Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Scratch Paper"

Song Title: "Scrilla, Scratch, Paper"
Artist: JT the Bigga Figga (feat. Cougnut and 11/5)
Search Term: "Scratch Paper"

West Coast gangsta-rap figure JT the Bigga... oh. Well, it appears JT puts a high personal value on the acquisition of money and is unconcerned about the harm he might cause others as a result of the methods he employs to accrue wealth. [Willie: Remember to write hilarious, trenchant, and unexpected joke about the Koch brothers. --You] It's a serviceable if unremarkable hip-hop track: The obligatory introductions and concluding acknowledgments are as perfunctory as ever, and the past 16 years have rendered some of the slang regrettably square ("Goin' out to my Frisco homies! Yeah!"), but time can't diminish the practiced flow of the featured vocalists. The unoriginal, post-The Chronic production smells a little like hackwork to my untrained ears, but it does offer a great, slinky bassline and a catchy enough chorus. I will give this track my qualified approval, which I'm sure will be a salve to the psyche of Mr. the Bigga Figga.

NB: According to the Rap Dictionary, the first of the synonyms for cash that graces this song's title is properly spelled "Skrilla": "[S]ome stupid ass white boiz spell it 'scrilla' but they wrong."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Song Title: "Infinitesimal Beads of Graphite Dust II"
Artist: Sir Millard Mulch
Search Term: "Graphite"

A brief yet triumphant MIDI instrumental, "Infinitesimal Beads of Graphite Dust II" sounds like particularly pathetic entrance music for a hard-luck boxer. I suppose it might make more sense if I'd heard "Infinitesimal Beads of Graphite I," but taken on its own, it's a fairly funny mismatch of grand musical themes and spindly keyboard tones. This song can apparently be found on the album To Hell with All of You, I Just Wanna Grow My Vegetables! Regardless of the fact that this little nugget gives every indication of being a mere interlude on an album full of proper songs, I like it and I think I'd like to know more about Sir Millard.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Song Title: "A Spoonful of Slurry"
Artist: Tera Melos
Search Term: "Slurry"

The noodly proficiency of jazz-tinged rock trio Tera Melos makes "A Spoonful of Slurry" sound like an excerpt from one of Phish's hours-long jams, divorced entirely from the anchoring pop surroundings that would help the listener make sense of it. It's not unpleasant, mind you; it just ricochets all over the place very quickly, hastily scribbling a single lick and then scooting off in a tangentially-related direction for a few more seconds and so on in that mildly disorienting fashion. The band possesses a studied sense of interplay that keeps the song from sounding random, though, and they're wise enough to keep the production trickery to a minimum, letting the instruments make their own case. Nick Reinhart's guitar is especially talky, but as I say, the arrangement is kept refreshingly simple for such a complicated song. Had Tera Melos been around in the mid-'80s, they would have fit snugly into the SST Records lineup with the dexterous likes of the Minutemen and the Meat Puppets. (And in the '90s they would have sued SST for unpaid royalties.)

Monday, April 25, 2011


Song Title: "Hoosegow"
Artist: 45 Spiders
Search Term: "Hoosegow"

Just a nugatory little indie-rock song. It's got the standard post-Pixies quiet-verse/loud-chorus guitar dynamics and a sluggish tempo and laggardly singing style that remind me of Low. (Well, at 50 BPM or thereabouts, this song would actually be kind of zippy by Low's dilly-dallying standards.) What it doesn't have is a single interesting element. It sounds like it's literally the first song its author ever wrote; a product of that stage where the focus is more on feeling out which chords can sit comfortably next to each other than it is on expressing any sort of creative idea. I'm still posting the song because that's the mandate I've given myself, but I assure you you needn't bother.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Song Title: "Homemade Paneer"
Artist: Modo Trio and Wayne Horvitz
Search Term: "Paneer"

Sometimes I feel like the fewer notes a song has, the more likely I am to enjoy it. It's naturally not a hard-and-fast rule, but rare indeed is the prog-rock song that doesn't lose me halfway through, and if you were to subject me to a technical virtuoso like Steve Vai, you would actually be able to watch me impatiently purse my lips tighter and tighter with each successive hammer-on until I was indistinguishable from a platypus. On the other hand, I never tire of the Ramones' three-chord rudimentariness, and I'm perfectly willing to sit through ambient or minimal electronica that I don't even think is done well (see Procer Veneficus) because I usually find that sort of thing comforting and agreeable. So when it comes to jazz, it's no surprise that my tastes run less toward fiery improvisation and more toward the mellow (which is not to say smooth) style of folks like Chet Baker.

Which makes Manitoba's Modo Trio (abetted here by American keyboardist Wayne Horvitz) just fine in my book. Four plinkity notes from a marimba or xylophone roll over and over like a gummed-up washing machine drum, and an organ and trumpet hop on for the ride, simply holding their notes until one of them doodles a little, just for variety. Even when Horvitz's distorted keyboard barges into the mix to give the piece a little muscle, it's not boisterous enough to threaten the relaxing vibe. To my jazz-for-dummies ears, this song nestles itself in a cozy spot halfway between the fresh peacefulness of Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain and the weirdly celebratory indie-rock droning that Yo La Tengo does so well on songs like "Beach Party Tonight." Low-key and cleansing, it's an unpretentious treat.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Song: "And Unrequited as Well"
Artist: Kettel
Search Term: "Unrequited"

If this song is at all indicative of the level of creativity that Dutch electronic guy Kettel generally offers, I really hope he starts getting the attention he deserves. (Maybe he does in the Netherlands, but I'm talking about the USA, "The Country That Matters®.") Superficially, "And Unrequited as Well" draws comparisons to Brad Mehldau's freewheeling jazz covers of Radiohead songs and particularly the frictionless electro-bloops of Royksopp's "Eple," but the skillfully-engineered arrangement is closer to the deep-focus tableaux of Four Tet. It's a difficult song to pin down: On top of the fact that a couple different time signatures have been let loose simultaneously, there are a few odd, stumbly breaks that don't dislocate things but do ensure you're paying attention, and it's not always easy to tell where the organic musicianship ends and the programming and sampling begins. There's no way you'd be able to hum any of the instruments' parts because they seem to be jumping semi-randomly around a prescribed scale, as they do in IDM tracks. However, for all the academic showiness, it's an accessibly musical composition whose slippery nature is invigorating rather than maddening. I really love this.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Song Title: "Can I Touch Your Leg?"
Artist: Bilge Pump
Search Term: "Bilge"

British dance-punk trio Bilge Pump play with a practiced energy that would be infectious if the rapid patterns of drum, sludgy bass, guitar, and disengaged vocals came anywhere close to constituting hooks. (Or if they committed wholeheartedly to bracing, sarcastic ugliness like Cheveu's fine recent album, 1000.) Instead, there's an admirable amount of effort devoted to negligible returns. This track opens with nearly a minute of cows lowing, and it's far more interesting and cohesive than anything that happens thereafter.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Song Title: "Bad Game"
Artist: Jane
Search Term: "Gams"

Well, okay, this song was mislabeled "Bad Gams" when I downloaded it. Combined with the band name, I had hope that it was going to be a smart, raucous girl-punk song or suchlike. Turns out it's actually called "Bad Game" and it's a shitty, ZZ Top-style blues-rock waste of time. Very disappointing.

Someone needs to please write a smart, raucous girl-punk song called "Bad Gams" posthaste.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Song: "Phooey Phooey on You"
Artist: Socialites
Search Term: "Phooey"

Not all '60s pop singles that get rediscovered decades later are forgotten classics. This klutzy number, for one, highlights uninspiring girl-group vocals, sub-Phil Spector production and ? and the Mysterians-style keyboards, while the barely-present guitarist seems to have been invited to the recording session only because his mom was friends with his bandmates' moms. The song's only memorable feature is a confounding organ break that sounds as though the keyboard player is trying to work out an idea for a different song in the middle of this one. "Phooey" is kind of funny to listen to once or twice, but it approaches neither a bare minimum of competence nor an enduring, Shaggs-esque level of cluelessness; may as well once again consign it to the limbo of lousy also-rans.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Song: "Peony Lantern"
Artist: Ikue Mori
Search Term: "Peony"

Ikue Mori is an experimental percussionist and composer (who has apparently worked with such luminaries as Sonic Youth, Arto Lindsay, Mike Patton, and John Zorn, though not on any projects I believe I've ever heard). Knowing that, you will likely not be surprised to hear that this track is a shape-shifting celebration of the sounds of things colliding with other things, filtered through any number of computer effects that render the entire thing at once more precise and more sprawlingly messy than any human drummer could ever achieve. It doesn't strike me as unlikably pretentious at all, though. In fact, it's really cool: At some points there is a distant, chiming, placid rhythm to the piece and at other points it's just a tumbling aural collapse, but either way the noises she conjures are fascinating. Everything is so heavily delayed, pitch-altered, and otherwise mutated that the only sounds I can take a reasonable stab at identifying are the juxtaposition of a live cowbell and the crummy "cowbell" sound from an old 808 machine that show up at around the 5:00 mark. There's obviously nothing traditionally songlike about it, but Mori's hollow, amelodic composition is a thing of such otherworldly beauty that, if outer space were able to carry sound, I expect it's the sort of thing a stranded astronaut might hear while floating in the no man's land between celestial bodies.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Song: "A Rat's Brain Controls a Robot Arm"
Artist: Stochastic
Search Term: "Stochastic"

Here's your weekly electronic track, so you can heave a sigh of relief and retreat from the edge of your chair. Yes, the drum machine scampers around like a millipede trying to evade the entomologist's pin and there's a sci-fi dialogue sample that I'm guessing is there as a Strong Bad allusion, but it's not some generically unfulfilling electronica nothing this time, so Kristopher Bernard (the chap who is Stochastic) has my gratitude. Thanks in particular to some agreeably swift keyboards, "A Rat's Brain Controls a Robot Arm" recalls the friendly, tuneful laptop glitch of I Am Robot and Proud as much as the antsy drum-and-bass of μ-Ziq. I personally find this type of high-velocity pinging and skittering very enjoyable, and I think the same would likely be true for most people who've ever listened to the Sonic the Hedgehog score outside of the context of playing the game.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Song: "Fuck It, I Quit"
Artist: Scholastic Deth
Search Term: "Scholastic"

There are different sorts of yelling that hardcore vocalists employ, and while I've never been much impressed by those who try to sound sincerely intimidating or shriekingly apoplectic, I can get a certain amount of enjoyment out of those who don't sound like anything other than snot-nosed teens too defiantly apathetic to try to sing (or who find keeping up with the band such a challenge in its own right that adding a melody on top of it ain't gonna happen) and don't expect you to take them any more seriously than they take themselves. So I at least give Scholastic Deth's singer credit for his unpretentious energy.

Furthermore, although I tend to think that starting a punk band in this day and age is about the most irrelevant path one could take outside of starting a phrenology practice, these guys at least seem to have the right mindset to make diverting--if thoroughly inessential--hardcore. They squeeze four or five different ideas for songs into precisely one minute, with no attempt made to segue from one part to the next, while the singer hollers unintelligibly and everyone sounds like they're having a high old time bashing it out. There's nothing in the vocal or guitar parts that distinguishes "Fuck It, I Quit" from probably literally a million other hardcore songs, but the structure is at least somewhat novel. I imagine fans of early DRI or the Circle Jerks will be pleased.

Monday, April 11, 2011

"Prairie Dog"

Song: "Prairie Dog Hole"
Artist: Floyd Dixon
Search Term: "Prairie Dog"

It's tough for me to really get into a jaunty cowboy blues number that's about a horse being put down because he's broken his leg. I have no trouble with songs about any number of tragedies befalling humans, because I tend to think we have it coming, but songs about unhappy or unlucky animals just strike me as somehow unjust. (Unless there's a larger message or grace note to the song, like Neko Case's "People Got a Lotta Nerve" or the Handsome Family's "Snowball.") Replace the horse with an infant, though, and this song would be tickety-boo, as far as I'm concerned!

I really don't know enough about this kind of music to be able to describe it well, unfortunately; Dixon was apparently primarily a blues artist, but to me this song sounds more like the loping piano jazz of Fats Waller, so I can't tell you what the proper classification should be. It's a sprightly strut of a tune, and the musicians do seem to be getting their jollies. (The guitarist kicks off his solo with a quick "shave and a haircut," for instance.) I doubt I'll ever listen to it again, though. That poor fictional horse.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Song: "Speak, Marauder!"
Artist: Cinema Strange
Search Term: "Marauder"

Cinema Strange seem to be commonly categorized as a "death rock" band, which makes it no surprise that "Speak, Marauder!" deals in mutilation and rot the way most disco songs fall back on the topics of booties and boogying. Evocative lyrics like "Legs of wood, burlap, canvas, belt, and hood/And screams like freezing rusty nails and stitches running through his neck" suggest that it may be about a haunted scarecrow? Or a living soul consigned to a scarecrow's body? Whatever it is, there are a lot of well-thought-out, successfully creepy images on offer here.

However, lest you think Cinema Strange are a self-serious bore like most bands who try really hard to be sinister, their music evinces a sense of playfulness and humor that neither betrays the ghoulish lyrics nor allows things to get dour. Between the tinny drum machine, the Radio Shack keyboard, the rubbery phased/flanged guitar, and Lucas Lanthier's pinched yelp, the production is so proudly cheesy that it sounds like the Residents fronted by the Tales from the Crypt Crypt Keeper. (So, you know, like the Residents.) At six and a half minutes, it overmatches my attention span by 30% or so, but it's nevertheless an intelligent slice of B-movie grime by that rare band who realizes how blurry the line is between horror and camp and wisely embraces both sides.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Song: "Taint in the Cards"
Artist: Boo Trundle
Search Term: "Trundle"

As this song begins, with Boo Trundle intoning an overanalytical description of romantic ambivalence while plucking her acoustic guitar, it sounds like it's going to be the sort of forgettable mid-'90s singer-songwriter pap that would accompany a shot of Claire Danes lolling moonily on her bed on My So-Called Life. Things take a turn for the tuneless and obnoxious, though, when the backing band kicks in and Trundle decides to up her volume to make sure we know how hard she means whatever she means. After the first chorus--in which she starts howling some drawn-out, chewed-up word, Alanis Morissette-style ("Dra-hee-yaa-hee-yaa-hee-yaa," etc.)--I literally cringed the next time I knew the chorus was imminent. So as a behavioral conditioning exercise, "Taint in the Cards" would have Pavlov salivating... with envy.

As a song, it's godawful.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Song: "Courtesy Is Considered as a 'Farce' If There Are No Honesty and Reality"
Artist: Te'
Search Term: "Courtesy"

Te' is a Japanese instrumental quartet who list expressively dynamic post-rock bands like Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor among their influences, but you wouldn't know it from this sturdy, confusingly titled Brinks truck of a song. (I think someone must have used a shoddy online translation tool to come up with the English packaging of their debut, because the album itself has the perplexing name If That Is What Is Being Thought, Liberated Sound Talks the Depth of [Musical] World.) The thick, heavy bass and dexterous drumming--lots of clean, practiced high-hat rolls to complement the overdriven galumphing of the bass and snare--are straight out of the Flaming Lips' playbook, and an echoey guitar casually surfs in the rhythm section's sizable wake. In spite of the hefty bottom end and the fact that the whole composition boils down to a single riff, though, it moves with a surprising nimbleness that I think most listeners will find bracing if they allow themselves to get whisked up into its slipstream. I certainly dig it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Song: "Lectern Made of Seashells"
Artist: Bonaduces
Search Term: "Lectern"

Winnipeg's politely loud Bonaduces sound exactly how you'd expect a rock band from Winnipeg to sound, judging by "Lectern Made of Seashells." Its rapid, bouncy mirthfulness and twee vocalizing suggest that it's part of a cheeky experiment to see just how far punk rock can be diluted before critics will stop referring to this sort of arrangement as "pop-punk" and acknowledge that it's just pop. (The song is one distortion pedal away from sounding like an outtake from the Lemonheads' wuss-rock classic It's a Shame About Ray.) I'm not crazy about it myself, but the only specifically aggravating element of the song I can point to is the yucky refrain "I can't add days to your life, but I can add life to your days," so maybe you'll like this song if you're less cranky than I am.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Song: "Deliberate Indifference"
Artist: The Frumpies
Search Term:

My initial thought was, "This sounds like some high school-age friends leaned a tape recorder against the far wall of the garage and then haltingly ran through this crayon drawing of an indie-pop song with brows furrowed and lips pursed, trying to get through it once without screwing up." That turns out not to be accurate. The Frumpies are in fact composed of the drummer from Bratmobile and the three quarters of Bikini Kill that aren't Kathleen Hanna. I leave it to the reader to decide whether this particular roster means I was underestimating or overestimating the group's general musical proficiency.

The tempo lags, the song is underwritten by any reasonable measure (two barre chords in the verses, three in the chorus), and the lyrics evaporate beneath the cavernous reverb. Nevertheless, I like "Deliberate Indifference" an awful lot. The lo-fi production doesn't feel like a retro affectation the way it does with, say, the Dum Dum Girls, and although she's unintelligible, the vocalist puts audible, aching emotion behind her singing. It's as basic as can be, but it's a flavorful reduction.

Friday, April 1, 2011


Song: "Hooliganism"
Artist: Explorersz
Search Term: "Hooliganism"

The profusion of idiotic California ska bands that metastasized in the mid-'90s (Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger, Save Ferris, etc.) pretty well obliterated any interest I may once have had in delving into the genre beyond Madness and whatever Camper Van Beethoven chose to do with that distinctive rhythm. But this modest ska smoothie is pretty likable for what it is: Eschewing the fratty "pop-punk" leanings of the '90s revival, Explorersz reach further back to the milder, calypso-based roots of the sound, with no distortion on the guitar and charming details like the way the familiar brass instruments pause for an uncertain-sounding harmonica break. The heavily accented singer, who seems to be scraping his very deepest register for the sake of regalness, repeatedly admonishes that "hooliganism is very bad," but the pervading cheerfulness completely avoids any sense that he's wagging his finger at anyone. It's hardly original or even noteworthy, but it does provoke a smile or two.