Tuesday, February 28, 2006:

crash and burn

The Blasters -- I'm Shakin'
The Blasters -- Trouble Bound
The Blasters were a roots-rock band from the 1980s, a band that I'm surprised that the good Reverend hasn't yet posted. (I scooped the Rev? That's unpossible.)

"I'm Shakin'" is a Little Willie John cover, a snappy groovin' blues tune with saxophones. (Thanks, Jon)

"Trouble Bound" is a rockabilly tune with rollicking piano and some spot-on background harmonies.

They're both good examples of the Blasters' work, which seamlessly mixes covers and original tunes with a confident, uncluttered style.
[Testament: The Complete Slash Recordings (1981-1985)]

... My file hosting has gotten a bit wobbly. The UI, for one, has become unworkable in both Firefox and Internet Explorer; uploading and linking to a file is now a three-part process involving swapping browsers twice and usually watching one of them freeze. The bugs are being worked on and, with any luck, they'll be sorted out soon.

"That's not Haggis; that smells like chitlins."
"It's okay, Daddy; just put your hand over your mouth like this."
(image nicked from The House Next Door)

Here's some Haterade for Crash that I found particularly relevant, fun, and amusing.

And here's more, just because this movie has been bugging me ever since I saw it:

Maybe in L.A. bigotry isn't typically out front and center, unsubtle and undeniable--but in the rural monocultural high school I attended in North Florida it was. All the most popular students--the football players and the cheerleaders--were, with very few exceptions, openly homophobic, sexist, racist, and classist. I'll choose a fairly tame incident, the kind that supposedly doesn't happen any more: one year I had the same class as a fairly clever bigot. Nearly every day that year, he would ask me if I had my Green Card. He had an audience and it always got a laugh; the teacher overheard it and ignored it. I don't know why; I didn't feel confident enough to ask. And I also wasn't strong enough or fierce enough to confront the student--he was the kind sure to resort to violence--so I just did my best to let it roll off me. I perfected a blank stare.

I've forgotten the student's name, though I remember his permed mullet and his left earring and the day that he came to school with one eye solid red. I'd been out sick the previous day and then the next day, the day he came to school with a red eye, the student didn't make the crack about the Green Card. Instead, he sat there silently. His eye wasn't slightly bloodshot; it wasn't extremely bloodshot; it was pure red from iris to corner and from lid to lid, the red of ruptured blood vessels. It looked like something from a cheap horror movie except that it was actually horrifying.
"What happened to your eye?" I said, which pissed him off.
"He was out sick yesterday," one of the other students said--quickly--and the student settled back.
"I was in a fight," he said, still angry.
"With two other guys, at a bar."
"Tell him about the others," one of the students said.
"They got hurt too." He was smirking now. It was easy to say, I guess, with no one there to contradict him.
"Oh," I said. I nodded. And then I had to bite my tongue to prevent saying "did they have their Green Cards?"

Now, L.A. is not my home town, and my home town is not L.A. (and is, I'm sure, glad of it). But this L.A. in the film is probably also not the L.A. in California, out in that "reality" that people tend to go on about. The L.A. in the film rings false, and not just because of the constant ridiculous coincidences, but also because most people are not openly bigoted. The bigotry is a contrivance to present some drama and to give Haggis a chance to talk about issues he ostensibly cares about. So the movie makes a lot of noise about its characters' "complexity," but the kinds of things the characters eventually do--the good things, mind, intended to round them out as characters, to offset the bad--include not shooting people, not selling people, and not watching people die. These are not the kinds of things that the Nobel committee tends to award prizes for, though they might be unusual enough to deserve attention in Hollywood.

The biggest failure of the movie--and there are several to choose from--is that the story flirts with cynicism, claims to reject it, and adopts platitudes instead. The example that sticks in my craw most is near the end, where a black man discovers that the cargo hold of the stolen van he is driving is loaded with people. And so this man pulls over, and with all the predictable grandiose musical cues a hack could hope for, he opens the back of the van and sets the people free. Now, that's a bold ethical stand. This movie does not approve of slavery.

Instead, it approves of a laissez faire system which will fold undocumented workers into its sweatshoppy embrace until the DHS takes it upon itself to expel them for doing the shit work that Americans wouldn't do at those wages, daring to dream the American Dream without proper papers. All the character has done is make the minimal choice any decent person would make--refusing to sell people--and he's done it at very little personal cost. Yet this setting people free was, according to the film's narrative, something meant to add to the character's "complexity," some good to offset the bad. So the movie posits that character redemption is just as far away as one refusal to sell slaves.

I bet if we all try, if we stick with it and really try, we can be redeemed and fulfillingly complex by breakfast time.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006:

together we'll nab it

Kermit and Fozzie -- Movin' Right Along
What could be better than two Muppets singing a song about friendship? I mean aside from singing it with witty lighthearted lyrics, to the accompaniment of a banjo and a string section?
[The Muppet Movie soundtrack], if you have $100 you didn't know what to spend on. Or pick the track up on this comp. Both of them also have "Can You Picture That?" so you're sure to have some fun.

Listening to this soundtrack again, I see that I missed my chance--Dr. Teeth belonged after Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and before something by Dr. John.

The Bran Flakes sampled this, with good results. The Gramophone posted that track in April '04, so I won't crank it up here again.


I keep forgetting to mention Girish's site--or, more specifically, his comments sections. Don't get me wrong; his posts are good--both the ones about movies and the ones about music--but there's something about the comments that is even more impressive. It's not just that the posts all get many more comments than nearly any post at any mp3blog (though they do); it's that the people posting clearly have actually thought about what other people have said and what might be meant by it. It's not uncommon to see a point, a rebuttal, a clarification, a question, a realization. That sort of interaction seems somewhat rare online, oddly enough, where interaction is as effortless as typing and as quick as an electron. In any case, Girish's site makes for some consistently enjoyable reading and I'm glad it's out there.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006:

Peasant, Thunderegg, Bishop Allen

Peasant -- Sun, Moon, Sing
Here's a song from Peasant, who found me through Said the Gramophone (keep crankin', fellas!) and sent along a link to more of his work. Good points here: the tremulous falsetto, the way the guitar slides and hops and chicka-chickas, the notes on the high end ringing out friendly! unafraid! listen up!, the lulls in the delivery, lines like "Got to keep on movin', movin' along / Life is too short and misery too long" delivered as a sweet singalong. This song is apple pie with a crumbly cranberry/almond crust.
[Peasant's site]

Thunderegg -- You Showed Them to Me
"You Showed Them to Me" is a whimsical whiplash romance and anti-romance, from meet-cute to consummation to meeting the parents to meeting in court to sort out property rights. "Them" in the title is, in each verse: poems, unspecified things formerly beneath a shirt, parents, and children on weekend visitation.

The track is from Open Book, Will Georgantas' collection of every song Thunderegg recorded from 1995 through 2004. Most of it is pop/rock but there are also dips into folk/pop, country, and electronica; over the years "Thunderegg" has gone from Georgantas and a four-track to a full band with backup vocals. I think I like the self-titled the most, but with over 200 tracks to choose from there's plenty of room for differing opinions.
[Thunderegg's site]

Bishop Allen -- Ghosts Are Good Company
Sean has it that Bishop Allen is the best unsigned rock band in the U.S. Some days I think he's right, and other days I think that honor goes to a local band I haven't yet posted (soon, I hope!... still waiting on one final review to come in on that mix CD). But make no mistake about it, Bishop Allen are good: gleeful, catchy, accomplished, with a great sense of melody and composition.

The band's releasing an EP a month this year. February is not yet released, but January made for a great start.
[Bishop Allen's site], with more downloads for yer perusal. Especially recommended: "Little Black Ache" and "Eve of Destruction."

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Monday, February 20, 2006:

foo in the life

Go Home Productions -- Karma in the Life
DJ BC -- A Day in the Life of a Beastie Boy
Two mashups here:
"Karma in the Life," by Go Home Productions: one part "Karma Police," one part "A Day in the Life," and one part "I Am the Walrus." That man has a much more sophisticated ear than I do: I didn't notice the similar progressions and harmonies but they fit together like hand and glove. I like his production in general--it's sometimes fun, sometimes moody, but almost always a keeper.
[Go Home Productions]

"A Day in the Life of the Beastie Boys" by DJ BC: one part "Groove Holmes," one part "A Day in the Life," bookended with bits of a rooftop concert and the rooster from "Good Morning, Good Morning." Very nice work, though it comes in a bit short. (I'd go for an extended jam on that one.)
[DJ BC's site, currently down; in the meanwhile there's a torrent for Let It Beast]

Mashups on Beatles work has to be helped somewhat by the way they were mixed, with vocals often on one side. Still, though, for this track the vocals start on the right, switch Lennon to the left for "I'd love to turn you on," bring Paul in on the right, then return to Lennon, still on the left.


My Dell computer has been a workhorse (except on the occasions where I've hobbled it) but this is not what I'd like to see them spending their time on. I suppose next they'll be after that farmer. Hi-ho.


From the "it doesn't take a carpenter to know a bad chair" department: some bad parenting: a family finds a $500 camera, gives it to their son, calls the owner and tells her she's not getting it back. I'm confused about the lesson they're trying to teach: "Take advantage of people when you get a chance to"? "Shame is for sissies and wimps"? (via boingboing.net and metafilter)


Friday, February 17, 2006:

DJ Shadow -- Six Days (Soulwax mix)

Harold (not Maude)
DJ Shadow -- Six Days (6 MB .ogg)
DJ Shadow -- Six Days (Soulwax mix) (10.4 MB .mp3)
I first saw Harold and Maude about six years ago, when living with a Muslim roommate who didn't much care for it. As an agnostic I had fewer compunctions about it; I found something wonderfully liberating in watching the relationship between them and its effect on Harold. It's one of the few romances I love (along with Tootsie and, well, Tootsie), mostly because I loved the quirky tone of the film: dry, macabre, satirical, with the occasional broad humor (the policeman and the gun) and the points where the director abandons verisimilitude altogether (the yodeling, the piano playing).

Over the years I've changed a bit and my appreciation of the film has waxed and waned with it. I've gone from finding Maude's philosophy liberating to finding it vapid and silly to finding that it's not especially important what I think of it, that what's important is what Harold thinks of it.

And then there are some of the details that more observant people caught much sooner:
  • Why Harold is faking so many suicides, and why he goes to funerals for fun
  • The relevance of the lyrics to the film (Cat Stevens wrote some of the songs specifically for the soundtrack, and left them available only in the film for decades)
  • Harold pulling out his pocketbook to bribe the policeman (this after Mrs. Chasen's opening story about Harold's father floating nude down the Seine and the enfluence and d'argent needed to take care of things afterwards)
  • Bud Cort (not Harold--I doubt this was in the script) dinging himself in the head with the shovel when he gets on the motorcycle
  • The Romeo and Juliet inversion in the dating scene, with Harold lifting his head up after his staged suicide, and its ties to the ending: Juliet with the poison, Romeo again "awakening"
  • Maude's story about Frederick--"so serious," she says, smiling, her eyes brimming with tears. "A doctor at the university. In the government." In Vienna. And then, later: this shot less than two seconds long in a ninety-minute film:
    Maude's tattoo

It's masterful work: the story, the acting, the direction, and especially the editing at the end.

Its use of Romeo and Juliet puts me in mind of the richness of story, of source material, of Ebert's frequent adage that it's not what a movie is about but how it's about it. Expanding outward: it's not what art is about but how it's about it. And it's handy to have rich samples to work with.

The "Six Days" from Private Press is in .ogg format because I converted it years ago when I was using WinAmp; since then I've misplaced the CD (no doubt to find it whenever I finally move--cowering, or perhaps armed and ready to pounce, underneath some stack of papers). The remix is from Private Repress, which is about what Private Press is about in much the same way that Romeo and Juliet and Harold and Maude are both about a man and a woman having a hard time of things.
[Private Press]
[Private Repress]

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006:

pop/soul and the power of whimsy

The Sylvers -- Showcase
The Sylvers -- Ain't No Good in Good-bye
The Sylvers -- Clap Your Hands to the Music
Another used record find here. About half of the LP is light poppy R&B saddled with a young man's voice apt to make most people think of the Jackson 5 and find the Sylvers wanting in comparison. The other half is funkier but it's still a poppy funk, not a mighty funk like George Clinton or Flea or Stevie Wonder might lay out.

The first track here sounds like it could have been a radio staple with its harmony, melody, and beat--that piano, bass, and string section a perfect package for lyrics about farewells. And of course they're right that there ain't no "fair" in "farewell," if only because it's more along the lines of "fare thee well," a wishful imperative on departure not unlike "take care." But never mind about all that.

"Clap Your Hands to the Music" is a bit of silly dance/funk starting off with even sillier 808-sounding handclaps (if you can, give it fifteen seconds before making a decision). It works into a solid groove coupled with joyful slight lyrics--unless you consider joy as substantial as pensiveness, in which case the song would be a solid celebration of life. The vocals are top-notch and there are two breaks ripe for the sampling.


Sunday, February 12, 2006:

Dawn's Ragtime Follies

Dawn feat. Tony Orlando -- Steppin' Out, I'm Gonna Boogie Tonight
I don't know if you could call what I do 'digging.' Someone like DJ Shadow goes in with a portable turntable, knowing quite a lot about popular, obscure, and cult music, and when he finds something with a scratch he can't judge the severity of--or when he finds something new to him--he puts it on and gives it a listen. His work makes it clear that he comes away with a lot of great stuff. Whereas with me, without the extensive knowledge and the portable turntable, it's more like lowering a bucket into a shaft to get filled up by someone at the other end with a mischievous sense of humor. Pulling it into the light might show pocket lint, fossilized dung, fool's gold, a ripped styrofoam cup, and a hornet's nest (with angry hornets).

In this case, I'm both the person lowering the bucket and the person filling it up. I can sometimes avoid what I hate, but I'm not as good finding what I love.

I found this LP yesterday morning. Getting home to listen to them showed the take to be roughly .5 for 10--crap, mostly--until this one came up. I decided the LP might be worth a shot because it was obviously made in the 1970s yet the title was Dawn's New Ragtime Follies, leading me to think it was a sincere tribute (perhaps one they'd been advised against) to the music of 40 to 70 years earlier. And it's good music, an experiment that works--catchy and buoyant, mostly traditional, but with bits of 1970s rock mixed up in it in the guitar work.

Other standouts: "Daydream," "Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose?" "Who's in the Strawberry Patch with Sally."

The album has been re-released on CD just last year. Who knew? Not me. Maybe the Shadow.
[Dawn's New Ragtime Follies]
[Allmusic.com review]


Tuesday, February 07, 2006:

grand guignol and custard pie

The Clash -- (White Man) in Hammersmith Palais
The Clash -- Drug-Stabbing Time
The Clash -- London Calling
I love The Clash, but it's probably the kind of love felt only if you have some bit of simmering rage left unaddressed.... It's tuneful punk, and of course they're known for their punk/reggae bridge, which you can get a taste of on "White Man in Hammersmith Palais" here, from their U.S. version of The Clash.

"Drug-Stabbing Time" is a grittier track than "Hammersmith": distorted guitar and a brisker pace, with somewhat hoarse vocals and a saxophone that comes thundering over the hill like the lone horseman of the apocalypse, no others present or necessary.

I remember the first time I heard "London Calling"--the guitar and drums followed by those first few notes of the bassline skidding in, and suddenly I knew that there was some great music on deck. First hearing that LP reminded me of first digging into the Beatles catalogue, buying CDs my parents didn't have, finding plenty of songs I knew by heart mixed in with others that I'd never heard before but that were just as good. The CD London Calling is a great CD in general but particularly great for long drives: you'll be crooning, yelping, head-bobbing, banging the steering wheel.

These three tracks are from their first, uh, four LPs, I guess, if you count the UK and US versions as separate. I'll probably post some Clash again, from the other three; they have good tracks buried on them, though they're not generally held in as high regard.
[The Clash (U.S. version)]
[Give 'Em Enough Rope]
[London Calling]

... some films:
La Sentinelle: Either this film is very intelligent or I am very dense, but much of the plot seemed not to follow from what had already been established, with increasingly distancing effect over the course of the film. I can handle a few cases of "why did that happen? that's odd" but by the end, the film gave me a serious case of WTF which resolved itself into "WTF-ever."

Night of the Iguana. Right. Huston is usually a good director, but the boxing scene was silly and the story in general struck me as weak. As for the cast, it's got Richard Burton playing Richard Burton in a frock, in extended rehearsal for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, in which he plays Richard Burton with pockmarks. Instead of seeing the story, I kept seeing Tennessee Williams, talking to himself:
So he goes past the hotel. Why? He doesn't want her to get that telegram. Also, there's another hotel, more isolated, where an old flame is. Why is she there? She's visiting. So how does he know she's there? No, no, you're right, that's wrong--she runs the hotel. Yeah, she runs it. This'll provide a neat ending. Okay, but then she must be very busy. Uh, no, no, it's off-season. Ah. So why does she take him in? She cares for him still. So the story becomes a simple romance. No, she takes the others in too; it will provide some additional conflict. So she's a doormat? No, she's ... she's brusque, gruff, at heart a softie, but afraid of being hurt again. Okay. Who else works there? A cook. He sleeps a lot. And who else? Two handsome young shirtless Mexicans. What do they do? They dance around and shake maracas. What else? That's all. They must have personalities, regrets, ambitions.... No, they just dance around and shake maracas. Sometimes they put them down, for instance if dancing on the beach seducing the hostess or if chasing an iguana and not dancing. I see. Don't worry about it; no one will be thinking about what they're doing there, or not doing. Okay.... So what happens? Well, by the end he's no longer interested in little girls. So miracles do occur. Sometimes, if you're a defrocked minister.

Promises: Wow. Take half a dozen children living in and around Jerusalem, both Muslim and Jew, with differing levels of faith, interview them and follow them through their daily lives in dangerous surroundings--watch them at school, in sports events, hanging out ... introduce them to each other and watch them trying to feel their way through the treacherous intractable politics. I thought it was truly a wonderful film, not because of the political history but because of the voices of the children--certain, doubtful, thoughtful, flippant, patient, exasperated--each of them explaining, in their own way, what the conflict has cost them: a brother, a father, a constant needling fear. And it was a very nice and much-needed, though maybe unintended, bit of counterpoint at the end with Faraj, stateside, working in a Wal-Mart dealing with customers annoyed by the unavailability of stick pretzels. After the laughter died down I was wondering "and how much different am I from that, really? Didn't I, just a few days ago, post some trivial complaints based on relative comfort and wealth?"

... some politics:
The President has seen National Treasure, so he's heard about the Constitution; if he noticed any mention of the Bill of Rights, it really doesn't matter. It is his Divine Right to spy; after all, he's constantly talking to God and God is, uncustomarily, talking back. Besides, it's A Different World After 9/11: the U.S. intelligence community needs more things to know about and ignore, like people learning to fly planes and not bothering to learn to land them, which is obviously not a Big Red Flag. No, the intelligence community, intelligently, recognizes that the real threat is in breastfeeding mothers, war protestors, people who get off on anthropomorphic animals, people downloading movies rather than buying them in the subway, and anyone who happens to talk to any of those people. Luckily this includes most of the world, insuring the necessity of information-gathering (whether to ignore it or to act on it in violation of Constitutional law) for decades to come.

The shift in focus is part of that oft-touted ideal of small government, which means that Bush and Cheney can continue cutting public services, subcontracting them to companies headed by close personal friends so they can deliver fewer services more inefficiently, racking up private profit through the generosity of tax breaks provided by a public laid out over a barrel. And then complain about the lack of funds for public services, and claim the only solution is more contracting and more tax breaks. Which is not incongruent with one definition of insanity.


I'm having some computer troubles here: a borked video card making every page, document, and image look a bit like timid abstract art. More posts later. Or shorter posts sooner.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006:

Blues Run the Game / Here Come the Blues

Jackson C. Frank -- Blues Run the Game
Jackson C. Frank -- Here Come the Blues
When Jackson C. Frank was 11 he was in a school fire which killed a number of the other students and left him convalescing from third-degree burns. He used the seven months in the hospital learning to play guitar, but he didn't receive an insurance settlement for another ten years. On receiving the settlement, he left the country for the burgeoning folk scene in the U.K., and on the boat over he wrote "Blues Run the Game," his signature song. It's a catchy bit of pop folk with a bittersweet melody, but the lyrics are not bittersweet. What they are is exhausted, almost ready to give up: "Some time tomorrow, someplace down the line / I'll wake up older / So much older, mama / I'll wake up older and I'll just stop all my trying."

"Here Comes the Blues" is in the same vein: a beautiful and poignant song, proto-Nick Drake, John Ashberry to music, despair laid bare in hopes of catharsis. The guitar work is very good: the low end chugs along sounding like a train, and the filigrees sound both improvised and perfectly considered, not a note out of place. Allmusic dismisses his vocals but I think it's great work here, strong and on point, a very commanding presence.

In England, Frank met up with Sandy Denny, Paul Simon, and Art Garfunkel, all of whom later covered his work (as did Tom Paxton, Nick Drake, and Bert Jansch). He and Denny began dating, and Paul Simon produced Frank's first album; Frank recorded it in just a few hours, from behind several screens to prevent him having to see anyone watching him play. That first album had both of the songs here on it, and in Europe it was a relatively big hit insofar as folk albums go, at least until Frank failed to come up with a follow-up.

The insurance money soon ran out and Frank felt increasingly withdrawn and anxious, suffering stage fright and creative paralysis; he returned to the United States, where his marriage broke up and his young son died. The album ran out of print, the royalty checks dried up, and Frank was homeless within a few years, spending most of the rest of his life either on the streets or in mental institutions. In 1997, T.J. McGrath published "Lost Singer Found," which ended speculation about whatever happened to Frank. The article led to renewed interest in his career, a re-release of his debut (which had been out of print for decades), and the release of some new material. At that point Frank had been suffering arthritis and a thyroid disorder for years, he was grossly overweight, and he'd been shot in the left eye.

Mentions of suicide pepper his work, both elliptical and obvious, and there's a general sort of weariness and anxiety throughout his work. Some of his music is so far in the doldrums it can't be arsed to come up with much of a melody, but these two posted today are more tuneful; though they might not be most typical of his work, they're the tunes that speak to me most right now. Other standouts include "Halloween Is Black As Night" "My Name Is Carnival," and "Goodbye to My Loving You."

Frank died in 1999, apparently of natural causes.
[Blues Run the Game: Expanded Deluxed Edition]--or, if that's too much melancholy for you, there's a shorter reprint of the original.
Game, Set, Blues:
Whatever happened to Jackson C. Frank


Newcomer Sabas sent an email mentioning his new mp3blog and threatening to flood my mailbox with V1/\GRÅ and mortgage spam if I didn't give it a mention. Under such duress, I had no choice but go check it out and to recommend Neko Case's "Star Witness," Kelley Stoltz' "Memory Collector," The Gossip's "Standing in the Way of Control," and Swearing At Motorists' "Lost Your Wig." And of course you can't go wrong with Cat Power or Belle & Sebastian. He's making some good picks (though myspace, as a music host, is running about a 50% failure rate on letting me download the tracks).