Friday, May 30, 2008

Biafra Five-O...

Here's where having a punk rock legacy and record label come in handy:


Jello Biafra, bitter ex-Dead Kennedys frontman, is having a two day celebration for his 50th birthday where he will be unveiling his as-yet-to-be-named new band. In addition, he'll be singing with The Melvins and probably having a blast. If any readers are based in the San Fransisco area, tickets aren't bad. The rest of us are shit-out-of-luck.

Here are the line-ups for two nights of Jello birthday celebration:

June 16th — (Great American Music Hall, San Francisco)

Jello Biafra with the Melvins
Jello Biafra's unnamed band
Drunk Injuns
Los Olvidados
The Melvins

June 17th — (Great American Music Hall, San Francisco)

Jello Biafra with the Melvins
Jello Biafra's unnamed band
The Melvins

More information can be found at The Great American Music Hall's website and of course Alternative Tentacles.

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

RZArects Bob Digi...

"Bob Digi, yeah you know who is he"
-The RZA as Bobby Digital

I'll admit that when I picked up The RZA's first 'bout of alter-ego narcissism, I bought into the concept. It didn't seem outlandish to assume that an artist would want to maybe express another side of his personality while sparing his already established identity. Plus, as with any Wu-Tang affiliate, schizophrenia is to be expected.

Bobby Digital In Stereo, while not quite reaching the creative and innovative heights RZA had been known to produce, was still a somewhat ballsy jaunt into the shaky and uncertain world of the blink-and-you'll-miss-it Hip-Hop avant. His follow-up, Digital Bullet, while boasting a couple of exceptional tracks, ("Brooklyn Babies" for instance), mostly showed that the concept was largely unnecessary and lacked substance.

In 2003, when RZA released Birth Of A Prince under his Christian rap alias, I thought "Digi" was done for, (allegations of this were enforced by a line RZA speaks to the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, "Yo, don't call me 'Bobby' no more, man.") Apparently, I was wrong:

Digi Snax, the third installment of the "Bobby Digital" saga, is set to release in late June. The first single, "You Can't Stop Me Now," sounds like somewhat of a return to the Wu-Tang of yore and will hopefully make up for the uneven 8 Diagrams. We'll see what happens; Wu excellence is far from a safe bet these days.

Letters From A Tapehead

Current listening:
The Roots - Take It There (Game Theory, 2006)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Wish List Ish #1 – The week in “Needing It…”

More than once, I’ve discussed the “backburner:” that unfortunate and expanding place where all my music essentials and wants seem to stay and collect dust as the constant rotation of new releases sucks up most of my music-related income. With the ease of a button, it’s easy to keep track of this list via Amazon Dot Com, though I do have a few obscure albums listed in my music library. But, because it’s so easy, the list has become impossibly long. I know I’ll have to edit at some point, but I’m not sure what to remove. So, in the interest of maybe cutting down the list a bit, I’d like some opinions about whether or not my intended purchases are actually worthwhile.

Here’s this week’s top 10 Must Have’s:

10). Going all DIO on your asses:

DioHoly Diver
Black SabbathHeaven And Hell, The Mob Rules

I’m counting this as one, just because it’s a thematic trio of Ronnie James. My sudden interest in Dio-era Sabbath, (I have all the Ozzy stuff), was sort of sparked by the Rhino-issued comp, Black Sabbath: The Dio Years. Accepting the more than universal consensus that Dio-era Sabbath doesn’t have a whole lot on Ozzy’s seminal output, Heaven and Hell and The Mob Rules still garner discussion amongst metal’s educated elite. Plus, the cover illustration on The Mob Rules album is too cool.

As far as Holy Diver, I remember staring at that cover when I was a kid and feeling a wave of doom and isolation. Now, I laugh. Desensitization rules.

9). I’d like to laugh now at anyone that spent hundreds of dollars on this:

MF DoomMM…Food?

For a little while there, I saw this album going for a decent chunk of change once it had gone out of print. MF Doom, rap’s underground geek, was gaining enough popularity that I knew this would get picked up and put out again, especially since this is probably his best known work. A good friend of mine burned me a copy of this a while ago and I’d meant to pick it up at some point. It’s an awesome album for those who’ve never heard it. Probably one of the best hip-hop records to come out in recent memory, even with the bar being set as low as it is currently.

8). Another round of “catch-up:”

BauhausSingles: 1979-1983 Vol. 1 & 2

A little late in the game here. The latest Bauhaus record, Go Away White (review pending), might be the best record I’ve heard all year. Having more or less dismissed Peter Murphy and crew as just another bunch of scaaaaary scaaaaarsters for all the little wannabe scaaaaaaries, I really screwed myself out of a good band and some awesome records. So, I’m catching up and I figured their singles would be an essential part of my library. Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to be a snob.

7). ”Nick The Stripper”:

The Birthday PartyPrayers On Fire

As an avid listener of Henry Rollins’s radio show, Harmony In My Head, I’m consistently treated to some aural goodies on a weekly basis. This album has a song called, “Nick The Stripper,” that had my attention from second one.

6). ”White Wedding”:

Queens of the Stone AgeMake It Wit Chu Single

Despite the fact that I thought the rehashed “Make It Wit Chu,” (it was originally written and recorded for Vol. 9 & 10 of Josh Homme’s Desert Sessions series, and better I might add), was the weakest aspect of Era Vulgaris, this single contains a Brian Eno cover and a version of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.” Basically, I’ll get whatever QOTSA make available. It’s the price of being a fanboy.

5). My OTHER Ludus CD is gettin’ lonely:

LudusPickpocket/Danger Came Smiling

This was another Harmony In My Head discovery. A while ago, I picked up the Visit/Seduction compilation and couldn’t stop listening to it for months. Naturally, it makes sense to pick-up the OTHER compilation.

4). Yet ANOTHER round of “catch-up:”

Hüsker DüZen Arcade

Honestly, I have no excuse for this one. I should’ve probably emerged from the womb with this album firmly implanted in my tiny hands. Shameful.

3). More singles:

Les Savy FavInches

I only recently got into Les Savy Fav thanks to last year’s, Let’s Stay Friends. Now I’m trying to build up my LSF library and Inches, a compilation of singles, just happens to be their best album in my opinion. Even as a collection, it’s still very impressive and probably the only somewhat “pop punk” album I’ve been able to take seriously since The DescendentsAll.

2). Another reissue:

The Modern Lovers — s/t

This was reissued last year. I want it simply for “Pablo Picasso.”

1). Getting into ANOTHER new band:

Porcupine TreeFear Of A Blank Planet

This is a straggler from last year, initially meant to be part of the “new releases” list. Though I didn’t get to check it out, I’m still interested to hear what they do as they seem to earn significant accolades among the progressive fan base. Thought that might be worth a listen.

Letters From A Tapehead

Current listening:
The Crickets - Oh, Boy! (Loud, Fast & Out Of Control: The Wild Sounds Of 50's Rock, 4CD Box Set, 1999)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Buried In A Good Mix Tape & The Origins of "TAPEHEAD"... 5.10.08

Children of the 80s could easily have been dubbed "The Cassette Generation."

I don't really remember when the "tape" bug sunk its fangs into my consciousness, but I do remember being ridiculously excited when I got my first tape deck. It was a small cassette recorder with a mic port and an FM/AM radio. I'll say I was maybe 10 years old, and heavily into The Monkees at this point. I was also listening to a ton of oldies' radio, inspired by a deep love for Stand By Me and the surge of 50s nostalgia going on at the time. My first tapes were recorded from my Dad's extensive collection of vinyl and from FM radio. Already showing signs of perfectionism regarding these tapes I was slaving over, radio DJs became my enemy. They would constantly break into banter during the last 10 seconds of every track I was recording, leaving me no choice but to abruptly stop the recording. It was around this time where I was learning how to make cuts and I would hawk over my little tape recorder, eagerly anticipating how the songs came out, playing them back, hitting pause and then starting the next song. I was even recording songs from MTV, propping my little tape deck against the television's speaker and hoping no one spoke to me. I was a kid that had no money, so I had to get new music somehow.

The reason I refer to myself as a "TAPEHEAD" is that my earliest musical epiphanies emerged from cassettes. I taped my first Beatles albums from vinyl and spent hours listening to them. Zeppelin, Hendrix, much of this music I learned about while taping albums, imperfections, static, scratches and all. And then my first musical purchases were cassettes, though I did buy some vinyl as a child. I remember stepping into Wee Three Records or Wall-To-Wall Sound & Video and flipping through rows of albums, having no money and wondering how I was ever going to own everything I wanted. Up until I was about 16, it was mostly cassettes for me. And the mix tapes never stopped.

I'm not sure how many of you have checked out Thurston Moore's book, Mix Tape: The Art Of Cassette Culture, but it's the type of thing that I have to look at every now and then, especially when I get hit with the want to spend an hour or so in front of the stereo making a mix tape. I got hit with the need recently, so I started combing the book's pages, looking for inspiration and just reminiscing. It's difficult to make mix tapes these days, as most people don't even own tape decks anymore. Mix tapes aren't really fun unless you're sharing them so, knowing that my brother still plays cassettes, I decided to make one for him.

Saturday night, my sleeping daughter strapped to my chest in a baby carrier, I was keeping tradition alive. Here's the playlist:

Side A -

Beauty Pill - The Cigarette Girl From The Future (The Cigarette Girl From The Future EP, 2001, out of print)
Bauhaus - Double Dare (In The Flat Field, 1980)
Liars - There's Always Room On The Broom (There's Always Room On The Broom EP, 2004)
Ween - The Mollusk (The Mollusk, 1997)
Miles Davis - On The Corner (Take 4) (The Complete On The Corner Sessions, recorded 1972, released 2007)
Public Enemy - Eve Of Destruction (How You Sell Soul To A Souless People Who Sold Their Soul???, 2007)
Black Sabbath - Junior's Eyes (Never Say Die!, 1978)
Sic Alps - Gruxxe Bathe Ballade (Live at WFMU ~ Bootleg, 2007)
John Coltrane - Jupiter (Interstellar Space, 1967)
Marnie Stern - Plato's Fucked Up Cave (In Advance of the Broken Arm, 2007)
The Grails - More Extinction (Burning Off Impurities, 2007)
The Pop Group - Words Disobey Me (Y, 1979, reissued 2007)
Joy Division - Wilderness (Unknown Pleasures, 1979, reissued 2007)
Magazine - Parade (Real Life, 1978)

Side B -

Wire - Two People In A Room (154, 1979)
Dub Trio w/ Mike Patton - No Flag (Another Sound Is Dying, 2008)
Mark Lanegen Band - Come To Me (Bubblegum, 2004)
Eleven - Kneeling On One Knee (Thunk, 1995)
Meat Puppets - I'm A Mindless Idiot (Meat Puppets II, 1983)
Deerhoof - Spiral Golden Town (Green Cosmos EP, 2005)
Menomena - Air Aid (Friend And Foe, 2007)
PJ Harvey - Pocket Knife (Uh Huh Her, 2004)
Sonic Youth - Within You Without You (Daydream Nation - 2CD Deluxe Edition, recorded 1988, released 2007)
James Chance & The Contortions - Dish It Out (No New York Compilation, 1978)
Grinderman - No Pussy Blues (s/t, 2007)
Tom Waits - Book Of Moses (Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards, 2006)
Nina Simone - Sinnerman (Pastel Blues, 1965)

Is it possible that the "mix tape" could make a comeback? Probably not, as technological advancements (CDs, MP3s) have made the drawbacks of cassettes (there's work involved) significantly obvious. I think it's destined to fade into nostalgia-land, but thankfully some of us still exist to keep taping alive. I know for me, if not for tapes, I probably wouldn't have this love of music.

Letters From A Tapehead

Current listening:
Black Sabbath - Killing Yourself To Live (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, 1974)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Panther: 14Kt. God/WHY?: Alopecia…

A couple releases:

14 Kt. God
Kill Rock Stars
Released: 2.19.08

Rating: 8.25 out of 10

14 Kt. God is strange in an understated sort of way. A multifaceted mixture of psych and funk, instrumentalist, Charlie Salas-Humara, and drummer, Joe Kelly, seem ponderous at even their most direct and loud, sort of like they’re unsure about everything they’re doing. At times, 14 Kt. God feels like it emerged unrehearsed during an impromptu jam session, as if every decision, every sound, every choice was made on the spot. But that doesn’t tarnish the album’s vitality and the fact that there are some really awesome ideas at play here.

Starting things off with the mid-tempo funk of “Puerto Rican Jukebox,” and then following that with the Middle-Eastern nuances of “Her Past Are The Trees,” Panther establish a willingness to go anywhere and do anything. They introduce some odd mathematical progressive twists with “Decision, Decision,” “Worn Moments” and “Beautiful Condo,” get laid back with “On The Lam” and go into straight-up disjointed and percussive with the title track. “These Two Trees” offers what could easily be an interpretation of fusion-era Miles Davis. (It’s opening reminds me of conga track, “Mtume,” from the amazing, Get Up With It.)

Despite their propensity for subtle complexity, “Violence, Diamonds,” cello-heavy, “Take Yr Cane," instrumental, “Total Sexy Church” and “What You Hear” offer a more straight-ahead tonality, high-tempo, heavy thumb bass lines and rhythm guitar. But, even in these instances, layers still exist and there really aren’t any monotonous moments.

The song, “Glamorous War,” refuses to leave my head. Set up like a psychedelic “Benny & The Jets,” there’s a section that transitions into waves of organ music, juxtaposed with cello strings and vocal harmonies. For me, it’s the album’s winner.

Photo by Ingrid Renan

Released: 3.11.08

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

”If you grew up with white boys who only look at black and Puerto Rican porno/’Cuz they want somethin’ that their Dad don’t got/Then you know where you’re at…”

I wish it were easy for me to say “this album rules” because I’ve honestly been rewriting the same first paragraph for days regarding this album. I’m so desperate to get away from it that I was tempted to just paraphrase someone else’s review and wipe my hands clean of it, Pontious Pilate in the house, and just let the music-buying, burning and downloading public decide for themselves. I need to listen to something else! Alopecia, new album by Oakland-based trio, WHY? is, to be quite honest, one of the most frustrating things I’ve heard in recent memory because, and a large chunk of the alt-flavored population will disagree with me, it’s so…fucking…un…even.

Follow me now as I take you on a little trip where decisions and ideas exist purely in a collage-like capacity, where sounds are just arbitrarily glued together in an attempt at marrying samples and drum machine beats with waves of xylophone percussion, isolated or cloudy piano swirls and heavy-handed bass thumps. A place where hip-hop exists as a primary outlet for a bunch of guys that probably shouldn’t attempt it and then folds under the weight of whiny pop tracks that might keep the Alternative Press crowd appeased. And, while we’re on the road, let your ears feast on an all-out smorgasbord of nonsensical prose laced with a somewhat passionate tonality that suggests introspection, insight and consideration. And then, we’ll bust out the marshmallows and have an over-the-fire discourse in regard to Alopecia’s brilliant ambiguity and possible depth-charged level impact.

I’m probably being unfair because Alopecia, for the most part, is really well done and consistently interesting from a musical standpoint. “Good Friday,” being one of the few instances where vocalist, Yoni Wolf’s, flat, indifferent and cryptic lyrics actually work, is a nonsensical but atmospheric piece of XXX folk-hop. Its aimless and seemingly dissatisfied delivery is sort of in the vein of Beck’s “Loser,” but its inaccessibility makes it seem a little more genuine. “Song Of The Sad Assassin,” with its very strong bass and kick-beat intro, switches into a somewhat pretty and rhythmic piano/beat piece. “Gnashville” is multi-layered and lonely, powered by distant whistles and echoed percussion. “Brook & Waxing” and “A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under” both heavily utilize those swirling notes I touched on before, the former happening during the song’s sped up outro and the latter occurring throughout the entire track with a xylophone. It does have a collaged structure as elements are haphazardly pasted throughout songs, but in a way that seems deliberate. Because of this, Alopecia benefits from headphones.

The seeming nonsense that Wolf spews over songs however does become distracting, despite its possible existence in abstract narrative or metaphor. In the case of “The Hollows” for example, the song’s asserted passion winds up meaningless as statements like >”This goes out to all my underdone, under-tongued, long, long frontmen…,” lose steam when juxtaposed with a report of witnessing two men banging in a basketball court. Once again, I might be too literal with my analysis and it could be that the lyrics are supposed to take on the same collage pose as the song structure. If that’s the case though, it’s a motif much better suited for the music itself.

Alopecia’s highpoints are also tarnished to an extent by the ultra-whiny “These Few Presidents” and “Fatalist Palmistry,” which deviate from the otherwise rapped vocals WHY? employs throughout. Despite the fact that Wolf comes off like Weezer trying to throw down rhymes, “Nerd-hop” if you will, it’s a much more effective device than the Jiffy-Pop’d singing he commits to the aforementioned tracks. Even the freestyle flow of “Twenty Eight” makes more sense here.

Overall, WHY? have a distinguished sound and an imagination for sound structure, but Alopecia would’ve benefited from editing and a better handle on song content. A title that has something to do with the album might’ve helped, too.

Photo by Jacob Hand

Letters From A Tapehead

Current listening:
Joy Division - Atrocity Exhibition (Still 2CD reissue, 1980: Live At High Wycombe Town Hall)

Mario Bros. gets the double-bass treatment..

It's not just anybody that can turn one of the most recognizable video game jingles into a progressive masterpiece.

See more funny videos at CollegeHumor

My compliments to Andrea Vadrucci.

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Tom Waits discusses his upcoming Glitter & Doom tour:

It would be ridiculously brilliant if he was touring in support of Scarlett Johansson's cover album.

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, May 05, 2008

Dreadrocks: Dub Trio’s Metallic Progression

Dub Trio
Another Sound Is Dying
Ipecac Recordings
Released: 1.29.08

Rating: 9.25 out of 10

A couple years ago while Tower Records was in the midst of crumbling to oblivion, I picked up a discounted copy of New Heavy by Brooklyn-based, Dub Trio. Learning of them through their involvement with Mike Patton’s pop-experiment, Peeping Tom, (their collaborative “We’re Not Alone” was remixed for this record), New Heavy left a fairly indelible impression on me, an impression that immediately led me to pick-up their previous record, Exploring The Dangers Of. Aside from its somewhat obvious owing to the punk/reggae pathos that defines the mighty Bad Brains, New Heavy was also alive with the possible expansion of what could easily be called “limited.” It had the spirit of Lee Perry and an influx of Bill Laswell experimentation. But, most importantly, it rocked. Upon first listen I could visualize the glassed corneas of frat house inhabitants suddenly shatter while their smoke-born pilgrimages into new ideas and understanding, a pilgrimage initially influenced by Marley, were suddenly stomped into the beer-soaked carpet as a new dawn cracked their worlds apart and opened to them a land of harshed mellow. It made me smile a little bit.

Two years later, and the Trio has unsurprisingly moved their operation to Patton’s label, Ipecac Recordings, and come up with a new progression, Another Sound Is Dying.

Exchanging their Bad Brains rawness for more of a Helmet-based syncopated approach, Another Sound Is Dying finds the band at their most loud and, in some ways, most innovative. They’ve turned up the aggression even to the point of turning their typically mellowed dub sections into sinister interludes, momentary breaks before the guitars come to murder any relaxed or chilled vibe. Such is the case with opener, “Not For Nothing,” where the heavy riffs dissipate into distant howls as the bass maintains the song’s rhythm and speed, refusing to slow the pace while the drums echo so as to keep the dub aesthetic intact. Follower, “Jog On,” sticks to the formula but explodes into double bass drum blast beats before ending. “Bay Vs. Leonard” lightens the mood a bit, acting as more of a fun jam than a beat-your-face-against-the-wall-to-this-rhythm-section rock statement.

Yes, the album’s full of aggression, really confusing the dub concept with its attack and possibly trying to change the genre, or at least bend it a little bit so that it can accommodate more moods, sounds and sensibilities. Thus far, Dub Trio has avoided writing themselves into a corner from where there is no escape and, with Another Sound Is Dying, they do this not only through their determined and intense usage of their identifying sound, but with excluding it all together at points. “Felicitacion” combines metal sludge with a lonesome and beautiful guitar section midway, exchanging reggae for a feeling of isolation. “Respite,” also a rather melancholy little ditty, stays slowed up and hits some grunge-inspired riffs. Toward the end when it explodes into a wave of heavy guitar sounds, I had to stop myself from going, “If you want…to destroy my sweaterrrrrrr…pull the string as I wahlllllk ahwaaaaaaay…” But, then the sorrowful piano keys enter the picture, and the urge thankfully leaves my system.

And then there’s the Patton track, “No Flag:” solid, creepy and mighty. I think it’s only a matter of time before Patton and Trio make a full album. Having only two songs to their credit as a collaborative effort, it’s remarkable how well they work together.

“Mortar Dub” remains the only full dub track to be heard with its almost inebriated bass line. “Safe and Sane” also knocks its high-tempo opening to a straight-up crawl while “Fuck What You Heard” interrupts its dub section with sporadic guitar hits. “Funishment,” a gravelly bass thumper coupled with dissonant guitar squeals and effects, finishes the album off in an almost Aphex Twin hail of electro-static and percussion.

The only instance where a song feels out of place, is with “Agonist,” which feels like a straggler from New Heavy. Even the production on this track feels out of place and like a regression, recounting where they were only two years ago but sounding remarkably lightweight amidst the other songs herein.

Otherwise, remaining tracks “Regression Line” (my favorite), “Who Wants To Die?,” and “The Midnight Rider” (not to be confused with the Allman Bros.), enforce the aggression, add in their signature and throw in a few nuances to keep it from getting monotonous.

Overall, Another Sound Is Dying is a very strong collection of songs. Having made three very different records, each one displaying a need to move on and grow despite the potential dangers of being formulaic, Dub Trio’s next move won’t be too easy to come by. But, they persist in their craft, boasting one of the best rhythm sections in rock music right now and carving themselves a decent place in Alternamerica. Just looking forward to that Patton record that they’re bound to do.

Letters From A Tapehead

New Selections — Emma Ruth Rundle, Tropical Fuck Storm, Primitive Man, Private Life, Uniform, Erika Wennerstrom, Djrum, Windhand

Starting August off with some new singles. Emma Ruth Rundle:  " Darkhorse " (via Rarely Unable /  Sargent House  / YouTub...