Monday, October 10, 2011


Song Title: "Mr. Misdirected Woo"
Artist: Spygenius
Search Term: "Typist" [This song is from an album named Songs from the Devil's Typist]

I personally am always a bit leery (or "weary," to put it in the parlance of a reality show contestant) of stories--in film, TV, or song--about a straight person lusting after a gay person and nurturing the fantasy that the latter will make an exception to his or her biologically-determined sexual orientation just this once. This is not to say that they're absolutely not tales worth telling in the first place. I have harbored any number of absolutely ludicrous crushes in my life, and although none of the unfortunate crushees were, to my knowledge, lesbians, for my attraction to be reciprocated would nevertheless have required many of these women to nonsensically cast aside reams of deeply-held feelings, beliefs, and standards. That was plain to see, but it didn't stop me from carrying a torch until it burned down to my hand and scorched me. Impossible romantic longing is universal, and it's a fertile artistic topic. The heart wants what it wants, to quote a famous old perv, and the painful gnashing of emotional gears that occurs when two hearts' desires don't sync up has provided fodder for many a terrific pop song, among other artistic media. But in an age that's still lousy with bigoted weirdos hanging onto the notion that homosexuality is a choice that can be changed or "corrected," I think it takes a particularly deft touch to focus on the yearning of the straight individual in this scenario without inadvertently rubbing up against the attitude expressed by Jason Lee's Chasing Amy character: "All women need is some serious, deep dicking." (It's hard to remember when Weezer was good at anything, but they got the tone precisely correct in "Pink Triangle," and justly won plaudits for the line "Everyone's a little queer/Can't she be a little straight?")

"Mr. Misdirected Woo," by the UK band Spygenius, is one of those songs that makes me wince a bit--I don't think they're ignorant at all, but their carelessness touches a nerve with me. Abetted by a Vaudevillian ukelele and impressive close harmonies, the lead singer laments that "all the girls I meet prefer the company of their own kind," hoping to sway one of them with not-especially-clever lines like "Can true love be gender-bender blind?" I get that they're going for ironic sauciness and there is nothing verging on hateful about it, and it may not bother other listeners as much as it does me. I admit that I tend to be way too sensitive about this topic, and it does take something extra super funny for me to look past that. (A queer friend once affectionately laughed, "Wow, you sensitive straight boys take this shit seriously!" after I'd subjected her to an email full of humorless venting of my highly-pressurized hot air regarding my support of gay marriage.) Even conceding that, I just don't find "Mr. Misdirected Woo" especially original or involving. Well done though the barbershop harmonies are, we are far beyond the novelty of Leon Redbone and the Squirrel Nut Zippers, who could make meticulous re-creation of early 20th-century popular music entertaining in its own right, and this song doesn't have a terribly compelling melody or any sort of twist to the arrangement. If I want to listen to a song presenting gender and sexual orientation as obstacles to potential romance performed by a band obsessed with old-timey musical styles, I'll just listen to Of Montreal's sublime "Tim I Wish You Were Born a Girl," which finds Kevin Barnes's hetero narrator sweetly professing his affection for a male friend and wishing that Tim were of the opposing sex so that their feelings of platonic intimacy could bloom into romance. Maybe in 30 years, when the LGBT community has won the battle to enjoy the equal rights to which they are entitled, songs like this won't strike me as hitting too close to home for me to listen to unfazed. But this song in particular will still be an unremarkable trifle.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Song Title: "Clinch Mountain Backstep"
Artist: David Lindley
Search Term: "Backstop" [Google returns 29,000 listings for the misspelling "Clinch Mountain Backstop," which is how we wound up here.]

I'm constantly bowled over by the lickety speed with which banjo players are able to pluck their way through bluegrass numbers. This is likely because my dexterity is lacking, to say the least. (I do type quickly enough to earn a living as a transcriptionist, but my guitar fingerwork is fairly pathetic and I can use chopsticks to get food into my mouth only if I use them as fork-like stabbing implements.) Thus, I am not the fellow you want to ask to evaluate a picker's skill, because any banjo performance that proceeds faster than "The Rainbow Connection" is likely to elicit a "Zounds!" from me.

So I really have no idea whether David Lindley's performance of this Ralph Stanley-penned instrumental is exemplary or thoroughly humdrum by the standards of banjo enthusiasts, but I, for one, am impressed by his dozen-notes-per-second accuracy. The banjo's only musical associate is an acoustic guitar in the right channel which frequently skids to a dramatic halt so Lindley can continue showing his stuff. (This makes listening to the song through headphones a somewhat distracting experience.) The song itself is a 90-second Appalachian rockslide, with many quick variations on a few minor chords, culminating in one final, chaotic strum so merciless that the banjo audibly weakens in Lindley's hands. I suppose concluding the song with the sound of a moonshine still explosion would be a little on-the-nose, but the sounds of backwoods catastrophe are all over this spry track.

Friday, September 30, 2011


Song Title: "Vetter Tom's Knuppel"
Artist: Thorax-Wach
Search Term: "Thorax"

Here is a list of my five greatest loves in the entire world, in no particular order:

(1) My wife
(2) The animals who live with me (well, the dogs and the birds; not the uncatchable cricket who's been hanging out in my bathroom this week)
(3) My non-wife family (parents, brother, cousins, etc.)
(4) Dopey keyboard sounds
(5) My friends/Dance Moms [tie]

So you are well within your rights to raise a skeptical eyebrow as I rave about this shabby dialogue between two German keyboardists, because I can only assume that Thorax-Wach released it in 1980 specifically to commemorate my birth, hoping that one day I would hear it and realize that it was a song composed to cater to my tastes and only my tastes. That is how much I love it. It has a great introduction in which a Casio, another keyboard, and some sort of squishy synth percussion all circle each other warily, almost figuring out how to work together to form a clever polyrhythmic song base, and ultimately never getting there. Instead, "Vetter Tom's Knuppel" retreats and turns into a Residents-style two-index-finger keyboard piece, fumbling to stay on the beat the whole while, with German lyrics muttered in an approximation of Kraftwerk's bigeyed automaton delivery (and multitracked so awkwardly that any hint of mechanical exactitude goes out the window). I'm sure this description makes the song sound like a complete wreck, but I love these noises and the silliness of the whole enterprise. It's no songwriting coup, but its crude celebration of inorganic sound tickles parts of my stony rock-critic's heart that few artists reach.

The human heart doesn't have those parts. Grow up.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Song Title: "Jesus Knows"
Artist: Geeez 'N' Gosh
Search Term: "Gosh"

Germany-to-Chile transplant Uwe Schmidt has recorded under so many aliases he makes Stephin Merritt and Markus Acher seem like shiftless underachievers, and although fully familiarizing myself with his discography would require me to set aside an entire autumn, the Schmidt projects I've heard in the past have all been knockouts. Whether he's letting fly with damaged space-junk glitch covers of Prince, David Bowie, and Donovan (LB's masterful Pop Artificielle), clattering ambient experimentation (DATacide's self-titled album), or lovingly arranged Latin-pop renderings of Kraftwerk's greatest hits (Senor Coconut's El Baile Aleman), Schmidt's wealth of ideas and his commitment to seeing them through to fruition makes each project a distinct, pleasurable creation rather than a simple Robert Pollard-style naming exercise in confounding the completists. (Now that I think about it, though, I would be willing to forgive much of Pollard's evasive discographical leapfrogging if he cut to the chase and released an album called Confounding the Completists.)

So I was thrilled that Geeez 'N' Gosh turned out to be a Schmidt project that was heretofore unknown to me, and I'm even happier to discover that it lives up to his standards for compelling rhythms and unpredictable sounds. Over a beat that keeps stumbling along like it has a handful of Lite-Brite pegs in its shoe, the heavily distorted voice of a preacher (I guess) repeatedly exclaims, "Jesus knows the way!" resulting in a laptop house homage to Brian Eno and David Byrne's religion-heavy proto-electronica album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. There's nothing close to a melody here, but the corrupted-data buzzes and shards that appear throughout appeal to me just as much as any actual tune is likely to, it's danceable beyond all reason, and I for one can't wait to further explore this corner of Schmidt's chiliagonal oeuvre.

Monday, September 26, 2011

"House of Business"

Song Title: "Get Out of My House"
Artist: The Business
Search Term: "House of Business"

While driving past a local convenience store recently, my wife misread the sign "BOB'S HOURS OF BUSINESS" as "BOB'S HOUSE OF BUSINESS" and we spent a little time mocking the name before realizing her mistake on the return trip. I thought "House of Business" sounded like a hilariously flimsy Mafia front company or the venture of an entrepreneur with an unusually nonspecific corporate mission, so it stuck with me.

Which is more than I can say for this song. The Business are a British Oi! punk band, though the amiably bopping rhythm and tastefully distorted guitar tone of this song sound more like Bob Seger than members of any sort of rebellious youth movement. Further dimming the menacing quotient, singer Mickey Fitz goes off on a protracted whinge about how he's constantly persecuted by the forces of anti-intellectualism both real and speculative. (In the second verse, the narrator assumes his dad will eventually kick him out of the house because of his smarts and general scruffiness, rather than the fact that he's a self-righteous little prat. Later he goes so far as to claim that God Himself will vindicate him, which definitely isn't the sort of hot air any reasonable parent would tolerate from some condescending moocher of a son.) Split Enz covered this terrain more pessimistically and successfully with "Nobody Takes Me Seriously," so there's no need to waste your time listening to Fitz kibbitz atop forgettable, phoned-in pseudo-punk.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Song Title: "Prenatal Excavation of Diseased Ovarian Atrocity, Demonstrating the Necessity for Extreme Prejudicial Infanticide within the Vomit Filled Womb"
Artist: Infected Disarray
Search Term: "Ovarian"

Trying. Too. Hard.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Song Title: "Olestra (Make It Fat) Dirtbutt"
Artist: Ill Brothers
Search Term: "Olestra"

With some guy rapping over a looped breakbeat and a groovy bass lick, and no other instrumentation except some scratching here and there, this throwback to old-school hip-hop like Public Enemy and 3rd Bass could be a priceless archaeological find from rap's first golden age if not for the comparatively recent references to Tommy Hilfiger and the mid-'90s diarrhea catalyst Olestra amid older referents like Splash and Gilda Radner. The boastful flow of the lyrics is a straightforward pleasure, as is the minimal, practically mono production.

If you're taken aback by rappers who drop the word "nigga" into their songs--which I suppose means you probably don't listen to a ton of hip-hop in the first place, though I realize it's a word that not everyone wants to deal with while they're ostensibly being entertained--you'll likely want to steer clear, because it pops up with Whack-a-Mole resoluteness here. (I myself smirked at the way the term is overused but then the MC cheekily softens the Pulp Fiction reference "I get offensive like Quentin Tarantino, who said that his garage just wasn't built to store dead Negroes.") I mention it only because I think certain readers may find it off-putting. They may wish to track down the radio edit, because this is a tune worth hearing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Song Title:
"Goodnight Binkie"
Artist: George Formby
Search Term: "Binkie"

George Formby was a musical comedian who was apparently hugely popular in England in the '30s and '40s. As my reactions to musical comedy generally range from disinterest to outright rage (PEOPLE DO NOT SPONTANEOUSLY BURST INTO ORNATELY CHOREOGRAPHED SONG), it's not surprising that I'd never previously heard of him, though for all I know my ignorance betrays a sizable gap in my pop-culture knowledge equivalent to never having caught wind of James Cagney or Doris Day. It really ain't my bag. The most interesting information I can find about him is that, according to Wikipedia, Formby accumulated a stable of odd catchphrases to rival Fred Willard's character in A Mighty Wind: "'It's turned out nice again!' as an opening line; 'Ooh, mother!' when escaping from trouble; and a timid 'Never touched me!' after losing a fistfight. ... George often exclaimed, 'Eeh! Well, I'll go to our house!' or, 'Mother!'"

This is a blandly pleasant lullaby Formby croons to Binkie Stuart in the 1936 comedy Keep Your Seats, Please. Though Formby was known for playing an unusual instrument known as a banjolele, this song has a more soporific music-box arrangement. One standout attribute: The creepy line "All good children go to heaven," besides forcing the nonsensical deployment of the only word lyricists ever use to rhyme with "heaven" ("Close your eyes while I count seven"), suggests a narrator who is primed to smother the innocent Binkie in his sleep in order to keep him from growing into a sinful, hellbound adult. I'll just go ahead and presume that's what happens in the film, since the poster accompanying its IMDB entry is enough to make me squirm with boredom.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Reddy Kilowatt"

Song Title: "Funny How"
Artist: Reddy Kilowatt
Search Term: "Reddy Kilowatt"

This appears to be the only song recorded by a short-lived California band named after an 85-year-old licensed corporate mascot for electrical utilities, who I imagine encourages consumers to use as much electricity as possible. ("When you go out to run errands, make sure to leave your oven on and its door open, pointed directly at the open door of your refrigerator, to ensure that you'll return to a house that's neither too hot nor too cold but juuuuust right!") He's a lightning-based stick figure with a disconcertingly large head and extremities, similar to Coily the Spring Sprite from one of Mystery Science Theater 3000's very greatest shorts. I dislike him.

For a body of work that consists of a single song, Reddy Kilowatt's two-and-a-half-minute career isn't bad at all: A bouncy little number that defies you not to bob your head rhythmically and dorkishly back and forth as you listen. With rapid-fire lyrics about romantic confusion, two distinctive guitar breaks, whimsical percussion, and sugary harmonies, it's so jam-packed with musical ideas that it almost recalls Of Montreal's fertile Gay Parade era. It's a shame the band has put determinedly little effort into the performance. Back in my high school years, when I was such a They Might Be Giants fanboy that I'd listen to anything that reminded me of their nerdy hookiness (the self-titled album by Lincoln remains a favorite of mine for all its cutesy flaws), I probably would have been charmed by the nasal singing and maybe even the butterfingered, out-of-tune lead guitar here. As an old man with a mortgage and a snowblower and a prostate, though, I don't have much patience for bands who go out of their way to undermine perfectly good power-pop songs with intentionally bothersome execution. You rotten kids.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Song Title: "Cessation of Hostilities"
Artist: Shamall
Search Term: "Cessation"

This well-thought-out, exploratory instrumental by ambient-pop artist Norbert Krueler has successfully performed the nigh-impossible feat of prodding me to enjoy what amounts to a cinematic wood nymph siren song. The abrupt beginning and ending to this track suggest it's a mere snippet of a larger proggy piece within the double album Who Do They Think They Are? but that doesn't do much to diminish the graceful, mysterious themes of "Cessation of Hostilities." The keyboard tones are a little on the... inexpensive side, but the enchanted-forest melodies--held together by a vaguely ominous busy-signal loop--are spellbinding even for those of us who generally detest anything that smacks of fantasy. It's sort of what I imagine a Loreena McKennitt remix would sound like, never having listened to Loreena McKennitt in spite of numerous friends' suggestions that I should. (The last new album I listened to was Ferrari Boyz by Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame. I have made time in my finite life for an album of hilariously awful, female-objectifying, codeine-extolling hip-hop by a duo that boasts a member who has a tattoo of an electrified ice cream cone on his face, but the well-regarded folk of Loreena McKennitt has long languished somewhere in the middle of my "artists to investigate" list. Priorities!)