Blastitude 9
ISSUE 13    FALL 2002
page 10A of 16

      

 

MUSIC FOR NEIGHBORS by Jared Stanley

 


A BRIEF BUT IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM THE CHIEF

"I believe people have taken a step back and asked, `What's important in life?' " Mr. Bush said. "You know, the bottom line and this corporate America stuff, is that important? Or is serving your neighbor, loving your neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself?" (from the New York Times)


WAY DOWN IN THE HORRID COUNTRY

THE CERAMIC ISLES: Gridfarce by Lamplight (OMNIBUS)
This is an excellent album. Excellent songs, excellent production. Basically, itís one of those rare things that come along and you kind of have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what it means. This is hyperbole only in the sense that this bandíll be ignored by lots of people for a couple of reasons. A) They had to change their name a few months ago from "The Cave-ins" to the new moniker (that Cave-In band, which probably sounds like Nine Inch Nails, sent out a cease and desist order. Call it independent and DIY if you want...) B) Most people will get sidelined by trying to compare the band to the Beachwood Sparks or Grandaddy or sumthiní, which is pretty insane really, cause they ainít poseurs and they ainít really indie rock. There are superficial similarities to older Cali indie bands, especially in the whiff of pot smoke that starts coming out of the speakers when you put this thing on. But they are real classicists at heart. The group sounds like a sublime and spastic mix of Spector, Creedence, The Velvets, and the Band, just kinda wearing each otherís undies and checkiní out the water that they spilled on themselves.
       The lyrics are pure California stoner. "The Undertakerís" lyrics include such gems as "living life is not supposed to be/so hard and important." Now initially, it sounds like a song about fucking off, but the chorus of "baby baby letís get messed up" gets turned around in the last refrain "baby baby letís get grown up." What I like so much about this switch up is, while the delivery remains casual, itís an acutely ambiguous statement. Is growing up getting messed up, or is growing up the inevitable clichť at the end of the Rock lifestyle? I asked the singer, Luke Top about this and hereís what he had this to say for the song: "Eventually, if you systematically create a false world for yourself and others, you become a mockery, an artificial hangnail...This song is, i guess, trying to deflate the notion of false escapism and attempting to find a purifiying trail of lightness." That said, the lyrics are delivered with such nonchalance that it sounds like Top can see both sides of the issue.
        The producer, Marc Sanchez, has done an excellent job on this thing. Everything is soaked in reverb, except the croaky two-part harmony singing, which is up front like those old Rod Stewart records. There is a wonderful moment in "Aliens or Emotions" where the song speeds up, and slows back down. During the slowing down section, it sounds like ten Fender spring reverbs being kicked and jostled around while a delay pedal manipulation or feedback or something whistles high on top. Alright! Just like the Jesus and Mary Chain! Little touches like this blow away most of the shit covered in Tape Op.
        Anyway, the group is on tour in the east right now, and this is a show that should not be missed. Slide playing with a screwdriver, faux-epilepsy, goofy fuck ups, red tiger striped Ray-Bans. This is an excellent band!

 

A POINT IN EVERY DIRECTION IS THE SAME AS NO POINT AT ALL

NILSSON: The Point (RCA, 1970)
click here to really see the needlePOINT workYet another installment of "why the fuck didnít we listen to records from the 70ís sooner?" Ah Nilsson. I guess you wouldnít exactly call him a genius Ė maybe Ďexpertí is more appropriate. As a songwriter, he was the source of the best ("One" by Three Dog Night) and the worst ("Coconut" etc.) but at many many points in between he was the kind of artist that made brilliance look easy. With an amazing voice that rivals B. Wilsonís for sheer acrobatic flexibility, and a penchant for elliptical career moves, Nilssonís body of work is another one of those great bargain bin discoveries that make you have faith in the bottomless well of American music. (Or as Dolman put it, thereís always the 70ís.)
       The Point is a great lost pop concept album. Not as thematically sloppy as either Sgt. Pepperís or Smile (or 2112 for that matter) it is simultaneously more and less ambitious than either of those recordís explorations of childhood. A song cycle interspersed with Nilssonís fabulous narration, the record is the story of Oblio, a child who grows up in the land of Point, and is the only kid (and indeed only thing) in the whole town that doesnít have a point (on the top of his head.) Oblio gets mixed up in some shit with a rich kid, and the rich dad pulls some "Fortunate Son" shit on him and the next thing you know, he and his dog Arrow are banished to the Pointless forest, where they have many adventures and discover that The Pointless Forest actually has many points. But all those points they point in many directions. They encounter The Rock Man who puts it this way (in a hilarious phased jjive turkey voice): "You see what you want to see, and you hear what you want to hear." This whole "Point" pun/metaphor is kind of silly, Iíll grant. But, more than either Sgt. or Smile, this record was really intended for kids, and I figure it must have been really confusing to be a kid in the cultural fallout of the early 70ís.
       Although this description makes it sound heavy handed, part of the careful crafting of the album is that the actual lyrics of the songs, while referring to the basic plot of the story, are also completely independent, augmenting the narration while not really being tied to the plot. For example, after Oblio and Arrow have been banished to the Pointless Forest, Nilsson sings the following song, "Think About Your Troubles:"

Sit beside the breakfast table
Think about your troubles
Pour yourself a cup of tea
And think about the bubbles

Itís this light touch that makes the record such a gem. But thereís more. Some copies of this album come with a comic book illustrating the exploits of Oblio and Arrow. The illustrations seem to owe something to the Yellow Submarine, which makes sense cause, you know, Nilsson was buds with all those Beatles. (Voorman was his bass player for awhile, John produced one of his records, and Ringo was his drummer for a bit.) In addition, an animated movie was Movie of the Week on ABC in 1971 w/Dustin Hoffman narrating (Subsequent versions have Ringo S. and Alan Thicke(!!!) narrating. There donít seem to be any movie versions w/Nilsson though.) There seems to be some kind of "The Point" cult out there too. Colby (of B. Connís band) said his mom turned him onto it, and there are a coupla websites dedicated to the dynamic duo of Oblio and Arrow. It all kind of reminds me of Devo in a way. A subversive message in multiple media formats, but minus all the overt intellectual shit.
       This record is another great digresson in a career filled with them, from a record of Randy Newman covers to the Soundtrack to the live action Popeye movie. Absolutely wonderful life affirming shit, and a great needlepoint cover by Karen Torrance, Mrs. Dean Torrance. (Thanks to the Harry Nilsson web pages http://www.harrynilsson.com/ for some of the facts about the movie.) http://www.jadebox.com/nilsson/thepoint.html (funny graphics)

 

OTHER SHITS (AND GIGGLES)

PAUL WESTERBERG: Stereo/Mono (VAGRANT)
A few months ago I got ahold of a copy of the Wall Street Journal, and it carried an article about indie labels trying to bag bigger artists for their "stables" (I wonder what Bob Nastanovich thinks of that term.) Anyway, to make a long story short, they mentioned this record and referred to the artist as "Mr. Westerberg." Ha! As anyone who follows this sort of thing probably knows, it has to be a pretty dry spell for a new Paul Westerberg record to be news, but fuck, about half of this double set is pretty convincing(!!!) So, itís two records, one by Westy, and one by his rock n roll alias, Grandpaboy. (The 1997 Grandpaboy EP remains Paulís best post-Mats release.) From the first disc, there are about four songs out of twelve that are good (five if you include the unlisted cover of Flesh For Luluís Ď88 vintage "Postcards From Paradise"), the best of those being the chilling "We May be the Ones" and a cover of a Burl Ives song "Mr. Rabbit," which has that off the cuff charm weíve needed for so long around here.
       "We May" is reallly really really intense w/great, sad Dylanesque lines like "Smoked cigarette butts from your brotherís green helmet/who fought in that war there where everyone lost/and they taught him to pour/coffee in napalm/trade in his storm for an intense calm/that just wonít let him be" Ė Amazing and unexpected in a world where lyrics, if they matter at all, are generally overblown or real vague. Songs like this are at a premium these days, especially considering that itís really taken Paul about a decade and a half to pull anything this good out of his bag. Anyway, itís wonderful, and the whole record may be worth this one Ė God knows most of the other tracks ainít this good, since Westerbergís habit of turning clichés inside out has become a clichť itself.
       The main problem with the album are a lack of melodies, and an overabundance of a weird hermetic self-pity, which really isnít that surprising to those of us whoíve been paying attention. Thatís a real problem, and it probably isnít going to go away.
       But then thereís Grandpaboy. It sounds like a shitty version of Rod crossed w/the X-pensive Winos. In other words, itís better than anything indie, thrillingly cavalier, and also pretty great. Titles like "Knock it Right Out" and "Kickiní The Stall" pretty much set the mood. Ah, thank god for no-brainers! (And fuck you if you didnít like Andrew W.K. cause you couldnít THINK of a good reason to Ė if you donít like Def Leppard, why are you reading Blastitude?) [Hysteria=album of the century. I'm serious. -- ed.] Anyway, Iím not going to say it sounds like the Replacements. But itís good, and the fact that he (as Grandpaboy) interrupted the guitar solo while playing "Silent Film Star" on Letterman to zip up his jacket pretty much gives you an idea how much Westerberg gives a shit at this point.

THE MOSQUITOES: Killing The Country (CD-R)
This group is made up of current and former members of Kissing Book, Poundsign and The Bright Lights, and to my mind, theyíre better than all three. I saw them in San Francisco last year, and they really didnít do it, but then I saw them at the Hideout in Chicago last May and well, it was pretty incredible. Drew played a purple Rickenbacker, and the Chewb walked up to me during the set and yelled "Fuck! Sounds like the Buzzcocks!" which is good I think. They were really excited to be playing, and Frank, the bassist, had a big cut on his head from the previous nightís show, which was a result of something called Beer Olympics. Right. So, this cd-r is pretty good Ė absolutely no production values (sounds like they recorded practice on a 4-track and put some reverb on it) but the songs by and large are incredibly catchy and energetic (Buzzcocks) or like old REM outtakes or something. The first song sets the mood with the chorus "Weíre just a bar ban-uh-ha-hand!" (Bar Band) with surfy bass and an out of tune guitar. The whole thing is kind of has a recurrent Buddy Holly sound to it too, which is really nice, and is thankfully bereft of any excessively twee moments, so thatís good. A very good, very melodic, very thrashed out little record. Iím not sure how you could get ahold of this thing, but if I find out Iíll let you know.

TRACKSTAR: Lion Destroyed The Whole World (BETTER LOOKING)
I was really surprised at how much I love this record. Iíd heard their other records, which just seemed like very by-the-numbers noisy pop with kinda lazy arrangements. Oh, but this record is a beast of a different (s)tripe. Clearer production and the influence of Amy Linton seem to be doing these guys some good, as the songs seem more fully realized and melodic. Wyatt Cusick, who is also guitar player and sometime songwriter in the Aislers Set, is the primary songwriter here, assisted by Matthew Troy, who sings about a third of of the tunes. Wyattís songs are pretty much all excellent, especially "Goodbye to the Dream" and "Something To Do" which are both exercises in taut, economical songwriting (the former clocks in at 1:56). Not quite the Minutemen, but all very tightly controlled without sounding anal. As for Troy, his songs are a bit less good, at times sounding very mid-90ís indieÖnot exactly a good thing. The superb exception to this is "Cross Country" which sounds like a very repetitious version of Television, with crystal clear guitar and all that shit. Iíve seen this band three times this year, and each time theyíve been better than the previous. At the latest, Wyatt and crew (this time including one of the dudes from the Masters of the Hemisphere) broke into "Just What I Needed" and followed it up with "1963" by New Order, totally sloppy and just goofing off. Not quite a summer album, itís more like a September album, kind of an ought two version of "Girl Donít Tell Me."

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Amos House Collection II (WISHING TREE)
This is a benefit comp, which benefits from one of the ugliest covers Iíve seen lately. I got hold of it cause thereís a new Aislers Set song on it, and I was impatient. That particular song is pretty great for being so damn heartbreaking. This track ("Saraís Song") took awhile to sink in, but I guess good shit is mostly like that. It begins with what sounds like Carol Kaye playing on an Throbbing Gristle record or something, and then very quickly gets this nice melodic jazzy (and out of tune) piano part going. Quite nice. The rest of this disk has a couple of good tracks on it, but for the most part, ainít really doing it. Thereís a fantabulous cover of the Aislersí "Red Door" by Aden which has incredible chicken-pickiní by our guitar friend Kevin Barker (who told Dolman that he "shredded" when they played together a while back) who is also Currituck County. It sounds like a goddam ho-down out on the porch! The only other good song on the whole thing is this intriguing disco song by Spoon called "Everything Hits at Once." I tried really hard to listen to the Bright Eyes song, since some of my associates are fairly fond of this fella, but hell, it ainít poetry, just kind of whiny and angsty. Oh well. I think the comp is for a good cause, and the fact that the Aislers are on it is reason enough to go get it. But be careful, there are a whole bunch of faux-Mark Kozeleks on it.

 

BLASTITUDE #13

next: Fiend Records