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.