Archive for the 'Frightening' Category

14
Aug
19

Sharon Van Etten “Tramp”

The black and white photo of presumably Sharon Van Etten on the cover of the LP is blown up so much you realize it’s almost abstract, maybe only makes sense with a little distance. Her head is about twice as big a normal person—in effect, you’d never see her this close up, even if you were making out with her. It’s a very beautiful photo, and album cover, but it really accentuates the quality of her eyes—it’s hard for me to describe—it’s more of a feeling, but for some reason I never feel like I can trust someone with eyes like that. My feelings like that are usually wrong, which becomes evident within one minute of meeting a person, and longer meetings further prove that, but since I’m not meeting SVE anytime soon, I’m just going to make the assumption that I’m wrong and chalk it up to the powerful—and often totally misleading—quality of photographs. There’s a lot of musicians and collaboration going on, but especially with a guy named Aaron Dessner (I’ll have to look him up), and there’s a picture of SVE and a guy (might be him?) on the inside cover, sitting on a bench, presumably outdoors, neither winter nor summer, pleasantly blurry and smiling, slightly disheveled, wearing every tasteful shade of blue known to man, their white hands looking like alien beings. In tiny white letters at the bottom it says, “for John Cale.” That could lead me to many, many more words, or I could just let it go.

The initial sound of these songs is, to me, entirely unfairly, off-putting, even though I like the sparse, subtle, and tasteful instrumentation. Maybe too tasteful. And sometimes blatantly eclectic, some with annoying arcane sounding instruments that only exist in Civil War museums and recording studios in Brooklyn. Sharon Van Etten’s voice has this liquid quality, both thick and thin, that just pours between the edges, and fills all cracks, sounding like it’s desperate to cauterize not only her wounds but those of everyone she comes in contact with. It’s a bit much, and I can’t say I’m enjoying it, but I know from experience that that’s a hasty, first-impression opinion, and I really need to listen to each song more closely, and listen to the lyrics, as well, before I make any judgment. So I’ll do that, and also, it seems at first glance that a lot of these might be love songs, and sad songs—and that’s something I’ve been kind of into lately. That’s a joke—for those people who know me.

The first song is a love song, a sad song, addressed to “you”—unless it’s a metaphor for a political situation, but I’ll leave it be. The next song, also addressed to “you,” has a tragic tone to it, along with this kind of devastating lyric that we can all relate to: “You’re the reason why I’ll movie to the city or why I’ll need to leave.” Another song addressed to “you,” called “Serpents,” even more fraught, and this time she hopes “he” changes. Don’t hold your breath, SVE. Next is “Kevin’s”—which is the only use of a possessive version of a name without an object as a song title I can think of. No mention of Kevin’s what?—in the song—or Kevin—unless he’s “you” (in which case maybe means that she belongs to Kevin—in which case I hate him). Anyway, it’s a beautiful sad song, with some nice “ooohhhs”—long, drawn out—that sound like “yous.” Next is one about “Leonard” who eventually becomes “you” by the end of the song. I may be wrong, but it sounds like this Leonard was a pretty okay guy, but she fucked it up this time. So it goes. Finally, “In Line” is quite a haunting song, and I don’t just say that because the word “ghosts” is in it. I have no idea what it’s about, but it’s not about domestic bliss and talking about your future while in line at the Court Street Trader Joe’s.

New paragraph, second side, this is vinyl. I didn’t mean to go on this long with this, but once I committed to it, I was kind of sunk. That’s commitment for you—when you don’t have it, you’re sunk, and you’re sunk when you do. The first song is killer, one that probably sold me on this record (as if I needed to be sold, or anyone cares). It starts out quiet and slow, and then just builds in volume and intensity, with the line “we all make mistakes” running through it like veins of gold through the darkness. “We Are Fine” is an interesting title to a song, especially where the sentiment is “I’m alright”—another pretty and harrowing one, which could be about hypochondria, or hypochondria as love metaphor, or the other way around. “Magic Chords” just confuses me—it sounds like a funeral march, with the repeated lines: “You got to lose sometime” and then “Nothing to lose.” That’s too general—I mean, we’re all going to die, but I need to focus on something else, occasionally. “Ask” makes my stomach hurt, and I mean that as a compliment, as in, SVE can land a punch. Addressed to “friend” and “man” and, it feels like, me, the line, “It hurts too much to laugh about it” hurts too much to laugh about it. “I’m Wrong” asks to “tell me I’m wrong.” I don’t think you’re wrong. With a line like, “tell me all the miles that you put on your car,” I’d have to say you’re probably right, as sad as that is. The last song is slow and haunting, and I guess I want it to leave me with a positive note, at this point, sucker that I am, soft in my old age, wanting things to work out between her and one of these “you’s.” I think: “I could do better, couldn’t I?” In the romance department. Men are little boys, with tantrums, and egos, that want everything, but are just destined, you know, to either be kicked under a shed, or else allowed to be a monster. Anyway, it ends on a grim note, but it feels like truth, at least, and the light dims.

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17
Jul
19

The Doobie Brothers “Minute by Minute”

This record came out certainly after I had stopped liking The Doobie Brothers—1978—by that time, it was punk rock for me, not these lame, saggy-ass hippies. The kind of classic b&w band photo cover with the six of them posing like a soccer team is nice. Which one would you make out with? If you said anyone but Michael McDonald, you’re just being contrary, because you know he’s the only one without skunk-weed breath. Though I am a “Skunk” Baxter guy from way back. There is an inner sleeve with a giant blowup photo of a roach—no, not a cockroach!—a nearly consumed marijuana cigarette—I’m guessing it’s blown up X10. Just in case you thought “Doobie” referred to a high school track coach, or a submarine sandwich, or someone’s pet, or dick—well, here it is, spelled out in plain English. Or maybe that’s not a roach at all (squinting), but an artist’s rendition of an alien craft, from the school that believes UFOs will not be all sleek, smooth, and symmetrical, but all fucked up. It actually looks like some alien vessel from Lost in Space, the original TV show, the early episodes from 1965, which were in black and white and sometimes truly frightening (and first introduced me to the idea that when we, Earthlings, are traveling out there, Space, then we are the aliens).

On the other side is a lyric sheet! I am so excited! Now I can finally find out what they are singing on “What A Fool Believes”—something that’s been driving me crazy now for forty years. It starts out, “He came from somewhere back in Malongo.” Where in the hell is “Malongo?” Well, it’s not Malongo, it’s: “in her long ago.” But what does that even mean? And then, “As she rises to the Apocalypse, or the Acropolis”—what’s that about? But no, it’s “her apology.” Actually, when I really listen, I can’t understand any of the lyrics. Is that the key to a number one song? I’m here to make that statement: the key to a hit song is to sing the lyrics so no one can understand them. Anyway, this is after Michael McDonald pretty much took over this band, at least on paper. Who knows, really. I’ll look forward to watching that 12 hour Doobie Brothers documentary, that’s got to be out there, or being made, on a double feature with a Yacht Rock documentary, which of course features Michael McDonald. I used to hate the guy; maybe I associated him with the lame side of the late Seventies, you know, that horrible beard and football jersey combo look. Or maybe I associated him with that most heinous of all hamburger chains. But now I pretty much love the guy, which I suppose says something about me, not him, or time, or the sewer flowing into the river, and the river flowing into the sea.

14
Jun
19

Jimmy Swaggart “I’ve Got Nothing To Lose”

I used to have a lot of Jimmy Swaggart albums, believe it or else, because they were easy to find at the thrift-store, and I can listen to them. It’s solid gospel music with—as I hear it—an interesting edge. This record’s official title is: “I’ve Got Nothing To Lose Featuring Jimmy Swaggart and His Golden Gospel Piano.” On a lot of these songs it sounds like Brother Jimmy is barely reigning it in, about one shot of rye away from transforming into his cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis, right before our eyes. Good and Evil, or “two sides of the same coin?”—I say the latter. This is not meant, at least in this context, to be an indictment—I’m just saying there’s some hot music on Swaggart albums, and there’s a lot of them. I lost all mine—in the move, the flood, the bankruptcy. I think all or most of his records are on JIM records, one of my favorite label names. (Maybe I should start a record label called Randy. Wait, someone already did.) They all have pretty good covers, too, but maybe I managed to hang onto this one because it’s just the best. A fairly young Jimmy (no date can be found, but I’m guessing it’s got to be near 1960) is sitting at the piano, on a little raised stage protected by a tacky wrought iron railing, no doubt in a church. Behind him is an enormous, floor to ceiling, shimmering mauve curtain. And below him, and WAY in front (it’s framed as if by someone who loved this carpet more than Jimmy) is kind of a ratty looking (at least in the photo) carpet—in the identical shade of mauve! There seems to be a lot of disagreement over what is the color mauve, and it’s often used incorrectly, but if you want to see mauve, this is fucking mauve, baby! (Obviously I feel kind of strongly about it.)

This might be a good time to bring this up. A number of years back, like a pretty big number (I’m guessing 25 yeas ago, but I’m not even sure), someone anonymously mailed to me a videotape that was simply titled “Camp Meeting” and on it was the most amazing segment of Jimmy Swaggart’s television gospel ministry that I’ve ever seen. This is the one where he goes on a long tirade about, who else, The Lord, that ends with the claim, “He can unscramble scrambled eggs!” Why I didn’t immediately market a T-Shirt, I have no idea. There still may be time. The segment was featured in my 6 hour epic video, Seafood, so you may (not) have seen it there. It’s probably on youtube—I guess there’s very little that isn’t. But anyway, if it was you who sent me this gem, now’s the time to own up! That was pretty much the best mystery mail I’ve ever received (not counting the videotape of The Sweet Ride (1968), that arrived at Franklin Street, in Kent, that historic autumn of 1987 (homebrew, The Sweet Ride, MAMA art movement, the Browns were watchable). Could it be possible the same person sent The Sweet Ride and “Camp Meeting?” Lot’s of questions, and as time passes there will be more, like What’s videotape, and What’s mail?

31
May
19

Fuzzhead “LSD”

Due to my “Speenish” reputation, readers might expect me to express my opinion about whether this 1993 LP, provocatively titled LSD, in some way portrays or evokes an “acid trip”—and you know what, I’m not going to do it, because that’s your trip, I mean if you want to go there, and you can decide that for yourself. This isn’t an educational record, it’s an album of music, broken into songs, and it does that very well, with primarily guitars, bass, drums, and voices. These few elements are far from sparse, as there are a lot of them, going on at the same time. Listening to this again, I had a bit of an impression that it could have been quadraphonic sound—that is, if I had four speakers—so I’m almost getting the impression of four speakers coming out of two, or even two different stereos playing almost the same two records at almost the same time. Which probably makes it sound more chaotic than it is… it’s actually quite coherent, compelling, easy on the ears, brain, nose, throat, what have you. There is no centrally defined singer, but multiple ones coming in from here and there, one of them a woman’s voice that makes me think of Grace Slick enough to make me think of Jefferson Airplane, as well. Not that that is a comparison, I’m not doing that, and other comparisons would be more apt, but I’m not going there, and I’m not going to use the word “psychedelic” more than once, and I just did it.

The cover of this record is all white except for an enlarged typewriter font “lsd” and “fuzzhead” and a large gray hand (bigger than actual size) protruding from the left, holding what one presumes is some kind LSD delivery device on the end of the middle finger. For some reason the hand makes me think of a squid, probably one big enough to destroy cruise ships. The acid makes me think of an impossibly small drive-in movie theater screen. Small movies for small people. It seems like yesterday when this record came out, yet it was like a quarter of a century ago. And what’s a quarter of a century?—besides the time it took for the drive-in theater on the end of the finger to become a reality.

Fuzzhead is a band started by Bill Weita—though I suppose I could be wrong—it could have been started by any number of the names equally divided in the album credits. But I think it was Bill Weita, a guy I lived in the same house with, in Kent, Ohio, 1987 into 1988. There were six or seven of us in that house and WE ALL GOT ALONG. We made homebrew in the basement, started an art movement, and watched a videotape of The Sweet Ride on TV. Bill would disappear into the basement for hours, weeks at a stretch, make a lot of noise that could only be described as repetitive and annoying. Then he’d eventually come out with cassette tape with music that might have come from Berlin in the Seventies, or a basement in Kent. He’d make a finished product, on cassette, with a typewriter and crude drawings. This record is much along the same lines, though it’s vinyl and on someone else’s label (Father Yod). I moved away, never to return, and Fuzzhead was born, not, I don’t think, long after. When I lived there, however, we, the roommates, called Bill “The King of Rock’n’Roll”—he didn’t self-apply that name, in case anyone is wondering. But I’m here to say, that R&R museum up north on Lake Erie is necessarily a failure and travesty until Bill has been at least asked to be freeze-dried and on permanent display.

19
Apr
19

Allan Sherman “My Son, the Folk Singer”

I never heard of Allan Sherman before playing this 1962 record, but apparently he went through a period of widespread success and popularity, which is why this record exists and I was able to pick up a copy for nothing. According to the internet, his popularity declined after the JFK assassination 1963—is that true? Did the masses lose their taste for frivolous humor after that time, and if so, does that partly explain why I grew up only occasionally cracking a smile—I wonder. Anyway this is essentially a comedy record comprised of goofy folk songs with lyrics that are sometimes pretty obvious and sometimes rather obscure. Kind of typical of me, I find myself annoyed by the stuff I understand, and intrigued by the stuff I don’t. I supposed if I understood the stuff I don’t understand I’d be annoyed by that too. The overall tone is that kind of humor that says “this is humor”—but I actually really like the singing style of Allan Sherman, I guess because he sounds like an urban Jewish guy to me, like the kind of co-worker who cracks you up daily. Let’s see, where is he from? Chicago, moved around a lot. I guess a lot of these songs are parodies, where you have to know the thing it’s parodying to make sense—but again, I’m wondering if I personally like stuff that doesn’t make sense to me. Anyway, it’s a live album, and the audience is finding it all hilarious—from the individual, tittering laugh, to bursts of uncontrolled laughter, to the full on roar. For me it’s pretty much torture to hear people laugh like that. Now that I think of it, I don’t much care for live recordings, in general, but live comedy is the worst. I mean, if you’re there, then it’s live, and when it’s a recording of something live, it’s not live anymore, is it—it’s just annoying. I don’t like recordings of live “specials” either, or podcasts that are recorded in front of a live audience—I can’t listen to them. The audience on this album is recorded really loudly, too, it’s just unbearable—I mean, just torture me, okay? The cover, though, is great—well, not that great, but there is a woman in a black dress holding a dead chicken, and a bagel lying on the floor, it’s goofy, and, yeah, it’s almost a good album cover.

25
Feb
19

Alec Templeton “Alec Templeton and his Music Boxes”

“If I were king, it would be a must that everybody have a hobby…” starts Alec Templeton’s intro, the first track of this record. And I agree, though I’d add, “but drinking and looking at pornography don’t count.” He then goes on to talk about his love for, and obsession with, collecting music boxes. I kind of like this thing of the first track being a spoken intro—kind of like an audio version of liner notes. Though you might get powerful tired of it if it’s a record you have “on repeat” (as the kids say). Though, maybe there is little danger of that here, as the remainder of this record consists of recordings of various music boxes—there are 45 tunes from 24 different ones, some of them quite grand, of course, and large, elaborate, ornate, and expensive. They all sound like music boxes. There are a few faded black and white photos of some of the boxes, but they don’t really do them justice. And some informative (written) liner notes that start out: “For the next 44 minutes, Mr. Templeton would like to take you away from the cares and tensions of today and transport you back to the gay, quiet era of not so long ago—the era of the music box…” There’s a signpost up ahead!

I could imagine (actually, I couldn’t) having a roommate who, this was his favorite record, and played it every day right after dinner. I’m afraid you’d have to kill him. I mean, this is an enjoyable record to listen to once or twice. I guess you could try to see how many tunes you can name. I have to say, that song, “A Bicycle Built for Two,” has just been forever altered for me after hearing HAL sing it while perishing in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). (Kubrick did that to a lot of music, actually—thanks, Stanley!) Talking about movies, if you are a filmmaker, this record might work really well into your resources—there could very likely be some scene in anyone’s movie where one of these music box songs is just the thing. The sound, the feeling of them, is far from neutral. I wonder why it is that we associate this music box music with some kind of ironic vision of the underlying tragedy inherent in our existence? Is it something leftover from past lives? Or just from other movies?

20
Feb
19

Jefferson Airplane “Bark”

The art department did a good job on this album cover—it totally fooled me. I am not that familiar with Jefferson Airplane’s discography, so when I saw this odd album cover with a fish head, I thought that someone had scrawled “BARK” on the cover just so they’d remember what it was—but it’s actually the album cover—very good job of replicating a black marker scrawl. (I was not, however, fooled into thinking it was an actual fish wrapped in paper—if that was the case I would have smelled it long before seeing it.) So apparently the original album cover looked like a shopping bag (or was a shopping bag) brown paper, with a “JA” logo meant to replicate the “A&P” grocery store logo—which would mean very little to people now—I barely remember that logo. Or maybe they still use it? Are there still A&P stores? Anyway, it’s a weird choice, but these were out-of-control San Francisco hippies and releasing an album in a shopping bag is probably very mild compared to the ideas they probably did have but someone with relative sanity stepped in. So I don’t know when this glossy replica of a fish wrapped in paper came out, but it’s a really good album cover, and even better is the lyrics “flyer” inside (in pink, what is meant to be, I guess, butcher paper). Each song title gets a different font (this is long before “font abuse”—and subsequent font sanity). It’s nice to have the lyrics, very readable (it folds out to 12×24 inches)—but then even better, on the other side is a kind of concrete poetry thing, titled with crudely cut out paper bag paper letters: “What you can do with the bag”—below which are about 100 or so suggestions about what you can do with the bag. I can’t type it all out since I don’t have the “good speed” they had when they composed this thing, but I’ll read over it quickly and tell you my favorite(s).

Fans of this band’s history will probably correct me, but this seems to be a later version of JA—some band members changed, I guess—but still well before the dreaded “Jefferson Starship.” I’m wondering now if they’re really dreaded (my memory, of back then, was dreading them—but now I do like a lot of stuff I once hated). But what I’m wondering is if they almost called themselves something else, like what’s between an airplane and a starship? Maybe a dirigible? Could they nearly have been temporarily named Jefferson Zeppelin? I was playing this record the other night and I felt like either it was really fucked up (the recording, or the actual vinyl) or my stereo was fucked up, or my needle, maybe, or maybe it was me because the apartment was 80 degrees. Or maybe a young Tom Cruise was in here fucking with my equalizer. It seems like every song was written by a different band member, but I’m not going to go through them one by one. I’m not going to say life it too short for that—it isn’t—but February is too short. The one song that kind of freaks me out though is “Feel So Good”—and I can’t really put my finger on why, but it seems to bring back these strong memories of how intimidating the Seventies were—when everyone over the age of 12 had a moustache, and people wore hats and scarfs, and the cool guys had little leather satchels tied to their belts—and what was in them? Suddenly everyone was several inches taller (shoes and hair) and you could see the ocean in their blue eyes, and they knew something they weren’t going to tell you, and somehow there just seemed to be more people than ever with wide gaps between their two front teeth. All that from that one song, for no good reason, either.

I really do like this record—I don’t mean to be negative about the fucking up sound—I actually like that, a lot. Just to be clear. (But is she singing in German on this one song, over a background of tortured ghosts?) And I like the all-over-the-place-ness of the record—which maybe has something to do with all the songwriters present—it’s like everybody gave it a shot. Maybe there’s a song by the guy who brings the acid over, and one by the guy at the deli. Some day I’ll put all these JA names together, in a proper order, and associate them with faces and instruments. I love the scenes of them playing at Altamont in Gimme Shelter (1970)—they are all both really intense and like just normal cats. Plus, didn’t one of them get punched by one of the Hell’s Angels? And then I’m especially fascinated with Grace Slick—even through all the concert footage, records, and reading about her, I could never get a sense of what she’s all about—like she’s just outside any kind of personal reference (comparison with another person). Maybe I’m wrong about that, and she’s just kind of like a cross between someone and someone else, but I guess I want to believe she’s alone in Grace Slick-ville. This record is kind of growing on me, actually—I might have to write about it again, later, and I can do that, because I make the rules here. Here’s a fine example of what you can do with the bag: “Call it Chester… call it loose… call it nester… call it Goose.”




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