“Which pushes me to their place in the queue”

“And he spoke with his voice
 As he was talking with his mouth”

Oboe concerto
All the best ones are dead 
And there’s a song I can’t stand 
And it’s stuck in my head

There’s a song I can’t stand 
And it’s stuck in my head

Oboe concerto 
All I do is drink to absent friends 
And there’s a song I can’t stand 
And it’s stuck in my head

There’s a song I can’t stand 
And it’s stuck in my head

The older generation have tried, sighed and died 
Which pushes me to their place queue

Round, rhythm goes round 
Round, round rhythm of life goes round 

– Morrissey

My birthday was today.  Today is also John Lennon’s birthday.  I played a tribute to him this afternoon.  It made me realize that his music is more complicated than it sounds, as I felt like I was playing with mittens on my hands.  Part of it had to do with extreme exhaustion, but there is no doubt that one stroke of his genius is the fact that he could make bizarre and unruly chord progressions sound like perfect pop moments.  Things that are sophisticated became emotionally raw in his hands, all while somehow seeming universal.  He was a rare bird indeed.

I couldn’t help but compare his music to a great deal of the popular music of today’s radio.  Along with reflecting on the passing of time, as one is apt to do on their birthday, I was reminded of the Morrissey lyrics to Oboe Concerto.  But in case anyone thinks I am being maudlin, I think there is a great deal of mischievous fun to be had in the above verses by old Mozzer.  Looking at the inevitable, shrugging, with an ever so slight grin…

New Order’s ‘Temptation’

As I am still listening to New Order’s excellent new album, Music Complete, I have also been diving back into their catalog.  One of my favorite pieces of pop music ever is their song Temptation.  It is one of those pieces where the whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts.  The lyrics and the chord changes are rather simple.  Compared to modern records, the technology is primitive.  The band members are musically capable, but are by no means virtuosos.  But New Order, as they would continue to do so many times, were able to capture pure emotion on tape.  Everyone plays the right part at exactly the right time.  The melody is one of those simple, but unique melodies that are indestructible.  It’s a beautiful thing.  It’s the sound of ecstatic joy, mixed with the slight melancholy of knowledge that that joy can’t last forever.  Not only does everything come together in this recording, but it almost seems to capture that moment in life; When everything seems to be happening, that exciting moment when the everyday is suddenly infused with magic.  The ordinary is made transcendent.  It could be those first moments of love, or seeing a place for the first time that you have always wanted to.  For a brief time you are on the precipice of the new.  Yet it can’t last and the seduction is that you want to find a way to live in that moment forever.

Lou Reed’s ‘Brandenburg Gate’ and the Joy of Discovery

I would cut my legs and tits off
When I think of Boris Karloff and Kinski
In the dark of the moon

It made me dream of Nosferatu
Trapped on the isle of Doctor Moreau
Oh wouldn’t it be lovely

One of my favorite albums from the last five years is Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu.  Just the opening lyrics to the first song alone, Brandenburg Gate, make my heart sing.  I’ve written about this record several times, but I never tire of singing its praises.  Look, I understand the reasons that some people don’t like this album; The lyrics are disturbing, the music will go off at times into discordant soundscapes or heavy metal brutality, and at times Lou Reed sings without care for melody or pitch.

But in general I feel bad for people that don’t get this record.  It is a beautiful, dark, fever dreamscape of a record.  It’s a Viking raid, a horror freak show, a psychotic hallucination, an Edgar Allen Poe poem, Victorian London, and nighttime in the Tiergarten all at once.  If it were a movie it would be Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God or Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto.  If it were a painting it might be by Goya or Bosch.  The record is batshit insane in the best way possible.

But the record isn’t all dark.  There is a sense of fun, of the thrill of reaching new ground, as well.  Lou Reed was near the end of his life when he made this.  He was physically in decline.  He used Metallica as a way to go once more into uncharted territory.  They were his musical armor.  Like George Carlin, Reed kept growing as an artist.  There was never any self-congratulatory victory lap or a watering down of his talents to finally cash in.  He remained true to his vision right until the end.

But I don’t love this record, truly love it, because others don’t get it, or because I think the best art should always be bleak.  I enjoy it.  In it’s own strange way it is full of joy.  It feels free.      Reed is not bound by the normal conventions of society.  He is out there on a limb, living in the new.  After all, he’s just a, “small town girl.”

The Greatest Singer You’ve Never Heard

Occasionally this blog becomes my very own Stalinist propaganda machine, as I promote various projects I am involved in, but this time I have truly noble intentions when I tell you about the Ted Hawkins tribute record that is coming out October 23rd:  Cold and Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins.  Ted Hawkins is one of the greatest singers ever, his Watch Your Step album alone providing a lifetime of enjoyment.  Hawkins never received the recognition that he should have while he was alive, and this record is just a small attempt to bring recognition to his great talent now.  There are a whole brunch of great artists on this project; Even Felker, James McMurtry, Ramsay Midwood, as well as the wife and daughter of Hawkins himself, all make an appearance.  And that is just a few of them.  I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute bass to four of the tracks.  I finally got a copy and it sounds great.  Keep your eyes out for this project.  But really, do yourself a favor in the meantime and get yourself a Ted Hawkins record, especially Watch Your Step.

New Order’s ‘Music Complete’ Review

New Order Music Complete Cover

The new New Order album, Music Complete, is a true return to form and certainly going to be one of the best releases of the year.  While not being overtly political in the traditional sense, it is a record that truly captures the joy, sadness, anxiety, wonder, and confusion of modern times.  New Order’s blend of rock instruments with dance music synthesizers finds a perfect balance here.  Although I am extremely leery of when critics say that so-and-so is the best since whatever, this truly is their best album since Technique.

Even the cover art is perfect.  While being abstract, I can’t help but feel that the cover looks like a piece of a stain glass window.  As parts of the old world fall away, what is it that we now worship?

The gods of consumerism is met head on in the first song and single, Restless.  “What can you buy / That lifts a heavy heart up to the sky?”  Lead singer Bernard Sumner has always been a strange lyricist.  His lyrics often border on cliche when read, but never become that when communicated through song.  At times I have called what he does Communist Bloc aesthetic, in the sense that there is a certain purposeful blankness to them.  Instead of creating extremely vivid imagery through abstraction, or by telling cinematic stories, the way that most of the best songwriters do, his lyrics leave a space for the listener’s own imagination to fill out the information he has left out.  It’s like he is allowing the listener’s imagination to flower up through the concrete.  It’s a neat trick when it works, one I have never really seen anyone else pull off in quite the same way.  While retaining an element of that on this album, Sumner is clearly reflecting on the modern world here in a more explicit way than on past albums.  But as typical of Sumner, he is able to say a lot, while at the same time not saying any more than he has to.

Sumner is also one of music’s most consistent melody writers, which no doubt has always helped his lyrics.  This album is full of glorious pop moments.  As typical of New Order, the album is one half ecstatic joy and one half steely coldness.  The possibility and anxiety of the moment are both represented here.

Anyone that is a New Order fan will wonder how they fair without longtime bassist Peter Hook.  Hook was an essential element of the New Order sound, with his melodic chorused bass playing often creating many of the most exciting musical moments, by playing hooks or melodic leads.  Strangely enough, as a bass player and huge fan of his, he is not missed.  On one hand this is because replacement Tom Chapman apes him when needed.  But Chapman also branches out from what Hook does, adding new and interesting elements, that all seem to work here as far as I’m concerned, to the band’s sound.

This album definitely leans towards the dance side of New Order’s catalog.  When so many synths are used, especially at this moment in time, there is the risk that they would be either chasing trends or retreading old ground.  I feel like again they have found the perfect balance.  The album sounds current enough that it never comes across as a retread, but there are definitely retro moments as well.  I feel this is a perfect blend for our sequel obsessed, nostalgia oriented culture.  Even when they use a sound that sounds retro, in the context of this album, it seems more of a comment of the now than simply a way of capitalizing on their past.

New Order have created a modern pop music masterpiece.  It has enough hooks to be thoroughly enjoyable, but enough ideas and left turns to be artistically captivating.  The excitement and the dread of these modern times is captured in sound.  Although there might be more modern sounding records, or ones with a larger poetic scope, I can’t help but feel like if someone asked me what our constantly changing culture felt like right now, that this is one record I would point them towards.


The Bravest Man in the Universe

download (1)

An album that should have gotten more credit is Bobby Womack’s The Bravest Man in the Universe.  It was recorded near the end of his life and is the result of a collaboration with Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz.  The title comes from a line where the bravest man in the universe is, ” the one who has forgiven first.”  The album is a beautiful, contemplative,  haunted thing.  It’s one of the very few albums that can make slightly uncomfortable due to its distant soundscapes and unflinching topic matters.  (I think that is a sign of the album’s power.  In reflecting on his own life with honesty, Womack makes you reflect on your own with that same level of clarity.)

As a fan of both Albarn and Womack, I was a little surprised at the record.  Sonically it is a true departure from Womack’s earlier work.  It’s a cold futuristic sounding record, more akin to the work of Albarn’s futuristic  dubscapes  in Gorillaz, than Womack’s warm soul music.  Womack’s voice is also more worn than on his classic 70’s records.  (Which is to be understood, given his age at the time of recording.)

However, what is jarring at first, actually really works in the records favor.  This is not a lesser version of previous accomplishments,  but something new entirely.  Womack is Major Tom on this record, lost in the vastness of space, reflecting upon his past.  If 2001 was a soul record, you would get some idea of the proceedings.  There are even sound clips of Sam Cooke and Gil Scott Heron speaking, both passed away, at key moments on the record.  Lana Del Ray has a cameo, giving a vocal performance both beautiful and full of dread.

However Bobby Womack is no doubt the star, pouring a great deal of pathos, love, and humanity into the proceedings, even despite the often electronic sound around him.  Sometimes he is almost Hamlet giving his Horatio soliloquy.   However, the record is not a true tragedy.  If the past still haunts Womack, forgiveness and love still run strong.

One of the real tricks of the album is how it sounds like the future and the past at the same time.   When I comment there is almost a science fiction element to the aound, it evokes not the modern day, but again almost the science fiction of the 60’s.   One day all will be past.  How will the future reflect upon who we are?  This record almost gives you that sense, that you are getting a glimpse of the now through foreign eyes.  It’s a strange and wonderful record indeed.

Real Good Looking Boy

When I think back to the
first time in my childhood
When I saw that face
I thought right then,
‘That’s a real good looking boy’

I saw myself in the mirror
in profile
for the first time
I thought,
‘Hey! That’s a real good looking boy’

And I felt then
that I moved
With all those lucky bucks and angels
High in the theater
In the sky

So I ran to my mother
I said,
‘Mom take a look at me
Have you ever seen a teen
Fly so high?’

That’s a real good looking boy
That’s a real good looking boy

She said,
‘Son, well, you know,
you’re an ugly boy.
You don’t really look like him

In this long line
There’s been some
real strange genes
You’ve got ’em all
You’ve got ’em all
With some extras thrown in’

That’s a real good looking boy
That’s a real good looking boy
That’s a real good looking boy
That’s a real good looking boy

Wise men say
Only fools, only fools rush in
But I, I can’t help
Falling in love, in love with you

Now I’m here with you little darling
And you say, ‘You’re beautiful as you are’
And I’ve managed somehow to survive

You arrived in my life like a fragrance
You helped me find a way to laugh
Now I know where my so-called beauty lies

God gave him a face
Then he gave me something above
God gave me a grace
Then he gave me your sweet, sweet, sweet love

You make me feel like I’m a real good looking boy
I feel I’m a real good looking boy
That’s a real good looking boy
That’s a real good looking boy

A great later period Who song.  I was on the road the other day and I found myself particularly moved by it.  Like many of the best songwriters, Townshend can communicate a complex array of emotions while still getting at something deeper.  Love, pathos, and humor are all accounted for.  Although I posted the lyrics, it’s best if you hear them unravel in the song, with Daltrey’s always exceptional delivery.  In the beginning of the song he is singing about seeing Elvis for the first time.

Dinosaur Jr. ‘Over It’ – Make Your Monday Morning Slightly Better

Traveling to Portland today.  I was listening to Dinosaur Jr. today as I walked around Sisters after breakfast.  My schedule is so strange at this point that Monday mornings don’t have the same kind of crushing dread that they do for a lot of people.  However, while I love Portland and am excited to play there, we have been living the dream in Sisters.  We were in the same town for three days, which is a rarity in touring.  The festival we played and the town we were in is walkable, so I actually haven’t seen the inside of a van since Friday afternoon.

Anyway, I was walking around this morning listening to Dinosaur Jr.  They are one of the great American bands that helped bridge the gap between the 80’s indie scene and the 90’s alternative one.  Singer and guitarist J Mascis is one of those rare players that was able to create his own distinct style.  It’s based in traditionalism, he still is primarily strumming or arpeggiating chords when he is not unleashing mind-melting solos, but you always know when it is him.  He early on became one of indie rocks few guitar heroes.

Dinosaur Jr. is one of the few bands that managed to reform the original line-up later in their career and make albums that were as relevant and as well-received as their early work.  While many note that Mascis defined the early 90’s slacker aesthetic, I think their music has proved to be timeless.  Whatever was going on at the time musically, then or now, he simply made music that sounded like himself, without any of the trappings of current musical and technological trends.

I think this this is an informative way, if not the only, to make something that is original.  Simply stay true to yourself, while stealing just enough different things from others so that you can’t be compared exactly to something that came before.  Mascis took the traditional guitar playing of someone like Neil Young and blended it with the sonic insanity of some of the 80’s underground music that existed at the time of Dinosaur’s formation.

I’m not sure how Mascis is not deaf by now.  I saw them after Beyond came out, the first album with the reformed original line-up.  He was playing his ear splitting solos surrounded by amps that seemed turned up to ridiculous levels, all pointing directly at his head.  (With his now flowing white Gandolf hair blowing around him.) Another friend saw them on the same tour and remarked similarly.  But all of that volume is not just for the sake of it.  He uses the volume of an electric guitar, the overtones and conflicting frequencies, to create texture and sonic colors.  He plays guitar almost like a painter creating texture on a canvass.

Although there has always been an air of melancholy, sometimes more explicit than others, floating through the Dinosaur songbook, the above video shows that they also have a sense of humor.  The song Over It, from their second reunion album Farm, shows them older and shittier, still riding skateboards and bikes like they did in their youth.  Life may go on, but Dinosaur Jr. are still the same.  Hopefully this is a slight reprieve from your dreary Monday morning work routine.

Public Image Limited’s Fantastic New Song

This is simply a fantastic piece of music.  It is called Big Blue Sky and it is off of the new Public Image Ltd. record, What the World Needs Now…

It’s a piece of art that feels alive.  It is full of mystery.  It is both modern and primordial.  It is complex tonally and emotionally, as it shifts from a sort of haunted dub verse to a majestic chorus in a liquid like manner, where one melts into the other.  Often in life we will go from one emotion to another, as sadness turns to transcendence or vice versa.  John Lydon’s performance here is shamanistic.  The band carries him and is carried in return.  There is a lot of room here, to reflect and interpret, to enter the realm of dreams and reflect upon this strange thing called life.