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.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Song Title: "Obstreperous"
Artist: Cybermouse
Search Term: "Obstreperous"

You know how sometimes you'll be sitting at a stoplight and you'll notice that the turn signals on the line of cars in front of you are all blinking in a pleasing pattern for a few seconds, but then they'll fall out of time with each other and you'll cease to find it worth paying attention to? That's pretty much the experience of listening to "Obstreperous." Laser sound effects, cheap drum machines, and amelodic industrial buzzes are all let loose to run around at a variety of not-strictly-complementary tempos. Sometimes they mesh into a reasonably novel electronic gallop for a moment, but more often than not, the unstructured clash and clatter of mismatched rhythms make for a fruitlessly dull scribble.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Song Title: "Can't Make Love by Yourself"
Artist: John Kay & The Sparrow
Search Term: "Sparrow"

The Sparrow was a Canadian band who eventually turned into Steppenwolf and secured a place in the rock canon with "Born to Be Wild," arguably the very first heavy metal song and almost certainly the song most frequently deployed to accompany hilarious footage of infants wearing leather jackets and sunglasses. I never particularly begrudged Steppenwolf their success before, but this truly gross Beatles ripoff rather makes me wish they'd become persona non grata in the music industry after its release. Over a substandard approximation of a Rubber Soul arrangement, John Kay greasily pressures a young woman to put out: "Since you please me, why try to tease me?/'Cause, girl, I won't wait around/Why don't you do what I want to?/[Did not bother to write a final line for this verse]."

It would be one thing if there were any sense that Kay was overplaying his caveman sexual frustration to be intentionally off-putting (like The Litter's truly sinister "Action Woman" or Wall of Voodoo's amusingly desperate "Can't Make Love"), but it seems to me that The Sparrow expects the listener to sympathize with the narrator. In fact, the titular refrain is evidently intended as a total burn on this woman who has too much respect for her body to allow John Kay to smear his bony, mustachioed Canadian frame all over it, betraying an apparent belief that it is impossible for a woman to attain physical gratification without the presence of a man. So it's idiotic as well as appallingly insulting.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Cocktail Time"

Song Title: "Liquid Time, Space"
Artist: Karaun
Search Term: "Cocktail Time" [I have no idea where or why the word "cocktail" appeared in this song's file information--it's from a compilation called Private Lounge 3--but here it is nevertheless.]

Karwan Marouf has a voice and sense of harmony that suggest he's spent quite a bit of time studying how to best approximate the reflective sexiness of Seal. It's a shame that he didn't put anywhere near that amount of effort into constructing this intimate but inchoate downtempo number that sounds like an unfinished Zero 7 demo. The composition is beyond rudimentary--listen to the first 15 seconds and you've heard the entire thing--and even though I understand that Marouf isn't necessarily trying to wow the listener with the complexity of his songwriting, it seems like he could have at least written a second part without sacrificing any of the track's lusty focus.