Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"James Brown is Dead"

I"m sure every aging raver in the land did a double take when they heard that phrase for real on Christmas Day. I know I did, and I'm only good for the "aging" part of that particular job description.

Confession: I am actually writing this entry on New Year's Day, a full week after the sad news, and backdating it so it appears that I was a little more on the ball. But no matter when I finally got around to eulogizing the great man, I never could have composed anything as eloquent as the following blog posts:

*At the B Side, this very personal history of Brown's career, and
*this first-person account of the scene around the Apollo Theater this past weekend (both of which include, for the time being, MP3s of JB B-sides).
*The Fresh Air tribute to Brown, including interviews with the Godfather himself, the co-author of his autobiography, Maceo Parker, and Bootsy Collins.

I could swear there were more online tributes I've come across that I wanted to link to, but I'm having trouble remembering what and where they were now. That's what I get for not posting sooner.

Meanwhile, my personal tribute has taken the form of listening not so much to the classic funk stuff (or even to his wild Christmas album, which I kept meaning to pull out this past week, as I usually do every year), but to the 2-disc Roots of a Revolution compilation of earlier stuff. The party line on this material is that he hasn't quite found his unique voice yet, but I have no complaints whatsoever listening to him try and find it through r&b, countryish stuff, novelty songs, you name it. The track that stood out for me on this go-round was a silly/slang-y one called "That Dood It" that is pure fun. Not funk, just fun--and that's enough for me.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Xmas (War is Over)

Ho, ho, ho, everybody. I am still immersed in way too many projects to count, which cumulatively cut down on my blogging time, but here's a holiday entry to note a few seasonal matters before the season itself melts away like Frosty:

1. From the pages of Entertainment Weekly, here's an interesting chronicle of the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". I've always been struck by the melancholy tone of this ditty, which is significantly more pronounced in its debut appearance in the film Meet Me in St. Louis. The article points out that the earliest version of the lyrics were even more of a downer (opening line: "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last ...") until Judy Garland insisted that lyricist Hugh Martin lighten it up a little. Then Frank Sinatra had to come along and make the thing all happy happy joy joy.

2. For the last few years I've had a great time checking the MP3 blogs listed in that column over there on the right for holiday songs. Didn't get around to it this year till last night, but I found all kinds of stuff at Copy, Right? and Keep the Coffee Coming, plus a trippy extended "X-Mas Mix 2006" at Lemon-Red. Catch them all before they evaporate.

3. Finally, I have Beaucoup Kevin to thank for tipping me off to this sublime (and slightly melancholy) Pet Shop Boys appearance on some sort of Elton John holiday special from the year 2000:

Merry [holiday of choice], one and all!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ain't it funny how time slips away

Can it really be two and a half months since my last, essentially placeholding entry here? Dear lord! It's a miracle I haven't been removed from Jen's list of Buffalo bloggers, since a note at the top of that really helpful resource insists that "If you don't update at least once a month, then you're off the list."

(Speaking of Buffalo blogs, here's a new one I am happy to recommend: BolognaSnowflake, which is the work of my onetime student/oft-time collaborator/now longtime friend Katie Young. Check it out--it is the Essence of Katie, in handy online form!)

Do not for a moment believe that I have abandoned this here blog, gentle reader. Far from it--I continue taking pictures and making mental, sometimes physical, notes for entries I plan to write. It's only that I am so fucking busy every goddam day lately that there is no time left in the day to keep up with this thing as often as I would like. (Coming soon: my picks for the 2006 Ehmke[e] Awards, announced every year at Thanksgiving. But not tonight.)

Thought I'd try something different tonight and actually write something here while it's fresh in my mind. (Turns out there are things about music that I can quite easily get out of my head, after all...) I have been listening to a CD I just got in the mail today, DJ Ze Pedro's The Brazilian Remixes. It's a good points/bad points compilation of dance-y versions of songs by the likes of Clara Nunes, Elis Regina, Milton Nascimento, Joyce, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Caetano Veloso, Marcos Valle, etc.--in other words, some pretty heavy hitters. Some work (Adriana Calcanhotto's "Jogo Linguistico" is a trippy revelation), others don't (the world simply did not need a gay bar-friendly remake of Caetano's "Eclipse Oculto"), but the whole project is inoffensive, even mildly interesting throughout, and well worth the six bucks I paid for it.

Anyway, in my search for reviews or any other writing about the album or the DJ, I came up nearly empty handed except for this item, from a blog that was brand new to me: Made in Brazil: Contemporary Brazilian Music. (Not to be confused with this "Made in Brazil" blog, which consists largely of beefcake shots of hot Brazilian guys who have forgotten to wear shirts.)

From MIB I learned that ...
*Caetano has a new album out! (It appears to be available only in Brazil at the moment, judging from the price Amazon wants for it.)
*The New York Times ran an interesting story on Lenine back in August! ("American audiences might place his music midway between that of Ani DiFranco and that of Rage Against the Machine"--a weird but interesting comparison since he shares a publicist with Ani and she performed with him in Brazil a few years back)
*These podcasts (in Portuguese, but heavy on the music) are supposedly a really nice intro to recent Brazilian instrumental music!
*Brit DJ Gilles Peterson also has some free podcasts available that I bet are going to sound really great!

All things to check out in the near future. When life is calmer, and I do nothing but check out new music and share it with you nice folks.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Invisible Man

Contrary to all appearances, I still exist and will return to the blogosphere with a vengeance any day now. Well, not for at least another week, but then: watch out, world!

If you are inexplicably hungry for posts by yours truly, check the last few weeks of, thw blog pf the just-ended 2006 Buffalo Infringement Festival. This is the behemoth that (among other, slightly smaller behemoths) has consumed much of my life lately.

See you again, soon--promise!

Friday, June 30, 2006

London calling

Mea culpa.

Mere days after gently mocking the notion that Brazilian singer Cibelle could be lumped in with the "freak folk" movement, I actually listened to her new album, The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves, and I'll be damned if it doesn't kinda fit in after all. It's also pretty gosh-darned great, all around. I was skeptical because her self-titled debut album struck me as perfectly enjoyable but fairly innocuous School-of-Bebel dance-pop. The new one represents a giant step forward--much weirder, more idiosyncratic, and a lot catchier, if you ask me. (Sort of like the evolution from Bjork's days with the Sugarcubes and her first big solo album to the ones that followed.) The production, by Apollo Nove, is full of cool/quirky little touches that tickle your ears and play with your head, although beneath its occasional psychedelic flourishes, it's still a generally mellow affair. Special guests include Seu Jorge and Spleen, and there's a nice Tom Waits cover--in fact, roughly half the songs are in English, if you care about such things.

Given my generally lukewarm response to that earlier disc, I probably wouldn't have gotten around to this one so quickly if it weren't for this brief "Global Hit" spot on The World, focusing on Cibelle's cover of Caetano's "London London." First you hear his original, written during his enforced exile in that city in the early 70s, then her remake, a duet with freakfolk godfather Devendra Banhart celebrating her own time in the same town four decades later. The highly informative interview between the two versions is well worth a listen, despite a slightly confusing moment where it sounds like Cibelle is being put forth as a spokesperson for tropicalia, a movement that surely peaked before her birth. (When she says ""We're all just absorbing each other and playing together and experimenting, and it's all so nice," I have a feeling she's referring to the international scene in 2006, not Brazil in 1966, as the host implies.)

The album is available here to eMusic subscribers, and you can also find it via iTunes. The label, Crammed Discs/Ziriguiboom, is the place to check for several RealAudio samples and a charming video of "London London" as well as one for her cover of Nirvana's "About a Girl," available on an EP. (Watching the "London" video, I would in no way be surprised if Mr. Banhart starts popping up in indie features soon; he's a natural.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Freaks come out at night

The freakiest thing about this NYTimes story about the freak folk scene (that I discovered through this Boing Boing item) is its overall premise that this ultramarginal movement is So Two Years Ago and yet is now entering a second wave. I find this freaky because it seems safe to assume that 99% of America has never heard of Devendra Banhart or Joanna Newsom, and here's the nation's newspaper of record performing the twin tasks of
1. telling mainstream readers about those two, and also
2. hinting that they are now old hat, and there's a whole bunch of new superobscure folks to pay attention to instead. (Remind me again: when did the Times become N.M.E.?)

The story has a strong element of instant nostalgia--specifically, nostalgia for a music from 2004 that is itself grounded in a nostalgia for a completely mythologized version of the late 1960s based on records nobody listened to the first time around. Freeeeeaky! I learned a whole lot from the story, including these freaky fun facts:

1. Devendra briefly dated Lindsay Lohan!
2. Vashti Bunyan's lovely, delicate 1969 ballad "Just Another Diamond Day" is now in a T-Mobile ad--making her this year's Nick Drake, only she's still alive!
3. Both Cibelle and Juana Molina can be considered freak folkies (?)! Cibelle even theorizes it's an outgrowth of tropicália! ("It's not about genre, this new state of mind. Even if musicians don't know tropicália by that name, they are still making music that way, by intuition, without rules, following their own uniqueness.")
4. Sellout/backlash alert! "Virtually every major indie-rock label has embraced the style..." (Freak folk, meet emo. Emo, this is freak folk. I'm sure you two have a lot to talk about....)
4. Neil Young digs it, while old punk rockers don't!

As an old punk rocker and Neil Young-digger myself, I am of two minds about this phenomenon. Some of the (admittedly little) FF-identified music I've heard sounds like crap you could have heard at any open mike in a bar over the last 30 years or so and would never have paid a second's attention to without the name "freak folk" slapped on it. Let's just say songcraft is not always a high priority--self-editing, even less so. And, come on, neohippies have been with us since right around the time the original hippies got their first fulltime jobs. (The Times dubs 2006 "Summer of Love 2.0," which I guess means I must have hallucinated all those previous Second Summers of Love, like the one I read about in the mid80s, and then the one at the height of the rave era.)

On the other hand, I am really enjoying some of the stuff I've listened to, like 5-6 songs out of the 20 or so on each Devendra B. album I've heard so far. (God, I am coming across truly snide here, aren't I? I'm sorry, it's just my longstanding neohippiephobia. Though I must remind myself that, as someone in the article points out, true neohippies--the annoying ones--listen to Phish, not this stuff.) And I want to hear more. And a lot of the musicians quoted in the story have smart stuff to say. Oh, and don't miss the really nice slideshow featuring narration by the article's author, Will Hermes, images of several of the artists, and audio clips.

I recognized several of the up-and-comers Hermes mentions (Espers and Vetiver, for instance) from their appearances at Soundlab here in Buffalo over the last couple of years, and I've missed all of them, dammit.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Saturday Night at the Movies (again)

1. Just watched the movie Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, in which musician Jim White drives around the deep south looking for Guess Who. This entails trips to church services, bars, a prison, several service stations, and lots of swamps. Every several minutes there is a deliberately awkwardly staged musical interlude by someone like Johnny Dowd, the Handsome Family, or David Johansen. The fact that these folks hail from Ithaca, Chicago, and New York City, respectively, is never brought up. White does mention that he is originally from LA and doesn't feel entirely comfortable identifying as a southerner, but that doesn't seem to stop him from pontificating at length on the nature of religion and class below the Mason-Dixon line.

Pardon my skepticism, but the first hour or so is set in my home state of Louisiana, a place I'd like to think I know a thing or two about--although, I must now point out, I have not lived there for the last quarter century, which is one impediment to my own desire to address a camera from the wheel of a moving car spouting wisdom about the area.

This is a very frustrating movie, to put it mildly. The subject matter is fascinating, particularly in this era of supersimplified Red State/Blue State dichotomies (oddly, though, electoral politics is barely mentioned), and I was excited to see and hear all the musicians I named above, including White, and a bunch of locals I didn't know. Plus the film looks pretty. But it's just so damn contrived and condescending, and far too much of the dialogue feels scripted, and the end result feels like a bunch of big-city yankee hipsters slumming in the Exotic South for the amusement of others of their kind. (Hey, it caught my eye.)

2. It is possible that I found the movie even more annoying than I normally would have because I had just finished watching Celebration at Big Sur, a 1971 documentary about one of the many rock festivals that followed in the wake of Woodstock, and as flawed as it is, I still found it extremely moving on many levels. It's dated, in the best possible ways: truly a document of its time, from the headlining acts (Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, CSNY, John Sebastian) to the trippy camera work and editing. There are some really intriguing juxtapositions, like the point when a CSNY number ends, then Steven Stills gets into a near fistfight with a clearly stoned and obnoxious heckler, then there's a cut to someone saying the single word "money," then Stills in a calmer mood explains how wearing a fur coat onstage doesn't make one out of touch with The People.

The most striking thing about the movie when you watch it 35 years after the fact is the way it documents an event that could and would never happen today: the bands play on the grounds of the Esalen Institute, and the only thing separating the performers onstage from the crowd is ... a swimming pool. The acts hang out in the crowd watching the show when they're not playing, and almost everybody seems to sit in on each other's numbers. You really get the feeling a lot of them are making it up as they go. The whole affair feels more like a big party than a concert or festival. Needless to say, there are no corporate sponsors.

Gospel singer Dorothy Morrison and her group get several numbers; at one point Baez leads them on a mini-parade through the crowd. Seeing Morrison's music so prominently featured--and seeing the film end with everyone onstage singing a trancelike version of "Oh Happy Day"--it struck me that nothing like that would likely happen today, either.

Friday, June 16, 2006

She's my shoo-shoo

Strangely enough, it was this post at my new favorite Beach Boys news source that alerted me to this interview with Sérgio Dias of Os Mutantes on the website of Light in the Attic Records. (They've got the first 8 Mutantes albums at around $14 apiece! As well as a whole bunch o' Free Design CDs for $10 each!)

The bottom of the OM Q&A page lists several tropicalia-related links, which is how I discovered the many Mutantes videos (mostly TV appearances) available via YouTube right now. Here's the grooviest of the 4 I've watched so far:

Remember, there's plenty more where that came from.

And doesn't this upcoming documentary look like a must-see?

Sunday, June 04, 2006


The information overload must come to an end!

Until it does, though, I guess I'll just keep sharing the steady stream of incoming data that comes my way--like this podcast mix of baile funk (with a little M.I.A., postpunk, and Os Mutantes thrown in for good measure) courtesy of "Atari" at the blog Reasoner, and this earlier one of other favela faves.

I'm getting a little nervous that this stuff is going to go the way of lo-fi, riot grrrl, drum 'n' bass, IDM, mash-ups, and other grassroots movements of the last 10 years or so: small underground subculture attracts attention of slightly larger hipster crowd, flirts with mainstream recognition/appropriation (which offends the hipsters but never quite blossoms into largescale popularity), provides the soundtrack for a car commercial or two, flames out in a couple of years. But maybe that's not such a bad thing after all, just a condition of life in an oversaturated consumer culture. Here today, gone tomorrow. The high points of the movement become historical artifacts, the rest are forgotten--only to be resurrected for the inevitable revival by a whole new crop of scenesters 10 or 15 years later.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Just can't get enough

Between podcasts, DVDs by mail, and our pseudo-TiVo setup--on top of the usual range of books, magazines, CDs, and movies--I've been suffering from some major level Information Overload lately.

So I don't know whether to weep or scream upon the discovery of 23 cover versions of "God Only Knows" at an MP3 blog called My Old Kentucky Blog. Haven't heard most of these yet, but the artists involved include some old and new faves: Bowie, Elvis Costello, Petra Haden, Joss Stone, etc. Plus the very nice Mandy Moore/Michael Stipe version from the wonderful movie Saved!--which, by coincidence, I just happened to re-hear earlier in the day on this Coverville podcast.)

There's something to be said for experiencing so many variations on the same thing--part jazz experimention, part conceptual art project. I cherish the cassette a friend made me containing at least 10-12 (often wildly different) takes on "Sweet Jane," even if I can't exactly play it for anyone else without driving him or her out of the room.

Once I've had my fill of Beach Boys tributes, perhaps I will move on to MOKB's oh-so-obsessive collections of 17 "Girl from the North Country" versions (happy belated b-day, Bobby D) and a jaw-dropping 33 covers of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

Life truly is too short, is it not?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Hit that perfect beat #3: The beat of the (rest of the) world

As promised, here's another installment in my list of audio clips from the "Global Hit" portion of the PRI/BBC program The World. All of these are acts or subjects I'm interested in; some segments I've heard and some I haven't. Remember, there's a lot more where these came from. Happy listening!

Animal Collective + Vashti Bunyan
"Babalu" (history of the song--pretty interesting)
Back-masking in world music
Cape Verde musicians
Cibo Matto
The Clash's London Calling anniversary reissue
Dr. John
Gilles Peterson's BBC sessions
Gogol Bordello
Juana Molina (#1)
Juana Molina (#2)
Mercedes Sosa
Mulatu Astatqe (from the Ethiopiques series)
Rapa Iti (Tahitian mass choral chanting)
State of Bengal vs Paban Das Baul
Sublime Frequencies record label
Talvin Singh
Tango (a history)
Toronto's underground music scene (as a resident of a U.S. border town, it's fun to see Canadian rock treated as "world music")
Trans-Global Underground

The one on the right is on the Left

1. From Uncanny, a user-friendly guide to late-breaking Beach Boys news and gossip, word that the National Review has ranked "Wouldn't It Be Nice" as the Fifth Most Conservative rock song of all time. I'm especially interested in the designation of the songs as "most conservative" rather than "the best songs advocating a conservative ideology," if in fact that's what they do, (Not to ruin the suspense, but the Stones are at #3 with "Sympathy for the Devil," a choice that would probably come as a shock to any time-travelling right-wingers from the late sixties.) The full list won't be available for a few more days, but I've got my fingers crossed for Paul Anka and "Havin' My Baby" for the top honors.

2. All of which reminds me that I forgot to post a link to this Bush/Cheney parody set to the tune of the Boys' "Barbara Ann" when my friend first told me about it a few weeks ago. I had a whole lot to say about the video when I watched it, but I've lost the urge to vent for the time being.

What's weird about item #1 is blatantly obvious. (Again, I'm supressing the strong desire to go on about this for several thousand words. Feel free to do so yourself if you like; that's what the internet is for, right?) What's weird about item #2 is that it brings back unhappy memories of the last time I heard "Barbara Ann" become "Bomb Iran," way back during the hostage crisis that gave the world Ted Koppel--only back then it was being used by folks who thought the reworked title phrase was a good idea. In other words, it only had one layer of ironic distance, not two.

And I have to say, I can't really stomach either version. Not because they desecrate a timeless classic; I've always found that song fairly annoying, even more so now that I realize its early and key role in transforming the band from musical innovators into an oldies act. (People do tend to forget that the Beach Boys' rendition was itself a self-conscious/jokey/ironic cover version of an older song that already sounded quaintly dated when they recorded it.) No, the problem is just that the parodies are both so damn obvious, no matter what the agenda behind them and no matter how many levels of irony they invite.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Things I Found While Looking for Something Else, #3

Time again to follow the yellow brick road and/or hop on the blue highways of the information superhighway:

In my current quest for some way to download or buy CDs of Tetine's music, I thought I'd check some of the places listed in Entertainment Weekly's indispensible "25 Best Music Sites" feature, I checked out (among other likely but sadly Tetine-free suspects) ...

the cool-looking Lemon-Red MP3 blog, one regular feature of which is monthly mixes by guest DJs; the current one (hurry or the download will disappear) is a doozy by ....

•this cutie pie by the name of DJ Gorky, whom we are told is 1/3 of ...

•the group Bonde do Role, who have risen rather quickly from the Brazilian underground to one of Rolling Stone's "10 Artists to Watch" for their Tetine-like approach to funk carioca/baile funk, "pairing the biggest, dumbest samples ever with comically dirty shout-rapped Portuguese lyrics." I found that story, and much, much more about BdR, from ...

this site for the label Mad Decent, run by DJ/producer Diplo, who signed BdR and describes them bluntly as "middle-class kids who’ve appropriated the vocabulary of baile funk," according to this interesting, MP3-and-link-accompanied story on Diplo and his latest discovery in The Boston Phoenix.The article continues, "What they’re doing, he explains, sounds more like a funk-infused parody of traditional Brazilian music than the really dirty favela stuff. They’re fourth-wave baile funk, fans, not pioneers, and their new single is all about having fun with the music they grew up with." Which, again, reminds me of Tetine and helps to put their work in a context that makes sense to me. (Hearing both acts, I think of the way the Beastie Boys, another group of arty white middle-class postmodern kids, transformed themselves early in their careers from a hardcore band into a punk-y parody of a rap group and then into an actual rap group.)

My little adventure ended with three exciting revelations:

•As luck would have it, the first stop on Bonde do Role's upcoming U.S. tour with Diplo and Cansei de Ser Sexy is right here in lovely Buffalo, NY on Thursday, July 13 at the Calumet. Small world, no? (Additional venues listed at the Mad Decent site above.)

Another Diplo collaboration, this one with Brazilian multimedia artist Leandro HBL, looks pretty cool. (They're planning to shoot a documentary on the funk carioca scene next.)

•And check out this amazing series of podcasts featuring the up-and-coming sounds of cities like New Orleans (post-Katrina), Baltimore, Buenos Aires, and Rio, curated by Diplo, who accurately tags the concept as "NPR for the streets" (in the best possible sense). In their mix of audio documentary and genre-crossing multiculti music clips, they fuel my hunch that Mr. Diplo is looking like the David Byrne of a new generation--arbiter of hipster taste, go-to guy for adventurous Americans who crave a relatively safe taste of The Other, and by extension somebody a white middle-class music obsessive like me is gonna be paying a lot of attention to.

Next stop: the Calumet.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Me and the Devil

Saw the much-lauded documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston this weekend and I must add a few lauds (?) of my own. As a music film it's a treat--an in-depth study of a single artist's career, a touch of insight into the, er, "industry," and a few enticing indie-rock cameos (Butthole Surfers fans will not want to miss the footage of Gibby's dental work), but it's so much more than that. I've known more than my share of immensely talented, deeply disturbed artists over the years, and this portrait of a gifted musician whose mental illness makes him a major nightmare for his friends and family really hit home for me. Cliché or no, I laughed and I cried as Johnston's surreal. agonizing story unfolded.

I first heard about D.J.'s music in the late 80s, when he was making his first splash on a national level. (The movie leads me to believe that these splashes seem to occur once a decade or so, and Daniel becomes a cult hero all over again for a slightly different demographic. Sort of like Harvey Pekar, I suppose: first comes the work itself, then comes the media frenzy, then that dies down, then comes the movie about the work and the media frenzy, and the cycle repeats. I love the gallery owner in the film who points out that Johnston isn't an "outsider artist," he's about as "inside" as you can get. Hard to work that "outsider" tag when you have Matt Groening dropping by your dressing room before a show.)

I bought Yip / Jump Music on vinyl, though the sound quality was comparable to the cheapo cassettes on which it was originally recorded (and, we now know, endlessly rerecorded). I liked it a whole lot, and played it for open-minded friends (you have to be careful who you try this with), then decided it wasn't really necessary to plunge that much deeper into the hefty discography. The voice, the dinky keyboard, and the ultra lo-fi sound quality are all part of the story, but they get old, fast, which is why I will one day check out this star-studded tribute album. Many of the songs on Yip / Jump--especially "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances"--are quite powerful (and I've always found Daniel's pronunciation of "grieve-ee-an-ces" incredibly touching in a weird way), but I've never really bought the whole "Daniel is The Greatest Genius in Pop Music History" line.

I'm clearly not the first person to note that the problem with the Cult of Daniel is the fact that so many of its members either think he's a joke, or they buy into the romantic myth linking mental illness to divine inspiration. The movie flirts with both of those responses, but does a pretty good job of going deeper, too. I particularly appreciated the even-handed portrayal of pretty much everyone onscreen. Still, a good portion of the audience on all sides of me was laughing at a lot of stuff that just wasn't funny if you stop to remember that this is an actual human being we're talking about.

Fellow Beach Boys fans, take note: there's an interesting digression at one point when Johnston's mother compares her son's psyche and career with Brian Wilson's (though you kind of want to take her aside and say, "Uh, Mrs. Johnston, I think there are some better reference materials than Brian's alleged autobiography, which he never even read, and you really don't want to introduce your kid to Dr. Landy...").

By chance, the Sundance Channel just rebroadcast the Anton Newcombe/Brian Jonestown Massacre-vs.-Dandy Warhols doc Dig! for the umpteenth time, and I caught the opening minutes once again. Another chronicle of a ferociously talented loose cannon, and another must-see. But between these 2 movies, I think it's quite clear that I never, ever want to manage a band if one of its members is The Greatest Genius in Pop Music History.

PS. The amazing music subscription service eMusic not only has most of Daniel Johnston's recordings for sale, it's also got this handy guide to them annotated by the film's director, Jeff Feuerzeig. Yippee!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

There's a riot goin' on

The news from Sao Paulo does not sound good.

I wish I had something more articulate to say about the situation, but I freely admit I don't have much news. What I do have, though, are a few links on Brazilian culture and politics I've been meaning to post here for months. None of these are remotely recent, but they're all worth looking into. They may even shed some light on what's going on right now.

Photographer Geoffrey Hiller's gorgeous, incredibly detailed 2004 online slideshow (with music) called "Canto Do Brazil"
(I've only scratched the surface of this myself so far; it's like a visual and audio encyclopedia of the entire country, region by region.)
In his intro, Hiller notes: "According to a World Bank study, Brazil has the most unequal distribution of wealth of any country. The fifth biggest nation in the world, Brazil has a population of 180 million people. Approximately 24 million Brazilians live in extreme poverty and earn less than $1 a day while the minimum salary of $65 per month hasn't changed from when I lived there 25 years ago."

A January 2006 episode of the public radio show To the Best of Our Knowledge on the subject of "Evolving Cities"
(The first segment of the show features a piece on Robert Neuwirth's book Shadow Cities: A Billlion Squatters, A New Urban World [Routledge], discussing the favelas of Rio.)

The Global Voices international news blog/site's section on Brazil
(So far I see nothing on the riots here.)

A January 2006 NPR story on American farmers partnering with Brazilian farms

Monday, May 15, 2006

Q: Are we not men?

A: We are Bojo!

Just a quick note to bookmark this article by Andy Cumming on contemporary Brazilian experimental music from Perfect Sound Forever. Found it in my ongoing search for more on Tetine, whom I'm feeling quite enamored of these days.

They're mentioned, as are Anvil FX and Rica Amabis (both of whom I've enjoyed on compilations), along with tons of folks I've never heard of:

"Brazil has a hidden history of experimental music that is little known outside specialists. While Tropicália has been well documented, there have been numerous unsung innovators that are virtually unknown otherwise. In the seventies artists such as Walter Franco, whose experimental MPB verged on Dadaist sound, and Modulo 1000, with their grungy prog-psyche, released highly individual, and now collectable, albums. ... Now it seems there is a renaissance coming out of São Paulo. A crop of labels have recently appeared that want to exclusively release new and edgy national music to a market that has been increasingly isolated by unimaginative and bankrupt majors....""

The story ends with links to several small labels from the 90s-00s, so you can pursue the subject in greater detail--and bring home a little "deconstructivist faux-naive rock reminiscent of the Red Crayola" yourself.

I'm sure that will go over great with the neighbors.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Hit that perfect beat #2: The beat of Brazil

Time for one of those obsessive-compulsive projects that the Internet seems to encourage and facilitate: I have just spent a rainy afternoon meticulously poring over the last two and a half years of "Global Hit" segments from the PRI/BBC program The World cataloguing my favorite segments and several I've been meaning to catch up on. I always feel like I am in some way making myself a better citizen of the world by listening to this show, which reports on goings-on around the entire planet instead of just the English-speaking parts. But in reality, I usually only pay attention to the final five mintues, which focus on music. Thanks to streaming audio, and later podcasting, I can now head straight to that part and skip anything resembling actual news. There goes my Global Citizen of the Year award.

I'm going to break this down into two installments. This one catalogues all (or almost all) the episodes from January 2004 through March 2006 that focus on Brazilian music. One of the coolest things about the show is that it looks way beyond well-known artists and predictable genres, which means that alongside usual suspects like Bebel G, Caetano V, samba, and bossa, you'll find segments on death metal, klezmer, obscure instruments, and so on.

The program's podcast archive is a little clunky to search, so I'm listing these in alphabetical order (by first name, which is my own personal rebellion against the tyranny of language, or maybe just sheer perversity).

Anastacia Azevedo
Apollo 9
Baile funk
Bebel Gilberto
The Bezerra Family (Hanukkah music from Brazilian Jews living in New Hampshire)
Caetano Veloso on A Foreign Sound
Carnival culture
Carlinhos Brown
Fernando Holz
DJ Gilles Peterson's Brazil compilation
Luiz Bonfa, Paula Morelembaum
Marcelo D2
Maria Rita #1
Maria Rita #2 (short)
Max Cavalera/Soulfly/Sepultura
Milton Nascimento
Moacir Santos
Monica Salmaso
Ramiro Musotto
Renata Rosa (Brazilian/Afghani overlap)
Sergio Mendes' Timeless album
Seu Jorge #1 (mostly songs from Cru)
Seu Jorge #2 ( Life Aquatic sessions)
Tom Capone (producer, Maria Rita, Carlinhos Brown)
Tropicalia retrospective exhibition
Vinicius Cantuaria
Wagner Pa & Brazuca Matraca
Zuco 103

and finally...
Marco Werman's album picks of 2005 (incl. Luiz Bonfa and Marcelo D2)

Needless to say, the show covers far more than Brazil, and I'll post some other episodes of interest from other regions of the world very soon. But don't limit yourself to my picks: if you want to educate yourself about music outside the anglophone world, you truly should check out the program on a regular basis, either on the radio or via podcast. (Tip: you can find the latter via iTunes.)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Is there ice in heaven?

I'm in shock.

Just found out moments ago that Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens died yesterday, at the age of 48. WTF, as the kids would say. Unknown causes, as of now.

I still remember picking up a review copy of his solo album Horsebreaker Star around the time it came out in the States (1995?) without knowing much if anything about him, and just being totally blown away by one beautifully crafted, ultra-hooky song after another. 19 of 'em on the U.S. version, even more on the original double-disc, which I still haven't heard. (That album was also one of my first glimpses of the many delights of Syd Straw, who sings backup on several tracks.) He knew how to write for the strengths of his voice, and his lyrics often had a surreal, poetic quality without screaming "surreal" or "poetic." I had been only vaguely familiar with the Go-Betweens during their first incarnation in the late 70s/early 80s, and eventually caught up with the re-releases, but I always preferred his solo discs, especially that first one I heard, which seemed to crystallize his talents better than anything before or since. Ten years after its release, it's safe to say it's one of my all-time favorite albums, even if I haven't played it all the way through for a while. (That's only because I loaned it to a friend at work about 5 years ago who never returned it, and I just recently bought a fresh copy.) Still haven't heard any of the G-Bs' post-reunion albums, though critics say good things about them.

Every time some new John Mayer/Conor Oberst/James Blunt comes along and sells buttloads of mediocre albums, I want to shake the people who buy them and say, "Look, if you like this, allow me to play you a few dozen other singer-songwriters who do something along the same lines but infinitely better and smarter and subtler and more interesting." And Grant McLennan is one of the first artists I'd play for them.

Shallow though it may sound, part of the initial hook for me was his total cuteness--not conventional rockstar looks by any means, which I intend as a compliment. I thought he was adorable, and for purely fetishistic reasons I find this one of the sexiest album covers of all time:

He was, needless to say, much more than a pretty face, as any listen to his best work will confirm. I wish he'd had more success in the U.S. I wish he'd lived another half century. And I hope his work continues to find new listeners for decades to come.

HIt that perfect beat #1: Sex without Stress

I was originally planning to post something tonight singing the praises of the "Global Hit" section of the BBC show The World in general and all the great stuff I've found there lately, but one thing led to another and instead I think I'll zero in on one particular discovery and save a fuller survey for later.

It was this extended segment from the show that introduced me to the music of Tetine, a "punk carioca" duo from Brazil I had previously read about in this entry at The Brazilian Muse. (The link from the name fo the group takes you to their official site, packed with pix, videos, MP3s, and much more; here's the now-obligatory MySpace page.) I was intrigued by the references in the interview with band member Eliete Mejorado to Laurie Anderson, Peaches, and baile funk. My ears really pricked up when I saw that these folks were involved with a compilation of Brazilian post-punk and No Wave I first read about at Slipcue called The Sexual Life of the Savages--basically, Brazil's answer to Lora Logic, Lydia Lunch, and all those other wacky post-post-modern gender-terrorist noise-rockers of the early 80s I love so very much, albeit from a safe distance. (Tetine themselves were not part of that movement, though Mejorado's bandmate Bruno Verner was in some of the groups of that era, and I think they actually curated the collection. From my brief exposure to their own work, it's pretty clear they come straight--or perhaps queerly--out of that scene themselves.)

If the term "Brazilian music" makes you think of bossa nova, samba, or even tropicalia, then you might not quite be ready for this:

or this:

and definitely not this:

Tetine's latest album is called L.I.C.K. My Favela, and in the "Global Hit" interview, Mejorado explains that the title is a dig at all the non-Brazilians (including yours truly) who are forever "discovering" the music of her country, in much the same way that Columbus "discovered" America. Touché! She's also got some fascinating stuff to say about the sexual politics of Brazil, and the fetishization of girl singers from Astrud Gilberto to ... Bebel Gilberto.

(If you want to lick more, this page contains several additional perfomance clips and a few video art pieces, while this one catalogs films, experimental videos, and collaborations. For examples of their earlier work that are nothing like what they're doing now, here's part of a video and CD project with Sophie Calle, and here's a short, artsy-fartsy b&w 1999 film about a threeway by Marcos Farinha.)

Monday, May 01, 2006

On the streets of this town

Last weekend was one of those concentrated periods where I was able once again to marvel at the richness of the Buffalo music scene, as I have done so many times over the years.

1. Thursday night was the "Best of WNY" party held by the magazine I work for--that would be Buffalo Spree--and its first full-fledged best-of issue. There were about 600 people on hand, among them many folks I've known for years, and lots of excellent food, but for me the highlight of the evening was the performance by my old friend Heather Connor and the latest incarnation of her ever-evolving band, playing samba and bossa classics:

2. Saturday night, Drums & Tuba played the Icon, a club that was a major venue more than a decade ago, then fell into major decline, closed and reopened many times, and is now back as ... a fucking pit. It's so completely unappealing now that I almost turned around and left. Fortunately, I toughed it out, which means that I got to enjoy one of the opening acts, The Frame Up. I'd heard good things about them, but hadn't seen or heard them and had no good sense of what they sounded like.

Now I do: hard rock/early metal, circa 1969-74 or so, kinda early Black Sabbath (minus the devil) and early Grand Funk (minus the swagger) and any number of other pre-punk loud rock bands. I realize this stuff is back in a big way with The Kids Today (see: Wolfmother, the Darkness, etc., etc.), but it still takes some getting used to. As a first-generation punk rock audience member, I guarantee you that if a band had played stuff like this at the kind of clubs I went to between 1979 and 1990 or so, they'd have been booed off the stage and branded counter-revolutionaries. (Or words to that effect.) And yet they are really, really good at what they do! The lead singer has that classic lead-singer charisma, everybody in the band seems perfect, and they put on an excellent show. (Evidently they weren't happy with the performance, but I sure was.)

Unlike a lot of other young bands that seem to be reviving (or reinventing) classic-rock for a new generation, I don't sense any irony or camp in The Frame Up. They do have a sense of humor, thank god, but I don't think they're laughing at the bombast and the clichés of old-school rawwwwk; instead of making fun of the nonsense, they seem to have just trimmed it out of their music.

As for the headliners, I'm still getting used to D&T's radical new direction. I loved their radical old direction, which was utterly unique. (How many other instrumental trios can you name that sample and loop tuba and trumpet lines on the fly?) They're still pretty much one-of-a-kind, but adding vocals and upping the aggressiveness makes them sound like a weird mix of early Zep, Rush, and Nine Inch Nails. (Again with the classic rock and macho metal! Is this just a phase every third generation or so has to go through?) I'll always love 'em, and I understand that birds gotta swim and fish gotta fly, but I miss their earlier, funnier days.

3. Rounding out the weekend was Babik at the Allen Street Hardware Café on Sunday night. The band was celebrating their first anniversary with a special show featuring all the guest musicians who have joined them at the Hardware during their yearlong Wednesday night residency, and after hearing so much great stuff about them for months now, that seemed like a perfect opportunity to catch them in action. Assuming you missed them, you might want to check out this podcast of one of their Wednesday shows.

If you're familiar with the music that Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli recorded together in the 1930s, you know exactly what to expect from Babik--although I honestly don't think the Quintet of the Hot Club of France ever took on "Inna Gadda Da Vida." Sadly, I arrived too late for their cover of "Free Bird," though I did catch an excellent amalgam of bossa, James Bond, surf rock, and Eastern drumming on one song.

These guys are really special. Keep an eye out for them.

And don't be surprised when, some day, some way, the outside world finally starts to catch on to the music being made in this oft-disparaged Rust Belt town.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Of the instant

1. The next time I feel like a musical obsessive, I will recall this interview with Richard Nevins, the founder of Yazoo Records, and visualize his latest acquisition of 10,000 albums. Then I will contemplate acquiring the cool-sounding compilation he is plugging during that NPR spot.

2. I am not really one for impulse purchases on the musical front. (A Jody Watley album--the Jody Watley album, as it turns out--bought at full price a few months after its release in 1987 is the main one I tend to recall.) But when I heard a song called "All My Rivals" by a guy named Chris Brown on a recent podcast of Coverville, I had one of those drop-everything moments. (Host Brian Ibbott even describes himself as "obsessed" with the song, which, BTW, is not a cover, unlike 99% of what he plays on his eternally outstanding show.)

For the record (pardon the pun), I found the album--Now That You're Fed--via iTunes and sampled enough of the other tracks enough to know I would probably like almost all of them. (They are a bit same-y, but I used to say the same of Leonard Cohen and early R.E.M., and when the "same" is this stellar it's not a problem.) I think the hard copy is mainly distributed by, and if you click on that link there you can find MP3s of several representative album tracks, including "All My Rivals" (but not including some other instantly likeable ones, like "Waiting for Caroline"--a gorgeous Beach Boyish gem).

The album, which I've only heard once in its entirety so far (given that I bought it so quickly, I thought I would break another longstanding habit and write about it instantaneously, too), is terrific. It's acoustic power pop that makes beautiful use of Brown's voice: lots of multi-tracked harmonies and instrumentally spare arrangements verging on a capella. Every one of the handfull of reviews I've managed to track down tonight, like this one, includes a comparison to Elliott Smith, but I gotta say, I've never quite been bit by the E.S. bug, and I find this guy's songs way catchier. But I do hear it, along with traces of Peter Case and my perpetual guilty-pleasure faves, The Association. (This is apparently the spot where I'm supposed to drop the name of the band Jellyfish, because band member Chris Manning produced the album, but I know next to nothing of Jellyfish. If you do, I guess that will excite you.)

Chris Brown's major stumbling block to stardom, or at least cult stardom, seems to me to be his name: in my cursory check for info on him, I came across a rapper, an experimental/new music artist, and a BritPopper, among others. He also may or may not be the same Chris Brown who collaborates with Kate Fenner, a duo I've heard good stuff about.(I don't think he is.) And I am told he is also an independent filmmaker, although IMDB lists 27 Chris Browns, and while this guy is one possible candidate, something tells me that's wrong. Confusion reigns!

3. The same episode of Coverville also led me to the King's Singers a capella cover of Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush," which is just incredible. (I also have a soft spot in my heart for Dolly Parton's version, but only in the what-the-fuck sense. This one is more like holy-shit, if you like your mini-reviews laced with obscenity.) This one pretty much speaks for itself, so I'll shut up now and listen to it and Chris Brown some more.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Play one more for my radio sweetheart

Couple of recent music stories of interest from the realms of public radio:

1. This interview with Brazilian musician/actor Seu Jorge from Weekend Edition a few Saturdays back is really nice. It's a great introduction to his work, and includes a performance or two recorded in the studio. Bonus feature: Jorge's translator is the one and only Tracy Mann, publicist supreme, whom I first met nearly 10 years ago when we were both working for Ani D, but who has a whole side life working with Brazilian musicians, much to my current delight. Bonus bonus feature: links to several earlier NPR stories on Jorge that I had missed.

2. This edition of To the Best of Our Knowledge contains an interview with Bill Friskics-Warren, author of I'll Take You There: Pop Music and the Urge for Transcendence. I haven't read the book, but the discussion--about the spiritual dimension of rock and pop music--was intriguing. Some of the examples (Bono, Van Morrison, Al Green) struck me as fairly obvious, even if the second two of those happen to be among my all-time favorite musicians, in part for this very thing. Plus, it's always nice to hear "Listen to the Lion," no matter what the circumstances. What I found more interesting than the part about those Usual Suspects was the argument the author makes for the Sex Pistols, among others, as "negationists" whose refusal to believe in anything becomes a form of belief in itself. (Pardon my horrible paraphrase. Hey, I'm just a blogger.) I have a hunch the book may partake in what I'll call the Greil Marcus Syndrome--pop songs lifted out of their original context as commodities to serve the author's giant, overarching thesis--but I'm willing to give it a shot.

'Cuz I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

PS. If you're into this newfangled podcasting thang and haven't yet checked out NPR's music-related offerings (available via iTunes and on individual show sites), you really should. The offerings are immense and staggeringly diverse, and now there is no need to listen to the tedious, dreary news of our planet and its imminent demise in order to get to the good stuff. (Talk about the urge for transcendence!) Though I have to say, now that I can download gems like The World's "Global Hits" feature plus a dozen more on a daily basis, my sense of information overload just quadrupled.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Seasons in the Sun

When I write here from time to time about the huge backlog of material I intend to post, and my glacial pace in doing so, it is not mere idle chatter, beloved reader. Allow me to demonstrate in the following three installments, reconstructed from memory:

1. See this picture?

I took it on July 12 of last year with the intention of writing a little piece here about music and climate--how certain sounds and rhythms seem inextricably linked to very hot weather. (For the record, that little outside-temp thermometer doohickey in the car is always a couple of degrees off; it never really got up to 102 in Buffalo last summer, but it sure felt like it.) In particular, I was thinking about how my last two bigtime musical obsessions, the Beach Boys and the music of Brazil, are so closely tied to scorching temps. Samba in particular just makes sense in a tropical climate; it doesn't set so well in the frigid winters of Western New York.

2. Another slightly hyperbolic (and sadly blurry) shot of the dashboard of the car, this time from February 19 of this year:

It hasn't really been a beastly cold winter here, thanks to our new friend Global Warming, but that was a chilly day, all the same. And the photo was to accompany a longish post about this mix CD I put together for friends and coworkers this winter when I missed the boat on a holiday-song sampler. The idea came to me after hearing Matt Pond PA's wonderful Winter Songs project, which combines one or two originals with many covers of songs they associate with colder weather. My disc is called "COLDplay: Songs of Winter," and I originally intended to annotate several of the tracks, but at this late date I'll just print the playlist, which is fairly self-explanatory. OK, I'll throw in a couple of links for the less well-known artists.

01. "Taking Down the Tree," Low, Christmas EP (2:44)
02. "A Hazy Shade Of Winter" (live), Simon & Garfunkel, Live From New York City, 1967 (2:37)
03. "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm," Billie Holiday, The Ultimate Collection (3:58)
04. "Ice In Heaven," Grant McLennan, Horsebreaker Star (4:22)
05. "Snow Day," Matt Pond PA, Winter Songs EP (3:31)
06. "When The Day Is Short," Martha Wainwright, Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole EP (3:15)
07. "Valley Winter Song," Fountains Of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers (3:34)
08. "Mushaboom," Feist, Let It Die (3:46)
09. "Winter Wooskie," Belle & Sebastian, Legal Man EP (2:42)
10. "Rosy and Grey," The Lowest Of The Low, Shakespeare My Butt (5:03)
11. "Like The Weather," 10,000 Maniacs, In My Tribe (3:56)
12. "Buffalo Fight Song," Wide Right, Sleeping On The Couch (2:51)
13. "Baby It's Cold Outside," Tom Jones w/ Cerys Matthews, Reloaded/Greatest Hits (3:39)
14. "While Roving On A Winter's Night," Darol Anger (w/ John Gorka, Dar Williams, David Lindley, Bela Fleck, & Victor Wooten), Heritage (5:32)
15. "Winter Is Blue," Vashti Bunyan, Just Another Diamond Day (1:48)
16. "Frozen" (remix), Madonna (5:11)
17. "Winter Wind,": Fotheringay, Sandy Denny: Who Knows Where The Time Goes? (2:10)
18. "Blackberry Winter," Marlena Shaw, Dangerous (4:45)
19. "Winter in California," Natalia Zukerman, Mortal Child (4:49)
20. "Winter," Bebel Gilberto, Bebel Gilberto (4:19)

Re that last track, naturally I wanted to work in a little Brazilian stuff somehow, and given my earlier point you might imagine it wasn't easy. But Bebel found a way. (I have a hunch she's spent more time in Manhattan than Rio lately.)

The CD was a big hit around the office, if I do say so myself, and I still have a few unsent copies lying around. If you e-mail me and sweet talk me, I just might send you one--too late to be of much consolation now that the sun has indeed come out again, but trust me: by the time I get around to actually mailing it to you, the temps will surely be plummeting again.

3. Last but most certainly not least, here is a third snapshot taken mere minutes ago of the first blossoms in our front yard, as a little hommage to a certain intoxicated Allentown gardener:

April brings three annual listening rituals for me:
•Ron Sexsmith singing "April After All" (or Anne Sofie von Otter's lovely cover of it)
•Patti Smith's "Easter" (mainly the song, which invariably leads to listening to the entire album)
•2 early Luna albums I have on an unmarked cassette (I'm not sure which ones they are, since a friend made the tape in the early 1990s and didn't label it, but I know that as soon as the weather starts to warm up, I dig out the pair of them and drive around with the windows down, happy to be alive)

Other months have other, similar rituals that I have observed for years and years, but I will save those for a future post. One I probably won't write for ages--especially now that I've got this one out of the way, I can turn my attention to an even more epic undertaking I've been plotting for months. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Lazy bones

I realize this is sloppy blogging (slogging?) but for the second time this week I'm gonna forward you to the site at my place of work where I already plugged Mark "Negativland" Hosler's upcoming talk at Hallwalls this Saturday night, which is sure to be a treat.

Here, read all about it. Then come see the show, if you're in the greater Buffalo area this weekend. (And it is a greater and greater area every day now, isn't it?)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

In the City

Mere days ago I learned about the existence of City of Men, the TV series followup to the movie City of God, created by the same team, and just tonight I watched the first episode.

So far, so fantastic: in 45 minutes you get at least four simultaneous threads:
1) the fictionalized tale of two favela schoolkids,
2) an account of how the Portuguese came to Brazil,
3) an update on the (semi-fictionalized) gang wars chronicled in the movie, and
4) interviews with the actual child actors in the cast.

You also get animation, multiple narrators, snatches of baile funk, beautiful cinematography (incorporating both film and video), and ample amounts of the visual stylization of the original film. Both of the main actors appeared in the movie, but they're playing entirely new, different characters this time around, and the action is set in the present day (i.e., at least a decade or so after the end of the film). Needless to say, it's so dense that I think I'm gonna have to watch the episodes multiple times to catch what's going on.

Sundance is running the first four episodes (constituting the first season of the Brazilian-made series) this month, with promises of seasons two and three soon to follow. If you loved the movie as much as I did, you won't want to miss this. If you haven't seen City of God yet--and you're not put off by the prospect of a deeply disturbing, horrifically violent movie (in which much of the violence is enacted by very young children)--check it out as soon as possible; I can easily say it's one of the most exciting movies I've seen in the last 10 years or so. As a sidenote, it's not necessary to see the movie in order to understand or enjoy the series, but the TV show expands the film's already epic scope in exciting ways. I can't wait to see the rest!

PS. Yet another reason to learn Portuguese: the series' official site looks terrific and seems to be packed with goodies, but it's not available in English.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Diamond girl

For a lot of people, blogging seems to be primarily about making wildly inappropriate revelations of key aspects of their personal lives to total strangers who could care less. I'm not really into that, but I hate to disappoint, so I think it is time for me to come out, right here and now, as a Seals and Crofts lover. Not in that way, mind you (I prefer my men a bit less ... rustic), and not since the mid-70s when punk rock changed my life just like it changed yours--but back in the day, I unashamedly owned an S&C album or two. Or three or four. And hearing their hits on an oldies station or grocery store P.A. still takes me back to a less kind, less gentle period in my life. I'm pretty sure I currently have "Summer Breeze" on my iPod, and I dream of adding more of their soft rock favorites.

So naturally I was thrilled to find this image in a tribute to Charlton romance comics on the always-brilliant comics blog, Beaucoup Kevin:

I have no words.

Oh, actually I do, come to think of it. But not about Dash or Jimmy. I've been meaning to write here that:
1. I saw the newly reconstituted, Mercuryless Queen a couple of weekends back, and rather than rehash what I've already written about that surprisingly enjoyable evening, I will simply direct you to the place where I originally posted my recap.

2. The following night, I saw Jonathan Demme's Neil Young concert film, Heart of Gold, which I truly loved and highly recommend to Neilophiles. Not only am I a longtime fan of 80% of his music, I also happen to love his earlier, self-directed concert movie, Rust Never Sleeps and I even enjoyed (if not quite as fondly) his much quirkier recent cinematic experiment, Greendale. (Clicking on that last link will take you to the incredibly detailed official website that is more of a supplement to the film, CD, book, and tour than a mere promotional tool for them.)

3. This seems as good a place as any to plug next week's annual Bob Dylan Imitators' Contest at Nietzsche's here in Buffalo, which I am judging for the umpteenth time. I always find it troublesome that Dylan, like Young, is a true master of irony, one of the most eccentric, enigmatic, shape-shifting musicians/multi-media artists of the pop era, and yet this contest seems to consist largely of one earnest, faithful rendition of a familiar song after another. Lordy, Bob himself has always made a point of transforming/subverting his own songs in all sorts of diabolical ways, sometimes to the point of utter unrecognizability--but give a local folksinger an acoustic guitar and he or she will treat the song like it's sacred. (Though not, usually, doing an actual imitation of Bob--just playing his song in the most straightforward way imaginable.) I am exaggerating, of course; I have seen some truly amazing reinventions of the material, along with some ingenious impersonations, at this event over the years, and there are worse ways to spend a night than listening to some of the most perfect songs of the last five decades. Plus, you can drink. In fact, as a judge, I can even drink for free--and that makes it all the better. If by any chance you read this in time and come up with some clever way to deconstruct Dylan, by all means please please enter the contest--there are several truly fabulous prizes, including cold, hard cash--and you are almost guaranteed to win one if you think outside the box even a teensy bit. Details follow in this latest lovely poster by Diane Meldrum (BTW, happy 10th, Diane and Mike!):

So there's been a lot of classic rock in the air around here lately. And other things, too, but that should hold you for now.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Get your freak on

Forgive me for simply slapping the following info down here re an event I am co-hosting this Friday night, but I'm just trying to spread the last-minute word far and wide as quickly as possible. Hope you can make it to the show if you're anywhere in the area; a wide range of music, plus your chance to speed date the Real Dream Cabaret; what better way could there be to spend a Friday night?

It’s a ...
Benefit Concert/Cabaret for the 2006 Buffalo Infringement Festival!
Friday, March 31, 2006 from 9:30 p.m. till quite late
(got another event to attend that night? Stop by later—we’re goin’ on and on and on...)
At Nietzsche’s, 248 Allen Street, Buffalo, 886-8539
Admission is a teensy $5

Join emcees Ronawanda and Auntie Establishment for an action-packed evening featuring...
MUSIC by the Skiffle Minstrels, Terrible Elephant, Pam Swarts,
Z. Mann Zilla and the World’s Largest Trio, and GreggreG
THEATER & PERFORMANCE by Annette Daniels-Taylor,
the Eclectic Improv Company, and Soundpainting Orchestra
POETRY by Lea Prentiss, Luciano Iacobelli, and a carload o’ writers from Toronto
SPOKEN WORD by Bonita Z and MC Vendetta

PLUS! Speed Dating all night long with the Real Dream Cabaret!
ALSO! Midnight revelation of (some of) the acts for this summer’s festival!!
AND! Surprise guests SO EXCITING we can’t even mention them by name!!!

An event this huge is too big for one stage: we’re takin’ over ALL of Nietzsche’s!
Our guarantee: there will be something interesting happening everywhere you look!
(Disclaimer: the Infringment Festival may not be responsible for 100% of the interesting things you discover.)

The 2006 Buffalo Infringement Festival happens July 27-August 6.
For more info, click here.

Friday, March 17, 2006

To cut a long story short...

A short entry from a sleepy, distracted blogger, and it's really more a reminder to myself than anything else: check out, a nice little Dutch blog about Brazilian music and culture that often looks beyond the obvious American reference points and into stuff like homegrown hiphop. Forget how I found it, so I figure I'd better bookmark it now lest it disappear into the ether.

Oh, and the site contains a 10-track MP3 jukebox worth checking out with selections (as of now, that is) by Zuco 103 and Rosalia de Souza, whom I recognize, and a lot of acts I don't.

Boy, this really is a short entry--a record-breaker in my book! Fear not: I'll go long again, real long, real soon.

Monday, March 13, 2006

You can't do that

Today's musical obsession, boys and girls, was brought to our attention by a recent entry in Johnny Bacardi's blog. It's a website project from 1999 devoted to close musicological readings of every single one of the 219 songs recorded by the Beatles during their career as a group. (Random sample from the essay on "Day Tripper": "the tambourine in its accompaniment of the riff is double tracked only for its first two ostinato frames; with the more familiar offbeat (2 and 4) shots backed there by a unique piece of eighth-note shaking.") (And so on.)

This was evidently years in the making, and it shows.

Naturally, like Mr. Bacardi, I headed immediately to the entry on "Revolution #9," which turns out to be almost totally self-reflexive. ("Friends and lovers have, for years, been preparing for this eventuality; 'Ha, ha! what you gonna do when you get up to "Revolution #9", wise guy?'")

I'm pretty sure I'll never actually make use of this wealth of information, but I'm mighty happy to know it exists. I've always been a fan of the classic-rock-radio staple, the "Beatles A to Z" Weekend, and this takes that idea to its logical extreme. (I'm never been a giant Beatles guy, but for some reason I'd rather hear "Hard Day's Night," "Help," and "Here, There, and Everywhere" in alphabetical order than any other way. Or have someone tell me to listen to the double-tracked tambourine in its first ostinato frame.)

PS. The Beatles project is part of, a Dutch online journal on the history and social significance of media culture. I see there are also academic essays on channel surfing, the music of Commodore 64 games, and pirate radio, along with a 2004 piece deconstructing one of Rumsfeld's speeches as an example of communication which does not communicate. The writing I've skimmed thus far seems to be a curious, sometimes off-putting, mix of critical theory jargon and everyday slang.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Bread and Circuses (and Bono and Beefcake)

Just discovered the blog Made in Brazil ("Brazilianizing the World, One Day at a Time"), a quirky mix of cultural coverage, pix of cute, scantily clad boys (and a few girls), and, inexplicably, Project Runway news. Not that I'm complaining about that last one, mind you--but it doesn't strike me as playing a key role in Brazilianizing the world. (Nor do the numerous stories on Bono and that huge free Stones concert in the music section.)

The thing that brought me to the MIB blog in the first place was this item on a billboard campaign featuring a same-sex kiss that was censored in Sao Paulo. I particularly appreciate the amount of gay news on MIB, since I don't really know much about queer life in Brazil.

Oh, and another thing I found out about from the blog was an exhibition called "Tropicália: A Revolution in Brazilian Culture" at the Barbican in London through May 2006. The show's website has some audio clips, visual images, reviews, and the like, plus links to buy the catalog and the accompanying CD (the soundtrack of the exhibition, if you will). The latter link also contains audio clips from the likes of Tom Ze, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes. and Gal Costa.

I leave you with a sample of the Barbican site's trippy hippie artwork:

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Cry Me a River

Given that this is a blog about musical obsessions, I must point out that the episode of This American Life that aired tonight contained a rebroadcast of David Wilcox's tale about his younger sister, obsessed for two decades with "the worst mix tape of all time." This must be the single saddest story I've ever heard on that program--and that's saying a lot. Starts off perfectly witty and amusing and Ira Glass-y and all, but then it just goes deeper and deeper into gut-wrenching territory, and every time you think it's gotten as sad as it can possibly get, it gets sadder. I don't want to give anything away (because the careful, gradual unfolding of the details is a major part of the piece's power), just encourage you to listen to it online if you like first-rate first-person storytelling and don't mind having your tear ducts cleaned out. I didn't even hear the whole thing this time around--it was on the car radio as I drove to an art opening, and the minute I heard Carly Simon and a bunch of children singing this bathetic version of "Itsy Bitsy Spider" on the aforementioned mix tape, it all came back to me. I knew I had to get the hell out of the car pronto or I'd be a basket case for the rest of the night.

I admit it: beneath my devil-my-care exterior, I nurse a soft spot of truly embarassing proportions. The proper Red Sovine recitation, like one particular selection on his Christmas album, can have me bawling my eyes out in no time. At least one Dolly Parton composition from her classic era (is it "Daddy, Come and Get Me"? "Down from Dover?") can do it to me, too.

And let's not even mention the Dar Williams song "The Christians and the Pagans," which I don't even think was intended to be a tear-jerker. In fact, I think it's actually supposed to be kind of light and funny. There's just something about the image of this complicated, fragmented family trying to find common ground at the dinner table that gets me every time.

There, I've said too much. If you have a song (or, okay, spoken word piece) that makes you weep uncontrollably, share it with the world by posting it in the comments section below, and we'll all have a good old cry together.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Jack U Off

(That subject line is from a Prince song, lest you question my potty mouth.)

Okay, I simply must write something here soon or you will give up on me altogether if you have not done so already. Believe me, I have posts aplenty in mind, but all of them seem to require more time and energy than I've had in a while. So here's an easy one: two links I discovered from folks who have posted comments or e-mailed me about this very blog..:

1. Jacked Tunes (which I have a funny feeling I've already written about here) is a site devoted to "musical plagiarism"--i.e., songs that sound a whole lot like earlier songs. (Example: the debt that Taproot's "Poem" owes to Boston's "Peace of Mind.") This is presented more or less as a consumer guide against ripoffs, but from another perspective that's pretty much the history of popular music: Artist A unwittingly "echoes" Artist B, who knowingly "rips off" Artist C, who consciously "pays hommage to" Artist D, who heard a song by Artist E when he was growing up, who learned a version of it from his mama, and so on, and so on. Isn't it part of the nature of "popular" song that it belongs to "the People"? It's only when royalties come into play that this really starts to matter--and the one getting ripped off is less the listener/consumer than the artist/producer, when you get right down to it. Anyway,if you're intrigued by the complex links between familiar melodies, Jacked Tunes is worth a visit.

2. The Great Plotnik is the blog of a songwriter who wrote me after I mentioned hearing a couple of his (now 20-year-old) songs on internet radio during the holidays. Not so much music writing here, necessarily, as some candid, amusing observations on everyday life as seen through the G.P.'s eyes: food, flowers, the agony of reviewing bad plays featuring people you know. (The last of these is an ethical dilemma I too have faced.)

Chew on those 2 for a while, and I promise you more entries, soon.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Chick-a-boom, chick-a-boom (don't you just Lovett?)

I've done a truly shameful job of updating this blog lately, which is particularly unfortunate in the wake of BloggerCon 2 a few weeks ago. Bad blogger! Bad blogger!

It's not like I have any shortage of things to write about it; far from it. I've got notes aplenty, gathering digital dust. No, time has been the bigger obstacle, as is so often the case. But if I'm ever going to catch up, I guess I've got to start somewhere...

I try to stick pretty closely to the theme of "musical obsessions" in these entries--not just the musical part, but the obsession, too. I mean, there's plenty of music out there that I like, even love, but I wouldn't say I'm obsessed with it. (Unless you count the sheer fact of being obsessed with music, per se, and I certainly do.) I started with the desire to chronicle my growing passion with Brazilian music in general, as I started to educate myself about it, and that's still probably the main focus of this blog, but I long ago decided to cover other sounds that I can't get out of my head.

Even so, Lyle Lovett wouldn't normally be the sort of guy I'd write about here. I mean, I've known and enjoyed a handful of his songs for years, but other than the one about the boat and the pony (which I do think is really great), I haven't found them running through my brain 24/7, and I have felt no great compulsion to obtain any of his albums, other than a dirt-cheap used copy of Joshua Judges Ruth long ago, which I listened to once or twice and then put away.

But when my friend Meg invited me to accompany her to Lovett's show at UB (part of a consistently great season at the Center for the Arts this year), I gladly volunteered my services. I'd seen the guy on Austin City Limits and similar shows, and knew the between-song patter woud be good, at the very least. Well, the concert was last night, and what a delight! Turns out he's one of those performers who has an incredibly sharp sense of how to structure and stage a show. Nothing flashy, just really smart and thoroughly entertaining. Probably two thirds of the songs were new to me, and they did sort of confirm my sense that I'll probably never be a completist collector (I mean, they are pretty similar, and that boat/pony one is the catchiest one)--but one thing I'd never noticed before was how effectively he writes for, and uses, his own voice. It's not a conventionally "pretty" or "good" one (in that hideous American Idol sense), which is fiiiiiine by me. Instead, like Leonard Cohen or Ben Gibbard or Dylan (the granddaddy of 'em all), Lovett knows how to turn the limitations of his singing voice into major assets. It's perfectly suited to the emotion behind the subjects he sings about.

And, as predicted, that between-song patter was mighty fine. Added bonus: seven-minute experimental cello solo!

Next up on the concert calendar: Luke Doucet at Nietzsche's, this Wednesday (Feb. 1). I've written about this guy here, after I saw him open for Kathleen Edwards last year, and I can't wait to see him as the main event.

(Bonus Doucet tip: haven't heard his latest album, BROKEN (and Other Rogue States, but I can tell you that of his first two, the live one, OUTLAWS, is far more representative of his talents than the studio one, ALOHA MANITOBA. There are samples of all three on his website, plus a music video or two and some extra songs.)