So, Bowies’ Blackstar arrived, finally — ordered while Bowie was earthbound, listened to when he wasn’t. Let me see if I can get this exactly right — it’s the first & last classic Bowie record since Let’s Dance.
Bowie played rock like Duchamp-ian chess. Each classic Bowie album occupied & held a square on the board. The records are “about” the move, so they work as self contained experiences — they point inward, ultimately.
This is why the whole “best album since Scary Monsters” critical framing misunderstands Bowie. Although he released some great salvos since Let’s Dance, they didn’t represent moves to a new square. Sometimes, like Earthling, he deftly rode a cultural or aesthetic wave, othertimes like Heathen or even The Next Day they were grand & vital reprises of old glories.
Blackstar is, before it is anything, a bracingly new statement. The avant-jazz hybrid he’s synthesized here is — once again, like all classic Bowie — an occupying move. The album refers, thrillingly, only to itself. There’s a new sound & vision here — skronky, sinewy, dubby… What a triumph!
Honestly, I was wary of listening, & crabby that I hadn’t the opportunity to hear it at at least once as the work of a living artist. I shouldn’t have fretted. Rather than a melancholy encomium, a stately funeral parade, it was the best & most unexpected gift of all — The last classic Bowie album: Space Oddity, Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Station to Station, Low, Heroes, Scary Monsters, Let’s Dance, Blackstar.
Shepelavy.com — Part IV, if I might be metal-grand & prog-rock-y about it. Untie the latch, part the canvas, pop your head out from the tent, let’s fire up the old transmitter. Is this thing on? Can you hear me now…
In 2009 I pitched camp on this modest little lagoon online. What began as a portfolio with occasional annotations tumbled into pretty steady blogging for a fat 3 years or so. More & more, however, severe advertising gales would knock out the transmitter for weeks on end. Sundry commitments were pressing. The blog contracted a virulent SQL database corruption. After a few stalled re-ignitions, things round here finally sputtered into silence around the winter of 2014.
Then Spring came, like it does, being Spring. I missed tapping these signals out into the ether, tending & fussing over my little plot of enthusiasms…So, I dusted off the redesign, gathered passels of uncollected old & new work. The code spooled out over the summer & fall.
& this so current salvo of transmissions begins… from this tiny lagoon on the clotted coastline of the interwebs, that I share with beached beatniks, old salts, venerable preps, society matrons, homespun cuties, movie stars & scientists… an endless three-hour cruise. Come aboard —
We take, for this salvo, for Part IV, as our patron Eve Babitz — the besotted bardess of Los Angeles. She began her 1974 debut “Eve’s Hollywood” with a heavy lidded, tipsy & heartfelt bear hug to the city of Angels with the mother of all dedications. A manic roll call stretching accross 8 pages, a waterfall of indiscretions, influences, friends & relations. It begins as a parade of enthusasums and over 8 pages sinkins in with the weight of poetry. Let it stand in for mine then, perhaps smaller beer by the standards of art, but equal proof by weight of enthusiasm.
Right? Born and raised in Hollywood, Babitz developed a particularly acute appreciation for the essential radness of LA – the American city, sui generis –
L.A. has always been a humid jungle alive with seething L.A. projects that I guess people from other places just can’t see. It takes a certain kind of innocence to like L.A., anyway. It requires a certain plain happiness inside to be happy in L.A., to choose it and be happy buy vicodin italy here. When people are not happy, they fight against L.A. and say it’s a ‘wasteland’ and other helpful descriptions.
Most dedications sound a few notes note that hover over the first few pages . This is, rather, a motley parade – a blaring celebration that echos across the entire book – Her parents, a cat to whom she owes “Everything,” Ahmet Erteugn, the girl with the coke, the Eggs Benedict at the Beverly Wilshire, Milo Minderbider, Kim Fowley, Orson Wells and Proust, freeways, and Margret (which I hope is a deft and subtle play on Ann Margret, because, well, – Ann Margret. right?)
Her fragment on her ex- boyfriend, Ed Ruscha, is worth lingering over. It plays footsie with poetry and lies contentedly with philosophy – “Ruscha [is] a man of simple tastes – but no one makes those kind of wings, so he’s stuck with a white Rolls and no wings.”
And, as an aside, the Eggs Benedict at the Beverly Wilshire are delicious.
The first thing I ever really used Napster for was to hunt down and assemble Brian Eno’s legendary lost vocal album My Squelchy Life, finally given official release this year.
Imagine a crinkled & warped VHS of 80’s 1-900 chat line commercials, porny aerobic videos, low-budget soft core, late night cable talk shows, with crackle on the tape, bad tracking, fuzzy scan lines & brutally oversaturated color and you have the feel of TOBACCO’s broken, cracked electronica. Unremittingly sleezy but yet so gorgeous & sexy I’ve spent the whole year fiddling with the tracking dial and not being able to look away.
All the usual camp trappings of oh-so-Morrissey-ness around the release of World Peace is None of Your Business — cancelled tours, bitter press sniping, a humdinger of a snit with new label Harvest that resulted in the album being withdrawn — obscured what a tremendous record it really was. If you told me this was a late period Smiths record from an alternate universe I’d believe you. If that sounds like heresy I don’t care — make mine Moz.
If you are predisposed, like me, to thinking ELO could use a little ABBA & ABBA use a little Van Der Graf Generator then I give you, again, after five long years — Music Go Music.
Perhaps six people total in the audience, battling a temperamental glitched out key-tar and yet for 30 minutes Scale Model inspired me to forget that I missed Berlin live this year on account of Hurricane Arthur.
Built from a lego box of identikit parts, every element & reference of the Bad Doctors’ synthed punk is obvious. And yet the ingredients never are the dish. I have yet to tire of a single song on this record.
I’ve been searching for the Fashion B-side Sodium Pentathol Negative since high school. How ace to find that the A side is also the nuts.
It never occurred to me that Goth deserved it’s own version of the legendary garage comp Nuggets. It does now. Killed By Deathrock Vol. 1 is a Rubic’s cube of bat-cave sounds — Let Kitchen & The Plastic Spoons charmingly spooky obscurity stand in for a record packed full of them.
Stumbled across Essential Logic at long last and the only word I can think of to describe them is fearless – tunes that owe nothing to anything other than their own self-willed need to exist. Punk not as a received sound & attitude but as a response to a challenge & a dare.
There is a permanent psychedelic transmitter on Mount Davidson in San Francisco. You can see it if you squint through two kaleidoscopes. So say the hippies anyway. I can hear it though, now & then and this year they spun a lot of White Fence.
Jim Roll is an old pal from my rekkid biz days. Over the past decade his restless avant-garde flecked Americana has widened & matured. Big heart, big brains, big star.
Every now and then I find myself thinking about RIOR cassettes, these little nostalgia bombs with those flat flood colors, multi-fold j-cards, and stubborn & doomed allegiance to the cassette format. One of the most coveted was the The Great New York Singles Scene compilation, showcasing debuts by Patti Smith, Television, Richard Hell along with period salvos like US Ape, Theoretical Girls & the Mumps. Came across a digitized copy this year and for all the heavy history it was the ace single by Nervus Rex that rang my bell. Like a fling with an old flame, it reminded me of all the reasons I went gonzo for power pop to begin with.
I treasure Mary Timony’s every mood, cause every mood begets a tune. Her latest, Ex Hex, is, as she put it “…what your babysitters listened to, rumbling from the Kenwood in the basement.” Perfect. Think then, of each song on her new record, Rips, as darts thrown in that very same basement — short, sharp & feathered.
Arriving at last at the intersection of Xanadu & Gerry Rafferty the New Pornographers demonstrate that all you need for a spectacular return to form is an arpeggiator.
The years best show, hand down, was Hawkwind, fronted by 74 year old psychedelic warlord Nik Turner. Flanked by Barbarellas playing vintage synths & violins, with Nicky Garratt from U.K. Subs on guitar, the band didn’t play so much as channel transmissions from beyond the fringe; waves of sax & flute, pyramids & atlantis, sonic attacks & deep space, orgon accumulations & high zonk. I got to sing the chorus of Silver Machine with Turner. I grabbed the set list and when I got home I discovered it had Roky Erickson’s phone number written on the back.
(Front cover photo by Katch Silva, back cover Hawkwind at the Boot & Saddle, September 9, 2014 Etc: This year I kept the running time under the LP limit. It just seems a decent serving size. As a result, some other notables not represented — still in deep dub, lost in Record Store Day’s re-release of Lee Perry’s Super Ape, late this year started really digging Colin Newman’s first post-wire solo record A-Z; Shellac’s Dude Incredible was a barrel-full of monkeys; Ian Anderson’s Homo Erraticus tour was a highlight, as were shows by Damned & TSOL; More Chrome & Helios Creed, The Chills BBC Sessions; Sleaford Mods, Cleaners From Venus, Fingerprintz, Palmyra Delran, and when it’s time to clean the fishtank, Exploited.)
when you punish a person for dreaming his dream
don’t expect him to thank or forgive you
the best ever death metal band out of denton
will in time both outpace and outlive you.
— The Mountain Goats
Simply wonderful illustration by the crushingly deft Tomer Hanuka. Perfectly evocative of the languid coziness of city snowstorms. Also happens to be an uncanny rendering of my old bedroom window overlooking Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It takes a lot to make me miss living in New York City. Well done.
photographs via Atlantic Monthly
Ukrainian writer Yuri Andrukhovych on the situation in Ukraine
These days I receive from you lots of inquiries requesting to describe the current situation in Kyiv and overall in Ukraine, express my opinion on what is happening, and formulate my vision of at least the nearest future. Since I am simply physically unable to respond separately to each of your publications with an extended analytical essay, I have decided to prepare this brief statement which each of you can use in accordance with your needs. The most important things I must tell you are as follows.
During the less than four years of its rule, Mr. Yanukovych’s regime has brought the country and the society to the utter limit of tensions. Even worse, it has boxed itself into a no-exit situation where it must hold on to power forever—by any means necessary. Otherwise it would have to face criminal justice in its full severity. The scale of what has been stolen and usurped exceeds all imaginination of what human avarice is capable.
The only answer this regime has been proposing in the face of peaceful protests, now in their third month, is violence, violence that escalates and is “hybrid” in its nature: special forces’ attacks at the Maidan are combined with individual harassment and persecution of opposition activists and ordinary participants in protest actions (surveillance, beatings, torching of cars and houses, storming of residences, searches, arrests, rubber-stamp court proceedings). The keyword here is intimidation. And since it is ineffective, and people are protesting on an increasingly massive scale, the powers-that-be make these repressive actions even harsher.
The “legal base” for them was created on January 16, when the Members of Parliament fully dependent on the President, in a crude violation of all rules of procedure and voting, indeed of the Constitution itself, in the course of just a couple of minutes (!) with a simple show of hands (!) [Ukrainian Parliament uses an electronic vote] voted in a whole series of legal changes which effectively introduce dictatorial rule and a state of emergency in the country without formally declaring them. For instance, by writing and disseminating this, I am subject to several new criminal code articles for “defamation,” “inflaming tensions,” etc.
Briefly put, if these “laws” are recognized, one should conclude: in Ukraine, everything that is not expressly permitted by the powers-that-be is forbidden. And the only thing permitted by those in power is to yield to them.
Not agreeing to these “laws,” on January 19 the Ukrainian society rose up, yet again, to defend its future.
Today in television newsreels coming from Kyiv you can see protesters in various kinds of helmets and masks on their faces, sometimes with wooden sticks in their hands. Do not believe that these are “extremists,” “provocateurs,” or “right-wing radicals.” My friends and I also now go out protesting dressed this way. In this sense my wife, my daughter, our friends, and I are also “extremists.” We have no other option: we have to protect our life and health, as well as the life and health of those near and dear to us. Special forces units shoot at us, their snipers kill our friends. The number of protesters killed just on one block in the city’s government quarter is, according to different reports, either 5 or 7. Additionally, dozens of people in Kyiv are missing.
We cannot halt the protests, for this would mean that we agree to live in a country that has been turned into a lifelong prison. The younger generation of Ukrainians, which grew up and matured in the post-Soviet years, organically rejects all forms of dictatorship. If dictatorship wins, Europe must take into account the prospect of a North Korea at its eastern border and, according to various estimates, between 5 and 10 million refugees. I do not want to frighten you.
We now have a revolution of the young. Those in power wage their war first and foremost against them. When darkness falls on Kyiv, unidentified groups of “people in civilian clothes” roam the city, hunting for the young people, especially those who wear the symbols of the Maidan or the European Union. They kidnap them, take them out into forests, where they are stripped and tortured in fiercely cold weather. For some strange reason the victims of such actions are overwhelmingly young artists—actors, painters, poets. One feels that some strange “death squadrons” have been released in the country with an assignment to wipe out all that is best in it.
One more characteristic detail: in Kyiv hospitals the police force entrap the wounded protesters; they are kidnapped and (I repeat, we are talking about wounded persons) taken out for interrogation at undisclosed locations. It has become dangerous to turn to a hospital even for random passersby who were grazed by a shard of a police plastic grenade. The medics only gesture helplessly and release the patients to the so-called “law enforcement.”
To conclude: in Ukraine full-scale crimes against humanity are now being committed, and it is the present government that is responsible for them. If there are any extremists present in this situation, it is the country’s highest leadership that deserves to be labeled as such.
And now turning to your two questions which are traditionally the most difficult for me to answer: I don’t know what will happen next, just as I don’t know what you could now do for us. However, you can disseminate, to the extent your contacts and possibilities allow, this appeal. Also, empathize with us. Think about us. We shall overcome all the same, no matter how hard they rage. The Ukrainian people, without exaggeration, now defend the European values of a free and just society with their own blood. I very much hope that you will appreciate this.
This year was ruled by bands & musicians I hold very dear dropping career defining albums out of nowhere. Albums that were reconnections, reminders & remembrances of their fundamental radness — each, though, indelibly colored by an autumnal mood, recognition of age, time & wear.
I thought the best rekkid honors were done & done as early as February with Bad Religion’s exhilarating True North — songs firing like model rocket engines, a compressed crackling burn and then, a minute or so later, lay smoldering. A career capper, a middle age manifesto, and the last classic of mid-80’s SoCal melodic hardcore.
Months later I’m in Toronto at a record shop where I finally scored the long coveted debut EP by Men Without Hats. Can that snigger, bignuts — this bands gifts are substantial & buried, like Wall of Voodoo’s, under the debris of their sky-blotting single hit. You fucking bet you can dance if you want to…
Anyway — this leads me to wonder what they’ve been up to recently. The answer? A stunner of a record, Love in the Age of War, recorded in late 2012 (news about MWOH travels slowly) on their original analog gear. It was originally titled Folk of The 80’s Part IV, thus deliberately planting it in line with the band’s killer run of raw synth records before the more painterly & ambitious Pop Goes the World. Alternately thrilling & poignant, this ruled the headphones for months.
Then Bowie drops The Next Day, the last word on last words as far as Olympian rockers go. Superfan Rick Moody nailed it in a long exegesis for the Rumpus — it’s a particularly tuned masterpiece, functioning as a hall of mirrors & memory palace of Bowies guises, obsessions, and, above all, vocals. For the heaviness of its agenda, it’s a remarkably unlabored listen — a great batch of songs, carefully & secretly handcrafted then released with Bowie’s characteristic savvy. The record cover tells you every single thing you need to know about it, a conceptually brilliant shorthand to a tremendously rich & deep listen.
Weaving amongst these heavies was the year’s big discovery — the Aussie all-lady foursome Beaches. Their second album, She Beats, was a swirly, gauzy, fuzzy, fuzzy, swirly, gauzy pleasure. Melodic swells dove in and out of the din like dolphins, underpinned by a steady motorik beat (Harmonia’s Michael Rother guests) The grin-goosing “Chase Those Blues Away” was the tune of the year.
Welcome electronic transmissions resumed from the Boards of Canada & Barbara Morgenstern – bleeps and bloops both heavy and light.
Psych alchemist Kelley Stoltz has long completed his apprenticeship — this years Double Exposure, a fusillade of handmade pop-psych bliss, is a killer follow-up to 2010’s equally ace To Dreamers. The spellbinding cover, featuring Stoltz’s mom back in the 70’s drawing a bow in what looks like hockey pads on a shag rug backed by a large op art painting & a hi-fi, was the year’s best.
Spelunking in the shops yielded treasures galore this year — Babe Buell’s Covers Girl EP where the fetching groupie (and Arwen Undómiel’s mom) is produced by Rick Derringer, backed by the Cars, and covers Love & Iggy; James Freud’s forgotten mod/synth mashup, bought on the strength of the cover alone; vinyl versions of high-school mix-tape staples interred for decades on cassettes like Flipper’s “Ha Ha Ha,” Vagina Dentata’s legendary Darby Crash penned “Golden Boys”, Frightwig’s careening “Wanque Off Song”, and Hawaiian Pups’ resolutely odd & yet irresistible “Baby Judy.”
Nick Cave played the year’s best show. A few songs into his set at the Keswick Theatre, Cave, exasperated by the staid & respectful audience, demanded a stage rush. As a result I finally got a sustained barrage of legendary close-up Cave — thin, ungainly, tall & lanky, mustachioed, posture lurching & off kilter, reminding me of no-one as much as a demonic Fawlty Tower’s era John Cleese… a gobsmackingly riveting performance.
A few ace re-issues appeared, each a welcome surprise. Dark Entries’ collection of the early recordings by Algebra Suicide is a public service, helping to secure the legacy of the formidably talented Detroit Ukrainian poet & singer Lydia Tomkiw. And then a delightfully random Clothilde collection! Clothilde was weird salvo in the barrage of 60’s French girl pop, or ye ye. The moodiness of Francoise Hardy, the bubbly delivery of France Gall, set to ramshackle fuzz & harpsichord constructions reminiscent of Joe Meek. Light In The Attic kicked off the Public Image Limited reissue series with a lovingly reproduced 7” of their debut single, complete with foldout faux tabloid. I’ve loved this song for over 25 years – it hasn’t lost a drop of it’s power, originality, venom, or pop and it sounds, as it always has, utterly vital.
I listened to a lot of Reggae on Sunday afternoons. Weird — music just finds you when you are ready for it, I guess.
Then out of the blue ether, the Chills drop Somewhere Beautiful, a rough & crystalline live recording of a small New Years party they played a while back. Prolific, yet sporadically recorded back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, New Zealand’s the Chills were led by the preposterously gifted, big hearted, but troubled Martin Phillipps. Their first singles, and two LPs (especially Submarine Bells) were peerless muscular, shimmering beauties. After a brush with popularity that found them recording with R.E.M. and Van Dyke Parks, Phillipps’ crushing heroin habit subsumed the band. Living hardscrabble, he managed only one more proper LP, a demos release and a home recorded 4 song EP since then — all excellent. Then this miracle. The band has more heft & swing than before, and even with a few lovely embellishment the sound is more garage-y than gossamer. Phillipps’ voice, though, is a revelation. While still melodically supple, a rawness tears through the songs, the edge of his sharp New Zealand accent present as never before. Each song is recast, invested with new energy, and inflected by real pain & directness. It’s a fucking stunner, and hands down the years best record.
DOWNLOAD THE COMP HERE. ENJOY!
cover image: Boucher, François, Allegory of Music (detail) National Gallery, DC