Saturday, March 24, 2007

Four Tets, Two Cats & One Tongues

Domino, 2007

A live clip makes for a good introduction to Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid's Tongues, especially the YouTube vid below of them playing "Brain," a slightly longer version of a similarly named track on Tongues:

According to the CD's skimpy liner notes: "All tracks are live takes with no overdubs or edits." So if you're a fan of live music (particularly, noisy electronic music), the exaggerated hum of Hebden's amps on every track will be mother's milk to you. If you expect a bit more polish for your pound of flesh, or if you insist on knowing why the album is called Tongues and what's that got to do with the titles of the individual tracks for cripes sake, then you may want to look elsewhere. To the Steve Reid Ensemble's Spirit Walk CD (Soul Jazz, 2005) just maybe, whereon Hebden's electronic squargles are kept at a respectful distance by three or four guys wielding saxophones and another, a really big bass.

Tongues, Hebden and Reid's third recorded one-on-one, plays its faux live set vibe with a heavy hand, but the music is intriguing and demanding enough for repeated listens. Nevertheless, the tension created by electronic noises (structured and unstructured) in contest with a veteran soul-bearing rhythm machine can't please everyone. To cut to the chase, the following people should exercise caution (and not only when driving alone):
  • Four Tet fans who like melodic electronics with their easy beats
  • Steve Reid fans who like to hear his drumming
  • Jazz purists who dream of busting up John Zorn's studio
  • Noise purists who think drum kits are a rationalist fetish
  • Anyone for whom the sound of a miked amp is an unwelcome trigger to violence
Josh Zanger runs through several other caveats in his Lost at Sea review of Tongues. Read that if you think I'm makin' this stuff up.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Until Nick Cave's new garage band project comes to life on this side of the Atlantic on April 10th, you'll need to make do with the band's myspace page for previews of the album's most dramatic cuts.

Click on the banner in the right sidebar to be hijacked to Grinderman's too too Flashy homepage. Click the link below to preview three tracks on the band's myspace page:
And check out the YouTube clips below: an interview featuring Nick as the other Unknown Hinson and a bit of live footage.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What's Little Johnny's Damage?

According to the Def Jux one sheet for El-P's long-awaited I'll Sleep When You're Dead:
This record is an urgent document, a collective representation of a critical individual crossing their personal Rubicon, assessing the dismal reality inherent, and deciding to forge on despite the cost. With appearances by Trent Reznor, The Mars Volta, Cat Power, Aesop Rock, Cage, Matt Sweeney, Tame One, James McNew of Yo La Tengo and others, this is an album poised to extend a genre into a new realm of artistic expression.
Yeah. Most one sheets lay the hyperbolic hooey on plenty thick. But if your last job interview tanked over your sketchy "assessing the dismal reality inherent" skills, at least you've got somewhere to turn!
Better you should spend a little time listening online and judge for yourself. Just be sure you've got Flash Player 8 installed and JavaScript up and running:

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Neil Young Live at Massey Hall 1971

Someone who has more time than I to spend ferreting out old concert reviews, record reviews, interviews, and magazine and webzine articles (both fluffy and flaming) could have a field day cataloging (or structuring or deconstructing) the panorama of attempts at describing Neil Young's voice in print. My guess is that a safe working hypothesis to get that hermeneutic machine chuggin' merrily along would be that the description works as a shorthand for the ultimate judgment leveled at the man and his music. Nothing surprising there if you've ever made any cracks about, say, Michael Jackson or Tom Waits.

Here's a short list of said descriptions that surfaced after only two quick Google searches:
becalmed high tenor; cracked tenor; strangled tenor; disntinctively haunting thin tenor; nasal tenor; nasal twangy tenor; a tenor without any low ends; cantankerous tenor; plaintive tenor; reedy tenor; gorgeous tenor; watery tenor [that emotes with elasticity!]; tenor-countertenor; a high tenor, almost a countertenor, kind of wobbly around the edges; rock's definitive countertenor; freakish countertenor amplitude; choked-back, sobbing countertenor

You get the idea, I'm sure. Some are positive, some negative, and at least one seems to be slouching in the direction of a rhetorical masturbation fantasy. You'll have that in rock journalism.

All pseudo-controversy to one side, though, what anyone who listens to the latest installment of the Neil Young Archives: Performance Series cannot deny is the power of this cracked, strangled, wobbly, freakish, watery and elastically emoting voice to affect the audience of a concert hall and to hold them at attention with no more accompaniment than an acoustic guitar or a miked piano. Youngsters, bear in mind that the 35-year-old master for this recording was made long before digital equipment and the ability to record a live show exclusively through a mixing board. This is old school analog. You can hear the crowd along with the tape hiss. You'll shrivel at the sound of Neil Young adjusting his microphones. But when the man is playing, you'll know that those people were listening. Just like you.

Oldsters like yours truly, who still have their copies of Young Man's Fancy, a true down-n-dirty bootleg made at the LA gigs for the same 1971 Journey Through the Past tour, have known this for decades: in 1971, well before "Heart of Gold" charted as a hit, Neil Young's voice could galvanize a room. If it does nothing else, the Live at Massey Hall, 1971, recording provides documentary evidence of Young's early on-stage presence.

Of course, the CD offers more than that: it actually works well as an overview of Young's career on the threshold of his success with Harvest. Two standouts for old and new fans alike are the live-set only song "Bad Fog of Loneliness" and a still-in-the-works version of "A Man Needs a Maid" and "Heart of Gold," here coupled together with soon-to-be discarded lyrics as a "suite," along the lines of "Broken Arrow" from Young's Buffalo Springfield days. The two Harvest songs would take their final shape less than a month later (as a bootleg of a February 27, 1971 show attests), but this early version provides an interesting glimpse into Young's composing process.

Although the Journey Through the Past tour supported Young's third solo album, After the Gold Rush, only two songs from that album "Tell Me Why" and "Don't Let it Bring You Down" make it into the setlist. Two Springfield-era songs, "On the Way Home" and "I am a Child" bookend the setlist, which also contains two songs from his eponymous debut album, "The Old Laughing Lady" and "The Loner"; two songs from Everybody Knows, "Cowgirl in the Sand" and "Down by the River"; another Harvest song, "Old Man," (perfectly sung); two CSNY songs, "Helpless" and "Ohio"; one Crazy Horse song, "Dance Dance Dance" (another live show mainstay); "See the Sky About to Rain," which was finally released three years later on the contemporaneously bitched about On the Beach; as well as "Journey Through the Past" and "Love in Mind," also released in 1974 on the still damnably out of print live album Time Fades Away.

All in all and without half trying, Live at Massey Hall 1971 does an even better job than the previously released Fillmore concert CD to whet my appetite for the 8CD/2DVD box set, Neil Young The Archives Vol 1 1963-1972, scheduled for release sometime this fall. I'm expecting plenty of early takes and re-takes of songs that didn't see recorded form until well after 1972. I'm also expecting plenty of plotz that only a longtime fan will want to listen to. But I'll tell you one thing: if there isn't at least one kickass version of "Sugar Mountain" anywhere in that box set, Neil Young had better take out a restraining order! Or invite me to the ranch for dinner.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Neglected Genius

Mayday's "Bushido Karaoke" is precisely the sort of album that the zipperheads at pitchfork media will never appreciate in its time. Primarily because if you write for pitchfork, you buy into a less than coherent conception of genius...

Music That Kills

"Walk on the Wild Side" gave Lou Reed a license to kill, and like any proper Brill building hack, he took full advantage of his cointemporaneous noteriety. Lou has always been and probaly always willl be a whore to photojournalism. Nevertheless, his desire to produce an album darker than any album ever created before him will certainly help to keep him in the ranks pf rckers with better intentionws than brains.

Berlin is legitimately a work of rock and roll genius. It works from beginning to end as the document of a relationship without hope, a complication of desires that should never coe into contact.

The Neil Young Everybody Knows

Neil at his best. Sorta.

Let's not even go to the fact that it holds up better than most Beatles albums to the supersaturated tastebuds of today's pop/rock aficionados. This album retains its luster precisely because of its simplicity. Any bunch of shaggy knuckledraggers with a few guitars and a drum kit could have jammed out most of these tracks (especially if one of them had a musical saw in the garage). There's not a sophisticated or complex arrangement worrying any of the tracks on this collection. What there is is an approach to playing that melds country, folk, bluegrass, soul, and rock so effortlessly that you have no idea that you're experiencing a watershed moment in rocky folk-blues even after the last strains of "Cowgirl in the Sand" echo out of your head.

There was and remains something seamless and absolutely spot on about this album. So much so that the excursus of "When You're on the Losing End," sandwiched as it was between the delirious dark folk jamming of "Down By the River" and the palpably cosmic intentions of "Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)" or "Cowgirl in the Sand," forced you to make sense of a mix that may have been at worst haphazard or at best intuitive.

This is quite simply one of the most beautifully self-contained albums that anyone in the history of rock and roll has ever produced. And it is for that reason that it remains a watershed album even 35 years after its initial release.

Many have tried, even Neil himself. But nobody can touch this album as a touchstone in the ways of adumbrating love and exorcising the demons that make love impossible. It is a young man's album. Songs produced from an urge to say that our time is about up and there's no hope of redemption (even if the "no hope" bit is more for scoring rhetorical points than scaring hell out of anyone).

That on-again-off-again urgency may also mark Everybody Knows This is Nowhere as an atomic age paean to a life otherwise better spent. Lord knows that was certainly the starting point for Neil's next album, the equally dire and oblivion-timed After the Gold Rush. Another unbelievably wonderful album, and a further testament to Neil Young's understated and chaotic genius.

Thank God I'm Bald!

Jesus Christ!!!

Trying to get the new Blogger to work can make you want to chew your own face off!

Phil Spector is once again the only role model I need to survive. I'm just one fright wig away from juking the entire ozone-redolent internet with a knobs-at-eleven wall o' sound!

And what a proper joy that would bring! No more sleazy rip-off downloading. No more peer-to-peer, it's-my-right-as-an-American, weasel-whiny thieving. I'm joining the RIAA's no-tomorrows goon squad right now! You wanna download the Naked Brothers Band without payin? Say hello to a world o' hurt!

So to keep us all on the up and up, I've added links on the left (and I have the scars that will never heal to prove it) to several of the finest online feeds for new and truly interesting music. Radio is dead, and most of what passes for internet or cable radio ought to be beaten with a heavy stick. Instead, let the good fokes at brainwashed or dublab lead you into the promissary land of sounds you ain't never heard before. Wallow in their pleasure dome. See if it makes you feel differently about sound. Maybe make a few new connections.

Just go easy on the volume unless you really dig Phil's new look!