November 3rd, 2004 : Love and Mercy

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"Hello, you're listening to KEXP.. getting a lot of sad calls today... can't imagine why, but I'm getting calls everywhere from New York City; Chicago; Minneapolis; Dublin, Ireland; all over the place...".

So went my globally net-broadcasting local public radio station when my alarm clock went off at 7:20am this morning. The whispered sarcasm of "can't imagine why" told me all I needed to know. I got myself out of bed, did my normal shower, did my getting-ready-for-work duties, checked e-mailed, prepared my bus trip breakfast (two bananas, two soy drinks, and a pint of potassium fortified water), and strolled off in a zombie like shuffle over to the bus stop I always visit every morning to begin the daily grind.

I got a later start than normal this morning. I was devastated. Can't imagine why.

Noticing my bus was 10 minutes late, I had an snap ¡impulse!. I decided to ditch work today. And so, I walked back home. That was that. If there was any day where a work environment would be the least healthiest, it was this one. So I got back home, and e-mailed my co-workers telling them I had an intense stomach ache. It was almost true. Can't imagine why.

Collecting my thoughts today, dealing with my devastated state, I was able to talk this through with enough people to get a grip, and just move on. In the late afternoon, I decided to take a stroll in my neighborhood.

What a nice day it was! Very cold, but clear skies everywhere. There was still dampness all over, from the heavy rain from the previous day. It was very refreshing. I walked around, and saw that people were neither happy nor sad. They just were. Grip back into reality achieved. I certainly have a lot to be thankful for, and I consider myself lucky in many ways. My neighborhood has remained beautiful to me for the past four years I've lived here. I don't really deserve any of this.

There was one fellow who I'd never seen before on the street corner holding up a green neon sign saying "Hell is real! Christ Now! The End Times are near!". People like this never frequent here, so I was puzzled. I did expect doomsday freaks to creep out today, although it's quite odd that it happened on a day after which nobody was killed, at least in an event as immediately catastrophic -- as far as human lives go -- as say, 9/11. I walked by and he mumbled in my direction "Read the Bible?". I ignored him completely and walked on. I wasn't alone in that action.

I went to get a burrito at a nearby Mexican eatery, and the man who was managing the place asked how my Halloween was. I told him it was fun, and gave him some details as to what I did, who I dressed up as, etc. He was extremely sweet. It's almost like what happened between today and Halloween never did happen. Can't imagine why.

I swung by a couple of record stores, and said hi to the usual employees. I bought myself the deluxe 2-CD edition of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, by pure ¡impulse!. I'm listening to it right now. John Coltrane calls this album "a gift to God". This is the first time I have ever purchased a classic jazz release brand new. I admit to having avoided jazz for much too long, as I've always had a sweet tooth in music; and jazz isn't exactly sweet. So far, I'm really appreciating this album, mainly for its meditative values. It isn't evading my attention though. It's just.. stabilizing me. It's giving me pauses. This is exactly the musical tea I've been needing for the past 48 hours.

On initial perusal of the poetry in the liner notes to A Love Supreme, I just see a jigsaw puzzle of "God"s everywhere, and I'm immediately reminded of the sick feelings I have whenever people in this world invoke that mighty word or entity to justify themselves and how they justify others -- and inflict their judgements on their lifestyles accordingly. it's the reason I usually fear the word "God" today whenever I hear anyone overuse the word, or invoke it in the name of cause or opinion. Upon reading closer though, I finally shed my first tear since the beginning of my devastation upon the following lines:

No matter what . . . It is God
He is gracious and merciful.
It is important that I know Thee.
Words, sounds, speech, men, memory, thoughts,
fears and emotions -- time -- all related . . .
all made from one . . . all made in one.

It's a small release, and the tear was certainly a positive, hopeful one.

So so many people expressing their idea of why things exist, and trying to change the way things should be... yet so so many people who don't heed to any grace nor mercy when they try to change the world, or just try to make it in this world. After all, there is only one world we can live in. We were all made from it, in parts. Can we make it back in, graciously and mercifully? Most importantly, can we help others make it back in, graciously and mercifully?

...

Two thoughts for the day. I highly suggest the read.

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October 6th, 2004 : Ísland

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So, during my visit to Ísland in mid June this year, as a 12-step music geek, I had to see what kind of record action there was in town -- in this case, in the capital city, Reykjavík. There's not much, but the one store that's worth visiting is certainly a gold mine, as far as finding interesting Icelandic musical artifacts you rarely found outside the country, and that is 12 Tónar (www.12tonar.is -- which seems to be down now, so try emailing them at 12tonar@12tonar.is). Besides finding, oddly enough, used copies of the Harry Crews album and the Public Service punk compilation on Smoke 7 (feat. Red Cross -- before the name change, Bad Religion, RF7, Disability, and Circle One) for 400 kronur each (around $5.50US at the time), I purchased the following releases that have, at most, just scraped the service of stores outside the country. None of these releases are hot off the presses by any means; in fact, I may have missed previous praise of these records in several music discussion forums a while ago, but here I go anyway:


Graveslime Roughness And Toughness (2003)



*CHUNGCHUNK* "DOOOO YOU WANT TO DIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE????!!!!"...

..is how the first track "The Punch Fucking Drunk Fuck And The Fucking Goat" begins. The song heavily riffs and chunks along while screaming "GRAAAVE.... SLIME!" at odd points. The rest of the albums follows suit -- more or less. Most importantly, within the first split second or so, Graveslime achieve one of the band's primarily goals according to their current online bio page -- to be in a band called Graveslime. The second goal is met later on in the album.

They were a three piece that formed out of various previous bands like black-metal band Svört Verða Sólskin, She-Male, Skorpin Tunga, Þrír Hressir, and Thundergun (none of which I've heard, unfortunately.) When The Fucking Champs and Trans Am played in Iceland, these guys opened for them, and later on, invited Tim Green to fly over and record what turned out to be their one and only record.

And here it is -- a barely-serious, great, dark stoner rock record with frequent pop/"indie"/"grunge" departures. In any case, the band sound pretty much like the sum parts of Melvins, Kyuss, early Superconductor -- all with an occasional poorly disguised Gong influence. There are a few songs that are nods to more rock pop a la Nirvana, like "362 Days Until Christmas" and "Gasoline". And the "Chariots Of Fire" cover -- part TWO of their alleged modus operandi! -- is pretty damn rich and stellar.

There's nothing on this record that is outstandingly original or unique, but Roughness And Toughness is a fun, if not sometimes obtuse, listen, especially if you like any of the bands mentioned above. It's too bad the album came out well after they broke up, so that nobody could have seen them play any place outside Iceland. Surely, these guys are already well into their follow-up bands right now. One would hope.

(Mp3 samples can be found on the Graveslime bio link above, although the Volatunage section on the right contains the greatest song on the album, in my opinion, "I Love You, Really I Do")

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Mugison Lonely Mountain (2003)



Sigur Rós and Múm have ruined Icelandic music -- for the time being. I don't dislike Sigur Rós's music at all; and I'll reserve my opinions of Múm. I do think both are quite overrated. But ever since they became popular all across the Western world and beyond, their shadows have eclipsed all other great qualities of other Icelandic bands in the recent past. For now, the only way the current Western press will even bother with an Icelandic band is if the music abides by a minimum set of requirements that involve being "moody", "subtle", "somber", "celestial", and (my favorite) "glacial". Otherwise, "next". It's similar to the plight upon Seattle in the early 90s. "An electronic band from Seattle? But but but the band is in the wrong city! Don't they know that there's only one type of sound allowed per city? Fer crying out loud!" (To the defense of Sigur Rós, at least, they are one of the first rock bands in the country's history that actually fits the mold of traditional Icelandic music, that being very symphonic and classical, whereas the explosion of fun and weird rock bands from Iceland in the late 80s was far more of an odd fluke than most realize, emanating from descendents of the early 80s Icelandic punk rock scene. Then again, surely Sigur Rós may have roots in the punk scene just as deep(?))

Unsurprisingly, Mugison's album, Lonely Mountain follows closest to those requirements by the press these days to qualify as a "real Icelandic band." and, hence, this album is the only one in this set that actually is getting distribution outside Iceland (via Accidental records in the UK.) More on Mugison can be found at his site here.

Without trying to pace aimlessly into the eventual cul-de-sac of comparing this record to anyone or anything that is "modern digital indie pop" or "folktronica", I'll just state that this record does a really good job of creating slower-tempo tunes that are very "noir" yet use instruments that complement the writing style with light, airy sounding instruments, whether real or computer based. (Mugison performs 99.9% of the album himself: guitar, drums, laptop, etc.)

The beginning track, "Sea Y", sounds like a trailer for the entire album. Instrumentation and parts change every 20 seconds, while the tempo remains. Suspicious lyrics begin the song: "She wants to sleep alone/But she woke up in my bed/She can't understand it/And I don't blame her". Has someone been plundering through Beck's sketchbook here? (Ah yes -- somber, tired vocals lamenting that a girl can't understand how she scored with you. Oh woe is you. That must really suck, dude.) Thankfully, that verse is just a fluke, and the entire album becomes stranger and more pastoral and psych -- not unlike earlier Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, when they were good and wore D&D outfits.

All in all, this is great sailing-at-night music. The more I listen to this record, the weirder it sounds. Except for "I'm on fire", where Mugison tries to do his best strained Tom Waits impression, his singing style sounds really tired (and I mean that definitively, not critically), weary, and slightly scared, behind all of the neat electronic effects. While I admit that my favorite songs on this record are the last two, where there's the least amount of electronics, but just Mugison and his guitar, this album is very, VERY slowly growing on me -- even since this summer. The genius of this record probably won't hit me until next year sometime in the spring. But for fans of slow growers, it doesn't get any more slower and, potentially, deeper and more rewarding as this.

(Mp3 samples can be found on Mugison's site... also in the volatunage section is the opening track "Sea Y")

(Side note: I sat next to Mugison at Heathrow airport at the gate, on my soon-to-be way to Iceland, as he was coming back from Sonar.. I didn't know who he was at the time. He introduced himself to me and said he was just this musician guy who just played somewhere in Spain and told me things to check out in Reykjavík while I was about to board the plane. Nice guy. Little did I know it was THIS guy, and that he had played Sonar, until I was informed by the folks at the 12 Tónar record store, and later checked his website after purchasing this CD there. Iceland is a small town :) )

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Dr. Gunni Stóri Hvellur (2003)



Gunnar Hjálmarsson a.k.a. Dr. Gunni is an Icelandic rock luminary. Without him, a lot of developments in rock bands in Reykjavík and outside, since the 80s, would have been very different. Gunni has his own site here. You get to find out that not only has he fronted several bands (several albums of which you can download for free off Gunni's site!), has hosted not only a radio show but a TV show, but also has written the only book documenting the history of Icelandic rock music, Eru Ekki Allir Í Stuði? (which, for now, is only available in Icelandic.. I can't wait for an English translation, if one is even in the works. Anyway, Hljomar was apparently the first Icelandic rock band that did originals, though they sounded like a very Bacharach-y Beatles. Junkmedia Magazine did a good piece on Gunni's book here).

However, if any of you remember Gunni for anything, it was for the long out-of-print U.S. release of his second band, Bless's one and only album Gums, which thanks to the sudden rise in popularity of The Sugarcubes in the late 80s, helped get Bad Taste, the label/staple of Icelandic rock at the time, a deal with Rough Trade and a subsequent distribution office in San Francisco, CA and hence a printing of Gums. Anyone remember the album by Reptile called Fame And Fossils? The World Domination Or Death: Vol 1. Assorted Artists compilation? That was part of the same deal.

Of course, Rough Trade U.S. would collapse months later, and the San Francisco office for Bad Taste would go with it. (Putting "Vol 1." in the title of any compilation is always the kiss of death, ain't it?) Today, while you can still possibly find Bless's Gums for no more than $3US, you have to be quite lucky to find it in THAT used music store bin somewhere these days. Anyway, the album was a great slice of early Pixies/Thinking Fellers rock with great hooks and Gunni's voice leading the way, sounding like a hybrid of Frank Black and Einar Örn possessed by either Sam Kinison or Bobcat Goldwaithe.. choose your favorites. (According to Gunni's Bless tour diary on his site, they, in fact, played with the Thinking Fellas [sic] Union Local 242 [sic] at the I-Beam in San Francisco, once upon a time... SOMEONE HERE PLEASE HAVE A SHOW TAPE COPY. YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW HOW MUCH I'D WANT FOR IT!) Gums also featured guest vocals by Bjork Guðmundsdóttir herself, and a trumpet cameo by Einar Örn. Allmusic.com has a good review of Gums here. (Gunni still runs Bad Taste mail order to this day.) There is a Bless Mp3 or two available on Gunni's site in the link above. One thing Gunni mentions alongside the Bless Mp3 link(s) is that he really wishes he had sung the album in Icelandic instead of English in retrospect. Which brings us to...

Dr. Gunni's album Stóri Hvellur? Well, I can say that while some things have changed for the better, such as the album being sung in Icelandic, some things have thankfully NOT changed. Stóri Hvellur is a very solid Pixies/Rocket From The Crypt sounding chunk of rock sugar, though weirder and noisier in moments. Gunni seems to have assembled himself an amazing tight backing rock band, especially given how distorted and rough his solo bedroom demos available for download on his site sound. (See? Didn't I tell you Gunni has the best web site in the world?) Whereas, IMHO, I can count the number of Weezer hooks I've heard over the span of their four albums on two hands, Dr. Gunni nails 15 hooks on this single 15 song album, one after the other. The songs sound heavier and fuzzier than they did with Bless, and, at times, more poppy than anything Gunni has written before.. but Gunni vocally still very much sounds like Gunni, and he's more upfront in the mix than ever before, which is what makes this record stand out amongst all the other Pixies, Weezer, or Rocket influenced bands. His voice is easily the strangest thing about the music, but, wow, if that voice doesn't have the greatest personality -- no matter if you can understand Icelandic or not. No one can belt out a yell or yodel quite like Gunni can.. and this can either be an acquired taste, or a permanent bad taste (no pun intended!). If you have any inkling of a sense of humor, you'll appreciate the voice, and the tight, sonic production on this record, and how amazingly colorful, vibrant, and fun every song on the record sounds. I can't list song highlights, because every song is a winner -- although my current favorites are "Alltaf Meir", "Heimsk Ást", "Eftir 100 Ár", and the three-part rock opus "Undo (Pabbi Þinn/Ctr-Alt-Esc/Mamma Þin)" which actually clocks in at over *gasp* five minutes!

Even though it was released last year, Stóri Hvellur is so amazing, I'm going to cheat and adopt this as a 2004 release and claim this is as my favorite record of the year so far.

(Mp3 samples can be found on Dr. Gunni's site.. as well as a very Terry Gilliam-esque video for the single, "Homo Sapiens".. but I had to include three prime cuts in the volatunage section: "Alltaf Meir", "Heimsk Ást", and "Undo (Pabbi Þinn/Ctr-Alt-Esc/Mamma Þin)")

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various artists Rokk Í Reykjavík -- Upprunaleg Tónlist Úr Kvikmyndinni



This is a two-CD compilation of rock music from various bands from Reykjavík circa 1981 to 1982 -- based on a film made at the time, most of which is some take on "punk rock" -- quotes meant favorably. This compilation is over a decade old, originally released in 1993, and is devoid and any real liner notes that describe the bands within -- which is too bad because the majority of the bands on this release are quite unique and interesting, and each warrant further historical investigation.

A lot of people talk about how The Fall's legendary touring visit to Iceland in 1981 was seen as THE springboard for creativity in Icelandic rock. That's not strictly true. Sure, The Fall's arrival certainly may have created a rapid creative fallout within the country's rock musicians, most of which would surface in the bands that would form in the mid to late 80s, but there was certainly evidence of interesting rock and punk before the Fall visited, although you can make educated guesses regarding which of the bands on the compilation seemed influenced by that visit, and which ones didn't.

Fræbbblarnir, for instance, must have been around since the late 70s. They sound influenced by Devo and/or Public Image Limited. (Hell, two of the bands on this comp are called Mogo Homo and Jonee Jonee.. if you squint for a second, your brain thinks it's looking at the tracklisting for Q: Are We Not Men...) Q4U formed around the same time, and seem to carry other influences, more along the lines of Siouxsie And The Banshees and Nina Hagen, perhaps. "Creeps" sounds pretty much like a semi-cover of Kraftwerk's "The Model" but with the lyrics changed. As for the other bands, Þeyr features who would later become the Sugarcubes' drummer, and their outstanding track "Killer Boogie" is certainly missing in the canon of "disco punk". ("Killer Boogie" is also featured on the U.S. Icelandic rock compilation Geyser: Anthology Of The Icelandic Independent Music Scene Of The Eighties. Mysteriously released by Enigma just months before The Sugarcubes' "Birthday" single resonated across the world, wow did Enigma make too soon a pre-emptive strike or what?) Tappi Tíkarrass (which means "cork the bitch's ass" in English) is Bjork's first outlet as a vocalist, who all sound a bit like a lower key, more serious and bent B-52s. (Frankly, Bjork's next band, K.U.K.L. were far more outstanding and interesting.) The bands that truly stand out here are the furious Vonbrigði ("Guðfræði" just slays), Purrkur Pillnikk (whose "Övænt" musically sounds like it's inventing the first Pixies EP -- hmmm, perhaps I should retract all those Pixies comparisons I attributed to Gunni's music in the previous section), and the young, amateur, and insane Sjálfsfróun. The compilation (as well as Geyser, interestingly enough) ends with the poetry of Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, the founder of the Neopagan Icelandic religion called Asatru, which got its first recognition in Iceland in 1972. He died in 1993, and it's entirely possibly this compilation was released in his honor and memory. The liner notes don't say, however.

Even if every song or band on this compilation isn't a winner, it's an amazing document, and surely there is no other group of punk ROKK bands that sounded quite the same at the time anywhere else in the world. It's worth noting that, while alcohol has always been a peripheral part of any scene that is proud to use the word "punk", beer wasn't even legal in Iceland until 1989, so one wonders what fueled these bands in the 80s, and what underground means they used to keep themselves sane in an otherwise very conservative yet very unique country.

On that note:


"Fighting Shit/Brothers Majere/Hopeless Regret/Hryggjandi Sannleikuv/Innvortis/Terminal Wreckage"


Punk lives on in Reykjavík.

(Mp3s in the volatunage section, Purrkur Pillnikk's "Övænt", Þeyr's "Killer Boogie", Vonbrigði's "Guðfræði", and Sjálfsfróun's "Sjálfsfróun")

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October 6th, 2004 : Tunage #1

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For every set of 5 mp3s that make up the Tunage section of this blog, I'll be posting song reviews of each of the tunes while they are up. As the tunes in that section change, another similar entry will be added and so forth. So without further ado:

Systems Officer "Forever This Cyanide" from Systems Officer (2004)



Pinback's story is really hard to describe in a sentence, because the members that make up Pinback at any given time all come from a rather compact and rich musical history and scene in San Diego. It's hard enough to keep up with the quantity of bands Pinback co-conspirator Rob Crow is in today, much less in total to date. Zach (or Armistead Burwell Smith IV), Pinback's other co-conspirator and the man who cracks the whip in that band, has a less complicated history, but certainly one that shouldn't be ignored.

Zach was once one of the main songwriters and multi-instrumentalist in the band Three Mile Pilot, who also featured vocalist/instrumentalist Pall Jenkins, and drummer Tom Zinser (who still to date have not officially broken up, as far as I know, and still quietly murmur about the possibility of reconvening one day, although that possibility and murmur shrinks every year.) Three Mile Pilot released their first album, Na Vucca Do Lupu from 1992, to very small but ecstatic praise. They were probably the first band to stamp San Diego's Captain Beefheart obsessions and influences into the ground where the three degrees of the San Diego music scene played, and also established the extended emotive singing style done very raspily with vocalist Pall Jenkins (more popularly known now as one of the frontmen and singer of The Black Heart Procession) -- although credit must also be given to predecessors Pitchfork and Helicopter. Most importantly, Three Mile Pilot established Zach as a bass playing pioneer. Though he's classicly trained, Zach plays his five-string bass in a manner that no other person has been fully been able to figure out -- and this was the secret weapon to Three Mile Pilot, and now is the secret weapon of Pinback. Many who listen to the records don't realize that's a bass Zach's playing until they see him live, in fact. Three Mile Pilot followed their first album up with an even greater album, The Chief Assassin To The Sinister in 1994 -- showcasing even more creepiness and "noir", and underscored Zach's unique bass playing. DGC, in a rush of San Diego fever, picked up the eager Three Mile Pilot, and reissued their great sophomore album and added tracks. Sadly but unsurprisingly, Three Mile Pilot became very unhappy with their relationship with DGC very quickly, and broke ranks with them (but not without losing that very excellent edition of their second album which is fetching mighty high prices on eBay these days) and went back to Headhunter to continue on, adding Tobias (formerly of The Young Destroyers) on piano and other instruments, making them a four piece. Soon enough, Three Mile Pilot would fizzle out and each of the former members would splinter off into their own respective bands, without anyone realizing, at the time, how permanent those bands would remain after all. One thing that would remain consistent with all the former members of Three Mile Pilot (as of this date, at least): all of them pretty much vowed to never deal with a major label ever again.

Rob Crow has pretty much shared the same sentiment all along, despite having come from a different musical background. His first band, Heavy Vegetable, made a mark as an underrated micro-lengthed mathy pop rock song enigma, having released two albums, before semi-reconvening under the moniker Thingy and continuing until around 2002 or so. Rob also has collaborated with another San Diego musical enigma and resident expert on the Optigan, P Hix, on the dreamy originally-Optigan based pop duo Optiganally Yours. On top of that, Rob was once in the mega drone/psych/krautrock San Diego jam band Physics. And there are only 17 or more bands I could mention, but anyway...

...whereas Pall and Zach sang extendedly over somber long epics in Three Mile Pilot, Rob and co-singer Elea Tenuta would sing very melodically over very complex and very short micro-opuses about topics ranging from Star Wars, Jackie Chan movies, to Rob's cat -- amongst many other things -- in Heavy Vegetable and Thingy.

Needless to say, it was very strange to first hear that not only were Rob Crow and Zach Smith collaborating, but that there were some very fine, catchy, promising tunes being made, based on their earliest live shows -- who always, and to this day, features a revolving cast of two to three extra members, one of which plays drums, and the other(s) backing up on either bass, guitar, or keyboards. Their first self titled album from 1999, although quasi-officially called This Is A Pinback CD, quickly grounded them amongst many other high profile indie pop acts at the time, gaining new fans who knew of neither Rob nor Zach's musical history but quickly learned. Their followup EPs Some Voices from 2000 and Offcell from 2003, and their followup album Blue Screen Life from 2001 (which refers to the frequent event a Window user sees after doing something "wrong" on their computer) has continued the legacy and gained more and more fans along the way. (A new album, Summer In Abaddon is due very shortly.) As they began playing live more often, they became the modern American equivalent of XTC -- circa English Settlement -- as far as being a solid Captain Beefheart influenced pop rock band that supplanted a faster, more frenetic live set along with their smoother sounding, more catchy releases. Police and early XTC comparisons are common and not unjustified.

And while Rob Crow obviously deserves half the credit for what shapes Pinback, musically, Zach deserves just as much, if not more. Rob tends to be less shy of a frontman live, and he does sing more often than Zach, which might explain why people think Pinback is "another one of Rob's bands".

Hopefully, this very excellent solo effort by Zach Smith called Systems Officer will put to rest any impressions that Pinback is mainly Rob's band. Systems Officer, an EP that was originally intended to be a full-length release but was shortened due to time contraints on related projects, offers up some music Zach has wanted to do on his own for a while -- which is nice, as Rob has also (thankfully) had many opportunities in the past to release solo albums, the latest of which is clearly his best -- My Room Is A Mess. But where My Room Is A Mess sounds more like Pinback influencing Rob back, Systems Officer sounds like the roots of what started the Pinback "sound" in the first place. "Forever This Cyanide" is a very topical for Zach (seeming to be a song about pollution but one can never be sure given Pinback's history of cryptic lyrics) yet makes for a great opening track, with the presence of acoustic guitar, Zach's signature unique bass plucking, and Tom Zinser's drumming. The more upbeat "Systems Officer" follows. The EP ends with a somber piano driven "Hael", which could have easily been a future song for Three Mile Pilot had they continued on or reconvened.

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Cobra Verde "My Name Is Nobody" from Easy Listening (2003)



I don't know much about Cobra Verde, other than that they were once the backing band for Robert Pollard in Guided By Voices -- after which they got the hell outta dodge once they read in an interview somewhere that Pollard was thinking of ditching them. (Pollard must be the college/ indie rock version of Kool Keith -- a guy who gets nothing but adulation from the press, but is known for dicking over almost everyone he's ever worked with.) I've heard many good songs on the radio by Cobra Verde, but never enough to make me get up and explore their stuff in a record store setting.

So I found a used copy of Easy Listening in a record store recently, and previewed it. The first few songs were alright, but when I got to the fourth, flowers, rainbows, spaceships, and party people might have well sprouted between the kiosks of the record store divisions and started a revelry around me. "My Name Is Nobody" begins with a nice take on an piano intro to a 70s power pop rock song and then, before ya know it, kicks into the chorus, and I'm drowning in sugar. I'm not quite sure what the lyrics mean, but the song certainly ranks as having the most joyous self-deprecating chorus ever. Everything about this song suggests that either the band were just slumming it when they were Pollard's bizitches, or they can belt out a pop rock killer with little to no effort. Well, anyway, I obviously purchased the CD, and I still can't stop playing this song over and over and over again.

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Mouse On Mars "Blood Comes" from Radical Connector (2004)



Mouse On Mars have certainly come a long way since the very speedy, noisy, and quirky Niun Ninnung, and even much farther than the teutonic droney Vulvaland. The first half of Radical Connector concentrates on some amazing, for a lack of better term, "nu-funk". Imagine an alien race that, instead of receiving the original SETI sequence, received a recent Britney Spears song... and imagine them responding back attempting to speak back to us in "our original language". This gives some idea of what "Blood Comes" from this new Mouse On Mars record sounds like. This isn't so far removed from the underrated Idiology, except there's less alien ska and more alien slow funk jams. Most importantly, there's more singing instead of shouting on drummer/singer Dodo's part. When I saw Mouse On Mars live very recently, I was singing out loud to the new songs, and realized what the hell I was doing. I've never actually sung along at a Mouse On Mars live show before! It's hard not to belt out "Aaaaaaaall AROUND!" to "Blood Comes", or chant along to "Wipe That Sound".

The second half of the album is a slightly different story. It's not grabbing me as easily as the first half, and it's still growing on me. But dare I say, so far, it might actually be slightly reminiscent of their earliest material after all, with the help of Niobe, guest vocalist. Earlier Mouse On Mars always operated just underneath most people's attention span, and fans had to guide their way through the haze to discover the light and enjoy it -- which isn't a bad thing, by any means, but rather a unique protocol in the results of music making. I haven't had to do that with a Mouse On Mars release since Iaora Tahiti and parts of Audoditacker. I'm a bit excited as to how Radical Connnector will rank after it fully grows on me, given how much I like this album already, and given the possibility that the band as chosen to arrive back at its own fine tail.

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Section 25 "Dirty Disco" from Always Now (1981)



One of the things I've always found so striking about many a Factory label band is that, while their music easily slides along anything called "goth" if not outdoes it at times, there wasn't the attached band imagery to go with it. This isn't to say that bands that adorned themselves in lipstick, fishnet armor, and black robes aren't worthy of attention! But certainly presenting both an image and a sound takes away more mystique than just presenting a sound -- a dark sound -- and then hiding it under some rather abstract cover art, letting the mind fill in the images of the people behind the music, or just perhaps different images altogether.

The first time I've ever purchased a record with a cover that didn't have the band's photo or name, even, was when I purchased New Order's Power, Corruption, and Lies when I was 13 years old. I was really upset at the time, because the song titles weren't listed on the album, and I was told by the Licorice Pizza employee inside the Santa Monica shopping mall that the "Blue Monday" song I was looking for was on this record. Well, I brought it home, played it, and it wasn't! There was a song kinda LIKE it on the album, "5 8 6". And "The Village" was nice and synthy. But what's with all these guitars, and singing? I wanted that robot sounding song, dammit! But "Blue Monday" wasn't on the record at all. I was pissed off. Until the next day, when I came back to the store and found the 12" for "Blue Monday" -- in its awesome 5 1/4" floppy sleeve imitating outside cover art and translucent black inner sleeve. In the meantime, I had grown to like those guitar songs on Power, Corruption, and Lies like "Age Of Consent". Needless to say, I wouldn't be as shocked when I would look for Brotherhood years later, and find that the album art was nothing but just some grey-blue texture with some faded random stamped letters printed sideways.

Anyway, the point of that story is that every Factory record album and cover has reminded me slightly of that former moment ever since. Am I going to get what I expected? Or not? Section 25's Always Now, from 1981, certainly provides the track listing of the album, at least. In fact, that IS the art on the album, pretty much -- never minding the blinding yellow background and the kaleidoscopic inner art work. I didn't know what to expect, but I'm very happy with what I got -- essentially some really dark mesmerizing haunting bass-and-gated-drum heavy rock music that is relentless to each song's last note -- or in brief, Joy Division's runt cousin. "Dirty Disco" in particular is a key track on this album, only because it foreshadowed bands like World Domination Enterprises, Terminal Cheesecake, and many more dark industrial rock bands that would form later on in the decade. The distinguishing element of "Dirty Disco" is how out of tune the bass is, yet the song flaunts it and puts it in the spotlight, rather than just passing it off as just wanting to sound amateur and "punk". The song takes Jah Wobble's throbbing bass from Second Edition and makes it meaner sounding, which is quite a task, but they succeed. But, of course, that wasn't creepy enough. The vocals emerge out of their holes and yell in a haunting voice "I want your body", "I want your mind", etc. making you wonder whether they are mocking a love song or are truly asking for your physical organs for an early breakfast. I can only hope that this song was played by a disco DJ back in the day just because of its title, not knowing what to expect -- like I did back at that record store when I was a kid.

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Rick James "Give It To Me Baby" from Street Songs (1981)



"Anytime we lose a Soul-ider it's a great loss. But when we lose a major player in the ranks it's an even greater loss to our Funkentelechy. Rick achieved what at the time P-Funk could not, and that was to cross over to the white audience and get major air and video play. So it can be said that Rick safely took funk into the homes of unfunky white America. We the Original Funkateers salute Rick James forever thoughout eternity. Bootsy Collins and P-Funk will miss you."
-- Bootsy Collins, on Rick James's passing.


Boy, was he right. And I'll fully admit that I was certainly one of those unfunky white American kids. My mom and I were ecstatic when "Give It To Me Baby" broke on the radio back in '81 (I was 9 years old.) We never heard anything quite like it before. It was the first time I ever heard of the phrase "Say WHAT?" (I did grow up in a really sheltered suburb of Los Angeles, after all.) James's voice was so funny sounding to us that we'd sing along to the lyrics in the same weird way every time the song hit the radio again -- imitating all the "yooooooooo-HO!"'s and the "I BET-cha!"'s. The song was so colorful and playful. It was like a aural video of its own! Whenever James would sing a line in a verse, the "plot" would respond and play a bit part of that aural video. When James sang "You said 'Let's go home'", a lady would be telling her man that she's tired and wanted to go home. When James sang "How can I love you?", a man would seductively ask his lady "How can I love you, baby?". When James sang "I say 'Wait 'til I squeeze you'", man and woman would squeeze. "Give It To Me Baby" was pretty much a children's song for pimps. Or is that a pimp's song for children?

"When I was HIGH as the SKY!" -- It's quite amazing how that line would survive on the radio in the, then, new Reagan era -- much less James's very outspoken promotion of the herb.

And this doesn't even scratch the surface of the brilliance of "Give It To Me Baby". The bass line is one of the most classic bass line introductions ever in a pop song, period. According to James, in his liner notes to his Bustin' Out: The Best Of Rick James collection, "After it hit so big, Quincy Jones told me he borrowed the bass line for 'Give It To Me Baby' for Michael Jackson's 'Thriller.'" I never noticed the similarity in the bass lines between the two songs until I read those liner notes. Granted, I think both Jones and James must have been exaggerating, as "Thriller" certainly uses different notes in the bass line, but the "Thriller" bass line certainly sounds inspired by the "Give It To Me Baby" bass line, at the very least. The progression is extremely similar.

Strangest of all, James seems to underplay the song later in the liner notes: "My song [,'Give It To Me Baby',] is really about impotence -- being too high to make love. [Saxophonist] Danny [LeMelle] and I wrote the horn parts on a plane winging home from Hawaii." Surely, this is just James trying to act cool in the context of his greatest glory of his career. Every instrumental part of the song was equally integral: the saxophone parts, the back up singers, even the squishy guitar parts after each of James's lines in each verse...

I curse thee, Hammer. You didn't mean any wrong. But when you sampled "Super Freak" for your mega-hit "U Can't Touch This", you only stamped and underscored Rick James as "The Guy Who Did 'Super Freak'" -- which, admittedly, was already the attitude of many casual music fans of the time, anyway. But still, grrrr you, Hammer. Arrrrrrr.

"Super Freak" was a fine song -- a classic song. There's no denying that. But "Give It To Me Baby" will always seem far more colorful and deep to me than "Super Freak", a song that James admitted to writing as an afterthought after recording almost all of Street Songs. "Give It To Me Baby" reminds me of the good days of my childhood when my mom and I would both get excited about pop music. Prince was the only other common bond we shared in that regard (aside from "White Horse", a one-off funky B-side and runaway radio hit by an otherwise dull Dutch duo called Laid Back.) And of course, Prince owes a lot to Rick James. As does The Funk: Parliament, Funkadelic, Bootsy, everybody who fought hard to make their alien brand of dance music popular. James broke those walls in style and sunshine.



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October 6th, 2004 : Smile

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I gave up on Brian Wilson over a decade ago -- which, in of itself, is about seven or eight years later than I should. Even the first solo album, Brian Wilson, while having decent songs, was marred by thin, lousy, dated, and diluted 80s MIDI/synth production (thank you, The Good Doctor.)

Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks' Orange Crate Art didn't do much to restore my faith.

The self-congratulatory I Just Wasn't Made For These Times soundtrack had really weak versions of Pet Sounds era songs.

Imagine was abominable.

And seeing Brian Wilson backed by the Wondermints doing a really awful live version of "Good Vibrations" on the QVC network (one of many shopping networks in the U.S., to people outside the U.S. reading this -- yes, Wilson played on a SHOPPING channel, being patronized by the most annoying anonymous TV personality ever.) sealed the deal. I wasn't going to care or pay attention to anything Wilson did anymore; or, if I did, I wasn't going to expect anything but very faint praise and a shrug.

Many of my friends felt the same way -- for very good reason. Until they all started to filter in one by one the past week telling me that Smile had finally been completed and released, and it was nothing short of stunning and amazing. Being a Smile-ologist, who has several bootlegs of Smile-sessions era material, I was very very suspicious. But, hell, I dove in... thinking that if Brian Wilson presents 'Smile' was going to be as solid as everyone's been hyping it up to be, this would be a sure sign of the apocalypse.. even moreso than a Bush re-election, and that I'd have begin preparing to become a survivalist when the eventual fallout came.

...

Well, goddamn. I guess the world will be ending soon after all.

Smile is just.... stunning. I'm very frightened -- just by the fact that I can say Smile, and actually be referring to a completed album. But also, the fact that this record so accurately and freshly recreated the exact notes and instrumentation of the missing fragments of the Smile sessions; re-did the previously released Smile era songs (which got released on the Good Vibrations box set in the early 90s) almost perfectly; and completed the puzzle into an amazing, cohesive, joyful record this year is really an absolute miracle. I'm still really tripping out that this occurred. But it did. I hate to sound like the end of Miracle On 34th Street here, but in this case, it's absolutely true. Smile has been completed, and it is amazing.

Never minding that it's just 37 years late, but still.

In the midst of Mount Saint Helens apparently brimming for another eruption, earthquakes in Cali, hurricanes in the Southeast, the presidential election, and all other sorts of chaos, Smile has proven to be the closest thing to a musical security blanket released this year thus far.



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September 11th, 2004

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Launch time for the Mackron. I didn't specifically intend to start this blog on the 3rd anniversary of what would have normally been just any other day. Then again, this is the only informally attributed holiday that I refuse to celebrate. I most certainly honor everyone who was a hero and a victim of what happened three years ago today, of course. However, I've become disgusted with the way this day is celebrated -- in particular, by the media.

What I most vividly remember about 9/11/01 was how much it was like any other day to me. In fact, in Seattle, I couldn't have been more far away from the tragedy -- in time and distance. By random chance, I decided to sleep in that Tuesday. I had heard my cell phone go off in the early morning in the living room of my then two-bedroom cabin I was sharing with my roommate, Mary. I found out about 9/11 through e-mail. When I started seeing the news filter in on all the discussion lists I was subscribed to, I knew this wasn't a hoax. So I loaded up the CNN site right away, and saw this minimal page that had some vague picture of chaos, and a bold headline simply stating "America Under Attack". It was the visual version of hearing the Emergency Broadcast tone, except this was not a test. This is when my stomach almost literally turned. I somehow knew that the phone calls earlier that morning were from my maternal family back in Los Angeles, CA. So I called them back, and I heard nothing but anti-Arab rants. I quietly and politely hung up the phone saying "I have to get ready to go to work now. Bye." My roommate was there, also procrastinating, watching the TV looking at me in sadness. We both ended up going to work that day, and nothing got done at either of our jobs that day, of course.

Yet here I was so far away from it all. It was an absolutely clear beautiful day. Slightly quieter because of the grounding of all air traffic, of course. The one time that a local publication's front cover moved me was one done by Tablet the issue after 9/11. It was a simple cartoon drawing of someone looking somewhat sad and confused up into a clear sky in his backyard. There was nothing in the backyard but the figure just looking up at the clear, clear sky -- not knowing how to emotionally react. That's as emotional as I allow myself to get on 9/11 from here on out, because I have a problem being too sensitive to others' pain, and this is one particular event that I refuse to allow to cripple me for the rest of my life. The world is still turning. I have to keep on doing what I do, and make damn well sure that I make decisions in my life that will, as much as possible, not hurt others the way people were hurt that day.

...

The following series of entries will essentially be rewrites of recent blog entries I've put up on various profile sites like Myspace or Friendster. These will mostly be musically based -- mainly, because I'm a music geek; and music writing is a skill I want to develop and improve these days as a hobby. I want to stay away as much as possible from the "journal" aspects of blogs, and have this one attempt to be a "collection of writings" instead. I won't claim anything written here to be superior to others' writings, by any means -- quite the opposite. I'm just catching up to the 90s as you all now know. Next thing you know, I'll actually start buying lots of DVDs or something. Anyway, I'll be reformatting Mackron here and there for a while, so now you're forewarned.

To kick things off on a happier note, I'll supply a link to my most recent trip I took last June -- during my break from work. I visited New York City, USA; London, England; and Iceland, mostly Reykjavík and the surroundings.
This is the official Mackron Summer Trip 2004 page.

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