Hip Hop Down the Bunny Trail
Controller.Controller are a five-piece from Toronto, with a sound that hearkens back in equal parts to the late seventies and late eighties.
Though rhythmically similar to 1970s proto-riot-grrrl band, The Slits, or perhaps to early Public Image Limited, Controller.Controller are better musicians. Their "wobbliness" is entirely by design.
Overlaid on the off-kilter rhythms are sheets of dual guitar dissonance, similar in sound to 1980s New York noise band, Live Skull.2 But whereas in Live Skull's case the dissonance was the soundtrack of paranoia and desperation, Controller.Controller don't seem to be as far gone. Note, for example, the sly reference to the 1984 Rockwell (and Michael Jackson) hit "Somebody's Watching Me," at the 2:20 mark of "Silent Seven."
Controller.Controller are currently on tour with Death From Above 1979 (the "1979" is silent, like the first "t" in interesting). They are coming to a venue near me, so they may be coming to a venue near you.
Piero Scaruffi is one of the more inneresting characters in cyberspace. He describes himself as a cognitive scientist, author, poet, film historian, free-lance journalist and software consultant. (Rumour has it that he also knows how to bake a motherfucking pizza pie!) Somehow, in addition to all his other feats, Scaruffi also finds the time to write about rock music. A lot. In fact, if you type the name of almost any rock critic's favourite band into Google, Scaruffi's website will come up.
I mention him now only because his 550-page A History of Rock Music 1951-2000 includes a description of 1980s noise rock bands like Live Skull (and Sonic Youth) that really resonates with me, as well as an inneresting theory as to why they might have chosen to sound so "tense, lugubrious and jarring." I'm not sure I buy Scaruffi's theory --I always thought it was because the bands and/or their friends were using too many drugs-- but I'm glad he's got one.
Anyway, dude's website must be seen to be believed. It's big.
2I would love to post a song by Live Skull, but my copies of their records, like almost everything else I own, are in a storage locker far, far away. ® If, dear reader, you have any Live Skull mp3s kicking around, please e-mail them to me and I will be totally stoked.
March 28, 2005
You don't think it's outrageous that we have a 62-acre urban park here where nothing, not even a hot dog, pop or fudgesicle, can be bought, sold or advertised? Maybe the story below will change your mind.
The photo is of a re-enactment of story that shook this town recently. An aspiring, young model took her dachshund for walk in the park one day, and promptly got lost among the delicate floral displays. Due to the utter and complete lack of any local landmark taller than the surrounding canopy of trees, she was unable to reorient herself before 5 p.m., at which point all other upstanding citizens were safely ensconced in their log cabins raising families. The young lady spent many tense hours in the park awaiting rescue, and, some time during the night, hopeless and hungry, decided to eat her dog. Fortunately, just as she unhinged her jaws to swallow her beloved Waddles, an executive of a large "mobile communications" firm found her and guided her back to safety.
The young lady has since made a full recovery and has expressed every intention of paying the ticket she received for daring to have her dog off-leash in a city park.
Johnny and Robbie Hanson, the vocalist and bass-player, respectively, for Hanson Brothers, know first hand what kind of town this is, having grown up here. (Their band's reworking of the Kinks classic "Victoria" was posted on these pages on Saturday.) The brothers live in Vancouver now.
On Friday, I posted "Weighted Down," a song from Oar, the one and only solo record by Alexander "Skip" Spence. Spence, the original drummer in Jefferson Airplane, and later a guitarist in the legendary-but-rarely-heard Moby Grape, achieved his greatest fame as an acid casualty. He recorded Oar in December 1968, after being released from the psychiatric hospital he'd been sent to after running amok with an axe. (Had the axe been a Fender or a Gibson, things might have gone differently.)
Oar is a unique record. Rooted in country and folk, it is an album of whispers which sound like they were recorded at the bottom of a well. It is also a sloppy record and sounds half-baked in spots, very similar to the solo work of that other famous acid casualty, Syd Barrett. I like it immensely and recommend it highly, but don't take my word for it: there's a review of sorts by Louis Black, who has an intensely personal relationship with the album, here in the Austin Chronicle.
With today's song, I do hereby close the book on complaints about my new hometown. For now.
"This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us," was a hit for Sparks in 1974, who are still recording, these thirty odd years later. I love everything about this tune: the smart-ass lyrics; the mock-operatic vocals; the ultra-saturated guitar distortion.
I've always associated Sparks, i.e., Ron and Russell Mael and whoever else they are working with at the time, with other humorous/theatrical bands like The Tubes, Oingo Boingo, and early Split Enz. It's not an entirely apt comparison, particularly as Sparks aren't really all that theatrical -- aside from Ron Mael, who has made a career of sitting (e)motionless at his keyboard, but for the occasional twitch of mustache.
March 24, 2005
The Town That Fun Forgot
I love the CBC.1 When I watch TV news, I watch CBC TV news. Sure, every now and then I'll watch TV news from another source by mistake, but when I do, I always feel nauseous afterwards: I can almost smell the make-up, perfume, and hairspray on the newsreaders of networks like CTV and Global... It's the same with radio. When I listen to the radio, I listen to CBC Radio One. No other source even comes close to matching Radio One for the quality of its news, commentary, and ephemera.
Still, the CBC can seem a little out of touch sometimes. I would never listen to Radio One for its musical content, for example -- notwithstanding the fact that they just played the awesome Guess Who song "Running Back to Saskatoon" a few minutes ago. With Radio One, you have to sit through a lot of earnest, vaguely-ethnic, Parachute-Club-level crap to get to the good stuff.
And only the CBC would think it is a good idea to broadcast a weekly show about French-language slang on an English-language station.
Nothing has screamed out-of-touch more loudly to me lately, though, than an article I read about Lorne Elliott, host of the Radio One humour program, Madly Off in All Directions. In the article, Elliott notes that he likes to "work in local material" when he takes his act on the road, and that his sources tell him that we're obsessed with slugs, moss, and "out-of-control cyclists" here.
I don't know about that. I don't remember ever seeing Council Chambers packed to the rafters with people predicting imminent disaster if the plague of slugs, moss, and cyclists isn't dealt with. However, I have seen Chambers packed to the rafters with blue rinse crumblies predicting the sky will fall if the City allows the construction of a three-storey building (!) on the main street in a commercial neighbourhood.
Yes, there are things to make fun of here. Like the quasi-governmental agency that wants to uphold the existing ban on buying, selling or advertising anything in a 62-acre, downtown park. That's right, a 62-acre park with nary a hot dog stand or ice cream vendor in sight! Whee!
Or, how about a quasi-governmental agency that proposes to increase the license fees for street entertainers as follows: from $10 per year to $360 per year for jugglers; from $10 per year to $180 per year for buskers; and from $500 per year to $950 per year for visual artists; with all fees rising to $2,000 per year over a five year period? This, in a city where the sidewalks are empty at 5 p.m. ... except for the people who live on them, of course.
1For any non-Canadians reading this, the CBC, or Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or "Mother Corp," is a partially-tax-supported broadcaster with English- and French-language television and radio stations across the country.
March 19, 2005
E-mail to a Friend
Sure wish I could pick up the phone and call you now, but I'm waiting for a call back from the fellah who interviewed me yesterday. I need to get some straight answers from him about the job before I accept his offer, like: in exchange for $28,000 per year, just how many hours of overtime should I expect to work?
Anyway, on a lark, I also sent a resume to the head of the HR department of [insert name of quasi-governmental organization here] today. I know they are swamped with work right now and I certainly have the right educational background and work experience. To her credit, she wrote right back, but almost every line of her e-mail reeked of accusation.
Q: Can you tell me why you left [insert name of other quasi-governmental organization here]?
A: Well, I'm a junkie, see? Yeah, I've been shootin' smack since I was just a wee lad. They didn't mind me staggering around and puking in the bathroom so much, but there were only two stalls, so whenever I went on the nod, female colleagues would be lined up around the corner waiting to get in and pee.
I look at my work history and see so many employers in such a short period of time, and I know it must look bad, but I can explain. I mean, I left a job and headed westward for love, you see, and it's been really hard to find regular work here, and...
Will things ever be okay again? Was that three-and-a-half-year period at [insert name of third quasi-governmental organization here] the pinnacle of my career? Will it all continue to be downhill from there? Am I headed back down into the subterranean world of telephone boiler rooms? Once I've run out of humble pie, will my expensive professional degree be the only thing I have left to eat?
March 18, 2005
The Great Train of Thought Robbery
As you may be able to tell, I have made peace with "classic rock." In doing so, I've come full circle since that fateful day in 1990 when I sold all my classic rock records -- except those by (The) Alice Cooper (Group) and Cheap Trick, of course. I haven't bought them all back, yet --I am fairly certain I can go happily to my grave without ever hearing Uriah Heep again-- but I have bought back quite a few. What's more, I have even learned to appreciate some classic rock bands I could never appreciate before; bands like The Doors and CCR, for example, whose images, for me, were forever bound up in the images of the dirtballs who listened to them in high school. (You know the type: long-haired, rear-derailleur-stealing sacks o' blue collar shit.)
Still, to this day, I will have neither truck nor trade with Rod Stewart.
Surely, you recognize the melody in today's song from Rod Stewart's 1978 hit, "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Guess who's song came out first. Go ahead, guess. The Jorge Ben song was released first, in 1972, on the album Ben. The discolicious version I've posted today is from his 1976 album Africa Brasil.
Could've been an honest mistake on Stewart's part, I suppose. Maybe he overheard "Taj Mahal" while hob-nobbing with fugitive "Great Train Robber" Ronnie Biggs in Rio, internalized it, and later incorporated its melody into a song without even realizing it had been somebody else's first. Maybe Ronnie Biggs didn't realize the head of the railway engineer he smashed-in with an iron bar wasn't his to smash. It can be difficult to parse these things out sometimes.
In all seriousness, though, I "wrote" an awesome song a few years ago without even realizing that it was really just "Walk, Don't Run."
March 15, 2005
The Marijuana Polygon
Unless you live under a rock, or somewhere other than Canada, you'll have heard by now that four police officers were shot dead near Mayerthorpe, Alberta last week.
Details of the circumstances that led to the shooting are still coming out, but the earliest reports were that the police officers were shot during a raid on a marijuana growing operation. Police spokespersons promptly informed the press that the marijuana growing business in Canada is not, as many might imagine, a series of comical, burnt-out-hippy mom-and-pop operations, but a lucrative source of profit for organized gangs of criminals.
Not surprisingly, the response of some commentators was that a crackdown on grow-ops was needed.
Of course, one could make the point that, if growing marijuana wasn't illegal to start with, it would be cultivated by mom-and-pop operations, and there'd be no need for the cultivators to booby-trap the doors on their greenhouses or carry around assault rifles -- at least not any more so than the cultivators of corn.
One could also make the point that it wasn't marijuana that killed the police officers in Mayerthorpe, but bullets from a gun -- that was apparently in the hands of a man with prior convictions for violent crimes. Hmm, maybe a crackdown on the buying and selling of guns and ammunition would be more appropriate.
However, Afterbirth of the Cool is a music blog, not a social policy blog, so I won't dwell on these things here. I do wonder, though, what effect the legalization of marijuana would have on songs like today's.
Wait a minute. Last time I listened to this song, I would've sworn that the guitarist and bassist were out of synch at the start of the second verse. I must have been stoned out of my mind at the time.
Planet Hemp (or, in English, "Planet Hemp") were a punk/hip hop group from Brazil whose lyrics focused on the legalization of and enjoyment of marijuana. Today's song, from the 1995 album Usuário (i.e., "User") includes a number of references to smoking maconha, as the scared (hic) herb is known in Brazil.
On the road map I have of Brazil, there is a backwoods highway connecting the States of Pernambuco and Bahia that has the following warning printed next to it: "This stretch of highway through 'the Marijuana Polygon' has an elevated level of assaults. Use at your own risk." Neat! It's the world's largest amusement park ride.
To read more about the polígono da maconha, go here.
March 13, 2005
I've been on a nostalgia kick for quite a few days now, so I figure it's time to look at something new. Sort of.
The Illuminati are an example of what I would call "neostalgia." They're new, but they sound they like they're very, very old.
(I would ask that people wishing to use my term, "neostalgia," use as it is intended to be used and not attempt to corrupt its meaning.... I'm still smarting from what has happened to the term "bummer," which I invented in 1969, at age three, to signify the rounded piece of tile one puts on top of a chimney.)
A trio from Toronto, with an obvious appreciation for southern-fried 1970s rock, The Illuminati use those premises as a launching pad for their own high energy, technically-adept, oughties version of hard/cock/arena rock.
Ms. Gumdrop and I saw the band in a mostly empty bar on a cold, rainy night in November and enjoyed them immensely ... although at a couple points, we did simultaneously turn toward each other, crinkle our noses in disgust, and say "boogie rock."
March 11, 2005
A Lesson in Context
The year is 1972. You are a husband, a father and the family breadwinner. You have always respected authority and expected your authority, in turn, to be respected. But, all around you, the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Boys are wearing their hair long and dropping out. Girls are wearing their skirts short and burning bras -- even your teenaged daughter, who's gone out and left the record player on.
As you approach the stereo to turn it off, today's song is playing.
You listen as the band cocks up the intro, but, rather than doing another take, keeps the tape rolling and plows ahead with the song. "Rank amateurs!" you snicker to yourself.
Then, the first verse of lyrics hits you in the gut: "Momma's little jewel, just out of school, fresh from the nuns that made you / Don't know why, but I'm gonna try to reincelibate you."
You're not sure exactly what that means, but it sure sounds like a threat against your young daughter and indeed all the young daughters of America.
You are enraged. You can't even find the words to express... As you stand there, gaping, gasping, grasping for the name of your Congressman, a squeaking, atonal saxophone sticks out its golden tongue at you. Before you can even find the wits to respond, the song ends, abruptly, with the sound of the tape recorder being turned off.
In its time, "Momma's Little Jewel," from the 1972 Mott the Hoople album All The Young Dudes, must have struck terror into the hearts of many a straight arrow. It is a song that just does not play by the rules. The band never equaled it. Few ever have.
March 9, 2005
Plunk Your Magic Twanger, Ove Day
All hell has broken loose at Afterbirth of the Cool! E-mail has begun flooding in. Well, trickling in, anyway....
In response to my February 26 post, crack journalist Steve Brearton sent in an article about a campaign by the current Mayor of Detroit to raze 5,000 derelict buildings in his city. Crack journalist Hank Mohaski has posted his thoughts about Peaches, in response to my February 18 post. And Tony C. has lobbed the first stone in the war for Austrian economics in response to the withering comments about the free market in my February 28 post.
Spin is overwhelmed and considering shifting everything over to Blogger, just to make it all easier. Spin is enjoying talking about his bad self in the third person.
One other thing: the awesome McLusky song I promised on February 17 is now up. Grab that fucker while you can.
A few months ago, while listening to the languid organ tootling in today's song, I had a flashback. I saw the image of a man with a fake mustache and goatee, and wearing a blond fright wig and sunglasses with one lens missing. He was encouraging me to stay sick, turn blue, scratch glass and climb walls, but not get caught.
The Ghoul was another one of the great things about growing up near Detroit. He was easily the most youthful and "hip" of the many late night horror movie hosts on Detroit-area TV. His shows would open to the sound of The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour," for example, and close to the sound of Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein." In between, The Ghoul would blow up his stuffed sidekick, Froggy, screen whatever home movies and handicrafts his fans were willing to send in, and make a lot of jokes at the expense of Parma, Ohio... Oh, plus he would show a B-movie. Attack of the Mushroom People was a particular favourite of his and mine, but Plan 9 From Outer Space and Creature From the Black Lagoon were also part of his regular rotation.
The best thing about The Ghoul's show, though, was that he would interject his own dialogue or music into whatever movie he was playing. The soothing strains of "Papa-Oom Mow-Mow" adorned many a flick. And I remember watching one movie in which a man is carried into a dungeon and shackled to the floor, then, after his captor leaves, sits up, and, with the aid of The Ghoul, says "I gotta go to the bathroom!"
Puerile? I know you are. What am I?
Anyway, here's something spooky: the song I was listening to when I had my Ghoul flashback in August is from the album Deep Purple in Rock, the cover of which is reproduced below, right next to photo collage I found on The Ghoul's website last night. Great minds think alike, I guess.
The Ghoul has been on and off TV in the Detroit and Cleveland areas for nearly three decades now. It is rumoured at Keith Milford's Vintage Detroit TV and Movie Board that he will be back on the air in Detroit, on a boffo socko, vaguely Christian station in September, zingy zingy.
Everything you would ever want to know about The Ghoul --and quite a bit more, really-- can be found on The Ghoul Power Page.
Here's everything you need to know about Deep Purple: Richie Blackmore was a crack guitarist; Ian Paice was a crack drummer; not many other hard rock bands had the courage to employ an organist fulltime; there are intentionally funny songs on the album Fireball; and the album Machine Head sounds almost funky in spots. I swear.
March 7, 2005
Playing Bongos in the Dirt, Part Two
When Richie T. sent me a note a few days ago thanking me for my post on Peaches he closed his e-mail with the line "attack the putrefied bureaucracy whenever you can!" I wrote him back saying that I've been trying to join the putrefied bureaucracy for years, which is true. But yesterday, I found myself reading the following, as part of a paying gig of that sort: "examples of activities to reduce the burden of disease include implementing community interventions that link tobacco control interventions with cardiovascular disease prevention." Huh? It left me wondering what, exactly, a "community intervention" is and how I could go about not ever having to read about one again.
Anyway, yesterday was considerably brightened by the loop of The Junkyard Band playing in my mind. According to the Washington Post, The Junkyard Band started out in the Barry Farms projects of Washington DC in 1980, banging on the only musical instruments they could afford -- hubcaps, plastic buckets, crates, cans and old pots and pans. Hence the name. It sounds like they'd picked up a few more high-tech instruments by the time they got around to recording "The Word," but the percussion is still da bomb. Unfortunately, my mp3 of the song ends abruptly, so I won't post it. But I will tell you where I got it, and the link to the Washington Post, from.
Moistworks is one of my favourite audioblogs. I've picked up on go-go (e.g. The Junkyard Band) from Moistworks, and Jamaican rocksteady, and old school hip-hop, and 1970's funk, too.
Moistworks is also famous for being the only audioblog to have been harassed off the Internet (temporarily) by threat of legal action. On January 14, 2005, James informed his readers that his hosting service had forced him to remove the mp3s from his site because of a letter received from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry alleging copyright infringement. Ironically, the letter, which is reprinted on the Moistworks site, names Public Enemy, who are known to have "infringed some copyrights" themselves, as one of the artists being represented.
Anyway, Moistworks is back online with mp3s. And thank goodness for that, 'cause it's where I got today's killer song.
I don't know anything more about The Jimmy Castor Bunch than you can find out from Moistworks or All Music Guide, so I'll let you check out those other sources for details.
What interests me about their song, "It's Just Begun," though --aside from the fact that it's fucking great-- is that it fits into a pattern for the era. Consider these other songs from the late 60s and early 70s: The James Gang - Funk #49; Rare Earth - I Just Want to Celebrate; and Chicago - I'm a Man. Every one of these songs --and the Jimmy Castor Bunch song-- has a lengthy midsection comprised of a bunch of hippies sitting around and playing bongos in the dirt! If I wrack my memory, I'm sure I can find Santana and War songs from the same era with a similar m.o.
The early seventies was the golden age of the percussion freak-out.
March 4, 2005
Afterbirth of the Cool is an audioblog dedicated to popular and unpopular music and is meant to be lighthearted fun. Notwithstanding its name, this blog has little to do with jazz and nothing at all to do with Miles Davis… Not that there's anything wrong with Miles Davis...
Readers wishing to comment are welcome to e-mail me at spin_buldak [at] afterbirthofthecool [dot] com.
No revenue is generated through this site. It is a labour of love.
Audio files posted here will be available, for educational purposes, for a few days. Readers are encouraged to buy the albums if they like the sounds. That's what I do!
If you feel that material featured on this site constitutes an infringement of your copyright, just e-mail me, spin_buldak [at] afterbirthofthecool [dot] com, and I will remove it.
Other March Posts
Controller.Controller - Silent Seven