Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What I Heard This Morning: ISIS

Ipecac metal droners ISIS are going to be releasing their latest album, Wavering Radiant, in early May. The following video is some studio footage of them prepping the album:

ISIS Wavering Radiant Studio Footage from ISIS THE BAND on Vimeo.

A tour will be following the album's release.

ISIS - Holy Tears from ISIS THE BAND on Vimeo.

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, March 30, 2009

No Ripcord: Swan Lake

Swan Lake
Enemy Mine
Released: 3.24.09

No Ripcord review

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


...at least Complex magazine isn't accusing Kanye West of being the most influential ARTIST in the universe.


I'd suggest getting a copy of the magazine so you can read what insightful narcissism Kanye has for all of his fans to feel excited about, but I'm sure the newsstand shelves are fresh out of this issue. No one buys his own press like Kanye does.

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

“NASCAR! BAD BOYS! BUD LIGHT! HOOTERS!:” Average Men Need Not Apply…

Pansy Division
That’s So Gay
Alternative Tentacles
Releases: 3.31.09

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

The first lines you hear are these:

“He’s in his PJs/Giving BJs/To the DJs/Who play what he likes…”

…and it’s exactly what you’d expect from an album entitled, That’s So Gay.

The sixth album to emerge from San Franciscan Queercore pioneers Pansy Division, That’s So Gay’s giveaway of a title is meant to ironically disparage the usage of the word “gay” as a euphemism for “lame,” “stupid…” etc. The title track attempts to make a serious case (“I heard what you said/I'm not stupid you know/What do you take me for?/Hetero?...”) while not being THAT serious (”I’ll show you what it’s like to be gay”). Thusly, you have the plot.

With poppy punk-infused rock n’ roll sort of gallivanting about its 14 sung treatises on promiscuity (“Twinkie Twinkie Little Star”), sex (“Ride Baby,” “Dirty Young Man”), attached prostitution (“It’s Just A Job”) and the celebratory battle cry of self (“20 Years Of Cock”), That’s So Gay emerges in the face of Prop 8 and a public that still considers homosexuality an abnormality unfit to prosper and persevere with any sort of equality in the new millennium.

Studio clip of “Twinkie Twinkie Little Star”

As unapologetic a title as this is Pansy Division doesn’t really take much of an opportunity to discuss how much the world HASN’T evolved. Instead, they focus on softer targets with “Average Men” (ex-Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra making an appearance), the typically homophobic outlook/homoerotic ritualism of athletes in “Pat Me On The Ass,” and the unintentionally amusing observations of token straight guy (and former Mr. T Experience bassist) Joel Reader for “Some Of My Best Friends:” “I may not be gay but/I know this much is true/I’d rather fuck an asshole/Then be one just like you.”

Deep? Yeah, not really.

Despite its couple attempts at being sentimental (“You’ll See Them Again”) and heartfelt (“Life Lovers”), That’s So Gay is mostly elementary in its wisdom and generic in its performance, a couple exceptions being its inspired juxtaposition of country-infused rockabilly for “Pat Me On The Ass” (“Playin’ high school football/Really is a gas/I hope we win so all my buddies can pat me on the ass…WHOOO!”) and its decent slow rocking groove with “Obsessed With Me.”

Otherwise, That’s So Gay feels musically lightweight, dependent solely upon its subject matter to generate reaction which, considering their timing, probably could’ve been a little more important.

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Moist Knuckles of a Laptop Zappa

The Show Is The Rainbow
Wet Fist
Retard Disco
Released: 3.17.09

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

On his Myspace page, Lincoln, Nebraska’s own Darren Keen, the one-man performance entity known as The Show Is The Rainbow, says his music sounds like “generally impatient music.” As incessant electro-beat propulsion slings together Keen’s various blips, bleeps, bass throbs and rock riffs like a temporary bandage on his second full-length, Wet Fist, “impatient music” almost sounds like he doesn’t have time to let it organically fuse together, or heal. Jagged and fractured seems the way to go, as Wet Fist combines the idiosyncratic musings of Mr. Keen with the imperfect sounds of a computer. Keep it flawed; keep it real; keep it weird; keep it kind of Zappa, I guess.

Interestingly though, The Show Is The Rainbow doesn’t necessarily reflect Zappa because he strives for recorded oddity. Wet Fist seems to expound on an electric era of Zappa, a time when Frank was able to rely less on other musicians, embracing expanding technology and the promise of the infinite, self-imposed musical explorations that he would have at his disposal.

Think Jazz From Hell. Think Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention.

The comparisons aren’t completely due to the nature of Keen’s music but because they’re theoretical windows into what Zappa might’ve accomplished had he lived to see the now pivotal role that the laptop plays in the development of certain bands and performers. The office’s IT department seems the new CBGBs. This is probably not what Keen had in mind, but as a solo artist that bases his craft on the computer and also immerses himself into a similarly conceived Zappa-based avant construct, it was an idea worth entertaining.

Having said all of that, Keen has an interesting sensibility despite his apparent influences. The programmed aspects of his sound sort of accentuate the instances when he deviates from the keyboard, guitar playing and bass funk thickening the mix, violins and brass elevating intensity. This also leads to a high level of ambition which, at times, makes Wet Fist unevenly eclectic.

Live projection video for “I Am The Decline,” a song from 2007s Gymnasia

The homeless romance of “Made Of Cardboard” seems conventionally electronic enough until it hits a midway bass loop with off-time rhythm, giving the track some unexpected musical depth. This also happens with “Roar Means Run,” a song apparently based upon Hitler’s drug addiction, (“Nothing makes sense to anyone but me/I’m chewing the curtains and pounding my fists/Soon I’m cursing children and captains and women and my friends, the soldiers seem distant/No one wants to follow a captain who can’t win…”), where its conventional computerization is enhanced by instrumentation.

“Who He Says He Is,” a bluesy marched piece of melancholia, has Keen desperately shrieking, a deviation from his consistent melodic Beck-ish delivery. Following is “Wordless Whisper,” one of the album’s non-interlude instrumentals, which is like symphonic Tron.

One of the standouts, electro-funk dance track “Mother And Son,” is unsettling in its aggression, firm in its observation (“And I get this rage from my father”) and then desperately agonizing in its refusal (“I don’t want to be/That kind of guy!”). The flow interrupted by a percussive instrumental (“Run Fast at the End”), the danceable funk of “Mother And Son” is continued by the more relaxed “Come Dry Your Meat Flower,” its strange title becoming an almost celebratory chant at the song’s end.

“Come Dry Your Meat Flower” begins with what sounds like club-worthy live instrumentation, which blends into its slicker studio self just as the bass line kicks in. This effect foreshadows the album’s best and most out-of-place song, “They Won’t.” The one song NOT digitized and machined, “They Won’t” sounds like a basement recording, at one point interrupted long enough to hear the sounds of a distance dance club reverberating against imaginary walls and a subtle wash of violins. It’s probably the album’s most unique moment and its highest point.

“Life Is Good” brings an onslaught of Chemical Brothers techno fury before Wet Fist is put to rest by the Beck meets Thomas Dolby meets Depeche Mode jam out “Whisper At Once.”

Though calculated to some extent, The Show Is The Rainbow works to make the most of his medium. Wet Fist doesn’t blow minds, but it’s jagged, fractured and generally impatient. At least Keen is honest.

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, March 16, 2009

4.18.09: Some things to look for…

Attempting to bolster support for indie record stores on this year’s Record Store Day, some special treats are being released for the occasion. Out of the multitude, these are at the top of my list:

Sonic Youth & Beck split 7”
Matador Records is putting out some specialized releases, but this one in particular features Sonic Youth and Beck covering each others’ songs. Thurston Moore and Co. are performing Mellow Gold’s “Pay No Mind” and Beck will be putting a spin on EVOL’s “Green Light.”

Sonic Youth is also cutting an additional split 7” with Jay Reatard, also available from Matador.

Tom Waits Live from the Glitter & Doom Tour 2008 7” —
I’ve been trying to get the details straight on this one, but there’s no actual information on Waits’ label, ANTI. This is either a live split 7” with Lucinda Williams, or Waits performs “Lucinda” live.

Either way, Waits’ name is on a 7.” ‘Twill be mine.

The Jesus Lizard
Touch & Go is putting out set of nine remastered 7” singles entitled, INCH. Featured:

  • "Chrome" b/w "7 vs 8"
  • "Mouthbreather" b/w "Sunday You Need Love"
  • "Wheelchair Epidemic" b/w "Dancing Naked Ladies"
  • "Gladiator" (live) b/w "Seasick" (live)
  • "Puss" (from a long out-of-print split with Nirvana)
  • "Glamorous" b/w "Deaf as a Bat"
  • "Lady Shoes" (live) b/w "Killer McHann" (live)
  • "Bloody Mary" (live) b/w "Monkey Trick" (live)
  • "(Fly) On (the Wall)" b/w "White Hole"

Rhino 7”s
I can’t find a direct source for this information, but the Interwebs are stating that Rhino records is putting out the following:

  • Janes Addiction 7”
    “Mountain Song” b/w “Standing In The Shower... Thinking”
  • The Stooges 7”
    “1969” b/w “Real Cool Time”
  • MC5 7”
    “Kick Out The Jams” b/w “Motor City Is Burning”
  • The Smiths 7”
    “The Headmaster Ritual” b/w “Oscillate Wildly”
  • New Order 7”
    “Temptation” b/w “Hurt”

There’s also rumors of an Elvis Costello/Jenny Lewis 7” and Domino Records is apparently putting out a vinyl-only compilation called, Blood On The Tracks, but I couldn’t find any direct source for confirmation. I guess news of these exclusive releases is being kept light due to the influx of record-shoppers that will be out on 4/18, tongues wagging, green blazing and fists flying. I think they’ll probably be available online that day as well, so the labels probably want to keep pre-orders to a minimum.

I’m realistic enough to know that I’ll be lucky to get at least ONE of any of these.

Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, March 13, 2009

Daniel Johnston: Reality TV You Can Buy...

Artist Stephen Tompkins has released some live footage of singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston that he recorded in 1999 entitled Daniel Johnston: At Home Live. This imaginatively titled (sarcasm) documentation features Johnston at home (obviously), writing and performing for Tompkins, sort of disclosing his "authentic creative environment" as Tompkins puts it. MP3s and video clips are available for purchase.

The 2005 documentary, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, was a very revealing portrait of the artist, his cult celebrity and his constant struggle with manic depression. No doubt a lot of his impact is tied to his legend, but Johnston is a fascinating figure nonetheless and the documentary was a sad, but excellent, depiction of his life.

His music is still as out there as he is.

Letters From A Tapehead


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Animal Collective Try For Pepper…

Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavilion
Released: 1.20.09

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Every generation, every decade has that one key album. You know that album: the definitive musical representation of EVERYTHING that comes and goes or came and went, the invaluable summation of an era. The revisited and reexamined gem that inspires debate upon debate for years after its initial impact sent shockwaves through our collective consciousness. The album that knocks the appreciators onto their pompous asses. THAT album.

As decade 00 comes to a close, you have to wonder if you’ve heard that album yet, or if it’s something that will be established once decade 10 begins, hindsight being a key factor in all of that “importance,” “seminal” bullshit anyway. Not even two full months’ worth of hindsight later, Animal Collective’s latest electr-avant offering, Merriweather Post Pavilion, is already widely considered the best album of the year, guaranteed to place highly on every end-of-2009 roundup. And, it probably deserves to be.

Obviously swept up in the vast backpacked and bespectacled whirlpool of indie/hipster mania, Merriweather Post Pavilion has found itself in the same position as TV On The Radio’s overblown, Dear Science: primed to be the career defining culmination of their vision; their Sgt. Pepper, their Pet Sounds. Hearing what Animal Collective had in mind, the title of their album connected to the sentimental experience of seeing shows at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in their native Maryland, the whole point was to create an album good enough to perform at the revered venue. This being their ninth album in nine years, a milestone album was inevitable.

Whereas MPP is a more challenging and eccentric listen than Dear Science, MPP’s accessibility makes it just as subject to scrutiny. Past albums, (Sung Tongs and Strawberry Jam especially) have seemed to thrive on the Collective’s love of retro-folk, psychedelic revivalism and then later sampler driven strangeness, commanding an open mind and a certain amount of endurance from their audience. This time around, Animal Collective has dispensed with the folk to a degree and has totally turned toward these space aged carnival jams that glow like wondrous children and bounce with fairytale charm. It’s almost off-putting in its glee, but much more welcoming and pleasant to the eardrum. Even when opener, “In The Flowers,” rings out with celebratory anthemic exuberance or “Summertime Clothes” gets the blood pumping with its cold machined rhythm, MPP is dopamine on wax. Soothing. Joyous. Worthy of a hammock and a Long Island iced tea with a heavy straw and a paper umbrella, tasty waves and a Corona beach.

So, this poses the question: Is MPP good because it’s a product of realized creative vision, or because more people can get behind it?

Video for “My Girls”

Recording as a trio this time around, (guitarist, Deakin (Josh Dibb) sitting this one out…possibly kicking himself), Avey Tare (David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) and Geologist (Brian Weitz) combine this magical array of found sounds with voice, leaving the human elements to convey its passion. As calculated and programmed as it is, MPP is still warm and emotional, twisting its sometimes trite observations (“I’m getting lost in your curls” as stated in the pulsating cheese popped “Bluish”) into sentimental jewelry to behold. Before it became my life, something as personal as “My Girls” might’ve inspired involuntary vomiting on my part, but now it’s relatable and genuine.

Whatever Animal Collective does musically on MPP, it’s more of a vocal album. With the jovial and consistent bounce in “Also Frightened,” or the scattered organ passages in “Daily Routine,” Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s singing provides the draw, taking interesting routes over perpetual motion. Even the sci-fi polka of “Taste,” with its wisps of droid buzz and prancing blips vying for attention, its repetitious question, “Am I really all the things that are outside of me?” achieve its intended impact. It seems the only time the machined elements are allowed to remain at the forefront is with the closing “Brother Sport,” a looped selection of chugging and churning gears rolling midway through the song. “No More Runnin’” takes a “Stand By Me” approach, slow and soulful.

The mix only seems to regress with the dull and overwrought “Guys Eyes” and Sung Tongs-straggler, “Lion In A Coma,” neither song feeling as impassioned as the rest of the album, or personable.

As it is, Animal Collective remains superstars of an underground circuit, far from the hit-machines and predictable FM playlists. Even if MPP’s reach seeps past the familiar boundaries of the indie sanctuary, their reputations will remain intact. Besides, even if it is accessible, Merriweather Post Pavilion is still too weird to be considered pedestrian.

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fingertappin’ at the Necktie: Marnie Stern & Satanized…

Marnie Stern
Kung Fu Necktie
Philadelphia, PA

A round of U-turns went by before I finally parked my car on some unnamed side street facing the “L” bridge that hung over Front Street. I was about two blocks away from the Kung Fu Necktie, a laughably named corner bar wherein the show would go on. Marnie Stern was the draw, though when I arrived around 7:15, there were maybe five people inside and two or three of them were working. Some Stern-chandise was being spread out in an alcove next to the bar, stacks of CDs and vinyl, t-shirts with pink lettering that read “Win ‘Marnie’ Win.” Even shoulder bags.

My brother showed up not long after I began quietly sipping lager and absorbing my surroundings, paper flyers and rows of cult/martial arts flicks behind the bar capturing most of my attention. Soundcheck followed a little later, Marnie Stern onstage, guitar strapped to her frame, announcing American cities into the microphone for the sound tech in her signature pitch. Once that was over, pre-show chill time was in full swing.

By about 8:30, people were filing in at a decent clip, taking up any available floor space before the opener, Satanized, launched into their set. Realizing our seats were fair game once we left them, the both of us decided to appreciate the opener at a listening capacity as that band’s visibility was obscured by ponytails, hoods and hipster headgear.

Philly natives Satanized, best as I could tell, was a feedback-heavy Melvins variation, doom-laden and droned out at times. Their intensity though was commanding and it was cool to see an opener play to a packed house. It’s too often, especially with smaller shows, that the warm-up gets screwed out of a crowd, unfortunate casualties of a “holier-than-thou” demographic interested only in the headliner. Give it up for Philly Metal.

Once Satanized had finished their set, I was willing to abandon my station given that we were likely going to vacate the premises once Stern’s set had come to a close. Plus, I was given a rare gift: a crowd of average height and not the stilt-legged hipster league I’m typically trying to stare around at Johnny Brenda’s. My brother and I were acknowledgeable enough that people let us tunnel through the crowd. Unusual.

We made it up front. The Marnie Stern trio opened up with a couple songs from her latest album, the lengthy titled 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, battering the crowd with “Transformer,” and then leading us into headknocking rock power with a very loud rendition of “The Crippled Jazzer.”

On stage, Stern is fascinating to watch. The complicated nature of what she does, these progressive, finger-tapped string duels with often off-time jazz-based drum rhythms, is maniacal enough without having to remember to sing, which she does constantly. It’s rare that something vocal ISN’T happening in one of her songs. So, at times, she would be head down, focused on her fretwork and almost hugging her microphone, concentrating on harmony and dexterity. And, because something like this isn’t so easy to do live, (least of all as a trio), her music almost takes on a different persona; more of a raw-edge rock-swagger than the layered sheets of sonically striking progressive discord that the records seem to reflect. To an extent, the live version is almost better, the dirt and grit on full display, the piercing six-string more glorious.

Mistakes happened but no one cared. At one point, Stern struggled to get through the song “Patterns Of A Diamond Ceiling,” noticeably frustrated but humored enough to laugh about it. A performance of “Grapefruit” more or less knocked that out of our minds.

They blasted through their set and didn’t hang for an encore. Stragglers made their way back to the bar or the merch table. My brother is now the proud owner of a pink-lettered “Win ‘Marnie’ Win” t-shirt. I picked up This Is It… on vinyl.

Having corresponded at points with Marnie Stern, (and promoted the fuck out of her last two albums), I figured I’d find an opportunity to introduce myself. While in the midst of packing up her gear, she took two seconds to shake my hand. Not wanting to take up too much of her time, I just thanked her for the show and told her to be on the look out for a write-up.

It was around 11:30 when we left the Necktie and it was a thankful good night’s rest about an hour later.

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Virgin Closing...

Virgin Megastores are the latest major league casualty of waning record sales, shutting down all U.S. locations by summer's end. The Times Square store, a well-known commercial landmark within the New York City's business epicenter, (probably as familiar a city landmark as the Statue Of Liberty), is already advertising huge "farewell" sales.

Despite the fact that Virgin, (even Tower Records to some extent when it was still alive and kicking), represented the mainstream mall-version of music consumerism, it's still unsettling to see such a major entity shut its doors. Maybe this was a way to filter out the Best Buy/Wal-Mart music-buying crowd, but honestly, if the majors can't survive in the current climate, is there really any hope that the indie stores can stay alive?

*steps off of soapbox*

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

No Ripcord: Mi Ami

Mi Ami
Touch & Go/Quarterstick
Released: 2.17.09

No Ripcord review

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

What I Heard This Morning: Panther

Last year's 14kt God, crafted from the loving hands of Portland, Oregon duo, Panther (multi-instrumentalist Charlie Salas-Humara and drummer Joe Kelly), wasn't necessarily the best thing I heard last year. Still, standout tracks like the funk-driven "On The Lam" and the organ swirling loveliness of "Glamorous War" made enough of an impression on me that I want to keep track of where they take themselves and their sound.

Photo courtesy of Terrorbird Media

A new 12" dubbed The Birds will be out March 6th on Altin Village. It's premiere extract, a cute piano ditty entitled, "Like A Bridge," seems a more poppy and less lo-fi effort.

"Like A Bridge"

Letters From A Tapehead

No Ripcord: Tropical Fuck Storm

Tropical Fuck Storm A Laughing Death in Meatspace Joyful Noise Recordings Released:  10.26.18 No Ripcord review. Sincere...