December 2007

December

1. THE MAKE UP — Do You Like Gospel Music
Formed from the ashes of Nation of Ulysses, Ian Svenonius once again fronts an explosive, expressive, sexual band. This album, 1998’s “In Mass Mind”, came later on in their musical/political efforts, 2 years before the end of the band’s 5-year career. Still, however, this track in particular captures for me the way that this band was able to sermonize; call and expect (and get) audience response. When he said “…don’t just stand there staring at me…get on your knees, please” — people did it. Psychologically captivating, the band used their self-made genre of “Gospel Yeh-yeh” to rise above the times’ norms of lackluster rock and indie rock and digital music — and express the hell out of themselves while also welcoming onboard newcomers to their philosophies of anti-American capitalist culture. Shows were dirty and sweaty, a punk-soul-gospel-French ye-ye revival, existing solely to use the audience as the band’s “fifth member” and to destroy that invisible fourth wall that divides stage from viewers. They’ve been favorably compared to MC5 and criticized as “(sounding) like any other guy trying to impersonate James Brown in his underwear blasting the stereo” — but if you want a religious experience with screams and falsetto and rip-the-roof-off/rip-my-clothes-off energy, this is the band for you.

2. CHARLIE DON’T SURF — Number 7
I have to assume that this band, out of Michigan, took their name from an Apocalypse Now quote. I don’t know much else about them — their MySpace tells about them individually but not as a group (and I’m not so sure that the bios are even true, haha). What I can tell you about them (personally) is that I chose them for this month’s mix because this song seems to embody this winter for me. This was my first month in Portland and I heard this song and had to include it. It’s a new level of gloom — things aren’t so bad but they’re not so good, either. Everything is new and I am in flux and I feel like I haven’t been settled in months. I am an emotional gypsy. I hear this on my headphones when I’m walking in the misty rain and I hear the levels of emotion involved and I’m drawn in. When the lead singer sings, it’s pouty and throaty; reaching out. It’s intense in its simplicity and leaves me wanting more, like as with an unavailable lover. Oh yes. The best kind of hurt; that longing is there.

3. LOU REED — Street Hassle
Leaving 2007 behind with Lou Reed is a comfortable decision for me to make. While I’ve known it for a long time, I listened to it all year, however many times in however many situations and it always struck me differently each time. I’ve had tripped-out fantasies, creative bursts, cathartic crying jags…the tone and lyrics make me think. There’s not much I can say about an artist so great and so evolving as Lou Reed that hasn’t been said already; that you don’t already know. This poet, this former Velvet Underground frontman — he outdoes himself in this 10-minute epic track that closes out the album of the same name. I feel a little cliche putting him on a mix at all — but it surprises me how little people know about this song at all; so many folks don’t know it exists or haven’t given it a chance — and must, in my opinion. While recently talking with Dave Provost (former bassist for Dream Syndicate), we both agreed that of all the rockers and celebrities we’ve come across, Lou Reed would be the one to top them all. While I’ve met my fair share of the famous, that’s pretty huge, coming from a man whose band was once called “the next Velvet Underground” and who once spent a morning with Andy Warhol and had many, many happy days with The Ramones. In all circles and on all levels, Lou Reed has made quite the impression.
Fun fact: Bruce Springsteen is uncredited on this track. He sings the first part of the third “chapter” of the song (8:56-9:30). Post “Born To Run” — this contribution is meant to represent the dark, perhaps ugly other side of rock that he turned away from.
Fun fact (though not as cool, just funny): My cat’s full name is Sexy Sadie Lou Reed, but I just call him Sadie Lou. Ha. What a homage, right?

4. PETRA HADEN — I Can See For Miles
It’s probably important to mention, before launching into the solo talents of violinist Petra Haden, that she is one of the triplet daughters born to legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden. Her family’s involvement in music, with each child mastering a different instrument (allowing them to play together, and they did, in a few forms — namely That dog. and The Haden Triplets, and with brother Josh fronting the band Spain), probably made it nearly impossible for Petra to go in any other direction but music — but she is obviously and luckily in love with this lifestyle that has afforded her so much success. She has contributed on albums and performed with onstage with bands like Beck, The Decemberists, Green Day and Victoria Williams, and is currently rehearsing with The Foo Fighters for their upcoming acoustic tour, where she will be singing and playing violin. Now: as for this particular project — bassist Mike Watt suggested this challenge to Petra, giving her an 8-track cassette with only 1 track filled in. Petra took the cassette and arranged “The Who Sells Out” in its entirety, for a cappella vocals — filling in the cassette for a total of 8 parts. It’s an unusual and particularly outstanding project to take on. Having done Madrigal choir back in the day, I do realize how important it is for the vocals to be perfect and for everyone to be able to hear each other and know their part and be perfectly in tune — I listen to this arrangement of the Who’s “I Can See For Miles” and find it so impressing. Says Wikipedia: “Funded in part by a Durfee grant and wanting to perform the work live, Haden created a new arrangement of “The Who Sells Out” for a ten woman a cappella choir…” Check out Petra Haden & The Sellouts on YouTube premiering this album/track for the first time live, at Los Angeles’ Ford Amphitheatre in 2005 (Sorry, no embedding, boo). Just watch her — she is so proud and is having so much fun. It’s nice to see an artist so obviously inspired by the work they are doing.

Also check out Pete Townshend’s take on this project here, in an old Boston Globe article.

5. INXS — The Strangest Party (These Are the Times)
Unreleased on any studio albums, this track is a 1994 single that was released in conjunction with a Greatest Hits compilation. I dig the horns…and the fingerpicking in some places! I’d say it’s a difficult song to put in a genre, really. The Australian band scored a hit with this disc in the U.K., making it to #3, but in the U.S. it failed to even break the Top 100 (#112). Three years later, the man who wrote this song would be dead of autoerotic asphyxiation…and a decade later the band decided to replace Michael Hutchence via the “Rock Star” reality television show…

A sad end for the original INXS, in my opinion (yes, Hutchence’s death, but also the reality show — wtf). They wouldn’t even be included on a Mixtress mix if not for the fact that this song earns its place with its sinister and catchy nature.

6. SAMBASSADEUR — Subtle Changes
Named for a Serge Gainsbourg song, these Swedish twee popsters make me happy. This is a single that came out in August, in preparation/advertisement for the October record, “Migration” (on the Labrador label). There’s nothing too unusual about this band, I’ll admit: they met in college in the normal way — first there were two, then they invited some friends to come along and join in and those friends did and so…here they are. With Anna Persson primarily the vocalist for the band, sometimes the boys (Daniel, Daniel and Joachim) step up for a whole different sound. I like most about them is that they are able to mask depressing, shoegazer lyrics with upbeat, illusory melodies — but then they surprise with just the opposite! Check out “Migration” to hear how their sound has matured over the last few years, and this time with the help of that producer of Dungen fame, Mattias Glava.

7. VAMPIRE WEEKEND — A-Punk
Well, I forgot the dash in the liner notes, oh well. “A Punk” vs. “A-Punk”. Might as well admit my mistake upfront…I have to stop doing that, ha, meaning make mistakes. Every month it’s something with me, isn’t it?

This NYC-based quartet met at Columbia University and made an explosive debut without even having recorded an album — they rose to popularity through music blogs like Ear Farm and Stereogum. Their music is a really interesting mix of indie rock and Afro-pop…I found out about them through my music-minded friend, Antonio, who linked me to their MySpace with the one-line e-mail: “Is this band for real?” Their outward preppy appearance is not what you might expect from a band that proves itself over and over masters of the self-created styles “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”, “Upper West Side Soweto”, “Campus”, and “Oxford Comma Riddim.” It’s fun and bouncy and completely serious in its casual nature. Easy to harmonize to, listening to them makes me feel like I’m 12 and discovering ska all over again. The woodwinds and the hard-hitting drums are more than at home on this track…and in general, I love that their songs all seem to be short, like any good and sassy song ought to be. Their first album, self-titled, will be released on XL Recordings on January 29th.
Show alert for PDX: they will be playing the Doug Fir Lounge on March 25th. That said, the band appears to be on tour to promote the new record, so there are many other tour dates scheduled (some with fellow New York rockers The Walkmen) so check their MySpace for other venues/cities!

8. THE DRONES — I Don’t Ever Want To Change
Off of the Aussie band’s fourth studio album, “Gala Mill”, this track is a tame representation of what this rock band can really do — but I love it all the same. I think a lot of this has to do with the setting in which the album was recorded — the band wanted the album to be completed outside of the tradition of a formal studio, and therefore laid down the tracks in an isolated 1840’s farmhouse/mill (hence the album title) on the east coast of Tasmania. The album reflects its setting in a very ethereal way, when one listens with this background knowledge in mind, it all makes sense. The best way to put this might be to say that it sounds like the record is haunted — between tracks one can hear strange, other-wordly sounds. It’s transporting and accurate, and also interesting that the band manage to keep true to their atonal, garage-y, unconventional and noisy sound while also bringing the location of the recording into the mix. Less energetic and more intense than previous albums, it’s raw, there are flaws, and it’s very clear that the band has worked their weary asses off to get to this point. About this song, the band say it’s about depression and the denial of it: “‘There’s a certain something about holding onto your blues, a certain integrity, but you gotta change and you often do, whether you mean to or not. Your self looks after your self.’

9. MCCARTHY — Should The Bible Be Banned
Another track never released on a studio album, this song by expired 80s band McCarthy questions whether the Bible approves of and encourages murder. It was the Barking, English band’s 6th single on the Cherry Red label, and I found it on a limited-to-5000 compilation of unreleased, deleted and obscure songs (and BBC session recordings) called “That’s All Very Well, But…” put out by Cherry Red in 1990, after the band’s breakup. Fiercely left-leaning, the band is most known for their lyrics that drip with satire and for the way they present them on sweet pop melodies. One of the littler-known early twee bands, McCarthy were influenced heavily by U.K. punk greats The Sex Pistols and The Buzzcocks but preferred the more indie, jangly sound to the jagged punk rifts. Two of the three founding members, Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier, went on to form London-based Stereolab in 1990.

10. STICKBOY — The Sounds That We Make
Singer/songwriter Stickboy, better known as Craig Edmondson, describes his sound as “a dream I once had”. He is wonderfully and painfully aware, polite and expressive, using the ephemera that life throws his way to create tight melodies and well-woven lyrics that he then records at home to keep the experience intimate. The resulting sound is in no way simplistic or obviously homemade, though…it bounces along happily with a McCartney voice infused with Devendra Banhart anxiety. He manages to brilliantly mix Americana, indie, modern folk and Britpop to create his signature sound of “rich infectious vocals on a bed of acoustic arrangements”. Stickboy has enjoyed an immense amount of success with the release of his demo “Odd Little Moments”, which immediately sold out in his Manchester, England hometown. He is currently using YouTube to introduce the world to his new efforts and assumedly audition pieces for what will hopefully become a future debut full-length album. Check out his cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” for a real treat.

11. FRYARS — HappY
The maturity of this song’s dark lyrics and the deep baritone voice mask the tender young age of frYars’ main man, 18 year-old Ben Garrett. Based out of London, here we have another XL Recordings darling, one who has mastered electropop in a true musician’s way of artistic merit vs. the insane focus on “danceability” that many electronic musicians these days have. Says Garrett about the philosophy behind his lyrics: “‘Nietzsche is presented or misinterpreted often as a negative force, despite being probably one of the more positive thinkers. He is tantamount to nihilism, yet nihilism is where we embrace life. We should think for ourselves, as far as we are able… this is probably Nietzsche’s greatest concern. At the same time, his writing is entertaining and full of art. This is what frYars is about, not doom and gloom.’ With one EP already out (“The Ides”), and another 4-song EP coming out in mid-March, frYars offers up buoyant piano compositions with a shot of swagger and is one to watch.

Ben Garrett

12. MECO — Grandes Conexiones
With the worldwide web seemingly freaking out over Italian-American music producer and “space disco” artist Meco, I can’t find a darn thing about this particular artist, who provides us with definite Portuguese rap. It’s just another example of my music collection being ridiculous and vast; I lose track of where things come from. That said, based on what I know of this business and sound, I’m guessing that the fiercely controlling classical rifts and barking lyrics are a product of DJ Vibe, aka Antonio “To” Pereira, a house music DJ from Lisbon. He’s put out 2 EPs under the name Meco (though neither of them contain this track)…anyway, I’m going with this theory, but it’s totally possible I’m wrong, ha. If anyone knows better, let me know!

13. THE ORANGES BAND — Sweater Weather
This band began on Morphius Records, but their nonstop touring, relentless energy and undeniable talent (combined probably with the fact that they are fronted by the ex-bassist of Spoon, Roman Kuebler), earned The Oranges Band a spot on Green Day’s original label, Lookout! Records. This track is off of Morphius’ 2004 “Two Thousands: $5 EP Plus 900 Miles of Fucking Hell And More” — an album that combines the band’s first two releases (2000 and 2002, respectively, and this song was originally on the “900 Miles” 5-track disc) to create one hell of a collectible disc, “further honing their taut, agit-pop sensibilities into off-kilter pop perfection. Ingenious hooks, great songwriting, and a super-charged performance.”
Fun fact: the cover art was designed by Kuebler (simple as it may be, it still counts as a “fun fact”!).

Two Thousands cover

14. SEBASTIEN TELLIER — La Ritournelle (Mr. Dan’s Magic Wand mix)
Simply put, this song changed my life. Featured in “Lost In Translation”, Sofia Coppola’s friend Sebastien Tellier has created a haunting, bliss-out track that breaks my heart every time I hear it. It was first a single (4-song album) of its own in the summer of 2005, pre-empting “Politics”, which came out in early 2006 and includes this track as well. To say “La Ritournelle” is classical, involved and innocently sexual is an understatement — to hear the song is like falling in love. I can’t describe it better than that. What I can do is share it with you…first the instrumental version (as the oh-so-French Tellier originally intended, as directed by Mr. Oizo) and then the Mr. Dan remix (which this mix features) with Tellier’s later-added lyrics.

15. LEONARD COHEN — The Stranger Song
“And then leaning on your window sill / he’ll say one day you caused his will / to weaken with your love and warmth and shelter / And then taking from his wallet / an old schedule of trains, he’ll say / I told you when I came I was a stranger / I told you when I came I was a stranger.”
Not unlike Lou Reed, it’s hard to say much about Leonard Cohen that you don’t already know. The Canadian-born, Jewish poet released this album, “The Songs of Leonard Cohen”, in 1968. It was his debut into the world of popular music and was received with a tremendous amount of praise, aside a few other greats (ie: Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and several others) who were making their post-folk forays at the same time. I will always think about my time in MA over the last few years when I hear this album and particularly this song. Laying on my back on the floor in my virtually empty Cambridge spare room, I would put it on the turntable every day after work last winter and listen to it all the way through (though I’d sometimes start with Side B), waiting for the boy who would never call, to call, waiting unknowingly in general for whatever the next step would be. It was a way to make time go by without crawling into bed and trying to sleep at 6pm. You might say I was depressed, it’s probably true. It’s one perfect way to end 2007; the “elder statesman” of the subgenre speaks to me like he’s speaking softly to nobody else — though ironically, everyone has this same experience. Goes well with whiskey or wine; an excellent pairing for sure…or maybe very much so not. But hey, maudlin’s not always a bad way to be.

UPDATE 12/13/07: Cohen will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 10th.
UPDATE 1/13/08: HOLY SHIT. A tour! Yes!!!

16. ROBERT WYATT — Memories
Here we have a Canterbury legend; founding member of the influential psychedelic band the Soft Machine, a man who unusually drummed and sang and who learned to drum from jazz great George Neidorf. In 1973, Wyatt fell from a third-floor window while at a party. The accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, and from then on he became a reflective, simplistically-styled solo artist, using keyboard melodies and effectively deep lyrics to create lasting, haunting results. This song, off of 1974’s double single (“I’m A Believer” and “Memories” on Side B), was originally written by the Soft Machine’s bassist, Hugh Hopper, a prolific songwriter in his own right. It was released 4 times by the Virgin label, with 4 different covers. Still active with music following an early 90s sabbatical with his wife in Spain, Wyatt was curator of the Meltdown festival in 2001, put out a solo album (“Cuckooland”) in 2003, and has collaborated with artists like Bjork in recent years.
Fun fact: “Recently the verb ‘Wyatting’… appeared in some blogs and music magazines to describe the practice of playing weird tracks on a pub jukebox to annoy the other pub goers. The name was coined by Carl Neville, a 36-year-old English teacher from London…. Robert Wyatt was quoted in The Guardian: as saying ‘I think it’s really funny,’ and ‘I’m very honoured at the idea of becoming a verb.’ However, when asked if he would ever try it himself, he said ‘Oh no. I don’t really like disconcerting people. Although often when I try to be normal I disconcert anyway.’

robert wyatt

17. LAURA BARRETT — Robot Ponies
Nerd pride! “Neurotic sci-folk for neurotic sci-folk”. Ha, ha. Happy holidays, everyone. What a way to end a mix, with Laura Barrett’s wintry, kalimba-laced, seriously hilarious “Robot Ponies”. Off of her first solo record, “Earth Sciences” (2005), this track was a hit in the underground indie community — and Barrett’s involvement with the garage/pop Toronto, Canada outfit Henri Faberge and the Adorables couldn’t have hurt a bit. “Earth Sciences” will be re-released on Paper Bag Records on February 25th, and in the meantime, find her second EP “Ursula” at Soundscapes stores in Toronto. Says her MySpace: “if you’re one of the 5.996 billion people who do not live in Toronto, please e-mail me at laurabarrettmusic (at) gmail dot com to figure out how to get your hands on it.”

“happy Hannu-kindness, Diwalegal drinking, Eid-ing lots of food, and X-massive presents by your Festivus pole!”

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: