It’s a marketing device.
It’s a great marketing device. Give away eight tracks of Tom Waits’ upcoming live album to anyone who visits his new site, and no talk of donations or generosity or pythons wanting to be Bono, either. The reason it’s a great marketing device, one that works far better than Radiohead or Smashing Pumpkins gathering reams of column inches when they try something similar is because… to put it crudely… precisely what are Thom Yorke or Billy Corgan giving you for free that you haven’t heard thousands of times before, blasting out of late night TV sets or stadium PA systems? It’s marvellous, this ability the Internet gives us for downloading music free but stop, wait and think a moment. Do you really want most – or any – of it? There’s a reason there are critics (experts) out there. Life needs its filters, same way the sewers of Paris need their covers.
The reason this is such a superior marketing device compared to all else is that – damn it, you might want to listen to Waits’ gruff, maudlin tones pummelling their way through esoteric, cabaret-style dissertations on the sexuality of Christ, one-armed dwarves, and the loneliness of the male seahorse. Whereas there’s not the remotest hope in hell you could possibly want to do anything more than parade down the sidewalk next to Brighton beach clutching a triple-underlined idiot board proclaiming you didn’t pay anything for that new Radiohead song… what, listen to it? Are you crazier than crazed Jack McCrazy’s distraught elder brother Crazed Jock McCrazy? And any lingering residual guilt you might feel towards Waits as a slobbering grateful fan doesn’t exist… because, in your heart, you KNOW Waits doesn’t give a fuck how you feel, he’s doing it cos he’s rich and able to.
Speaking of which... have you joined Lily Allen’s campaign in favour of the right for rich artists to get even richer at everyone else's expense against file-sharing yet? No, that’s right, go ahead. She’s only doing it for her own good. I was listening to her forget the words to The Specials’ ‘Gangsters’ live at Glastonbury the other day on YouTube. Contrast to Amy Winehouse’s incredible readings of songs made rightly famous by The Specials on their debut album. I don’t give a shit about Allen’s right-wing political views frankly… that’s up to her. But when you start messing with the mother lode that is The Specials, that’s when I start getting steamed.
2. The Pepper Pots – Shake It! Dum Dum Girls – Yours Alone (12 pulgadas) Vivian Girls – Everything Goes Wrong
If you want to do it right, keep it simple. Know what to leave out. Resist the temptation to bring it slam up to date, that’s not why you’re doing it. Watch those harmonies. The harmonies matter. If you’re going to bring brass in, pay attention to Ms Winehouse not Ms Allen, to those impeccable mannered dudes from The Dap-Kings. (If you want attitude you might want to look to Ms Allen, though.) The image is important, very important – uniformity of style is always a winner, as are go-go boots and Mod fashions.
Don’t overreach yourselves. If you are going to overreach yourselves, then keep it subtle – Amy’s delighted laugh halfway through the studio version of ‘Hey Little Rich Girl’ (available on the bonus disc with "Back To Black") springs to mind.
A few weeks back, I was watching Vivian Girls – three girls, three harmonies, their drummer never forgets the Golden Rule that where percussion started going wrong is when percussionists started crossing their arms – play live at the Step Inn in Brisbane, and what impressed me most is the way they never let the façade slip, not once. It didn’t slip even when they were asking for way more brightness and reverb on their vocal microphones than the place was clearly able to give. It especially didn’t slip when the Bassist That Everyone Had A Crush On (not me, cos she reminded me too closely of another friend) was raising her beer in mock-celebration and toasting Friday for us all. It didn’t slip when the Lead Guitarist was picking out the solo runs, all trebly and super-saturated and insanely unforgiving. It didn’t slip when one song relentlessly followed the next relentlessly followed the next relentlessly followed the next in the no-nonsense tradition of every punk house party band these Brooklyn ladies grew up seeing play.
Indeed, the façade so didn’t slip that you know that in no shape or form was it really a façade in the first place. Or (as I wrote for Australia’s The Vine)...
I have no idea about defining music by making ill-founded assumptions about recording technique. I don’t know about that. Listen to ‘You’re My Guy’ from Vivian Girls’ occasionally art-punk second album Everything Goes Wrong. All I know is Vivian Girls get Ramones the way no band has got Ramones since Scotland’s Shop Assistants in the mid-80s (except perhaps Pink Flag-era Wire).
And while we’re here, have a listen to Dum Dum Girls. Write to them. Encourage them. In a famous early 90s article decrying the fact independent bands were too keen to sign to major labels, engineer Steve Albini lamented the fact that all these bands wanted to sound like The Beatles – “and nobody on earth, not with unlimited time and resources, could make the Smashing Pumpkins sound like The Beatles” – and none of them wanted to sound like early lo-fi French punk trailblazers Metal Urbain. Well, music has turned full-circle and half the bands being praised in US independent music magazines sound like Metal Urbain now, whether they like it or not. Why not keep encourage this trend to stick around as long as possible? Heaven knows, we’ll be back to bad copies of Alice In Chains or the new Bozyone soon enough.
The last couple of days have been unseasonably hot. First, we have the electrical storm season to come – and man alive, that will be fun, seated out on our balconies in the early evening, watching flashes of brilliant white lighting up the entire sky for hours on end – but this is how I gear myself up for our second Brisbane summer, those short, sweltering, tropical days. I start mainlining the good stuff, the 50s Trinidadian calypso and 60s Jamaican rock steady, the laidback dub and sugar-sweet lover’s rock, the pulsating 2-Tone ska of the late 70s… I currently have 955 songs categorised under ‘ska’ in my iTunes library and the number is growing each day as I gather my defences around me: Byron Lee, Owen Gray, Susan Cadogan, Derrick Morgan, Alton Ellis, Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken, The Specials, The Selecter, Amy Winehouse, Elizabeth Archer, Count Lasha, The Equators, The Pioneers, The Skatalites, Rico Rodriguez, Shirley & Lee, Rhoda Dakar, The Ethiopians, Theo Beckford, The Clarendonians, Blind Blake, The Fun Boy 3, The Paragons, The Bodysnatchers, Dandy Livingstone, Jackie Opel, The Gaylettes, Phyllis Dillon, The Upsetters, Tommy McCook, Dave & Ansel Collins… and of course, the three indispensable albums mentioned above.
4. Townes Van Zandt – Be Here To Love Me Townes Van Zandt – Delta Momma Blues Townes Van Zandt – Flyin’ Shoes Townes Van Zandt – For The Sake Of The Song Townes Van Zandt – Live At The Old Quarter Townes Van Zandt – Our Mother The Mountain Townes Van Zandt – Townes Van Zandt
I list these here, not because I’m a fan. I list these here because someone at Domino Records was kind enough to send me them, all seven albums (two are doubles). I list them here, to show that I am open to other forms of music that aren’t just super-saturated distortion or sweet, sweet ska. I list them here because it never particularly struck me that I was missing out on anything by never knowingly having listened to Mr Van Zandt before and that I still don’t feel that I was particularly missing out, now that I have listened to a great number of songs by the late Van Zandt. It’s not that he’s objectionable or irritating or bad or anything – far from it – just that there was an awful lot of this sort of soulful bearded music around in the 70s, and that there seems to be a lot of it around still. And I already have my Fred Neill and my Lemonheads and my Tim Buckley live albums, thank you very much, and my Bill Callahan – plus any number of secret, more unknown, crushes from the Pacific Northwest (Rusty Willoughby, Pete Krebs) and Brisbane (Ben Salter). And so, much as I’ve enjoyed my brief sojourn with Mr Van Zandt, I doubt that I’ll be repaying him a repeat visit very soon… Although, as I’m typing these words, I have to say his reading of ‘No Place To Fall’ (from Live At The Old Quarter, the album he recorded when he was still 29) is rather fine indeed and that… wait. No, seriously. That’s enough bearded folk rock for one decade, surely?
5. Wavves – Wavves
It’s the age of distortion.
It’s the age of turning the amps way past maximum, making sure everything is super-saturated like one of those old Technicolor films back when they started popularising the process, and keeping the rhythm brutal and brief. You can blame Times New Viking or No Age or Vivian Girls or whomever you like for starting this fashion of fucking with levels of acceptable sound and recording technique but I like it. It’s a bastardised take on surf music fed back through a grunge-garage-distort filter. What’s not to like? Also, didn’t laptop mutoid Cex do something very similar to this, a decade back?
It’s the age of pretending this sort of thing has never happened before. So that would discount primal French punk movers Dr Mix And The Remix (AKA Metal Urbain), their acolytes Jesus And Mary Chain, any number of bands directly influenced by My Bloody Valentine and also Killdozer, and…
But wait. Who cares? All art builds on what went before, and better that Wavves builds upon all the above than another band wanting to make shit-loads of money by being all po-faced and joyless and ‘serious’ like fucking Radiohead or Coldplay. And yes, of course we all know that this, the debut album from sun-kissed Californian slacker Nathan Daniel William, was created in-between bouts of cop-watching on a four-track cassette in his bedroom in San Diego, and that Pitchfork are all over his stuff right now… but, let’s face it, that’s cos they probably think it’s the new Arcade Fire recorded on a much cheaper budget, or Fuck Buttons but pleasingly American. And it so isn’t. It so isn’t. A QUICK RUNDOWN
1. ‘Vermin’ sounds like Chicagoan guitar-shredder Marnie Stern reduced down to her component parts and built back up again by evil scheming robots.
2. ‘Here’s To The Sun’ is Sonic Youth dreaming they once played in 60s raw-ass garage band The Rats.
3. ‘The Boys Will Love Us’ is like an answer song to The Fizzbombs’ ‘Beach Party’.
4. The wickedly-named ‘Beach Goth’ reminds me of this, and that’s way more than enough reason to love it.
5. ‘Yoked’ is written in clear tribute to Yoko Ono.
6. The drums at the start of ‘California Goth’ are pure Motown – or Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust For Life’ if you’re that way inclined. Who cares what happens after?
You get the idea.
It’s interesting that because William’s a guy his music gets praised for its “energetic, scrappy, smart aleckyness” ( NY Times). Wonder what would happen if he was a chick? Would he be dismissed for not being able to play, or “shouting direction-lessly”, as recently happened to all-female UK band Pens on Pitchfork? (See below.) Let me leave you with a one-minute review, written by me in precisely 60 seconds upon first hearing Wavves.
WAH WAH WAH. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!! turn that fucking guitar up. turn that fucking vocal up. max that percussion to the max. no, to the fucking max. turn it up more. drop some surf rhythms in. some Californian cruising. some more distortion. more noise. now, let’s RAAAAAWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWOCK. My favourite album of this kind since the last.
You get the idea.
6. Patrik Fitzgerald – All Sewn Up Daniel Johnston – Is And Always Was The Deadnotes + The Legend! – Volume 4 Three rejected unknowns – and friends.
The first is an English singer (now living in New Zealand), started performing around 1976 in London – recorded his early records in freezing cold flats on a one-track tape recorder. He’d get on stage armed with only an acoustic guitar and nerve, and sing punk rock songs, supporting punk rock bands. He was, and remains, awesome.
The second is an American singer (now living in Waller, Texas), started performing on the streets of Austin, Texas in the early 80s – recorded his early records in his parents’ basement on a one-track tape recorder. He’d go up to people armed with enthusiasm and nerve, offer them his music. He was, and remains, awesome.
The third is… ah, now. That would be telling.
7. Pens – Hey Friend, What You Doing?
Forgive me if I reprint from my own blog again, but I figure this to be important. Pens were described on Twitter by an American friend as “the British girl No Age, but maybe even better” – and as that’s still the pithiest, most accurate description I’ve read, I’ll leave it at that. Blog entry follows…
Bangs wept, but this band has just been lifted from the realms of the merely great (which anyone can be) to being the coolest in the UK!
They've just been afforded a bad review in Pitchfork! Fuck, but I'm jealous. Hang on I have it about me somewhere. Let me just look for it... (I'm not in the habit of frequenting such joyless, grey-creating websites.) Ah, here it is. Let me quote the first paragraph at you.
Not to be a complete curmudgeon or anything, but how many of these bands do we seriously need? I should first clarify that in my heart, there will always be a place for crummy, DIY lo-fi-- it might not be the most original shit in the world, but when applied with vigor and creativity, you've got some potentially exciting stuff on your hands. When paired with rote punk variations, laziness that's been confused for brattiness and a profound propensity for short, shambling pop-punk tunes that are as aimless as they are irritating, well, you've got the London-based female trio Pens-- they can't play, shout directionlessly at each other most of the time, and make sure that each song on their debut Hey Friend, What You Doing? sounds exactly like the one before it, a pastiche of uninformed garage footnotes, slug-and-chug hardcore rhythms and boneheaded tee-hee in-jokes.
What fucking year is this? 1975, and we're all studiously examining Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here for hidden messages? 1997, and we all can't believe how clever and collegiate-smart and important Radiohead are? 2008, and we all fucking love Animal Collective because they've got beards and they're serious and they've managed to rip off Beach Boys completely while stripping them of their most precious asset (the tunes)?
Let me run that line past you again They can't play, shout directionlessly at each other most of the time, and make sure that each song on their debut Hey Friend, What You Doing? sounds exactly like the one before it
Let me run that line past you again. They can't play
Let me capitalise that line, put it in another font colour, bold it up and start engraving it on Pitchfork's long-deserved tombstone. THEY CAN'T PLAY. Pathetic, fucking pathetic. Music critics who go around spouting the same tired clichés of five decades should NOT BE ALLOWED to fucking type their words, but write them out painfully in longhand using the blood from countless generations of musicians held back by similar critics' use of same. Dickhead. Fucking dickhead. Bet he despises Riot Grrrl (and punk, and gospel, and 60s pop, and late 80s grunge, and garage rock) (etc).
(I expand more upon this point in my Vivian Girls review over here on The Vine.)
Still. As I say. Being slagged by a place with little, or no, credibility can do wonders for your own.
Hey ho. Here's the link to their MySpace again. Go listen. They're great.