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Strove to find a way to punch people in the face by using the Internet.
Sept. 28, 2003: Went to my father’s house in Tarpon Springs on Saturday to celebrate his 60th birthday. My father’s family is Irish Catholic, so they multiply faster than chlamydia germs on the toilet seats at Leonardo’s Pizza… I have many, many uncles, aunts and cousins. So many, in fact, that I quit keeping track of ‘em when I was 11 or so and my grandparents decided that the 12 kids they had weren’t enough and adopted a 9-year-old Puerto Rican who, strangely enough, then became my uncle Joaquin. (I swear I’m not making that up.)
Anyway, a small delegation from the Celtic mob came down from their homeland in East Bleak Cold Nowhere, New York to ostensibly help celebrate while eating and drinking everything organic in their path like a horde of leprechaun locusts. A handful of my father and stepmother’s degenerate friends were there as well, making Viagra jokes at my dad (who wore nothing but swim trunks the entire weekend, except for when he went to church to beg the Pope to forgive all the stuff he was doing the rest of the time) and talking about how the Jews control the media.
I tried to avoid conversation with these barbarians by keeping my mouth full, which wasn’t hard considering the spread included stromboli, Swedish meatballs, baklava, lasagna, chicken wings, strawberry cheesecake, bbq beef sandwiches, birthday cake, cookies, the flesh of the innocent, chocolate baklava, Mexican meat-and-cheese dip and a mind-boggling variety of alcoholic beverages. Most of the exchanges that slipped through this artery-clogging barrier were along these lines:
Uncle Donald: “Your dad said you’ve been having sinus problems.”
Uncle Donald: “You know what’s good for that? Poontang! Heh heh heh! Poontang!”
At one point I bit into a piece of that chocolate baklava and all the insulin in my body instantly squirted out of my pores. (It was in the yard, so I didn’t get yelled at for ruining the furniture.)
Earlier, I had been sent to fetch the poisonous baklava from a local Greek bakery. I stood there at the counter for fifteen minutes, listening to very loud techno music and getting shoved by tourists while four grumpy 57-year-old Greek women with facial hair like Blackjack Mulligan yammered at each other in their foreign jibber-jabber, which sounds like a cross between a stick getting stuck in the spokes of your bike and angry, stupid monkeys.
This was just after:
1. My truck refused to start, causing me to miss the Gators rallying from an 18-point deficit to beat Kentucky in the last quarter while we got a new battery (the thought of being stuck there an extra day had made an actual black storm cloud form above my head, startling area meteorologists).
2. A dog tried to bite me as I helped my dad’s female mail carrier bring a package up to a neighbor’s house. (Dad: “He won’t bite.” Her: “I think he doesn’t like my uniform.” Uncle Donald: “Then why don’t you take it off? Heh heh heh! Take the uniform off! Heh heh heh!”)
Later that night, after most of the rabble had either passed out or driven off to commit DUI manslaughter, I tried to sleep on a couch designed by First Grand Inquisitor Torquemada. I estimate its dimensions to be about 3’x1’ and believe a mixture of rocks, pus and shredded copies of Mein Kampf was used for its padding. It was next to a huge, looming grandfather clock; a sentry designed to chime a rotten note every fifteen fucking minutes as well as play a jaunty, 59-minute tune every hour, on the hour. I considered shitting in its various gears and workings and throwing it into the bayou behind the house, but found myself too weak to do so, due to the gallons of booze my family had forced me to drink, plus low self-esteem.
The next morning I unfolded myself from the hated couch, which had sensed my presence during the night, deployed its poison spines and contracted to a size roughly the same as half of a Rubik’s Cube. I thought grabbing my fishing pole and making a few casts along the sea wall behind the house might work out some of the kinks and cheer my mood; unfortunately, one of my uncles was sleeping on the back deck sans clothing or coverings of any kind. I got a good, early-morning look at his wrinkly, hairy balls, spectacularly lit by rays of the rising sun, and decided to forego fishing and instead go inside and contemplate biting down on the cyanide capsule hidden in my tooth. I warned my aunt Laurie not to go out there where Uncle Nature Boy was displaying his wares, and she replied in a black croak coarsened by 300 daily cigarettes: “Who gives a shit? He ain’t got barely nuthin’ to see! Heh heh heh.”
Later, after the other 17 members of the family arose and forced Uncle Wrinkly Naked Hairy Balls to put on some damn clothes, I sat at the kitchen table with my beloved grandma, who started lamenting about the most screwed-up of my 400 northern cousins, a young man “covered in tattoos who hops from job to job every six months.” Of course, this description fits me perfectly too.
I managed to escape soon after, when everyone was distracted by the ritual worship of the tyrannical papal dictator that their primitive religion demands. On the drive back to Gainesville I forced my 19-year-old brother to listen to Melt Banana and Floor in retaliation for trying to talk to me about movies that are based on video games. You can read additional commentary on the weekend at the blog he started after seeing mine (which alternates reviews of crap nobody cares about with self-deprecating humor, the thieving little cocksucker):
Labels: Diary of Indignities
SEPT. 24, 2003: Last night I go to my dead aunt’s house to help my mom and my live aunt move this futon. My mom, who is crazy, had told me on the phone that if she decides to take the futon – an event that was in question for reasons I’ll get to in a minute – it would necessitate moving the three other futons she owns to make room for it.
"Why the hell do you need another futon if you’ve already got three?!" I asked her.
"There’s nowhere to sit in my apartment," she replied. My mom lives by herself in a small, one-bedroom apartment and has no regular visitors, or friends of any kind for that matter. But whatever.
I go to the damn house, wait for my batshit insane family to show up and let me in, and then carry this futon and frame outside so my mom can smell them. Yes, smell them. Someone smoked cigarettes in the house back in like 1963, so my mom thinks everything in the house is tainted with deadly poisons. She cannot abide by anything that carries any sort of perceptible smell – perfume, cigarettes, paint, detergent, etc. You know, all the stuff every sane person in the world slathers over themselves on a daily basis with no notable ill effect. You could probably douse my mom in some kind of scentless military neurotoxin that’s designed to boil human flesh right off the bones (for legal reasons, I should mention that I am not seriously considering doing this) and the loony old bat wouldn’t blink an eye, but heaven forbid she has to be exposed to any kind of fume.
So I’m standing in the yard while my mom and my aunt start sniffing the wood frame – the fucking wood frame! – of the futon, debating over whether or not it smells like cigarettes, despite the fact that nobody has lit one up in that house for more than 20 years. I decide to take a sniff myself, just out of curiosity. I can’t smell a damn thing, except crazy.
The futon is deemed unfit, which is fine by me since that means I don’t have to go to mom’s lair and play the fucking futon shuffle. There’s a lot of discussion about how at some point the stinky futon can be taken over from my dead aunt’s house to my live aunt’s house and exchanged for a theoretically acceptable futon there which can be brought over to my mom’s, only we can’t do it now because someone is sleeping on it and blah blah blah. I had received a Godzilla DVD in the mail that day that I wanted to watch and finally bellow at my family to shut the hell up and get out of my way so I can put the damn futon back in the House of Many Awful Invisible Fumes and Poisons and get the hell out of there.
Before we all leave, my mom and aunt inquire about my visit to the doctor that day. I had gone to an ear-nose-throat specialist about two post-sinus-infection nosebleeds, to make sure I didn’t have a polyp or varicose vein or shiny quarter lurking around up in there, and the verdict came up negative. I mentioned that the doctor wanted me to get that allergy test where they inject you with stuff to see what makes you swell up. This set both my crazy relatives off and running:
"You don’t want to do that! They’ll inject you with chemicals! And then they’ll just prescribe more chemicals to fix what they've done! What you need to do is get some herbs, or look into this alternative treatment where they inflate something inside your sinuses to reshape them, because these problems are often the result of deformities caused by sleeping on them wrong and…"
It was at this point that I completely lost my mind and started ranting, raving, waving my arms and dancing around like George Burns with a habanero pepper up his ass:
"No! I do not need to get my fucking sinuses reshaped! Because you cannot deform them by sleeping on them! Because there is a bone called your skull there that keeps this from happening! And I do not need to eat any fuckin’ herbs, because I am an American living in the 21st century, where we have a little thing I like to call science! Look! Look at that elbow! You see any psoriasis there? No! Hell no! It’s all cleared up! That’s because I’m a real American, not some cosmic fuckin’ hippy, and I went to the nice doctor and I took the goddamn medicine they gave me! I don't eat any fuckin’ herbs unless they’re in my spaghetti and I don’t break out the crystals and the flute when I get sick! And I get better, unlike your crazy asses!"
They just laughed and drove off. Fucking bitches will probably outlive me, too, just out of spite.
Labels: Diary of Indignities
Sept. 24, 2003: I'm listening to Duran Duran. Right now. On purpose.
Labels: Diary of Indignities
New! Today! Super-special guest indignity from Kyle!
Melissa was backing the car out to wash it and there was a thin coat of dust on the back window. I drew a humongous penis on the back window in the style of the restroom graffiti penis. Humongous half circle balls with cleavage attached to a not quite hard dick that was smaller next to the balls and got bigger next to the grossly overproportioned head. I completed it with a slit for a pee hole and sperm balls shooting out like on the machine gun pictures I'm sure you drew at one time. Melissa and I stood back and admired it and then quickly washed it off before we even started on the rest of the car. We then took Preston to her mothers house and went to Panama City with the baby. When we stopped to get some lunch, Melissa noticed that the penis had miraculously reformed on the back window when we drove down the dusty road. It was not quite as clear but obviously a huge circumcised phallus to anyone that gave it anything more than a casual glance. It took repeated washing to get it from the "Look at that huge dick" to "Is that a gigantic weener" to "That kinda looks like a big ol' pecker" to finally being gone. I guess the oil from my fingers wouldn't wash off.
Labels: Diary of Indignities
Mysterious Object at Noon
Grainy black-and-white flick from Thailand, and an audiacious experiment. The dauntingly named filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul starts out with the skeleton of a story, travels around sections of Thailand and, using a strategy inspired by the old Surrealist game exquisite corpse, assembles the loose narrative by asking unrelated groups of people to add to wherever the last group left off. So you watch documentary-style footage of people in Thailand talking about their lives a little and doing their daily thing (seems like buying fish sauce, mostly) interspersed with non-pro actors acting out the raggedy story (something about a kid from space with transforming powers - it unfolds like a cross between ye olde folktale and bad comic book) as people pick up where the last group or person left off and just make it up. Scenes with a group of entertainers acting the story out and a group of rowdy fat kids shoving each other are pretty charming. Conceptually, it's bad-ass, but ultimately the movie works more as an experiment than a riveting cinema experience. Unless you're the kind of cultural-studies sissy who read a lot of Roland Barthes and Walter Benjamin.
Offbeat bio-pic about Harvey Pekar, the Cleveland curmudgeon, music/book critic and lifelong file clerk who pioneered autobiographical comic books. Pekar recognized the medium's potential to depict something other than superhero fantasies and enlisted Robert Crumb's help back in the '70s. He's since garnered plenty of critical acclaim, appeared on Letterman a handful of times and worked with a metric buttload of notable illustrators.
Pekar portrays himself as a neurotic crank, but there's an element of self-aware schtick to what he does that adds a lot of humor to his work. I used to work at a fairly wretched magazine called JAZZIZ that published Pekar's reviews, and I used to talk to him on the phone pretty regularly. He came off pretty much like he does in his comics - grumpy, disdainful of technology (he used to type out his reviews and have someone fax them in, and it was my job to re-type them into the computer), anxiety-stricken and cheap as a motherfucker, but also intelligent, funny, self-deprecating and curious about the minutiae of everyday life. The editors (poncey English-major creeps) would always groan over Pekar's sober, straightforward and descriptive writing, but I thought it was solid and a nice break from all the pretentious bullshit they liked.
Anyway, the movie covers major events of Pekar's life (starting his comics, getting married, his feud with Letterman, adopting a daughter) in a way that's slightly fictionalized. To a person the cast does a bang-up job of nailing the essence of their character, and we know this because their real-life counterparts frequently show up, in interviews and archival footage. Pekar himself does the narration, occasionally adding funny counterpoint to the action ("That guy doesn't look nuthin' like me"). The filmmakers also mix in plenty of panels and elements from Pekar's comics, and a few of these turn up animated.
One of the things I really enjoyed is that the mixture of straight-ahead film narrative, interview footage and comic art never feels showy or tricky. It's integrated in a way that feels natural, with the different elements illuminating each other rather than calling attention to the cleverness of the director.
And the story itself, which will be familiar to fans of the comic, is great. It's warm, funny, bittersweet, sad - human; no rough edges smoothed over. It's that rare flick that depicts authentic human experience, with all its attendant speed bumps and little victories. Highly recommended.
Sept. 18, 2003: Called up Alex Ulloa today and left this message on his machine:
"Hello, Dr. Alex? This is your patient, Patrick. I have a growth in my bottom that I want you to investigate with your speculum. And by speculum, I of course mean penis."
And a few weeks ago I left on that said, "Alex, it's a beautiful day. Go to the window and open it. Doesn't it look nice out there? Now take a deep breath. Really suck it in. Can you smell that? Doesn't it smell great? That's the smell of my genitals."
What the hell is wrong with me? What if his landlord or his mom or something hears that kind of talk? I'm a complete degenerate and need to be locked away from polite society for a very long time. Christ.
Labels: Diary of Indignities
Sept. 12 - Sept. 17, 2003: Ever since Johnny Cash died I've had a real bad case of "ring of fire."
Labels: Diary of Indignities
Sept. 13, 2003: Called a fish a "dumbass" today. Out loud.
I referred to an alligator as "bub," too, but that was just in my head.
Labels: Diary of Indignities
Keep looking. Took me a while, but it was worth it once I got it.
Sept. 9, 2003: Awaken at 3:30 a.m. to find blood pouring out of my face, a disconcerting experience hopefully brought on by the use of an inhaled steroid, prescribed for a sinus infection. And not by, you know, nose cancer or something. Likely it'll turn out to be some rare form of debilitating, untreatable, disfiguring and ultimately fatal nose cancer that has previously only affected people who have sex with dogs.
Semi-serious ones at that. Written in the last year or so, mostly for the excellent Atlanta/Athens music mag Stomp 'n' Stammer. More recycling efforts for this burgeoning site; really just a wan attempt to make myself look like a productive member of society.
Bill Frisell with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones
On this album, much as on his last eight or ten, guitarist Bill Frisell uses chops picked up from the earliest country and blues to construct forward-thinking jazz, accompanying himself with looping, echoing tone fragments through the use of effects. He finger-picks bluegrass phrases one moment and engages in pure, chiming sound the next, often working in some liquid, electric blues.
Not surprisingly bassist Holland, a veteran of Miles Davis’ groundbreaking fusion work, is unruffled by all the willful genre smashing. Jones, an aggressive drummer who accompanied some of John Coltrane’s most propulsive work, mostly sticks to little flurries of brush-strokes and cymbal taps.
Frisell’s stylistic shifts aren’t jarring because they’re consistently anchored with a swirling ambience -- his phrases are punctuated with gossamer note-shreds or sharp, clear ringing-bell sounds. Like all of Frisell’s recent work this album is consistently thoughtful as well as being quite beautiful.
Trapdoor Fucking Exit – s/t
I get the feeling that a lot of modern hardcore punk bands incorporate fairly avant-garde musical strategies into their music without really thinking too much about it. For acts influenced by Drive Like Jehu, Slint and Fugazi, the basic available palette now includes oddball time signatures, non-traditional guitar-tunings and a disdain for cathartic or hook-filled choruses. With the exception of the aforementioned bands (and pioneers Sonic Youth, a group that makes its debt to Ligeti, Cage and Stockhausen plain) most of the acts operating in the current underground hardcore scene seem unaware of their music’s distant roots in dissonant 20th century composition.
Hell, the bulk of ‘em likely consider Slint a footnote and Sonic Youth an abstraction if they consider ‘em at all. Information moves real fast these days and the more conformist factions of hardcore are influenced by what their peers did two weeks ago, not by the boring indie-rock some New York City old folks peddle to know-it-all record store clerks.
Possibly named after an album by the impenetrable New Zealand low-fi noise-rock group Dead C, excellent Swedish hardcore band Trapdoor Fucking Exit gives the impression that it incorporates influences that range outside of its immediate social circle, and fans of this music reap the benefits. For its chosen genre, this CD is as experimental as it is fierce.
Opening track Run Idiot Run is a blur of speed and menace punctuated by this great recurring atonal chord that hits hard and rings out like someone slamming the lid on a piano. At one point the song almost dissolves into chaos while someone starts in on the rhythmic handclaps and it’s just breathtaking. While never delivering the impact of the opening track all kinds of brainy little moments jump out of the rest of the album’s blitzkrieg attack and chiming murk and if you’re a smart punk rocker and you know what’s good for you you’ll track this import down or keep an eye out for the forthcoming stateside reissue.
Angelic Upstarts Live from the Justice League
Competently executed and well-recorded punk played by very old British men for an audience quite possibly one-fourth their age. Back in the late ‘70s vocalist Mensi was considered a lot savvier than the bulk of the thugs he inspired. He also had more of a willingness to drill down past the vapid political rhetoric of rock-star bands like The Clash and address specific issues in his songs. (I wonder if he feels stupid about his tune “Guns for Afghan Rebels” now? It ain’t on here, that’s for sure.) Regardless, this is simply an exercise in cheap nostalgia, designed to mine the pockets of youngsters un-ironically wearing spiked wristbands. Any rebellious qualities this sort of thing once had have long since been scrubbed away. Fetishists looking for a trip down memory lane and kids too stupid to sniff out cynical marketing ploys ought to love it.
Rez Abbasi Out of Body
Rez Abbasi, a New York-based guitarist of Pakistani heritage, is a man of formidable talent. Steeped in the traditional Asian music of his family from a young age and a former student of both percussionist Alla Rakha and the Manhattan School of Music, Abbasi is capable of seemingly inexhaustible quicksilver improvisation, simultaneously linear and surprising. Whether playing acoustic or electric, each of his notes here stands out in sharp, crystalline relief -- even during the frenetic rush of the third track, Winners Circle, which could have easily turned overwhelming without Abbasi’s precise phrasing (and clear production).
It’s interesting, then, that for all Abbasi’s technical ability the real star of this CD turns out to be his stunning compositions. Out of Body contains only original songs, in which Abbasi combines the cerebral, deliberate cool of Dave Douglas or quintet-era Miles Davis with the complex, post-Monk melodic sensibilities of Steve Lacy.
Abbasi has assembled a sympathetic group to explore these ideas. He’s confident enough to have them step to the fore when necessary, too: after the first track’s opening moments, Abbasi turns in a low-key vamp while Ron Horton’s trumpet and Tony Malaby’s soprano sax make bright, bold statements. This continues throughout the album, as Abbasi, stalwart bassist John Hebert and rolling drummer Bruce Hall supply an airtight backdrop for the occasional dueling horn solos (Horton also plays flugelhorn, and Malaby also plays tenor sax). It turns out that in addition to being a dazzling soloist, Abbasi can engage in wonderfully subtle accenting and thoughtful counterpoint. He even provides the tasteful tabla introduction to the tune Ganges. Remarkable.
In the U.S., Out of Body is distributed only through Abbasi’s Web site: www.reztone.com.
Girls Against Boys You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See
Artistically, a successful stab at redemption from this band: In the mid ‘90s, Girls Against Boys had started to spin its wheels after a slew of releases on influential independent label Touch and Go. A jump to major label Geffen in 1998 resulted in an implosion; previous fans were underwhelmed by the uneven, slick result Freak*On*Ica and mainstream converts (as well as any kind of discernible label push) were nowhere to be found. It’ll be interesting to see if You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See rehabilitates the band’s reputation – any (relative) commercial success will depend on whether the album is embraced by Jade Tree’s little army of bespectacled emo kids just waking up to music reaching beyond Cap’n Jazz. Most Touch and Go-era Girls Against Boys fans are either working for advertising agencies or dead from drug overdoses by this point and unlikely to notice the album’s release.
Which is a shame, as You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See ranks with the band’s best work. Foremost among its attributes are the atypical two-bass line-up (used for an impressive range of gritty texture rather than rhythmic complexity) and Scott McCloud’s singular half-crooned, half-croaked vocals. As his impressionistic lyrics alternately celebrate and satirize the glamour and sleaze associated with urban nightlife, the band churns out driving, repetitive songs with the ferocity of men with something to prove. The overall sound is impressively thick, the choruses almost uniformly feature oddly affecting, bittersweet melodies and the space-age lounge-lizard atmosphere is intact even at speedy tempos. Welcome back.
Radio Birdman The Essential (1974-1978)
Streamlined, witty hard rock from Australia that features deadpan vocals, medium tempos, slashing guitar solos and some nifty organ playing. This is pitched at, and most definitely will be purchased by, the usual gang of hipsters and record-store geeks that wouldn’t look twice at a Blue Oyster Cult record with a picture of their mom blowing Stone Cold Steve Austin on it. Even though this has a lot more in common with Blue Oyster Cult in structure and attitude than anything else in the racks.
Karp Action Chemistry
Thank Satan for Karp. The now-defunct trio provided a refreshing alternative for those of us inclined to like the velocity and heft of heavy metal but not the contrived evil gimmickry. Karp replaced the tired old poses with smart-ass attitude and healthy doses of absurdity while wielding power like a manic Black Sabbath on whippets. A collection of singles, compilation tracks and other odds and ends, Action Chemistry doesn’t have the cohesion of the band’s masterpiece Suplex. But it’s still very, very cool.
Thin Lizzy – Vagabonds of the Western World
A criminally overlooked album and the pinnacle of ‘70s hard rock. Phil Lynott’s soulful voice marries rasp and melody, melancholy and joy in a way rarely heard outside of the Stax/Volt canon, and there’s a good reason why Ted Leo and that guy from Spoon have nicked his style of phrasing (‘cause it’s fucking cool). The guitars sting, harder tunes like “The Rocker” charge like a graceful, effortless premonition of punk and the ballad “Little Girl in Bloom,” with its turn-on-a-dime double-tracked vocals, ambient feedback, simple bass melody and transfixing guitar solo, is actually an album highlight. A perfect record. (For an "underrated albums of the '70s" feature.)
Johnny Cash American IV: The Man Comes Around (American)
Though poor health has shorn him of his full powers, Cash does a pretty good job of navigating through this latest Rick Rubin-designed obstacle course.
Producer Rubin’s propensity for pitching oddball song choices and collaborations at Cash may have brought the singer back into the mainstream back in the mid ‘90s, but the strategy’s results have here degenerated into almost pure crap as the gimmick loses whatever scant charm it once had. Underfed, talentless skank Fiona Apple caterwauling along with the Man in Black on Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water? An ill-advised up-tempo boogie-woogie take on Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus? That bullshit will suck all the charm right out of a damn album, I tell you what. Someone needs to be beaten in the face with a cactus until they learn better, and it ain’t good-sport Cash.
The fact that Cash soldiers through it all so well, emerging as noble and unscathed as ever, is a testament to the inherent dignity he radiates. I mean, Rubin and his corny juxtapositions and stupid beard aren’t going to derail the Orange Blossom Special with the musical equivalent of a paintball gun.
Though the covers thing is lame, it’s still a big part of the story here, so it’s worth addressing where the album is slightly more successful at this stuff: much better is the duet with Nick Cave on I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, though even it turns out to fall short of its potential. This Gothic Americana all-star match-up should’ve had all the earthshaking dream-team power of the Hulk teaming up with Superman (or, you know, something) but just seems kind of phoned in. But at least it’s not totally fucking awful. And though it pains me to admit it, the rendering here of shit into gold on some Nine Inch Nails song called Hurt is a dark, brilliant attention-grabber almost on the level of Cash’s devastating version of Cave’s The Mercy Seat (found on the last Cash/Rubin go-around, American III: Solitary Man).
Even more successful, and not surprisingly, are the original songs: album opener The Man Comes Around is as stark and chilling as anything Cash has done, and features a crackly spoken intro (Cash reading from the Book of Revelation) that’s infused with more dread and apocalyptic portent than most death sentences. And the song describing titular murderer Sam Hall’s unrepentant misanthropy is bracing in its bluntness and black humor.
Sam Hall also features the album’s most robust vocal performance. Cash’s recent health troubles are no secret, and throughout much of the rest of this disc he sounds positively frail. This documentation of noticeable decline might be a little shocking, but it’s mitigated by the fact that it feels honest. Cash has always displayed a frank vulnerability that, matched with his resonant, substantial voice and heavyweight subject matter, gave even his simplest songs a remarkable depth and complexity. Though it’s the result of unwanted circumstance, emphasizing this vulnerability has enhanced the humility and humanity of Cash’s art. Which only makes the inclusion of those publicity-stunt cover tunes more despicable.
Though its achievements do outstrip its washouts, American IV: The Man Comes Around ultimately has the feel of a fading light. If Cash went out with this uneven album as his legacy’s capstone it’d be a damn shame, so let’s hope that turns out to not be the case.
Isotope 217° utonian_automatic
Ostensibly an attempt to reclaim funky, free-form fusion from the noodling guitar-tech camp, utonian_automatic comes complete with post-jam studio splicing a la Teo Macero (here performed by Chicago “post-rock” darlings Bundy K. Brown and John McEntire). Perhaps more careful editing would have tightened up these limp workouts, but it’s doubtful. Isotope 217° have been playing and improvising together for several years, but one wouldn’t have to look too hard to find a high school marching band with more dynamic chops.
The drums are robotic and tinny. Solos meander endlessly, devoid of even the fleeting pleasures gleaned from showy displays of instrumental prowess. Much of the album is awash in the kind of analog synth bleeps and burps that have become trite and inescapable in alternative rock. And it never coalesces – without a hardy life support system of robust player interaction, it’s just random ideas kicked out into the open to wilt.
Certainly the band should be commended for employing open-ended conceptual strategies (including echoing dub effects, attempts at creating taut funk that erupt from ambient soundscapes, wobbly slide guitar, etc.) The problem is, none of it really works. Instead of experimental juxtaposition, the overall effect is one of switching channels because nothing good is on.
If this album is meant as a smart-ass parody of insipid, self-indulgent musical excess, it’s brilliant. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Wolf Eyes Dead Hills (Troubleman)
Is there anything more pretentious than the hyperbole of hardcore punk weenies just discovering life beyond their own depleted scene?
“Finally! WOLF EYES crowning achievement, a piece which captures the potential of the band like no other release by them has come before. Dead Hills is a world where NEGATIVE APPROACH has gotten in a fist fight with WHITEHOUSE while beating the shit out of an 808 drum machine, and spat out the heaviest punk rock record ever made. The first time I heard punk rock, it was this sound, pure noise with people screaming at the top of their lungs, tearing into every part of me. Determined to find exactly what was at the bottom, I listened over and over and slowly found more and more each time. Dead Hills is such a record. This is NOT a noise record, NOT an experimental record, this is WOLF EYES as they are. This band is constantly moving forward and constantly changing, making you dance and laugh one night, and crouch and vomit the next.”
That’s the label’s description. Dance and laugh? Crouch and vomit? What the fuck? Nobody does that shit when they listen to this stuff. They just sit around and listen to it, or wash their dishes or read a book or something. Christ. What kind of life does this idiot lead? I’ve only ever seen people dancing and laughing along with booty rap and the shit they play at weddings, like Naked Eyes and the Go-Go’s. And the only times I’ve felt like crouching and vomiting involved bad sour cream or something, not some fucking… album.
And it doesn’t sound a damn thing like the sharp thrash of Negative Approach or the rumbling, “transgressive” sheet-noise of Whitehouse either. It’s a deliberately primitive throwback to the chunky, experimental electronic punk of Throbbing Gristle and early Cabaret Voltaire. Which also means it fucking sounds just exactly like the other two Wolf Eyes CDs I’ve heard. Moving and changing my ass.
Anyway, it’s pretty good, if a bit short.
Dave Douglas The Infinite
Dave Douglas brings his composer’s sensibility to The Infinite, resulting in a sound that’s rich without being dense, atmospheric without being dissolute. In a Silent Way is a clear reference point, but this album also carves out its own identity: The intimate, conversational tones of Douglas’ trumpet and Chris Potter’s tenor sax and bass clarinet are showcased, but Uri Caine’s contrapuntal keyboards are also featured heavily. Married to Clarence Penn’s rollicking backbeat, the funky Fender Rhodes recalls The Meters as much as Miles. For all their languid warmth, Douglas and Potter don’t shy away from displays of passion, either. Pealing trumpet lines frequently soar out of contemplative sections like dawn breaking in fast-forward, and Potter’s energetic soloing gives the song “Penelope” plenty of momentum. There’s an essential humanity found throughout, exemplified in the emotional range of the track “Waverly,” which moves from lyrical, almost mournful balladry to wry playfulness quickly and gracefully.
Despite its prominence in the press materials, focusing on the inclusion here of songs originally recorded by Mary J. Blige, Bjork and Rufus Wainwright would do Douglas a disservice. Keep in mind the long tradition of improvising from pop melodies as well as jazz’s penchant for absorption and what initially seems frivolous or gimmicky becomes conceptually palatable. More significantly, in practice the song selection and sequencing come off seamlessly. The Infinite sidesteps pandering on its way to accessibility, moving from strength to strength without hesitation.
Lightning Bolt – Wonderful Rainbow (Load)
Two punk muppets spend an entire album attempting simultaneous breakneck covers of Van Halen’s “Eruption” using only drums and very, very distorted bass. Lightning Bolt is clearly the greatest band in the universe.
Peaches – The Teaches of Peaches (Matador)
Potty-mouthed queer-theorist deadpans primitive surrealist rhymes over a ramshackle tribute to the self-titled 1982 album by Vanity 6. Fantastic, as long as you don’t listen to it more than twice.
Placebo – Sleeping with Ghosts (Astralwerks)
This is kind of like the Buzzcocks covering Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” only a lot more gay. It’s got the beautifully narcissistic, melancholy feel of glam-era Bowie and clove-smoking British pop from the ‘80s, and should be pretty damn effective as a soundtrack for drama-queen breakdowns for years to come. Or months. Whatever, you capricious little bitch.
Arab On Radar – The Stolen Singles (Three One G)
A career-spanning overview of creepy, degenerate bad vibes from this now-defunct band. Often associated with the current crop of groups revisiting New York City’s atonal no-wave scene of the 1970s, Arab On Radar have more in common with the slow-moving, willful cretins of early American hardcore punk, like Flipper and No Trend. Overall it’s like a whining, juvenile-delinquent Captain Beefheart ditching Howlin’ Wolf for, uh, I don’t know… Cough syrup or something. Fun.
Savage Republic – Recordings from Live Performance, 1981-1983 (Independent Project Records)
Scenic – The Acid Gospel Experience (Hidden Agenda/Parasol)
High volume illuminates these two CDs, bookends to Savage Republic founding member and Scenic head Bruce Licher’s musical career as it currently stands.
Recordings from Live Performance, 1981-1983 is the first CD issue of what was available in 1992 as a double 10” vinyl record. The recordings date from
Savage Republic’s inception, and feature different versions of songs available elsewhere as well as a few not found on other releases.
The crude recordings mirror the songs, which at this stage of the band’s evolution display more exuberant primitivism than the lilting, cinematic wash of sound found on later albums. It’s still a brainy kind of primitivism, reflecting the band members’ art-school backgrounds even if it doesn’t display the group’s eclectic musical references (echoing, bleak post-punk by way of Public Image Ltd., The Cure and Joy Division; droning Arabic and Greek music; soundtracks; psychedelic ‘60s rock and a junkyard approach to percussion) as efficiently as the more sophisticated later recordings.
Listeners who respond to mood more than technicality won’t have a problem with the bare-bones recording quality, which contributes to the overall atmosphere of thudding, high-spirited playfulness. The liberal application of volume removes some of the muddiness from the sound, making each piece of the skeletal arrangements plain and revealing that Savage Republic early in its development possessed the ability to hit and ride a distinct, loping groove that evokes more than mimics the hypnotic early records by experimental German group Can.
Because later versions of the songs are substantially different, longtime fans of Savage Republic will enjoy this document for its glimpse into the progression of a fascinating, unique band. Music fans appreciating the primeval, eternal appeal of pounding on things and hollering will likely get a kick out of this CD as well, even if it doesn’t make for the best introduction to the group’s music.
Slick and polished, The Acid Gospel Experience couldn’t be more different from early Savage Republic. On this instrumental album the five-member Scenic grafts layer upon layer of guitar, synthesizer, effects, vibes, glockenspiel, percussion and all manner of sundry things to build towering aural sculptures that aimlessly drift in the air or whoosh through space with a kind of forward drive not usually associated with ambient music.
Raising the volume here clears out away some of the syrupy gloss that threatens to drown the songs, giving the listener the opportunity to get lost in the shimmering tiers of sound. Supple lap steel and twangy western guitar are some of the more engaging elements found floating over all that glimmering custard; less successful are the ill-advised, jarring sitar flourishes, which would be more at home in some crude parody of “ethnic” music.
Still, one shouldn’t fault the band for its maximalist approach. It makes for an unpredictability not often found in ambient music and it rewards close listening as much as (if not more than) it functions as sonic wallpaper, successfully fulfilling Brian Eno’s dictums for the genre. And its thickly spread everything-goes strategy gives it legs other ambient releases just don’t have.
Special mention should be made of the excellent packaging, which is innovative without sacrificing function: both CDs come in typically attractive, full-color cardboard discfolios designed by graphic artist Licher.
Mario Pavone Nu Trio/Quintet Mythos
Absolutely dynamite forward-thinking jazz from bassist Mario Pavone, who has worked with innovators like Anthony Braxton, Bill Dixon and Paul Bley as well as participated in the fabled New York loft scene of the 1970s and Wadada Leo Smith’s Connecticut-based Creative Musicians Improvisers Forum with NY Downtown scene stalwarts George Lewis, Gerry Hemingway and Pheeroan AkLaff.
Pavone is a sensitive accompanist and prodigious musician, and it’s rewarding to hear him pluck, grind and bend his notes, accenting the rhythms here without bullying the other players. Whether through intuition, design or both, he seems to have defined exactly the amount of lateral movement in which he can indulge without sacrificing his timekeeping duties, and he sticks to it.
Pavone is also a composer of formidable talent. Mythos is inspired by the work of piano trios both straightforward and avant-garde, and his songs are rollicking, rhythmically complex and bright, like clear rivers filled with tiny bells and chunks of diamond. Pavone has assembled a sympathetic, revolving cast of players to perform these brash, shiny tunes, but the album’s kernel is Pavone’s collaboration with pianist Peter Madsen, who no doubt held his outside inclinations in check when touring and playing with Stan Getz, Stanley Turrentine and Fred Wesley & the JB horns. Madsen’s pent-up tendencies explode in a rush of zipping, sometimes bluesy, sometimes scalar melodic lines shot through with contrapuntal left-hand work that brings to mind Cecil Taylor filtered through Duke Ellington’s sensibilities, and Pavone gives him plenty of space in which to cut loose.
Matt Wilson and Michael Sarin alternate on drums. Both are propulsive and up to the demanding time changes. Wilson especially has a distinctive, clattering style and can play surprisingly forcefully with brushes. Tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby and trumpeter Steven Bernstein show up on three tracks (two of which are arranged by Bernstein), respectively honking Morse code transmissions and pealing off typically humorous, quizzical runs. No player is ever less than completely focused, and the remarkably tight performances really push this album into the realm of the extraordinary.
Sept. 4, 2003: After a protracted and frustrating experience with formerly servile opticians, I pay lots of money for a stylish new pair of black-frame glasses. Upon getting a glimpse of myself while wearing them to the country-folks grocery, I discover that I now bear a strong resemblance to the cooking queer from that popular and informative television show where gay men fix the straights (if he had been sampling a few too many of his dishes, that is.)
Note to self: newfound gay appearance strongly enhanced by pastel, mint-green dress shirt and gray/khaki striped tie, especially when everyone else around me is wearing denim, mud and drywall dust.
Labels: Diary of Indignities
Written in the last year or two but published in hippie-ass, go-nowhere weekly papers. Hence, they are now recycled for your edification and enjoyment.
Fargo Rock City
By Chuck Klosterman
Conceived as an autobiographical, appreciative survey of ‘80s heavy-metal culture, Fargo Rock City possesses an engaging readability and more than a few good anecdotes. So why is it so depressing?
Author Klosterman grew up obsessed with Motley Crue and Poison. When his book examines just how effective the hair-metal bands featured on MTV were in providing teenagers with a safe, accessible touchstone for rebellion and fantasy, it’s a vibrant, detailed, funny read.
But Fargo Rock City suffers from Klosterman’s contrived everyman persona. Too much time is wasted on I-get-it-already shots at some abstract, amorphous group of “hipsters.” His attempts to display current pop-culture savvy amount to a few poorly chosen dropped names, and even his definition of heavy metal is confusingly narrow. Klosterman frequently comes off like your dad complaining that rock ‘n’ roll was better in his day before all the kids embraced Blind Melon and the Spice Girls and quit listening to Three Dog Night and Grand Funk Railroad. Or whatever.
Because he can put together a decent sentence, it’s also unfortunate that Klosterman is so bitter and self-obsessed. He tries hard to achieve bad-boy credibility by detailing a supposed alcohol problem but it comes off flat and unconvincing. Frankly it would seem lame even without his goofy farm-dork photo on the jacket, but that ain’t helping either.
I’ve met a lot of people like Klosterman. They flaunt a supposed love of music but really are just fixated on the soundtrack to their adolescence. Incapable of separating emotionally from the cultural trappings that surrounded them during the excitement, newness and turbulence of their teenage years, nothing will ever measure up to their standards. Klosterman and others like him refuse to listen to music critically, preferring to instead use music to immerse themselves in a comforting nostalgia.
Modulations: A History of Electronic Music: Throbbing Words on Sound
Edited by Peter Shapiro
As unwieldy and poorly executed as its title. It aspires to cover electronic music from its experimental, high-minded musique concrete beginnings through various permutations as dance-floor fodder but mostly it just rips off design ideas from 6-year-old issues of Wired magazine. Note to publisher: all the neon graphics don’t make this shitpile look modern. They make it look like a Frankie Goes to Hollywood remix 12” – too bad it’s not as relevant.
Ass-clown Peter Shapiro doesn’t help matters much, prefacing and peppering his little mini-chapters on musical sub-genres with statements so preposterous they don’t even warrant a scoff (“It’s probably safe to say that, with the exception of punk rock, every significant development in popular music since the 1960s has in one way or another emerged from the Jamaican dancehall and its tradition of the sound system”) as well as other bits of jaw-dropping jackassery (“With more unrepentant ribaldry than Rudy Ray Moore, Redd Foxx and Blowfly put together, the collected works of Miami Bass serve as a Satyricon for the late-twentieth century” – that’s a lot of unrepentant ribaldry!)
The positive: a few hired guns don’t embarrass themselves too bad (Rob Young’s piece highlighting electronic music’s roots in the classical avant garde of the forties doesn’t read like it was written by a crackhead), it’s pretty inclusive and the timelines and general facts are straight. If your parents just discovered Aphex Twin (and were blind and had a Braille edition) they might find this book a useful place to crib names for trips back to the record store, but anyone with even a cursory interest in this stuff will likely take one look at the brain-damaging layout and “throbbing word” contorted syntax and dismiss this as another pathetic attempt at hipsterism. Well, I did, anyway.
THEM: Adventures with Extremists
In which our intrepid journalist, affable Brit Ronson, ingratiates himself with a smattering of subcultures often demonized by the media (including Klan members, conspiracy theorists, militant fundamentalist Muslims and strident liberal activists) (actually, that last group probably isn’t demonized often enough, but whatever) and hangs around being likable and watching for any telltale signs that his subjects may, in fact, actually be human.
Ronson has produced a work that’s likely to be criticized for its superficiality and generally humorous tone. And there’d be some merit to that. There are more than a few moments in THEM where one might be inclined to arch an eyebrow at Ronson’s tendency to portray potentially violent groups as genial buffoons, and I get the feeling Ronson too self-consciously deploys his Jewishness as a preliminary defense against this kind of gripe. But, you know, taking things too seriously is the main cause of the kind of knee-jerk myopia that’s trotted out for our amusement here in the first place. As the Canadian activists that Ronson at one point shadows so gracefully demonstrate.
Along the way a couple of other good points are made: excessive government secrecy is to conspiracy theory as gasoline is to fire, for one. The segment covering the FBI’s grisly assault on the Weaver family, and its subsequent use of a powerful public-relations machine to vilify its raid’s victims (and the mainstream press’ willingness to help) is a powerful indictment of one of the more sickening abuses of federal power in recent memory. It’s a story that was marginalized and needs to be retold, and Ronson does it effectively.
Oh yeah, one more thing: I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but it turns out that some of those cockamamie conspiracy theories are actually kind of true (I think the jury’s still out on the one about world leaders and media figures being 12-foot-tall, shape-shifting lizards, but I ain’t taking any chances, either).
So, um, keep alert.
This is Reggae Music: The Story of Jamaica’s Music
The title of this excellent book is pretty bland compared to its original, British name; Bass Culture. Why they chose to swap that out but keep the mildly mystifying UK slang intact for the American release is a question that might forever go unanswered… Oh, wait – I think I figured it out: the publishers are stupid.
At least the book is well executed. Bradley displays a clear love and extensive knowledge of his subject, and he’s to be commended for his extensive research and excellent interviews. The prose is generally workmanlike and occasionally awkward, but Bradley is good at faithfully transcribing his subjects’ dense Jamaican patois into something that’s easy to follow.
If there’s a problem here it stems from the book’s intended audience: the British. While reggae’s highest US profile is among Marley-obsessed frat boys and hippies (and that swell “Bad Boys” song from Cops – irie!), the music has enjoyed more lasting success in the UK pop market. This means lots of stuff that’s probably obvious to your average British music fan (the details of Peter Tosh’s demise, for example) gets referenced but glossed over or ultimately skipped.
Still, that’s a minor gripe when one considers what this book has to offer: a readable history of a fascinating subculture that built itself from the ground up under extenuating circumstances. That, and a laundry list of names to check out that ought to thrill record-store goblins (like me). I mean, I used to think most reggae was suitable only for incorrigible weedheads too stoned to notice how fucking boring the music really was. And now I have two CDs by some guy named I-Roy. Will wonders never cease?
Motley Crue/The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band
Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, Vince Neil and Nikki Sixx with Neil Strauss
This should be required reading for all middle-school students, and not just because anecdotes detailing burrito fucking, copious female ejaculation and Ozzy snorting ants and drinking pee will hold their interest better than The Canterbury Tales. No, this book also provides a valuable public service, believe it or not. It makes the drugs-and-sex excess of the rock-star lifestyle seem ultimately pathetic. All these losers had to do was keep making trashy, screechy glam-influenced metal and they’d probably still be living like Caligula today… But they got grandiose on the cocaine, inflated their petty spats way out of proportion and lost track of what made their music fun in the first place. Now they spend their time in the pokey or rehabbing, trying to piece together shattered psyches, wondering why relationships with dipshit silicone life-support systems go bad and making albums that desperately chase last year’s trend. Hey guys: enjoy the high-profile moments the (truly fascinating) voyeuristic thrills of this book will allow you, ‘cause they’ll likely be your last.
A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal
He’s too aware of his own celebrity now, but A Cook’s Tour is still as compellingly readable as Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Here’s the deal: Bourdain travels around the world eating bugs and haggis and snake blood and shit like that. A couple of Food Network guys follow him around, filming him for a TV show and they all get drunk a lot. The weak bits occur when Bourdain tries to grapple with moments of introspection brought on by facing items or events of Great Cultural Significance (he seems aware of his lack of qualification for this sort of thing but it don’t keep him from trying), most egregiously during the “Saigon… Shit. I’m still in Saigon…” Apocalypse Now flash he has in Vietnam (it reads like parody – too bad it ain’t). But mostly this obnoxious New Yorker just self-consciously traipses around getting wasted, eating cool or icky stuff and writing about it with a gift for description that places the reader in vivid locales and at strange and wonderful meals. Definitely worth an afternoon or two.
Aug. 29, 2003: While fishing, became stuck hip-deep in foul mud, redolent with the scent of rotten eggs and man-ass. Mud would not wash off upon entering the water.
Also: waded into a pile of stingrays, and almost started to cry.
Also: accidentally stuck myself with various hooks and shit multiple times.
Also: only consistent catches were tiny, worthless saltwater catfish, quite literally smaller than my bait.
Labels: Diary of Indignities
Coldplay: A Rush of Blood to the Head
Blood’s going to rush to the head, alright. Precisely, right to spot I whack with a big stick. This sounds like all those Pink Floyd albums that came out after The Wall. In other words, a fat load of balls.
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists: Tyranny of Distance
“Timorous Me?” Timorous? Looks like I learned a new synonym for gay today. Thanks Ted.
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists: Hearts of Oak
Say, when you figure out where all those rude boys have gone, let me know. I’ve been meaning to have a talk with them about all that fucking ska.
Hot Hot Heat: Make Up the Break Down
The next time you take a promotional photo, do you fashion plates think you could try all staring in the same direction? And while you're at it, how about recording an album that doesn’t make me want to light your balls on fire?
David Cross: Shut Up You Fucking Baby
Is this a comedy album or a liberal-elitist pep rally for English majors and fans of Yo La Tengo? Why, the latter, of course.
Sleater Kinney: Big Onion
This band lucked out. Greil Marcus and Robert Christgau have an easier time whacking off to little alterna-girls than those grimy dykes in Team Dresch. Voila! Instant credibility.
Hot Water Music: Caution
Dude, you stole your video from The Hives. I liked the album where you stole your video from that Disorderlies movie with the Fat Boys a lot better.
The best Front 242 album you’ll ever buy.
Black Dice: Beaches and Canyons
Dude, we’re supposed to congratulate you on your new, intellectual abstract direction? Do you think we didn’t hear those last two Boredoms records or something? I hope Poison Idea goes over to your house and sits on your face.
Lightning Bolt: Wonderful Rainbow
Dude, play “Eruption” again. And again. And again.
Burning Airlines: Identikit
Maybe this would rock more if you quit moping and just bought some fucking Rogaine. Wait a minute - aren't you a little old to still be doing this?
Girls Against Boys: You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See
The best White Zombie album you’ll ever buy.
Out Hud: Street Dad
Kind of like the Gorillaz if you replaced those little cartoon goblins with smelly punk kids. Depressing.
Put on a denim vest and pick up the pace a little, alright? Assholes.
The Donnas: Spend the Night
The only way you beasts could get me to spend the night is by slipping me a roofie.
Turbonegro: Scandinavian Leather
Hey, Foghat called. They want their album back.
Songs: Ohia: Electric Magnolia Co.
You made this album on purpose? Merle Haggard shits in your emo mouth.
Iron and Wine: The Creek Drank the Cradle
How about your mouth drinks my urine?
Peaches: The Teaches of Peaches
Hey, Vanity 6 called. They want their album back.
Spoon: Kill the Moonlight
Hey, Joe Jackson called. He wants his album back.
Dirty Three: She Has No strings Apollo
Focus, everyone, focus!
Sounds like at least one of 'em is queer. Probably the drummer.
Pretty Girls Make Graves: Hoopy Poopy
Just two cases of SlimFast from the big time.
Buzzcocks: Play Horseshoes
"Homo Sapien?" Sure, Pete, whatever you say.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Eerie Spider
Placebo: My KY Jelly is on the Nightstand
Like Paul Lynde French kissing Rip Taylor while shopping for antiques at the Ice Capades, only more gay.
Sept. 5, 2003: while taking off my tie after work, hit myself in the neck and shoulder with a fish taco.
Labels: Diary of Indignities
Shit Nobody that Reviews Records is Allowed to Use Anymore
I, Bad News Hughes, decree it so. Fear my wrath.
will kill small children
delivers the goods
will kill small animals
And no more referencing album titles in the headline, unless it's the album you're actually reviewing. This means you, EVERYONE AT THE FUCKING VILLAGE VOICE.
In fact, just quit being clever altogether, will you?