Thursday, October 28, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Proto-rock and Roll, Etc.

The Treniers may be the Adam gene of all rock and roll bands as they're considered to be the first self-contained rock and roll group ever. Their's was a version of proto-rock heavily influenced by the swing era that gave birth to them and other musical mutations of their age, namely Rhythm and Blues. The hybrid version they played, with its heavy backbeat, walking bass lines, caterwauling yelps, and jumper cables to the nipples surges of manic energy would later be known as Jump Blues. (For a modern equivalent, think the Brian Setzer Orchestra.) The Treniers began in earnest in the post-war 40s and reached their peak in the mid-50s. It was during this period that they amassed a thick portfolio of songs with the words rock and/or roll in the title ("Rockin' Is Our Business," "Rocking on Sunday Night," "It Rocks! It Rolls! It Swings!"). If they don't own the word outright you could at least say they had first squatter's rights.

Led by Mobile AL born twin brothers and Claude and Cliff Trenier, with more Trenier brothers joining in and the Gene Gilbeaux Orchestra behind them, their sound is slightly hipper and less loungey than contemporary Louis Prima's. And like much of the rock and roll that would soon follow, dancing and singing weighed equally on the performance scales. The song featured here, Ragg Mopp — later pinched famously by Art Carney on the Honeymooners (imagine Ralph's slow-burn reaction)has since disappeared from our collective golden-age-of-novelty consciousness comes from the group's heyday of the early 50s. The Treniers would persevere through the rock and roll era, and in some form or another to the lounges of the present, but the shadow had fallen. Like to many of their back-beat challenged brethern of the pre-Elvis era, rock and roll would be the death knell. Sad, because as you can see here, the influence of their musical/performance DNA is still very much apparent today.

Presenting above, Al Simms and Leon James, otherwise known as Al and Leon. (Forgive the video's low quality, the contents make up for it.) Two more proto-stylists whose dance and presentation style would feature large in the culture to come. If their DNA is not in the actual substance of modern pop, their hereditary stamp is certainly represented in their attitude. There's an exhuberant and impudent kind of free-style going on here, even within the confines of a form like the Charleston. But for them, the Charleston is just something to leave their footprints on as they ascend a ladder spiraling into the wild cultural future.

In this they stand beside The Treniers.

For a little more perspective: Below, dancer Bill Bailey (brother of Pearl Bailey) from a performance in 1955. Bill is credited with being the inventor of the Moonwalk, first documented in a performce from a film in 1943. What is pop culture but a pirate's enterprise?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Killing Joke: Asteroid (live)

I've a theory as to why musical tastes tend to change with age. That is, why as we scale up in age do our music choices tend to mellow down? The reason, as I've unscientifically concluded, is that as noise in our lives increases — career, marriage, mortgage, kids, etc. the less we want it in our diversions. I think this goes a long way in explaining the popularity of banalities such as Twilight and Barry Manilow. But mellowing down doesn't have to be all vanilla. Even though I'm now on the ripe side of middle age myself I can't imagine how senile I'd have to be to enjoy, say, Rod Stewart's diddling over of The Great American Songbook. Or to book passage on the next Air Supply cruise. Take the "a" and "t" from adult and you're left with dull (then add another "l"), but it doesn't have to be that way.

E.g.: Killing Joke, a relic from my post-adolescent musical formation of '78 - '81 (after that they continued without me). For those who don't know, Killing Joke is considered one of the fathers of Industrial and is an admitted influence on many bands that followed (Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Ministry, Jane's Addiction), including metal (Metallica, Tool). Interestingly, Asteroid was originally recorded during a more recent reforming when remaining original members ages were deep into pattern baldness and middle age spread. Grease-painted vocalist Jaz Coleman — already wearing a precursor of his retiree's jumpsuit became an ordained minister in 2003. (KJ songs are larded up with scriptural references.) His ordainment followed periods of dabbling in Alister Crowley and the occult. In the early 80s he convinced other band members to join him in Iceland to wait out the impending apocalypse. (That's all right, Jesus missed that call too.)
If this latter day sound is also Industrial then it's of the most wizened and vintage variety. Asteroid is repetitive and coarse, transgressive is the word reviewers used, like a buzz saw ripping through 24 gauge steel. Yet, somehow all that bash comes out remarkably hypnotic as well kinetically so, if that's possible. (That phrase may be as oxymoronic as "High-impact Yoga" but you get the idea.) What works for my ears is the intensity of the sound; I don't believe there's another sound in the universe that quite conveys what only an overdriven guitar and a vocal with that kind of force thickened rasp can. Our emotional soundtracks aren't all violins and twee singer-songwriters huddled over acoustic guitars. Killing Joke's sound is a great symbol of the working life: Coarse, repetitive, droning, and yet with a kind of stuttering rhythmic balance. Maybe it's the fact that it's a sound pounded out by guys with AARP cards (like me) that speaks so well to me. (Although, judging from audience's young faces, the sound isn't limited to an age group.)

And maybe it's the touch of humanity within. Hear the plaint in Colemen's shout; He may be singing about the world's demise but he's not quite ready yet (as none of us are ever likely to be). I'd guess he's no more ready now then he was when he ducked into the Land of Trolls.

In conclusion: The sound may travel in a clenched fist but it arrives with an open hand.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Worst Album Cover of All Time

I overstate: Actually, the above is considered only one of the worst covers of all time. An honorarium bestowed by both The Guardian (the British national daily) and Pitchfork Media (according to Wiki). The cover is from the album Noah's Ark
(2005) by the sister duo CocoRosie.

The art was created by sister Bianca Casady (the "Coco" part of the duo). As best I can tell the image appears to depict a train of three copulating unicorns, each situated in a different level of the hierarchy: A top, a sandwich, and a bottom. The sandwich appears to exude a rainbow out of its horn which could be a symbol of radiating pleasure, a migraine, or inspired contempt for the exchange (the gray/black elements near the brow could indicate a mix of feelings). The bottom has been described as "vomiting." As unicorns are often accused of farting rainbows maybe they can
blow rainbow chunks as well. Or, it may be salivating vigorously. Vomiting is consistent with a coercion scenario; salivating, on the other hand, could either be arousal or "roofies". The top seems to have dropped its pants. The dark clouds overhead support the coercion theory which also makes the use of unicorns rather unpleasant and ironic. In addition, there's an unsavory element of specieism and bigotry as the bottom appears to be the only zebra of the three.

For more contenders for worst album cover, see here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tokyo Jihen: OSCA

Perhaps not so well known in the occidental world, Tokyo Jihen (translated: Tokyo Incidents) originally formed as a backing unit for successful singer Shiina Ringo (Ringo Shena as listed in the video). It must've become apparent immediately to all involved that this was to be way more than a band of celebrity waterboys.

There has been trouble with getting this video in the U.S. before so this may not be up for long. Enjoy while you can:

Tokyo Jihen - OSCA from Roberto Kerveros on Vimeo.

Unfortunately, for some reason this brilliant video has been suddenly banned from Western eyes. I couldn't find it anywhere. So, instead a live version along with another song, KabukiOSCA is the second song:

Tokyo incidents - KABUKI,OSCA[JCB] by uooron

Thus, the member's roles expanded into song writing and production as well. (Bass player Seiji Kameda [Sage Kameda] was already a prolific producer and arranger in his own right.) And it paid off: Despite Ringo's prodigious talents and a 20+ year career as a solo artist (her solo work veers a little close toward MOR for my taste), it's her work with the band that stands out most. Note the stellar musicianship at every corner: They've the skills to be as pretty, dirty, smooth, dissonant, or with any combination thereof as the situation requires. And Ringo herself is no punk: A capable instrumentalist with a voice that's as versatile, colorful, and as searing as it wants to be. When they're on the spot, as they are here, this band can rock as hard as anybody out there.

(There's a version of the video without the dancers, but there's an insolence to the dancing I find irresistible. Maybe it's their indifference to synchronization. Or, how the dancer who begins it all with a fat slug from a flask.)

We definitely need more of this in the West.