I admit that I didn't "get" THE CORAL at first. While I appreciated their juvenile enthusiasm, they seemed too diverse, too disorganized, too unfocused for me to fall in love with. But their promise is realized on Magic And The Medicine (Deltasonic) which, while still quite gleefully borrowing from all over the musical shop, has a better sense of purpose, and a more clearly defined set of songs. The gentle 'Liezah' and the ramshackle 'Talkin' Gypsy Market Blues' suggest that The Coral are on a similar search for their roots as their neighbors Gomez. But tradition never gets in the way of eclecticism; be it The Doors-meets-The Bunnymen opener 'In The Forest' or the Space-like story-telling of 'Bill McCai', and in no small way thanks to James Skelly's voice, The Coral commit themselves to a purposefully and gloriously - perverse northern English rock tradition.
The Joy Division classic 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' has been taken on by acts as diverse as Paul Young, Swans, Simple Minds, Bis and Squarepusher. Do we really need yet another rendition? Listening to WORM IS GREEN's ultra-tender version on their upcoming debut album Automagic (Arena Rock), the answer is a loud and resonant yes. The Icelandic quartet has the audacity to arrange the backing track as if covering 'Atmosphere' instead, taking the once upbeat rhythm down to a truly morbid minimalist electronic pace. Over this beat, Ragnar Kjartansson sings with the ethereal charm of any number of ice Queens, and when the rhythm drops out completely from the third verse, the true tragedy of the lyrics hits home just as powerfully as they did in 1980.
Not long ago you caught me raving about the uniquely Argentinean white wine Torrontes. And I still am. But now I've moved on to Argentina's prime red grape, Malbec. I may be in love. Read all about it here.
If you only know JXL from his chart-topping Nike-aided remix of Elvis Presley's 'A Little Less Conversation,' you may be frightened to discovered that this full-length album features collaborations with almost a dozen other singers. But if you know JUNKIE XL's Tom Holkenburg for his lengthy career as a workaholic producer-remixer in the dark world where techno meets industrial, you'll only be enthused when you hear that he's managed to coax new vocal performances from Robert Smith, Dave Gahan and Gary Numan to accompany his increasingly radio-friendly trance-techno on his third full album, A Radio Broadcast From The Computer Hell Cabin (Koch Entertainment).
Interestingly, these noted new wave/electronic vocalists fail to fully distinguish themselves, perhaps because they're working within relatively familiar musical territory. Holkenburg is more successful collaborating with Chuck D. on the electro-hip hop of 'Access To The Excess', recruiting the legendary Solomon Burke on the necessarily soulful 'Catch Up To My Step', and in resurrecting Peter Tosh on the previously unheard vocal 'Don't Wake Up Policeman.' He also uses former N-Joi dancer, Republica vocalist and all-round sweetheart Saffron on three songs for the nearest we have here to vocal consistency. What he loses in continuity on the major album (sub-titled 3PM), he makes up for with the bonus mix CD, 3AM, featuring some remixes of the original cuts alongside his instrumental trance tracks. It's an ambitious project and he just about pulls it all off. And yes, 'A Little Less Conversation' is included. This is the music business, after all. (You can hear much more of Holkenburg's mixing skills at his radiojxl.com web site, where he has full creative freedom to indulge his wildest tendencies.)
Someone over at The Pub asked me to recommend beer as well as wine. Here's one that's suddenly shown up everywhere from my food Co-Op to my local Key Food supermarket to the Italian deli upstate, and which has replaced good old Brooklyn Lager as my beer of choice. Magic Hat is a Burlington, VT beer company, that specializes in organic brewing and is clearly a master of modern marketing. The beers come with names like Blind Faith, Fat Angel, Hocus Pocus and Miss Bliss. (And yes, they are popular at Phish concerts.) I've yet to try anything but the Magic Hat #9, which the web site describes as "A sort of dry, crisp, fruity, refreshing, not-quite pale ale," and which the bottle more readily admits is aided by the addition of apricot. For an expat like me, it's also assuring to know that it's "Fermented with our 150 year old strain of top-fermenting English yeast," and that its Malts are "All English 2-Row Malted Pale and Crystal." (Its hops are "Tettnang, Cascade and Columbus," which is all double Dutch to me.)
In case you were wondering about the company name, yes it is a pseudonym for a condom. The web site has none of that crappy Budweiser "Drink responsibility" sop to the lobbyists; instead, it offers a link to "Great Sex" and a series of web pages extolling (quite graphically) the virtues of condoms. Organic, English-influenced, pro-sex, condom-positive American micro beer. Does life get any better?
As the music media will readily remind you, the majority of New York City bands are shameless revival acts, mining the seemingly inexhaustible influence of American punk and British post-punk for those too young to remember when it was done right. That's a ludicrously over-the-top and unfair assessment, but this widely held backlash-point-of-view at least encourages other acts to produce music less readily identifiable.
TV On The Radio are the most obvious example right now: as I wrote after their recent Southpaw show, "the group defy any lazy reviewer's attempt at pigeonholing." On their debut album Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch And Go), the trio-come-quintet of filmmakers, painters and not-so-reluctant musicians include songs like 'Dreams' and 'Poppy' that resonate almost entirely inside their own domain. Even 'Bomb Yourself,' which harks back to some of the same post-punk territory, as has so influenced other New York bands of late, takes a different track than the usual suspects. The album's not a classic, but taken in hand with the live show, TV On The Radio is a stunning original group.
On! Air! Library! strives a little too hard to be individual: the eponymous debut album by twins Alley and Claudia Deheza with Phillip Wann (on ARRCO) struggles to find a sound of its own as it alternates between ambient soundscapes and barely rhythmic textures. But when it hits pay dirt, as on the breathtakingly grandiose 'Bread' (think Lush and Curve having sex with Ride and My Bloody Valentine), it's 24k gold. Returning to recognizable influences can have its advantages after all.
Black Dice are already renowned for three albums of musical perversity, and the Brooklyn band's new EP (on DFA) just two tracks long, though these two tracks are very long - shows no signs of conforming any time soon. Of the two, 'Trip Dude Delay ' is more effective, its gradual growth from Orb-like ambience to, God knows, Throbbing Gristle like madness?, making for an effective, affecting musical headache. I sometimes wonder if the DFA label doesn't keep the band on just to avoid being stereotyped.
And then there's Ambulance Ltd, who make no bones about being a four-piece rock band steeped in convention, but who have clearly listened to so much great music of the last forty years that you simply can't pin them down. Is that the back-in-vogue sound of Shoegazing we hear on the instrumental opener to their debut LP LP (TVT) 'Yoga Means Union'? What do all those falsetto harmonies remind us of? How can singer-songwriter-guitarist Marcus Congleton sound so simultaneously urgent and melodic as he does on 'Heavy Lifting'? Most important of all, how come LP has more than its fair share of truly great songs, none of which immediately sounds like each other, let alone like any one else? Stop looking for answers, start enjoying the process. Ambulance Ltd. are one of the most promising of New York rock bands, and LP is the first great new New York rock album of 2004.
'Kick Out The Jams' aside, MC5 are too often relegated to footnote status in the annals of rock'n'roll. The documentary A True Testimonial offers first-person evidence that, at their late Sixties peak, the Detroit quintet were as revolutionary as The Sex Pistols and The Clash combined. Among other bold achievements, they were the only band to show up and play the Democratic Convention in Chicago, 1968, escaping from Lincoln Park with their equipment just before one of the most brutal police riots in American history. (A True Testimonial shows their performance as surreptitiously filmed by the government; thanks to their recruitment of the notorious John Sinclair as manager and subsequent formation of the somewhat comical White Panther Party, the FBI had started a file on them.)
Without ever coming out and saying it in plain language, A True Testimonial also explains why MC5 never enjoyed great success. A band so genuinely hardcore in its ideals had to either stay resolutely underground, or face being compromised by the music industry. For a brief moment, around the release of their debut album Kick Out The Jams (Live) on Elektra, they challenged both these pre-conceptions. But sure enough, especially once Sinclair was dropped from the gang, they succumbed to the allure of international fame, losing their sense of revolutionary purpose and acquiring only a heavy drug habit in its place. A final European tour as what one member cruelly but correctly labels The MC2 is shown in disastrous close-up. But as one of the surviving wives concludes, "the highs were what was important."
Unfortunately, since writing the above, I've learned that release of this DVD has been indefinitely postponed due to legal problems. Which means if you didn't catch it during its cinema festival run, you may never get to see it. That would be only a further insult to the collective memories of Rob Tyner, Fred 'Sonic' Smith (each of whom, RIP), Wayne Kramer, Dennis Thompson and Michael Davis, who deserve for this challenging, witty and highly personal retrospective to render them with the belated popularity and respect they enormously deserve.
Or as they like to call them, Food-Juice. Amidst all the Vitamin-enhanced waters and flavored energy drinks that act as little more than placebos, Naked Drinks stand out for the simple fact that they're unadorned by plastic additives. A 15 oz bottle of Blue-Nanas, for instance, contains apple juice and pineapple juice, banana, blueberry, blackberry and boysenberry juice, and coconut milk. And that's it. Of 150 calories, only 10 come from fat. A few of the drinks come with added vitamins and anti-oxidants, while the Protein Zone is a handy bottle to carry into a sports battle. Naked Drinks don't come desperately cheap Manhattan stores can get away with charging $3 and more and I've had at least one friend at the Food Co-Op inform me that mankind is now packing 200 times the sugar into his farmed fruit than he was 500 years ago. But times are tougher now and we need all the benefits we can get. Compare it to the cost of a long-neck, and consider it a treat. I can feel my body saying thanks every time I put one in me.
Remember POSTER CHILDREN from Champaign, Illinois? They recorded four albums for Warners in the 1990s but never made the big time. It shouldn't really matter, because No More Songs About Sleep And Fire (Hidden Agenda), their third consecutive independent release and their ninth studio album overall, can be judged perfectly well on its own merits. Furiously energetic, it sounds like a bunch of twenty-somethings with everything to prove, not a group that's been through the major label mill, come back out again and resumed day jobs while continuing to make music. And though they remind the listener at various times of Talking Heads (for the album title), The Dead Kennedys (for Rick Valenti's hoarse vocal roar and wry spoken delivery on 'Hollywood Pt. II'), The Buzzcocks (for angular guitar riffs as on 'Now It's Gone'), and The Pixies (for pure fury, especially on 'The Leader'), all such comparisons are unfair for a band that's been recording since 1987.
Indeed, let's switch this around: listening to bassist Rose Marshack's vocal interactions on 'The Bottle', throughout which Valenti otherwise screams like Frank Black wearing particularly tight trousers, I start to wonder if Stellastarr* have a supply of Poster Children albums sitting around from their college days. In other words, play No More Songs
to any young new-no-wave whippersnapper who's blissfully unaware of Poster Children's history, and they'll likely assume they're listening to the next big thing. Here's hoping The Pixies reunion offers as much urgency as Poster Children's barely noticed but far-from-quiet persistence.
The secret to Poster Children's contented continuity presumably lies in Rick and Rose's personal devotion; apart from making music together, they've made a baby together, work at the University of Illinois together ("at the crossroads where Art Meets Technology," boasts their bio), and record a weekly radio show together, where they discuss "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The shows are archived at their web site, which also offers a suggested reading list and a lengthy anthology of useful quotes. Punk rock nerds to the max, young at heart and seemingly happy with their lot, Poster Children are a text book lesson in life and how to life it.
A mystery novel for John Entwistle fans. Americans can buy it from here, Brits from here.
You have to love the way these things come together. I stop into the book store Partners & Crime in Manhattan on recommendation from friends, and my eyes immediately settle on One Last Hit by Nathan Walpow (Uglytown) because of the cover image: a Gibson SG resting against a Fender Twin Reverb. I buy the book on impulse; only when I get it home do I find that every chapter is named for a song by The Who. (Orfor a solo song by John Entwistle, e.g. 'Sleeping Man' and 'What Kind Of People Are They?') Turns out the narrator, Joe Portugal (like author Walpow) is a major Who fan. Thirty-five years ago Portugal was in a band for what were the best few months of his life, but he and four others got left behind when the female singer and male guitarist signed to a major label and enjoyed brief Sonny and Cher-like fame. All these decades later the singer wants to get the band back together; she's found all the other members, including Portugal, but the whereabouts of the widely idolized Sonny-like guitarist Toby Bonner are unknown. Most people, Portugal included, assume he's dead but as someone starts picking off the surviving band members, he and us alike are led to believe otherwise. Which is as far as I've got. It's an uncomplicated read, full of fast dialogue and short on musical criticism but, unlike Elmore Leonard's Be Cool, at least it's written by someone who knows their rock'n'roll.
Sunday nights on HBO. Gangsters and gamblers shoot each other dead without fear of The Law. And we're not just talking about The Sopranos. Say hello to Deadwood.
You really have to wonder how HBO does it. No sooner is Curb Your Enthusiasm off the air than a new drama, DEADWOOD, takes its place on the schedule, and satiates those of us fascinated by the darkness. With as much wanton violence as The Sopranos, and more swearing than all of HBO's celebrated "original series" combined - "Cocksucker" is almost a term of endearment when dripping from the conveniently named Al Swearengen's lips - Deadwood ensures that sleep on Sunday nights is regularly interrupted by murderous nightmares.
Dig a little deeper and Deadwood is much more than a simple Goldrush Wild West drama. The language is rooted very much in the modern day (there was a whole side soliloquoy in Episode 3 as to "who cut the cheese"), and in another attempt to mess with our heads, many of the actors appear to be deliberately based on other actors. Is it mere coincidence that the Machiavellian saloon bar owner Swearengen not only looks like Al Pacino in both Scarface and The Godfather, but is given the same first name? Is it just happenstance that the evident good guy, Timothy Olyphant as Seth Bullock, resemble everyone's hero Johnny Depp?
Who can be sure? Fortunately, Deadwood is set far enough in the past that we can enjoy it as parable, fable and pure entertainment, without suffering as I personally do The Sopranos, though the new series is a welcome return to form from frequent bouts of close-to-home Déjà vu. For new American converts, HBO is repeating the first three episodes of Deadwood in one mammoth bout this Good Friday, April 9. Brits and other Anglo-centric people, start pestering your networks. I wasn't wrong about Six Foot Under, was I?
It's taken JB Dunckel and Nicolas Godin, collectively known as French Band AIR a seriously difficult second album, a soundtrack for Sofia Coppola and a collaboration with Italian author Allesandra Barrico to give us what we wanted all along: the follow-up to Moon Safari. So, while we welcome their enthusiasm for experimentation, we appreciate even more a return on Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks) to the electronic ambient moody pop that marked their 1998 debut as such a classic. 'Surfing On A Rocket' is an especially adorable throwback to 'Kelly Watch The Stars.' For all the intricate textures and bizarre arrangements (we note the intrusion of über-producer Nigel Goodrich), don't take Air too seriously: any act that can name a keyboard instrumental 'Mike Mills' makes music with a big fat smile on its face.
Used to be that BBC Radio was dominated by fearful paternalists who confined all pop music to Radio 1 on the Medium Wave, where such great British bands as The Jam, The Clash and The Buzzcocks struggled for years to get daytime airplay. Now those same acts get daytime play as 'oldies' on Radio 2, while Radio 1 has been on the FM dial so long most of its listeners can't remember otherwise. Then there's Radio 6, where Andrew Collins recently played Bob Marley, Nada Surf, N.E.R.D., Scissor Sisters and Spizz Energi in the same half-hour. How do I know? Thanks to the wonders of broadband, the BBC Radio Player allows constant access to every single pop show on its network and archives every one of them for a week. That means I can listen to my friend Chris Coco's all-embracing The Blue Room at a more convenient time than its dawn hours Saturday morning slot. I can listen to the chart show without having to set my clock by it. I can find myself bemused by the local news reports and comments on the weather. Best of all, 25 years since I typed out early Jamming!s to his show, I can type iJamming! while listening to John Peel and do both on the same computer. Who needs American radio anyway?
'Just Jack' Allsopp has already endured his share of comparisons to The Streets. Fair enough: without Mike Skinner single handedly inventing the new sub-genre of 'geezer rap', Allsopp may never have had a British release, far less an American one. But while The Streets is flamboyantly verbal, prone to excessive behavior and only one step away from two-step, Just Jack is more laid back in his pacing, more reflective in his lyrics, and more varied in his influences. Importantly, while Skinner's Streets is very much the sound of the young British working class, Allsopp reflect a different mentality: "I'm a typical middle class north Londoner," he explains. "Growing up, there was always a clash between my liberal, comfortable home life, and my school and the kind of people I was knocking around with."
The Outer Marker (RGR UK/TVT USA) is the beautiful culmination of this confusion. Standout tracks include the Tricky trip-hop groove 'Snowflakes,' the mournful 'Eye To Eye,' the gleeful drum and bass of 'Triple Tone Eyes' and the folk-hop finale 'Ain't Too Sad.' That's a lot of music for one album, and occasionally Allsopp ruins it by trying to sing, too; unfortunately, this Jack can't carry a tune in a bucket. Fortunately, he delivers most of The Outer Marker in a resolutely restrained spoken vocal style that heightens the emotional power. I couldn't help notice my old buddy Guy Pratt popping up, yet again, in the most unusual of places, this time playing guitar and bass throughout. Props.
UTER calls its music "beautiful noisy Pop with a cold electronic heart." I call it Instrumental Joy Division updated for the dancefloor. Either way, the title track of their TOMORROW'S CLOWNS 12" EP (Oscarr) is a symphonic, synthesized stormer of a cut, a seriously grandiose tune with live Hooky bass and dark Germanic synth chords straight out of latter-era JD. It's also one of the few times I've screamed for a 12" dance track to be enlivened by vocals. Then again, given the quality of the vocals on 'My Little Underground', which sound like they were recorded in a cardboard box, we're probably better off without. That said, 'Vibrato' has already proved itself on the Step On dancefloor. And when I played the title track itself, at 3.30 in the morning, a group of stragglers got up off their seats and started floating around the dancefloor as if in a trance. That's a talismanic quality for any piece of music. This one has it in spades.
Our monthly (first Fridays) Park Slope party has taken on a life of its own. While the Madchester revival theme provides the night's musical heartbeat, we now get to veer off onto all kinds of complementary musical tracks. I can advertise I'll play shoegazing for an hour, and have thirty devotees of the format waiting when I arrive. I can bring along obscure 7" singles and have people come up and talk about the relevant b-sides. I can switch to acid house mid-set and enjoy 20 minutes of wild bleeps from the speakers and waving arms from the dancefloor. Posie can open her set with The Chills and have someone run straight up and claim them as their favorite band. Or she can play Underworld for thirty minutes straight without complaint. I can play LCD Soundsystem and !!! at 3AM and hear cheers from the back of the room. And I can put on a brand new obscurity like Uter and watch people instinctively react to its greatness. Best of all, I can meet local people who read this web site and appreciate it. Thanks. Step On been great fun. Let's hope it continues.