The Town That Fun Forgot, Part II

This week, I learned of a court case brought against a small, home-based day care facility by the local community association in an area suburb.

First, a little context. Dean Park is a large, but isolated, subdivision, on top of a hill, and surrounded by farmers' fields. It is about twenty kilometres from the center of town, but a scant five kilometres from the airport. There are three roads in and out.

Anyway, it came to light this week that the Dean Park Estates Community Association had petitioned--successfully--to have the daycare closed because it was in violation of a covenant forbidding home-based businesses in the subdivision.

In an article in the local newspaper, the immediate past president of the community association is reported as having said that it was necessary to enforce the covenant in order to "protect the neighbourhood." Apparently, Dean Park is grappling with the "problem" of "young people moving in and bringing change." "A lot of us have worked hard to get up there, and it's a great place to be," he is reported to have said.

Even for the town that fun forgot, that is pretty low.

Surely the locals driving their little monsters to daycare facilities in other neighbourhoods will be more disruptive than having them cared for near home. Surely the roar of the planes flying overhead must drown out any noise that a cluster of "up to five children" could cause. What about the regular parade of ambulances and hearses? Isn't that disruptive?

United States of America - Coming Down

Thanks to Spoilt Victorian Child for turning me onto today's song. For more information about the band, the United States of America, and indeed, any band, a good place to start is All Music Guide. It loads slow, but is usually worth the wait.

May 28, 2005 | |


Headphone Music, Part I

Blogging can be a lonely hobby. If someone were to count all the reader comments posted online in response to all the blog posts over the past few years, the comment-per-post ratio would be a lot closer to 0 than 120. Still, Stereogum certainly managed to strike a nerve with its May 9 post which read, in its entirety:

System Of A Down has fans. I don't get it.

As of today, there are 127 reader responses. One would not have thought so many people could have such strong opinions about the performance of a rock group on a late-night TV show. (The band played on Saturday Night Live on May 7.) One would be wrong.

I remember turning on the tube late one night and seeing a band of funny-looking characters--including a keyboard player bearing striking resemblance to Richard Kline; i.e., "Larry" from Three's Company--doing what appeared to be a parody of seventies rock. As it turned out, the band was Phish … doing what Phish did … straight up.

Richard Kline
Richard Kline, not a member of Phish

I also remember catching the Spice Girls midway through their performance on SNL a few years ago and thinking that it was some kind of (intentional) joke. Though I'd probably heard of the group by that point, I hadn't connected anything to its name--like the fact that it was comprised entirely of tone-deaf aerobics instructors, for example. Afterward, I was shocked to learn that the act I'd just witnessed was a real, live pop group.

This is the problem with marijuana. People high on pot, late at night, can have a hard time telling what is "really" going on. Paradoxically, people high on pot, late at night, often feel that this is the only time they know what is "really" going on.

Madvillain - America's Most Blunted

Madvillain is MF Doom (a.k.a. Viktor Vaughn, a.k.a. King Geedorah) on vocals and Madlib on everything else. Their 2004 album, Madvillainy, is one of the trippiest things I've heard in a long time.

Like most of the better producers out there--DJ Shadow comes to mind--Madlib builds his songs with samples whose sources cannot easily be identified. Madvillainy is a thick, thick stew of bits cut from arcane sources like 1950's detective shows, 1960s game shows, 1970s soap operas, horror soundtracks, and instructional videos. At least, that's how it sounds. The truth is, the only sample I can really identify on the album is from the Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention song "Sleeping in a Jar."

There aren't a lot of hip-hop records out there with Frank Zappa samples on 'em.

There also aren't a lot of hip-hop records out there with accordions on 'em, like in the Madvillainy joint "Accordion."

This one's a keeper. Its 22 tracks--several of which consist of more than one distinct musical theme--should go over particularly well with people grappling with attention deficit disorder or other problems with short-term mememory.

May 23, 2005 | |


Intellectual Property, Piracy, MP3 Blogs an' Shit, Part I

Last week, I received an e-mail from a band featured on Afterbirth of the Cool requesting that their song be removed from my blog. I honoured the request and deleted the file from my server immediately. I did so because I believe that the creators of intellectual property should have a reasonable level of control over the use of that property. Myself, I'm not sure what constitutes a reasonable level of control, but I'm not about to argue with the holder of a copyright over the issue. Dude wants the mp3 of his song off my website, it's off my website. Simple as that. Most other mp3 bloggers seem to take the same approach.

The writer didn't specify why they wanted the song removed from my blog, but I assume it is because they, like many people, equate songs downloaded from mp3 blogs with lost sales of CDs and lost revenue. Because it is impossible to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the popularity of mp3 blogs and the number of records sold, though, this is a subject that is much debated. (See, for example, the comments related to the May 10 post of Strange Reaction.)

Here's how I see it…

When an mp3 blogger posts a song or two by an artist, preferably with a nice write-up about them and/or their music, that artist is getting free publicity. People reading the blog, who might not otherwise have heard of the artist, get exposed to something new. And, if they like what they hear, they'll seek out more.

Maybe they'll hit the other mp3 blogs looking for more songs by that artist. If so, they'll have to search far and wide (and frequently!) to ever pull together more than a handful of their songs--because most mp3 bloggers only post a song or two per artist and most are also careful to remove mp3s from their blogs after a relatively short period.

Eventually, though, if that downloading scofflaw wants to hear more, they're gonna have to buy the record. Doubly so, if they want to hold the packaging in their greedy, little hands, to look at the artwork and photos, and read the lyrics and credits. And, let's be honest here, if they want to impress the ladies, or other music fans, they're gonna have to have some records on their shelves. A spindle full of homemade CDs with erratic handwriting scrawled all over them just won't make it.

If anything, the rate at which I buy CDs has--adjusted for income--increased since I discovered legitimate free download sites (like Better Propaganda and Insound) and mp3 blogs. The reason is that I tend to like what I buy more often now than I used to because I can listen to bits and pieces of it, in the comfort of my own home, before deciding whether or not to take the plunge.

As I explained in my January 30 post, in the bad, old days I would often buy CDs based solely on how they were described in the print media, and would often end up dissatisfied with my purchases. I mean, on paper, And They Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead sounded great; on my stereo, it sounded like … Fugazi. Shelling out $15 or $20 for a CD and then finding that it wasn't "all that" had a depressing effect on my desire to shell out $15 or $20 for CDs. I don't have that problem as much anymore.

Without mp3 blogs, I would probably never have heard of the Jimmy Castor Bunch, let alone bought a copy of one their CDs. Without legitimate free download sites, I would probably never have given Interpol (the band) or the Bloc Party a chance.

Anyway, that's how I justify mp3 blogging to myself. But if there are people out there who don't buy that and ask that I remove their material from my blog, well … that's exactly what I'm gonna do.

Lewis Parker - Walk In The Sky

Today's song is a good example of what I'm writing about. Before being exposed to Lewis Parker by Can I Bring My Gat?, I'd never even heard of him. Now that I've heard and enjoyed three songs of his cool, noirish hip-hop--what is that in the background, Henry Mancini?-- I'll be on the lookout for his shit. If I see the right record at the right price, ima buy it.

May 22, 2005 | |


Discontent Analysis

Today's song is about a journalist reporting from a place where "On the borders there's movement / In the hills there is trouble / Food is short, crime is double," and his tape's running out. It is unclear from the song if members of the local "left-of-center" party are roasting and eating Christian babies.

Wire - Reuters

Brutish Columbians head to the polls on May 17 to elect a new provincial government. It is a contest between the Liberal Party, a "right-of-center" party which has been in power for the past four years, and the New Democratic Party (or NDP), a "left-of-center" party. The Green Party, also typically characterized as "left-of-center," enjoys third-party status in BC, but its level of support among voters is quite a bit lower than that of the other two major parties.

Now, bear in mind that I'm not particularly partisan when you read this. (I've voted for four different parties and several independents--sometimes simultaneously--thus far in my nasty, brutish, and short life.) But ... I think the daily paper in this town may be biased toward one of the parties and away from another.

Witness the reaction to the televised leaders debate two weeks ago. The day after the debate, most commentators at the Times-Colonist agreed that the leader of the NDP had performed better than the leaders of the Liberal and Green parties. Nobody seemed to think that the leader of the NDP had delivered a knockout punch during the debate, simply that she had out-performed her rivals, both of whom also did well.

The following day, the Times-Colonist printed eleven letters to the editor on the subject of the debate: nine voicing a preference for the Liberal Party; two for the Greens; and exactly none for the NDP.

So what, you say? Maybe the people in my part of the province just lean that way? Well, sorry, but no. Recent polls have consistently shown that voters on Vancouver Island actually have a strong preference for the NDP over the Liberals, by a margin of about 10%. Yet, somehow, that preference wasn't reflected in the letters the T-C chose to print on May 5th.

Maybe NDP supporters, drunk on their leader's imagined success two nights before, were too busy considering how best to ruin the provincial economy to actually set paper to pen. Maybe they were too busy roasting and eating Christian babies. Or maybe, just maybe, the Times-Colonist has an editorial bias against the NDP and toward the Liberal Party.

Thing is, the T-C is the only daily paper in this town. (Its parent company, CanWest Global, also owns one of only two local TV stations here.) Particularly in those circumstances, how is the Times-Colonist lobbying hard for any one party not an abuse of the power of the press and a subversion of democracy?

*****

"Reuters" is the first track on the first Wire album, Pink Flag, released in 1977. It is hard to overstate the influence Wire's art school punk has had on guitar-based rock over the past twenty-five-odd years. Songs from the band's first two albums, in particular, have been covered by an unbelievable number of artists: from Henry Rollins to Die Kreuzen to REM to U2. (Click here for a more complete list.)

Superficially, at least, Wire's take on rock and roll wasn't all that radical a departure from that which had come before them. When I listen to Pink Flag, I hear echoes of Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, for example. But … and it's a big but … the average song is under two minutes in length and has none of the double-tracking and overdubbing common to the more popular, higher-fidelity strains of r-n-r. It's simple, really: a moderately-distorted electric guitar, a bass guitar, drums, partly sung/partly shouted vocals, some fast numbers, some slow numbers, some willfully abstruse lyrics, and a rhumba thrown in for good measure.

Wire rapidly evolved away from the threadbare, guitar-oriented sound on its first album, increasingly incorporating keyboards into its music, and occasionally allowing songs to eclipse the three-minute (!) mark. To be perfectly frank, I haven't listened to anything the band released after their third album. While they continue to record, they haven't released anything that resonates with the plebes quite as strongly as Pink Flag and the follow-up, 1978's Chairs Missing.

Wire - Ex Lion Tamer

May 14, 2005 | |


Smoke My Crack

I don't need to hear the Libertines to know that I hate them. A new-ish group from England that is most famous for their now-former guitarist's very public heroin addiction, the Libertines are just the latest in a seemingly endless stream of over-hyped, talentless wankers promoted by the shallow English press.

Had the Libertines simply been innocent victims of the press, all could be forgiven. Unfortunately, it appears they have chosen to fan the flames of sensation instead. I mean, presumably the band had some say in what artwork would adorn the cover of their first album, and they chose a picture of poor Pete Doherty, passed out, with his left arm extended like a great hypodermic landing pad.

How pathetic that the band would use their guitarist's addiction to sell records.

How pathetic that some people believe junkies are brilliant, tortured artists, who are driven to heroin as a way of coping with an ugly world. (I'm sure some are.) Fortunately, some of these people graduate from school and start to think for themselves.

Back to the Libertines, though… Well, the Libertines can smoke my crack.

Judging from the post-hip-hop-worldbeat-soul of today's song, the Go! Team is an English band that actually deserves some press.

The Go! Team - Ladyflash

May 10, 2005 | |


Worst Band Names of All Time, Part II

As you may have been able to discern, given some of my earlier posts, a band's name plays a major role in my decision whether or not to give them a listen. When confronted with an unimaginative band name like Dogs Die in Hot Cars, I will usually demur. Dogs Die in Hot Cars might make a great slogan for a Humane Society ad campaign, but it is not very compelling as the name of a rock group.

Modest Mouse is a band with a horrible name. Part of what is so horrible about the name "Modest Mouse" is that it is so … diminutive. It's got the word "modest" in it, for Christ's sake. What kind of rock group has the word "modest" in its name? "Big" or "great" or "super" (although that one has been over used), sure. But "modest?" Then there's the whole "mouse" thing. Not "rodent" or "leppard" or "rottweiler", but "mouse." Modest Mouse is not a name that strikes fear into the non-existent hearts of authority. Modest Rottweiler, maybe. But Modest Mouse? No!

There are only two reasons anyone would give their band a name as shitty as Modest Mouse: one, they're estoopid; or two, they're esmart. I mean, to consciously give your band a name as forgettable as Modest Mouse requires a lot of balls. It's like saying "fuck advertising and commercial psychology; let the music sell itself." Almost like you've got a secret weapon you're waiting to unveil if anyone ever dares count you out because of your crappy name. Like talent or something.

Modest Mouse - I Came As a Rat

Today's song, "I Came As a Rat," is the only Modest Mouse song I have ever heard. I like it. Yes, the producer is one of the stars of the show --the backward guitar bits are perfect-- but the stuff the band is doing is cool, too. I especially like the repetitive structure of the lyrics and the single guitar notes reverberating off the walls.

May 4, 2005 | |


Suppurated at Birth

Further on the subject of punk feuds… I recently ran across a great online exchange of insults between Barry Henssler, former singer of the early-eighties Michigan band, the Necros, and a fellow named Dirty Jase, apparently a long-time roadie.

Dirty Jase launched the first volley in the battle, during a where-are-they-now type discussion, writing that "Barry lives outsid eof Chicago somewhere,old,fat,and bitter." (sic) As good fortune would have it, old, fat, and bitter Barry just happened to be reading and promptly responded in kind.

The highlight of the "debate," for me, is Jase writing, about the cherubic Henssler, "It's probably easier being Danny Bonaduce than it is to just look like him."

I'd always thought I was the only one who had noticed the resemblance...

Still, Henssler delivers the coup de grace by noting that the discussion was about a record he made as a 16 year old, and which people are still listening to and discussing 20 years later. "Please forward me the URL for anything remotely similar concerning even one thing you've EVER accomplished," writes Henssler.3

Not Barry Henssler

Danny "Partridge" Bonaduce

For the full exchange, check out The Punk Vault.

*****

Because I was never particularly a fan of the Necros, I thought I'd post something else from the same general era, region and scene.

Naked Raygun - Home of the Brave

It's a safe bet that "Home of Brave" would have made it onto Clear Channel's "do not play" list after 9-11, had it ever actually made it onto Clear Channel's "play" list in the first place. In the song's chorus, the band sing about their homeland, the USA: "A country that even / Persecuted the Weavers / Did you ever see the Weavers?"

Why, if that's not treasonous, it's at least un-American!

Legend has it that Naked Raygun was the only Chicago punk band able to bridge the gap between the Articles of Faith crowd and the Effigies crowd mentioned in my April 21 post. "Home of the Brave," with its melodic, sing-along qualities owing a clear debt to British punk precursors, and lyrics that are pointed, but not didactic, is good example of why the band had such wide appeal.

Naked Raygun put out two near-perfect records in the mid-eighties. Throb Throb, released in 1984, is the more varied and experimental of the two, in which bass guitar and the band's sense of humour feature prominently. All Rise (1986), from which today's song is drawn, is more serious, but still fun, and has a more guitar-driven, melodic sound.

There isn't a weak song on All Rise, and one track, "Backlash Jack," has always sounded like an anthem to me. "The first to abandon / Formed the bandwagon / And the first rat off the ship / Is the one to be too hip."

I betcha Barry Henssler would agree.

3Henssler has a history of being ahead of trends. He sang for Big Chief, a grunge-y blaxploitation-fixated band that predated both grunge and the 1990s blaxploitation craze. He was also a contributor to Motorbooty, a freaky, funkadelic fanzine from way back before the fanzine craze, in the days when graphic artists still used Letraset. Anyone else remember Letraset?)

May 1, 2005 | |


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