Showing posts from January, 2014

Track This: Whitehorse's "Wisconsin"

Folk has increasingly been the rule here at headquarters. When it gets really cold out, there are too consistent directions for the music hereabouts -- acoustic or metal. As it gets colder,(Temperatures are dropping into the negatives lately) the folk albums drop increasingly onto the turntable. While other Canadian folk bands have been covered on the blog, Whitehorse, whose tuneful melodic folk tunes have helped them make the Polaris Short List, has never been mentioned. Their album The Fate of the World Depends on this Kiss is a stunner; beautiful melodies, harmony vocals, and terse production help them stand above the rest in an increasingly crowded field.

Whitehorse is made up of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, who both had successful solo careers before teaming up. They have released two records, including The Fate of the World and an earlier equally relevant Self-Titled Effort. These two know how to lay down a mood. Comparisons to the Handsome Family can be easily made, yet…

Record Collecting Miscellanies: The Past Through the Gleam of a Record Sleeve

The past looms on the back of a record sleeve. Labels, such as, Lookout, Epitaph, even Bomp, cryptically allowing for years of wasted moments. The times that your finger tips traced the edge of an LP or slammed your fist against fragile drywall. You marveled at the pictures on the back of each sleeve, somehow they were more real than your own family members. They spoke through each lyric, each guitar line, each drum fill, each chord change -- so goddamn directly to you. A slipped power pop backbone, a hardcore frustration, a mod moment, a Dischord emo relapse. The emotions bubbled over into a potent stew of remembrance and forget, lost in transition as the records and years slipped quietly away. They were replaced by other records, other ideas. But the intent is the same, a slipping away into the night, a creative outlet or an escape from yourself and the world. The past looms on the back of a record sleeve, as surely as the present looms in the smile lines of your face -- a crow'…

Do you remember huH Magazine?

The other day when I was writing the "Track This" for Jawbox's "Cooling Card," something jogged my memory about music magazines I had read in my formative years, particularly those published while I was still in High School. Many, if not most, of them are gone now. They gave way to blogs and online publications. These include zines like Flipside, which covered mainstream and underground bands -- they also had some of my favorite columnists of all time, Punk Planet, which ventured further into Indie rock as it progressed, and MRR, which is still going strong.

The magazines that I read often included Alternative Press and Magnet, as well as Ray Gun Publishing's huH which turned me on to a ton of great music because it included a cd with each issue that served as a sampler for what had been released that month, divided by genre. While other magazines did this, huH undoubtedly was more inclusive in the types of bands these cds covered. In fact, these collection…

Track This: Eel's "Not Ready Yet"

When I was in High School, I was addicted to the Eels. Their combination of maudlin lyrics and E's world weary vocals really touched me. I fell in even deeper when Mark Oliver Everett slowed back down and started making records that were more similar to his first solo records, A Man Called E and Broken Toy Shop. But there was something about that first album; it rocked, while speaking particularly to my teenage frame of mind. I wanted to hide in my room all the time, cranking music that mirrored my angst. When I feel this way now, I just put Beautiful Freak on and hide for a few hours, even though my head is in a much better place. The album asks for, but also acts as shelter against the arrows and slings of the outside world. Its loud moments are always tempered by slower sections, where E sings his heart out in a primal call to arms.

In "Not Ready Yet," E sings, "If I leave my room, don't you tell me to lighten up / Maybe sometime sooner or later / But I don…

Cosby Sweaters: Reevaluating High Fidelity

A culturally significant moment occurs in Stephen Frears's 2000 adaptation of Nick Hornby's 1995 novel, High Fidelity when oh-so earnest, and not yet famous, Jack Black transcends his character, Barry, to make an astute statement about Rob Gordon's (John Cusack) wardrobe. In a film filled with immensely quotable dialogue and tons of Black diatribes, his speed fire "That's the worst fucking sweater I've ever seen. It's a Cosby sweater. A Cosby Sweater. Does Laura let you leave the house like that?" stands out. The Cosby Sweater has become a cultural high-water mark that is remembered by most who lived through the '80s, as well as most who caught the epochal television show in reruns in the decades since.

Little touches, like this reference to non-music cultural ephemera, such as the Cosby sweater, humanize characters who are often the epitome of the worst record consumers and snobbish music dilettantes. These are folks who mercilessly taunt those…

Track This: Jawbox's "Cooling Card"

"Cooling Card" contains all the tricks that made Jawbox such an indie powerhouse -- interesting chord changes, J. Robbin's sputtering vocals, chiming guitars, and ever-cryptic lyrics. The lyrics are always filled with imagery, often obtuse or near impenetrable. Robbins begins the song with the lovely and poetic, "Fear as a friend I wish I never kissed / Fading hand to mouth as catalyst / Technicolor static sender / Second guess my love for danger / Bold-face it with a hand of 10 by 10" over chunky guitar chords, and the song only spirals from there.

Much of the fun of listening to Jawbox lies in trying to decipher the lyrics and marvelling at the band's near pop song melodies. At the time it seemed strange that they signed to a major label, Atlantic, before any of their fiercely independent Dischord label mates, yet listening now, with the hindsight of years, it is easy to see how they were snatched up in the post-Nirvana blitzkrieg. Intricate songwriting, …

Night Walking

We walked the darkened streets at night, ignoring our studies, ignoring sleep, ignoring the sleeping world. We walked for miles past the abandoned houses on the edge of town, through peaceful  cemeteries, along disused train tracks, near the banks of the river. We trekked through every mile of that dirty old town. We knew where to find the alienated junk shops, the best broken pop machines, the forgotten hulls of ancient automobiles. The scent of an angry skunk, the wandering characters that populated that town, and the street sweepers that patrolled back alleys; none were strangers. We should have even known them by their secret names.

All my life I walked at night with honest compatriots, who knew the thrill. We broke out of our houses, disobeying parents to while away the quiet hours of the morning. We ran from commitments, necessary or imagined, to smell the stale night air in August, or to breathe in fresh spring rains. Nothing beat the feeling of strolling down an unknown street…

Track This: Johnny Burnette Trio's "You're Undecided"

From the very first notes of the Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio's scorcher "You're Undecided," all bets are off. The trio makes rockabilly of the highest order -- raw, primitive, and serious. Burnette's deep voice aches with sincerity as the trio lays down a rudimentary groove. The guitar lines are juxtaposed with yelps that would fit nicely on a Hasil Adkins record or an early raspy Link Wray track. All their sides from this era are not just essential, they are mandatory.

A far cry from Burnette's later pop singles, the energy that permeates each track by the trio is long due for reconsideration. Elvis Presley knew these boys and even played with them in the early days, but he never recorded anything so pure. Johnny, his brother Dorsey, and Paul Burlison made music thatwas, perhaps, too raw for Sun records, but each single got to the heart of the matter, and sound fresh even today. They made young, shocking, rock 'n' roll of pure, unadu…

Limericks and such

I have a special affinity for limericks, perhaps because my grandfather was always reciting his favorite. He tended toward the whimsical, telling tall tales, reciting jokes, and attempting to scare me with made up stories about a monster that only killed fools known as the Flowage Fool Killer.

I can only count a handful of times that I was scared as a child. The Fool Killer is undoubtedly the top scariest childhood memory I have. I recall several other instances. A man was knocking on the door in the middle of the night and I awoke scared. Apparently, he worked with my dad and wanted to stay at our house. My father didn't know him too well and sent him on his way. There was also a country road that I remember riding down with a sign proclaiming "Beware of the Fritz;" I never knew what the Fritz was, but it still haunts my dreams. I imagine now that it was a vicious terrier with a thirst for human blood and a penchant for melodrama. Being lost in East St. Louis with my fa…

Track This: Austin Lucas' "Splinters"

Austin Lucas' "Splinters" is one of those songs that sends chills up my spine. Lucas' knowing vocals and his well-chosen lyrics anchor a song of uncompromising beauty and pain. The picking alone at the beginning is enough to nominate it for one of my favorite songs of last year. If I would have paid more attention to the record, it would have certainly made my top ten. I first encountered Lucas on the record that he did with Chuck Ragan, Bristle Ridge, a few years back. I lost track of him until romeosidvicious posted a review of his new record, Stay Reckless on one of my favorite blogs, Nine Bullets, which seems to be all too infrequently updated these days; it's a shame because they always turn me on to great records.

Lucas comes on like a bluegrass southern-fried version of Damien Jurado, crafting personal character studies in his songs. "Splinters" speaks to faith, romantic relationships, and the self-doubt that comes with living in this world. …

Youthful Indiscretions at Holy Cross

When I was a kid, long before I began delving into folklore, collecting stories, and thinking about how differently stories are told in an oral form than a written one, my friends and I used to visit Holy Cross Road in an effort to experience supposed supernatural phenomena. This concept is commonly referred to by folklorists as Legend Tripping. Adolescents tend to venture out at night to explore places that are considered supernatural or haunted. Often certain rituals are carried out in order to either prove that kids were there, or just to prove that they aren't scared. Holy Cross was definitely the premier place for teenagers to go when I was in High School. I'm not certain it still maintains this status, but we certainly had fun going there.

Our first trip there was an adventure in itself. I had heard many stories about the place -- it maintained quite a reputation. These stories ranged from the tame (unexplained noises) to the truly bizarre (gnomes, floating men, shot gu…

Seasonal Shifts: Northern Wisconsin Railroad Pictures

I have a fascination with railway trestles and bridges, dating back to my childhood. I used to collect discarded railroad spikes and bridge spikes from the train yards and tracks near my house.

Here are several pictures of concrete railroad bridges and the tunnels underneath them along U.S. Route 8 in Lincoln County near the small unincorporated community of Tripoli. I pass this way every time I venture north, and I have wanted to look at them more closely for awhile. I finally snapped a few snowy photos. Hopefully, I can explore these bridges in more depth this summer. They remind me of pictures of the infamous "Bunny Man Bridge" in Virginia.

Association with an Image

I woke up this morning with the lyrics to Helmet's "Unsung" in my head. At first, I couldn't place it -- images and lyrics are sometimes like a repository for past memories. Listening to a record album can remind you that it once served as a soundtrack for a whole summer, reading a novel can lead to memories of one summer, for example, recalling an afternoon shortly after you turned sixteen, watching an old tv show can dish up old memories of distant relatives you haven't seen for years.

Like dreams, sensory experiences often dredge up the past, reminders of forgotten friends or people that were not thought of in a decade, the color of the wallpaper at your grandmother's house, or other small instances lost forever in the memory banks.

Song snippets and lyrics are especially prime vehicles of uncommon remembrance, at least for me. Periods of my life are categorized through soundtracks. I sometimes can even tell you what I was listening to during a particular…

Snowy North Woods Landscapes

Not to sound cliched, but there is something different about the North Woods during a frigid winter. Heavy snow nestles in clumps on the median, pine trees are heavy with white, and dark, large crows crowd telephone lines. Small towns and hamlets find protection from encircling balsams. Greyish snow is caked on signposts from the morning plows, pushing, salting, and sanding the world into a shape more suitable to people's whims.
The drifting snow covers doorsteps, as the wind whips and whirls outside. The temperature is only -1, but it might drop into the -20's. Even in Illinois, this stops traffic, closes schools, changes the day to day. Here it isn't as common as it once was, but it still creates less of an event. Cars don't start, and there are always more accidents on the first days after a snowfall. Yet as winter settles in, even the deer and birds seem to disappear, except at feeders. Of course, those crows remain, ever watching, ever circling. The world is sile…

Track This: Nightbird's "Maimed for the Masses"

Mick Foley is a cultural icon in some circles. New York's Night Birds know this, and have delivered a mean paean to another New York boy who found fame through professional wrestling. "Maimed for the Masses" chronicles Foley's massive success through a series of choice quotes from the man himself, backed with the kind of punky/surfy music that only Night Birds can deliver. A modern update of the Dead Kennedys guitar sound is married to the basic tenets of an east coast wrestling sensibility.  Brian Gorsegner’s snotty, speed fire vocals intermingle with vocal harmonies that create a monster of a song. The chorus and verses are damn catchy and the bridge demonstrates their guitar virtuosity; they seem to get tighter and more efficient every album, even though this song is on the longer side for the band, clocking in at more than three minutes.

The song first appeared on the "Maimed for the Masses" EP, but easily remains a standout track on Born To Die in Sub…

Track This: Califone's "We Are a Payphone."

"We Are A Payphone" might just be the best track you haven't heard this year or any. A resonating acoustic guitar intro gives way to Tim Rutili's vocals with each string resonating pain. His vocals serve as a call and response to the guitar and various electronic effects. Rutili pleads "is it too late to turn this around?" The cryptic lyrics include references to "scratches on the record" and assorted other seeming non sequitur lyrical turns.

The chorus ramps up as Rutili sings "we are a payphone waiting," complete with double tracked backup vocals. Horns intercede and provide yet another musical counterpoint to the acoustic guitars. An electric guitar section blisters and fuzzes over barely distinguishable vocals before the ambiance seems to take over for a few bars. Is that a tell-tale maraca or tambourine contributing to the overall effect?

Califone's songs are oddly mesmerizing. The lyrics are often nonsensical, but the way they…

Gene Vincent's Self-Titled Record on Kama Sutra

Many of Gene Vincent's early rock and roll peers turned to country in the 1970's. Jerry Lee Lewis had number one country hits as he mined the deep vein of country singer-songwriters, and rerecorded old hits in different styles. Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, who recorded some of the wildest rockabilly sides for Coral in the fifties as The Johnny Burnette Trio, became pop singers. Others like Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly, who each had already recorded pop and country songs before they died tragic deaths, would have probably also gone in a much more country direction.

Gene Vincent's Self-Titled record, which was later reissued as If Only You Could See Me Today, has a slight country sensibility, but manages to effectively capture the zeitgeist of the time period, while showing Vincent in a much more adventurous light. Recorded in 1970, shortly before Vincent's 1971 death, at the Sound Factory in Hollywood with members of the Sir Douglas Quintet, the record is surprisingly v…

Names: A Revery

I haven't been sleeping much at night lately. My mind has been racing while I lie in bed. Christmas break is like that. There are many so many places the mind can go. I kept thinking of the names of zines I created, band names for long lost bands, the names of never conceived, or loosely conceived novels or short stories.

I started thinking about revisiting my zines, Teriyaki Linguine and Asthmatic Cough Syrup. I pictured revisiting the embarrassing moments or reworking some of the short stories. All were indicators of my frame of mind at the time. For example, "Somerset's Dream" is indicative of what I was reading at the time.

Band names run the gamut -- Gangrenous Limbs,  Wood Tick Races,  Orc Castration,  Dexter Holland's Left Nut,  or Chuck Klosterman's Left Nut, if you prefer.  The musical genres are fairly evident.

Somewhere, some time, some place, these dreams are in use. Beyond the dream veil, behind the can't of regrets, the stories are written, …