Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday Music with Pete Seeger

The big music news this week has been the death of Pete Seeger. His brand of music has never been one I was particularly committed to, but he has always been a presence in the world, on TV, on the radio, a name you knew, and a voice you recognized. it was a comforting voice, though I noticed a tendency, especially when I was growing up, to turn his type of folk music into children's music - that was the 70s, and maybe by then, his generation and style of musicians had been squeezed out of the mainstream of the culture, event he mainstream of folk music, and their last bastion was singing pretty old songs for kids on TV. Maybe. Thinking about it that way, I almost feel sympathy for the old stories about Pete trying to take an axe to Dylan's power cords at Newport - it's a sense that there was a place in the world for folk music, and now Dylan was taking that away, turning this thing into rock and roll too. Rock did do that - squeezing a lot of musical styles into the margins - swamping them. It also appropriated them, being greatly enriched by everything that flowed into rock - rock music is better for Dylan, better for Pete Seeger - but it didn't always leave its sources much.

But that's not the point, except maybe to explain how Seeger could seem so marginal to my musical life. It's all right. He made music all the way, and made good music. When you do sit down and listen to him - he brought the goods. Here he is on the Johnny Cash show, bringing the goods.

And now? let's try randomness to close out this month:

1. Jethro Tull - Up to Me (I suppose you wouldn't have Jethro Tull in the world without Pete Seeger)
2. Magic Hour - Rosebud (psychedelic guitar freakouts probably would be here without Pete Seeger; Damon and Naomi, on the other hand - maybe)
3. Melvins - I'll Finish You Off (neo-Sabbath and grunge probably would exist without old Pete too.)
4. REM - e-bow the letter
5. The Raconteurs - Five on the Five
6. Neil Diamond - Kentucky Woman
7. And you will Know us by the Trail of Dead - Ode to Isis
8. Tom Waits - Trouble's Braids
9. Madonna - Crazy for You
10. Blue Oyster Cult - ME 262

and one more video - let's try Tull:

And since guitar freak outs are always good for the soul - here's Magic Hour live.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Music Check In

Another Friday - another week without any other content on this humble blog: I wish I at least had a better excuse. I suppose I have reasons (laziness?), but - you know. It's not that - I have been distracted, by books and Bertie Wooster, and never seem to get around to blogging... Still - this month has gone quickly; it does not feel like 3 1/2 weeks into the year. The weather - remains very interesting - we've had 2 (or 3?) major cold snaps, separated by days in the 50s; we've had snowstorms and downpours, and blizzards that stayed south of us or went north of us; it's eventful. It appears to be 9 degrees outside right now; it can't be much more than 60 in my apartment. Fun times in the temperate zones!

All right - here are 10 songs chosen at random in iTunes:

1. Bob Dylan - Queen Jane Approximately
2. Sonic Youth - The Mind of the Bourgeois Reader
3. Mahavishnu Orchestra - Awakening
4. My Blood Valentine - Nothing Much to Lose
5. Yardbirds - Mr. Zero
6. Minutemen - Plight
7. Richard Thompson - Miss Patsy
8. Marvin Gaye - I Heard it Through the Grapevine
9. Led Zeppelin - Dancing Days
10. Superchunk - Me & You & Jackie Mittoo

Video? I can see I have some very good material to choose from here... I would not want to miss the chance to post Marvin:

How about a bit of fusion? Billy Cobham puts in a shift on the drums...

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Random Music

Just another Friday this week, and a meeting at work to get to, so better be just another random list, I think...

1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Y Control
2. Mudhoney - In n Out of Grace (live)
3. The Beatles - When I'm Sixty-Four
4. Revolting Cocks - Cousins
5. Arcade Fire - Windowstill
6. Robert Johnson - Stones in my Passway
7. AC/DC - Girls Got Rhythm
8. 6 Organs of Admittance - Procession of Cherry Blossom Spirits
9. Neu! - Super 16
10. Dangerdoom - No Names (Black Debbie)

And video - start with Mudhoney, a live clip of the very song (I think) above; complete with a drum solo and ballet:

And here are the Yeah Yeah Yeahs... though the best reason for including this video is, oddly enough, the ad that played with it. Some sound system for your TV or iPad or whatever - using The Dead Boys for music. I though I'd been Stiv-rolled... Anyway - the odd sensation of wishing the ad would continue in place of the song... Not that there's anything wrong with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the world needs more Pretenders tribute bands, but it's not Sonic Reducer.

But this is Sonic Reducer:

and this is the real Chrissie:

Friday, January 10, 2014

Pockets Lead the Way

Here in New England it has been a damned cold week. Snow, cold - winter (though it's headed back into the 50s this weekend: NEw England!) - I have had enough. Time to cast our musical attention southward... it is good, then, that I have sort of gotten myself out of college in my Band of the Month series, and can write about R.E.M., 80s left of the dial darlings.

I first heard them on the radio, Radio Free Europe, some station or show playing underground music, probably fall of 1982. My Springsteen loving pal was something of a new wave fan (big into XTC and Elvis Costello, I recall), which spilled into punk and indie bands like REM - though more like X, one of his favorites. (He wore out Under a Big Black Sun as a sophomore, like we wore out The River as freshmen.) He sought out college radio and the like - that's where I heard Radio Free Europe; I don't remember what I thought - I liked it, but can't say it made too much of an impression. I think there was some hype, that I didn't quite get, but didn't turn me off. I filed them away, I think, for future reference. And then - a year or so later - Reckoning came out, the radio started playing South Central Rain - Dick Clark featured South Central Rain! I remember watching that with my brothers - they were very confused: Why can't he sing? they asked, or something to that effect. But I knew... It didn't take the kids long to catch up - one of them ended up getting me Murmur for Christmas, and the next summer I lived on Fables of the Reconstruction.... And later? I believe that Reckoning ended up being the first CD I ever bought; Lifes Rich Pageant, I think, was the first LP I replaced with a CD (like, a week after I got the LP). And so on. I saw REM in 1986 - but that experience factors more next month. And after that - I always liked them; I sometimes loved, them; I never liked them as much as I did in the middle of the 80s. But to the end, they made good music, and sometimes great music.

That's beside the point. It's also a function of the power of their music in that period. There aren't many bands who can measure up to those 2 records. I wore Fables of the Reconstruction out - I lived on it. I taped it, when I got it - I gave a copy to one of my friends, who kept it in his car, and we'd listen to it endlessly. (There were a bunch of tapes we listened to all the time: that one, The Good Earth, a couple Husker Du records, a compilation of stuff from the big Springsteen live box, Live at Leeds, Live at Folsom Prison and San Quentin, a couple Iggy Pop and Stooges records (old and new), a Ramones greatest hits, Motorhead's Ace of Spades - there was some Ministry in there somewhere, and various heavy metal acts he liked... all good.) It was good.

But it was more than good. It wasn't just the music, words, it was something about the feeling REM gave me. They always conjured up imagery in their songs - for all the jokes about Stipe's indecipherable lyrics, that is the most striking thing to me, how clear the imagery is. They are full of scenes: The smell is sweet the short haired boy woman offers pull up a seat... the walls constructed stone by stone... two doors to go between the wall was raised today... did you ever call, I waited for your call... I will try not to breath, I can hold my head still... that's me in the corner, that's me in the spotlight... I was wrong, I have been laughable... bank the quarry river swim.... Even when he's at his most opaque - it's not so much opaque as just stripped of the normal syntax, really. We knee skinned that river red - why not?

I admit the imagery their music conjures is not all Stipe's: their music, especially Reckoning and Fables of the Reconstruction, bring up almost irresistible images for me - memories, real and imaginary imaginary landscapes. The associations were odd ones - memories, in particular, of the places my grandparents lived - in rural Vermont and Canada, places with fields and woods, and old dirt roads overgrown with grass. I latched onto the natural images on those records - the fields divided one by one, the green growing rushes, the palpable feeling of hot summer days. They reminded me of being a kid, in the country, reading the Hardy Boys (The Secret of the Lost Tunnel! with it's old south setting, its Civil War treasure, its overgrown mansions and battlefields...) - imagining the stories in the real world. There probably isn't much else in common - but I can't help it: the associations are overwhelming, and always make me very happy.

Though getting away from myself - REM's songs never fail to impress. Stipe's impressionism never really loses touch with the world - real stories, real scenes, real people are in them. All of them are crafted just so. And the music is just as impressive. Especially those early 80s songs - the lush Rickenbacker guitars, Mike Mills' bass lines, his backing vocals, the steady, relentless propulsion - they are so good.

So it's time for the top ten - and another reminder of how horribly arbitrary these lists are. I mean - I like these groups because I like them! everything they do - their basic sound, style, the things they do, that make them who they are. So - yeah, maybe I can pick out 5 or 6 that are better, somehow, obviously necessary on a top ten list - but after that? something like "Moral Kiosk" come up on shuffle and I stop to listen cause I haven't heard it in years and think, this is not a song that I would think to include in a top ten, but - you know... if this was the best REM did, I'd still have most of their records, wouldn't I? That probably goes without saying - if the best thing The Who ever did was Eminence Front or Squeeze Box or Naked Eye, I'd have been a fan...

But that's not helping me now. Okay: I don't know if this 10 is better than the next 10 (beyond the top 6 or 7) but - I do have to resist the temptation just to put 5 each from Reckoning and Fables. That's not quite fair to the rest of their career, which has an awful lot of good work - but I have to say, I was completely besotted with those records, and it comes back every time I hear them now... But I did it with the Beatles - I can do it for REM!

1. Driver 8 (this is another of the all time great songs)
2. Little America
3. Life and How to Live It
4. Pretty Persuasion
5. Try Not to Breathe
6. Catapult
7. 7 Chinese Brothers
8. South Central Rain
9. Country Feedback
10. Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)

...though that leaves off Don't Go Back To Rockville - that can't be right... I don't know. Whatever. Video!

Picking videos isn't any easier than picking the songs. They are well documented on YouTube - lots of excellent live footage out there. What can I do? I tried to find their American Bandstand performance, but had no luck - I think I remember it - band in shadow, Stipe with headphones on, buzzing away.... This will have to do - on Letterman, network TV debut and all that... YOu can see some of the group dynamic at work - Mills and Buck showing their composure, Stipe hiding, Bill Berry waiting patiently behind the kit...

And while we're on the Reckoning - here's 7 Chinese Brothers:

Though this - we have to have this. Same show, here's two (2) train songs! You can never have too many train songs.

And since it can't all be from the early days - Country Feedback:

Though I have to stop somewhere - so I will end here: Little America. The biggest wagon is the empty wagon is the noisiest... they were so goddamned young!

Friday, January 03, 2014

Music 2013

Happy first Friday of the new year! It is a happy day for me - big ass blizzard outside has shut down the city so here I am sitting at home. (I'm not sure why the city is shut down - there is not that much snow down, 10-12 inches - I think it is a new thing, cities, and businesses, shut down quicker, stay shut longer, trying to make sure things are working again before loosing the public on the world. Businesses can get away with it because of technology - people work from home anyway, a bit of snow doesn't have to change anything. 20 years ago - 10 even - you could get 2 feet of snow [over a couple days], and the office stayed open. I don't mean to pass judgment - but it is an under-remarked change...)

Enough of that (for now - I plan to go out in a bit, walk around, take some pictures, maybe post them...) I will spare you another year of snow songs - since this is the first Friday of the new year, and the time for a best of 2013 post.

Which, I am sorry to say, is almost completely pointless. It's been that way for the last couple years - it is odd; I go in cycles of listening to music - this is a down cycle, and it's lasted a while now. I don't know if this year was as bad as last year - I did spend a fair amount of time listening to music for my band of the month posts, and bought quite a bit of music for that (this was a year I ended up buying a lot of things I have on vinyl from iTunes) - I didn't buy much new, though. 17 records, I think it is - but unlike last year, I think I managed to listen to them. Most of them. At least once. I think.

So this isn't anything like a real list or rank or anything else - it's just naming some names - the records I did listen to, some of them quite a bit, that made an impression....

1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away: this one I listened to a lot - not surprising, I suppose, as I have become a passionate fan of Nick Cave lately - of current Nick Cave, too - I got plenty of records by old favorites this year (Richard Thompson; Pere Ubu - those two about as favorite as it gets), records I like well enough, but that aren't really at the top of their body of work. But Cave - for the past 15 years or so - just keeps getting better and better. I didn't love Nick Cave in the 80s, and don't really love 80s Nick Cave even now - but I love 2000s Nick Cave, almost all of it. This is no exception. Great record.

2. Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady: I don't think this made as much an impression as Archandroid, but - still - damn, it's catchy, and clever, smart, writing - likely to hold up as the best thing of the year (along with the Bad Seeds: they are on top of their game.)

3. Grant Hart - The Argument: this is an odd one - based on Paradise Lost - um, okay. It's not bad though - I've listened to it a couple times, the songs come up on shuffle a couple times, and it's really rather cool. And - you know - having someone like Hart come back, make new music, now - makes me very happy.

4. Richard Thompson - Electric: these latter day Richard Thompson records tend to all sound alike to me - they fade into one another - the songs fade into one another... but when you listen to them, you know, somewhere in there, you are going to hear the best guitar playing of the year. With a couple big guitar solos that leave you helpless.

5. Pere Ubu - Lady from Shanghai: an odd record, all electric beeps and burps and David Thomas mumbling in his way... it's not quite vintage Pere Ubu, but it's a fascinating record, as they always are.

And? that's about all I have - there are a couple records here I have to listen to to judge, though I expect I would like them if I gave them the attention they deserve (Sigur Rus; Melvins; Neko Case; My Bloody Valentine) - records I feel guilty about not spending enough time with. Others - Lee Renaldo's record, MBV - I liked enough, though I can't quite say more.

Enough. The truth is, I wallowed in nostalgia this year, when I did listen to music - so... until things change (and I expect it will - my music listening runs in cycles, and there is bound to be an up cycle sooner or later) these kinds of posts will have to be pretty perfunctory. I'll leave you with 5 songs that I made a point of listening to more than once, then some video.

1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - We No Who U R
2. Janelle Monae - Dance Apocalytic
3. Richard Thompson - Good Things Happen to Bad People
4. Grant Hart - The Argument
5. Lee Renaldo & The Dust - Blackt Out

Video - Nick Cave:

Thompson, live:

Janelle Monae - the hardest working woman in show business:

Thursday, January 02, 2014

2013 Films

Another year done... 2013 was kind of an off year for me and films - I didn't see all that many (though I think I beat 2012, which kind of surprises me) - and wasn't exactly overwhelmed by the ones I did see. It certainly seemed that there were a lot more weeks this year than usual where I didn't care if I saw any new films or not. Strange. But now at the end - it's not a bad collection. Actually, in terms of movies I saw in theaters this year - a rather strong year, though a lot of it was because the stragglers from 2012 turned out to be very good.

And - I do wonder how much of my general negative attitude toward this year's films comes from my inability to do a lot of writing about new films. I have completely lost the habit of reviewing new films, even in capsules - a habit I need to try to get back... I did a lot more writing about old films, whether associated with my directors series, or with the Wonders in the Dark's Western Countdown - certainly, Japanese films and Westerns made a lot more impression on me than the new stuff.

But that's still not quite fair. I look at the list below, and realize there were some very good films out this year. And quite a few good films beyond the 25. (Of course that might be a result of cutting back on film going - being even more careful than usual to only go to films that I know I will be impressed by. Though that takes a lot of the fun out of it - takes the chance of being surprised away, which is a shame. I have to work against that.) Okay - that is enough. Here then - the best films I saw, that were released commercially, in Boston, in 2013:

1. The Act of Killing
2. 12 Years a Slave
3. Blue is the Warmest Color
4. Beyond the Hills
5. 56 Up
6. Apres Mai
7. Tabu
8. Inside Llewyn Davis
9. Like Someone in Love
10. Computer Chess
11. Stories We tell
12. The Hunt
13. Ain't them Bodies Saints
14. Post Tenebras Lux
15. Much Ado About Nothing
16. Night Across the Street
17. Frances Ha
18. Mud
19. The Great Beauty
20. No
21. Ginger and Rosa
22. Upstream Color
23. Before Midnight
24. Enough Said
25. I Used to be Darker

And now - though it's early, of course - the best films dated in 2013:

1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Blue is the Warmest Color
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
4. Computer Chess
5. Ain't them Bodies Saints
6. The Great Beauty
7. Upstream Color
8. Before Midnight
9. Enough Said
10. I Used to Be Darker

Finally, a look back at 2012 - which is retrospect, looks a lot stronger than I thought. I remain completely sold on those top 2 films - 2 of the best of the century. But there's a lot of depth there too. Good year.

This was my immediate top ten for 2012:

1. Moonrise Kingdom
2. The Master
3. Barbara
4. Killing them Softly
5. Lincoln
6. Django Unchained
7. Compliance
8. The Central Park Five
9. Keep the Lights On
10. How to Survive a Plague

And retrospectively:

1. Moonrise Kingdom
2. The Master
3. Amour
4. The Act of Killing
5. Beyond the Hills
6. Barbara
7. 56-Up
8. Apres Mai
9. In Another Country
10. Tabu
11. Like Someone in Love
12. Stories We Tell
13. The Hunt
14. Zero Dark Thirty
15. Post Tenebras Lux
16. Much Ado About Nothing
17. Killing them Softly
18. Night Across the Street
19. Lincoln
20. Frances Ha
21. Mud
22. Ginger and Rosa
23. No
24. Django Unchained
25. How to Survive a Plague