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!)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Primus Inter Pares"

Song Title: "Traum"
Artist: Primus Inter Pares
Search Term: "Primus Inter Pares"

Likely the least elaborate song you'll hear all day, this is one single crawling measure of four relaxing whole notes that is repeated ad infinitum. About the only thing that differentiates "Traum" from any random construction in Moby's Levittown of interchangable, prefabricated ambient products is the way the tenderly swaying guitar arpeggio and serene synth strings are encased in a glacier of lulling, reverbed, Sigur Ros-style feedback. I don't know that the track is anything you'd go two steps out of your way to listen to, but luckily all you have to do is click the link above to hear it, and its repetitive lapping may make you feel pretty content in the sedentary life you're apparently leading.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Song Title: "Lump"
Artist: Les Nordiques
Search Term: "Nordiques"

Perceptive readers will have realized by now that I have quite the green thumb when it comes to cultivating pet peeves. I like to delude myself that it's constructive and heartfelt when I go on and on about things that irk me, however, which is why today's entry in the Pet Peeve Parade particularly gets under my skin, because I'm irritated by things that are the opposite of constructive. Specifically, I find it odious when bands cover songs in such a sloppy, apathetic fashion that the tune is rendered not just unrecognizable but unlistenable. Generally it's the condescending attitude that bugs me: It's one thing for a cover to creatively undercut the original artist's intent by turning the song on its head--Devo's lock-limbed cover of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" completely removes the swagger from the Rolling Stones' original, leaving only the dangerously overcompressed sexual frustration; the Nip Drivers' hardcore distillation of Duran Duran's "Rio" quickly rescues the heavenly chorus from the bloat surrounding it in the latter's hands--but it's something else entirely to express your disdain for a song by tossing off a "why bother?" version so annoyingly lazy that it manifests a belief that the song is beneath you. For instance, the Meat Puppets' spitefully dopey decimation of R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" and Low Barlow's awful Gen-X dismissal of Schoolhouse Rock's "I'm Just a Bill" are simply childish insults in musical form; empty invective that offers nothing in the way of better or alternative ideas.

But then, even if there's no malice behind it, there's still very little point to releasing a carelessly thrown-away rendition of anything. This cover of the Presidents of the United States of America's bright 1995 single doesn't possess any exaggeratedly sarcastic or dissonant elements, but it's so inadequately performed that the fact that Les Nordiques released it is every bit as chafing as if they were mocking the song. It sounds like it was recorded as the result of a conversation that went, "Dude, remember that song 'Lump' by the Refreshments or whoever? 'She's a lump! She's a lump! I can't get her out of my head'? I'll bet you 30 of our French equivalent of dollars that we can just pick up our instruments and play the song from memory even though we haven't heard it in our French equivalent of a decade!" The guitar isn't tuned, the vocals are all but inaudible, and the halting drumming completely obliterates the crisp energy that was the source of the original's charm. It's the sort of thoroughly unredeemed and aimless undertaking that actually makes me feel like it was irresponsible to use up the electricity that this recording required. I hope Les Nordiques at least planted a tree after dumping this onto tape.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Song Title: "Battle of Vinegar Hill"
Artist: Blaggard
Search Term: "Blaggard"

"Blaggard" is apparently a very popular band name, judging from my search engine of choice, and why wouldn't it be? Not only do plenty of post-Pogues folk-punk bands write scads of hardheaded lyrics honoring the so-called scoundrels ("blaggards") who have historically won or defended whatever way of life they currently enjoy from sinister oppressors and interlopers, but the word "blaggard" itself expels more than a whiff of tipsy, vaguely nauseous braggadocio in its phonemes; another common attribute of this style of music. Still, it makes it difficult for any one Blaggard to stand out amid the ruckus. This (one of at least two Blaggards from Australia) is the one with whom we are concerned today, and I would guess it's the best of the lot.

I haven't been able to locate any information about this band's make-up, but the first-person singular pronouns on Blaggard's website make me think it's a one-man project, which would make the tightly drawn, rough-and-stumble skill of this song all the more impressive. The Pogues' influence is clear in the way the beery spittle of the vocals scuffs up the lissome folk mandolin (whose stomping hook is doubled by a tin whistle), but the music's roots in Aussie rather than Irish folk make Blaggard sound closer to his countrymen Weddings Parties Anything. The lyrics concern the Castle Hill Rebellion of 1804, in which Irish convicts being held in Australia rose up against their British colonial rulers, leading to the creation of a small and short-lived independent empire within Australia. Things did not end well for the rebels--in part because many of them were shortsighted enough to get drunk and wander off after they initially overran the government farm in New South Wales--but "Battle of Vinegar Hill" successfully embodies the optimism and righteous anticipation of the rebels in the moments preceding the uprising. So if you feel like raising a glass or three to futility, I guess this is the song for you!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Song Title: "The Accomplice"
Artist: Think Twice
Search Term: "Accomplice"

Think Twice is the hip-hop moniker of Canadian producer Phil Kennedy, who possesses obvious talent for pairing heavy rap beats with intelligent, Madlib-style jazz touches that keep things from sounding flat-footed--even in the midst of imposingly weighty lyrical content. On this song, it's not a complaint but actually quite a feat that Kennedy's supple arrangement (the bassline above all) nearly outshines the vocals, because the narrative of "The Accomplice" is so harrowing that it's not correct to say it's gripping or engrossing; the suggestion that it's entertainment almost seems like poor taste. I hope to God the lyrics, by guest MC Coates, are an impressively lived-in character sketch rather than anything autobiographical, but they certainly feel acutely personal--so much so that it's not entirely clear what events transpired that led to the pervasive guilt expressed by the narrator. It sounds to me as though he helped a close female friend pick up some lowlife at a bar, and that scumbag intentionally transmitted HIV to her during sex, but just as you might use ellipses in your own journal in place of expository details you know you needn't remind yourself of, not all the puzzle pieces are here. The point isn't the story anyhow, but the narrator's fixation on his own culpability in his loved one's infection. Rapped with an intense quiver that borders on pleading (similar to Sage Francis at his most compellingly confessional), Coates heaps blame upon himself in a way that seems perfectly authentic rather than artistically calculated. The line "I enabled him to play you like Telly from Kids," for instance, might be a touch on-the-nose, but I find myself constantly processing the plot of my life via comparisons to movies and TV shows, so it does make perfect sense that he'd refer to that film while trying to make sense of what's happened. The difficult emotion of this track is the sort of thing that will halt any activity the listener might be engaged in while it's playing and leave her feeling stunned and a little ill, but it gets under your skin honestly unlike, say, the predictable button-pushing nihilism of Odd Future. (I have now fulfilled the requirement, mandated under the Pitchfork-SXSW Act of 2011, that every music critic weigh in on Odd Future before year's end. Let us never speak of them again.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Song Title: "Beyond the Milfoil"
Artist: The Rita
Search Term: "Milfoil"

Listening to "Beyond the Milfoil" on my computer immediately after downloading it, I initially thought that my audio player was interpreting the file as an incorrect sample type--or maybe I had failed to notice that the file wasn't an MP3 at all and Windows Media Player was trying to extract audio from an INI file or something, because what I was hearing did not sound like an intentional recording. But no, that's what Canadian anti-musicians The Rita evidently want to put in your earholes: A matted furball of loud, garbled nothing. Listen close and you can hear a hint of what sounds like someone yelling deep in the mix, but overall it just sounds like a heavy, sustained gust of wind whipping into a naked microphone. I do think it's a little interesting that the distorted soup doesn't come across as greatly abrasive; where lots of grumpy tumult artisans would boost the treble and try to assault the listener with as uninviting a sound as they can manage, "Beyond the Milfoil"'s white noise doesn't seem to be striving for obnoxiousness. I'd be hard pressed to identify what it is striving for, though. I'm sure The Rita thinks they're making some sort of avant-garde statement by creating such a dense, monochromatic fog, but didn't Lou Reed's defiantly purposeless Metal Machine Music render any subsequent noisemaking of this sort redundant? Those boundaries have already been amply pushed, so it strikes me that this sort of tuneless clutter is about as novel in the world of experimental music as a 12-bar blues structure is in the world of rock.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Song Title: "Ring Ring"
Artist: Kotai
Search Term: "AT&T" [This song is the B-side of Kotai's AT&T 12"]

Here's a song, it's a housey Detroit techno thing that goes on for almost 13 years minutes, hope you like tooth-ticklingly tinny 808 high-hats because those comprise its primary attribute. I really don't care about the song today because the search term was just an excuse to write a post in which I try to convince the entire world to never do business with AT&T by sharing my story as a cautionary example. (What follows will not be a Eugene Mirman-esque volley of hilarity. It's just going to be a couple pages' worth of me badmouthing AT&T because they are in the process of trying to extort $210 from me, and it will likely be as dull to you, the reader, as Kotai's tepid electronica will be to you, the listener.)

My wife's dad and her sister spent last winter in Florida, and my wife and I decided that a good Christmas present for them would be to get some sort of reasonably priced Internet service hooked up in their Cedar Key abode. Unfortunately, the only company offering high-speed Internet service in that area is AT&T, who provide as much value to the world of consumer telecommunications as a dustpan full of cigarette beetles would provide to an Ivy League department of entomology. Nonetheless, we were able to sign up for relatively cheap month-to-month service, and since we knew we'd only need to deal with them for four months, we tolerated their ineptitude. I didn't even bother correcting the way they misspelled my name on the account. In early May, my father- and sister-in-law moved back to Maine, so I canceled the AT&T Internet service. We received our final bill on May 26, which noted that not only were we all paid up but we actually had a $6.07 credit. I was so happy to have one less company to worry about cluttering up my life that I didn't even think to check whether that $6.07 could be applied toward one of those AT&T throw blankets from their eShoppe.

On July 23, however, I received a note from AT&T stating, “We recently sent you a final bill for your former telephone service. Our records indicate that $210.00 is past due and payment has not yet been received.” This was both balderdash and poppycock--"baldycock," as I call it, to the chagrin of my elders--because not only do I have in my possession the aforementioned final bill confirming a $6.07 credit, but I have never in my life received telephone service from AT&T.

So I called AT&T's customer service line to get this straightened out. For those who have never had the thrill of calling AT&T's customer service line, imagine a dartboard that features no bull's-eye; just a Cubist collection of inconsistently-sized shapes labeled with point values ranging from minus 20 to [poorly-placed UPC symbol]. The dartboard also spins, and as it does so, it emits a harsh creaking sound and the smell of burning plastic. AT&T's customer service department is the idiot who would not only invent this dartboard, but would hang it on the back of a door so that if you enter the room at the wrong moment, you will take a fatal dart to your jugular. When I attempted to call the customer service line, twice the number was busy and twice the line simply hung up on me after I had been on hold for 20 minutes. When I finally reached Jamie in accounts, he told me that I needed to speak with the cancellation department, and helpfully transferred my call to the voicemail box of the after-hours emergency department. (This was about 1:00 PM on a weekday.) At one point their hold music was Allan Sherman's "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh," which I grudgingly admired, because it really is the ideal song to convey the message "Yes, we are fucking with you!" to irate clients.

I finally managed to reach a woman in the retention department who told me that the $210 represented an early termination fee that was applied to my account in error. To be more precise, it represented two $105 early termination fees, as this erroneous charge had been applied to my account twice. Again, I have never contracted AT&T's services as a phone provider, so this charge could potentially be valid only if their billing practices are based wholly on Minority Report-style precognition, in which case I terminated my telephone service with AT&T so preposterously early that I managed to do so before I ever even considered signing up for the service, let alone ordering or receiving it. Of course, while I would not put it past AT&T to attempt to levy punitive charges against individuals for not purchasing their services, I am fairly certain that such fees would not withstand a legal challenge for the time being. (I have a hunch that AT&T's lobbyists could successfully purchase a majority in both houses of Congress to enable them to essentially collect a tax on all citizens who are not active AT&T subscribers, but thankfully when such a law is passed, it will not apply ex post facto to the $210 bill that they spun out of asshole cloth for me.) Anyway, after some wheedling, the woman in retention told me that she had expunged the charges from my account and she pledged to send me written confirmation that I now had zero outstanding balance with AT&T. Such written communication was never sent. Obviously.

It should be noted at this point that the fact that I was able to reach a human being at all is evidently a small miracle among AT&T customers: When I related this story on Facebook, my friend and colleague Mike DeFabio commented ruefully, "Sounds like you got lucky. In my experience, AT&T's support line leads directly to a phone in an empty room with no doors."

Anyway, I continued leading my virtuous life of extreme couponing and consensual BDSM, content in the knowledge that this unpleasantness was behind me, until August 19, when I received a notice from a collection agency called FAMS (Financial Asset Management Systems) stating, “Your delinquent AT&T account has been placed with Financial Asset Management Systems, Inc.” Yes, AT&T still wanted my $210 and had resorted to the use of hired goons to get it. FAMS does not appear to have an active website, but I can tell you their director of operations is named Kevin Inches, who I hope possesses the grace to have thanked his parents for blessing him with a name that can so easily be converted into a surefire pick-up line that it would take an AT&T employee to bungle the attempt.

So it was time for another journey into AT&T's twisty, turny customer service colon. Twice, upon barking, "Agent! Agent! Agent!" at the automated triage system like Frances McDormand in Burn After Reading, I was transferred to a busy signal. Eventually I reached Monica in the billing department, who told me I needed to speak to the retention department at 866-666-1675. At that number, I spoke with a fellow named Mike, who told me he could not help me because I had called their Missouri department, whose staff cannot access my account. He then inexplicably transferred me to the web sales center. I called back and another woman gave me a different number to try. This, too, led to the web sales center. I called the retention department number once more and a different Mike told me that I hadn't been calling the retention department at all. He gave me yet another number to dial, why not. Upon doing so, I reached Shauna, who also told me that she was in AT&T's Midwest division and so could not assist with my Florida-based account. After promising to transfer me to the correct department, she transferred me to a busy signal.

At that point I decided to handle things through the mail. Where we stand at the time of this writing is that I have sent notices of dispute to AT&T and Mr. Inches via registered mail (delivery of both was confirmed on August 22), accompanied by documentation of the experiences described above as well as a list of demands including that AT&T call FAMS off and that they provide me with written proof that they have contacted all three credit bureaus to make clear that this charge was erroneous and should not affect my credit report. I have also opened a formal complaint about AT&T with the Better Business Bureau. I will update this post with further details as this saga proceeds. If any reader has had similarly enjoyable dealings with AT&T and their Bonanza of Quality, I would love for you to describe them with all appropriate venom in the comments section!

Update 9/18/11: A few days ago, I received a call from someone named Mary in AT&T's executive escalation offices, I think she said, to discuss the letter I'd written. After she asked me a few questions, she claimed that FAMS has been told not to pursue the $210 further, my account has been wiped clean, the credit bureaus have been notified of AT&T's error, and she would be sending me written confirmation of all this. I asked for an additional $150 to compensate me for the time, cell phone minutes, and other materials I wasted fighting this mistake, and she said, "Unfortunately, we do not compensate people for their time," but did agree to send me a $50 "courtesy credit"--in the form of a check, not AT&T store credit or anything. I accepted, happy to get even that much. I will continue to remain dubious until I actually receive the check and written confirmation, but it hasn't stopped me from making plans for the $50. At first, I was toying with the idea of spending the money on books about the evils of telecommunications deregulation, which I would donate to my local library. But ultimately I've decided that, given AT&T's history of donating piles of money to conservative politicians like Rick Perry, it would be far more satisfying to spend their money purchasing CDs for the library by rabidly left-wing artists like Phil Ochs, the Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, and Godspeed You Black Emperor.

Yesterday I was speaking with my mother-in-law, and she told me that the heating oil company for which she works signed up for a cell phone plan with AT&T, covering the field workers in their rural Maine service area. Naturally, it was quickly discovered that the company's workers may as well have been carrying around cell phone-shaped candy dispensers for all the good AT&T's coverage was doing them. Upon calling AT&T's support line, a representative took a look at their coverage map, which I expect looks a lot like a half-teaspoon of paprika tossed onto a lifesize map of the United States, and confirmed that AT&T did not actually provide coverage in the area this company needed it, and so agreed to terminate the contract without levying an early termination fee. You can guess what they received in the mail a few weeks later. My mother-in-law said it took the company's intern about eight hours on the phone with AT&T to get this sorted out.

So, dear reader, if you are thinking of signing up with AT&T for any service whatsoever, please bear in mind that odds are fairly good that you will not only receive substandard service, but you may be issued charges that you are specifically told you would not be issued, and it will require at least a full workday's worth of time on the phone--for which you will not be properly compensated--to correct their error. As far as I'm concerned, it's borderline criminal that they're able to get away with this time and again, so all I can do is urge you to seek another service provider if there is one available to you.

Update 10/8/11: Nearly a month has passed since I last heard from AT&T and I still have not received the $50 check or the written confirmation of the actions they claim to have taken. (The Better Business Bureau did forward me AT&T's written response to the BBB regarding my case. Their note details the conversation I'd had with Mary and AT&T's promises to rectify things. It contains the sentence, "Mr. Williams was satisfied." I once again grudgingly admire their chutzpah there.) So I called Mary on Thursday and left a cranky voicemail in which I slowly repeated my case number and phone number a few times, just to get under her skin childishly. She called me back Friday and said that she would immediately contact accounts receivable to get the check and final invoice out to me. I asked whether that would be accompanied by her written confirmation that the collection agency has been told to back off and the credit bureaus had been contacted, and Mary told me, "I don't recall saying I would write a letter," as though that were the most absurd imposition that had ever been requested of her. I suppose it's not a big deal because I was going to call the credit bureaus myself anyway, but I remember harping on this specific demand quite a bit in our earlier conversation. I'm beginning to wonder whether all AT&T employees are bashed in the hippocampus with a tow ball as part of orientation.

Update 1/22/12: I suppose I should mention at this point that I did indeed receive the check from AT&T, after a while, and I did spend it on left-wing albums for the library. Phew.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Song Title: "The Night Supervisor"
Artist: Plosive
Search Term: "Plosive"

Artificial intelligence experts are apparently still struggling with creating robots that can eke out a passing grade on the Turing test (without resorting to hilarious bickering), but since the days of Kraftwerk, electronic music fans have been indulging the notion that we're listening to computers and machines singing and performing, writing with superhuman precision but human creativity. That's patently untrue, of course--even the most hands-off generative music ever made has a human catalyst--but the idea that machines could spontaneously decide to create music that successfully captures the ineffable way great compositions can touch our human souls is such a delicious one that it's hard not to allow yourself pretend, on some level, that it's the case. And if you are willing to suspend your disbelief for a few minutes, songs like Plosive's "The Night Supervisor" can be even more masterfully moving than they are on the surface. Meek electric piano and bell sounds carom around the mix with the relaxed but vivid velocity of a Pong game, a fleecy synth bass gingerly provides a warm melody, and spluttering drum-and-bass rhythms keep the song buoyant without overpowering any of the other elements. It's audibly the sound of one person--in this case, a chap named Aaron McCammon--programming noises that make him feel content, with no bristles or thistles to imperil the song's glassy smooth serenity, but the fact that it's a beautiful electronic piece, with that fantasy of sympathetic automatons lingering in the back of the listener's mind, imparts a sense that the world is a more fascinating and benevolent place than one might have suspected. I'm making "The Night Supervisor" sound like kind of a wimpy, flighty endeavor for LARPers and people who post manga drawings of human-cat hybrids on Deviant Art, but I don't think it is. It simply sounds private and intimate, removed from the need for big, extroverted gestures. It's not a vibe I've encountered often in this genre: The closest comparison I can think of is the snug merriment of the excellent indie electronic artist I Am Robot and Proud. The best compliment I can give McCammon is that this song is so friendly and comforting that it's easy to believe that it was written by something better than people.

(FYI: The album from which this track was extracted, Neutral, can be downloaded for free at the label's website.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Song Title: "Gesuidou no Petenshi (Swindler in the Sewer)"
Artist: The Stalin
Search Term: "Swindler"

Japanese punk band The Stalin have me excited about exploring them further, and I can't remember the last time a punk band inspired that reaction in me.

As soon as I typed that sentence, I realized it was about three months ago, when I first heard British punks the Adicts. It's never fun to realize just how much unreliable hyperbole I actually use in everyday conversation, but I am still really stoked on The Stalin.

Singer Michiro Endo breathlessly blurts a series of Japanese lyrics and the band pounds out an acerbic mix of mechanized structure and unpredictable guitar harshness, reminiscent of Gang of Four or early Pere Ubu. (There's a certain complementary resemblance between this song and the latter's indelibly unhinged "Life Stinks.") Once again I can offer no data about this entry's lyrics beyond "They are performed in some godless non-English moon language," but Endo's shouted performance is likably confrontational without toppling into overexaggerated aggro. There's nothing humongously special about "Swindler in the Sewer," since it is, at bottom, just another punk song, but its peculiar energy and adroitly flailing-yet-well-considered production are extremely appealing to me.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Song Title: "American Gladware"
Artist: Divtech
Search Term: "Gladware"

I honestly try not to be a cynical person, but I have absolutely zero hope for the future of our nation. It's terrifying to me, but when I try to envision a future for the United States 20 years down the line, I cannot realistically come up with anything that doesn't look apocalyptic. I can't imagine circumstances under which our elected officials will ever make even a minor effort to slow down the rapid consolidation of all our nation's wealth into the hands of six guys at the expense of a functional society. Nor can I imagine realistic circumstances under which we Americans will be able to actually elect conscience-driven leaders, since I think such an opportunity would require a complete overhaul of our electoral system that would include massive campaign finance reform, a reversal of the Citizens United vs. FEC decision, instant-runoff voting, etc., all of which would require the corrupt elected beneficiaries of our current system to willingly rejigger everything in a way that would likely oust them from their cushy positions.

In the past few years, the public mood has become angrier and angrier as we cope with continuing economic and unemployment crises that resulted from the unchecked--and thus far unpunished--greed of corporate America and its government enablers. Yet those who caused the collapse and who suffered the least as a result have, through various media mouthpieces, successfully convinced a significant chunk of the victims that this anger should not be directed at the amoral plutocrats in charge but at their fellow citizens: Public workers who receive retirement benefits, those unable to find jobs who require a monthly pittance from the government to feed themselves and their families, and basically any of us who would prefer to live in a nation that functions as a large community with the benefits that come from certain judicious shared expenditures rather than in a nation of isolated, mistrustful hoarders who live by a strict code of "every man for himself."

Two of the three current frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination are dominionists who are constantly trumpeting their supposed Christian bona fides but who are essentially running on a platform of increasing taxes on the poor while scuttling every social program and service that might help the neediest among us so that enormous corporations and the obscenely wealthy can continue sopping up all the country's wealth. (The other frontrunner is a dog torturer who recently flat-out remarked, "Corporations are people, my friend.") In a sane society, any political party presenting a nominee whose core principles were so brazenly selfish and callous would be a distant also-ran in every single election. In our America, however, one of these clowns will be waging a viable, potentially victorious campaign against a spineless dud of a incumbent whose famous promises of "CHANGE" were quickly contravened by a laughably fastidious continuation of his predecessor's policies, and who has spent the past two and a half years selling out his onetime supporters by capitulating to the Republicans in pretty much every battle, invariably defending the desires of the richest 1% against the inconvenient needs of the other 99%. (And still the Republicans howl that he's a liberal socialist.) These are our two choices.

As my friend Devan eloquently said, "The lions have convinced the gazelles to be their defenders. The gazelles believe it's in their best interest to protect the lions and ensure that they are fed well with the meat of their brethren. The gazelles are happy to do it because they've been told that one day they could become lions themselves. They will never be lions, but they don't know how to live without the fantasy anymore."

I say all this not just to get it all off my chest--though it did feel nice--but to emphasize that when I say, "The comedy of Bill Hicks is useless," I'm not saying that because I find his aggressively pessimistic take on American life too dark or unreasonably sour. In fact, his messages about Americans' depressing eagerness to lap up mediocrity from pandering politicians, entertainers, and corporations have sadly become no less relevant since his death in 1994. So philosophically, I'm not on an entirely different page from Hicks. My problem with Bill Hicks is he delivered those messages in the form of condescending, misanthropic truisms that never struck me as going any deeper than a high school kid drawing "anarchy" symbols all over his textbooks. (Advertisers use sex to sell sugary drinks! The media distorts the facts! The dangers of recreational drug use are sometimes overstated!) Worse still, I've just never found anything funny about his "I'm the only one in the world with a brain" take-downs of authority figure straw men. I would be a fool not to acknowledge his vast influence on modern comedy, but the only instance in which I've ever laughed out loud at any of his material was his immediate response to Yul Brenner's posthumous anti-smoking PSA (the first 20 seconds here).

The reason I've bothered to launch into a random rant about Bill Hicks today is because this song, by breakcore artist Divtech, offers very little to discuss except for a lengthy sample of Hicks castigating the public for self-medicating with American Gladiators while ignoring their government's ongoing deceit. As with all his routines, Hicks never evinces any honed linguistic skill or interest in pushing his conceits to imaginative lengths; he trafficks in explosive, superficial attacks delivered with a blunt sledgehammer no smaller than Gallagher's. (At one point, Hicks refers to the Gladiators as "pituitary retards" but pronounces it "pit-choo-ary." It's tough to drive home an insult about someone else's intelligence when you egregiously mispronounce a crucial word in your verbal assault.) When Hicks sums up the government's attitude as, "You are free to do as we tell you!" it's the sort of tiresomely sophomoric barb that John S. Hall might toss into a King Missile song to parody antiestablishment blowhards.

I will give Divtech himself a milliliter of credit for recognizing that this sample had become timely again with NBC's ill-fated 2008 American Gladiators remake, but he gets no credit for anything musically. It's generic hard techno through and through.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Song Title: "Cilia Nje Ate Zemar Plot Kujitime"
Artist: Behida Pakastica
Search Term: "Cilia"

I hesitate to even attempt to make any statements of quality regarding this Eastern European folk song because I am way out of my critical depth here. This track was taken from a compilation entitled Kosovo: Music of the Albanian Kosovars, and that is literally all I can tell you for certain. (The song title is likely an English transliteration from the Albanian alphabet, which makes Googling information about it--let alone translating it--a task to which I am unequal.) It's embarrassing for me not because I think anyone reading this expects me to have a working knowledge of every genre into which I jab a toothpick here, but because I worry about potentially causing someone grief if I ignorantly describe a song like this as resembling, say, the Bavarian folk music that's piped ceaselessly throughout poultry gristle depot Zehnder's in Frankenmuth, Michigan, when in fact it's a heartfelt lament regarding some touchy subject that should by no means be dismissed in such a fashion.

I would also likely not be so worried about the potential for such a faux pas if the melody here didn't immediately remind me of the song Zoltan Veramirovich performed in his school talent show on The Critic, which prompted a similarly terrible reaction from the crowd.

So with those caveats issued, I'm going to say this song is just fine and I enjoy it. Pakastica has a weepy but room-filling voice that stops just shy of overpowering the accordion, flute, hand drum, and tambourine that comprise the acoustic arrangement, and although I am at a loss as to what the song's meaning might be, its celebratory tune and relaxed rhythm would fit right in at your next outdoor wedding, Renaissance fair, or corporate trust-building nature retreat.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Song Title: "Sparkly Queen Areola"
Artist: Bitch and Animal
Search Term: "Sparkly"

Egads, this song would be no more off-putting if it sent a stream of maggots and melted Fudgesicles coursing through your headphones. I'm guessing it's meant as a fierce anthem to encourage urban women to push back against the forces that would marginalize them or try to make them feel inferior, so good intentions and all, but the execution is so completely insipid and clangorous that it sounds almost like a witless Phyllis Schlafly parody of how she imagines we liberal feminists greet one another. Between incessant chants of the I-feel-stupid-just-typing-this slogan "All hail ye, Sparkly Queen," either Bitch or Animal recites atrocious "female empowerment" blessings like, "May your crotch never itch/May you always be a bitch," while the other one mostly blares sarcastically and obnoxiously. A violin browses to kill time and the actual musical architecture of the song is provided by bongos and an infuriating succession of cheap orchestral hits. (It was coproduced by Ani DiFranco, whom I respect but who is also no stranger to gnawing on my last nerve.) It's uniquely abominable; I'll say that much. But don't let that pique your curiosity.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"College Rule"

Song Title: "I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts"
Artist: Tin Huey
Search Term: "College Rule" [This track seems to have been saved to someone's playlist that contained the word "college" in the title.]

Punk rock was created as a brute-force rebellion against the logy, vain rock that had been clogging radios in the '70s: Fed up with the unwieldy tedium of Iron Butterfly and the Eagles, the oversimplified legend goes, the Ramones and their contemporaries eschewed everything that wasn't a fast 4/4 beat, a brickbat barre chord, or a sneered antisocial couplet, because why would a rock song require anything else? The first punk albums began to appear in 1976, and it's interesting to discover how quickly punk bands started to once again beef up their songs' infrastructure after this initial turn to elegant simplicity. This song, from Akron art-punkers Tin Huey, was released in 1979, and it's largely a whole bunch of stuff mounded on top of a double-time performance of the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK." Not only does this song replace the Pistols' spartan fuming with pogoing rhythms, cartoonishly bright harmonies, and a horn section, but it undercuts Johnny Rotten's unadorned, charred bile with jokey lyrics about the difficulties of procuring the necessary equipment for a revolution. I'm probably overestimating how much of this track was an intentional satirical comment on the unsustainability of the punk ethic, but I think it's loads of fun when viewed through that lens. (Viewed in isolation, well, it's "Anarchy in the UK" buried beneath layers of quirky-jerky frosting, which is still enjoyable but maybe not terribly necessary.)

Friday, July 29, 2011


Song Title: "Snort of Green"
Artist: Willie Bobo
Search Term: "Snort"

At least 90% as catchy as Herb Alpert at his best and with about 99% of the breezy charm of War's "Low Rider," "Snort of Green" is a Latin funk instrumental showcasing a horn section that is both inescapably a product of the '70s and so catchy that it would sound great in any decade. Percussionist Willie Bobo may not have strictly helmed this song, but I'm guessing he's responsible for the wood blocks, flexatones, and timbales which enliven the rhythm part. (The title presumably refers to trombone player Thurman Green, who composed the song and spends much of it soloing in about as blazing a fashion as can be accomplished with a trombone. Any time any of my friends has solicited a title for an original recording, I have suggested "Chris Willie Williams Named This Song," so I can certainly understand Mr. Green's narcissism.) The ensemble is tight and energetic, and every part matters: It's a small touch, for instance, but the tense chords struck by the keyboardist throughout the song rub smartly against the smooth affability of the rest of the arrangement. There's nothing mind-expanding about this song, but my goodness is it enjoyable party music.


Song Title: "The Helix Nebula"
Artist: My Cat Is an Alien
Search Term: "Helix"

My Cat Is an Alien is a pair of Italian brothers who specialize in experimental sound, not the cute indie-pop their name may suggest. They've shared split releases with big indie-rock names like Thurston Moore, Jim O'Rourke, Jackie-O Motherfucker, and Barbara Manning's Glands of External Secretion, so I am willing to believe that their discography is an estimable treasure chest from which I have had the misfortune to blindly pluck an oxidized Chuck E. Cheese token. Nevertheless, not much happens in this particular eight minutes to impress me. Some humming tones (which is not to say notes) are run through a rapidly oscillating phaser as a lead-in to an insistent phrase pounded out on particularly voluminous-sounding drums, and everything is eventually engulfed by squealing feedback. I don't dislike it, but the distant textures and portentous, rumbling rhythms never really add up to the feeling of a bad-trip supernova the way I think the Opalio brothers intend.

Furthermore, my dogs would like you to know that they take strong exception to this track.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Bedside Manner"

Song Title: "Bedside Manners Are Extra"
Artist: Greenslade
Search Term: "Bedside Manner"

I am in no way nostalgic for my adolescence--it was a dark era of obnoxiousness, self-pity, and inopportune boners--but I do still feel a deep attachment to the music I listened to back then, because the hours I spent communing with my record collection were the only times I felt content and understood. Trite but true. I spent my early high school years busying myself with the emotional devastation of Bob Mould, the messy romantic entanglements on the Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady, and the pining anthems that Joe Jack Talcum contributed to Dead Milkmen and Touch Me Zoo albums, convincing myself that I too was somehow a victim of heartbreak even though I'd never so much as hung out with a girl outside of school. And of course my experience was hardly unique. Were I born ten or 15 years later, for instance, Young Willie would have been able to turn to the wailing desperation and drunk-teen self-absorption of Conor Oberst, the vulnerable mellifluousness of Ben Gibbard, or the pisswater bland mewling of Justin Vernon. So it's with no small amount of affection that I say this track recalls the simper-pop balladry of Chicago, ELO, and Todd Rundgren, and seems to be aimed at a similar demographic of sensitive '70s teens listening to records in their parents' rec rooms, because I'm sure that's the sort of thing I would have lived for were I a child of the pre-punk era.

It certainly does seem calculated to appeal to emotional young folks who think that romance means you let your crush take your self-esteem with her every time she leaves the room. I suppose the lyrics allow for a creepy "Young Girl" reading (possibly involving a pregnancy, ick), but I'm choosing to ignore that and interpret this as a song from the perspective of a teen wondering if he and his private-school sweetheart will still be an item by the end of the summer. Singer Dave Lawson does a fine job of embodying a somewhat possessive guy who doesn't want to seem possessive, and his bandmates back him up with pristinely saccharine harmonies. Further upping the wimp quotient, keyboards do all the heavy lifting in the total absence of guitars: A McCartney-style piano takes the lead, synth strings fill out the arrangement, there's a shimmering solo to enliven things in the middle, and the upbeat final part features a truly goofy analog synth that wouldn't sound out of place on Ween's The Mollusk. As an adult with a neat little domestic life, I enjoy this song's fussy production and the well-balanced mix of mopiness and insincere cheer--with hooks on both sides--but the Frosted-Mini-Wheats-commercial kid in me loves this song because it's an arrow through my sullen heart.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Song Title: "Love's Menu"
Artist: Thomas Mills
Search Term: "Menu"

This dainty instrumental was committed to an Edison wax cylinder in 1907, and the sound is so distorted and melted that I can't even tell what instruments I'm listening to. (Woodwinds and a glockenspiel, maybe?) Composer William H. Tyers was evidently an underappreciated trailblazer in the fields of ragtime and jazz, but this song sounds like a holdover from the Victorian era; a reserved, halting number you'd hear at a society ball for owners of powdered wigs, ornate folding fans, dueling pistols, ladies-in-waiting, and corset-induced consumption. Such is my vast historical understanding. I'm not sure how attracted I'd be to "Love's Menu" if I heard a clearer recording, but thanks to the personality of the wax cylinder itself, this version possesses the same once-high-tech, now-quaint charm as the IBM 704 singing "Daisy Bell."

(That said, the well-intentioned creator of this MP3 has clearly run the recording through an overzealous hiss removal filter, which means there's a gurgling phantom high end in place of the typical ambient crackles you'd hear on a wax cylinder. It's kind of odd. I don't find it so distracting that it detracts much from the tune's eerie music-box beauty, but it might get on the nerves of listeners less ape-eared than I.)

Friday, July 22, 2011


Song Title: "Kubala"
Artist: Joan Manuel Serrat
Search Term: "Sensible" [This is from an album entitled Material Sensible]

In my high school Spanish class many years ago, we were each assigned to find and cut out a newspaper article regarding events in a Spanish-speaking country. Since the Detroit News does not boast a Caracas bureau, however, my teacher's attempt at filling the following day's session with a discussion of assorted news stories was thwarted when nearly everyone independently brought in the only article regarding a Spanish-speaking nation to appear in that day's edition. It was a wire report about Ecuadorian president Abdala Bucaram being ousted after less than six months in office, on trumped-up charges of mental instability. The reason this sticks with me is that the article noted offhandedly that Bucaram had recently released an album called A Crazy Man in Love, which made me giggle stupidly. I never bothered to locate any of the songs from Bucaram's album because I figured they could not possibly live up to the music I imagined: The sounds of an amateur singer doddering soulfully about his pet obsessions over a thin karaoke background. Wesley Willis and Eilert Pilarm rolled into one.

I giggled stupidly again today upon hearing Joan Manuel Serrat's "Kubala," which sounded exactly as I always fantasized Bucaram's album would sound. Now, Serrat is no outsider artist and his music is no mere vanity project. He is, I gather, hugely important in his native Spain, both for his political outspokenness (he made an enemy of Francisco Franco in the '70s and was exiled to Mexico until Franco's death) and for his contributions to Spanish music, particularly in the Catalan language. So I'm certainly not about to dismiss his entire, bountiful discography on the basis of one track. But... this is an inescapably dumb trifle that seems to be about how much Serrat likes soccer, with the guileless, loungey Latin-pop backing provided entirely by a Yamaha keyboard. He sounds like Neil Diamond or Paolo Conte extemporaneously serenading a small crowd in the musical instruments aisle at Costco. I do think it's whimsically clever that Serrat incorporates a pea whistle both as a traditional Latin percussion instrument and to evoke a referee, but even there he doesn't bother using a real pea whistle; it's just a sound effect on the keyboard, likely next to the "barking dog" key! I may not be enjoying this song precisely in the spirit it was intended, because I'm not sure how much Serrat is just goofing around here, but I'm enjoying it enormously nonetheless.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Song Title: "Trip to Kalamazoo"
Artist: Jay Denham
Search Term: "Anomie" [This song is from the Anomie 12". Thanks to Tim for the search term.]

I apologize halfheartedly for all the times I miss a few consecutive days of posting on this blog. There are a few reasons behind these mini-hiatuses that pop up seemingly biweekly: Sometimes I am legitimately too busy. Sometimes I am dealing with a trough of depression that leaves me unable to write or answer e-mails or really do anything more constructive than staring helplessly at a sink full of dirty dishes or at a succession of NewsRadio DVD commentaries. Or sometimes, as in this case, the song I have picked as the subject of my next entry is so ignorable and average that I waste several days' worth of bloggin' time trying to think of something to say about it until I come up with a Webby-worthy editorial hook like devoting a paragraph to hanging a lantern on my own laziness.

Jay Denham is a Detroit techno artist who, based on the evidence, doesn't stray far from that electronic scene's reputation for repetition. He is also understandably fond of the name of Western Michigan city Kalamazoo. It is an extremely satisfying name to say, bursting up quickly from the throat, around the tongue, bouncing off the lips and back through the teeth. However, as a listener, hearing the name stated 62 times over the course of five minutes (I did count) in the absence of other lyrics does little to hold my attention, nor do the accompanying house beats, stacked with the competent-but-who-cares alignment of a pile of folded jeans on a Kohl's sale shelf. Unlike something like Codec & Flexor's terrific "Crazy Girls," whose crackling production is every bit as memorable as its emotionally removed vocals, I can't remember anything about this song when it's not actively thumping in my ears... apart from "Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo."

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Song Title: "Little Yurt on the Prairie"
Artist: Kongar-ol Ondar
Search Term: "Yurt"

Thank goodness our major film studios are currently occupied exclusively with slapping together overbearing action films designed to boost sales of established brands of children's products and "reboots" of franchises that came into being six years ago, because it would otherwise be inevitable that someone would greenlight a film based solely on this song's title. It would be an anachronism-packed, 140-minute family comedy in which a band of foolhardy American pioneers takes a wrong turn at Albuquerque, the menfolk stubbornly refuse to ask for directions as the group plods onward, they caulk their wagons and float across the Bering Strait, and wind up settling in southern Siberia. It would star:

--Will Forte as a bumbling but well-meaning widower intent on traveling west to build a new and better life for his teen daughter. At one point the character flees comically from a bear.
--Yvonne Strahovski as a pretty lady traveling with the group ("pretty lady" being the sum of her characterization), who thinks Forte is deplorably stupid until she has a heart-to-heart with Forte's daughter in which the daughter admits that her dad can often be a dork but he's really a good guy. At this point Strahovski and Forte begin a bland courtship.
--Two disposable Disney Channel test tube babies: One as Forte's daughter and one as an attractive Tuvan native the settlers meet upon reaching their ultimate destination. Their innocent flirting proves that love transcends all cultural boundaries. The two actors would briefly date offscreen but have a very public and acrimonious breakup on Twitter a week before the film premieres.
--Christina Applegate as a good-hearted sexpot named Kit or Ric or suchlike. She intends to start a brothel when she reaches California, but when the travel plans go awry, she settles for teaching the local Siberian women how to dress provocatively. (Possibly in a montage set to Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy.") She encourages Forte's daughter to "go for it" when the daughter is shy around her Tuvan crush. She also encourages Forte to "go for it" when he is shy around Strahovski. Applegate's character does not find love herself because she is a loose woman and therefore undeserving of such.
--Dan Fogler as Cookie, dispenser of beans and fart jokes!
--Ian McShane as Forte's grizzled father who dies in the first reel because McShane would wisely not commit to a larger role.
--Dana Delany as Forte's mother, making us all feel very, very old. She thinks Forte is often too hard on his daughter, who Forte needs to realize is blossoming into a young woman and is no longer a little girl. Upon settling in Siberia, Delany stares out at the landscape and wistfully tells the departed McShane, "We made it," at which point a rainbow appears.
--David Cross and Fisher Stevens as hammy Russian merchants the pioneers meet upon crossing the Bering Strait. In promotional interviews, Cross would be excruciatingly defensive about his appearance in the film, while Stevens would endlessly, desperately advocate for a spinoff sequel revolving around his and Cross's characters.

It would be as big a flop as Wagons East and Almost Heroes, and the studio's annual report would list "the unforeseen underperformance of presumed summer tentpole Little Yurt on the Prairie" as a bullet point under the heading "challenges." The studio would receive a $4.8 billion tax refund and be purchased by Comcast, the end.

So this song. It could actually be a snippet of the soundtrack to the above-described film as the camera lingers on a shot of the Siberian landscape. Cowriter David Hoffner has a background in film and television scores, so the pastoral sweep of the music is authentically cinematic. It's so lovely that it would almost be forgettable if the track weren't goosed by the vocals of Tuvan throat singer Kongar-ol Ondar, who adds an incongruous, enchanting drone while wordlessly doubling the melody in his deep vacuum-cleaner-hose voice. It's like nothing else I've ever heard. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a screenplay to write.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Rumble Strip"

Song Title: "Drag Strip"
Artist: Fender Benders
Search Term: "Rumble Strip" [This song is from a compilation entitled Hot Rod Rumble.]

This is just a slice of hot rod rock that doesn't sound any different from any other hot rod rock song of the era. What is hot rod rock, you ask? Here's what Wikipedia has to say: "Hot rod rock is a form of surf music that incorporates instrumental surf rock with car noises (revving engines and screeching tires). From 1963, the Beach Boys began to leave surfing behind as subject matter as Brian Wilson became their major composer and producer, moving on to the more general themes of male adolescence, including cars and girls, in songs like 'Don't Worry Baby' (1964) and 'Little Deuce Coupe' (1963). 'Little Deuce Coupe' has been stated as one of the earliest forms of hard rock with it's series of buzzing beats [sic]."

As this exhaustive and unimpeachably on-topic summary suggests, the Fender Benders' "Drag Strip" is a nondescript surf-rock instrumental that's disrupted from time to time with would-be intimidating car sounds. The performance is fast and fleet--I've seen some information to suggest that Link Wray may in fact be the guitarist here--but if I didn't tell you the title of the track, you could easily think it was a mildly off-model cover of the Surfaris' "Wipe Out": Same blues chord progression, similar drum rolls; just a roaring engine in place of "Wipe Out"'s opening cackle. And it's not like any of us ever needs to hear "Wipe Out" again, let alone its gearhead cousin.

I promise my next post will feature a song that doesn't sound exactly like some better-known song.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Song Title: "Venus Flytrap and Lightning Bug"
Artist: Custard
Search Term: "Wisenheimer" [This song is from the album Wisenheimer]

Well, once again I am talking out of both sides of my mouth. Yesterday I whimpered that "She's Got Good Dry Goods" was too close to "Rock Around the Clock" to withstand the scornful eye of posterity, even though the former was written long before the latter. Today I have a speedy fuzzbox wisecrack from the 1990s that outright steals its vocal line from the old jazz-pop hit "Yeh Yeh" (popularized by Georgie Fame, I gather), and I am about to gush over it. I'll spare you several paragraphs' worth of hair-splitting rationalizations and defensiveness, and simply say I am happy to own my hypocrisy on this because "Venus Flytrap and Lightning Bug" is the best song I have yet discovered through this blog.

This song isn't a rip-off, though; it's merely a very smart recontextualization. Where "Yeh Yeh" was a fizzy romp--buzzing with the exhilaration of dropping a half-serious come-on and being shocked to find that it actually works--"Venus Flytrap and Lightning Bug" applies that same giddy melody to a doomed couple arguing so raucously that the cops have to break it up. It's the smirkiest of pop allusions, but Custard avoids being irritating about it because the rest of the song is so solid in its own right. The purloined verse is used as a springboard to an electrifying power-pop chorus, with frontman David McCormack howling, "It's violins for our relationship!" as his bandmates harmonize syrupily behind him. The production, courtesy of Eric Drew Feldman (former member of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band and sideman for Frank Black and PJ Harvey), is neither too aggressive nor too glossy, and these guys are playful enough to figure out a way to make a guitar sound like a theramin during the instrumental bridge, which I appreciate. It's two minutes of everything I like about music.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Dry Goods"

Song Title: "She's Got Good Dry Goods"
Artist: Little Buddy Doyle
Search Term: "Dry Goods"

1930s Memphis bluesman Little Buddy Doyle was one of many to sneak tales of fornication into ditties that were squeaky clean on their surface, and apparently this song was secretly risque enough to earn it a place on the 2009 compilation Vintage Songs of Sex, Drugs & Cigarettes. I don't quite get it. The sense of cheeky ribaldry evident in Doyle's voice doesn't come through lyrically at all. Yes, the vocals are often indecipherable because the recording is so murky, but those lines that surmount the technical limitations strike me as either so tame or so veiled that it would be quite a stretch for anyone to hear them as scandalous. Sure, filtered through a perverted enough mind, even lyrically chaste songs like the Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend Some Time Together" or Britney Spears's "If U See Amy" could be interpreted as heart-shaped hot tubs frothing with adult themes and adult situations, but even so, "dry goods" is about the most boringly unsexy code word for sex imaginable.

Musically speaking, there's not much distinctive here, but I imagine fans of early blues take as a given that there will be a certain melodic familiarity to recordings like this, and so may not mind. Personally, I can't avoid comparing it to "Rock Around the Clock," whose songwriters would closely paraphrase this and a number of other songs more than a decade later. I know it's unfair to knock "She's Got Good Dry Goods" based on the ubiquity of one of its successors, since that association is no more Doyle's fault than is the fact that his stage name makes me think of Gilligan's Island, but no matter how many times I try to approach the song with an open mind, the exuberant harmonica is the only element that stands out for me as something special. The rest just feels like a rote retelling of a dirty joke that doesn't tickle me any more now than it did the first dozen times I heard it.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Song Title: "Two Alone by the Waterphone"
Artist: Between
Search Term: "Waterphone"

A waterphone is a Tee Ball tee-shaped musical instrument whose long, hollow neck serves both as a handle and a funnel into which water can be dumped if desired. There are a bunch of metal rods of different lengths that stick up from the waterphone's base, in a circle around the neck, and these are played with a bow to make resonant feedback sounds that sound like a peevish whale. If water has been poured inside the waterphone, the rods give off a psychedelic wah-wah sound as the liquid sloshes around inside. It's not an especially tuneful instrument, but for fans of ambient sound like me, it's a glorious invention. I learned about it on an episode of the educational program Storage Wars.

On this 1980 track from Between, Gary Lynn Todd scrapes out some rusty waterphone groans while Roberto Detree improvises a nimble deconstructed flamenco on a classical guitar. This turns out to be a perfectly peachy pairing, surprisingly enough. It's an atmosphere piece rather than a song that has discernible form or a melody that could stick to the mind of anyone but the world Simon champ, but as long as you don't press "play" expecting a meaty Cheap Trick hook, it is plenty creepy and bewitching.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Song Title: "Leave This Town (on Bicycle)"
Artist: Teamforest
Search Term: "Bicycle"

German songwriter Philipp Buckle mutters a few verses behind an acoustic guitar on which he's idly plucking out four notes over and over for four minutes. It's as thrilling as you'd think. There is a smattering of production to it: A distant keyboard, backwards guitar, and some tinny, garbled percussion that initially made me think one of my open browser windows had suddenly started to play an audio advertisement. The sound is unobjectionable enough--were this song more fully developed, it might have been something genuinely pretty in the weightless, muted Sondre Lerche/Turin Brakes/Kings of Convenience vein--but the guitar that's steering things is such a monotonous wad of blah that the song soon becomes as trying as a kindergarten chorus singing all the words to "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Song Title: "Postage"
Artist: Bakterielle Infektion
Search Term: "Postage"

The artist name may suggest this is another black metal song that I have no business blundering my way through a post about, but it's actually an outstanding, understated bit of Nintendo-inspired 8-bit electronica. It's not as hummable as something like the "Flash Man" theme from Mega Man 2--its sound is tense and subterranean, and to me it sounds like it would have been grafted onto a puzzle game like Marble Madness to make the low-stakes gameplay seem more exciting. At any rate, "Postage"'s moody urgency, blippy percussion, and simple, droning keyboard bassline could convincingly have been the memorable soundtrack to a sedentary suburban preteen's afternoon, had it been released in 1990 instead of 2005.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Song Title: "Happy Right This Second"
Artist: Trinket
Search Term: "Trinket"

"Happy Right This Second" is lovable indie twee-pop that's uncomplicated, catchy, and perky without succumbing to the nettlesome gawkiness of weenies like Tullycraft or All About Chad. Heather Stanfield nasally exults over the things that make her feel fleetingly content: Tiny dogs, grippingly pointless television, and novelty consumer goods. What keeps the song from being overly cornball, though, is the bridge's acknowledgment of a deeper dissatisfaction underneath: "If I try not to dwell on it/Perhaps I can put a spell on it/Be happy for two seconds in a row/Then I'll be the happiest person that I know." It's delivered with such a boppy, honeyed melody that it's clearly intended to be more funny than cynical, but I feel like it gives the song a glimmer of a weightier idea--something about American attempts to keep our collective malaise at bay by continually tossing distracting new toys at it--while still being unaffected enough to allow that those little pleasures can sometimes make life worthwhile regardless of what else is going on in the world, beyond our control. (Tiny dogs are awesome.)

Sadly, I can find no information about Trinket's body of work beyond this song, which was included on a compilation entitled Alright, This Time Just the Girls. I'd love to hear more from them, but if this song was a one-off single and remains the band's only recorded legacy, then they batted a respectable 1.000 in their career. (NB: There exists a different band with the same name, but by all accounts they sound like the Goo Goo Dolls, so we shall count our blessings that our unscientific search yielded the track from the preferable Trinket.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Song Title: "Dusty Old Fairgrounds"
Artist: Blue Ash
Search Term: "Fairgrounds"

Blue Ash was a power-pop quartet named after a Southwestern Ohio city that is home to the headquarters of both Sunny Delight and Citigroup. (So for those of you who have been vacillating between settling in a city that's the epicenter of a world-bankrupting plutocracy or in a city intent on choking America with a citrus-mocking serum that is somehow both too watery and too viscous to be comfortably consumed, there's no need to choose!) This animated number comes from their 1973 debut No More, No Less, which it appears is now regarded as an authentic power-pop classic that I feel slightly sheepish about never having heard of. "Dusty Old Fairgrounds" itself is an old, unreleased Bob Dylan song. It's a nomadic ballad in the vein of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," this time about traveling carnies trying to keep their spirits up in spite of the plodding repetition of their busy season, but in Blue Ash's hands, it sounds a lot like "I Fought the Law." Though the charging tempo may slightly undercut the characters' road-weariness, it's a great deal more fun as a triumphant fuzzbox sprint than it would be as a rickety folk peregrination (the way I expect Dylan would have presented it).

Monday, June 13, 2011


Song Title: "Enfeebled Earth"
Artist: Septic Broiler
Search Term: "Broiler"

Apparently this is the title track from a demo tape that would be Septic Broiler's sole output before changing their name to the far classier but also far lamer Dark Tranquility, so we can maybe give them a pass on the sound quality here. The opening seconds suggest that there may be a guitar hook beneath the congested lo-fi muck, but I tend to think metal songs require better production to be effective. The drums in particular are pretty far back in the mix, which doesn't do much for their intended blast beat attack.

Now, I admittedly know even less about metal than I do about most musical genres, elementary scientific principles, or social mores. While I get that respectable folks like Mark Prindle and John Darnielle respond to the cathartic anger and undeniably impressive musical skill of metal artists, the music doesn't resonate with me beyond the occasional Metallica or Electric Wizard song. So I've never felt compelled to pay much attention to metal in general, let alone dig down and get to know the differences between thrash, death metal, doom metal, etc. I don't look down my nose at metal; there's just not much overlap between that genre and my personal tastes, and so I'm generally not interested in it. I can honestly say that most of what I know about metal I have learned from Brian Posehn's stand-up.

What I do sort of look down my nose at, however, is overwrought silliness. Vocalist Anders Friden growls in that hoarse, low register that is apparently the hallmark of death metal, and I cannot for the life of me picture anyone taking it seriously. Even though this 1990 track probably predates the pejorative "Cookie Monster vocals" that I've seen commonly used with regard to this type of singing, that doesn't make the description any less apt--or less aptly dismissive. Coming out of the brief guitar solo at the three-minute mark, Friden actually just roars, "RAAAGHH!" like a six-year-old wielding a stick that he's calling a sword (or some damned Dragonball Yu-Gi-Oh weapon, who knows what kids do with their time when they're not robotripping on bath salts they got from Twitter).

I can't be alone in finding this stuff immeasurably stupid, can I?

Friday, June 10, 2011


Song Title: "Con Tim Va Nuoc Mat" [give or take a few diacritical marks]
Artist: Bich Loan and CBC Band
Search Term: "Loan"

This crew sadly appears not to be some unremarked-upon house band of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, teeming with misguided pluck and forever convinced that today will be the day that Peter Mansbridge finally looks their way as they ease the viewer once again into the news after a commercial break, nodding subtly but appreciatively at them to communicate, "You brought us back from the Heritage Minute with precisely the correct balance of gravity and optimism for brighter days ahead. Top showing, gents. Top showing indeed." (Why, thank you! I like to think I do have an ear for dialects!)

What Bich Loan and the CBC Band actually were is a Vietnamese rock band that were part of a boom in Western-influenced rock that sprung up as a result of the influx of US soldiers hanging around during the Vietnam War. (Unsurprisingly, the compilation from which this song hails, Saigon Rock & Soul: Vietnamese Classic Tracks 1968-1974, is a release on the invaluable Sublime Frequencies imprint and would almost certainly be worth picking up.) This particular song is a terrific psychedelic snarl derived from pugnacious Nuggets classics like the Amboy Dukes' "Journey to the Center of the Mind." Singer Loan isn't exactly Grace Slick in terms of diaphragmatic force, but she has a reedy scrappiness that suits this lively, loud, anti-romantic jag. It also boasts one of the best squalling wah-wah solos I've ever heard. It's not only a killer song but a rather heartening document of amiable cultural sharing that occurred in the midst of one of the 20th century's bleaker affairs.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Song Title: "King Friday"
Artist: Songs of Green Pheasant
Search Term: "Friday"

When I told my brother about this blog last month, he immediately asked whether he could submit a search term. I had barely gotten the word "sure" out of my mouth when he exclaimed, "'Friday'!" Like many people, my brother has enjoyed a certain fascination with Rebecca Black in recent months. So here we are.

As a nation.

British songwriter Dylan Sumpner, displaying a great fondness for Brian Wilson's hazier melodies and Coldplay's layers of reverbed guitar, has crafted a pleasurably disorienting and remarkably pretty track that delivers what I choose to believe is the tormented inner monologue of a Mr. Rogers puppet. Rather than hewing to traditional pop structure with static verses and choruses, it counterintuitively starts to dissipate once the rhythm picks up, gradually losing its shape and vanishing like a cloud. But in an intentional way--it's not some half-written pop song whose author has irresponsibly allowed it to wander off in an unsupervised daze. Thoughtfully placed signposts pop up no matter how far away you get from the base camp established in "King Friday"'s first minute: A solid bassline here, an acoustic hook there. It's a very clever track, and I think people who enjoy the Beach Boys more than I do (i.e., people) will especially enjoy this.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Song Title: "Baack in the Whelping Box" [I have been unable to determine whether that extra "a" in "Baack" is indeed part of the song title or whether it was a typo that has been perpetuated by file sharers the world 'round]
Artist: Hat City Intuitive
Search Term: "Whelping"

I realize the term "experimental" means something different in the musical world than it does in the scientific world, in the sense that music can be permissibly called experimental even if it's not necessarily some sort of audible test of a hypothesis or innovative notion. Works like Cornelius Cardew's Treatise (sheet music consisting of 193 pages' worth of nonspecific graphic notation which can be interpreted as the performer sees fit) or Yasunao Tone's Solo for Wounded CD (the piercing sounds of a CD player trying to decipher a disc that has been badly mutilated) obviously have the right to snuggle up beneath this umbrella, but in the world of music that's more accessible, I don't think most people put up a fuss if a recognizably pop-based but ambitious and unusual act like, say, Tortoise are described as experimental. I suspect this lowering of the bar is sort of a tacit agreement among music nerds like myself because we all wind up looking better as a result: Everyone wants to be able to say they're broad-minded enough to listen to experimental music, but who genuinely wants to sit through a ruckus like Solo for Wounded CD for pleasure?

However, it does get on my nerves when the adjective is applied to music (or noise) that seems to consist solely of what my dad evocatively refers to as "fiddlefarting around"; recordings that evince no inspiration whatsoever but are instead the sound of people listlessly jamming in the hope of falling into a brilliant idea that never arrives. Case in point: Hat City Intuitive classify themselves as "experimental" on MySpace, but "Baack in the Whelping Box" contains none of the intellectual motivation suggested by that description. It's an improvised writer's-block timekill. Worse still, the improvisation doesn't even come across as skilled; it's childish and aimless to the point that it's unclear from the evidence whether any of these guys has ever gotten within arm's length of a musical instrument in his life before the "record" button was pressed. Certainly none of them seems to be listening to what the other band members are doing in this unsorted heap of cymbals, skronkly guitar, and what may be someone trying to touch-type on a piano. It sounds like the inside of a band's ineptly-packed tour bus as it struggles down a gravel road, and even under an expanded definition of "experimental music" that lets folks like me pat ourselves on the back for listening to Bjork, "Baack in the Whelping Box" is too lazy to even feint at any sort of boundary pushing.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Song Title: "Choral en Mineur"
Artist: Jacques Erdos
Search Term: "Erdos"

Both grand and mangily tinny, this 87-second instrumental from 1982 marries an original classical composition to an instantly-dated synthesizer in a geeky union as successful as similar ones previously achieved by Switched-On Bach and Tangerine Dream. (That's a compliment, I should emphasize. I am nothing if not a fan of "serious" music blurted out by instruments that are as sophisticated as a tuxedo T-shirt.) It appears that the entire album from which this was lifted, Contrepoints: "Baroque Synthetiseur," consists of relatively brief pieces like this, but I think it would be interesting to hear whether they're all portions of one linear, larger work. As a standalone track, "Choral en Mineur" may seem a tad skimpy, but Erdos does wring a complete, gratifying, and surprisingly bittersweet baroque theme from a minute-plus of keyboards whose tone imparts only slightly more gravity than a musical greeting card.