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.)