Tuesday, March 31, 2009

This March Madness Is Too Much Sorrow

Neil Young will release a topical new album in April called Fork in the Road. On the title track, he sings:
There's a bailout coming, but it's not for me
It's for all those creeps watching tickers on TV
There's a bailout coming, but it's not for you
It's for all those creeps hiding what they do
Forty years ago, Neil Young released his first solo album. A few months later, he made his first record with Crazy Horse, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. And then he joined CSNY -- all in 1969! Everybody Knows is probably one of my favorite records ever. Several of its songs became FM rock radio staples, but they were so different from everything else on the radio. There was "Cinnamon Girl", with its strange imagery and one-note guitar solo, and the murder ballad "Down by the River" (which featured another stark guitar solo). Here's a collection of covers of the seven songs on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

Cinnamon Girl has been performed by artists ranging from Motorhead to Radiohead. I like Paul Cutler's dissonant fills on this version by the Dream Syndicate (from their album Out of the Grey).

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere is performed by the band Ida (from their album Ten Small Paces). This was one of Neil's songs about leaving Buffalo Springfield.

Round and Round was recorded by OP8, a collaboration between Lisa Germano and Giant Sand. They only made one album together (Slush), but it is a great one.

Down by the River is another collaboration, this one between the bands Low and the Dirty Three, from the series In the Fishtank.

The Losing End is a shambolic low-fi cover by the Meat Puppets (from the reissue of Keats Rides a Harley).

Running Dry is performed by one of my most favorite singers, Carla Bozulich (from her live EP, I'm Gonna Stop Killing). The song's subtitle, "Requiem for the Rockets", refers to the band that became Crazy Horse.

Cowgirl in the Sand is from a recent Neil Young tribute album called Cinnamon Girl, which features all female artists. Josie Cotton (best known for Johnny Are You Queer?) sings this one. Jill Sobule's version of "Down by the River", from the same tribute album, is available as a free download on her website.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I Blame You is the debut album by Obits, a quartet led by Rick Froberg (whose name is usually followed in parentheses by the words Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes; less frequently by the names of his earlier bands, Pitchfork and Tanner). It's a great record. Standouts (for me) are "Talking to the Dog" and "Fake Kincaid" (which I misheard as "Vacant Cave").

Froberg has been widely quoted as saying, “I think innovation is overrated and an overestimated quality. Anything that’s going to be original is going to happen without your control. Things that make your band sound like you, are things you wouldn’t be able to change anyway. We (Obits) just go ahead and play the stuff we like, and we don’t worry about originality per se, because that takes care of itself.” It's an interesting perspective. What makes Obits different from other guitar/bass/drum bands? What makes them any better or worse than Hot Snakes?

Froberg's voice is one feature shared by the two bands, as well as his unique lyrical perspective and his visual art (seen on the covers of I Blame You and the Hot Snakes' three albums). He sings with a gritty snarl that brings to mind garage bands of the 1960's such as the Seeds, the Chocolate Watchband, and the Standells. While the Hot Snakes' songs were packed tight with tension and a wall of furious strumming, there is more sonic space between the instruments in Obits' music, and a touch of reverb that adds to the 60's impression. The band stretches out a bit in the instrumental passages, particularly on their cover of "Milk Cow Blues" (a song from the 30's that has been covered by the Kinks and the Chocolate Watchband, as well as Robert Johnson, Elvis Presley, and dozens of other artists).

The choice of "Milk Cow Blues" reminded me of Richard Hell's cover of an early Kinks tune, You Gotta Move (not to be confused with the blues song originated by Mississippi Fred McDowell), on the Voidoids' second album. Listen to Robert Quine tear it up on guitar, as Richard Hell drops single-note bombs on the bass (from the 1982 album Destiny Street, which is out of print). Quine took his own life on May 31, 2004.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Spring, Sprang, Sprung

Is it too early to declare the best record of 2009? No, I'm not talking about Enema Collective. The Marked Men's fourth album, Ghosts, came out in January on Dirtnap Records. Fifteen songs in a glorious half hour; each song like a diamond in its precision, clarity and brilliance. Fans of the Dickies, Buzzcocks, and the Ramones need this album. It is available on translucent clear vinyl, impermeable black vinyl, shiny aluminum 5" disc, and ghostly digital files (for those who prefer their music lacking any corporeal presence).

Havilah by the Drones came out last year in Australia, but ATP released it in the USA on 2/17 (on CD and double gatefold LP), and it's awesome. 50 Foot Wave is streaming a new recording called Power + Light online, but no physical release date has been announced. It is also awesome. The debut album by Rick Froberg's equally awesome new band Obits (I Blame You) will be released by Sub Pop on 3/24 (and Obits will play Atlanta at the Drunken Unicorn on St. Patrick's Day, 3/17).

Adam Franklin (of Swervedriver, Toshack Highway, and Magnetic Morning) will release his second solo album, Spent Bullets, on March 31st. Mike Gent of the Figgs released his second solo album on 2/17, and The Figgs' website promises album #10 in summer '09.

April 28th is the release date for Colonia, the second album from A.Camp (Nina Persson of the Cardigans, Niclas Frisk, and Nathan Larson of Shudder to Think). Mark Linkous and Joan Wasser return (both appeared on the first A.Camp album in 2001). Other guests include James Iha and Nicolai Dunger.