Comrades! THBBFT! BLARGH! ACK! Let the iridescent green dripping type and the hot magenta Friday the 13th titling of 2020’s For Your Pleasure stand in for adding even more word-things to the flaming pile of exasperated execration of this year’s collective dumpster fire.
Apparently quite late to the I Like Trains parade, I immediately fell into line 10 seconds into “A Steady Hand”, the lead track from this year’s Kompromat. Sometimes I groove spasmodically while lead singer David Martin seemingly channels the full sizzling charge of our current dystopia, and sometimes he reminds me of Peter Cook fronting Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations and I just swoon. See, look — swoon……
TOBACCO’s melted cover of Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes” is the musical equivalent of American cheese – a guilty but irredeemably synthetic pleasure directly out of its original cellophane wrapper, yet sublime when melted at high heat. Fucking yummy.
Riki’s “Napoleon” has been lodged at #1 atop my daily Dinner Cookin’ Tube Rippin’ Hot Hot Hot Singles Chart since February. The whole record is a killer – the work of Bay Area musician Niff Nawor; a little poking around led back to her earlier band, the deathrock & hardcore hybrid Crimson Scarlet – an exhilarating revelation in two overgrown and often moribund genres.
Remember that part when Gandalf, after exhorting our shredded heroes to “Look to my coming, at first light, on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the East,” shows up atop that crest bathed in glowing magical light? That’s how I greeted Joe Banks’ sweeping history of the mighty Hawkwind: Days of the Underground (see more, with more unwieldy and over-egged metaphors, below) Besides being more fun to read than a barrel full of psychedelic monkeys, it led to fresh re-appraisals of singer/poet Robert Calvert (far more than a quirk, Calvert was a lost talent of significant gifts) and stranger-than-fictional discoveries like “Starcruiser” – a Roxy Music-esque collaboration with legendary sci-fi author Michael Moorcock. Joy, joy, joy in every note & blurt. (And joy, simple joy is one of the most endearing aspects of the book – because for all the general insanity, mental breakdowns, breaks ups, busts and the usual rock malarkey these big-hearted bohos had a fucking blast together…. with scarcely a bad word to say about one another, bound together by an overall bonhomie that I found infectious and most welcome)
The opposite holds for Maggot Heart’s Linnea Olsson and Lucifer’s Johanna Sadonis. Once blood sisters in the short-lived but almighty Oath, they fell out utterly, mysteriously, and permanently. Olsson is a feral Cuisinart, chopping and swirling bits of Siouxsie, early Pixies, and Christian Death in with the usual metallic soffritto. Abrasive yet bracing. Sadonis is an altogether kitschier, plunging & flying V, leather tasseled affair — equal parts Sabbath and Stevie Nicks. Being good and good for a laugh is no small thing these days.
Essex Greener Sasha Bell’s solo records are few and considerably far between (Your humble servant had a hand in releasing the last one, under the bullseye name Finishing School in 2003.) I missed last years release of Love is Alright and was delighted to catch-up — there’s an foxy, aristocratic burr to Bell’s voice that I’ve been besotted with for decades – imagine, if you will, Katherine Hepburn fronting a paisley soft-psych band. I do, and I dig!
A couple times a year I make a concerted effort to crack open canonical rock classics that have proven impenetrable or unappealing. Often I trudge away unconverted – sorry Nebraska, later Rumors, get thee behind me Queen – but this year I finally yielded to Steely Dan. Too many smart people kept on and on about how fucking smart this shit really was – high art and merry pranksterism flying under AM radio camouflage, etc… and although I still get the gas face from my skeptical wife when she comes home and I’m vibing on “Rikki,” I for one have finally had a change of heart, and when I’m in the mood for something shiny and smooth, I don’t wanna call nobody else. I wanna call the Dan.
In a year when ecstatic communion with like-minded folk at live shows was sucked into the void, I give thanks for our never-fading captain Robert Pollard. For me Guided By Voices fanhood is a sustaining & nourishing joy. Even though I lost the bead on the river of releases years ago, remaining part of a fervent, active fan community sweetens my soul. And this year’s single release of “She Wants to Know,” was, for us fans, nothing less than a legit miracle – a stomping remake of a beloved song from the long-disowned debut 1986 EP (apparently due to sterile sound and excessive REM sound-a-like-ism, according to Pollard.) When this tune was deployed live in the back half of ’19 people went. fucking. bonkers. Just when we needed it most, we can do the same in our living rooms, air jamming and high-kicking, until once again the clubs are open!
So, I turned 50 this year, which inspired no small bit of solipsistic navel gazing. I was 16 in ’86 when punk changed my life forever. Two books came along this year that managed to capture the some of the novel exhilaration of that time and scene: Texas is the Reason: The Mavericks of Lone Star Punk, by Pat Blashill (which may be, along with We Got Power!, the best photographic distillation of what it all felt like then,) and Mutations: The Many Strange Faces of Hardcore Punk by Sam McPheeters (who came up in the same Albany, NY hardcore scene as I did).
Along the way McPheeters makes an observation that bowled me over with its retrospective clarity: “Not many people realize the power and rarity of a self generated, self reliant network – many people involved in 80s hardcore describe it as the most positive experience of their lives.” He’s totally right – so much of what I value in myself, and in life, was seared into me in those salad days – an everlasting personal, cultural and political rewiring, and a channel forever open to the power of art to shape & sustain a life. So it seemed like a gift from the uncanny when Jack Grisham & TSOL dropped a one-off cover of Rocky Horror’s “Sweet Transvestite” this year, featuring Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks & OFF!. Two artists I’ve loved for nearly 35 years covering a song I’ve adored for just as long; still pals, still making tunes, and at the peak of their powers. Joy joy joy.
As part of my Golden Jubilee celebrations I subjected two willing dear pals to a 3 hour and 45 minute mix of tunes covering my entire rock & roll life, starting in around 1980 when I taped Ozzy’s “Mr. Crowley” by pressing my dad’s mono cassette recorder up to a GE Superadio II. I leave you with just one selection – again, from Rocky Horror — “Science Fiction Double Feature” — my personal “Waterloo Sunset,” to my ears and mind the most beautiful song in the English language. Joy.
Last year I had the distinct pleasure of making these collages for the interior of HomeMakers Bar in Cincinnati. Each collage spotlights a different era – 50’s, 60’s, 70s, playfully subverting the traditional iconography of homemaking, cocktail culture, and swank entertaining. In the words of their inspired founders Julia Petiprin, Catherine Manabat, HomeMakers Bar is “a slightly retro, mostly modern cocktail bar that feels like a house party.” While I can only admire the delightful food and drink offerings virtually, I can say that the space and decor is a showstopper. It is, I think, hard to pull of something fresh in a “retro” mode and HomeMakers Bar has clearly emerged as a singular creative and culinary statement that easily transcends its original inspirations. (More interior images can be found on the portfolio page, here.)
PLAGUE UPDATE: With considerable trepidation, I checked in on HomeMakers Bar recently and was ecstatic to see that they are rising to the moment with their signature verve and flair – sharing recipes, hosting cocktail hours, workshops, hangs, and general bonhomie. If you can support them in any way, do. Fucking bravo!
The year in boss tuneage began with a magical gift of the uncanny – Chris Connolly’s Bowie channelling collective Sons of the Silent Age full-dress live rendering of Scary Monsters and Super Creeps at the Metro in Chicago…. an album Bowie himself never toured. Amazing! — the searing opener “It’s No Game” with the Japanese verses live, while Connelly, in full sci-fi Pierrot makeup, screaming while a guy who looked like Martin Freeman dressed like Robert Fripp played the shredding Robert Fripp leads. I bought Scary Monsters when I was a kid and this song, especially, was, I’m certain, the weirdest piece of music I had ever heard and it stuck the weird in me deep, a weird which has never left me. I’ve loved it to pieces ever since.
Let me be measured here in my praise — Mary Timony has cast off her earthly bonds and risen Phoenix-like as the flame-winged incarnation of radness itself. Her accomplice in raditude, Betsy Wright, serves as the royal ambassadrix of Rock & Roll to the entire, ever-expanding, universe. Together in Ex Hex, their new record has given me more pure unalloyed rock pleasure than anything in years. It shreds, it rips, It’s Real. The record of the year doing donuts in the parking lot behind the mall of your teenage dreams.
Let “A Shot at Love” by VR SEX, from this years’ re-issue of an out of print cassette EP, Horseplay, stand in for the new VR SEX EP, Human Traffic Jam, as well as the terrific new Drab Majesty record Modern Mirror. All these are snaky tendrils and foggy manifestations of Andrew Clinco, finally having achieved escape velocity from mere gothy, synth-punk revivalism into a glorious trajectory of his own. Rushing over from seeing Bryan Ferry that same night, the killer live set Drab Majesty delivered was a revelation — a Saturnalia of weirdness packed to the gills with weird kids weirding all over each other.
Two 80’s hardcore titans delivered mind-blowing, and distinctly definitive, live shows. Flipper, with a feral David Yow on vocals, conjured the vibe of a classic DIY basement show – a reminder that before they became a thing shows like this were motley, random, shambolic, wet, sloppy, scattered, immediate, joyful, confrontational, and above all – super fucking weird. Speaking of which, it’s worth remembering just how super fucking weird the Misfits were back in the 80’s. Because for all of his subsequent goofiness and cult popularity, Glenn Danzig was as much a foundational hardcore pioneer as Henry Rollins, Ian Ian Mackaye or HR. It’s why their recent sellout of Madison Square Garden and stadium show at the Wells Fargo Center here in Philly was felt like such a triumph — because the weirdest band of all the hardcore weirdos took it all the way to the top of the heap (and because for all the preposterous Liberace robo-demon costumes and flaming pumpkins onstage, as song followed song it became clear that Glenn Danzig might not have written a single bad one) Hearing a stadium full of humans bellow “There’s some kinda love, and there’s some kinda hate. The maggots in the eye of love won’t copulate” in ecstatic union suggests there may be hope for the species after all.
2014’s Welcome Back to Milk by Du Blonde began began as a nervous breakdown, exploded like an estrogen fueled roman candle, and was my favorite record that year. Waited, bated, and finally Beth Jeans Houghton issued another beautifully rendered sizzler, Lung Bread for Daddy, but this time she did everything herself. This record is so primitive, so primal that it reminds me less of other musical references than of, of all things, the lone wolf artist Joseph Beuys, wrapped in his grey thick felt sculpting sublime forms out of raw animal fat. Primitive like that. Weird like that. Art like that.
Mittageisen (named after the German version of Siouxsie’s “Metal Postcard”) belongs to a quirky subset of now beloved records that I bought, unheard and unknown, solely on the basis of the record cover. This one flashed its weird in all the right ways and delightfully delivered — moody, Swiss cold wave soundscapes of intense instrumental impact.
There’s a limit to how many rock and roll basket cases you can healthily adopt, and I’m constitutionally resistant to the skeezy charms of heroin junkie pirate types… let someone else feed the memory of Johnny Thunders, or genuflect before Keith Richards’ skank-ass skull ring, blah blah… but I happened to hear this, second recent record by the Only One’s Peter Perrett and I gotta say, pretty charming skeez from this legendary heroin junkie pirate.
Another archival score this year was discovering Boys Next Door, Nick Cave’s disowned, or at least disparaged embryonic stage of the Birthday Party. I get it I guess, from his Olympian vantage its nervy scribblings must seem oh-so-conventional… but the weird was there from the beginning. Hearing the band playing their way out from under post-punk and new wave forms, almost literally song by song, arriving by the end of the record at “Shivers,” — the first acknowledged Birthday Party classic — is thrilling. No such anxious complications get in the way of Shellac’s meticulous vinyl re-issue of their Peel/BBC sessions. Now comfortably settled into a beloved institution for the converted, the initial four song session from 1994 is a stunning reminder of their live-wire novelty.
Ladytron become one of my favorite bands largely during their absence so their return to active service was a cause for celebration down our way, where this reunion record was played repeatedly at loud volume, occasioning appreciative gestures, head nodding, rhythmic tapping of nearby objects in time to the various fat beats of its excellent grooves… also, many additional groovy moods throughout this year were accompanied by the bleeps, blips & bloopy pleasures of Xeno & Oaklander.
“it was the late ’80s…. Everything that was popular then in Los Angeles was starting to irritate the shit out of me. I was getting really bummed. Stuff like the Red Hot Chili Peppers were happening and I was like, ‘I fucking hate them so much, I have to write the anti-Red Hot Chili Peppers songs’” Goodbye Kim Shattuck, thank you Muffs.
DOWNLOAD THE COMP HERE.
by Tess Gallagher
I was walking through a vast darkness
in a dress studded with diamonds, the cloth
under them like chain mail—metallic,
form fitting like the sea to its horizon. I could
hear waves breaking on the shore and far off
concertina music drifting over the dunes. What
was I doing in high heels in sand in a diamond-studded
dress that had to be stolen? Fear washed
through me, as if one of those waves had
risen up and, against all the rules of waves,
splashed me from the shoulders
down. I was wet with diamonds and fear.
A small boat held offshore with its cold
yellow light pointing a long watery finger at me
while the stolen feeling of the dress sparkled
my location out into the universe. Thief! Thief!
came an interplanetary cry, causing me to
gaze up into the star-brilliant firmament,
for it wasn’t just a sky anymore. It had
taken on biblical stature. How had I
gotten into this dress, these unruly
waves, this queasy feeling I would be
found out? Time to run! my heart said,
pumping away under its brocade
of diamonds. Strange vacancies had
accumulated after all my sleep-plundered
nights. Thief! came the cry again, as if
I should recognize myself. And I did.
I flung those high heels into the depths,
took up my newfound identity, and without
the least remorse, began to run those diamonds
right out of this world.
One of life’s distinct pleasures is watching segments of a Mousetrap-like contraption give way to one another; after each clever, unlikely & off kilter span there is always the gentlest, most elegant of handoffs…. it’s like reading this poem, and the silver bearing that drops in at the beginning rolls out a swirled marble, a world…. Poetry Magazine, March 2019
There was a moment, live, as the first half of “Jubilee Street” was rounding the bend that the music suddenly lurched, as if unexpectedly struck with a great force. The band rumbled, then just — detonated; Nick Cave stood, stock still, seemingly absorbing the full force of the blast behind him. Then — he cracked, lengthwise, like a thunderclap. “LOOK AT ME NOW / I’M TRANSFORMING, I’M VIBRATING, I’M GLOWING / LOOK AT ME NOW.” For the rest of the night Nick Cave kept scraping the clouds.
Remember the way the locks, switches and gizmos worked in Aeon Flux? Inscrutable components, switches, and dials would click, whirr, latch, and trip in improbable combinations until the lock gave way, blossoming open like a mechanical flower. Belbury Poly’s groovy puzzle-box collage instrumentals worked on me the same way – BBC library grooves, spooky Hammer film soundtrack flourishes, tinkling harpsichord, hazy bits of stoned dialog, click, whirr, clank, trip, click, release, besotted. High Church of Geek ambient.
Dunno ’bout you but my theory is that Lee Scratch Perry’s Black Album is, in fact, the latest in the series of mysterious dark Monoliths left scattered across the universe by forgotten extraterrestrials lost forever to the hazy mists of galactic time.
Musically, Philadelphia is generally pretty lush, but surf-wise it’s a parched, horizon blurring desert. It was fortuitous then, that live, California’s La Luz were short a keyboardist, because guitarist Shana Cleveland just flat tore up — shredding, barreling, spraying gnarly surf leads all over every tune. A mirage on fire, a mirage dressed in fetching matching sailor suits, on fire, to be precise. It was awesome. On the Bandcamp page for this year’s Floating Features, one “Ingwit” sought to congratulate La Luz “for somehow managing to take the heat shimmer on a long stretch of summer blacktop and press it onto vinyl.” I’m with Ingwit – well put, and well done ladies. \shaka/
My enthusiasm for Liz Phair used to run from the beginning of the song “Supernova” to the end, peaking with “Your kisses are as wicked as an F-16. And you fuck like a volcano, and you’re everything to me.” Maximum hella romantic! “Stratford-on-guy” randomly unspooled one afternoon from the depths of my electric phone and I was totally mesmerized. What a weird, gorgeous fever dream. I immediately played it a few more times in a row, hungry for its hypnotic incantations. “It took an hour, maybe a day. But once I really listened the noise just fell away.” Nice then, that this little epiphany coincided with this years’ 30th anniversary of Exile in Guyville releases. I guess I’m finally far enough from Guyville to dig the exile.
The recently revivified Chills have been a deeply welcome gift these past few years. On his new record Snowbound, Martin Phillips finally leaves behind his legendary cache of demos and sketches he’s mined for nearly four decades. The new, freshly written songs are largely a collective atonement – grappling and reconciling with years of travails, addiction, sundered relationships and shredded dreams. “Complex,” while rooted in those themes, utterly transcends them, emerging as one of best songs in an already storied songbook. A giant tune, a world in miniature, a new wave roller-coster inside a snow globe. Literally literally.
It took a while, but I finally fully grok and groove the jittery, grimy white heat rhythms of mid 70s New York City punk and their sonic cousins in likeminded boroughs. Human Switchboard’s Who’s Landing In My Hanger LP was a crate-digging score based on a recollected shard of a positive review from an old Trouser Press record guide. What a blast! NYC by way of Cleveland like the Dead Boys, it’s all glorious fan-fic takes on Deborah Harry and Lou Reed stylings, Modern Lovers primitivism and Television’s ramshackle ambition.
The first fang is is for all the rad bell-bottomed boogie bands led by badass lasses this year: Lucifer, Death Valley Girls, Ruby the Hatchet – non of whom, however, could match the bite of fang two – Betsy Wright. Wright took a break from being Mary Timony’s swashbuckling wing-woman in Ex Hex to grand marshal the 28 minute hesher parade that is the Bat Fangs LP. One of their t-shirts depicts a screaming bat with three yellow eyes, ears pointed like spikes, surrounded by concentric bands of melting neon. Every song on this record sounds just like that bat looks. Live — goodness gracious — Wright is a sneering, kicking, grinning, soloing, guitar-pointing total fucking rock monster. She also has a supremely boss collection of catsuits, boy’s small-town athletic shirts, and vintage metal T’s. Between the chops and the flair Wright might be the foxiest performer I have ever seen on stage, ever. When we need someone to represent *rock-n-roll* to aliens, send Betsy Wright.
In 2002, on Halloween, the Essex Green played a CMJ Music Marathon showcase at CBGBs dressed as the Royal Tenenbaums. Their autumnal reunion this year was a welcome occasion for this aging hipster to revisit a time when everything about that sentence was still fresh (or simply existed.) And I never tire of their erudite preppy boho fixations (“Slone Ranger” indeed) nor the burr in Sasha Bell’s voice.
With the release of Silhouettes and Statues Goth rock finally has gotten its archeological exhumation — the results of which are as dense and indispensable as the full Nuggets box set was for garage rock. Released in mid-2017, it’s taken me the better part of a year to explore its murky depths. Treasures and pick-ups abound, (amid swaths of utter muck – nothing rots like bad Goth) Zero Le Creche’s glammy-boomy obscurity “Last Year’s Wife” led down a hidey hole to the wonderful Psychedelic Furs/Bauhaus (right? right.) mashup of “Falling” which dominated the front half of this year’s groovin’.
This year the Sevateem self released Caves, a 16-track indie-electronic pop album inspired by an iconic classic Doctor Who episode from the early 80s. In “Anywhere In The Universe” the Doctor’s companion wonders why he never takes her anywhere nice. (The rationale for the spareness of description, of course, is that even plainspoken it will either engender waves of high geek appreciation, or remain as profoundly un-compelling as the manner in which its been described. Care for a Jelly baby? )
When I first tuned in Meg Remy’s US Girls were a profoundly insular affair, jerry-rigged transistor-kit transmissions of girl-group glitch outs. But recently she’s pointed her antenna towards the outside world, moving from secret wavelengths to broadcast frequencies. Her sound has filled out, shaped by wily and pop savvy comrades with some seriously deep chops. Live, touring behind her astonishing In a Poem Unlimited, I kept thinking of, honestly, Bowie. Bowie the avant grade pied piper, moving from station to station, seducing listeners into his jangled, cut up art along danceable grooves and modern love. Remy’s weird is going pro.
Alice Bag’s reemergence has been absolutely exhilarating. Bag was a major dynamo in the early LA punk rock scene, fronting the band the Bags, appearing as the Alice Bag Band in the seminal Decline of Western Civilization documentary, running wild in the streets with accomplices like Belinda Go-Go, Patricia Morrison and Pleasant Gehman (go google ’em all). She later worked for many years as a teacher, while remaining politically engaged as a Chicana and feminist activist. In 2016 she released her first solo record (and first LP ever, considering the Bags never released more than a few singles) and it was a total knockout — a swaggering blend of snarling punk, brassy girl group and Mexican folk. The record was personally and socially political – a bracing reminder how essential and genuinely inspirational punk could and can be. This year she released Blueprint, a another equally urgent and beautifully arranged salvo. Live, the double barreled opening of Bag’s classic “Babylonian Gorgon” into the new “Turn it Up” was seismic — raw, snarling righteous punk bliss as urgent, and more necessary, than ever.
Ok – straight up – The last track will be of limited or little interest to some, perhaps many. I thought it would be of limited interest to me, to wit — Finnish, operatic, power metal. Again — Finnish, operatic, power metal. Perhaps the phrase repels? For me it beckoned – strictly at first, as a curiosity. Encountering a passing reference to this curious amalgam I was led, as all quests for the essence of Finnish, operatic, power metal do, into the realm of Nightwish. First I read, amused; then I listened and was — utterly delighted (that is, while listening I experienced a high degree of gratification and pleasure.) It was gloriously absurd, but breathtaking in the scope of its foolhardy earnest bat-shit-ness. I immediately ordered their 1998 album Oceanborn, roundly considered definitive. While I waited for it to arrive I did experience a spasm of second guessing, a shuddering sense of “Surely not seriously.” One spin through Oceanborn’s rainbow laser glitter symphonies and I was even more delighted – that is, experiencing even higher degrees of gratification and pleasure. I could go on, and on, and many do, the earth over (Vice Magazine even prepared a thorough guide to the world of Nightwish, should you, um, wish.) Then I saw them live. Fucking lords of Asgard they were astonishing!! 6 magnificent Vikings by way of Marvel ‘s Jack Kirby or Branagh’s Thor — a chimera of Iron Maiden, Meatloaf and Brünnhilde fronted by a legit Valkyrie named Floor Jansen! Every song sounded like 20 technicolor rockets red-glare, even before they actually fired 20 technicolor rockets from the stage. Again. And again. A Ragnarock of delight, gratification and pleasure.
DOWNLOAD THE COMP HERE.
BONUS COMPILATION: This year also marks the 10th year of consecutive yearly mixes. As such, I’m commemorating this anniversary with a special compilation featuring a track from each year. Unlike the main mixes, which mix new, live and discovered music of the past year, each track here was released in the year it represents. Enjoy, cheers, etc.
From top: Milford, Pa; Philadelphia; Madison, CT, and the last two from Georgian Lanes, Parry Sound, Canada
[When the thought occurs, I like to take a peek back at the work of artists I’ve featured here in the past and see what’s afoot. I was sad to find that sculptor Christyl Boger just passed away a few months ago on June 17, 2018. She was 59. Her frisky & fetchingly accomplished sculptures remain a welcome delight and a personal favorite — a loss of someone so technically gifted and imaginatively big hearted is no small thing. In honor and appreciation of her and her work I’m reposting the repost of the original post with some additional images. ]
Swan Float, a sculpture by Christyl Boger was a highlight of a recent show at Philadelphia’s Clay Studio filled with strong work: Of This Century: Residents, Fellows and Select Guest Artists. While not pictured, it was of a piece with the work above – a classically elegant, expressive nude entwined with an inflatable beach toy. I was bowled over by its formal beauty, impressed with the perfection of its craft, and amused by its absurdity. The world is a richer place for art that can, without being glazed in snark, simultaneously recall Bernini, Meissen and Koons.
Bebe’s corduroy voice,
a Chesterfield burr —
unspools & old ropes give way
and the drawbridge drops
across the sunken court.
She stayed behind,
to man the parapet
while the movable feast’s last course
a styrofoam farce.
We slept in the old chapel
littered with espionage scripture.
Stations of the jet set,
gilded frames ajar —
Every Tuk-tuk driver in Lisbon will tell you
a bout the earthquake on All Saint’s Day
that leveled the churches
but spared the brothels.
So — Cast your fishnets
and collect billets in the chapel of bones.
Vacuum the apse —
AstroTurf the courtyard —
Hoist that orange extension cord high!
Draw the current —
Scaffold the nave —
Drop the cloth —
Nail it across walls
whose scored stones
familiar grip —
while the plaster dust remains
as timeless as the air
that forms the changeless notes
she pumps through the old organ.
While reading Charles Spencer’s lavishly illustrated biography of Leon Bakst and his design work for the Ballets Russes I came across his arresting manifesto for the vivid power of color. Looking at these intoxicating renderings and drawings the mind boggles at the lushness of the spectacle this must have been. Lush and lost. More on Bakst in an earlier post, here.
I have often noticed that in each colour of the prism there exists a gradation which sometimes expresses frankness and chastity, sometimes sensuality and even bestiality, sometimes pride, sometimes despair. This can be felt and given over to the public by the effect one makes of the various shadings.
That is what I tried to do in Schéhérazade. Against a lugubrious green I put a blue full of despair, paradoxical as it may seem. There are reds which are triumphal and there are reds which assassinate.There is a blue which can be the colour of a St. Madeleine, and there is a blue of a Messalina.
The painter who knows how to make use of this, the director of the orchestra who can with one movement of his baton put all this in motion, without crossing them, who can let flow the thousand tones from the end of his stick, without making a mistake, can draw from the spectator the exact emotion which he wants them to feel.
Omens. It’s hard not to look for omens these days. Last year began black, pulled through the vacuum of Bowie’s passing and slouched, heavy & low, towards November, when Leonard Cohen’s cloak crumpled to the Death Star floor.
But, as Leonard Nimoy reminds us, the cosmic ballet goes on, and this year began bright and blazing. Cherry Glazzer shot across the January sky like a crackling, wildly erratic comet. There are craftier salvos on the delightful Apocalipstick, sure, but “Trash People” is where it’s at — 19 year old Clementine Creevy’s neon ode to wearing old undies, fueled by Ramen, aiming for the stars. My room smelled like an ashtray once too.
Another portent of radness was Roky Erickson’s gobsmacking live performance this September — sitting in utter serenity like a psychedelic Totoro amidst a cyclone of sizzlin’ fuzz. He opened with the one song I dearly hoped to hear — “Sputnik” — a gift echoed in shows by Al Stewart, who kicked off his Year of the Cat retrospective with “Sirens of Titan” and King Crimson, who opened their stunning reprise of seldom heard 70’s material with a full dress parade of “Lark’s Tongue in Aspic” Old heads were generous this year, and fierce.
The glammy, psychotronic and exquisitely addled Death Valley Girls opened for Roky and were a total gas.
The continued activity by stalwart members of LA’s 80’s punk heyday continues to be a source of profound pleasure and surprise. TSOL and Dream Syndicate released tremendous records this year, both bracingly modern but rooted in beloved earlier classics like Beneath the Shadows and Days of Wine and Roses. Even by those lights, though, the new record by legendary LA paisley punks the Last is something else entirely — tearing, snarling, breathtakingly melodic, gorgeously arranged, Danger is a full-on, definitive SoCal punk rock classic. (It says something about the obscurity of this achievement that its existence eluded even this super-fan for almost four years; it says something about the stature of this achievement that the record cover is graced with art by Raymond Pettibon.)
I don’t know about you, but my goth fever shows no signs of breaking. This year I was in full swoon for the Sisters of Mercy — proudly 30 years late to this midnight movie. But clearly these dark currents still run deep — one of the most accomplished and moving records I heard this year was the Demonstration by LA’s enigmatic Drab Majesty. Sonically built from readymade darkwave parts, it is a triumph of bracing melodrama and strikingly original songs.
Ladytron’s Helen Marnie’s ongoing project to morph indie electronica into stadium scale dance pop continues to yield irresistible, shimmering, sexy concoctions.
Whiteout Conditions, The New Pornographer’s second exploration of the creative potential of the arrpegiated synthesizer was marred only by the absence of Dan Bejar’s leavening weirdness. With Destroyer’s “In The Morning” here following the stomping “Colosseum,” they are fittingly re-united.
One of the enduring joys of crate digging is stumbling across seminal bands that somehow eluded your attention. Take the masterful Chameleons, for example, who happened to be standing right next to the Psychedelic Furs, Modern English and Bauhaus this whole time.
But then the obscurities can be pretty fucking exhilarating too — like encountering “Worlds in Collision” by Talking Head bassist and ex-Modern Lover Jerry Harrison. A needle in a haystack find, this throbbing, hypnotic rumble was a beautiful oddity I returned to over and over this year.
Un autocollant sur la couverture du premier album éponyme des Limiñanas en 2010 disait: “Nouvelle musique pop française pour le prochain millénaire”. La pop classique parisienne, la psychologie californienne, le garage / surf rock, Serge Gainsbourg et Ennio Morricone étaient alors les points de référence, et ils le restent sur Malamore. C’est une pièce d’ambiance – haut sur la répétition, fuzz et sitar – et leur plus sombre, plus dense pourtant, qui sonnent bien plus Velvet Underground & Nico que Françoise Hardy.
Total time: 51 minutes. Download the comp here.
[ ALSO, below: I finally re-created and re-posted the first in this series from 2008. It was a corker of a year for music and the mix remains one of my favorites. Check it out here! ]
Comrades! Ugh. This year. But — yet — always — all year long — the weirdest, wonderful things shot through cracks. Blackstars in a black sky — absence has a pull of it’s own. And in this imploding year the void pulled hard, pulling beauty from random trajectories, shining bright —
A resurrected Modern English played the years best show. Embracing their strident, tribal, chanty early sound it was urgent & archival in equal measure. A column on world hardcore I read never led to the submerged sizzle of Barcelona’s Chroma. LA punk legend Alice Bag’s jukebox of received wisdom was pent up & aged for 30 years — every song a shimmy & taken together a shiny suit of armor for bright, headstrong girls everywhere. Angel Olson’s new record was the years most vital — in no way beholden to nostalgia, obscurity, revival, genre, or personal obsessions, not crate dug, not researched, not referenced – just a new, challenging, bracing salvo of ace tunes by a smolderingly gifted woman. Dig, friend, the smudge stick of oddball embroidered heavy boogie of Blood Ceremony & the aching dignity & yearning of the fallen Byrd, Gene Clark. Two unexpected & random reunion records stunned this year / Si Sauvage by Minneapolis’ fauvist sophisticates The Suburbs & SoCal hardcore legends Shattered Faith’s Vol III. The former sports the years best single tune & an gleefully pompous & sexy cover design by Kii Arens. From the latter I feature nothing because no digital form of the record exists. Genius gentlemen! But for LA punk nerds it’s a circa 81 time warp. Aces. Ah! the medicinal power of pure feyness! — swooning power-chorded sashay – teenage swoons unfurled like blazing wings on the roof of a burgundy Camero, lollipop lust, gymnasium passes, Milk n’ Cookies. Ex-Bad Seed Mick Harvey’s translations of Serge Gainsbourg’s songbook provide technicolor details that were once just suggested by his louche croon. And the words are funny & lusty as hell.
Now, about the bookends — David Bowie’s death was the implosion that marked the beginning of the new year. I mourned here, and ruminated on the amazing Blackstar here. I kept coming back, though, to the live unhinged swoon of “Station to Station” from the legendary 1976 Isolar Tour. And Cortez? Well, it came on randomly one wrecked mid-November night, shuddering into focus & this whole aching tide of a song seemed to wash over the years dark closing days. Fade out. You can download the full compilation here.
FIVE HOUSES DOWN
By Christian Wiman
I loved his ten demented chickens
and the hell-eyed dog, the mailbox
shaped like a huge green gun.
I loved the eyesore opulence
of his five partial cars, the wonder-cluttered porch
with its oilspill plumage, tools
cauled in oil, the dark
clockwork of disassembled engines
christened Sweet Baby and benedicted Old Bitch;
and down the steps into the yard the explosion
of mismatched parts and black scraps
amid which, like a bad sapper cloaked
in luck, he would look up stunned,
patting the gut that slopped out of his undershirt
and saying, Son,
you lookin’ to make some scratch?
All afternoon we’d pile the flatbed high
with stacks of Exxon floormats
mysteriously stencilled with his name,
rain-rotted sheetrock or miles
of misfitted pipes, coil after coil
of rusted fencewire that stained for days
every crease of me, rollicking it all
to the dump where, while he called
every ragman and ravened junkdog by name,
he catpicked the avalanche of trash
and fished some always fixable thing
up from the depths. Something
about his endless aimless work
was not work, my father said.
Somehow his barklike earthquake curses
were not curses, for he could goddam
a slipped wrench and shitfuck a stuck latch,
but one bad word from me
made his whole being
twang like a nail mis-struck. Aint no call for that,
son, no call at all. Slipknot, whatknot, knot
from which no man escapes—
prestoed back to plain old rope;
whipsnake, blacksnake, deep in the wormdirt
worms like the clutch of mud:
I wanted to live forever
five houses down
in the womanless rooms a woman
sometimes seemed to move through, leaving him
twisting a hand-stitched dishtowel
or idly wiping the volcanic dust.
It seemed like heaven to me:
beans and weenies from paper plates,
black-fingered tinkerings on the back stoop
as the sun set, on an upturned fruitcrate
a little jamjar of rye like ancient light,
from which, once, I took a single, secret sip,
my eyes tearing and my throat on fire.