Christgau offered a typically astringent and succinct summation of Ultravox! – “John Foxx’s detached, creamy baritone works against the instrumentation’s electronic cast for a streamlined rocksy music that suits titles like “Dislocation” and “Someone Else’s Clothes.” But unlike Bryan Ferry Foxx talks as if he’s detached clean through, unlike Brian Eno he’s encumbered by delusions of existential significance, and unlike both he’s never funny”

Dead on, yes, but… Foxx’s detachment and existential musings led him to the two great themes that have animated his work ever since – the idea of the Quiet Man and London Overgrown. From these two themes he has build a rich, self sustaining aesthetic world that comprises music, photography, fashion, and in a modest way, philosophy.

The Quiet Man is, in essence, a new wave take on the man with the grey flannel suit which Foxx inhabits, literally. Dressed in a ordinary buy vicodin legally online uk grey suit, Foxx embarks on long treks where he explores the full texture of urban anonymity. London Overgrown is a sustained rumination on nature subsuming the modern urban landscape. His musings on both, well worth reading, can be found here, on his comprehensive blog/site.

What is worthwhile here are not the themes themselves – as notions they are familiar to any thoughtful person – but the quality body of work Foxx has wrought from them. The first three Ultravox! records, the pioneering solo work like the minimalist synth of Metamatic, the pastoral electronic pop of the Garden, ambient pieces, and his continued and concurrent exploration of these themes in music, video, photography, and writing, are all worthwhile.

He has a great new single out under the moniker John Foxx and the Maths, aptly described by the UK Arts Desk as ” a very deliberate step back into his own past for a couple of songs that sound as if they were minted in 1980… acelebration of old analogue sounds in collaboration with producer and synthesizer archivist extraordinaire, Benge. Both songs are flecked with requisite android moodiness but stand up in their own right rather than sounding like retro pastiches.” Available on itunes here. More selections below.

Ultravox!: Young Savage (Peel Session):

Ultravox!: Artifical Life:

 

Klaus Nomi Paper Cuts

Every Monday could use a little Nomi! (Nomi? huh? click here.) Herewith, please find, for your charmed enjoyment, these rather fab Klaus Nomi collages by Hormazd Narielwalla. His works mixes fashion sketches and photos clippings along with bits of bespoke Saville Row paper patterns – stylish and whimsical. More of his work here. (spotted at Madame Says, a confectionery cavalcade of fashion, art and music. Visit often.)

Music Go Music!

Let us now praise Expressions by Music Go Music…Holy smokes! I haven’t been this over the moon for a record in ages.

OK,then. Let’s get the obligatory description-by-reference out of the way… ABBA merged with the New Pornographers, under the influence of Van der Graaf Generator, the whole shebang co-produced by Giogrio Moroder and Jeff Lynne. That is, melodramatic Scandinavian pop, reinterpreted with savvy indie enthusiasm, shot through with a proggy, theatrical sensibility, and sonically alternating between pulsing euro disco and lush orchestrated pop.

But the pastiche of references does poor justice to the brilliance and originality of the record. Music Go Music sublimate their http://www.mindanews.com/buy-valtrex/ references into a set of absolutely killer songs and proceed to play the bejeebus out of them. It’s absolutely, genuinely, exhilarating. (The only trace of hipster irony I can detect is in the lazy faux squareness of the name. I mean, I’m all for plainspoken band names, but c’mon – lets try for something at least as distinct as, I dunno… Electric. Light. Orchestra….) Anyway, a quibble only. For your pleasure, 2 tracks, below. Also, a series of live performances, cryptic bio and more, here. Preview and purchase, here.

Music Go Music: I Walk Alone:

Music Go Music: Reach Out:

 

Some cover art…

What dandy cover art! With Cluster, it is the wonderfully plump, shiny, hand wrought type. It actually looks frosted – perfect considering Zuckerzeit is German for sugary. The Cure’s Three Imaginary Boys cover is dead on deadpan pop art. Both covers embody perfectly their respective contents – Cluster’s warm, gently insistent, pulsing analog electronics feel practically glazed in liquid sugar. As for the Cure, it captures the detached, nervous, pop vibe that lasted for one only odd and awesome record (and it’s American counterpart Boys Don’t Cry) before all the gloomy gloom…

Leesa Leva

So, searching last night for some info on Berlin singer Terri Nunn (no sniggering, tough guy… Metro and Masquerade are two flat out masterpieces and Sex I’m A… is the trashy love child of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love and Serge Gainsbourg’s Je t’aime… moi non plus) and what do I come across, but these stunning order vicodin online uk illustrations by Leesa Leva. Its the tone – the mix of new wave and celebrity fixations and her delicate, sketchy technique – it’s sexy & knowing and sincere & crafty at the same time… an intoxicating mix, and a real hard one to pull off. Bravo! More of her work, and a shop, here.

For Your Pleasure, 2009

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I discovered Mew the day after they played a show for the ages in Philly. Argh. If the dragon on the cover of the Asia record and the aardvark tank on the cover of ELP’s Tarkus had a band they would sound like Mew. Fantasies, by Metric, was a grower. At first I thought it was hazy and unfocused, now I think it’s hazy and sexy, which is better. Lissy Trullie is the kind of rock they play at photoshoots, and by all rights I should hate it on it’s too-cool for school-ness alone. Nope. Love it. Lissy gets the flannel and leather CBGBs merit ribbon.

LaRoux’s retro synth pop confection shuts off the noggin and cues the shimmy. There is chrome cheese all over Invisible Limits, a hopelessly obscure 80’s German dark synth band, but it rules my late night headphoning when my resolve is weak. Rheingold are also German, but sharper and smarter and can be played proudly in the sober light of morning. The Photos were supposed to be Britain’s answer to Blondie. Oh well. Clothidle is a brilliantly odd side of old French pop – France Gall aboard Joe Meek’s Telstar.

Silver Jews, Algebra Suicide, the Wipers, and Giant Sand – weird that we should only meet now. God Help the Girl – thanks for introducing me to the Divine Comedy of Neil Hannon. Tortoise! Tortoise! Tortoise! Welcome back!

Some slivers of nostalgia. The home digitized 7″ of “All Ages Show” by Dag Nasty smells of clove cigarettes and VFW halls. The Dead Kennedys mature over time as well as Iron Maiden – from my fogy vantage Frankenchrist has become a deeply arty pleasure. And a ripping hardcore record. DI’s 2007 resurgence is a bitchin‘ validation of the awesomeness of OC punk.

At this point Dan Bejar’s Destroyer dwells in some magical Baroque hotel of blissed out self indulgence, across the hall from Jimmy Webb and drunk thespian Richard Harris. “Bay of Pigs” is his “MacArthur Park” – ridiculous, sublime, and, yes, drunk.

Morrissey released this year’s best record, Years of Refusal.

[Download the comp, here.]

Front cover image: William Merritt Chase, The Tenth Street Studio, c. 1880
Back cover image: Wingate Paine, from Mirror of Venus, 1964-65

Petula Clark

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Found these while sourcing images for a painting of Petula Clark. As a photoshoot concept for a star, I’m a little confused – Let’s shoot Petula in, oh, I don’t know… Flagstaff, Arizona shopping for nick nacks, ticky tacks and postcards? As shots though, I’m besotted. Clarks’ a mod little pixie, and the photos have this great Stephen Shore, auto tourister snapshot vibe. (from the Life Magazine photo archive)

The Enthusiast
Uppercase Magazine #3

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…Across the province of Ontario, which I call home, Queens Highway no 17 plies for some 1000 miles through the pre-Cambrian rock of the Canadian Shield. With its east/west course deflected, where it climbs the northeast shore of Lake Superior, it appears in cartographic profile like one of those prehistoric airborne monsters which Hollywood promoted to star status in such late late show spine tinglers of the 1950s as Blood Beast From Outer Space or Beak From Beyond, and to which the fuselage design of the XB15 paid the tribute of science borrowing from art…

So begins, improbably, the narration of “The Search for Petula Clark,” one of a series of radio features the classical pianist Glenn Gould made for the CBC in the late 60’s, after his abrupt retirement from public performance. Gould’s story is often understood in terms of the standard drama of eccentric genius: young and brilliant, and yet temperamental and odd, he burned bright, was subsumed by his eccentricities, faded out, cue credits, etc. To regard Gould as the Howard Hughes of classical music may be romantic, but it obscures far more interesting motivations that led him to abandon the concert hall at the peak of his career. The radio documentaries provide not only a key to understanding Gould’s decision, but an inspiration to anyone who finds aesthetic and intellectual pleasure in the unlikeliest of places.

Described by Gould as “Contrapuntal Radio,” the documentaries were exquisite sonic constructions, built of precisely calibrated layers of voices and under-girded by a lattice of sound effects and musical passages. They were explicitly musical. Gould composed fugues of dialogue that cumulatively evoked notions greater than any of the individual sentiments themselves — like chords of language and thought. Each is narrated in Gould’s distinct voice–complete, rounded pronunciations of each word, formed without dropped syllables. Full word follows full word, separated by a crucial, clean, split second of silence in a quick, steady, hypnotic cadence.

Both in ambition and the complexity of construction, “The Search for Petula Clark” is probably the simplest of his radio features. However, it serves as a great precis of the main themes that animate Gould’s major radio works like “The Idea of North,” about the effects of living in solitude; “The Latecomers,” about Newfoundland; and profiles of composers Leopold Stokowski and Richard Strauss. One way or another they involve the discovery of deep aesthetic pleasures in the everyday, the fundamental character of ideas, and the mechanics of creativity.

As the “The Search for Petula Clark” continues, Gould drives through the remote regions of northern Canada, listening to the radio. As he passes from town to town, he compares naming conventions (Michipicoten, Jackfish, Terrace Bay) to describe three generations of settlers that have defined the region’s history. A passing observation of local real estate stratification unlocks the complex interplay of social standing, industry and the limits of upward mobility. As he heads once again into the wilderness, he sees the first of an array of relay antennae that pass radio signal deep into the endless stretches of the north. Utterly captivating, this is just Gould clearing his throat; acutely aware of cinematic staging, his introduction begins with an establishing aerial vantage, swoops down, passes over the landscape and under the wires, and pulls back up as the opening measures of Petula Clark’s “Sign of the Times” fade in and his ruminations begin.

Goodness gracious, how this cat riffs! Based on a close reading of four consecutive Clark singles (“Downtown,” “Sign of the Times,” “My Love,” and “Who Am I?”), he constructs a loose, yet full-field, theory on the distinct stages of mid-century pop stardom and sketches a pocket biography of Clark. He fuses Clark’s four singles into a coherent melodramatic arc: youthful earnestness, hope, urban vitality, romantic disillusionment, culminating in the “tenor of mindless confidence and the tone of slurred articulation… the interminable mid morning coffee hour laments of all the secret sippers of suburbia”

Along the way, Gould pauses for a hilarious, brainy and impertinent digression on the Beatles. With a sophisticated, yet idiosyncratic, musical analysis, he indicts the group as hopped-up folkie barbarians, rube minstrels filling an ageless role in cooking up a good racket. Yes, yes, so far, predictable fogey fare. Then comes a lavish testimonial to the acumen of Clark’s composing partner, Tony Hatch, remembered now mostly as a cheesy 70’s TV soundtrack hack, but once a deft and felicitous pop composer and early-60’s collaborator with Scott Walker and David Bowie. (As a prescription, Gould’s vision for popular music essentially endorses the approach embodied by decadent french pop maestro Serge Gainsbourg, especially in his magnum opus “Melody Nelson”–thoughtful orchestrations, found sound, collage, spoken word passages and soap operatic drama.)

Besides their intrinsic interest, the relevance of the radio documentaries lie in their restless curiosity. Sometimes it seems as if Gould is interviewing reality itself. They are driven by a passion to illuminate the deep worth of overlooked things. Art could be anywhere; you had to tease it out, as he put it, by keeping “all the elements in a constant state of flux, interplay, nervous agitation, so that one is buoyed aloft by the structure.”

This notion serves as a manifesto of sorts for Gould. He spent his life soaking in the details of the world around him, observing, making, tuning, recording, tweaking, sketching, musing, opining, composing. To enter into Gould’s world is not to part the curtain on a reclusive eccentric. His abandonment of performance and his subsequent work are best understood as a commitment to a life of ecstatic appreciation. It’s what makes him practically a patron saint to passionate enthusiasts. Gould devoted himself to the central preoccupation of any cultural omnivore: the development of a self sustaining aesthetic universe, with consistent rules and endlessly roiling passions, full of quirks, strangeness, and charm. Uppercase_3

Maripolarama

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What a dandy little art book/scene document/memento thingy. Maripolarama is a collection of Polaroids taken in the late 70’s and early 80’s by Maripol. Her (single – natch) name contains a multitude of très fabuloso personas: Model; art director for quintessential 80’s designer Fiorucci; Madonna’s friend and her stylist during the original, classic, “Like a Virgin” period (we have her to thank for the rubber bracelets); producer of the legendary new wave art scene flick Downtown 81; and on, and on… she’s less a person that the essence of the New York post punk new wave fashion scene in human form.

Maripolorama is her raw candid, exuberant diary. It’s not really who’s in it that makes it so compelling, though. It’s how young and unguarded everyone is, how genuine and sincere they are in thier goofy exhibitionism. The group shots are especially revelatory – before they went on to become stars, icons, flameouts, poseurs, and tragedies they were all weirdo pals dressing up and running around the glittering big city.

Everything’s Archie!

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My older daughter in is the midst of a full fledged multi-media obsession with the Archies, sparked by a week long fever I had for the song Feelin‘ So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y.D.O.O) – as rad a side of bubblegum pop as you could hope for. Now it’s repeated spins of entire Archie albums, Archie comics, and lately, the Archies TV show from the late 60’s for which the songs were originally written.

And what do you know? Mostly the stuff’s great. The story of the band is interesting enough – formed by Brill Building savant and Monkees architect Don Kirshner, with vocals by Ron Dante, producer for my erstwhile employer – Barry Manilow – during his peak period of superstardom. The songs are mostly fantastic – sweet sides of sunny sunshine AM pop with a teeny, buy vicodin san diego tiny garage bite. As for the comics, the story there is about original artist Dan DeCarlo, who also worked on Millie the Model, Sherry the Showgirl and created Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Josie and the Pussycats, and the sadly forgotten Jetta the Space Girl. DeCarlo was also a consummate pin up artist. Shabbily treated by the industry, his legacy has been secured mostly by younger artists he inspired, and his work is lavishly documented in the book Innocence and Seduction. More on DeCarlo here, surely, later. And the show. I dunno. Junk really. Art’s janky, voices annoying. But Jughead teaches you a new dance every episode. And the songs. They’re great. Enjoy:

Feelin’ So Good (SKOOBY DOO):

Melody Hill:

Bicycles, Rollerskates and You:

Sugar and Spice: