Main

May 20, 2009

My low content mode.

Let me show you it.

"Appalachian Grove" by Laurie Spiegel, apparently based on the same piece by Aaron Copland. Can't say as I'm familiar with the original, but I've been in love with this version since I first heard it on the OHM: MASTERS OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC compliation. That comp itself has held a special place in my heart since I got it in the last couple weeks before I left my animation job at Netter Digital back in the late spring of 2000. I used to go in early, when there were only a couple other guys there, and play this at pretty high volume (because I'm a geek, and unlike other geeks at the time, didn't want to blast THE MATRIX soundtrack to get my groove on.)

It still takes me back to quiet mornings, surrounded by desks cluttered with other people's toys and christmas lights and the feeling that this was all going to change in shorter order than perhaps anyone wanted. Indeed, Netter Digital didn't last out the summer, and went through a major layoff some six weeks after I left, shutting its doors not long after.

Granted, I'm probably the only guy who hears it anything like that.

April 01, 2009

Two Suns

Tip of the hat to Sean, for pointing this out.

The new Bat for Lashes album, TWO SUNS, is streaming in its entirety on ye olde internete. I remember the arresting video for "What's a Girl to Do" a couple years back, though I never picked up the album. I will, however, be getting this one.

Oh, here's that video again.


January 21, 2009

Today's diversion

"A Pistol for Paddy Garcia" by the Pogues set to a montage of Clint Eastwood images, leaning heavily on the Man with No Name.

Do enjoy.

I loves me some Pogues.

January 20, 2009

Eno makes everything better

At least for a moment, anyways:

That's another album I wouldn't mind seeing ROCK BAND-ized, if only to see the perplexed look on my wife's face as she sings out the lyrics.

January 19, 2009

What Goes On

The live version from the WHAT GOES ON box set just happens to be on. I remember once hanging out with Pete Kember, Anthony Ausgang and my good friend Chris, listening to this set on tape and driving around LA looking at music stores and galleries around the city. That was only a lifetime ago, I bet. The whole time thing gets weird when you get older. I know I did all this, but that person that did those things was utterly different, dig?

Interesting times of late. Finally getting THE THIRSTY restarted over at its new home, after an unwelcome interruption. Frankly I'm glad it's all over, though it would've been better had it not happened in the first place. But that's how things go, particularly with this project it seems. One delay after another, some more expensive than others. Let's all think some good thoughts and hope that this delay is about the last of them.

Let's all think that, at least. We know better. Remember, nobody cares how you act when things go right. But when things get hairy, that's when it's crucial to hang loose and keep your toes on the nose, little gremmie. Still planning on a summer release for THE THIRSTY, but it's looking like a late summer release now. Let's see if I have an interested distributor when the time rolls around, though.

Hmm. What else? Oh, Rock Band, even though I have the inferior platform for it (the Wii) is still a great deal of fun. And rarity of rarities, it's a game that everyone in my family can play at the same time and still be challenged yet not frustrated. Giving individual players the ability to set their own skill level, regardless of everyone else is nothing less than genius. My 5-year-old daughter can pound on the drum kit (with no-fail mode engaged) to her heart's content and I can sweat by putting the difficulty on guitar/base at an appropriate level (namely medium--I need more practice.)

The song library is even pretty engaging, featuring pure spun gold like "De-Luxe" by Lush and "Teen Age Riot" by Sonic Youth alongside intolerable dreck ("Eye of the Tiger" and "My Own Worst Enemy"), and technically proficient yet unengaging material ("Chop Suey" and "Vision") alongside sentimental favorites "Aqualung" by Jethro Tull and "Rock'n Me" by Steve Miller from my youth. Something for everyone to love, and to revile. But that's okay. Practice is practice.

Having really played guitar in my time, Rock Band isn't really like guitar (though bass is closer, minus the extra strings). I've no illusions that it's making me anything like a better musician (though it is *forcing* me to use my pinkie finger more than I ever did. It may, however, make me a slightly more competent drummer. More importantly, it's fun. For now anyways. That's all I ever ask of my games.

Now if only they'd make a Roxy Music or Stooges song pack. Maybe a special This Mortal Coil collection, or perhaps just KID A, or even LA punk from 1976-1985. That'd be swell.

September 16, 2008

Richard Wright, RIP

Got the news yesterday, but haven't had much chance to comment on it yet. Richard Wright, keyboardist and arranger for (The) Pink Floyd passed away recently. Though it's uncool to admit (even reserved) affection for dinosaur rock bands, Pink Floyd have ever been one of my favorites, though I'll admit that the interestingness of their music matched an inverted track to their popularity (at least in the US when I was a kid).

But Wright's keyboard playing was a foundation of the band, through its entire existence, from the mid 60s of Swinging London through psychedelia ascendant, stoner rock, the odd doldrums of the late seventies (for which ANIMALS is a great antidote) and up until just recently where a reunited Floyd performed as part of, geez, I want to say Live Aid 8 or something. Only Nick Mason and Richard Wright survived as original members (there was a guitarist before David Gilmour, remember?) once Roger Waters broke with the band in the late eighties. Syd Barrett might be Pink, but Wright was pinker than most, should you catch my drift.

Running "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" currently. Odd that what was ostensibly a tribute song to Barrett should serve so well as an example of the foundational role that Wright played in the band.

August 21, 2008

Steven R. Smith

YouTube - seasons

So, I got some questions about Steven's work after the first STRANGEWAYS trailer went up last year. I actually found a video with his music in it up on YouTube. I should direct you to www.worstward.com, his personal site where you can order albums and the like. There weren't any samples up last time I checked, but if you're a last.fm subscriber, you can get some that was as well.

June 11, 2008

Songs for spring, 2008

As memed previously:

Seven songs for spring, 2008. I don't get out a lot, so don't expect to hear current music on this list.

It needs no explanation, no apology for being on this list.

Ah....Eno.

They won't let me embed. Bastards.

Too pure, too much, just right.

Warm spring to summer evening and the roll of the salt waves but the air above the sea is still.

City hot, asphalt going soft in the sun.

Can't embed this one either. Bugger.

Springtime isn't always fun.

And there's no videos from Ulaan Kohl (aka Steven R. Smith), but here's a bit of a track, but not the standout from the eponymous album. Pity, as that desert soundscape has ruled my world for the last month, and will likely mark the entire year. Not for everyone, though. You've been warned.

Bonus track -

Not the right version, but it'll have to do.

Just listen

Thanks to Chris, I bring you this:

Just watch it.

Then just go here and listen to the tracks from Diddley's BLACK GLADIATOR. Just...goddamn...

EDIT to add that I've been meme-tagged but don't have time at the moment to respond to it.

January 27, 2008

I appreciate the sentiment, but...

The RPM Challenge - Home

29 days to record a 35 minute album? Way back when the Roswell Incident was an ongoing concern, we recorded albums in a day, or something like eight hours of sessions. But then we were young and crazy back then and didn't heed things like song structure or commercial accessability.

All that said, the admonition to "not wait for inspiration" is a good one, as is the one to exhort artists to daily Work. That friction is where you're going to get to the interesting stuff.

Says the guy who hasn't written a word of script in far too long. Beginning to bug me, really.

October 17, 2007

Rock and Roll Circus

I'm not particularly a fan of the Rolling Stones, I have to say. I like a number of their songs, particularly from say pre-1974 or so. But I don't own any of their albums or can say that I've listened to many of them all the way through. But "Gimme Shelter"? Genius. Same with "Sympathy for the Devil" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want". "Start Me Up"? Lameness personified.

But ROCK AND ROLL CIRCUS just might convince me to become a fan. Originally envisioned as a television special in 1968, ROCK AND ROLL CIRCUS is an amazing slice of the English rock pie of the time. Jethro Tull, The Who, Marianne Faithful and John Lennon (with Eric Clapton and Mitch Mitchell backing him up) perform, along with the Stones and Taj Majal (a well-regarded but mostly overlooked American bluesman of the time). But see, they're not just performing, they're all at the Rock and Roll Circus which is this sort of ramshackle Eastern Continental feeling kind of affair with performers who are a little too old and clothing that's a little too gaudy. Those vignettes are few.

But what you get instead of an actual circus is some really great performances. You watch stuff like this and you really understand at a fundamental level what bult the audiences for these bands before they became big and bloated (or big and emaciated in the case of Mick Jagger) rock dinosaurs. Here's bands arguably at the peak of their powers performing for tiny, miniscule audiences that wouldn't fill up the stage of the coliseums that these bands would go on to fill. There's a lot of power at play, and while Mick's onstage antics might get laughed at by the jaded kids of today (once they've seen GG Allin, how you gonna keep 'em down on the farm?), but I guarantee in 1968, there'd have been nationwide cases of the vapors had this actually been televised.

The really miraculous thing about ROCK AND ROLL CIRCUS? It's something that can't be duplicated. Not just because Keith Moon and Brian Jones are dead, not just because the lightning has long escaped its various bottles, but because the lawyer and label-driven acts of today would never allow such a thing to happen. Not in a stripped-down and earnest manner as is the case here. Egos would never be put aside to combine into something a little more magical.

And really, the rendition of "Sympathy for the Devil" is worth the price of admission alone. Well that and Marianne Faithful's radiant and too-brief presence.

October 10, 2007

I may be old

But I'm still relatively with it. I think. Just downloaded Radiohead's IN RAINBOWS as of about ten minutes ago. A little stuttery, but mostly painless. Commendable affort on their part, given that the servers are probably being UTTERLY HAMMERED right around now, given the free publicity that the "pay as you exit" strategy has engendered.

For those of you not paying attention, Radiohead, a band of some celebrity (and yet still maintaining critical/aesthetic credibility), has offered their latest album, IN RAINBOWS as a digital download. They're not offering a physical artifact, but for a collector's edition (vinyl and all that in a deluxe package) for a stately sum in a couple months. If you want it now, you have to get it as a download. Which can be copied as many times as you want without any restrictions. This means that it'll be all over the internet by...three hours or more ago.

The catch is, you don't have to pay a nickel for it. You could download it for a penny or pay twenty bucks for it. Me? I paid 5 pounds, which is around as much as I'd pay for the CD once it hit first-week sales. Am I silly? Probably. But I liked their last three albums well enough that I can take a chance on it without feeling too bad about it. My guess is that a lot of folks will pay about ten bucks for it, maybe less. Thing is, this money goes to the band and not to the record company, because they're not under a contract right now. Is this sane? Sure it is. Bands like Radiohead make some money on the albums, but the record companies make more. Radiohead, et al, will make a lot more money touring and filling arenas for multi-night engagements (of course, they'll have to foot that bill themselves, or pay the part that the record company regularly would.)

How's this gonna work out? Heck if I know. But I figure at least that Radiohead will be able to pay off their studio time and production costs for IN RAINBOWS (and have a wad leftover if they were smart about how they used the studio time itself -- that stuff ain't cheap, believe me.) Of course, Radiohead was in a position to do this in the first place because of their own talent/skill, and the work of the marketers at the record label that got the word out and helped make Radiohead as big as they are.

Watershed moment? It'll probably be the one that makes the books, though Prince and a couple other artists have done this beforehand. But this one made a ton of headlines because, arguably, Radiohead were at the peak of their popularity with their last album. OK COMPUTER (released about eight years back, maybe more) had more MTV visibility, but the three follow-on albums haven't been compromising in terms of quality/"difficulty", and have all done very well. We'll see where this goes. Should be very interesting for everyone involved.

The next big story like this will be the band that breaks because of free digital downloads/distribution. Radiohead already made it. And if this sinks, they'll be fine. They're gambling an album's worth of material that will still drive fans into stadiums. But folks who have nothing, they're the real pioneers in this.

September 13, 2007

BARDO F'ING POND

Bardo Pond Photography

That's what I answer when someone asks me for recommendations for "heavy" music. Start with AMANITA. But be sure to check out the wacked out photography and effects pedal catalogues.

Cribbed from Quartz City.

May 16, 2007

Oh, man

YouTube - MC5 - Lookin At You (live) 1970

YouTube is gonna kill me. I may as well surrender what little free time I have to scouring up great videos like the above -- The MC5 performing a scorching version of "Looking At You" in 1970. This is the real deal, kids.

November 30, 2006

HAHAHAHAHA

eBay: VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO 1966 Acetate LP ANDY WARHOL (item 300054910309 end time Dec-08-06 20:27:23 PST)

As of the time of this writing, this acetate (an inferior version of a vinyl recording) is priced at 17.1K dollars. In my time, I've seen some crazy behavior motivated by collector fetishism, but this one not only takes the cake, but the oven and pantry from which the cake was made. You could argue the historical importance of said recording, stating that it was "As the creators intended" and that subsequent releases (AKA, the ones that fans and critics have already listened to ad nauseum) are inferior.

You could do that.

October 31, 2006

Ninety dollars


DSCF4678.JPG
Originally uploaded by maxwellm.
How much is your childhood/adolescence worth? In my case, the part of it that was spent loitering around Tower Records, trying to figure out how I could maximize the transformation of my meagre cash stores into musical escape, was worth about ninety bucks. At least according to the nice folks at Amoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard it was. I didn't argue with 'em. I'd had to haul that sixty pound crate from the ex-Cinerama dome on Sunset down to the Amoeba location, over a block and a half away. And I'm a skinny guy with skinny arms. I freakin' earned that ninety bucks.

How easily I let that stuff go, too. All the Elvis Costello LPS, the odd punk records, the RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD soundtrack, the smattering of Ray Charles and Beyond the Fringe records, the CW McCall record, my treasured STAR WARS soundtrack (and all the afternoons that I spent blasting that record on my parent's stereo stystem, reliving the movie behind my eyelids).

And yes, even my beloved Electric Light Orchestra discography. All of the mainstream releases from the seventies to 1986, even and including THE NIGHT THE LIGHT WENT OUT IN LONG BEACH, which featured them on the cusp of the their big success in America. How many days did I spend with those records on my (counterfeit) Walkman reading UNCANNY X-MEN? Instead of a teenage punk, I was a teenage geek, embracing electrified power pop (never knowing that in reality Jeff Lynne really only wanted to be the fifth or sixth Beatle) and the four color imperfect perfect people (ready to die for Jean Grey at a moment's notice.)

So yeah, I ransomed my adolescence, for what? Trade credit?

Damn right I did. Ninety bucks. And I still have eleven left.

All that vinyl? It's damn heavy. Some of it's musty and disintegrating. Like any mortal coil, time is busy having its way. Hell, if worms could eat that stuff, they would be. But you know what, the immortal soul, all those memories and wasted afternoons? They're still right where they should be.

Above photo of Los Angeles taken on Sunday's trip. Can't remember where it was. I'd gone down First street and taken a left somewhere, trying to get back to the 101. Anyways, the light was real nice.

July 24, 2006

Ridgway Strikes!


GreyOrchestra.jpg
Originally uploaded by maxwellm.
And, in another one from the vaults, here's an interview/feature I wrote up about one Stannard Q. Ridgway, better known to most folks as the lead singer/agent provocateur of Wall of Voodoo. Interestingly, he's touring again under that name, or so I understand.

This one is just about as long as your average major-label contract, so grab some coffee and get to reading. According to my copious notes, this dates back all the way to 1995, back when the web was just a timewaster for alpha geeks and most folks didn't even have email.

---

It's 1982. There's this kinda weird little song making the rounds (and being played right into the ground on MTV). Beat-box rhythm, off-kilter percussion, cascading guitar chords and oddball vocals describing a landscape that was familiar to just about anyone living in Southern California at the time. Let's all sing along now, we all know the words. "Wish I was in Tijuana/Eating barbecued iguana". That's how most people know and remember Stannard Q. Ridgway, as the frontman of the one of the quintessential "new wave" bands, Wall of Voodoo.

Continue reading "Ridgway Strikes!" »

Confess


lastdaysofmay.jpg
Originally uploaded by maxwellm.
Special thanks to Chris Barrus for unearthing the completed cover, which I only have in some old, arcane format.

I'm burnt. I've written enough script pages and one-page pitches this week to throw myself into an absolute tizzy. I hate writing pitches. Hate it. Hate it so much that I'm cleansing my palate by going through a bunch of old writing and seeing if there's anything worth keeping. And look what I found.

This is an interview that I did with musician Karl Precoda, guitarist and one of the chief sonic architects of The Dream Syndicate, whose DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES is one of the supreme albums to come out of the 1980s. Even if the rest of the album had been abject crap, "When You Smile" would have lifted the album to transcendent heights. Luckily, the rest of it is just as good.

A little context. At this point, Karl had been out of the public eye for more than a decade, having left the Dream Syndicate after their second album was finished. He'd finished his doctorate and was teaching Literature back east. And somehow, my good friend Chris Barrus had found out that he had a band and was recording new material, all improvised. Chris, by way of his label No-Fi Records, put the album out in 1996, under the eponymous title THE LAST DAYS OF MAY. I was honored to provide the cover art for it.

Anyways, I offered to interview Karl for THE PTOLEMAIC TERRASCOPE, a venerable UK-based magazine focused on psychedelic music (both contemporary and historic). He agreed, and I went ahead and interviewed him. It was long. Very long. Very very long. They ran only bits and pieces of the interview. Don't think it's run in full anywhere. Hell, I'm sure there's only a few people on earth right now who actually care, but I think that it's still an interesting examination of...various subjects. But then I *would* think that.

Set the wayback machine for 1997...



Confess. You thought that rock was dead. You actually believed that it had been killed off by all those kids with their samplers and their sequencers and their bedroom 4-track studios. The spark and verve and kick of rock was stolen away and you were left this product in its place, lifeless and flaccid. Don’t point any fingers. We all know who the culprits are; they don’t need to be named here. What you want is some reassurance, some proof, that bone-crunching, brain-wrecking, heart-pounding music is out there. Well, I’m here to tell you that it is. It never went away, really. Some of its practitioners did, though, hiding out in subterranean mazes beneath the major cities of the world. Some of them quit their bands and become university professors, occasionally ‘outed’ by their students. Before that, who knows? Though you can rest assured that none of them ever pumped gas in lieu of working sounds out of their guitars.

Continue reading "Confess" »

July 11, 2006

Lime and Limpid Green

The Associated Press

Roger 'Syd' Barrett passes away at age 60. "Who?" you ask. Syd Barrett, primary founder of The Pink Floyd Sound, later The Pink Floyd then dropping the article altogether. Granted, most fans of Pink Floyd aren't familiar with his work, since he burned out and dropped out of the band long before they broke in America (though they did play some Barrett-written songs like "Astronomy Domine" during their last couple of tours as a gracious nod to the man who started things off.) Barrett's lyrical work was marked by a love of whimsy, of singsong rhyme and a fractured, ferocious imagination. His guitar playing, essential to the band's early impact, while not the most proficient, was unique and stands up more than thirty years later. Barrett's early vision of the band persisted long after his immediate departure, and it could be argued that they never fully emerged from his shadow. Even when they became arena superstars, Barrett's breakdown and withdrawl laid the foundations for both DARK SIDE OF THE MOON and WISH YOU WERE HERE, though it could be argued that Pink Floyd had moved far beyond Barrett's primal psychedelic meltdown sound.

None of these made him an easy person to be around. High-strung to begin with, Barrett descended into drugs and paranoia, in some way becoming the sort of dark side of England's Summer of Love when such a thing was largely unthinkable. But before his spectacular burnout (chronicled on his fragmentary solo albums, as well as some mostly-lost Pink Floyd singles), his influence was inescapable. Members of The Beatles attended events that the Pink Floyd headlined, and they were central to the convergence of art and rock that was taking place in England (not unlike a similar one that was taking place here with the Velvet Underground).

And even during the time of his breakdown, Barrett seemed to have a glimmer of self-knowledge that came out in his lyrics, particularly "Jug Band Blues" from the album SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS.


It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here
And I'm most obliged to you for making it clear
That I'm not here.
And I never knew the moon could be so big
And I never knew the moon could be so blue
And I'm grateful that you threw away my old shoes
And brought me here instead dressed in red
And I'm wondering who could be writing this song.

I don't care if the sun don't shine
And I don't care if nothing is mine
And I don't care if I'm nervous with you
I'll do my loving in the winter.

And the sea isn't green
And I love the queen
And what exactly is a dream?
And what exactly is a joke?

Barrett spent his the last thirty plus years in seclusion painting watercolors and tending his garden, by all reports. There were always rumors of home tapes being recorded, but there's nothing to indicate that those were anything more than rumors. There is, however, a small but substantial body of Barrett's work to be enjoyed.

With Pink Floyd
PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN
SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS
"Arnold Layne"
"Candy and a Currant Bun"
"See Emily Play"
"Apples and Oranges"
"Vegetable Man"

Solo
THE MADCAP LAUGHS
BARRETT
OPEL

The artist is dead, in this case, long dead, but the art lives on. Celebrate that.

January 04, 2006

An Imperfect Prescription

Subtitled: A Message from 1994, the power of the SA90

See, I never called them "mixtapes." We started out calling them "random tapes", my friends and I, all based on the tape that started it all on a roadtrip to Rice, California in 1986. That tape was called (uninterestingly) "Random I & II," and featured all manner of gems served up without embellishment to be blasted full power from the dashboard of a friend's '73 Pontiac Grand Prix as we ripped up the asphalt on Highway 62 with great abandon, burning in the daylight sun, killing time so we could see Halley's comet spraying against the desert night.

Then it got to be something of a habit, making tapes, filling 90 minutes with at first music, and then music and bits of sound, radio static, children's records, television (tricky in the days before RCA plugs were grafted onto every audiovisual appliance) and whatever the hell else we could find. Mind you, this was also in the days before digital recording (an innovation that only came in about five years after we started doing this), before dual turntables became more common than dirt, back when all you had to do transitions were volume sliders, possibly the bank switcher on your tuner (if you had one) and the pause button. It was a live art, recorded, at its best. Oftentimes the mistakes were more interesting than the intent (but not always; a bad transition or a cut a second too soon or too late would haunt you forever).

Of course, nobody listens to cassettes much anymore, right? Sure, there were the countless hours screaming over sunbleached asphalt and vistas wide and alien and sparkling as anything you'd seen. Sure, there were hours of subdued cruising when all you could see were the stars and the glow of the dash lights on the Coke cans and half-emptied bags of Fritos; when the world outside was shrunk down to what the headlights washed over. And those hours were lasting forever, the freedom of motion was eternal and liberation.

And then they weren't anymore. Real life intrudes, priorities change, children are born, drift sets in.

But you still have those moments, don't you? They're still there, locked away on those millions of metal particles spooled on mylar thread like the Norns once wove, that chunk of life is still in there. This one in particular is from January, 1994, entitled An Imperfect Prescription, and my undying admiration to the first commenter who gets the reference. Given the bands that show up in the list below, it should be pretty easy.

Side 1 - Pale Sun (remember, only 45 minutes to a side. No cheating!)

Tell Me When It's Over / The Dream Syndicate
Angels in the Trees / Murray Attaway
Noel, Jonah and Me / The Spinanes
Weed King / Guided by Voices
Cirrus Minor / The Pink Floyd
Year of the Tiger / Look Blue, Go Purple
Waving / The Bevis Frond
Long Way Down / Michael Penn
Crescent Sun / The Cowboy Junkies
Call the Doctor / Spacemen 3
When Tomorrow Hits / Mudhoney

Side 2 - Blow, Wind Blow

Blow, Wind Blow / Tom Waits
Cross Road Blues / Robert Johnson
Top of the Hill / Gutterball
Catapult / REM
Another Day / Galaxie 500
Certain Gift / The Walkabouts
Can't Find My Way Home / Swans
Troubled Times / Screaming Trees
Dark Field / Nick Saloman
Six to Go / The Pogues
May the Circle Be Unbroken / Spacemen 3

Now fire up those peer to peer clients and get 'a burnin!

I tell ya, you kids and your technology. You have no idea how easy you've got it.

November 28, 2005

Now I'm not Saying it's 100%

But it's not a total waste of time in terms of finding new music, either. Discover Music - Pandora.

Basically, you punch in the name of a beloved band, and Pandora uses black magic and voodoo to come up with other bands that you may or may not like. And if you don't like a recommendation, just skip on to the next one or simply let songs stream. I'm betting this turns into a pay service shortly, so you might want to check it out while it's still free.

EDIT to post that indeed it's a pay service. Not sure how much, but what's intriguing for free may not be worth a nickel. Not if you're a cheapskate like me...

October 11, 2005

End of an Era

Rykodisc Catalog - The Index Masters - Wall of Voodoo

Or perhaps the beginning of a new one, as Rykodisc sees fit to reprint one of my favorite records ever. Yeah, "Mexican Radio" got overexposed on the radio circa 1983, and the video (though interesting and engaging) was inescapable on the nascent MTV. But this stuff, this stuff is pretty much timeless so far as I'm concerned. This is Wall of Voodoo at their most raw and unrefined, and yet still able to hook you with the pure infectiousness of "Call Box" and the anxiousness of "Red Light" and "The Passenger" (still, dare I say it, relevant after the intervening 20+ years after its recording.)

And their cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" (with a little "Our Man Flint" action towards the end there) is absolutely sublime, with a synth sound that's yet to be equalled, even to this day.

And if you're curious to what Wall of Voodoo's former ringleader, Stan Ridgway, is up to, then just click on this here link and your thirst for knowledge will be quenched.

June 21, 2005

The Last Ray

There are albums that come and go, to be listened to in youth and to be discarded as casually as one disposes of summer days, because there's going to be another one just as beautiful tomorrow, right? These are often the ones that grab you immediately and hit your core with a power usually reserved for sudden crushes or a blow to the head. Oftentimes the fling is powerful and lovely, but inevitably it draws to a close when you can't find the spark anymore.

There are albums that you listen to and perhaps find yourself immediately alienated. Repeated listening, however, breaks down your armor of preconceptions and expectations and opens you to a new experience or if you're lucky, a new kind of experience. You break your own resistance and find yourself changed for it. Sometimes this takes years. And in time, you come back to it and you find nuance and layers that you'd missed before.

Then there are the albums that perhaps you had some affinity for, but you've managed to inextricably link them with events, either good or bad, painful or elevating. In some ways, the music becomes the event in your mind. These are powerful agents of recall, and you know this. Perhaps you're a little (or more than a little) afraid of the depth of emotion that these pieces of music can stir in you.

Finally, there are albums that are all three. These are the pieces of music that literally become the soundtrack of your life. And why shouldn't they? Ever since the Walkman, we've all had the ability to choose our own soundtracks, to reject the onslaught of lousy music that we can be subjected to on a daily basis. Things like the iPod make this so much easier as to be mind-boggling for someone who started with a tape player the size of a brick and only got a few good plays before the batteries began to drain and playback started to pitch down sickeningly.

But to find an album that is all of these at once. That's a wondrous thing. Something to be cherished and celebrated. Even if it's not a piece of music that you play more than once a year. And really, that makes it all the better. You're flipping through your CDs or your playlists and it just jumps out at you. Perhaps fleeting memories race through your mind at that moment, intangible, a school of glimmering that stays just out of your fingertips, but never leaves your vision.

For me, there's only a handful of these. They're as necessary to me as food or drink or the woman I love.

This is one of them. Apologies for the small image.

It's an album called It'll End in Tears, by an amorphous collective called This Mortal Coil, which was made up of artists who recorded on the 4AD label in the mid 80s and into the early 90s. There were three albums, but really, only the first one matters. I first heard it in 1985, the summer immediately following my high school graduation. (Yes, I'm old. Older than Warren Ellis, even, by about six months.) It was played to me by my my near-lifelong friend Brian Faulkner, to whom I owe most of my exposure to interesting music. He'd played the Cocteau Twins for me a couple months before, and that was an ear-opener, but this, this was utterly captivating. It was at turns unearthly, harrowing, devastating, rocking (if only for a moment, thanks to the band that used to be Modern English). I'd never heard its like before that. Maybe little bits and pieces here and there, but nothing that came together in such a devastating fashion.

I immediately put it to tape. The other side, as I recall was Kate Bush's Hounds of Love, which was another sonic odyssey, but didn't have the staying power over the years that It'll End in Tears did. And yes, I was sensitive. But I was never a Smiths fan, or a Cure fan, at least not until I left college. Weird, huh? Still not a Smith's fan really, but for Marr's guitar.

That tape got played often, each of the songs imprinting themselves on my psyche with each application. There were times of groundlessness and hollowness that those songs filled. Yearning vocals and stark atmospheres that countered sunny SoCal summer in a sobering way. The music opened up new worlds, awesome and sparse vistas in the space behind my eyes as the salt breeze rolled into the parking lot by the beach. The sounds were both alien and comforting, and looking at it on the surface, an object as dark and glittering as this even existing was a beautiful monument to aesthetic possibility.

Around the time I was finishing college, some five years after that, I was wandering the aisles at Tower Records in El Toro (ah, El Toro, jewel in the crown of Orange County) and found a copy of It'll End in Tears on compact disc. Import compact disc. Now, this was back in the days when Tower still had an import section, but only barely. It was, as I recall, 24.99, which was a near-fortune in my part-time-working days. Hell, I was upset because an average CD cost something like fifteen bucks. But this, this one I didn't hesitate to burn some more credit on.

See, that tape was only going to last so long. It had gotten me through some rough times, and had further ehanced some moments that I'm going to take with me to the grave. And still, I hadn't gotten all of my joy out of the album just yet. Twenty years on and I'm still getting a solid hit every time I listen to it.

Don't worry, I'll probably talk about comics again sometime.