Classical Nerdery

Via the always wonderful Bill Harris (even if you don’t care for video games, his Friday Links and stories of his son Eli are always entertaining), a Christie’s auction for a 20-sided die.  From the 2nd century C.E.

Next thing you know they’ll find a caltrop with 4-sided numerology.


The Tradboy Shuffle

“Help! (take 5)” – The Beatles (from Help! Sessions bootleg)

Instrumental take begins tentatively, but opens up to the classic “Help!” shuffle.  The revelation of this early take is how much the song is propelled by the vocal track; without it, all there is a mid-tempo nodder.  Ringo has a couple of really weak fills, tentative and unconvincing; I’m not one to slag Ringo (there are plenty of people who have seemingly made a career of it), but on this take he’s not up to snuff.  McCartney is still playing rather pedestrian basslines at this point, which isn’t a bad thing.  Though he pioneered the bass as a melodic instrument once the Beatles became a studio bound entity, his r&b influenced (particularly James Jamerson, the Motown anchor) earlier work was a great counterpoint to the folky variants of Buddy Holly and Bob Dylan so prevalent on Beatles For Sale, Help! and Rubber Soul.

“Cool It Now” – New Edition (from New Edition)

Remember when Bobby Brown was known as a musician instead of a crackhead ex-con?  If so, you must be over 30.  This was never my New Edition jam; I was partial to “Mr. Telephone Man”, and used to have a tape I made from the radio where that song was followed by Autograph’s “Turn Up The Radio”.  I loved listening to the radio before it became format exclusive, market researched, codified, gentrified crap.  “Cool It Now” does have the “Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike” breakdown from Ralph Tresvant, which I still bust out regularly.  Someone should bust out and buy me this shirt (XXL please.  I’m a big boy.).

“Jack Palance” – Mighty Sparrow (from Mighty Sparrow Volume One)

Ah, calypso.  Not only does it have conga drumming par excellence, but great horn stabs are common and Jack Palance gets a song.  Unrelated, but the Jack Palance reference reminds me that Robert Mitchum recorded a calypso album.  It isn’t bad; being a world class stoner with a weary, yet slyly charming, voice makes him perfect for the sing-song rhythms of Americanized calypso.  The band he’s backed by is pretty atrocious, but thats what he got for not going to Trinidad to record.  All that aside, this song is bemoaning guys with “a face like Jack Palance” bogarting all the fine Island women.  It is phrased as blaming the women for falling for the American’s money and ignoring the loving attention of their own people; Sparrow sells it both at that face value level and metaphorically for the willingness to be exploited.  Plus, you can dance to it.

“Frustration” – The Mamas & The Papas (from Deliver)

West Coast folk rock cross-polinated with Motown arrangements; The Mamas & The Papas get no credit for expanding the lexicon as they do on this three-minute instrumental.  How many vocal groups did instrumentals?  All the vocal groups had a songwriter/arranger the caliber of John Philips.  As in, no one else.  The only negative I can see in this beautiful piece is that it pretty much single-handidly created the aesthetic of Wes Anderson.

“Bring The Noise” – The Unholy Trio (from Down To The Promised Lane)

Perhaps my favorite cover of all time; definitely the best “rap recast as something else” cover, though what are the other contestants?  I guess The Gourds “Gin & Juice” isn’t bad, except for where it goes on too long and sounds like Phish.  Anyone who brings up Ben Folds’ “Bitches Ain’t Shit” can, to quote Shaq, “tell me how my ass tastes.”  The Unholy Trio is a one-off group of guys doing basement, gutbucket blues (sounds like washtub bass, a three-piece trap set and a guitar with a 10″ practice amp); the singer has a nasal baritone twang and he sings the line “just he wax that the Terminator X spuuunnnn” with stunning conviction.  A home made video that uses the beginning of the song can be seen here.

Search And Ye Will Find

A thanks to whomever came here via a search for “who sings this song whose lyrics say i’ve been paralyzed but i seem to be struck by you you’ll probably make your move”.  One of the more interesting queries I’ve seen.

Mainely Metal

Monday night I went up to Portland to see Conifer, Ocean and Minsk.  Minsk was a no show; whether it was intentional is debatable, because their MySpace page didn’t indicate they were coming.  They played a show on Saturday in Chicago, and the drive from Chicago to Portland, besides being pretty hellacious, would cost them more than they would probably make.  I’m calling this one a case of miscommunication between booker and band.

It wasn’t the hugest loss.  Last year, I caught Minsk on their tour with Rwake and thought them acceptable but no great shakes.  Getting to see the local contigent play to 40 people was worth the trip.

Both bands we’re a little embarrassed; having planned for an opening set, they weren’t prepared for much more than a half hour on stage.  Since the crowd was mainly friends, people weren’t bummed or angry, nor should they; a short, masterful performance beats a half-assed long one every time.  I got my $5 worth.

Conifer opened, and I was intrigued to hear where they were at.  The last time I saw them was at the aforementioned show, when they were still rather early in the exploration of their new direction.  Fourteen months later (and with a new album, Crown Fire, out on Important Records this fall; new song “Surface Fire” currently streaming at their MySpace page), they’ve coalesced into a very heavy post-rock outfit.  Like I wrote before, they have a sense of swing that seems to have been mostly erased from metal in the wake of Priest and Maiden in the early eighties.  Their drummer, though capable of conventional pounding, seems to be more in the vein of Bill Ward’s work with Black Sabbath; the jazz/blues shuffle and willingness to play around a beat are strong.  The two guitarists play well together, in reverb-heavy harmonic lines and in apposition, pulling and stretching, almost commenting on the other one’s sequence like jazz soloists.  The result is pretty spectacular.  I’m not a big fan of post-rock bands like Explosions In The Sky or Mono, but something Conifer is doing (perhaps it is as simple as never noodling when they can stomp) is clicking with me.  I wasn’t so sure that was going to be the case, because they started with something that, sadly, was analogous to Spinal Tap’s Nigel-less “Jazz Odyssey”; the bass player was doing the hackneyed “walk-the-dog” jazz line (duh-duh-dah-dah-DEE-dah-doo-duh – think the Dead Milkmen’s “Bitchin’ Camaro” talking part) and the rest of the guys were futzing around with him.  Luckily, that ended after a few minutes and they tore it up.

Ocean was Ocean.  They weren’t as loud as the first time I saw them, nor were they quite as awe-inspiring as when I caught them at Stoner/Doomfest III; they were just utterly awesome.  I’ll never top my “lithification” and “internal harmonic” descriptors from my first encounter so I won’t try.  Their 30-odd minutes seemed epic and too short; something you can’t imagine having an end finds resolution and you’re both sated and ravenous.  I like them a great deal, if you couldn’t guess.  But more importantly (pun intended; read on to get it), I found out from Reuben, their bass player, that they have finished recording their next album (it still needs final mixes and mastering) and it should be out on Important Records in November.  European readers take note; they are working towards their first overseas tour early next year.

Sympathy For The Devil

Last week, the Notwist released the follow-up to their 2002 masterpiece, Neon Golden.  Entitled The Devil, You + Me, it is quite good; a comfortable, low-keyed follow-up with fewer curve-balls or jaw-dropping moments.  Neon Golden was my favorite album of 2003 (you know, I haven’t listened to that Postal Service album in literally years; not a good call there), and has thus far held off all comers to be my favorite work of the decade.  Like many people I’ve talked to, my initial thought upon hearing The Devil, You + Me was that it was a disappointment; I waited six years for this far too similar yet less exciting minor variation? But the album is a perfect example of a grower; the more I hear it the more it separates itself from its predecessor.

The Devil, You + Me is a good album, on either its own terms or in comparison to Neon Golden. It does not surprise the way that earlier album did; there is no “Thrashing Days” with its haunted banjo, no Michael Nyman samples.  The biggest difference is in composition, for it seems the majority of these songs derive from guitar driven melodies.  On Neon Golden, the general feel is construction, disparate layers accruing and dissipating, carved out or reattached; there is no center, no bedrock, no obvious root.  The result is organic yet inhospitable, a cold, clear climate befitting the dark sadness expressed in the lyrics.  The Devil, You + Me is treading upon the same ground, the same emotional gulfs, but the use of acoustic guitars and orchestral accompaniment give warmth to counter some of the austerity, an anchor in a sea of despair (if my metaphors are getting as turgid as these, why not pull out that hoary cliche?).

The album opens with attention; small snippets of dissonance may appear for a second then never return, a moment of feedback is sampled and repeated as a quiet ring under the mix in “Alphabet” like a triangle amidst Wagnerian bombast, the percussive elements in “On Planet Off” vary nearly measure by measure yet always carry the same beat so pass unnoticed.  The title track is like a fire burned down to embers, the warmth more remembered than felt, only to be poked and prodded, goaded into a small flame that licks teasingly higher before fading away (now that is turgid!).

Something about this new album brings to mind Lambchop’s Is A Woman.  That release followed their breakthrough and arguable high point Nixon, and though Lambchop made a greater stylistic break than the Notwist have here, there is a cryptic “something” about both albums that opens only with attention.  The two works also share a similar sonic pallate, though the Notwist substitue German electronics for Lambchop’s Nashville soul and country touches.  But regardless of its inability to surpass its predecessor (or its generic covers, both foreign and domestic), The Devil, You + Me is an affecting and lasting work, one of the few this year to reward close, repeated listening.