Monday, October 30, 2006

It's Datapanik Time Again

This week, I am all about the new Pere Ubu album. It's called Why I Hate Women, and it snuck out in September on the Smog Veil label (and on Glitterhouse in Europe). You can get it on eMusic and iTunes if you prefer not to buy it by mAil or in a rEcord sTore. If you order from the label, you can also get an album of remixes, entitled Why I Remix Women.

David Thomas' titles are deliberately misleading: many of the songs share names with better- known pop tunes, but none of them are covers. Pere Thomas says he named the album for the Jim Thompson novel that Jim Thompson never wrote. Thomas is the only original Ubu member remaining. He's in great voice, and the current band is excellent, especially Michele Temple on bass and Robert Wheeler, the true heir to Allen Ravenstine, who uses analog synth and theremin to create prickly swarms of noise. The songs range from furiously rocking ("Caroleen") to bluesy improvs ("Blue Velvet") with nods to psychedelia ("Love Song") and Ubu's polyrhythmic output of the Mayo Thompson era ("Two Girls (One Bar)").

If you want to sample mp3's before buying the record, go to Indie Judas. I'm not giving any away here, just strongly recommending that you buy it. It's one of the best things Ubu has ever done, and I say that as a huge fan of the first two albums and the Datapanik EP. It's thrilling to hear them reach another creative peak. Pere Ubu play SF tonight, and will be in NYC and Chicago in November. Visit Ubuprojex for more info. Today I'm sharing a couple of holiday treats.

The Method Actors: Halloween

Die Kreuzen: Theme from the John Carpenter film Halloween

Friday, October 27, 2006

While I Was Out

During the time my PC was quarantined (due to a virus), I was listening to the new Sparklehorse album. My five year old son really likes the first track, "Don't Take My Sunshine Away", which is an homage to "Dear Prudence", and which makes it clear that Mark Linkous was interested in working with Dangermouse as a fan of the White Album rather than the Black Album. The songs are given a crisp and spacious production, but there's nothing on the album that differs substantially from earlier Sparklehorse records. In fact, at least two of the songs are old: "Morning Hollow" was a hidden track on It's a Wonderful Life, and "Shade and Honey" was used on the soundtrack to the movie Laurel Canyon. Reading through the credits and noting the repeat appearances of Tom Waits and the Portishead crew, I began to wonder if some of the songs date back to the sessions for the last Sparklehorse album.

Speaking of movies, American Hardcore just opened in Atlanta (at the Midtown Art Cinema). I read the book recently and was struck by the hypocrisy of some of the scene leaders (esp. Ian MacKaye, Harley Flanagan, Jack Grisham, and Al Barile). They complain about the attacks they endured for looking different, and lament the destruction of the hardcore scene at the hands of violent frat boy types, but they themselves spoiled the earlier club scene by beating up on older punks.

I strongly recommend seeing Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas, which is playing in theaters in 3-D. The movie wasn't originally made in 3-D, so the moments that make use of the technology are happy accidents. But it looks (and sounds) great on the big screen, and I noticed little details that I never saw before, no matter how many times I've watched Nightmare at home with my kids.

I got to see Etta James in concert last week. She too looked and sounded great. She's lost a lot of weight (following gastric bypass surgery), and she's in better voice than she was when I saw her several years ago at Atlanta Symphony Hall. It's a real pleasure to see one of the greatest living singers, someone whose voice is unmistakably unique, and who can interpret others' songs and infuse them with her own personality. I was fortunate to see the great jazz singers Shirley Horn and Mel Torme in concert before their deaths, and I go see k.d. lang anytime she comes to Atlanta. Aaron Neville is another of the truly great singers I've had the pleasure to see and hear in concert.

There are few rock singers who I would place in that category, and they are certainly rare in the independent music scene, but I think Rachel Nagy of the Detroit Cobras is one of those few. The power of her voice, its rough-edged but sultry tone, and the humor and spirit she brings to her vocal performances make her an extraordinary singer. She doesn't sing to show off her vocal range; she sings with soul. I saw the Detroit Cobras the last time they were in Atlanta (at the EARL), and Rachel's voice was drowned out by the band. Hopefully whoever's at the mixing board when the Cobras visit Smith's Olde Bar next month will have a more sympathetic ear. One thing I discovered when I first saw them live is that, while Rachel is the face and voice of the Detroit Cobras, Maribel Restrepo is the heart of the band, and her rhythm guitar playing drives their songs. A strong rhythm guitarist is another rare but essential commodity.

Another good reason to check out the Detroit Cobras in Atlanta (on Saturday, November 4) or in a city near you, is that one of the opening acts is the King Khan and BBQ Show. (MP3's are available at their website.) Here's a description of the duo from "Allen Ginseng":
Two guys. One smashing a snare, bass drum and tambourine with his bare feet, molesting his guitar and singing like a possessed angel. The other spinning and howling like a freak and belting it out on his guitar like a savage. What does it all sound like? It sounds like five men. People name typical suspects when trying to describe them: The Velvet Underground, 13th Floor Elevators, Black Flag, The Falcons, Sam Cooke, The Sonics.... It's all true, and more. The show? A mess. Love songs, punkers, improvised riot-starters, dance-floor shakers, sing-along stompers, wild rockers, you name it. They always drench the crowd in raw energy, and they're always the last ones dancing.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

one too ex yoo ack ack ack ack

The venerable punk blog Strange Reaction did a great post featuring cover versions of Wire's classic of minimalist fury, "12XU". I thought I would copy a great idea by featuring versions of the Urinals' Ack Ack Ack Ack, which strikes me as an American analogue to "12XU". (And if you like this kind of thing, check out all the versions of "I Wanna Be Sedated" at the Aussie mp3 blog Something Old, Something New!)

Several great punk blogs have ceased publishing recently: Strange Reaction, Agony Shorthand, Dressed for the H Bomb, and 100 Records. Regular readers of Underneathica (all six of you) may have been wondering about the future of this blog. We had a bad computer virus here, which forced a brief period of abstinence from uploading and downloading. But fear not, the blog is back-ack-ack-ack-ack!

EDIT: When I first posted this yesterday, I forgot to mention that the Urinals (John and Kevin, but not Kjehl) got back together in 2003 for a new album, What Is Real and What Is Not. You can buy it (and the expanded and reissued Keats Rides a Harley compilation) from Warning Label or eMusic.

Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack

dEERHUNTER: The anti-Anti-Anti

It's starting to look like a bandwagon, so let me jump on and ride it. The latest song on Pitchfork's "Infinite Mixtape" is "Spring Hall Convert" by the Atlanta band Deerhunter. The song is also available at the British blog 20 Jazz Funk Greats. Deerhunter recently returned from a fall tour of Spain and France, and they played shows this month in the Southeastern U.S. with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Check out some of the negative reviews from YYY fans on Deerhunter's myspace page. Was it Pete Buck who said that being an opening band was "the worst form of masochism"?

Cryptograms should be released on Kranky Records sometime in early 2007. The songs I've heard from it are more ethereal and less abrasive than the band's self-titled 2004 CD (also known as Turn It Up, Faggot). 20 Jazz Funk Greats says that Cryptograms is one of the releases they're looking forward to most in 2007. I'm going to take that statement a step further and call it the best record that will be released next year. Smell that, bloggers? That's my ASS in your FACE, because I just LEAPFROGGED you bitches. You're still worrying about your best of 2006 list, and Underneathica is already predicting the best of 2007!

I also predict the greatness of the 2007 album by Future of the Left (new band of Andy Falkous, ex-Mclusky) and the third album (yet to be recorded) by my other favorite Atlanta band, Luigi. But Deerhunter is going to be the next big Atlanta band. Definitely bigger than Snowden. Forget what you heard about "post-shoegaze". Cryptograms will be the anti-Anti-Anti.

While you wait for Cryptograms, you can order a copy of the split release 10" LP from Bradford Cox (Deerhunter) and Cole Alexander (the Black Lips). The first pressing of this 10" sold out, and the label has announced that there will not be a third pressing. You can order it from Rob's House Records or Bomp.

Deerhunter: Like New

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mighty Metamorphoses, pt. 2: Egoslavia

Change is an artist's prerogative, a right not exclusively reserved by David Bowie. Sometimes a transformation is necessitated by a false start, but for some artists, shedding skins (or changing masks) becomes an integral part of their career. They are consistent in their inconsistency, or their mutability.

One musical metamorphosis that I found interesting was the transformation of Gregory Strzempka from skinny-tie new waver to long-haired hard rocker. Strzempka's band, Raging Slab, draws on the influences of Skynyrd, Black Oak Arkansas, and Pat Travers. Raging Slab has been associated with the stoner rock subgenre, but the band actually predates that trend.

The first Raging Slab album came out in 1986. Dmitri (from DeeLite) was in the original lineup. I first heard Raging Slab five years later, when Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert was released on Def American, in an attempt to capitalize on the label's success with the Black Crowes (who themselves had transformed into a modern Southern rock band from their beginnings as the jangle-pop Mr. Crowe's Garden, and who once opened for Raging Slab.)

Four years before starting Raging Slab, Stzrempka led the band Egoslavia, playing a clipped, strangulated guitar (in the style of Andy Gill) which complemented his clipped, strangulated vocals (in the style of David Byrne). Egoslavia bassist Chris Anderson is now well-known as the author of the book The Long Tail. ValleyWag spotted his connection to Egoslavia here.

Egoslavia: City Up!
Raging Slab: Weatherman

Monday, October 09, 2006

Uppity Women Unite

Longtime Atlanta resident Michelle Malone has a new CD coming out on October 10 called Sugarfoot. The album features another Atlantan, Shawn Mullins. Sugarfoot is streaming at Michelle's website, and you can order the record there (as well as other Michelle merch, including a 2-CD best of called 20/20.)

An artist similar to Michelle Malone (though not Atlantan but Australian) is Anne McCue. Anne has a new album called Koala Motel. She is an extraordinary guitarist, as well as a fine singer and songwriter. She had the guts (and the chops) to cover the Hendrix song "Machine Gun" on her last album. Lucinda Williams appears on Koala Motel, along with John Doe and Nancy Wilson (of the band Heart -- notice how I don't bother explaining who John Doe is.) You can hear the track with John Doe at Anne McCue's website. She is on a brief tour of the US this month. EMusic has the latest albums by both Anne McCue and Michelle Malone. Here are the songs that first got me hooked on these artists:

Anne McCue: These Things
Michelle Malone: Big Black Bag

Friday, October 06, 2006

No Regrets, Coyote

You don't need me to tell you about the Hold Steady. They seem to polarize music listeners: you love them or you hate them, which suggests that they are either brilliant innovators or overhyped and insubstantial. I tend toward the former opinion, but I must say how depressing Craig Finn's new stories are. As a parent, I find this to be an anti-parent record. ;-)

It's not just Holly and Gideon this time around (though they do make an appearance, as does Charlemagne). This time it's every nameless boy and girl in America, overindulging in substance abuse and finding themselves in the wrong crowd (or the hospital). As Craig Finn says in "Hot Soft Light", "It started recreational, it ended kinda medical."

When Finn says, "I feel Judas in the pistols and the pagers that come with all the powders," I'm struck by how remorseful the new songs feel when compared to the carefree days of "The Swish" ("Pills and powders, baby, powders and pills.") All the talk about Judas and Jesus in the song "Citrus" also makes me think of Joni Mitchell's "Coyote", where she describes how "the players lick their wounds, and take their temporary lovers, and their pills and powders to get them through this passion play".

The new Roots album is depressing too. I was prepared for a return to form, with the Roots crew welcoming Malik B. back into the fold, and making a fresh start on a new label. The cover of Game Theory told me that it wasn't going to be pretty, and the single "Don't Feel Right" only hints at the unease throughout the album. The title track and the three songs that follow it all warn against visiting downtown Philly. Here's Malik B. from "Game Theory":
It wasn't all that ill until the start of crack
Now it's a body caught every night on the almanac
Rock bottom, where them cops got a problem at
Where them outsiders getting popped for their wallet at

Black Thought, from "Don't Feel Right":
That's the reason the system making paper from the prison
And that's the reason we living where they don't visit
Where the dope slangin keep swangin like Sonny Liston

I can almost imagine Craig Finn intoning these lines from the Roots' "In the Music":
Cops and robbers, cowboys and indians
Clips and revolvers and Georges and Benjamins
A celebration of the loss of your innocence

Finn's characters and their drama seem small-time in comparison:
Meet me right in front of the Rainbow Foods
I got a brown paper bag and black, buckled shoes.
And if anything seems weird, then just cruise.

If Boys and Girls in America is about the users, then Game Theory is about the dealers, and the people who struggle to survive while living among them.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Forgive Me If I'm Loaded

I am so excited that I literally couldn't sleep last night. The Figgs will release their tenth full-length album, Follow Jean through the Sea, on November 14th on the Gern Blandsten label. The only thing that would be better than a new album would be a tour that brings the band south of the Mason-Dixon line. You can stream "Jumping Again" from the new album here.

Because I recently read this, I'm posting this.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Mighty Metamorphoses: the Chameleonic Kinmans

Transformation is an artist's prerogative, a right not exclusively reserved by David Bowie. Sometimes a change of identity is necessitated by a false start (Y Kan't Tori Read?) For some artists, shedding skins (or changing masks) becomes an integral part of their career: they are consistent in their inconsistency (or mutability).

So I don't begrudge an artist a change of course, though it may bewilder the listener or arouse suspicions of pandering to popular tastes. I'd like to feature a few of the more interesting musical metamorphoses in independent music.

The Kinman brothers, Chip and Tony, have adopted several musical styles over the past thirty years. Their first band, the Dils, were among the first wave of West Coast punk bands. The Dils were known as much for their politics as their music: they took a principled position, and then caught flak from punks who accused them of selling out. You may remember the Dils' appearance in a Cheech & Chong movie. The Dils only released three singles during their career (1977 to 1980), though several compilations have appeared posthumously. The Dils' last single, "The Sound of the Rain", featured a surprisingly countryish sound, with the Kinmans' strong vocal harmonies, and a lyrical kiss-off to punk with the line "we're a band playing music for the dead".

The Kinmans moved to from California to NYC, and then to Austin, where they hooked up with Alejandro Escovedo (ex-Nuns) and formed the Rank and File. The Kinmans' harmonies were now even more up front, and their original songs were influenced by classic country music as well as the early rock of the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly. The Rank and File released three albums: Sundown (1982), Long Gone Dead (1984) and a self-titled "hair metal" album in 1987. The first two albums are excellent and have been reissued twice on CD. Long Gone Dead includes a version of "The Sound of the Rain".

After the breakup of the Rank and File, Chip and Tony's next project was a band called Blackbird. In a complete change from the American roots music of the Rank and File, the Kinmans now employed drum machines, synths, and heavily processed guitar and vocals. Blackbird lasted from 1988 to 1995, with two releases on the small Iloki label, a compilation on the Fundamental label (out of Covington, Georgia), and a final album on Scotti Brothers. The last Blackbird single, "Big Train", was covered by Mike Watt on his first solo album. Blackbird covered the Dils' song "Class War". Blackbird also performed a version of the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On", a song that the Dils also played live. (Does anybody know anything about Fundamental Records?)

The Kinmans took a giant step back in time with their next band, Cowboy Nation, which lasted from 1996 to 2003. The brothers performed cowboy music (Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, etc.) on acoustic instruments, again with their trademark harmonies and their original songs mixed with standards like "Old Paint". You can visit the Kinmans' website here.

You can buy Dils and Cowboy Nation records at eMusic, and you can buy Blackbird records at DistortoSound.

The Dils: Sound of the Rain
Blackbird: Quicksand