MUSIC FOR NEIGHBORS
by Jared Stanley
A BRIEF BUT IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM THE CHIEF
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)
DOWN IN THE HORRID COUNTRY
CERAMIC ISLES: Gridfarce by Lamplight (OMNIBUS)
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 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
POINT IN EVERY DIRECTION IS THE SAME AS NO POINT AT ALL
The Point (RCA, 1970)
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
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
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
SHITS (AND GIGGLES)
WESTERBERG: Stereo/Mono (VAGRANT)
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
MOSQUITOES: Killing The Country (CD-R)
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.
Lion Destroyed The Whole World (BETTER
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."
ARTISTS: Amos House Collection II (WISHING
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.
next: Fiend Records