Friday, January 30, 2009

Themselves: Spring 2009

This little gem of a promo video was sent to me this morning.

Hip-hop group, Themselves, will be releasing an album this spring. In the meantime, feast your eyes on some overdubbed comedy.

Conan & Friends Part II from anticon. on Vimeo.

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Primus: Jerry Was A Race Car Driver

"Truly a wonder of nature this urban predator..."

1991, 1992... In the midst of a skateboarding obsession, bad grades and a slew of cassette-borne musical epiphanies, Primus's "Tommy The Cat" came into my life and kicked my bloodstream up about ten notches. There was excitement pouring out of Les Claypool's fingers as he coerced that four-string into thunderous and obnoxious pandemonium while rooster-stepping to Tim Alexander's double-bass peddled percussive brilliance and Larry LaLonde's picked howl.

"Say, baby, do ya wanna lay down with me/Say, baby, do wanna lay down by my side/Ah, baby, do you wanna lay down with me/Say baby, SAY BABY!"

And, even though I'd listened to him my entire life, my mother and father both being fans, "Tommy The Cat" was really the first time I'd acknowledged Tom Waits, which only furthered my musical curiosity and led me to his many profound and essential albums.

As much as "Tommy The Cat" altered my adolescent headspace, "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver" sold me on Primus as funk-based art rock almost, more than just a pronounced rhythm section with goofy content enhancing its lunacy.

"Jerry Was A Race Car Driver" is as simple as a song as Primus was capable, which, if you've heard that groove, says a lot about the band's abilities. There isn't much deviation from structure, aside from two occurrences of grinding low end and splash cymbal percussive tumult. The song is mostly understated, a lot of its nuance falling behind the obviousness of Claypool's presence. LaLonde smoothly incorporates some slick guitar solos, almost jazz worthy like a subtle flute whistle, but never really grabs all the attention. Tim "Herb" Alexander, probably the 90s take on Stewart Copeland, exhibits a lot of attention to detail and demonstrates his somehow overlooked contribution to Primus's sound. The elements fuse together so perfectly.

It was upon hearing this song that I pulled together what little money I had at the time and bought Sailing The Seas Of Cheese on cassette during a summer vacation in Ocean City, New Jersey. One of those milestone albums.

Years later, my teenage cassette sacrificed its innards to my tape deck while I was behind the wheel of my first car.

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, January 26, 2009

Shopping For Records #10: Radiohead Gets Capitol-ized Some More…


Pablo Honey (Collectors + Special Collectors Edition)
The Bends (Collectors + Special Collectors Edition)
OK Computer (Collectors + Special Collectors Edition)

Releasing: 3.24.09

The Drill EP (12” Single)
Creep (12” Single)
My Iron Lung (12” Single)
Just (12” Single)
Fake Plastic Trees (12” Single)
High And Dry (12” Single)
Street Spirit (Fade Out) (12” Single)
Paranoid Android (12” Single)
Karma Police (12” Single)
No Surprises (12” Single)
Pyramid Song (12” Single)
There There (12” Single)
2+2=5 (12” Single)

Releasing: 4.21.09

Do you think Capitol Records knew so many moons ago that they would have under their grasp such a wealth of lucrative reissuing opportunities?

After reintroducing Radiohead’s Capitol catalogue to life as 12” 180-gram remasters last year, there’s more in store for said catalogue. Two-disc collectors editions of their first three albums are being released in late March, with special collectors editions boasting DVD extras. This is after Capitol’s aforementioned vinyl treatment and the release of a Best Of compilation that failed to win points with the band.

And, because the fanboy dollar is worth so much these days, (especially in this economy), Capitol is also reissuing Radiohead single collections as 12” vinyl.

Holy shit.

Granted, blatant marketing such as this does warrant some venom on the band’s part and maybe fans to some extent, but let’s be honest: Is there really going to be a boycott at hand? 12” singles? Collectors editions of some very seminal output from one of the best bands to come out in the last century? Capitol’s counting on fans to shell out the green, and I’m sure a lot of this excessive capitalization is due to economic stress and lost profit.

Quoth the Gordon Gekko: “Greed is good. Greed works.”

Hopefully, the extras will be worth the money.

Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, January 23, 2009

This Time, He Gives Blood…

Bon Iver
Blood Bank EP
Released: 1.20.09

Rating: 7.25 out of 10

Bon Iver, or Justin Vernon, is no longer in self-imposed solitary confinement.

Last year, Vernon’s debut as Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago, garnered a lot of critical acclaim and public favor, boasting not only a passionate collection of songs but an interesting back story as well. Spending a Wisconsin winter in a cabin? An isolated artist overwhelmed by breakup, recuperating from sickness? Recording it all himself? It writes itself, and it helped that the results were really, really good.

But, as cathartic origins directly affected the height of his creative watermark, Vernon has a lot to live up to for any follow-up. Blood Bank, his new four song EP, seems very aware of the task at hand.

Blood Bank isn’t a complete departure from For Emma but it’s more of an experimental outing, relying more on invention than feeling to drive itself from beginning to end. With only four songs to establish Vernon’s intentions, he’s smartly delivered a forecast that will not only satisfy fans eager for new material, but also better acclimate them to whatever he may be doing next. The quality of his efforts? Different, but not bad.

Opening with the title track, Vernon takes more of an alt-rock approach; barely audible cymbal splash and kick beat thumping the song’s rhythm. Its narrative only breaks for sung reiterations of “I know it well,” the song’s outro building up its sound for a heightened climax. The following song, “Beach Baby,” is the EP’s attempt at not deviating TOO much from For Emma, its solo acoustic self maintaining a degree of isolation and distance via echoing slide guitar embellishments.

The album’s most interesting track, “Babys,” opens in a continuous and heavy flurry of piano keys. “Summer comes…To multiply, to multiply,” Vernon sings before the piano assault drops out, pausing for him to deliver a couple verses in slow, enchanting cries. It’s simple, but effective and probably Vernon’s furthest creative exploration.

His sole slip-up is the EP’s closer, “Woods,” an Auto-Tuned harmonic that is mostly sung a cappella. Though Vernon strives to keep the song soulful, the addition of angelic waves of echoing vocals humanizing its otherwise robotic tongue, “Woods” feels really out of place and its utilization of technology feels trendy. Considering Auto-Tune’s conventional usage amongst the pop elite, and its notable association with Kanye West’s “sung” album, 808s & Heartbreak, it’s become a tired presence in music and has no place on this artist’s record. It was a ballsy choice, but unnecessary.

I wouldn’t call Blood Bank a fully realized effort so much as a teaser or a rough draft. It’s evident that Vernon is expanding his sound, attempting to duplicate his accomplishments while not duplicating the album that brought him notoriety. It’s a solid step in the right direction, but no more Auto-Tune. Please.

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, January 22, 2009

No Ripcord: Color Cassette

Color Cassette
Forever Sparrow
Autres Directions In Music
Released: 1.7.09

No Ripcord review

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, January 19, 2009

“You Just Like The Fast Stuff, That’s All:” Al Di Meola at the Sellersville Theater

Al Di Meola
Sellersville Theater
Sellersville, PA

Photo uncredited; from Al Di Meola's website.

The overall mood was relatively morose by 6:30PM, the Philadelphia Eagles having forfeit (the first half was a joke) their shot at the Super Bowl. Before beginning his set about an hour later, guitar virtuoso, Al Di Meola, expressed his condolences to Philadelphia’s loss. My brother called out, “We’re used to it!”

Not so much a “concert” as an “engagement,” or “an evening with dot dot dot,” Di Meola and his sextet, (having until recently been a foursome), sat before a crowd of aging 70s artifacts, pretentious Doylestown hipsters and prog-obsessed nerdy teenagers. Gregg Allman was a common look. The crowd was an attentive bunch, engrossed by Di Meola’s understated between-song-commentary, and overstated during-song-fretwork. Considering my last show, I was more than happy to be in attendance of something less detrimental to my hearing and more relaxed.

The venue itself is a converted movie theater, recalling the days when seating was NOT stadium and heads could block pivotal movie moments or subtitles. There were MANY instances when I fell victim to this, the head of an empty-nest syndrome Mary Lou Retton occupying a good portion of my vision at points, and then the life-size Q-Tip a couple rows down doing the same. But, the sound was great, Di Meola’s pronounced six-string ringing throughout the intimate setting.

His ability really shows no sign of wear or tear, myself never having seen him live before but knowing enough of his recorded output to keep myself aware of how insane his playing is. Out of nowhere, the fingers will fly, pinning themselves against the frets at carpal-tunnel speeds and, at points, making the crowd respond with nothing more than “whoa” climbing from our otherwise speechless tongues as if we’d just witnessed action hero cinema at its peak. The guy’s a fucking samurai, but he’s also graceful when he slows down, his notes sporadically piercing through the layered sound collage behind him.

Al Di Meola plays “Mediterranean Sundance” live with Alexandru Cotoi in Bucharest 2008. A couple of the musicians I saw live are featured here.

The group made their way through a hyper-speed piece of jazz-fusion called, “Siberiana,” and some new material (“Turquoise,” “Café”) from their latest live album, New World Sinfonia. Di Meola went electric twice, but stuck mostly with his acoustic. Song titles weren’t always relayed to the crowd and, myself being a casual listener, I wasn’t necessarily on the up-and-up as far as what he played. It was easy to lose yourself in the flurries of splash cymbal and hi-hat, with the notes from Di Meola, and back-up guitarist, Peo Alfonsi, carving serpentine-like through the sonic walls of Fausto Beccalossi’s non-traditional accordion.

Beccalossi was the OTHER attraction, his playing bringing the otherwise staid accordion into the realms of sexual possibilities, (as in “he made that instrument cool enough to earn a groupie hand job at the very least”). I won’t say that my exposure to accordion music has been comprehensive, but for the most part it’s been an instrument that I’ve had NO difficulty ignoring. Last night, I couldn’t keep my eyes off Beccalossi, his fingers somehow clawing their way to their correct and non-descript button while stretching the instrument as far as he could fathom. The guy achieved sounds I’d NEVER heard come out of an accordion prior, even pulling a Frampton at points with a mouthpiece and pushing THOSE sounds through. It was definitely something to see and hear.

After about two hours of music and one fifteen-minute intermission, the crew ceremoniously walked off-stage and then came back again for a couple encores. Di Meola brought his daughter out, sitting her at the foot of the stage as if to serenade her. Happily for me, their next song was “Mediterranean Sundance/Rio Ancho,” a song I’ve heard many times on the John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia collaborative, Friday Night In San Francisco. Di Meola pre-empted his last performance by thanking the crowd and sending us all a “god bless.” The group took a final bow and walked off stage as they received a standing ovation.

Letters From A Tapehead

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Madlib: Slim's Return

I love it when jazz and hip-hop collide.

Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, January 16, 2009

Paul McCartney: 222

Memory Almost Full, Paul McCartney's 2007 debut on the Starbucks label, Hear Music, was a fairly ignorable addition to his canon. The whole album felt like it'd been manufactured as background noise, suitable for the coffee juggernaut's daily customers to maybe acknowledge as they blithely stir mini whirlpools of half n' half into their respective and overpriced morning staples.

But, the sessions did prove fruitful in one sense. I'm personally thankful for the song "222," which was featured as a B-side on the bonus edition of Memory Almost Full, (along with two other tracks that were also much better than most of the album). McCartney, however you feel about him, has these shining moments of brilliance that almost excuse his past musical sins (and there have been many). It seems that these moments occur when McCartney's not trying to be McCartney. When he drops his typically overjoyed and diplomatic facade, the artist seems to make an appearance.

McCartney performed all of the instruments on this song, crafting a mostly instrumental piano piece around hi-hat tapped percussion and McCartney's romantically whispered observations about some anonymous female. It's almost sort of a jazz ballad. Gorgeous track and easily one of his least McCartney-esque. I remember being amazed that this came from him.

Video for "222"

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ron Asheton (1948-2009): Part II

I found this small television tribute to the late and great Ron Asheton.

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Alexandra Hope: Invisible Sunday

Listen to this and tell me the 90s aren't on their way back?

Granted, listening to Alexandra Hope's lo-fi and simplistic guitar strum, the list of alt-chick comparables is easy to compile.

I liked those girls: scintillatingly adverse to idealized femininity, picking up the led pipe that Patti Smith had dropped and eagerly running toward profane and abundant "unladylike" behavior. I remember procuring a copy of Liz Phair's Exile In Guyville, specifically because I'd read that she'd used the phrase "blowjob queen" in a song. There was something undeniably perverse and attractive about those ladies of sullied outward appearance, smeared make-up and intensely opposed to being "hot," which of course made them "hot."


Listening to Hope, I do a get a sense of nostalgia, one that evokes memories of 120 Minutes and Julianna Hatfield swearing she had a sister. Typically, I tend to not live in the past but..."Invisible Sunday" sort of makes me wish those days could be recycled and lived again with a better perception of how to spend them. Hope's album of the same name will be out March 17th.

Alexandra Hope - "Invisible Sunday"

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bon Iver: Blood Bank

Off the strength of last year's For Emma, Forever Ago, indie folkster, Bon Iver (a.k.a. Justin Vernon) is releasing an EP later this month entitled, Blood Bank. Its first single, a self-titled and mellowed bit of romantic narrative, (What's a little love between donors? Free juice and doughnuts equals cheap date and the possibility of STDs can be determined onsite. It's actually a brilliant concept), begins simply enough and then grows like an impassioned sound farm. An odd story, but an interesting alternative to the very clichéd "walk in the park."

Bon Iver - "Blood Bank"

Letters From A Tapehead

How To Calm An Unhappy & Exhausted Infant...

Ahmad Jamal's The Awakening.

Easily one of my favorite jazz records of all time, Jamal's playing is smooth as silk and as fluid as running water. His version of Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments," is beautifully entrancing and, after hundreds of listens, still sends shivers through me. Definitely an album that stays with you for weeks and, thankfully, has cast enough of a spell upon my daughter that it's now the stand-by for easing her into dreamland. Luckily, she's usually out by the time Jamal goes into waves of piano hysteria for the relatively hyper introduction of "I Love Music."

Definitely worth the twelve bucks in your pocket.

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, January 12, 2009

Born “Radical”?

Born “Radical”?

Friendly Foes
Born Radical
Released: 1.13.09

Rating: 5.75 out of 10

In the post-9/11 landscape, there’s no shortage of synonyms for “radical,” as news anchors have been spewing them non-stop for the last five years. We’ve all come to understand “radical” as more than just a SoCal-sun fried loosely enunciated term used to enthusiastically bolster the esteem of highly crested waves or new varieties of Sun Chips. Now, “radical” spells “danger,” and one that embodies “radical” characteristics can be coined “insurgent,” “subversive,” “rebel,” “fundamentalist,” “extremist…” You’ve heard them all.

To hear such a word applied to Born Radical, debut full-length by Thunderbirds Are Now! sideshow, Friendly Foes, “radical” takes the form of Disney-level adolescent tales of staying out past curfew because “fuck my parents…I mean, my parents don’t understand me,” or starting food fights in the cafeteria because “fuck authority…Oops, I mean, my teachers don’t understand me.”

Members of a pop punk underground, the likes of which probably resemble and house Les Savy Fav’s following, Friendly Foes tell an all-too familiar story with opening track, “Full Moon Morning:”

“Got an amp/Learned some chords/Tried to sing till my throat bled
Start a band/We were bored/Not sure what’s ahead
Picked a name/Picked a sound/Played some shows; the kids came out
But remain/Underground/When they couldn’t figure us out…”

A message to singer, Ryan Allen: It’s in your best interest to remain underground because that’s the ONLY reason you’ll ever be taken seriously.

Friendly Foes release party for Born Radical

Now, Friendly Foes know at least to keep their instruments somewhat lo-fi and they know to keep their songs fast and short. Hearing the energy of song, “Get Yr Shit Together” and the ultra-fast treatment employed to Black Sabbath’s “After Forever” bass line in “My Body (Is A Strange Place To Live),” Friendly Foes exhibit a better-than-average approach to the pop punk template (i.e. The Descendents, Hüsker Dü…etc.). But, with Allen’s copious snot and bassist Liz Wittman’s generic back-up, they’re almost a parody of themselves, putting an awful lot of stock into sentiments like “every once…gotta go wild once in a while” (“Wild (Once In Awhile)”), or poetically plastic observations like “I need redemption/I need some release/Like the breath you kept in/And let out to disrupt the peace” (“Breakfast Burritos”), expecting authentic results without realizing their music could be used to excite the small children in the county fare’s ball pit.

In what feels like an act of desperation, this “kid-friendly” vibe is attached to lines like “don’t let those mah-ther-fuh-ckers hold you dow-own,” mightily attempting to angst it up during “Rush The Land”’s uninspired take on “Lust For Life,” (which Jet already tried and predictably failed). Wittman’s only lead vocal, a paint-by-numbers piece of faux ‘tude called “Get Ripped,” winds up a poorly realized Sleater-Kinney replica that does more to generate appreciation for the style’s progenitors.

What’s unfortunate is that Friendly Foes has the means to be really good at what they do. They don’t lack chemistry or sound and they have the energy and potential to come up with something decent: a pop powered reconsideration or reassessment of the genre’s many drawbacks. But, reveling too much in the pop end of the spectrum, employing every overdone and well-established trick in the book, Born Radical, down to its unrealized promise of a title, only illustrates a band that needs to get its shit together.

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Oh 2008, Where Have You Gone?

Hello all,

The end of another year, so here’s another list for which to feed your eyes and disagree.

As was the case last year, the numbers that I’ve used this year to rate the reviewed albums have been reconsidered for this list and links will take you to the actual review. Also, having contributed some blurbs for No Ripcord’s Top 50 Albums of 2008, I’ve recycled some of them for this list.

Hope you enjoy and thanks very much for reading. It’s been a great year and I hope to earn your continued support.

Here’s to a happy and healthy ‘09,
Letters From A Tapehead

15). The Black Angels - Directions To See A Ghost
All of Directions To See A Ghost, second album from psych-revivalists The Black Angels, is enveloped in distortion and weather-like thickness. Atmospherically, it’s top notch, the steady bass line of “Science Killer,” the Badalamenti rockabilly of “Mission District,” and the Velvets inspired “Never/Ever,” pulling together some very heavy mellow. This album unfortunately suffers from length and begins to feel redundant after its first half. Still worth a listen and the extra twelve bucks in your pocket.

14). Wire - Object 47
(Transcribed from No Ripcord’s Top 50 Albums of 2008) — Post-punk pioneers, Wire, returned this year with Object 47, an enjoyable and heavily rhythmic mixture of danceable indie pop tunes (“One Of Us”), industrially inspired robotics (“Hard Currency”) and experimental bouts of musical eccentricity (“Patient Flees”). Bassist Graham Lewis, remaining prominent throughout the album, thickens the mesmerizing “Circumspect” and pushes some intensity into “Mekon Headmen.” Otherwise, singer/guitarist Colin Newman and drummer Robert Grey are both a testament to precision and post-punk perfection. Not necessarily out from the shadows of their most seminal work (the essential Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154), Wire still persevere and impress, continually finding ways to make simplicity sound complex.

13). Mike Patton - A Perfect Place
Mike Patton’s mission to enhance the short film, A Perfect Place, with original music is accomplished, his soundtrack being better than the film. As he continually explores musical avenues, it was only a matter of time before Patton turned to scoring, which he so deftly achieves, focusing not only on thematic backgrounds (“A Perfect Place,” “A Little Poker Tomorrow Night?”), but noir-tinged movie elements as well (“A Dream Of Roses”).

12). Between The Pine - Friends, Foes, Kith and Kin
Folk musician James Diotte, a.k.a. Between The Pine, avoids typical folk categorization by experimenting with instruments and tempo, while layering some lush string performances overtop of his entrancing compositions. Myself mostly impervious to the “wah boo hoo” grasps of most singer/songwriter types, upon first listen of the single “Coca Cola,” I was drawn in and impressed.

11). Ten Kens - s/t
Probably my favorite debut of the year, the self-titled album by Canadian alt-rockers, Ten Kens, felt like a return to pre-90s rock nirvana (for lack of a better term, though the pun is appropriate). Unpolished and loud where it needs to be, Ten Kens has to be signaling SOMETHING, a hinted move past the 80s revivalist quicksand Indie music finds itself irrevocably trapped inside. We can only hope: a new decade is upon us, so anything is possible.

10). The Grails - Doomsdayer’s Holiday
Knowing full well that desert noisemakers, The Grails, put out two albums this year, Take Refuge In Clean Living and Doomsdayer’s Holiday, I chose the latter for this list based on its shear strength and dark tonality. Refuge, though acting as a 5 song existential journey of some epic proportion, didn’t grab me like Doomsdayer, which takes the existentialism and adds a strong dose of Sabbath to it, making for a stormy trip to someplace faraway and frightening.

9). Dub Trio - Another Sound Is Dying
A mathematically Metal variation on Dub Reggae? Sure, why not. Dub Trio continues to rise to the challenge of varying their formula, coming up this time with a Helmet-sized collection of head-knocking body slammers (“Not For Nothing,” “Regression Line”), atmospheric near-balladry (“Felicitation,” “Respite”) and another perfect collab with the inimitable Mike Patton (“No Flag”). Perhaps one of the best rhythm sections in rock music, definitely one of the most violent.

8). Man Man - Rabbit Habits
Philadelphia’s own Man Man feeds a moonshine sailor a Waits/Zappa cocktail and a plunged Gospel olive for ornament’s sake. Rabbit Habits, their third album, is a modern day goofball of exciting energy, combining playhouse aggression (“Hurly/Burly”) with piano soul (“Rabbit Habits”) and ending in an almost Broadway Blues narrative (“Poor Jackie”).

7). Bauhaus - Go Away White
Surprising the comeback skeptics like myself, Goth-mislabeled Post-Punk heroes Bauhaus return with their first album in 25 years and, somehow, pull it off. Cultivating a deep seeded sense of nostalgia with new material, Peter Murphy’s croon showing no wear, Bauhaus sum up the last eight years with “Too Much 21st Century,” shift, crank and pull through the fuzz heavy “Adrenaline” and take it slow for “Endless Summer Of The Damned.” Definitely not a step above the Bauhaus of yore, but Go Away White is at least a dignified return to form.

6). Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!
(Transcribed from No Ripcord’s Top 50 Albums of 2008) — Following the raw intensity and vitriol-laced experimentalism of last year's Grinderman, Nick Cave's fourteenth offering with the Bad Seeds finds the collective expanding their sound, acting as eclectic and mood-enhancing backdrop for Cave's detailed and intelligent commentary. The album's title track is a joking and tabloid-styled account of a modern-day Lazarus whose unwanted re-emergence into the physical universe leaves him a tragic (and dead, again) celebrity figure. Cave's often flamboyant and exaggerated tonality does more than enhance the isolated and eerie “Night of the Lotus Eaters” and the almost industrial churn of “We Call Upon the Author,” the latter's testimonial-based content exhibiting some of the album's most inspired moments. With “Today's Lesson” and “Lie Down Here (& Be My Girl),” Cave croons over solid, fuzz-laden rock n' roll while “Hold On To Yourself” and “Jesus of the Moon” provides the album's introspection and beauty.

5). Sic Alps - U.S. EZ
Still the most underappreciated and criminally unacknowledged product of the Garage revival, San Francisco duo, Sic Alps, continue to bring the past into the future, their brand of Nugget-psych adorned with lovingly manipulated distortion that effortlessly achieves what the big names are still aiming for: Vintage lo fi of authentic derivation.

4). Deerhoof - Offend Maggie
With the acquiring of guitarist Ed Rodriguez possibly being a large factor, Deerhoof’s Offend Maggie is less of an electronic and experimental funhouse and more of an Indie rock jam album. Not to say that Deerhoof have lost their touch for whimsy and unadulterated oddity, but with less embellishments Deerhoof craft a raw sense of identity, at times hard-edged (“The Tears Of Music And Love,” “Eaguru Guru”), and other times soft spoken (“Don’t Get Born”). Upon first listen of “Buck And Judy,” one of the few instances of any synthesized intervention, I was hooked. Great album.

3). Opeth - Watershed
Metal magnificence that ANY musically inclined listener could appreciate, Opeth’s Watershed is an impressive, and very progressive, album of equal parts beauty and brutality. Its searing howl (“Heir Apparent”) winds up cooled at every turn (“Burden”) and epic concepts are aplenty (“Hessian Peel”). Definitely the album I’ve listened to the most this year.

2). Triclops! - Out Of Africa
A masterpiece of acid-drenched progressive punk pulverization ranging from political, (“Freedom Tickler”), to anatomical, (“March of the Half-Babies”), to entomological (“Lovesong for the Botfly”). One of the few albums in years that I’ve actually been able to call “mind blowing.”

1). Marnie Stern - This Is It And I Am It And You Are It And So Is That And He Is It And She Is It And It Is It And That Is That
(Transcribed from No Ripcord’s Top 50 Albums of 2008) — Remarkably distinct and chaotically robust, Marnie Stern's second album is a refined variation on her finger-tapped odes to anarchic, sensory madness. Her naïve melodies still cultivate a personal touch and add an appreciated dose of honesty with observations like, "There are dimensions I must enter to see what I am made of." Despite drummer Zach Hill's propensity for free form hammering, he reels it in enough for Marnie to hit some strides with “The Crippled Jazzer” and the somewhat cherubic “Ruler.” Otherwise, she is her ever-unpredictable self and we are thankful.


16). Sigur Rós - Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
17). The Roots - Rising Down
18). Eagles Of Death Metal - Heart On
19). Boris - Smile
20). Beck - Modern Guilt
21). Fucked Up - The Chemistry Of Common Life
22). The Gutter Twins - Saturnalia
23). The Black Keys - Attack & Release
24). Foals - Antidotes
25). Aether - Artifacts

The album most likely to fall from grace once the laws of hindsight are enacted:
TV On The Radio - Dear Science

Chances are, once the hype settles, a lot of the fans and critics that sung this album’s praises will realize that it’s not that great and not representative of TV On The Radio’s oft-proven talents. Possibly the biggest “eh” moment of the year.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

No Ripcord: Zero Boys

Zero Boys
Vicious Circle/History Of Reissues
Secretly Canadian
Originally released: '82/'83
Reissued: 2.3.09

No Ripcord review

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Ron Asheton (1948-2009): The Year Begins with the End of a Stooge

THIS is supposed to be the year.

After playing a rendition of “Burning Up” in honor of Madonna last year as she was inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame, it was decided that THIS was the year The Stooges would finally be given their shot at immortality, long overdue recognition for three (The Stooges, Fun House and Raw Power) of the greatest albums ever recorded.

Unfortunately, Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, brother to Stooges drummer Scott, won’t be there to share in the spotlight. Asheton was found dead today at the age of 60, having possibly suffered a heart attack.

The Stooges perform “TV Eye” at the Cincinnati Pop Festival in 1970

With words, I find myself unable to perfectly capture my headspace every time I hear the opening riff of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” or the midway six-stringed assault of “TV Eye:” those perfect moments in perfect albums, rugged electricity spewing out of Ron Asheton’s fingertips with timeless ‘tude and energy. Those first two Stooges albums hold Ron’s greatest contributions to American rock n’ roll, permanently fixed performances that will forever cling to the frontal lobe of anyone whose lives have been altered by their brilliance.

As much as Iggy Pop’s persona crafted the mood and often misunderstood genius of The Stooges, the brothers Asheton delivered the edge, a raw and unsettlingly repetitive mixture of 50s “rock-around-the-clock” and a then-new degree of garage intensity. It offended people, alienated audiences and is NOW understood to be the music that changed shit. Punk rock? Not without The Velvet Underground, not without The MC5 and, most certainly, not without The Stooges.

When the reformed Stooges began touring a couple years ago, Mike Watt taking up the bass and Ron Asheton reassuming his role as prominent axe man, (James Williamson had replaced Asheton on guitar for 1973’s Raw Power), I didn’t get to see them. Unfortunate for me.

The Stooges perform “Dirt” at the Palace Theatre, NYC in 2007

It’s a shame you couldn’t hang in there, Ron. Rest in peace and know that you’ll get your due. A lot of people will forever love and appreciate what you’ve accomplished. I’m definitely one of them.

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, January 05, 2009

Maus Will Play…

Maus Haus
Lark Marvels
Pretty Blue Presents
Released: 11.18.08

Rating: 9.75 out of 10

I know how easy it is to consistently pick from the same source material for comparables when the English language fails to properly convey the musical product of a somewhat idiosyncratic musical producer. Take the Nuggets boxset for instance: It’s very copious coverage of a large number of proto-punk, garage and psychedelic music from an influential era basically guarantees its perpetual reference. Maus Haus is no exception to this rule, their home city being San Francisco, and their music owing something to the Nuggets timeline.

But, since Battles so interestingly married traditional instrumentation with modern paeans to the future sounds of something or other, with Maus Haus, the over-tapped 60s have finally led us to realize our inner-Jetson, 60s era pop ideals of a clean and robotic future seeping into our present millennial consciousness. No skyward housing, but a technologically tied and paranoid bunch we’ve become, nonetheless.

Though the 50’s and 60’s idea of future civilizations didn’t conceive that grime, grit and aggression (punk and hip-hop) would interfere with progress, electro-apocalyptic progressive rock seems to be where we’re heading. Maus Haus, a sextet of such caliber, has the societal politeness, or matter-of-factness of some British invasion act of the Nuggets era, crossing Kraftwerk-ian experimentation and Blues Magoos moog-heavy garage rock with an “out there” quality that evokes Captain Beefheart.

Photo courtesy of Terrorbird Media

“Rigid Breakfast,” the first song from their new album Lark Marvels, couples an almost Plan 9 attack of sci-fi theremin with surf rhythm fluctuation. It’s promise of mind-numbing eccentricity (its too prim and proper to constitute “weird”) is only compounded by the fractured Philip Marlowe noir-ish tone of nearly rapped, “Secret Deals:”

“There’s more film than food in this freezer.”

With “Secret Deals,” the concept of progressive rock, where it may have been challenged about two years ago by Battles and their Chipmunk-ian modernity, is once again seen through the Trout Mask and readily applied to the Internet age. “Industrial” doesn’t cover it; this feels more like cyborg music for a deranged upper crust. If you can’t imagine that, just give a listen to “We Used Technology (But Technology Let Us Down),” realizing that its “walk in the park” romantic poise, reminiscent of what some might call a “simpler time,” perfectly demonstrates exactly how fucked up our lives have become:

“In touch but we’re still alone/It’s broke and it stays at home/We used technology/But technology let us down.”

Illustrating our romance with the modern age with music meant to woo? Wow.

Lark Marvels comes close to being this decade’s late entry Trout Mask Replica (if Battles’ Mirrored had been the Freak Out!), a collection of smooth electronic transitions (“Radio Dials Die”), Atari-accented Devo rock (“Reaction”) and stuttered electronic rhythms (“Irregular Hearts”). It’s both silly (“Cold In August”) and nonsensical (“Conversational French”) and, despite its penchant for electrical propulsion, Maus Haus also carries some funk and rock energy (“Dead Keys Drop”) and orchestral build-up (“Million Volt Lights”).

As Mirrored brought a variation of progressive music to a new and creative peak, Lark Marvels has erected a scaffold and created a new apex, if that seemed possible, adding a one to what many probably thought was “infinity.” The Nuggets haven’t been exhausted after all. Maybe the 60s had it all figured out.

Letters From A Tapehead

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