Thursday, September 25, 2008

Open Wide for Certain Doom

Future of the Left: The Fibre Provider
Future of the Left: The Hope That House Built
We Versus the Shark: Suddenly It's a Folk Song

Everyone loved McLusky after they broke up. By that token, Future of the Left are certain to be huge after their fiery bus crash career move. Here's the recipe for Future of the Left: take everything that was good about Big Black, Jesus Lizard, and all their amphetamine-addled reptilian ilk. Add a dash of incoherent Welsh rage to amp it up another notch (who knew that was even possible?) You've got pounding drums, massive bass, and a hangover. Now top it off with a singer who's smarter than you or me. Andy Falkous' love is bigger than your love. His pain and sadness are more sad and painful than yours. Curses was (and is) an outstanding debut and one of the best albums of 2007: irrepressible, ill-mannered and flat-out funny.

Future of the Left will be touring North America in October opening for Ted Leo + the Pharmacists and Against Me. The tour starts at the Masquerade in Atlanta on 10/01/08. I don't care if Future of the Left only gets 40 minutes, as long as it's loud. I find it hard to get excited about bands like Against Me or Rancid. It's hard to see the point of recreating the sound of a musical revolution from 30 years ago, when part of the reason for that revolution was to undo everything that came before it. Wouldn't it then be more in keeping with the spirit of '77 to make something new, rather than nostalgically spiking your hair and putting pins through your nose? Having said that, I certainly don't mind when Ted Leo chooses to cover "Suspect Device" or "Outdoor Miner", or even "Six Months in a Leaky Boat".

An excellent interview from the late great Paper Thin Walls in which Andy Falkous explains the genesis of each song on Curses can still be found online here. "Suddenly It's a Folk Song" is a Future of the Left cover from the We Versus the Shark cover album, Murmurmur.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Deep in a Funnel of Love

When Long Gone John sold Sympathy for the Record Industry in 2007, he left stranded an odds-and-sods compilation of early Detroit Cobras material that was to be called Lost and Found. See the original cover here.

The songs finally found a home this year on Munster Records, under the title Original Recordings 1995-1997. The Cobras' first three singles are featured, as well as a number of unreleased songs from the band's beginnings a decade ago. The good news for Cobras fans and vinyl junkies is that you can buy it as a box set of 7" singles, or as a double LP (as well as on CD and at iTunes). Insound carries the vinyl versions.

On Lost and Found the Detroit Cobras cover the Kinks, Mick Farren and the Deviants, and Wanda Jackson's immortal rockabilly classic, "Funnel of Love". "Funnel" was written by a Nashville session musician named Charlie McCoy (who has worked with everyone from Elvis Presley to Bob Dylan and Ween). "Funnel" has been covered by the Cramps and several of their offspring (the Panther Burns, the Demented Are Go, and SCOTS); as well as Mike Ness, Rosie Flores, and others. WFMU posted a tone-deaf version. Here today are the original recording, the newly-released Detroit Cobras version, and my own favorite version by the Jody Grind. It gets me weak in the knees, and my poor old head starts a-reeling.

Wanda Jackson: Funnel of Love

Detroit Cobras: Funnel of Love

Jody Grind: Funnel of Love

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don't Make a Career of It

"Any band worth its salt rips off the Velvet Underground." So said Mark E. Smith (him again? here?) back in the neo-psychedelic days of the Bunnymen, the Furs, and the Teardrop Explodes. Many bands have also borrowed liberally from the Fall. Chief among these may be Pavement. Their low-fi sound, the obscure lyrics, and even their titles & graphics didn't come from nowhere: they came from here. St. Stephen Malkmus eventually revealed himself as a latter-day guitar god for the slacker set. Was he a quick study, or was he hiding his light under a bushel during those early Drag City days?

I've been listening to a great new Australian band called Eddy Current Suppression Ring, and I thought "That sounds like the Fall!" But what makes a band sound like the Fall? It isn't just cheap guitars, repetition, and a singer who can't sing. It's an attitude in the frontman and his lyrics: verbose, scabrous, and deeply misanthropic. A certain intellect and self-confidence, perhaps disproportionate to his musical ability. A strong regional accent completes the likeness. Bands like this (Prolapse, Ikara Colt, Beachbuggy, Life without Buildings, Lifter Puller) make me deeply happy. I made a list on eMusic of other bands whose sound can be traced back to the Fall, but the new eMusic layout cuts off half my comments.

I heartily endorse spending ten downloads on Eddy Current Suppression Ring's album Primary Colours (or buy a physical copy from Goner Records). It doesn't all sound like the Fall. But the track featured below does. My online friend Pete shared a wonderful song by Mother and the Addicts that perfectly captured the Mancabilly (a/k/a "Country & Northern") sound of the Fall. But the rest of the Addicts' album is mediocre synth-pop. Finally, fans of the early Fall (circa Grotesque) will recognize this Leaving Trains song as a blatant lift of the rhythm and cadence from "The N.W.R.A." (not to be confused with the NRA or NWA).

Eddy Current Suppression Ring: Which Way to Go
Mother and the Addicts: All in the Mind
Leaving Trains: Suicide Blues

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Back in the DMZ

There were many mismatches between artist and producer in the early punk era. Circa 1977-78, did anyone really know how to record a punk band? The Clash allowed Sandy Pearlman (of Blue Oyster Cult) to produce their second album, and the Damned had Nick Mason (of Pink Floyd) produce their second LP. Speedy Keen (of Thunderclap Newman) turned LAMF into sonic muck for the Heartbreakers, and Jerry Nolan quit the band over it. Felix Pappalardi watered down the Dead Boys' second album, and David Bowie has been endlessly reviled by Stooges fans (and Iggy himself) for Bowie's production of Raw Power back in 1973.

So who decided that Flo and Eddie were a good fit for the garage punk band DMZ? Apparently Seymour Stein thought they would be happy together (ha). Sire Records first offered the job to Ed Hollis (the Hot Rods' producer), but Mono Man refused to work with any "Limeys". In the liner notes to the 2004 reissue of DMZ's 1978 debut, Mono Man blames the LP's sound on the studio engineer, rather than Flo and Eddie ("Stop ragging on Mark and Howard, already").

I recently read that the original lineup of DMZ (including guitarists JJ Rassler and Peter Greenberg) will reunite on October 23rd 2008 at the Church in Boston, plus a NYC show. Wish I could be there!

DMZ: Don't Jump Me Mother

Monday, September 08, 2008

Trying to Stay Positive about Stay Positive

Critics who complained that Craig Finn's lyrics on Boys and Girls were too much about drinking down by the banks of the Mississippi River may be relieved to learn that he and his friends now drink on top of water towers. It's a step up, I guess. The only songs that really touch me on Stay Positive are "Lord I'm Discouraged" and the last of the bonus tracks, a countryish lament about aging called "Two Handed Handshake".

Recent converts to the Hold Steady who work their way backward through the band's catalog may feel that Craig Finn talks too much on the older songs, but I wish he'd sing less on the new ones. I liked his stories about characters (Holly, Gideon and Charlemagne) and places (the Party Pit, Penetration Park, and Ybor City) better than the radio-ready singalongs like "Massive Nights" and "Constructive Summer".

The sound on Stay Positive is too crowded and garish to my ears. The songs are stuffed to the gills with overwrought keyboards and the forced enthusiasm of the backup singers. Tad Kubler tries his hand at mandolin, banjo, and even a talk-box solo. The dudes at Guitar Center will be impressed.

My older son's teacher is a fan of the Drive-By Truckers, and she will be seeing them with the Hold Steady this fall. She hasn't heard the Hold Steady, so I made her a CD. I front-loaded it with "Hoodrat" and "The Swish", and stuck a few of the newer songs on the end, but the meat in the sandwich is Separation Sunday. All the songs on that album are so good from beginning to end, and the stories they tell are provocative -- sometimes moving, sometimes disturbing. I don't know if the Hold Steady will ever make a better album than Separation Sunday.