Friday, April 17, 2015

Music to Rain By

Happy Friday! Coming up on a long weekend, in Boston anyway. Is spring here? it is warmer, though it's back to raining all the time. But that is spring. I am not very energetic this morning, so let us turn directly to iTunes for inspiration:

1. Mudhoney - In and Out of Grace
2. Deerhoof - News From a Bird
3. Arcade Fire - Joan of Arc
4. fIREHOSE - More Famous Quotes (play it George!)
5. Richard Thompson - Mr Rebound
6. Saint Etienne - Action
7. Interpol - Always Malaise (The Man I am)
8. Nirvana - In Bloom (live)
9. Loren Connors - Air No 13
10. Scott Walker - Epizootics

Video? Here's Mudhoney, of course:



here's another band from the Pacific Northwest, singing about pretty songs:



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Assassination of Lincoln

150 years ago today, John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in the third act of The American Cousin at the Ford Theater... (I pick on the lede - but it's actually a pretty sharp piece of reporting - with the writer also turning over the assassin's gun to the authorities.) Coming 5 days after Lee's surrender, this was a horrible shock to the country - his funeral would be the occasion of intense mourning.

It was a terrible event - and in retrospect, it becomes even more appalling. The Vice President was Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, who had been placed on the ticket as a symbol of unity with the south, and who was already something of a problem. He was given to intemperate remarks - he was considered more vindictive than Lincoln. He'd also made a fool of himself at his inauguration, getting good and plastered and giving a drunken blur of a speech - since then, he'd stayed out of sight and hoped everyone would forget about him. And now he was president. And as president, he set about trying to reconstruct the Union, in a way that brought the old southern slaveholders back to power, let them pass laws that virtually reinstated slavery under new names... The Republicans in congress were having none of this, and passed their own laws, and when he vetoed them, they overrode his vetoes, and when things went far enough, they impeached him.

It was a disaster, the United States government breaking down at a time when it needed to be very sharp, to deal with reintegrating an unrepentant south into the country without surrendering the freedom won by the war. The radicals in congress eventually were able to implement their policies - but only for a few years, and with much of the gains of the war undone at the end of Reconstructions. Could Lincoln have done better? His stated policy toward the south was probably closer to Johnson's than to the radical Republicans - but he was also a better politician, and had a better sense of doing what needed to be done. It seems likely he would have done far more to protect the rights of Blacks after the war - his policies had evolved steadily toward more radical positions toward slavery and race, and it's reasonable to expect that would have continued. But saying that - it is also possible that he would have been hung up on the same issues that destroyed Johnson. It wasn't just Johnson's policies that undid him - it was the villainy of the south, who did everything they could to undo the end of slavery. Johnson's problem, and Lincoln's if he lived, was not so much the radical Republicans as it was the former confederates - Johnson was willing to work with the confederates; would Lincoln have been? would he have been able to get them to accept free Blacks, Black voting, and so on? He might have - but it's no guarantee. And if they didn't cooperate, they were going to come into conflict with the congressional Republicans, the Thaddeus Stevens, Ben Wade, Charles Sumner types - they had won the war, and were not about to give in now. It is possible, in the end, that had Lincoln lived, the next couple years would have undone a lot of his legacy - maybe not likely, but possible.

But none of that happened. Lincoln died, and history went where it did (and where it went ended up being mostly bad - 100 years wasted, basically). And Lincoln's life itself remains as one of the greatest in this countries history. He did win the Civil War - more than any other president won any of our other wars. He was, fairly early in the war, the sharpest strategist - understanding the need to use the Union's advantages in number and material to crush the Confederacy, understanding the need for action and aggression. And as a politician, he kept a very fragile and contentious country together - kept it committed to a bloody and destructive war, until it won. And finally, he freed the slaves - he recognized the reasons for the war, and accepted them, and imagined, during the war, the opportunities it afforded, of making the United States worthy of its imagined view of itself. We were not, before 1863, or 1865, a very admirable country - we were not free, however much we wanted to say we were. Slavery poisoned us, almost incurably - and Lincoln saw that, and moved to change it, and to reinvent the country as what it should have been. That matters. Even if Reconstruction failed, the war, and Lincoln, remained as a reminder of what we were trying to become. We have a model of what the country should be, what it can be, something we can live up to. Abraham Lincoln works pretty well for that.

Friday, April 10, 2015

If I'm Not in the Band Doesn't Mean I'm Square

Band of the Month time - this month, I think, it's time for Mercury Rev. I name dropped them quite a bit last month - I'm not sure how much direct link there is between Mercury Rev and TV on the Radio, but I can see the continuity in my affection for the two bands. I discovered Mercury Rev about the turn of the millennium - maybe with All is Dream, maybe before, I don't know. I remember reading about them, probably in Mojo, back around the end of 2001 - about the time I was discovering Krautrock, Japanese Noise (Boredoms, Acid Mothers Temple), real prog (Van Der Graf Generator, Soft Machine) - they sounded intriguing, I got a couple records, and immediately became a fan. I imagine I got All is Dream and Yerself is Steam together - close to it anyway - those are very different records, but I adored both. I certainly listened to both records rather obsessively for a while... a fact to be reflected in our song list, I imagine... They were, in that period (first couple years of the millennium), just about my favorite band. They make a good token of what I was listening to - which is, admittedly, almost everything - the 00s I was listening to music regularly, and I had money, so I bought everything that struck my fancy - and listened to most of it! on CD! whole records! what a strange time! But they spanned a lot of styles - the noisy oddness of their early records to the lush song craft of their later ones - all of which I liked. Acid Mothers to classic Scott Walker to the Decembrists - Mercury Rev manages to touch most of it. That breadth, that mix of tunage and noise (with sense of humor), is what reminds me of them in TVOTR - that is the connection...

I loved both sides of them from the beginning, and still do. I was addicted to All is Dream - a gorgeous record, pretty, sophisticated songs, clever words ("caught like a fleeting thought stuck inside of Leonard Cohen's mind"), and bracketed by two of the most glorious orchestral rock songs on record. But I was in awe of Yerself is Steam. Those early records, I have to admit, probably come closer to hitting my sweet spot that anything else around at the time - they play like a mashup of Pere Ubu and Pink Floyd, performed by Faust or Amon Duul - wanking guitars, horns and strings and noise, shifting tempos and styles, squawking roar chasing melodic passages chasing mumbled weirdness - what's not to love? The Pere Ubu influence is hard to miss - Dave Baker has a lot of David Thomas in him, and more than one of their songs proceeds like Sentimental Journey bumping into Syd Barrett's poppier numbers. Which isn't far from the way Baker's vocals clash with Jonathan Donahue's - their voices contrast the way the parts of the songs contrast - the way their appearances clash, in things like the Chasing a Bee film... They are all over the place in a way that is just thrilling.

Once Baker left, the pop/melodic/orchestral side took over - even the music hall/dixieland influences (Meth of a Rockette's Kick or Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp) disappeared over time. (Was that a function of Suzanne Thorpe's departure? A lot of the off kilter complexity of their music came from her - the flute cutting against the squall, and so on...) Leaving them still fantastic, but maybe a bit more one dimensional. But they still make such good songs - what can I say against them? They have become craftsmen, and very fine ones - the production is superb, and songs are constructed with such richness, the instruments and sounds blended, interacting. Hercules stands as the perfection of this, I imagine, the way it builds, instruments slipping into the mix, accumulating, to the release of the guitar solo - and then quietly dissipating into the night - yes. That's the Pink Floyd influence, brought to perfection - probably no accident that I renewed my old love for the Floyd about the same time I started listening to Mercury Rev.

So that is that. And a top 10 Songs:

1. Hercules
2. Chasing a Bee
3. Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp - utterly joyful piece of music, this is, horns and guitars and keyboards and flute chasing each other - great stuff...
4. The Dark is Rising
5. Empire State (Son House in Excelsis)
6. Meth of a Rockette's Kick
7. Syring Mouth
8. Secret for a Song
9. Car Wash Hair
10. Something for Joey

And Video? We have to start with Film - they started as a band to make music for films (like Can! speaking of Krautrock...) - and those films are as cool, strange, beautiful as the songs. Here is Chasing a Bee, as epic on film as on record:



Here they are live in their early, abrasive days - Syringe Mouth, Baker's anti-charisma on full display, and Donahue and Grasshopper making a dreadful noise:



And here's a reminder that even in the early days the pretty songs were there - here, doing Snowstorm and Carwash Hair with Dean and Britta.



And later - another video, this for Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp, an altogether different kind of semi surrealism:



The Dark is Rising, live on Jools Holland:



And a Secret for a Song, also on Jools:

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Appomattox Court House

150 years ago today, Robert E. Lee surrendered formally to the US Government at Appomattox Courthouse, and though the Civil War dragged on quite a while longer, this was where it ended. Lee's army was the Confederacy, really, especially after Nashville (maybe even Atlanta - once Hood left the city, his army was irrelevant, in terms of changing the ending) - and facing the facts and laying down arms put the rebellion to rest.

I have mostly written about the military aspects of the war in this series - I will have to turn to the politics as we go forward. (I hope to go forward: I need to read about Reconstruction, it's something I don't know enough about. I hope that is reflected on this blog - probably not tied to anniversaries so much, but I hope to continue to write about the period.) But for now, one more military post... There wasn't much left to the Confederacy in the spring of 1865. Sherman was marching where he would in the Carolinas; forces in the west were equally unfettered; only Lee offered much in the way of resistance. Dug in in Petersburg, he could still fight - though Grant was able to stretch his lines more and more until they were almost ready to break anyway. At the same time, they were almost cut off from supplies, not that there were many places left producing food in the South. They were beaten - but Lee kept trying. With spring, Grant renewed his pressure on Lee - mostly using Phil Sheridan to do the dirty work - they got around the Confederate lines, they got them out of the trenches and thrashed them when they did. That left the trenches too weak to be held - and on April 2, the Union broke through. Lee made one more try to extend the way, thinking he could make a dash to the Carolinas, to join Joe Johnston's army there and maybe be able to beat one of the Union armies. It was probably not very likely - either Grant or Sherman had more men than the combined rebel armies could muster - well equipped and well armed veteran forces unintimidated by the Rebels, led by generals who could count, knew they had all the cards, and were prepared to fight it out to the end. But it never came to that - never mind their fighting abilities, the days were long past when the Rebels were able to outrun Union troops, and Grant and Sheridan had no intention of letting them. They harried Lee with everything they had, and with Grant and Sheridan driving them, the Union army moved effectively - and ran Lee down with ease. There was some fighting - it didn't matter, Lee was out of options. So he stopped.

Grant, probably understanding Lincoln's desires to get the war finished and start the process of undoing its damage, gave generous terms. News spread, and other armies followed in surrender, usually also receiving good terms - and the war wound down. There was, maybe, for a moment, a chance that the aftermath of the war would be successful - the means of surrender went a long way toward making reconciliation possible between the two sides. But that was ruined quickly by John Wilkes Booth - and it's probably too much to hope to think the South, having just fought a suicidal war to preserve slavery, would accept any kind of decent settlement for Blacks after the war. Instead, they began fighting to suppress the freed slaves, while redefining the war to be about something other than treason in defense of slavery - a campaign that was a good deal more successful than the war itself had been. (And is still being fought today.) But that's all in the future, on April 9, 1865 - for that moment, for that week, maybe, there was peace and hope.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Take Me Out to the Ballgame! 2015 Predictions

Spring time has come - so they say. Cold miserable rain falling, almost sleet - still more February than April. But it doesn't matter anymore - baseball is here. It is time to make some predictions.

AL East:

Boston - Only a couple years ago the AL East was the beast of the major leagues - now? I am picking the Red Sox to win because they are my favorites - but also because, no matter how many faults I can find with them, I can find more with the other teams in the division. What Boston has is a reloaded offense - with a good deal of depth, which makes you think they should be able to survive injuries and washouts - someone is bound to come through. They could be extremely good, if they stay healthy and the kids deliver. What don't they have? pitching? they could be okay - they have a staff of #3 starters, who could stay healthy and pitch reasonably well for 200 innings - 3 or 4 of those guys could get you in the post-season. No further though, unless something changes. Based on yesterday's outing, they look like world beaters, though that was just the Phillies - but if you want a list of "ifs" to check off to see how far they go - if Pedroia is back, if Hanley stays healthy and hits, if Betts is the real deal, and if Buckholtz can be effective and healthy - yesterday ticked them off nicely.

Baltimore - they lost Nelson Cruz; they could revert a bit from last year. They do have some guys coming back from bad years - they won't be bad. I don't think they will fall far, but I think they will fall.

Toronto - they have added some players, and are more than respectable - though probably don't have the pitching to get very far. They could slug their way to quite a few wins, though, if everything works out. And I suppose they could have the pitching - Hutchison looked very good yesterday.

NY Yankees - I hope they finish last, but Tampa is getting very low on players - the Yankees are a dismal looking crew - combined age of their starting lineup must be pushing 1000 - but they might not be entirely awful. They have some interesting pitching options. They have Ellsbury. Um - yeah. If there's an over 50 league, they might do all right, but...

Tampa - they still have good arms, and a few decent position players, but it looks pretty grim down there. No more Joe Madden to nurse them along either. Dark days could be coming, and may be there awhile.

Central:

Tigers - no one else seems to be able to muster any kind of sustained threat to them. They should have this well in hand.

Cleveland - maybe this is optimistic, but they have a knack of getting the most from their teams, and they have some interesting talent. They were really good 2 years ago, and decent last year - they should contend again this year, I think.

Chicago - they don't look bad - they have some decent pitching; they have some emerging offensive talent - they should be solid, and could be better than that. But I don't quite trust them to contend. I could be wrong.

KC - they had that great run last year, and if they had hit all year, they might have had a genuinely good team. Now - they are not likely to sustain it. The starting pitching looks very soft - without Shields up front, I don't know if they can do enough. They should have a strong pen, though, and they have what could be an exciting lineup - they've been waiting for Hosmer and Moustakas all these years - why not? though even if they hit, the pitching is a problem.

Minnesota - might not be entirely awful, I suppose. Maybe. Probably though.

West:

Seattle - this year's trendy pick, right? but they were decent last year - they have some of the best pitching in the game - they have Cano, Seager and Cruz, and other players who could be useful, prospects who might be ready finally - they are in a very good place.

Anaheim - A pretty good team that no one really thinks about, but one probably cruising for a fall. They are trying to screw Josh Hamilton (not that he's done them any favors) - still: be a shame if they were able to get a break on his contract. The rest - Mike Trout and maybe Kole Calhoun are promising players - the rest might perform, but... Albert Pujols - I mean, those contracts... they are going to suffer for it.

Oakland - they were dismantled again, but they still have some strong pitching, and decent players. But are probably on the outs for a while. They do a good job of reforming on the fly, so probably not for long.

Texas - they were destroyed by injuries last year - and off to a great start this year, with Yu Darvish gone. Still - they could get respectable if they could keep Fielder and Choo and such on the field. We'll see.

Houston - they have been bad, but they have young talent - things might move up. They certainly started the season right, winning a 1-0 squeaker against the defending Cy Young award winner. They are still probably a ways away - but might not be all that far.

Wildcards: Cleveland, Chicago. Champion: Seattle - teams have been reaching milestones they never saw before - time for the Mariners to make the series.

National League:

East:

Washington - this might be the easiest pick in the majors - right? along with Detroit. Loaded rotation, good pen, plenty of talent on the field - though a bunch of them are hurt early. Still - they have been most of the class of the game the past couple years; they need to get the next step along, which might be easier said than done - but still... it would be a good year for a couple teams that have come close but never gotten to the Big One - Mariners vs. Montreal/Washington? Not a bad pick.

Miami - they look pretty good actually - adding some pitching, some good talent, around Stanton - probably not enough to win much, but still decent. f Fernandez were healthy all year, they would be in a very good place.

New York - yeah? possible - their pitching is shaping up, and they have some ball players on the field. They are getting close to being back to respectability.

Atlanta - they still have some decent players, but how long will they be here? what is going on? They unloaded their good young outfielders over the winter, and their mediocre not-so-young anymore outfielders this week, along with their closer (the best int he game) - they seem to be shedding their team before they move to the suburbs. That's ridiculous enough - I used to be a Braves fan, but I don't think that's going to happen anymore.

Philadelphia - ugh. Though after yesterday's fun, maybe it means the price for Cole Hamels will start dropping.

Central:

St. Louis - the Cubs are the chic pick, but I'm not sure what's wrong with the Cards. They still have a solid rotation; they have respectable players at every position, and some very good ones at a few - they have depth - they are used to winning. The Cubs are the trendy pick, but the Cards are still a very good team.

Pittsburgh - another team that doesn't look any worse than last year, and could be better - so why are they being dismissed?

Chicago - all right, here they are. Lester is a great pickup; Bryant and Soler are bound to start pushing the team one of these years - but... they still look pretty thin, in a division with two really good teams. Everyone wants to love the Cubs, and the Cubs are going to be good pretty soon, yes, but there are more convincing teams out there.

Cincinnati - I don't know how to pick these two - I think I like Cincy more. Cueto and Hamilton and Chapman? This is a deep division. probably come to health in the end.

Milwaukee - they have all those old timers who never seem to stop getting peopel out - Lohse and company... I don't know. They aren't a bad team. A couple bad breaks and they could be - a couple good breaks and they could challenge for the otp of the division.

West:

Los Angeles - I don't like the Dodgers, but they are loaded.

San Diego - this is a bit brave - but they are one of the teams that seems to be Going For It this year. (The Cubs; the Marlins; the White Sox have all spent as well - but the Pads are really going for it.) It's a radically different team - both Uptons, Myers and Kemp, Shields, Kimbrel - they've added a bunch of talent, and most if it is good talent. Justin Upton and Kemp are both strong players - Kemp brings a horrible price tag, but had a lot of potential for a comeback. Shields is a fine anchor for a staff, and the park should shield him from any decline for a while. Myers is a good gamble a high end prospect who's scuffled a bit, so everyone is writing him off - don't ask me. Get him some batting gloves and he'l be fine.

San Francisco - they continue to play very close to the edge, never diving into the free agent market the way they could, given their resources. But whatever they are doing is working [one of the understatements of the decade], so - it does tend to create the oscillations they have been through. This looks likely to be a down year.

Arizona - I don't know if I have any reason to pick them ahead of Colorado - but I will.

Colorado - I don't know if I have any reason to pick them below the Diamondbacks, but I will. Neither team has much to care about.

Wild cards: Pittsburgh and San Diego; Champion - Washington! Expos and Mariners! Mariners win? King Felix is the guy I think I want on the hill when it all counts.

And - individuals? MVP is still Mike Trout's to lose, for the next 10 years. NL? Giancarlo Stanton is the default pick, I think, though he could have some competition: McCutcheon, Posey, Goldschmitt (if the team were any good, anyway), Rizzo if the Cubs do win, maybe some the Bryce Harper types, big prospects who have been merely solid for a couple years... Upton, Heyward even - lots of choices, probably more of them with a real chance than in the AL, though Stanton has to be the favorite.

Cy Young? Kind of the opposite - the AL is loaded with candidates - King Felix ought to be the favorite; Kluber is the real deal, Price a strong candidate, Sonny Gray, Chris Sale if he comes back quickly. The NL is probably Kershaw's to lose - though Scherzer and Strasbourg and Cueto and Bumgarner and maybe even Matt Harvey are right there too. But Kershaw is the favorite, by quite a margin.

Rookie of the Year: AL - in truth, I have no real idea. Id love to say Rusney Castillo - when Victorino gets hurt, he'll come up and - maybe not. Lot of other guys I don't know as much about - the NL has the monsters this year. NL - once Kris Bryant is protected from arbitration for the year, he'll be up - we'll see if he mashes. Odds are pretty good, I'd say.

And so? off we go - hope the game brings us some summer before long.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Manoel de Oliveira

I must pre-empt today's music post to note the passing of Manoel de Oliveira. Oliveira has been one of the more reliably interesting directors on the international art scene for some time now - in the past 25 years or so, he has maintained a fairly steady output of work, almost a film a year, all generally playful art films, though in a number of different styles and tones. Big melodramas, precise character studies and chamber pieces, bits of surrealism - long films, short films - it has been a remarkable run of films. Before that, in te 70s and 80s, he made a smaller number of films, but some of them are stunning masterpieces - Doomed Love or Francisca - long, challenging adaptations of 19th century literature, done in a strange, almost unique style: beautiful, artificial, sometimes static and abstract as Straub and Huillet, but with the sweeping emotions of the grand novels they adapt, and surreal traces throughout - they are beautiful, strange and subtly very funny, and they tend to make other adaptations of 19th century literature seem drab in comparison. I've been taking a class in Russian culture, seeing lots of adaptations of great Russian lit or biographies of great Russians - The Idiot; Onegin; Tchaikovsky - they tend to be a bit disappointing. They try to find the artistic power of the novels, along with their emotional weight - so work in lots of arty flourishes, dream sequences and dutch angles and symbolisms - but none of it quite comes off. More or less handsome ad more or less well performed, but more or less routine... I have thought, more than once, how much these films needed to be made by someone like Manoel de Oliveira. No - more than that. I have thought, more than once while watching these films, how much I wish Oliveira had made a big Dostoevsky or Tolstoy adaptation. Not that he needed to - his work was plenty rich as it is, and makes me want to read Portuguese literature - but Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Pushkin could have used an Oliveira adaptation.

I will miss him; miss the anticipation of new films, the effort of finding them sometimes, and the pleasure of seeing them on the screen when they do get shown. And I will miss knowing he is alive. As great as he is as a filmmaker, his own life and career might be even more astonishing. To think that the bulk of his career happened after the 1960s - after he turned 60 - and that he put together a strong 45 year career after turning 60 - it is astonishing. He began as a filmmaker in 1931, almost ruined his career in the 40s after making the fantastic Aniki Bobo - he ran afoul of the dictator Salazar, and could not make films at all until the end of the 50s and 60s, and only really got going in the 70s... And then was able to build and sustain a 45-50 year career, the career he might have had in the 30s and 40s with some luck and justice - it is as happy an ending as I can think of.

I've mentioned before that he is 5 years younger than Ozu - to think that the bulk of his careen started after Ozu's death, and has gone on to now - is astonishing. I will miss him.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Marching Out

Well, March is almost gone. (And leaving with more crappy weather - rain, snow tomorrow - wonderful!) I have not managed to get much done here this month - sad, isn't it? That is a habit I had better break in a hurry = April is a big month for Civil War and WWI anniversaries - I've been neglecting them, but I can't very well let the end of the Civil War or Lincoln's assassination, or Gallipoli go unmarked.

Also, too, baseball!

For now, though, it's just music - and another random 10:

1. Love - Always See Your Face
2. Gogol Bordello - Immigrant Punk
3. Bob Dylan - Gates of Eden
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Date with the Night
5. Dead Boys - Sonic Reducer
6. Asian Dub Foundation - Black White
7. Yoko Ono - where Do We Go From Here
8. Jimi Hendrix - Fire
9. Superchunk - Slack Motherfucker
10. Motorhead & Girlschool - Emergency

And video? How about some Immigrant Punk?



Jimi stands next to your fire, live n Sweden, in a heck of a hurry:



And Superchunk, very annoyingly edited live footage from 1993...

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday the 20th

Friday is back - one of these weeks I'll get some content in here between Fridays, but not yet. For now, some music:

1. Creation - Bony Maronie
2. Led Zeppelin - Key to the Highway/Trouble in Mind
3. Jack White - Entitlement
4. Destroyer - European Oils
5. Linda Ronstadt - Desperado
6. Fleetwood Mac - Rattlesnake Shake
7. Johnny & June Carter Cash - Far Banks of the Jordan
8. Deerhoof - Mario's Flaming Whiskers III
9. Liars - They Took It For the Rest of Our Lives
10. Sex Pistols - Problems

Video? Linda Ronstadt, out riding fences... with the Eagles!



And here's Johnny and company - Mr Rotten does not appear to want to be there:



And one more, a somewhat happier looking Peter Green, singing about something, I wouldn't care to speculate on what:

Friday, March 13, 2015

Broken Dreams and Alibis

The second Friday of the month is here, and two Friday 13ths in a row - what was I thinking? I should have used the chance to do something like Black Sabbath or Blue Oyster Cult for the Bands of the Month - a missed opportunity! But what's done is done, and I suppose desperate youth and bloodthirsty dames are pretty Friday 13th... I've been itching to get TV on the Radio up here - it is time.

I've kind of abandoned the organization I started with - roughly biographical, sort of chronological. Maybe you could fit it to the scheme, say that Sleater Kinney was pretty close to the defining band of the 90s for me; TV on the Radio is pretty much the definitive band of the last 10 years or so. But that's pushing the concept, even if the concept is more about developing taste and critical ideas that life events - I listened to a lot of music from 1995 to 2008 or so, and TV on the Radio was just one of the many bands that won me. They don't have a ton of biographical significance for me - they didn't really change my tastes, they were the culmination of what I was liking at the time, maybe. I will get to a few of bands that shaped me in this period in this series - Sleater Kinney and PJ Harvey were vital; discovering prog and krautrock and Japanese noise was a big part of it; so was rediscovering post-punk, old and new (Gang of Four; The Liars); Mercury Rev and the White Stripes were revelations when I started listening to them... Back in the early-mid 00s I was listening to a bunch of stuff - post-punk, prog/krautrock/avant garde (Scott Walker, David Sylvain, post-rock things like Earth and Mono and Godspeed You Black Emperor), psychedelic folk (Ghost, 6 Organs of Admittance, etc.) - all the places these things met (Melt Banana to Ruins to Mars Volta to Boris to Of Montreal) and so on. That's when TV on the Radio appeared - and I embraced them immediately. They are, after all, drawn out of a lot of those categories - plus pop and funk and jazz and plenty more. They quickly became one of my favorites, and stayed there. And even now - when I can go a month without listening to a record, even records by absolute favorites - they stay in rotation, I buy their records, and listen to them...

I suppose that's why I'm writing about them now - of all the records that came out last year, Seeds is the one that grabbed me the minute I put it on - it's the one I have been listening to for the last couple months, listening to now... It's got all their virtues - and some new ones: songs like Could You take them in very Beatlesque directions they haven't explored all that much before. (With its 12 string guitar, and central riff built around Harrison's "What Is Life".) It comes of as their prettiest record, I think - a hugely enjoyable record, that I had to write about...

That's not new: they were exciting the first time I heard them and still are - their spectacularly blended voices; the hard driving drones; the textures and sounds, guitars and horns and synths and rhythms; the words, perfectly turned phrases, social commentary, criticism in songs, and surprising cool lines and rhymes - their keep revealing things years later. They have an extremely durable sound, partly because it is so rich - they have so many elements working together, letting them push one thing than another, here the rhythms, here the guitars, there the horns, somewhere else the blend of voices. If I'm going to carp, it's that neither of the main singers seems to be a particularly good singer - it sometimes gets them in the ballads, where they can't quite do what they seem to be thinking they should do... But that hardly matters - Kyp and Tunde both have great voices, expressive and flexible, and they have a fine sense of what to do with their voices, how to fit them into the rest of the sounds. Singing in unison, in harmony, or counterpoint (as in Could You, creating a dialogue in the vocals) - they find so many ways to deliver a song. The same is true of the music - the band isn't exactly virtuosic, but their sound is very dense, nuanced, and the full effect is put together in very complex and satisfying, and infinitely varied ways... They have the quality too of constantly reminding me of other bands I love - which might range from Pere Ubu to Michael Jackson, to Radiohead or Mercury Rev, to Marvin Gaye or the Beatles or MF Doom... reminding me of all those bands, but always sounding like themselves. Mostly because of the qualities listed - they work in so many elements to their songs, they have an inexhaustible supply of possibilities. They can be abrasive - they can be pretty; they can make dance music, ballads, they can make guitar driven songs, horns, synths - take your choice. And they can write great riffs, great choruses - and either pound them home (like Could You or Second Song or Dancing Choose) or tease them (the flickering promise and hint of a riff you get in Halfway Home or Quartz) - everywhere in between.

They are fantastic.

And so songs:

1. Halfway Home
2. The Wrong Way
3. Could You
4. Province
5. Bomb Yourself
6. wear You Out
7. I Was a Lover
8. Second Song
9. Quatrz
10. Dancing Choose

And Video: first - here's a full set on Morning Becomes Electric, supporting Seeds:



And a very early performance of The Wrong Way - listen to those almost country rhythms anmd guitars - and the church preaching vocals - misses the horns from the record, but damn, this is good:



Could You - which really could be a long lost Beatles or Big Star song... poor Kyp get gets no respect - he's singing, he's playing the guitar solo, and the camera keeps going back to Tunde, or even Dave Sitek - what can you do? He is definitely staking a claim to the best beard in rock and roll.



Dancing Choose, live on Letterman:



Second Song, from Nine Types of Light, the one record I sort of undervalued when it came out, though it keeps growing on me:



I was a lover - pushing the avant garde vibe a long way. Looking back now, the shapes of their records are clearer - Return to Cookie Mountain is the most avant garde - reminds me sometimes of Mercury Rev - or Pere Ubu, even Art of Walking/Bailing Man Pere Ubu - something there...



Halfway Home at all tomorrow's parties, with great sounding guitars, growling along under Tunde's crooning - I'm sorry to day but the bad sound of the recording makes this even cooler - hard to say how miuch fo the glitchiness is the sound manipulation and how much is the camera - and I don't really care... the opening line is one of the great lyrics, too - the lazy way they turn your head into a rest stop for the dead...:


Friday, March 06, 2015

Marching In

Still winter out - bitter damn cold out today - but there is hope. Yes yes, hope. Though Sunday the clocks change, and that is annoying - the sun is rising by 6 - getting light that is - and that will be lost for a month or so. I like seeing the sun when I get up...

All right, enough. Time to go. Here is some music this AM:

1. Pink Floyd - Eclipse
2. Feelies - Raised Eyebrows
3. Isley Brothers - That Lady
4. Yo La Tengo - The Fireside
5. Merle Haggard - Silver Wings
6. PJ Harvey = Before Departure
7. Yardbirds - Heart Full of Soul
8. Butthole Surfers - Moving to Florida
9. Butthole Surfers - Rocky [hmm: iTunes in a Surfing mood, is it?]
10. Syd Barrett - Octopus

If iTunes wants the Buttholes so much, who can refuse? here they are in 2008, in church, with out much of a stage show, but doing justice to the song. 2 drummers and everything!



The YardBirds - what appears to be an actual live TV clip - hard to find from those days:



And the Isley brothers, live on Soul Train:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Stil Winter Friday 10

So February is running down. Still cold, though we haven't had a blizzard in a couple weeks. You can see spring coming, though - literally - see it: sun rising earlier every day, setting later, getting close to where you have full days... Light, I think, has more to do with your spirit than the cold - cold is a nuisance; darkness starts to gnaw at your brain.

That's enough wisdom literature for the day. Lessee - the Oscars? I have no complaints, I suppose - Birdman is a worthy winner. I wish Boyhood had won instead, or maybe even better, that Birdman, Boyhood and Grand Budapest Hotel had split up the major awards - picture, director, writer - so all had a win or two there, but it's not a travesty. Nice to se three films of that caliber, and type, nominated, and taken seriously. I doubt it portends anything though.

All right - on to music. Nothing fancy today, it's not likely to be a fancy day:

1. Dinosaur Jr. - Water
2. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Red Eyes and Tears
3. Bootsy Collins - Psychoticbumpschool
4. Dangerdoom - Crosshairs
5. Preston School of Industry - A Treasure @ Silver Bank
6. Motorhead - (We are) The Road Crew
7. Olivia Tremor Control - California Demise
8. Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues (wasn't yesterday his birthday?)
9. The Kills - Hook and Line
10. Husker Du - Games

The options are very good today. Mr. Cash starts us off:



Mr. Collins keeps things going:



And the Kills send us off:

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Annual Not-About-Academy-Awards Best in Category Post

Well - Oscar inspired, but that's about all. Not even really against the OPscars - every year, there seems to be another Awards-Are-Bad-for-Art thumbsucker - this is not that. I don't care much about the Academy Awards, but the industry does, so who am I to complain about their enjoyment? No - it's just that the Oscars provide an excellent excuse to run through the various categories, and make my own lists. I like making lists. So here we go. With some comments on the Oscars as we go, but that is secondary.

Best Picture:

I managed to see 5 of the nominees. I should see American Sniper, and probably will eventually; I should never have seen Imitation Game, as it annoyed me. That's life. I don't know for sure what will win - there might have been a time when Selma would have won (a big, serious historical epic) - or American Sniper (which for good or ill seems to allow everyone to see what they want in it) - but neither seem right for this year. So I don't know. Boyhood might do it - of the nominees, it should win. Now - as for snubs - thinking just about films that are on the radar of the academy (I doubt Jim Jarmusch counts) - well: I'm not sure. There were lots of films that seem as good as the ones that got nominated, even in theory - and in fact, certainly, Mr. Turner or Love is Strange or The Immigrant seem like better films than some of what got nominated. Though 4 of the films I saw this year were obvious and proper choices - Boyhood, Birdland, Selma and Grand Budapest Hotel - even in a 5 film field, those would have been strong contenders. American Sniper might be there too. The rest seem to be throwbacks to the old days of nominating Oscar Bait films instead fo real films (the other 5 are real films, whatever you think of them - all of them would exist without any reference to the Oscars; I can't say that of the Imitation Game, say.) I don;t have any single disappointments here - I have some opinions on some of the other nominations though.

So - my choices - this is basically a top 5 for the year, though I tried to stick to films that were eligible. 2 of them did get nominated, which is nice:

1. Norte, The End of History [seeing it a second time moved it up from the #2 spot I had at the end of last year - this is a very fine movie.]
2. Boyhood
3. Only Lovers Left Alive
4. Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby Her/Him
5. Grand Budapest Hotel

Director:

Last year this time, there was argument about how the expanded best picture nominations cut the number of total films nominated - with all the best director nominees coming from the same films. This year, they broke that once - Foxcatcher - which I didn't see... The others are good choices - 3 of mine got on their list. As for what will and should win - I half suspect that Boyhood and Birdman will split these.

My choices:

1. Linklater - Boyhood
2. Inarritu - Birdman
3. Anderson _ Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Diaz - Norte, the End of History
5. Anderson - Inherent Vice

Lead Actor:

I only saw two of these - the others might be worthy, but I barely care. Cumberbatch was very good, but the film was not, so I have to root for Mr. Keaton. Who was outstanding in a very good film... This is a category I think the academy could have improved - lots of performances that should have been here, somewhere - Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice, Spall in Mr Turner - Coltrane in Boyhood - Oyelowo in Selma! Inherent Vice should not have been shut out like this - there are a lot of places where it should have gotten something. This was a deep pool, and I'm not sure how 2 impersonations of famous Englishmen got there in place of anything else.

My choices:

1. Ralph Fiennes - Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Joaquin Phoenix - Inherent Vice
3. Timothy Spall - Mr. Turner
4. Guy Pearce - The Rover
5. Benecio De Toro - Jimmy P

Lead Actress:

I only saw two of these, too. I imagine this is Julianne Moore's to lose, and that's probably justified - she is always superb. I wish they'd put in some of the performances I liked - Cotillard in The Immigrant, or real long shots like Tilda Swinton in Only Lovers Left Alive or Jessica Chastain in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (a film in general I wish had gotten more attention - I know it's 4 hours long; and maybe it wasn't actually eligible this year - but it was still something to see. Chastain was wonderful, as she usually is.) Overall, this is category with some very good work, that didn't get much acknowledgement. (And if the performances that were nominated that I didn't see are worthy, that just shows the depth.)

Mine:

1. Swinton - Only Lovers Left Alive
2. Chastain - Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (even just for Her!)
3. Scarlett Johanson - Under the Skin
4. Hilary Swank - The Homesman
5. Cotillard - The Immigrant [being perverse - nothing wrong with her performance for the Dardennes; that's worthy]

Supporting Actor:

Everyone seems to think this will be JK Simmons - who is so good in everything he does that he probably will, and probably should. (I haven't seen it, but I'll take the academy's word for it.) Though I'd go with Norton, out of this bunch. Missing? yeah - lots of stuff missing, though the ones that are there might be fine.

1. Edward Norton Jr. - Birdman
2. Josh Brolin - Inherent Vice
3. Chris O'Dowd - Calvary
4. Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
5. Benecio Del Toro - Inherent Vice

Supporting Actress:

I would assume, and hope, this goes to Patricia Arquette - the rest? who knows.

1. Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
2. Carmen Ajogo - Selma
3. Emma Stone - Birdman
4. Tilda Swinton - Snowpiercer
5. Viola Davis - Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

Original Screenplay:

This was a strong category, I think - I saw three of the nominations, and they were all deserving; the others maybe. I hope Wes Anderson wins - but no complaints for Birdman or Boyhood.

1. Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Boyhood
3. Only Lovers Left Alive
4. Listen Up, Philip
5. Force Majeure

Adapted Screenplay:

This one is harder - I didn't see most of them; not sure which scripts I did like were adapted. I am grateful that Inherent Vice got at least one nomination. No idea what will win, though.

1. Inherent Vice
2. Norte (if you consider it an adaptation of Dostoevsky, which might be a stretch)
3. Jimmy P
4. A Most Wanted Man
5. Love is Strange (probably cheating again - it might be a remake, but I don't know if it's adapted.)

Cinematography:

Another category where I approve of the nominations - not always the case in cinematography, where sometimes dull beauty wins over innovation and service to the story. Birdman will probably win, but all are good choices.

1. Birdman
2. Ida
3. Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Under the Skin
5. Mr. Turner

Editing:

How Birdman didn't get a nomination here is beyond me; editing is about deciding when and how to cut - not cutting is as much an editing decision as cutting, and pretending not to cut is even more so. Still - the way Boyhood was made makes me think it had to be created on the editing table, and what came out is a masterpiece, so - I hope it wins.

1. Boyhoood
2. Birdman
3. Babadook
4. Selma
5. Grand Budapest Hotel

Documentary:

Saw three of the nominated films - they make my top 5 too...

1. CitizenFour
2. Actress
3. 20,000 Years on Earth
4. Last Days in Vietnam
5. Finding Vivian Maier

Foreign:

This is Ida's to lose,right? A local theater had both Timbuktu and Leviathan playing this week, but were closed today, so they could clean off the roof - great.. Anyway. The nomination process for these is too strange for me to say much about...

1. Norte
2. Jealousy
3. The Dance of Reality
4. Ida
5. Like Father, Like Son

And I guess that will do it!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday Music - Still Winter!

Another Friday, running late again, so this will be quick. Hope this weekend I'l manage to get up a post about the Oscars - not really about the Oscars, of course, more like my own private awards. We shall try!

Meanwhile, I must soon go out into the cold again - and I mean COLD. Winter has staked its claim this year, oh, it has. Looks like it might warm up a bit over the weekend - just enough to rain a bit, create a whole mess of slush and water to promptly freeze solid Monday. You wouldn't think it could get much worse around here, but that's one way: turn half that snow into ice and watch the fun!

Enough. let's hope music can serve as a comfort. Yep.

1. Blondie - Heart of Glass
2. Husker Du - Standing by the Sea
3. Cranberries - Dreams
4. Of Montreal - October is Eternal
5. fIREHOSE - Number Seven
6. Brave New World - Train Kept A-rollin'
7. Linda Ronstadt - Long, Long Time
8. Little Feat - Forty Four Blues/How many more years
9. Gentle Giant - Dog's Life
10. Ryan Adams - Sweet Black Magic

Not a bad bunch of songs there... Now some video? Blondie is a good place to start (complete with a political rap interlude!):



Cranberries video:



Which seems to require Faye Wong's version,with some help from Wong ar-wei and Christopher Doyle:



And we'll end with Linda Ronstadt, because we can, and how can you not?:

Friday, February 13, 2015

Rock the Little Babies with 1 2 3 4

We are into the 90s now, in my Band of the Month cavalcade - this month, partly because they have a new record out, it's Sleater-Kinney.

I was listening to rock again in the late 90s, quite a bit - catching up on older bands, looking for new bands - and picked up The Hot Rock for some reason. Probably something in the Phoenix, that made them sound very interesting - whatever the reason, I found that I liked it. They didn't quite sound like they were described - I was led to expect something noisier - then I got Dig Me Out, and realized that was what people were talking about. And so for a couple years in there, they were one of the contemporary bands that defined the age. Which isn't that far off.

For a while, at the end of the 90s, they were so good. I liked The Hot Rock - it was fascinating, full of good songs, maybe a little out of character from their earlier records, less frenetic, prettier. It also featured their most sustained sustained and systematic use of the double lead vocals, Brownstein and Tucker singing different lyrics in harmony. It's really lovely, and it set me up to expect more of the same. That isn't quite what you get - the earlier records are a good deal rawer, spikier, punkier, angular, noisy and tuneful - and just about as good as anything in the last 20 years. Call the Doctor is harsh and smart and very abrasive - Dig Me Out smooths things a bit, brings it under control, but doers it without losing the energy - really, the better focus makes the energy even more effective. That record is about as good as it gets: Carrie Brownstein, particularly, came into her own, finding that perfect, jagged, surf guitar sound she mastered - she's sharp and precise across the whole record, with a fantastic sound. Their signature tangle was there on the first two records, but really clarifies on Dig Me Out. Then The Hot Rock - which does take a lot of the edge off, but replaces it with a more intricate sound - the intertwined guitars and vocals, and not just vocals, lyrics - those three records together are as good a run as anyone has had in the era. Inventive, surprising, with a unique and powerful sound, that evolves from record to record, without losing what they do right. They wer on top of the world.

You could extend it to All Hands on the Bad One - but somehow, to me anyway, that didn't quite make it. Great songs still - neat guitar work, harmonies, everything you could ask. But it was less overwhelming, somehow, less exciting - less urgent, maybe. I don't know - I certainly listened to it enough when it came out, with great pleasure. Still do - some of the songs anyway - but I don't find that it surprises me anymore, and no matter how many times I've listened to the other three, they keep surprising me. It was not a big drop, or change - All Hands on ther Bad One didn't trigger a crisis of faith the way, oh, The Joshua Tree did - but it made me wonder.... And then, I started to change - so that by the time One Beat came out I was eye deep in prog rock, krautrock, Japanese noise - Sleater Kinney is a long way away from Can or The Boredoms or Acid Mother's Temple or The Soft Machine or Guru Guru - or Mars Volta for that matter. When One Beat came out, it didn't overwhelm me, and I sort of let it pass - didn't listen to it all that much, and didn't go back to it. (And I discovered when I started writing this, that I hadn't even loaded it into the computer - strange indeed! Looking back now - listening to it now - I think I made a serious mistake there. I don't know if it's as good as their best, but it sounds better than I remember it - interesting ideas, different tones and styles, some rhythmic variety that they usually didn't bother with. I think I missed the boat on that one.) By the time the Woods came out, though, I was back where I could appreciate them - deep in the throes of Post-punk (real and neo-post pounk: Gang of Four and the Pop Group; Liars and Bloc Party). Add the fact that The Woods was produced by Dave Fridman (whose band will get their month on this blog soon enough) - I expected to love it - I didn't. Again - it's okay - but they really don't translate well to the bigger guitar sounds on that record, the attempts at jamming - as if they were trying to appeal to that 2002 version of me by pretending to be the Mars Volta. It bugged me - Brownstein, in particular, had reached a point (I thought) where she was a genuinely outstanding guitarist, though in a particular style; trying to play solos and feedback like that just didn't work - I go back to U2 - it's like the Edge trying to be Hendrix on Bullet the Blue Sky - he can't do it; and you end up with something that's not as good as Hendrix and not as good as the Edge. Same here - she's not Omar Rodriguez, or even Ben Chasny - and now, she's not Carrie Brownstein either.

And so we get to the new record - plenty of anticipation there but - comeback records can be scary things. And this? Okay - but nothing more. Except for A New Wave - that measures up to their best - driving, great sound, their cool, lovely harmonies, smart words - it's totally addictive. It's like those songs on All Hands on the Bad On - tuneful, more rock than punk, infinitely hummable, and great sounding. Unfortunately, it's the only song on the record that really gets my attention. The rest - I dunno; what can you do? They seem flattened out - trying to fit their style to something more, I don't know, conventional or something. It puts me in mind of one of those late 80s Pere Ubu records - Cloudland or Story of My Life - though without the tunes, or the musicianship, or David Thomas. Which still - I mean - my opinion of Pere Ubu is no secret - saying they remind me of second rate Ubu is still pretty good. But at their best - they were first rate Sleater-Kinney.

Well, this hasn't gone quite the way it should. We are here to praise and all that. They aren't the only band I've loved that have slipped over the years - U2 and REM and The Replacements and Husker Du are all in that boat... if they stay at it, they are quite capable of returning to the heights, or finding a new height. And if not - well - they were, for a while, just about the best band in the world. And that is worth something. It's worth a hell of a lot, really.

Songs:

1. The Drama You've Been Craving
2. You're No Rock and Roll Fun - and not just for stealing a Smokey Robinson riff...
3. Little Babies
4. Stay Where You Are
5. Hot Rock
6. Call the Doctor
7. A New Wave
8. I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone
9. Jenny
10. Little Mouth

1996 live set, black and white, songs from Call the Doctor:



Good things and Little Mouth, in 1998:



And the Drama You've Been Craving, live in 1997:



Jenny, live - Carrie sounding perfectly majestic on this:



Hot Rock - though it could use better sound. The songs on that record, I imagine need better sound - you have to pick out the two voice and the two guitars... I wish they had done more of what they did there, having Carrie and Corinne sing separate lyrics, in harmony - their voices blend very well anyway, and using them this way, running separate sets of lyrics playing off each other, gave them so much room to expand on what a song could be... It's like someone trying to work out what a real, crafted, pop version of the Murder Mystery would sound like, and absolutely nailing it. I wish they did this more often.



Light Rail Coyote - I never quite gave One Beat the attention it deserved; I think that was a mistake. This is a very good song- it's better than the next two records, anyway.



A New Wave on Letterman - a nifty performance of a really good song - though I admit I'm distracted by the look. Corinne Tucker has turned into Belinda Carlisle, and Carrie Brownstein appears to be a mash up of Pete Townsend and PJ Harvey. Mixing Pete Townsend and PJ Harvey may indeed be the coolest thing on this or any other planet (Polly Jean and Pete themselves excepted), and Carrie makes a pretty fair bid to be just that: