Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Grayhead Does Good Dept: David Bowie's Deranged (Unreleased Version)

His head wasn't all that gray quite yet, he was a mere 48, still, most rock stars are in full wither at such a point. Bowie, for his part, was reinventing himself yet again. As a cat who began playing in bands in the early '60s, finding new relevance in the '90s as something more than a curious relic is no small accomplishment. Some critics were less than enthusiastic (Rolling Stone gave it 3 out of 5 stars), but as is often the case, time has proved them wrong.

I'm Deranged was another collaboration with Brian Eno (cowriter) and jazz pianist Mike Garson. It's a good one.

In 2013, with head considerably grayer, Bowie released yet another: The Next Day. Ever wanted to see Gary Oldman as a Catholic priest punch a homeless beggar? Plus, as is it our mission at Jelly Roll to bring you the finest in explicit music videos, here's one with unclothed breasts, splattering stigmata, and trenchant religious satire: What else could you want?

He also did another one for the album with Tilden Swinton.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

This is what evil sounds like. Well, evilish.

The band is Psyclon Nine. They're from the San Francisco Bay area. Labelers call the sound aggrotech/industrial metal. The singer's name is Nero Bellum and that voice (it is a guy)—is the sound of the worst, off-the-meds, end-of-a-relationship, dish hurling argument you've ever had. A song that sounds like an argument—such a concept. Could be the soundtrack to inspire teenage shootings. (Let's hope not.)

The video has been called bizarre but that may be overselling its merits. That synthesizer certainly takes it down a few notches. It's like a game show theme leaking in from a television someone left on in the studio. It sucks the evil wind right out of the sails. The song's intro is pretty spooky, with the looped banshee wail and the seizure camera style but even that's spoiled by the straight-to-video caliber Satanic voice. Combined with the synth sound, if it's evil it's topped with a melting block of processed cheese. You do have to wonder how Mr. Bellum can keep up the scratching vocals for the four minutes needed to get through this much less a whole live set. He's going to have nodes on his vocal cords the size of cobblestones. 

But Bellum is only one of legions in the genre that all sing exactly like this, rasp for rasp—with all the diversity of ancient Egyptian painting. It's kind of oppressive. Though there's one advantage: if a singer leaves, replacing them is much easier.

Take caution when watching, the visuals might induce overstimulation. Keep out of reach of small children.

The song is catchy, though.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Music that Matters, Pt 13

126) The Yardbirds, Over Under Sideways Down; Mister, You're a Better Man than I; Happenings Ten Years Time Ago: Grayheads know that The Yardbirds was the Guitar Academy that incubated a troika of deities: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. In addition, it was a band that produced a mantle full of trophy singles and a legacy that'd inspire generations of guitar mortals. Of the three Beck was probably the better Yardbird, despite the future glories of the other two. His skills on the whammy bar were nearly as impressive as his skills in self sabotage. Of the three he's the only one who seems to have gotten better with age. Match his legendary nitroglycerin-like temper with an uncanny habit of jumping the rails before the train of success arrives at the station and you could write the story of his career. (He also opted out of Woodstock in '69.) Be that as it may, we should still bow down to the solid body altar and cross ourselves for the Yardbirds. Even before Layla and Stairway to Heaven they were still the nazz.

Over, Under, Sideways, Down by The Yardbirds on Grooveshark

Recorded in 1964:
& The Yardbirds on Grooveshark">Mr. You're a Better Man Than I by Eric Clapton & The Yardbirds on Grooveshark

Happening Ten Years Time Ago by The Yardbirds on Grooveshark

A really corny scene from Antonioni's Blow Up with the Beck/Page version; Beck stomps a mean Hush Puppy:

127) Long Fin Killie, Godiva: From the cloudy riverbanks of Glasgow, Long Fin Killie (named for an exotic fish) is one of the reasons why the 90s were better than the 80s. Unlike the legions of other bands that might namedrop Can, these lads do the legacy proper. As well-buffed musicians, their sound has the muscle to bend toward the experimental. Besides kraut rock, there's other various art rock influences, vestiges of kilted folk and a slab of Tim Buckley. Sometimes their sound veers off into the kind of dreamy prog that littered the cut-out bins of olde—Gentle Giant, Robert Wyatt,  early Genesis, etc., but it's subtle. While contemporaries like Pavement gathered all the glory, Long Fin Killie did the actual work.

Godiva by Long Fin Killie on Grooveshark

128) Steppenwolf, Born to Be Wild: Loveable proto-metal built on a guitar that revs like a straight-piped Harley and an organ that sounds like wind blowing a chime of rusty knives: This is the garage band gone to graduate school. The lyric was a battle cry for a generation bound to war and looking to an escape to freedom, the kind that only comes with a motorcycle between your legs. A flower generation caught in a culture war that'd dropped its biggest bomb only months before: The Summer of LoveIn the opening credits of Easy RiderBorn to Be Wild perfectly expressed the zeitgeist of the time (a film that also featured a very young Toni Basil): As Peter Fonda throws off his wristwatch and the shackles of the establishment to follow wherever cute chicks, acid trips, and the horizon takes him. Many have tried to recreate this sound; none have done it better.

Steppenwolf by Born To Be Wild on Grooveshark

This was a nice one:
Born To Be Wild by Blue Öyster Cult on Grooveshark

128) Van Der Graaf Generator, Pawn Hearts album: Like prog? I don't. Not usually. Most often it's laughably pretentious, dizzily conceited, and bloated like a lumbering giant that'd just swallowed a trailer parkpompous bombast was a description I once saw used in Rolling Stone. Dreadfully indulgent and boring is another. The lyrics usually read like delirium on stilts puffed up with a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary. On the spectrum of prog rock you might say Van Der Graaf Generator is so deep into its black hole that they come out the other end. They're like those low budget movies that Tarantino is always going on about, made by men of such stubbornly outside aesthetics—films so bad they're genius. Van Der Graaf Generator sound less like other prog bands and more like hallucinations of opera cut with avant-garde middle school musical theater, or Queen on a torture rack doing Phantom of the Paradise. Either way, add Stockhausen, Carl Stalling, Frank Zappa's Lumpy Gravy, free jazz, Liza Minelli and Tiny Tim and you end up with a sound like no one else's. This isn't toe tapping, whistle along music; it meanders, slows down and speeds up, crashes and whispers. At times their songs sound like a suitcase overstuffed with Russian nesting dolls, each one containing enough material for several more (the songs tend to be loooong). And then there's singer/songwriter Peter Hammill: A singular character whose lyrics are slathered in gothic images, dark anxieties, and hyperbolic drama. Over that he sprinkles clever analogies and the odd insight of sagely wisdom. His histrionic renderings are hilarious and tragic at once. This is Outsider Prog, a genre all their own: A prog so offensively prog it's genius.

der Graaf Generator on Grooveshark">A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers by Van der Graaf Generator on Grooveshark

129) Robert Fripp, Chicago, Disengage: Rare are the examples of songs with lyrics so damned good they outshine the music. (Leonard Cohen, Stephan Sondheim, and Dylan have been known to do it.) Chicago is one. (She smiles like Chicago/ I laugh like the breeze...) But then there's a very unFripp-like bluesy groove with Fripptronics, brilliant chase-scene piano riffs, and Peter Hammill's (see above) glorious cracked actor style singing: A jewel.

Disengage is Fripp paying a last homage to the '70s prog that he invented (and then later regretted) before taking another go at it with a completely reinvented King Crimson. Another lyric by his late girlfriend and poet Johanna Walton (she was killed in a terrorist bombing of her plane in 1988). The inimitable Hammill rages on again.

Chicago by Robert Fripp (vocals by Peter Hammill) on Grooveshark

Disengage by Robert Fripp on Grooveshark

130) Split EnzLate Last Night: Not the Split Enz you remember from the '80s. This version wore face paint and mushroom haircuts while playing Victrola style crooner's jazz minus the crooning and the jazz. (Roxy Music was so taken by them they invited the band to tour with them. Phil Manzanera would produce an album.) The band's virtuoso pianist tended to take over the sound which gave them the bawdy and burlesque edge of Weimar Republic cruise ship entertainers: Music appropriate for a dark room and cocktails with umbrellas. As for their songwriting, though the best was still down the road, this troupe was the far more interesting one.

131) Bert Kaempfert, Blue Midnight album: For my wife, the sound of Sergio Mendes and Brazil '66 it takes her back to the honeyed glazes of childhood. For me, it's this: A record my dad threw on the changer as his go-to cocktail party soundtrack. Don't be misled by the trumpet blown balloons of European jazz lite, there's much more going on here. Listen to Kaempfert's alternative vision of the orchestra: the ethereal choruses, the picked electric bass (check Wiki, it's famous), strumming guitar, bittersweet string arrangements, and a sauerkraut topping of a saxophone-less horn section that might've been playing beer garden oompahs the night before. (Kaempfert was German and served in the Nazi military—as a musician: still, an ugly fact never mentioned.) Besides leading an orchestra that specialized in custard soft versions of contemporary hits and standards, Kaempfert wrote a lederhosen load of standard tunes of his own: Strangers in the Night, L-O-V-E, Spanish Eyes, Danke Schoen and others you'd have to dig into your grandparents attic to find. He also wrote piles of instrumentals that were just so goddamned infectious, lighter than air, happier than hell and borderline Muzak but impossible to erase from memory once heard. More formal than Herb Alpert and not cheesy like Martin Denny or Esquival, but slick, shiny, and out of date like a head full of Brylcream. You want to lighten your day? Throw some of this on.

A Swingin' Safari by Bert Kaempfert on Grooveshark

Three O'Clock in the Morning by Bert Kaempfert on Grooveshark

Free as a Bird by Bert Kaempfert on Grooveshark

Blue Midnight by Bert Kaempfert on Grooveshark

132) Steve Hackett, Clocks: Again, a fan of prog I'm not and Hackett is admittedly one of its worst culprits. He being the guitarist of classic period Genesis ('71 - '77),  the model for prog and progenitor of its many overwrought offenders. Those crimes aside, this album was surprisingly clear of prog's usual mire of technique for its own sake and was at the same time reasonably melodic in an unprog-like way. It was also not entirely unGenesis-like, though—the reason I never bought it—but it had its moments. Harmonically, it was unlike anything you'd hear on rock radio—more cinematic and dissonant—more like something Bernard Herrmann might've done had he grown up on Guitar Hero. Clocks could've made for a great movie theme. Or even better, a porn soundtrack.

04 Clocks - The Angel Of Mons by Hackett (Steve) on Grooveshark

133) Wild Colonials, This Can't Be Life album: (Not to be confused with the '60s Austrailain band.) Another reason to love the '90s. This is one of those extraordinary albums that has no lulls or low points—every song sparkles, at times like a gem and others like a snarling dog's wet teeth. Distinctive singer Angela McCluskey had a voice that sounded as if it'd been cured in jar of broken hearts. Every song here is as tight as a fist and every lyric rings true—every word is sung as if it'd been lived in first. It also may be the best use of violin in a rock band ever. 

The Colonials weren't known much outside of Los Angeles and that is a crime. This album should be a %$#@ing classic.

Blue by Wild Colonials on Grooveshark

If by Wild Colonials on Grooveshark

134) Marianne Faithful, Why'd Ya Do It?: Another example of the daunting power of well applied anger—loose and dirty and acutely inartful and yet exactly in the bullseye. Marianne Faithfull's ability to sell a song like this probably has much to do with her personal history, both the actual and the tabloidal, and no one could give this song quite the kind of justice she could. (You can easily imagine her spitting this theme at Jagger in '66.) Why'd Ya Do It's simple three chord vamp remains throughout as it should—too much background would only have diminished its fire-breathing foreground. The use of the bouncing reggae beat counterpoints the lyric not unlike the way Stuck in the Middle with You underscores the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs. And never has the word cunt been so elegantly applied.

Why d'Ya Do It? by Marianne Faithfull on Grooveshark

135) The Fall, Live at the Witch Trials: Watch this documentary on The Fall's figurehead Mark E. Smith and hear various managers, mediaratti, ex-band members (nobody plays with Smith for very long), and Smith himself go on for 50 minutes about what a difficult genius he is. Smith's vocal style is somewhere between Johnny Rotten, early Dylan, and a snarling feral dog after three pints. He's been pushing what is essentially the same melody, or for want of one, for 30 albums over 37 years and it's not a half bad one at that: His voice is a mixture of an unwieldy pitch in its own dimension and a vocal recoil that ends each line in a Rotten-esque uh! The quality of the material goes up and down with the quality of the groove but Smith himself is consistently evergreen in whatever it is he's trying to say. One of the few vintage artists/bands that's still as good as they ever were. But Witch Trials, the spitting raw and tetanus contaminated debut album from '79, is the one that mattered most—with all of its overzealous drums and ingenious preschool electric piano and a guitar almost funky by post-punk standards. Live at the Witch Trials represents the first time this sound entered the atmosphere and it was stunning moment. Still is.

Rebellious Jukebox by The Fall on Grooveshark

Two Steps Back by The Fall on Grooveshark

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Voluptuous NSFW Horrors

Back in the hoary days of 1990, I lived in New York's East Village while scratching out a prole's life in the art transport industry. Then, and probably still, the industry was an essential low wage teat for refugee fine arts graduates like me. Along with its meager wages, the industry also offered an abundance angst fuel (and some envy) for the many who'd come to New York to be anointed by their industry of choice. We all know how the story turns out for most: A life of working in the service of the vulgar pots of other people's money—without the gallery representation or record contract or book deal or agency representation, etc.  There's a broken heart for every light on Broadway...

I met Steve when we worked together at a small transport company in Greenpoint. He had a novelesque backstory: With the looks and hair of a rock star he was the son of a nationally known OB/GYN and the product of a rocky marriage (paternal philandering). Before leaving Portland OR for NYC, Steve and his father got into a fistfight (the Freudian/Oedipal subtext practically written in spray paint). At the time Steve was in a fresh romance with Wen, a recent transplanted young Chinese woman with model-quality looks and a vow to never to date her countrymen again. Steve was smitten and wouldn't shut up about her. The owner of the company of our employ had neglected to meet certain of his payouts as a business man so when Steve accidentally fell off the back of one the trucks and broke his wrist, he couldn't collect workman's comp (our checks bounced from time to time). The boss allowed Steve to work sporadically (there wasn't much he could do with only one hand) which in turned allowed Steve to go bankrupt. (None of us had much love for the boss. One day I couldn't contain mine any longer and yelled at him. Thus ended my art transport career in New York.)

Steve had a friend who played bass in a band fronted by the curious performance artist and singer Kembra Pfahler. Pfahler had been growing a reputation in downtown circles for her art and performances since dropping out of the School of Visual Arts in the early '80s. She'd just started playing around the East Village with her new band The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. After a long and vigorous campaign by Steve to get me to see her perform, I went to see them at The Pyramid Club on Avenue A. 

The musical pleasures of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black were amusing if slight and Pfahler has humbly admitted as much herself. (The band improved over the years.) Even so, the band's combination of low budget punkified metal and Halloween horror was the perfect platform for the brand of burlesque symbolist schtick Pfahler was peddling. (Hear their recorded repetoire here.) Most notable about Pfahler's performance was her "costume," as it were—her body completely nude save for a thick coat of various brightly colored body paint. To this she adds blackened eyes and teeth and a ratted-out wig the size of an East Village apartment. A burlesque of burlesque might be a better description: While her visual language uses broad strokes, it also contains more layers of subtext than the paint covering her body. (Watch Pfahler discuss this in the videos below.) 

Her performance also included walking on bowling balls strapped to her feet, interacting with artfully homemade props (a song from her later set, Underwear Drawer, would have her tossing panties into the audience), humorous between song patter, mugging through her make-up and a general goofiness. Then, at last, to the evening's climax: standing on her head with legs open while an assistant—costumed like the maestro herselfbroke paint-filled eggshells over her vulva

Despite all of her performance artifice, Pfahler came off as utterly sincere, genuine, unpretentious, and dare I say, even innocent. Her stage mask becomes more of a window than a wall, and despite her costume grotesquerie, her execution was never heavy handed and always a good time. 

Out of her stage make-up Pfahler has bona-fide model-quality, gothy good looks—proof is in her work for both Calvin Klein and Penthouse. In a more enlightened world, her vision of womanhood would be the feature of tyrannical institutions like Elle and Vogue. Clearly, she's not going to be everyone's cup of tea and while a nude chick is the just the kind of feminism most guys could rally behind, it must no doubt rankle the academics. Make no mistake, she's no Wendy O. Williams nor a Hooters for bohemian intellectuals. (She also has a considerable gay and lesbian following.) Her character of the painted gargoyle spins conventional notions of acceptable beauty on its damaged head, not to mention opening vistas of the body feminine as a battlefield for discussion. Pfahler calls her approach Beautifulism (go to the link and also see an example of her interior decorating—she lives her style through and through) and describes herself as a Future Feminist and sees her work as a weapon in the battle against misogyny.

As an artist she's fearless. In the tradition of artists like Chris Burden, Ron Athey, and Fakir Musafar, Pfahler isn't afraid to bring the battle to her own body. In one of her most renowned performances, Sewing Circle, she would sew up of her own vagina. (Underground filmmaker and photographer Richard Kern made a film about it.) Her performances play on culture, tradition, boundaries, taboos, sex, martyrdom, and womanhood itself: it's a heady and esoteric slice of meat put on a stick, battered and deep fried and made much more palatable. It's a subversive strategy that's equal parts politics and entertainment. 

(In the early 90s Pfahler brought the band to Los Angeles giving me a chance to share the experience with my future wife. She too was immediately intrigued.)

It'll be interesting to see how Pfahler evolves the concept as she advances in age. As my mother would say, she's already no chicken (my mom's cute and ironic shorthand for spring chicken). At the age of 52 (albeit a very youthful, fit, and robust looking 52), she still performs in her traditional stage "costume." (She still has ridiculously flat abs.) I hope she continues to do so: A sagging and wrinkled body would only add more edges of richness.

Pfahler's diligence over the years has paid off. More recently, she's earned the imprimatur of art world recognition: She's been photographed by French photographer E.V. Day in the gardens at Giverny (see image at top), she's performed at the Whitney (enrobed), she was both an artist and curator for the Deitch Projects show Womanizer, is a contributor to the new feminist magazine Girls Against God, and the founder and president (and erstwhile wrestler) of Punk Ladies of Wrestling (PLOW).  

I have no idea what happened to Steve. After I lost the job I never saw him again,  We probably won't be able to see The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black again either. They haven't released a recording since 1998 and have no scheduled appearances. Keep your eyes open, though. There's nothing like her.

Sounding a bit like early Hole...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Geriatric Bangin'

Grandma drops some stick math and its more stone cold than the Koch brothers' hearts.

Forget the vitamins, the ginko, and the fiber. When death comes to your door, tell the Reaper: "Not today, bitch. I'm bangin'."

Alerted to this by Gawker.

Another cool geezer: Live long and this is your reward. Hey Stan, damn the crinkly years. You look like one fun old guy. Your wife is a lucky woman (except for the accordion).

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fashion Is the Last Repository of the Marvelous: Why Adam Ant Is More Interesting than You Thought

An art school drop-out with daytime soaps good looks, Adam Ant enjoyed major pop stardom in the UK (10 Top 10 hits) while his videos played in constant rotation on MTV (the channel's fans voted him Sexiest Man in America). He dated Jamie Lee Curtis and Heather Graham, appeared in a number of films, and had an even bigger run of success as a solo act. To us in the US, The Ants' version of tom-tom heavy Brit Pop was like avant bubble gum—songs like Stand and Deliver and Ant Invasion were practically innovative compared to the pop clogging stateside airwaves. And it's held up better than much of the "New Wave" of the era, too. No doubt, fairy godfather Malcolm McLaren's input helped. (The above title is taken from a McLaren quote.) Though, Ant would eventually learn that McLaren's help comes at a price.

Adam Ant also suffers from Manic Depressive Disorder. Over the years he's bravely spoken of his experiences, a subject highlighted in the documentary The Madness of Prince Charming. (A title displaying all the sensitivity we expect from the British media.) His predisposition to depression was aided and abetted by various unfortunate events in his life. (He described the feelings that resulted as being like memories implanted from an Hieronymus Bosch painting.)

Regardless, he's an interesting bloke. He comes across as charming and engaging if not entirely humble, and he's still at it, having recently appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Watch and you'll root for The Dandy of the Underworld, even as you resist throwing his CDs on again.    

This one's all right:

Ants invasion by Adam Ant on Grooveshark

Monday, July 8, 2013

Dr Flea

A bass lesson from noted musicologist Flea AKA Peter Balzary:

Friday, July 5, 2013

Golden Gouldman

Graham Gouldman is best known as a longtime member of the British band 10cc (1972 - 1976, with less interesting incarnations following to present), known primarily for their 1975 hit I'm Not in Love (and maybe Dreadlock Holiday and The Things We Do for Love if you were really paying attention) and not much else stateside. The band generally split between two songwriting factions, one side being the more poppy (Gouldman's side) and the other the more experimental. (Wiki explains.) Now mostly forgotten in the U.S., both sides of this muscled Janus collective were capable of high craft, sharp hooks, humor, and satire. (Go see for yourself: That's what Spotify is for.)

Before 10cc, Gouldman had already established an astonishingly impressive legacy as a songwriter for hire ('69 - '72, he wrote For Your Love at age 19). During this period I'd put Gouldman in an orbit with the best pop songwriters of the era—even early Lennon-McCartney. Unlike the jauntier, major key bounce of his American counterparts, Gouldman's songs had a more melancholic minor key Anglo style and an old school respect for construction. Like most of his peers that grew up in the 50s, he clearly did some time visiting Tin Pan Alley.

As Gouldman says in one video, 1965 was a particularly successful year for him. Though there'd be more good work to follow, the magic of this brief period was something he'd never quite be able to capture again.

Gouldman would record versions of some of these songs himself as The Graham Gouldman Thing. These, of course, would pale against the better known versions by The Yardbirds, Hollies, etc. (He also did some time in the bubblegum factory with Ohio Express, much to his later regret.) More recently, Gouldman has trotted out these nuggets for an airing in a more naked form without the layers of vocal harmonies and accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. Time has shown them no worse for wear—the songs remain supple and smooth with nary a sag or varicose vein in sight.

In some of the videos he adds a short introduction of how the tune came to be:

As done by Herman's Hermits:

From the Yardbirds in the Clapton era:

In 10cc, Gouldman usually partnered up with bandmates for songwriting, most often Eric Stewart as he did on these three (I'm Not in Love, the same chords as Hall and Oates's She's Gone). Here's a very Beatle-y thing he did 2000 where it might be argued he found some of that early magic again:

Here's an exhaustive and passionate overview of Gouldman's career created by a much more generous blogger than I.