Whitewash

One of the great things about growing up across the river from Detroit was ready access to WGPR-TV. Although I didn't realize it at the time, channel 62 wasn't simply a black-owned television station, it was the first commercially licensed black-owned television station in the United States.

WGPR started broadcasting on September 29, 1975, and, from the get go, it was obvious that it was coming from a special place. WGPR didn't have the money that the stations affiliated with the major television networks had. You could see it in the programming, a mixture of long-forgotten, black-and-white serials and movies, and low budget, locally produced programming for a primarily African American audience.

WGPR was probably most famous for its dance show, The Scene, which was a more funky, Detroit version of Soul Train. (See the photograph below.) Many a Saturday night, I'd catch the tail end of the show, and watch in awe as the dancers parted into two lines and chanted "throw down, throw down," while one or another of their number danced through the middle.

The Scene with Nat Morris

Then there was Movies All Night...

As you might suspect, on Movies All Night, WGPR would air … movies … all night. Of course, the station only owned about twenty or thirty movies in total, so, if you were a nighthawk, you’d see them all again and again.

About half of WGPR's tiny video library seemed to consist of black-and-white oldies, most of them westerns. These I would usually take a pass on. But the other half was comprised of the not-so-classics of modern European cinema ... dubbed into English ... poorly. Those I would never miss.

I must have seen The Daydreamer (avec Pierre Richard), Killer Cop (con Claudio Casinelli) and Run, Rabbit, Run (mit Helge Anders) a dozen times each. Sure, the occasional flash of titty was nice, but what was really intoxicating for me was the backdrop, Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s. To this day, I cannot think of France and Italy in anything but a foolishly romantic light.

And nothing, but nothing sounds like a poorly-dubbed film. You have no idea how rich the world of sound is until you're listening to the mono-dimensional dubbed version of The Senator Likes Women, starring Lando Buzzanca and Agostina Belli.

Like The Scene, on a good night Movies All Night was a glimpse into a whole other world, parallel to my own. I couldn't turn it off.

Now, back to where we started… As the first black-owned commercial television station in the United States, WGPR had an important role to play as a transmitter of black consciousness and black pride. So reruns of the 1965-68 series I Spy, featuring Bill Cosby, in the first starring role for an African American on U.S. network TV, were a regular part of the schedule during WGPR's early days. I believe it was on WGPR, too, where I first heard today's song, the theme from The Bill Cosby Show, which originally ran from 1969 to 1971.

Quincy Jones & Bill Cosby - Hikky-Burr

Though Quincy Jones assembled a crack team of musicians to compose music for Cosby's show, the fruits of their labour were released only last year as Quincy Jones & Bill Cosby: The Original Jam Sessions 1969. Oddly, Cosby's vocals appear on only one track ("Hikky Burr") on the record. Apparently, Cosby's voice is all over the 1969 release Hooray for the Salvation Army Band, however, which Mojo magazine (December 2004) described as "a lazy, aggressive, stoned funk album." Someone, please buy me copies of both these records.

As for WGPR, CBS bought the station in 1994, changed its call letters to WWJ, and proceeded to replace everything that was unique about it with the same old shit you can see on any other CBS station in any other city. Score another one for the homogenizing forces of the "free market." Will they not rest until we are all eating identical genetically-modified meals from identical, paper-lined plastic trays?

They will not.

February 28, 2005

American Ruins

Though I spent the first eighteen years of my life just across the river from Detroit, I have little direct experience of the place. Growing up, I'd watch daily news reports of murders and fires on Detroit TV stations, but, other than annual class trips to Greenfield Village or the Detroit Zoo, I never went there. Still, the place had an effect on me. It still does.

My parents told me about how they'd used to cross the border to shop in downtown Detroit, but how all of that ended the year they thought they'd take a shortcut to northern Ontario through Michigan … only to be turned back at the border because of the riots. The '67 riots, and the city's rapid decline thereafter, changed things.

As a kid, I remember marveling at the dilapidated (but still occupied) houses I could see from the Jeffries Freeway in Detroit -- leaning one way or another, but never standing up straight like our own tar-paper shacks back home. And the burned-out wrecks I saw from the school bus on our annual class trips were always the highlight of the year for me. I'm still not sure I could explain why.

A few years ago, though, I discovered the work of a photographer named Camilo Vergara, who seems to share my fascination with the ruins of America's industrial era cities. Vergara's modus operandi is to photograph neighbourhoods as they fall apart. In the books The New American Ghetto and American Ruins, which I can't recommend highly enough, he tracks the decline of buildings, never more than four or five at a time, over the course of many years. While Detroit isn't the sole focus of these books, the Motor City's abandoned Victorian-era mansions feature prominently in them.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any of Vergara's better Detroit photographs online; and, like almost everything else I own, my copies of these books are in a storage locker far, far away, so scanning a photo to post was not an option. It turns out that Camilo and I aren't the only people in the world fascinated by these things, however. The photograph below, of an abandoned building in the broken heart of Detroit, is from Lowell Boileau's website The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit.

Brush Park Ruins

So, all that said, the first time I heard today's song, "We Almost Lost Detroit," I just assumed it was about the '67 riots. I was bathing in the tinkling glow of the Fender Rhodes and the nighttime feel of the song and not really paying close attention.

Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson - We Almost Lost Detroit

In fact, the song has nothing to do with the riots of 1967 and everything to with a near meltdown at the Fermi nuclear plant, thirty miles south of Detroit, in 1966. This is a chapter of local history I'd never learned as a kid…

*****

"We Almost Lost Detroit" is on the 1977 Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson album Bridges. Scott-Heron, the vocalist, and Jackson, the keyboardist, maintained a song-writing and performing partnership throughout the 1970's writing socially-conscious r & b tackling subjects like apartheid ("Johannesburg") and drug addiction ("Angel Dust"). And if you've ever wondered where the phrase "the revolution will not be televised" came from … well, it was one of their songs.

In the early 1980s Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson went their separate ways. Scott-Heron continued performing, making a particular target of then U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the songs "Reron" and "B-Movie," before running headlong into hard times. Brian Jackson got into computers. There is an excellent article about the two in the December 2003 issue of Mojo. I've given you a link to the website, even though you won't ever find much of anything of interest there. Perhaps, if you dig deeply enough, you'll be able to figure out how to order a back issue. I never have.

February 26, 2005

Maybe Just This One

Okay maybe just this one post...

Radiohead - Just

"Just" is on the 1995 Radiohead album The Bends. The song seems to be about a self-destructive person. Considering that Kurt Cobain died by self-inflicted gunshot wound the previous year, is it pure coincidence that the intro to "Just" sounds suspiciously like the intro to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit?" I think not.

Is the song about Cobain's self-destruction? No. But the composer could clearly see the parallels between the behaviour of the person(s) he was writing about and the behaviour of the freshly-dead leader of Nirvana.

Oddly enough, none of the interpretators of the lyrics at SongMeanings caught this detail.

Lyrics aside, the guitar playing in this song is brilliant in spots. I particularly dig the section early on where the lead guitar follows the vocal melody for the line "One day he'll get to you, and teach you how to be a holy cow." The distorted guitar tone during seizure-inducing tremolo section (2:25) is pretty neat, too... Whoever convinced Radiohead to trade in their guitars for computers should be shot.

February 23, 2005

Holding Pattern

This week is shaping up to be a nightmare. Two job interviews to squeeze in between paid gigs committed to well in advance... I'm probably not going to get a chance to post again until Saturday or Sunday. Sorry.

February 22, 2005

Premeditatin'

You'd probably heard yesterday's song, "99 Problems," before. It was hard to avoid in 2004. But, if you're like a lot of people who don't like hip hop, you may never have gotten beyond use of the word "bitch" in the intro and choruses.

Jay-Z is not a rapper known for having a social conscience. His fixations have always seemed to be money and hoes. In fact, there is a song on one of his earlier albums called "Girls, Girls, Girls." But in "99 Problems" he's saying something very important.

In the first verse, he sets the scene by explaining his fascination with the bling bling. "I'm from the hood, stupid / What type of facts are those? / If you grew up with holes in your zapatos / You'd celebrate the minute you was havin' dough."

But it is the second verse that makes "99 Problems" my favourite song of 2004.

In it, Jay-Z recounts the story of a run-in with the law some years before, when he is stopped in his car -- possibly for nothing more than being young and black and wearing his hat real low. After Jay-Z hands the police officer his license and the registration for the car he's driving, the officer asks for permission to "look around the car a little bit," and Jay-Z responds: "Well my glove compartment is locked / So's the trunk in the back / And I know my rights / So you gon' need a warrant for that."

Brilliant! In the process of recounting the story, Jay-Z gives a free lesson in civil rights to a generation of disadvantaged, disaffected youth who might not otherwise ever hear the message. Having learned from a hip hop song how not to incriminate themselves, they stand a better chance of not winding up in jail in the future.

Oh, and the whole "bitch" thing? Well, in the second verse of the song, after the police officer harrassing him says "We'll see how smart you are when the canine comes," Jay-Z says "I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain't one." Bitch. Canine. Get it? And in the third verse, Jay-Z's just talking about being smart enough not to be "the system's" bitch. Not as bad as it sounds when you're not listening closely, is it?

There are some positive, inspirational or educational lyrics in hip hop. There are also some negative, misogynistic or homophobic lyrics in hip hop. People like Freddy Mercury (Queen) and Rob Halford (Judas Priest) have helped make rock 'n' roll more queer-friendly. I'd like to see a rapper named Gay-Z do the same for hip hop... Any takers?

*****

Sorry, darling, no mp3 tonight. I've got a headache.

February 19, 2005

Peaches and Hank

I would prefer if we could all be friends. As an advocate for some unpopular causes, there is already plenty of conflict in my life, so I'm trying to keep the contents of this audioblog positive. Still, it must said: I fail to see the appeal of Berlin-via-Toronto performer Peaches.

I uncovered one of her videos in the BSTV section of The Butterscotch Threshold this week, but couldn't even bear to watch it to the end. She makes me squirm.

Pop psychologists and budding, young undergraduates might say that I am "threatened by Peaches' aggressive sexuality." I dunno. Maybe. Or maybe I just think she's gross… I mean, her whole shtick kinda reminds me of the movie Wild at Heart, which is grotesque for grotesqueness' sake, or of Marilyn Manson, who seems to want to shock simply for sake of shocking. Feh!

Now, in Peaches' case, I sense that there is a purpose to it all. By choosing to title her most recent record Fatherfucker, and by devoting a section of her website to photos of her crotch, I think it's clear she's trying to say something. I'm just not sure what. All that's coming across for me, so far, is anger. And the unfortunate thing is that she's taking it out on the innocent rather than directing it at the guilty.

Oh, yeah, plus … her music is dead boring. That I just cannot overlook.

*****

I was tooling around on the Internet a couple nights ago, looking for reviews of Dangermouse's The Gray Album when I stumbled across The Butterscotch Threshold. It is a website very much like my own: the proprietor, Hank Mohaski, is a middle-aged, probably "white," male who listens to a lot of slightly odd music, believes he has impeccable taste in these matters, and thinks the world would benefit from hearing about it.

At some point, I fear we may have to agree to disagree about The Gray Album. At this point, though, I just want to let you know that he's out there, and, in the Grand Theft Audio section of his website, posts a handful of mp3s and commentary every Friday.

*****

Basta! Today's song is a "message" song that doesn't suck. In fact, as I noted on February 8, "99 Problems" was my favourite song in 2004. I'll have to catch you on other side to discuss why. Right now, I gotta go do middle-aged, probably "white," male (?) things.

Jay-Z - 99 Problems

February 18, 2005

Drat! Foiled Again!

For reasons I can't even begin to guess at, I am unable to upload the promised McLusky file, "There Ain't No Fool in Ferguson." In it's place, here's another good, but not as good, McLusky song.

McLusky - To Hell With Good Intentions

February 17, 2005

Tomato Sauce Cat Head

I haven't been able to get today's song off my mind the past few days.  The guitar riff in the intro and choruses is built on a cliché and is fairly predictable, but predictable can be a lot of fun sometimes, particularly when it is delivered with such enviable guitar crunch.  Really, though, the music isn't the attraction in this song.  It is the lyrics, and more specifically the way the lyrics are delivered, that makes this one a winner.

McLusky - There Ain't No Fool in Ferguson

The singer starts off in a monotone, sounding like nothing so much as a fourth Beastie Boy, but grows gradually more disturbed with each syllable as he spits out the line: "If you can cope in this hopeless hepatitis piss-rag molotov cocktail monobrow shit-hole, baby, then you can cope anywhere at all."

Not sure what place he's singing about, but one does get the distinct sense that he is underwhelmed by it. 

Mclusky were a three piece from Wales that disbanded last month.  Formed in 1999 in reaction to the 2003 photo (below), McLusky earned notoriety from their practice of roasting and consuming Christian babies during their live shows.   Today's song, "There Ain't No Fool in Ferguson," was released as a CD single in 2003, on the Too Pure label.

Tomato Sauce Cat Head

Rumours of a planned collaboration between former members of McLusky and Tom Jones, rife on this website, have no basis in fact whatsoever.

February 17, 2005

Math Rock

I care about the National Hockey League. Just how much do I care about the National Hockey League? Well, I care enough to have calculated: a) the percentage of the players in the NHL from former Soviet Bloc countries (about 25%); and b) the percentage by which the league has grown since these players were allowed to play in North America (about 50%). I did this because I had an inkling that it would help explain why NHL games have become so low-scoring and dull in recent years … which it did: the growth in the number of skilled hockey players has not justified the growth in the number of teams in the NHL. As a result, too many lockers are filled with the stinking jockstraps of low-skilled "muckers" who can only hold onto their jobs by slowing down other, more skilled players. This is why I haven't watched an NHL game for years.

That said, why would I continue to care? Well … because hockey is in my blood, along with massive quantities of THC and the gene that makes people support the legal recognition of homosexual marriage. Because ... I ... am ... Canadian.

That's why I also tend to notice things like the fact that Spin magazine's Best of 2004 list failed to include any of the Canadian releases (from The Arcade Fire, Junior Boys and A.C. Newman) that most other critics included in theirs. (See my January 30 post for details.) According to my calculations, that's zero percent.

Why would this be? Is it because Spin magazine thinks that Canadians can't rock?

If so, Spin should keep this in mind: in City of God, the 2003 film about growing up poor in a Brazilian ghetto, what are the young people dancing to when nice guy gangster Benny is shot? It's not Beth Carvalho or Clara Nunes. Nor is it Caetano Veloso or Gilberto Gil. No, these kids from the land of samba and maracatú are dancing to this song by Bachman Turner Overdrive ... who were from Canada, eh.

BTO - Hold Back The Water

February 12, 2005

Freestylin'

Finally got around to generating a comments page template today. Coding web pages by hand, using only Edit Pad Lite, has certainly been instructive. It has also turned out to be a massive time sink.

My next challenge is to figure out what RSS is and how to use it. Apparently, this RSS thing is very important to bloggers. I've already read a few explanations of it, but don't really feel like I am much further ahead because most seem are predicated on the assumption that the reader will be using an automated service, like Blogger… Feh!

Anyway… If you're looking for leads on free and open source software, you may want to check out the comments received in response to my February 3 entry, in which I had the audacity to include a file in wma (!) format. On the other hand, if you're looking for unadulterated entertainment, check out the comments pertaining to my February 6 entry.

*****

The tail end of yesterday's song, "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" reminds me a little bit of the front end of today's song inasmuch as both vocalists sounds like they're improvising. Do yourself a favour, though: listen to today's song all the way through before you read the rest of this post.

Kool Keith - Intro

"Intro," from the 1999 Kool Keith album Black Elvis/Lost in Space, caught my ear because, in it, Keith makes himself sound like a language-challenged dimwit with no sense of rhythm ... then releases a veritable vomit shower of verbiage, burying the rhythm in rhymes. In other words, he lulls the listener into thinking he's an incompetent idiot, then, when they have their guard down, smacks them upside the head with a seamless, high-speed, stream-of-consciousness rap.

And what does it all mean? Well ... Keith has no respect for people who only pose at being rich and famous like him. Pretty typical hip hop fare, thematically, I suppose. But Keith does have a knack for combining words into phrases I've never thought of before. Listen again to the lengthy and evocative description of "the official haters" at the end of today's song.3

And a lot of the stuff Kool Keith and his various alter egos rap about are not typical hip hop fare. His fixation with human procreative and elimination organs, in particular, stands out. In 1996, for example, he released a concept album as Doctor Octagon, a gynecologist from outer space with a …uh … flawed understanding of the Hippocratic oath.

Entertaining features on Kool Keith can be found at Choler Magazine and Synthesis... Kool Keith also seems to be responsible for Dr. Doooom's Answering Machine/Ultrablognetic, the focus of which appears to be basketball.

3And, in the song "Supergalactic Lover," he raps about coming from the projects on the hill in his "monkey green ragtop Seville." Monkey green. You heard that turn of phrase before???

February 10, 2005

Playing Bongos in the Dirt

As I sit here, mid-afternoon on a brisk winter day, I can hear a hippy outside, sitting and playing his bongos in the dirt. Puts me in mind of the excellent Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention album We're Only In It for the Money.

Although Zappa's always-critical eyes are cast in various directions on the album, they are primarily focused on "phony hippies." Apparently there were many of these creatures in San Francisco in 1968. Most of them now seem to live here.

In the song "Flower Punk," they are caricatured as wading pools of long hair, button and beads whose revolutionary agenda consists of: goin' to the love-in to sit and play their bongos in the dirt; and goin' to the dance to get some action, then goin' home to bed.

Today's song, "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" is thematically similar. Sorry about the abrupt cut-off, but that's the way it was released.

Frank Zappa and the Mothers - Who Needs the Peace Corps?

We're Only In It for the Money is one of my favourite albums. Like, ever, dude. Aside from a handful of cut-and-paste sound collages, which are interesting in their own right, most of the music can be hummed in the shower. It sounds "psychedelic" and very much of the period, but also shows a strong debt to the rock 'n' roll of the 1950s. And, as alluded to above, the lyrics are perceptive and funny … as is the cover artwork, a parody of The Beatles' Sargeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band that this tiny jpeg just doesn't do justice to.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, We're Only In It for the Money is the only record in the world featuring Dick Barber on "snorks."

February 9, 2005

Sex Bomb, Baby, Yeah

Thought I'd start off today by giving a little recognition to one of the other audioblogs out there. The Mystical Beast has an interesting approach to audioblogging inasmuch as they embed their audio files in their text, meaning that one has to read the text pretty closely to know just what is on offer. Sometimes, I just don 't have the time. But I am very glad that I read their February 2 post, in which the little-known story of Def Jam release #1 is recounted.

Def Jam, for those of you not hip to that jive, is one of the more famous hip hop record labels. Among their releases: the earliest Public Enemy records; the entire LL Cool J catalog; and more recently, solo shit by Wu Tang Clansmen -- Method Man and (The Former) Ghostface (Killah).

I always knew that one of the founders of Def Jam, was a fellah named Rick Rubin. And I was vaguely aware that he was still out there: Jay-Z refers to him in the lyrics of "99 Problems," for example, hands down the best song of 2004, and a song that Rubin produced. What I didn't know was that the first release on Def Jam, even before Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill, was a single by Rubin's own punk rock band, Hose. Mystical Beast posted both sides of that single last week, along with a song by the band that inspired the band -- Flipper. And Flipper is a band worth hearing.

Flipper - Ha Ha Ha

"Ha Ha Ha" is my favourite Flipper song, but they're all pretty similar: resolutely mid-tempo, repetitive, bass-driven songs with tuneless, formless, but supremely noisy guitar and provocative, darkly humorous lyrics. It all sounds somehow like windshield wipers in a thunderstorm, to me, which is a good thing.

Flipper was a four-piece from the San Francisco area formed during the late 1970s and whose original line-up played together until the mid-1980s. This article by Mark Athitakis in SF Weekly recounts the band's funny and not-so-funny history much better than I can. I particularly enjoyed the description of the band's efforts at self-promotion:

"In Flipper's heyday, its snaggletoothed fish logo showed up a lot on San Francisco building walls, along with the unofficial band slogan: "Flipper Rules, OK?" And while DePace can't say for sure whether there was actually Flipper graffiti on the Great Wall of China -- two people have told him as much -- it's certainly true that Ted Falconi tried to claim an entire Mission District street for the band. In 1981, he printed a mass of stickers with the letter F on them and proceeded to go up and down Clipper Street, covering up the C's on the signs, making the road Flipper Street. It took the city about six months to get around to scraping all the stickers off."

Anyhoo, the records the original line-up put out were sloppy fun. I absolutely love the way Ted Falconi played guitar. It bore almost no relationship at all to the rhythm or "melody" of the song at hand. And I loved the lyrics. Flipper, after all, had an eight-minute long, one-riff song called "Sex Bomb," for which the lyrics, in their entirety, were: "She's a sex bomb, baby. Yeah. Sex bomb, mama. Yeah."

For those seeking more information about Flipper, All Music Guide, Trouser Press and Mark's Record Reviews are all good sources.

Now, to bring this article full circle… A recent interview with Rick Rubin can be found at The Onion AV site.

February 8, 2005

The Burning Nerve Ending Magic Trick

Thought I'd start out today by thanking some of the people whose encouragement and technical advice helped me get this blog up and running. In particular, I'd like to thank photoblogger Martin Reis and Sally McKay, curator of a "weblog about Toronto art and other stuff." Thanks, as well, to Ms. Gumdrop. Your request for heavy metal will be honoured in the days to come...

This is my second stab at blogging. My first blog had no particular focus, but quickly became a place for me to kvetch. I kvetched about software manufacturers who are less than up front about what "trial version" means in their strange argot. I kvetched about hardware manufacturers who are less than up front about what the software that comes with their cheap fucking junk does. I kvetched about no-service-fee bank accounts from banks that offer no service. (Imagine!) In short, I was inconsolable and insufferable.

Over the Xmas break, though, I realized that writing about the bad stuff in life wasn't making me feel very good. It also wasn't making me feel much like writing. The idea of doing an audioblog had appeal because it would allow me to focus on one of the good things in life -- music.

Still … the front cover of current copy of Spin magazine is pissing me off.

I've fallen in love with Spin over the past few months. Yes, of course, I know the magazine has been around forever, but in the past it just never appealed to me. It always seemed too corporate, too glossy. More recently, though, I've been able to look past the form and draw immense amounts of pleasure from the content. Spin has kept me abreast of the cocaine-fuelled criminal exploits of rapper DMX, for example. And this month's issue has an excellent article about the murder of guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, in which the mother of the murderer confirms that: a) her son was a paranoid schizophrenic who was fixated on Abbot; and b) she bought him the gun he used in the murder... Viva America! Viva Spin!

Anyway, the many good things about the magazine aside, what troubles me about the front cover of the current issue of Spin is that it features delicately-coiffed, heavily made-up, sensitive-looking, young fops. It almost always does.

Why isn't Mission of Burma on the cover? Is it because they are old, wrinkly, ugly guys? How about Sun City Girls? Why doesn't Spin put Sun City Girls on the cover?

Sun City Girls - Uncle Jim

Sun City Girls are a trio, originally from Arizona, but now based in Seattle, who have been together since 1981. In that time, they have released untold numbers of records, tapes and compact discs. So many that, according to their excellent website, "a complete discography is impossible."

Today's song, "Uncle Jim," is from Sun City Girls first full-length album, Sun City Girls, released in 1984. It never fails to make me smile. At this early stage in their career, the band seemed to be heavily influenced by the Beats and sixties psychedelia, and their songs had plenty of the potty-mouthed bits that I just never tire of. In fact, Horse Cock Phepner, from 1987, is one of the most offensive and enjoyable things I have ever heard. Later-period Sun City Girls I would characterize as "otherworldbeat." Varied. Vaguely ethnic. Not so vaguely bizarre, with occasional bits of warbling in languages of their own devising. It's still good, but not as immediate as the earlier stuff.

As for Spin Well, ultimately, Spin is to rock journalism what new wave was to punk rock. They're both refuges from the locker-room terrorists of classic rock. But Spin's for the pretty, young and passive who just want to escape. Ugly, old fuckers who'd rather punch back? We're on our own.

February 6, 2005 | Comments (2)

Worst Band Names of All Time

On January 30, I noted that, even with my scientifically rigorous method of determining which albums to buy each year, I was still being disappointed on a regular basis with the records I actually bought. Well, something has changed in recent months that is helping address this problem -- legal downloads of music.2

Insound, Better Propaganda and Epitonic are three websites hosting thousands of songs that can be downloaded legally and free-of-charge. With this resource at my fingertips, I am no longer limited to judging new music solely by the number of critics who add it to their best-of lists at the end of the year or by the way they choose to describe it in print. It was through one of these websites that I discovered today's band.

Interpol - Roland

Interpol is a guilty pleasure for me. I feel guilty about liking them because they seem to take themselves a little too seriously; because they seem to be very concerned with how they look; because they sound an awful lot like another band.

In the old, pre-legal-download days, I'd noticed that many critics included Interpol's first album, Turn on the Bright Lights, in their best of 2002 lists. But I also read their descriptions of the band's music as being an awful lot like the gloomy late-seventies/early-eighties post-punk group Joy Division. Between that and the group's extremely unimaginative name, I assumed that Interpol was a band I didn't need to hear.

With the advent of Insound, Better Propaganda and Epitonic, though, I was able to listen to a song or two or three by the band and … goddamn if I didn't like the way they sounded!

*****

Anyway, here's a fun activity for you: what are the least-compelling band names you've ever heard? What band names have screamed "lack of imagination" at you so loudly that you never bothered to check out their music?

Hootie and the Blowfish is one for me. With a name like that, somehow I just know the band's not gonna write a song called "The Lord is a Monkey," or trot out a straight-faced cover of "Hurdy Gurdy Man," the most embarrassing, nonsensical hippie-powered bullshit the current ruling class thought was revolutionary in 1967, and rub it in their faces. A band with a name like The Butthole Surfers, on the other hand…

2Yes, I am aware that there are many other, less-legal file-sharing options. These will be the subject of another rant at some point. I promise.

February 4, 2005

Heavenly Pop Hit

Today's song is pop perfection.

The Shins - Kissing the Lipless

From the obviously meaningful, but oblique lyrics through to the extremely-retro fuzz guitar solo, "Kissing the Lipless" is a masterpiece. I particularly dig the soaring vocal melody in the verses and the following lyrical snippet: "I want to bury in the yard / The grey remains of a friendship scarred."

True to the last post, I don't know much about the band. Judging from the music on their 2003 album, Chutes Too Narrow, though, The Shins are fond of the poppier side of 1960s English rock. (I can hear the influence of The Beatles and The Who all over the album.) But, while in the hands of lesser mortals --or the English-- this could translate into too many la-la-la's and too few b-a-l-l-s, The Shins rock in their musically gentle, but lyrically tough way.

Now, can anyone confirm the rumour that the band have sold the song "Young Pilgrims" to American Airlines for their in-flight music service? I ask because the song includes the following lyric: "I learned fast how to keep my head up 'cause I know that there's this side of me / That wants take the yoke from the pilot and fly the whole mess into the sea."

How'd you like to hear that one during your flight?

February 3, 2005 | Comments (4)

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