December Music Reviews
The American Song-Poem Anthology
Do You Know the Difference Between Big Wood and Brush
(Bar None Records)
collector of musical oddments Phil Milstein produced this
compilation of "song-poems" from the 60's and
70's, and it's a hilarious and fascinating example of American
folk art. If you're old enough, you may remember seeing
ads in magazines or newspapers saying "submit your
poems, we'll set them to music and make you money."
Gullible songwriting hopefuls sent in their best efforts
and paid up to $400 for the privilege. Once the record was
made and the sucker's check cashed, a copy was sent to the
author and the record company promptly dropped the ball.
Yet these songs were given the full studio treatment, with
strings, piano, backing vocals and styles ranging from folk
rock, country, blues, and cocktail lounge.
"Rat A Tat Tat America" begins as a perky, kneeslapping
ode to America, bluebirds and the Stars and Stripes, with
treacly synth accompaniment, until the title lyrics and
machine guns come in: "rat a tat tat, America/we are
the birds of progress.." "Richard Nixon"
has some seriously debatable lyrics: "God in his infinite
wisdom/put Richard Nixon on this earth.." "I Like
Yellow Things" is self-explanatory, while "Little
Rug Bug" appears to be about a man with a crush on
an insect. Legendary song-poem vocalist Rodd Keith sings
"How Can A Man Overcome His Heartbroken Pain"
and it's actually a nice little folk rock tune reminiscent
of the Byrds with extra dumb lyrics (Yo La Tengo even covered
it). On the other hand, "Burmese land is like monkey
land/a bothersome, troublesome place," interpreted
by a Doris Day sound-a-like, no doubt highlights the primitive
state of psychotropic medication at that time. "Ecstasy
to Frenzy" describes an acid trip while "All You
Need Is a Fertile Mind" condemns pornography while
encouraging masturbation. As Milstein says, "Song-poem
music is the only scam that produces a unique work of art
with every transaction." This CD is a must-own!
-- Laura Markley
Room on Fire
like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, another much-hyped band,
The Strokes have produced a record that is very much like
their debut. But unlike BRMC, none of the songs are very
memorable. The glum sounding "What Ever Happened?"
and "Reptilia" sound like outtakes from Is
This It?. "12:51" left me wondering if the
band has been listening to too much Ric Ocasek. Even during
the best moments of this record, (like on "Meet Me
In The Bathroom") I felt ripped off. It's sad that
the whole New York scene seems now to have hit a wall. Hopefully
some new, undiscovered band can hurry and breathe some life
in-store at Union Square's Virgin Megastore is fast becoming
a rite of passage for Definitive Jux artists with a new
album... which is a bit of an interesting proposition for
folks used to special-ordering their CDs and Vinyl from
Sandbox, HHI, Fat Beats and so forth. Before you could only
randomly find a mention of them in some corner of the indie
hip-hop web, now you get to see them perform at any number
of easy-to-find venues.
This turn at the mic would belong to Aesop Rock, flagship
emcee of the Definitive Jux empire and "bracket basher"
with rhymes as complex as they are unforgettable. The day
of the in-store appearance, he stood outside waiting to
get the call to start... he's lanky, overtall, unassuming,
and friendly-looking all at the same time; chatting up his
rhymer pals outside. His demeanor was the exact opposite
of many a grand-standing emcee with their need to brood
menacingly or act up with the groupies in a sickening fashion
pre-show. In other words, if you didn't know him, you'd
guess he was any other man but the man about to perform.
It's a feeling that lends itself to his newest work, Bazooka
Tooth: this album comes from this guy? In a music industry,
especially hip-hop, that can't live without its definitions,
Aesop lives without definitions; sometimes straight hip-hop
swagger, often something more... ethereal? Lord knows the
swirling, dense rhyme style could only be his own, though
many a stressed out critic has tried (in vain) to liken
him to others.
Bazooka Tooth remains all Ian Bavitz (Aesop's legal name),
but seems to be a bit more of an attempt to ground things;
a slight nod of accessibility. Unlike his Labor Days album,
which dealt with working life, Bazooka Tooth is back in
Float territory... everything on his mind. It's damn fine
work overall, but not his best... which is alright, since
you could probably make one of the best albums ever by picking
the highlights from each of his six* (counting Daylight)
releases. He never makes anything close to filler, just
songs that don't reach the technical heights of his true
Tracks like "Super Fluke" and "Mars Attacks"
feel a bit underdone. You may have a hard time coming away
with any definite feelings from these. "The Greatest
Pac Man Victory Of All Time" doesn't come off nearly
as joyous as it should with it's story about a great, great
summer gone by. Lyrically correct, but overall the pieces
don't come together.
A lot of winners on Bazooka Tooth, though. "Freeze"
is yet another song that could only come from Aesop, with
a rhyme and rhythm scheme uniquely his own. "We're
Famous" must go down in history for being the first
dis track aimed at both an entire industry and one emcee...
the concept of a million and one as El-P rips into all.
Both in concept and delivery it did feel like more of an
El-P joint than an Aesop Rock one, it has to be said. "Cook
It Up" is easily the funniest, most Elvis Costello
inspired hip-hop track of all time, even if that wasn't
the intention. Only in Aesop country could a love proposition
begin and end that way. Brilliant.
Oh, and "11:35" is one of the best hip-hop tracks
of all time. It can go on that best album of all time with
earlier efforts like "Odessa","Big Bang",
Aesop Rock eventually took the stage that day (on time,
which is damn weird for hip-hop) to the massive applause
and cheers of all assembled. He did tracks from the new
album, did a searing live "No Regrets", and made
himself known among the Definitive Jux rhymers when freestyle
time came. People passing on the street looked in to wonder
if that was the same easygoing kid hanging around outside
five minutes ago.
-- Maurice Downes
Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid
all about love, isn't it? More so for Diego Garcia, recently
voted sexiest lead singer in New York by New York magazine.
His songs are all about women: picking them up at train
stations, watching them dance naked, making love to them,
missing them. I'd like to see the songs they'd write about
On stage he is mesmerizing - a tall, graceful figure, a
little scruffy, longish, razor cut hair and serious cheekbones.
He likes to camp it up, swinging the microphone around like
Tom Jones (in Boston it hit the low ceiling and he stomped
off stage momentarily in a fit of pique) but you can't laugh
at him - he's too beautiful and his music sounds too good.
When he sings, without a pause "the night is perfect
takes off your dress" we are startled by the unexpected
command to disrobe, and this underlines the suddenness of
desire. Another lyrical coup: ending a song with the lines,
"I know she is calling/I hear her singing/This is her
answer" and then the song ENDS, leaving the outcome
to your imagination.
Diego's romanticism and cool delivery are given muscle by
the skillful arrangements and playing of this band: "Mod"
(guitar and keys), James Jeffrey Berrall (bass, backing
vocals) and Kevin McAdams (drums). Many songs begin with
a spare drum part and a busy bass, escalating slowly to
something more dramatic. You can hear the Cure and other
arty 80's bands here and in Diego we see the heir of Bryan
Ferry and Morrissey (check out his hiccuped words now and
then). "Misfit" is a standout track with its insanely
catchy guitar riff and upbeat melody counterpointing Diego's
wistful lyrics. "Bokkie" was Diego's nickname
for a South African model he dated and interestingly, it
is also the term for the poor street kids hired by gangs
to commit assassinations. With its pulsing bass, spare,
Fripp-like guitar lines and lyrics for the fey and vain:
"being young and beautiful/in love with no one/but
yourself" it is the perfect paean to an aloof supermodel.
"Love, love... it's a beautiful place/It's a beautiful
taste" - I'll take Diego's word for it.
-- Laura Markley
electronic music artist Monolake a.k.a. Robert Henke has
emerged from the confines of his Ableton office space, after
finalizing the latest edition of his live-performance computer
software (Ableton Live 2), to once again spread the Monolake
gospel of dark, expansive techno music.
His newest full-length, while still steeped in echo and
cloaked in a shroud of darkness, largely abandons the minimal
grooves and fluid, beatless blankets of sound that had come
to define the Monolake mission.
Instead, "Momentum" embraces a chunky, almost
industrial techno sound. While his last full-length release
"Cinemascope" found Henke exploring new rhythmic
tendencies in ways that were both atmospheric and recognizably
emotive and musical, "Momentum" is a mostly propulsive
and percussive affair.
"Cern" kicks things off with a heavy dose of
mid-tempo drum machine, the hissing of steam escaping from
Henke's midi-port, and scary, low-end synth sweeps. As is
always the case with Monolake recordings, the high quality
of the sounds used are readily apparent, but on this new
release Henke seems more interested in sounds that suggest
dancefloor interaction as opposed to immersive isolation.
Tracks like "Linear" and "Excentric"
continue along in the same vein of rhythmic exorcism without
much release and without offering much of an aesthetic change
from track to track. Previous Monolake releases contained
hints of organic expression and occasionally shed some light
here and there, but the sun no longer shines in Monolake
The fluttering sounds on the track "Tetris" sound
like bats to me, spreading their wings and diving headlong
into the night. The new Monolake is bat music for bat people,
or industrial glitch for club zombies.
"You Do The Math"
hip hop has really been bubbling to the surface lately,
with independent labels like Anticon, Lex, Definitive Jux,
and Quannum all enjoying quite a bit of success as their
artists become more and more well known. Steering hip hop
in directions that are both intelligent and new and exciting
without sounding overly retro isn't easy, but Tara Delong
may have found a way around that -- simply by being her
"You Do The Math," her debut solo release, follows
on the heels of her three singles as Bedroom Productions
with DJ Snax on the El Turco Loco and Hotel Lotte labels.
While Tara's production quality has improved and her style
expanded to include the Latin flavor of her new Mexico City
surroundings, her vocal delivery and social consciousness
remains just as solid as it was when she ran with Khan and
crew in New York City.
Putting the current crop of rap artists to shame on the
title track, Tara decries their despicable shallow outlook:
"Nobody in the rap game saying these signs of lyrical
girth, only what you're worth, like throwin' the Nerf, oh
well." Her word play, which also touches on such serious
issues as plastic surgery, divorce, and drug abuse, is well
balanced with equal doses of humor.
This is especially true on the thumping, Miami-bass inspired
"Big Butt Daniela," which is dedicated to "all
the backers or those with a big future behind them."
There's no one musical style to be found on "You Do
The Math." While, her sound is mostly grounded in hip
hop, Tara isn't afraid to rock and roll or wax melancholic.
Her style is truly unique and is bolstered by her infectious
lyrical flow and feisty attitude that is at once playful
and confrontational. Tara Delong's got just as much game,
if not as much hype, as any of the artists in the new school
Viki / Hair Police
third installment of Load Records' split release series
sees the pairing of Michigan-based electro-noise artist
Viki and Lexington, Kentucky's squall ensemble Hair Police.
Simply put, both acts create a raucous electronic ruckus.
Load Records is notable for releasing "difficult,"
non-commercial music, but this release takes the cake in
terms of its lack of potential to appeal to even the most
ardent follower of underground music.
The best kind of lo-fi electronica is that which proves
that an unlimited number of possibilities and new musical
directions can be obtained through the use of limited resources
and inferior technology. Unfortunately, neither Viki nor
Hair Police map any kind of new direction with their buzzing
gizmos on their shared release.
Viki is the more-inspired artist of the two, with her squealed
slogans and seemingly uncontrolled electronic sound scrapings.
Her impassioned vocal distortions have the ability to penetrate
deep into your spine, but they ultimately fail to make an
impact as they're buried under what sounds like an exploding
electrical power grid.
Viki is definitely the female yin to her fellow Michigan
cohorts Wolf Eyes' yang, as her style is very throbbing
and feedback-laden -- such stylistic inspiration seems evident.
However, if Viki's music is simply an attempt to tarnish
the glossy sheen and trendy aesthetics of the electroclash
movement, she has succeeded hands down, and good for her.
Hair Police seem intent on unnerving the listener with
their violent electronic sound. The five outbursts offered
up on their side of the split are both unsettling and unfocused.
Much of it sounds like it was recorded in a washing machine.
Endearingly untamed, Hair Police bring the noise, and boy
does it annoy.
Don't Make Things
(Big Wheel Recreation)
San Francisco band has been causing a stir in the Cali underground
for years. They released a few EPs and have appeared on
a few compilations. They have played countless shows in
the past two years. There has been some early success in
England. We have been waiting all along for a real full-length
album, and now we have it. It's starts out with some of
the best songs of the past like "We Are The Doctor"
and "No Style." They display their love of British
music from fifteen years ago. The Pleased are a Californian
band, so there is more space and psychedelic longings. On
some of the new songs like "One Horse" and "Another
Disaster" they expand their sound and surprise and
thrill the listener. There is a tragic romantic theme throughout
most of the record. Melancholy is a positive feeling. The
Pleased are an important new band to check out.
Trachtenburg Family Sideshow Players
Vintage Slide Collection From Seattle, Vol. I
Williamsburg was one of the first places that embraced the
Trachtenburg Family in New York City. That was before most
of the deadbeat magazines in the city caught up. Their original
family act had its beginnings in Seattle. The conceit is
that they write songs about old discarded slide collections.
Jason Trachtenburg writes most of the songs and does most
of the playing. On their live shows Tina controls the slide
projector. Their 9-year old daughter plays drums and sings.
On the album they have some friends play with them to give
their songs a fuller sound. Most of their songs are satire
based on family trips. Some of their other songs have to
do with corporations and marketing. Most of their lyrics
come directly from these slides used in meetings. The best
song as a song is "Eggs." They include a slideshow
on the CD of "Mountain Trip To Japan, 1959." There
are also some slides included in the booklet to give you
a taste of what they do. But it all leads to the live performance.
This is funny stuff.
first three Creature records were often a few good songs
padded out with some self-indulgent misfires that didn't
add anything to the whole. I was expecting more of the same
with this new Japanese inspired Hai! But a few tracks in,
you can tell this is something else. It's obvious that Siouxsie
and Budgie were inspired by the Siouxsie & The Banshees
reformation, Siouxsie's recent collaborations with people
like Basement Jaxx, or by Taiko drummer Leonard Eto. Most
of the playing on this record consists of the drumming of
Eto and Budgie. They later added the vocals and built songs
around their drumming sessions. Songs like "Godzilla!"
and "Tantara!" are inspired by their recent trip
to Japan. It's refreshing to see all that goth and glam
nonsense thrown out the window. Whereas in the past, they
tried to also make some hit singles as the Creatures, now
it seems like they are focused on making good music. This
record is their best one in many years. This is a surprising
Gorky's Zygotic Mynci
Gorky's music is often genre defying and brings many musical
traditions with it. They are often portrayed as this weird
medieval folk band, but they have much more in common with
bands like Mojave 3 or Alfie. They have done eight or nine
album in ten years and have just released a greatest hits
record. The first songs "Waiting For Winter" and
"Happiness" are an improvement over their last
record and show their growing obsessions with the weather
and love songs. "Mow The Lawn" sounds like Canned
Heat on crystal meth. Euros Childs is one of today's great-unknown
songwriters. Richard James has had a larger role on the
past few albums. Maybe this album has more influences of
American country and roots rock and less prog rock instrumentals.
You have to admire them for doing their own thing and not
giving a fuck. The Gorky's are distinct for that reason