Sunday, November 30, 2008

Maus Haus: Rigid Breakfast

So, this is a pretty wild track from Maus Haus, a somewhat strange combination of Kraftwerk industrial consistency meeting up with the progressive edge of some Nuggets based psych band like Count Five. Interesting sci-fi theremin.

Their album, Lark Marvels, is slated for release early next year.

"Rigid Breakfast"

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Post-Hardcore Revival: Foals & French Miami

Sub Pop
Released: 4.8.08

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

French Miami
Dinner Party Records
Released: 11.18.08

Rating: 8 out of 10

When the fists stopped flying around the mid-eighties, allowing for some of the crooked noses to set and the flowing blood to scab over after the turbulence of the hardcore days, a wave of desired artistic growth and possible boredom with the scene led to the formation of post-hardcore. Post-hardcore groups, mostly those of late-80s Dischord era (Rites Of Spring, Fugazi) or mid-80s SST (Hüsker Dü, Meat Puppets, later evolutions of Black Flag via the enlightenment of Greg Ginn), were noise-allegiant but turned on to melody which, in most cases, was avoided when it was all about yelling, screaming and going really fucking fast.

The sounds of post-punk has seemed the basis for inspiration within the indie rock scene these days, evoking Joy Divisions a-many, with Public Image disco beats aplenty. Oxford, England’s Foals, debuting in early April with their Sub Pop release Antidotes, were readily categorized as part of the post-punk revival and comparable to the likes of Modest Mouse and Franz Ferdinand. It’s not an unfounded observation: If ever there were a band that clung to that indie disco beat, you’d be hard-pressed to find one more loyal or obedient.

But, listening to Antidotes, I could hear a little more going on: an unpolished, albeit melodious, combination of harmonic strings and intricate picking, partly owned by Television, partly owned by Fugazi. Granted there’s nothing particularly noisy about the Foals, but listening to the dirty trashcan percussion of “Red Socks Pugie,” they seem to crossover enough to standout as more than just a Franz Ferdinand sound-alike.

Similarly, San Francisco’s French Miami, also debuting this year, emerged with their self-titled ode to minimalist noise rock, wearing their Warmers/Fugazi/Jawbox inspiration proudly and adding some Devo-esque synth to the equation.

Video for “Olympic Airways” by Foals

Having rejected TV On The Radio producer Dave Sitek’s original mix, already showing signs of biting the hand that feeds, Foals apply a rather thick and disciplined standard of chord juxtaposition and post-punk dance rhythm. Singer/guitarist Yannis Philippakis, though not necessarily the most distinctive voice in Brindie rock, at times exudes a wimpy rebelliousness that also comes across as genuine and emotionally heartfelt. His exerted enunciation in hi-tempo “Cassius” has an air of punk flamboyance a la Richard Hell but then the “let’s disappear till tomorrow” passion-laced “Olympic Airways” draws out the romantic over minimal harmonic strings.

Despite sticking rather closely to their formula, Antidotes is an inconsistent effort. Opening with the very cool jam-based salsa dance mix of “The French Open,” there’s a promise of mathematical and angular interaction that comes to fruition, but the album grows overwrought. Even with an unnecessary trumpet in place, the opening track and following track, “Cassius,” have energy to them, an energy that seems to keep up with “Red Socks Pugie” and the aforementioned “Olympic Airways.”

When “Electric Bloom” enters the picture, the album begins to run out of steam, falling victim to an excessive mixture of ideas that lose focus. “Balloons” momentarily brings the groove back, and “Heavy Water,” though at times a little slow, still has enough interesting moments to carry the album. By the “Two Steps, Twice,” Antidotes begins to feel overdone, as if the Foals had expended their bag of tricks and stretched themselves a little thin. “Big Big Love (Fig. 2)” is mostly directionless and long, and closing track, “Tron,” is one more dance rhythm to sit through before the album closes.

Video for “God Damn Best” by French Miami

French Miami open their album with a filler track and end it with a filler track. The middle, though, is pure minimized art rock, jagged edges sharpened by gleaming synthesizer and smooth grooves. “God Damn Best” rings out with one ugly riff transitioning into a slammed power jam. “What’cha gonna do with all that/What’cha gonna do with love,” questions vocalist Jason Heiselmann amidst a thickly rendered garage storm of pulsating syth, fractured guitar strings and cymbal clad percussion.

Following track, “Science Fiction,” cleanly positions a repetitious sped-up finger-tapped riff with an otherwise mid-tempo backbeat and long undulating keyboard sounds. Time signatures do get accessed as the song moves on, making it maybe the most complex song on the album. The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it “Mr. Moment” is followed up by the somewhat epic “Multi Caliber Rifles,” its anticipatory pay off of a beginning leading into more pay offs like a musical Russian doll before the song shifts into a fairly accessible pop rhythm.

“Windwar,” a John Carpenter of a synthesizer instrumental, winds and wallows before leading into “Lil’ Rabbits,” with nary a keyboard to be found. “Lil’ Rabbits” is one of the stronger songs present, reasonably aggressive without throwing off the momentum of the album. Though, lyrically, the song is tediously repetitious. “All On Fire,” slow and somewhat lifeless, leads into the Gary Numan-esque robotics of “Nineteen Ninety One.”

“S.F.O.,” strangely opening with a 80s break beat before launching into what sounds like a disco rhythmic Wire track, is the album’s strongest song, mostly reliant on the layering of elements and working harmonies overtop the foundation. Its complexities are subtle, which is why it’s so successful, and indicative of the attention French Miami offers its sound.

With Foals and French Miami, it’s possible that the closing of the unnamed millennial decade could lead into a second surge of alt-rock revivalism. Canada’s Ten Kens have already tapped into the Pixies portion of the equation, so its post-hardcore counterparts seem to be next in line.

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Eagles of Death Metal: “CAN YOU DIG IT?!?”

The Duke Spirit
Eagles of Death Metal
The Note
West Chester, PA

It only took four days for the buzzing in my ears to cease.

Photo by Kii Arens

I got to the West Chester club, The Note, (owned by figurative and literal Jackass Bam Margera), around 7:45 Thursday evening amidst thick snow flurries and chilled November air. Waiting for my brother to arrive, I was talking to a friend when Jesse “Electric Boots” Hughes walked by, a rockabilly Fraggle of a man with there-for-show sunglasses propped onto his nose. The guy was all smiles and as pleasant as any amicable acquaintance, going out of his way to make conversation with the winter-bound filter suckers braving the air to appease their nico-demons. My friend managed to get an autograph on her ticket stub. I had will-call tickets, so I had nothing scribble-worthy to present. Missed opportunity; fuck will-call tickets.

Margera, flanked by his local comrades and star struck suburban boppers, was also at the show that night playing the roll of Super-Cool Nightclub Proprietor: The Dirty Version. Celeb-du jour in the house.

When my brother showed up, our gang walked into the venue, which is basically a continuous hallway that spills you out to the stage. There is a long bar on the right, exposed brick and dark woodwork like a gimmick variation on castle interior with three-candle light bulb sconces added for a medieval effect. As people filed in, the bar got more and more congested as there weren’t many corners to stake claim to. It was hard to be out of the way. Opening act, The Duke Spirit, went on around 9.

We hung back at the bar for the opener, wondering why we couldn’t really hear them that well. Singer, Leila Moss, was completely inaudible under the muddy weight of guitar and drum that emanated from the stage like a muffled bootleg. The crowd seemed into them, as the only clear thing we could pick-up were applause after every song concluded. They played for about 30 to 45 minutes. We decided to make our way to ground zero soon after.

When you get past the bar, the hallway opens up into a decent sized room with a balcony overhead. There are three tall and ornate light fixtures hanging from the ceiling and a Beetlejuice-striped wall on which the balcony stairwell sits. It’s an intimate setting, which is always what you want to see.

It was almost 10:30 when Eagles of Death Metal took the stage, Pilot’s “Magic” somehow providing the perfect entrance music. Hughes came out wearing a mirror-shiny jacket and pink t-shirt underneath, cementing his position as the only man that can get away with such a wardrobe combination. Queens of the Stone Age drummer, Joey Castillo was the Josh Homme for the night with QOTSA-alum, Dave Catching on guitar and Brian O’Connor on bass. As the crowd screamed, Hughes looked on with a wide smile, displaying an intense amount of amazement, disbelief and gratitude. Without even playing, Hughes already declared this crowd the best he’d seen in the last three shows. The cynic in me, though, is sure that he says that to all the crowds.

Cutting lose with all the rock n’ roll energy any human being can muster, and having an absolute blast while doing it, Hughes was engaging and amazing to witness live. Addressing the crowd with affection (like Cyrus from The Warriors, following every rock n’ roll statement with, “Can you dig it?!?”), taking moments between songs to fully appreciate the impact he was having on all of us, Hughes was the epitome of gracious and cool and the audience was really into it. In all seriousness, there was nothing serious about it. Just fun. The entire show was just a lot of fun.

As far as songs go, they played just about everything I wanted to hear: “I Want You So Hard (The Boy’s Bad News),” “I Only Want You,” “I Like To Move In The Night,” “Whorehoppin’ (Shit, Goddamn),” “Don’t Speak (I Came To Make A BANG!),” “Cherry Cola,” “Stuck In The Metal,” “English Girl” (though they changed that to “Philly Girl” for the sake of the crowd)…etc. Despite the tour supporting their latest album, Heart On, it seemed like most of the set revolved around their two previous releases as they didn’t tap into the new material too often. They played for about an hour and fifteen with a six or seven-song encore comprised of a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” and an amazing rendition of “Speaking In Tongues,” during which some of female crowd were let on stage to dance the band away.

When the music died down, I became very aware of how damaged my ears were. Every sound was submerged under gallons of invisible fluid, leading to four days of an internal and distracting BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Evidently, it’s time to invest in some earplugs, because the recovery was slow and a little painful.

But, the show? Fuck, what a great time. And no ticket stub to show for it.

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, November 24, 2008

No Ripcord: Guns N' Roses

Guns N' Roses
Chinese Democracy
Released: 11.23.08

In light of the "monumental" release of Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy, the entire No Ripcord staff was asked to chip in their two cents regarding the album. Hopefully, as the week moves forward, more reviews will be made available.

No Ripcord review

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, November 20, 2008

No Ripcord: Robert Wyatt

Robert Wyatt
Rock Bottom
Originally released: 7.26.74
Reissued: 10.28.08

No Ripcord review

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Gutter Twins: Live at the TLA

The Gutter Twins
Theater of Living Arts
Philadelphia, PA

Photo by Sam Holden

Weather related traffic was part of the reason. Needing some dinner before the show was another. And then there was the task of actually navigating South Street in its torn up and tire shredding condition. When all was said and done, my friends and I arrived at the TLA in time to hear the last two songs from the opening band, Afterhours. Clear Dixies of amber firmly in our palms, we watched the opener and remained unimpressed. The fact that they sang in Italian somehow made them intolerable in that “we should sound like Dashboard Confessional so the American girls want to lay us” kind of way. Traffic, for once, wound up a blessing.

When The Gutter Twins took the stage, it was all applause amongst the maybe sixty of us standing around. Red overhead lights stuck to Greg Dulli, who took banter duty, (at one point he told us all, “I am happy. And I won $500 on the Phillies, motherfucker!”), and looked like a coke bloated Matthew Perry. Mark Lanegan remained lit from the back, obscuring his face by shadow, though here and there you could make out the deep ocular canyons that hold his world-weary eyes in place. With the lights changing colors and shimmering against his silhouette, he was like a Q-Tip of another color standing firmly with his mic stand, hands unmoving.

The band was very good, revving even their slowest songs into loud and impassioned heights. Lanegan, somehow engaging in the face of his seeming disinterest with the audience, boomed his throaty low end amidst the band’s fury and despite Dulli’s insistence on sounding louder. Coupled with a loud backup vocalist, Dulli seemed at points set on enveloping Lanegan’s vocal in his overdone falsetto but Lanegan is an unsettling and charismatic presence. No movement, no face for most of the set, Mark Lanegan was the star.

They did an excellent rendition of “Seven Stories Underground” and “Idle Hands.” They also pulled “Hit The City” and “Methamphetamine Blues” from Lanegan’s Bubblegum album, which were really cool to hear live. And, they reveled in a little nostalgia, throwing together a block of Afghan Whigs and Screaming Trees songs. I was hoping not to hear the annoying “Front Street,” but it wound up being an overblown part of the show, Dulli playing Tom Jones, walking to the edge of the stage holding his microphone like a Dean Martin-i.

Lanegan, not one for goodbyes, goodnights, or “go fuck yourself’s,” exited stage right without a word. Cold shoulders like his would suggest the possible absence of an encore, but the Twins came through with a decent set. Lanegan walked off a second time without a word to the audience, and the audience exited without much of a reaction.

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Miriam Makeba (1932-2008)

South African singer, Miriam Makeba, died November 9th after suffering a heart attack during a live performance. She was 76.

Miriam Makeba performing “Pata Pata”

Though not very well versed in Makeba’s work, I’m aware of her opposition to apartheid and her significance as a cultural fountainhead who adorned the world with the music of her homeland. Due to her vocal protest of apartheid, Makeba was exiled from South Africa for a little over thirty years.

Miriam Makeba performing “Kilimanjaro”

Performing in honor of six African immigrants slaughtered by the Italian Camorra mafia, Makeba collapsed and could not be revived. South African President, Nelson Mandela, who allowed her passage back into South Africa in 1990, said of Makeba, "It was fitting that her last moments were spent on a stage, enriching the hearts and lives of others - and again in support of a good cause."

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, November 06, 2008

No Longer the Indian of the Group: RIP Jimmy Carl Black

Listening to We’re Only In It For The Money, one of the largest jewels in the extensive crown that is Frank Zappa’s legacy, the spoken quote, “Hi Boys and Girls, I'm Jimmy Carl Black, and I'm the Indian of the group" springs up here and there and is one of the more memorable aspects of the album.

Jimmy Carl Black, indeed of Cheyenne heritage, was Zappa’s drummer in the original Mothers Of Invention. Having been diagnosed with lung cancer, Jimmy passed away on Saturday, November 1st at the age of 70.

Jimmy Carl Black performing “Lonesome Cowboy Burt” from the film 200 Motels

On his website, it reads, “Jimmy passed away peacefully last night Saturday 11/01/08 at 11:00 o'clock pm. Jimmy says hi to everybody and he doesn't want anybody to be sad.”

After the Mothers dissolved, Jimmy did continue to work with Zappa on a sporadic basis, appearing in his movie, 200 Motels and working on later albums like 1981’s You Are What You Is. He also worked with two Zappa-based tribute bands, The Grandmothers and The Muffin Men in addition to numerous other bands. Last year, he recorded an autobiography called, The Jimmy Carl Black Story.

Jimmy Carl Black performing with Frank Zappa in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 12/10/80

Rest In Peace, Jimmy. Tell Frank we said, “hi.”

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sic Alps: The Summary of an Entity Born in the Wrong Era

Sic Alps
A Long Way Around To A Shortcut
Animal Disguise Records

Compiled & Released: 5.13.08

Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: 7.15.08

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

The Garage Rock Revival of the early millennium was a pretty significant, though somewhat short lived, musical movement that brought back unpolished, barebones sound aesthetics and fell back on age old recording techniques and equipment. Spawning the sudden relevance of a ton of ”The…” bands, The White Stripes remaining at its forefront, the genre reeked of 60s era Nuggets imitators that easily regurgitated elementary chords and shoddily mic’d drum sounds, which really wasn’t a bad thing.

For a while, I was happy about it. Despite being faced with a lot of Kinks rip-offs, it was good to hear the basics back on the radio: bands at least SOUNDING like they were thinking less about sugarcoated production and adhering to more of the DIY/raw sounds of 60s Proto/Garage Rock. As far as I was concerned, coming off the tired late-90s wave of undignified Pop Punk (Green Day, Good Charlotte, Blink 182) and Fauxternative bands meant to appease the inner-rock Cookie Monster dwelling within firefighters and police officers everywhere (3 Doors Down, Nickelback, Creed), the Revival meant something was at least happening and a rock consciousness was being rekindled in the vein of a spirit we’ve been dying for since the early 90s.

But, the Revival was also in a lot ways built on an easily manipulated set of musical standards that could be mistaken for truth and sincerity. When you got right down to it, there were no garages to be seen amongst this wave of bands (mostly duos) and none of them were pulling off anything extraordinarily authentic with their attempted variations on the Nuggets/Velvets/
seminal hybrid. And, though I feel there is legitimacy to his songwriting, Jack White was put on a fairly undeserved pedestal because the Garage aesthetics were so easy to duplicate and deliver.

Having lost some steam over the last couple years, though still boasting a generous array of bands firmly entrenched in the minds of Indie/Alternative fans, the Revival unknowingly missed one of its truest artifacts: Sic Alps.

Video for “Massive Place” from U.S. EZ

I discovered Sic Alps last year having purchased their 2006 LP, Pleasures & Treasures. Upon first listen, I’ll admit that the album took some time to absorb. But, when it did, the band became a fascination and removed much of the credibility from the mainstream Garage acts in my eyes.

A duo hailing from San Francisco, (no doubt an influence to their sound), Sic Alps, singer/guitarist Mike Donovan and drummer/bassist Matthew Hartman, perfectly embody 60s Proto/Garage and incorporate the overtly experimental edge of 80s Alt-Rock while blanketing the mix in a reverb-heavy haze. Reverb is truly the band’s third member.

This year, Sic Alps released their discography, transferring their many out-of-print 12s and 7s, to a 26-track CD entitled, A Long Way Around To A Shortcut. And, in addition to a couple other small releases (cassette-only release, one-sided 7”), they also put out a new LP, U.S. EZ.

Because the band is so prolific in that “limited edition” kind of way, A Long Way Around To A Shortcut is a blessing. Beginning with then latest LP, Description of the Harbor, Sic Alps exhibit a loose-level King Crimson take on “Moonchild” free jazz (“Description of the Harbor”), Haight-Ashbury acoustic jams (“Who Has Time To Protest?), and Townshend/Moon-sized rockers (“Hey Sofia”), leading into the more severe Jefferson Airplane acid rock assault of the Strawberry Guillotine 7” and later with “Texas (Is the Right State).” They run the gamut of the 60s Psych book, offering up experimental noise tracks (“Ratroq,” “Social Strats,” and “C’mon Pup”) that somehow make sense in correlation with their love of distortion. The sly and simplistic strum of “Dr. Bag and the Pomade Nature Giants” is as echoing and Garage as it gets, effortlessly achieving the sound and effect that better-known bands desperate to duplicate The Stooges haven’t come close to creating.

Video for “A Story Over There” from Description of the Harbor

U.S. EZ, for all its 28 minutes, is their most realized album to date. Beginning with Mike Donovan’s Lou Reed-as-Spicoli inflections over fields of heavy cymabl and bass, “Massive Place” powers through to the broken romance of instrumental “Bric Jaz.” At its most heartfelt, U.S. EZ sounds fractured and shuffles through a constant state of distorted disarray, but it works. Songs like “Sing Song Waitress” and “Everywhere, There” seem so deep in atmosphere that you don’t notice the strange noises enveloping the song.

Most of the album sounds unrehearsed, but the spontaneity is fascinating. Even with something like The Who-centric “Bathman,” which exhibits some sturdy rock sections, Donovan and Hartman let the song fall apart into a 1-to-2 rhythm shuffle in a seeming effort to desecrate their own creative heights. Even “Mater,” where most of the song relies on a coherent structure, goes into a slo-mo thud and sort of defeats the more accessible aspects of the song. Through exemplifying solid playing, Sic Alps communicate their actual abilities on top of their willingness to let the music purposely collapse into a sometimes indecipherable mash of static and percussion. How very Rock N’ Roll.

“Gelly Roll Gum Drop,” probably the most cohesive track on the album, rocks like a White Album cocktail, combining the “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” guitar with some high-note piano. The album ends with the lonesome guitar of “Co/Ca” and the light xylophone tinks of “Quai Des Orfèvres.”

Sic Alps are, to me, an essential Rock entity, having crafted a couple of the best, but mostly unnoticed, Rock albums released this millennium. In the face of the Garage Revival, a movement that boasted a return to the Rock’s Blues and barebones roots, the mainstream branch of the genre is missing what Donovan and Hartman possess: a complete understanding of how it’s done. It takes more than just old equipment and vintage instruments. If Sic Alps are ever recognized by Rock history, and I really hope that happens, their catalogue will be regarded with as much respect as The Velvet Underground & Nico, White Light/White Heat, Fun House or Kick Out The Jams. You want the real stuff; look no further and, please, BUY these albums you download-happy fuckers!

Letters From A Tapehead

P.S. – For those interested, here’s the breakdown of the compilation:

A Long Way Around To A Shortcut songs:

Description of the Harbor 12" EP (12/07)

Description of the Harbor
Love Is Strange
A Story Over There
Be A Song
Message From the Law
Who Has Time to Protest?
Bells (w/ Tremolo and Distortion)
The News Today
Hey Sofia
Dr. Bag and the Pomade Nature Giants

Strawberry Guillotine 7" (11/07)

Strawberry Guillotine
The Drake

Semi-Streets 7" (11/06)

(“Semi-Streets” was excluded from the compilation. Featured on the LP, Pleasures & Treasures)
And What Came Next
Brill Building
Social Strats

Four Virgins California Lightning/Sic Alps split 7" (11/04)

I Am Grass

Hip Hop Shop Sweepers Vol. 1 (9/06)


Teenage Alps Cassette EP (5/06)

When You Tell It
Texas Is The Right State
C'mon Pup
Untitled/Digital Booklet/Deep Fruit

The Soft Tour in Rough Form 12" EP (4/06)

Arthur Machen
Making Plans

Monday, November 03, 2008

MacKaye and Moore discuss "Indie;" The Tapehead Gets Nostalgic

Crawdaddy, still a force to be reckoned with in terms of content, reviews and general rock knowledge, had an interesting article featuring a Q & A session with Ian MacKaye and Thurston Moore regarding Independent culture in terms of publishing, music and literature. If you're interested in checking it out, click here.

I would probably trade ten years of my life to know firsthand what it was like to come up in their respective worlds, where information was sought out and hard won, vinyl and cassettes were precious and the record stores were swelling with enlightened teenagers ready to do damage on their secondhand Strats. The albums back then...It's overwhelming to think about. I find myself sometimes nostalgic for an era or a feeling I was too young to understand or appreciate. With THIS era, I sometimes feel too out of touch to understand or appreciate it. But, at least I'm trying. If there's any consolation to be had, it's that the music still matters. Seasons change, trends come and go, but music will always have a place.

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...