04 September 2017

1967: the playlist

Here are all the songs that were played (both recorded and live) at 1967 A-Go-Go on September 2nd, 2017:

Pouring Water On A Drowning Man - James Carr
Slip Inside This House - 13th Floor Elevators
Adam's Apple - Wayne Shorter
Day And Night - Nina Simone
The First Cut Is The Deepest - PP Arnold
Frank Mills - Hair
Rudy, A Message to You - Dandy Livingstone
Different Drum - Stone Poneys
The Boat that I Row - Lulu
I Don't Want To Discuss It - Little Richard
Make The Madness Stop - The Free Design
She May Call You Up Tonight - The Left Banke
(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me? - Small Faces
Incense And Peppermints - Strawberry Alarm Clock
Comic Strip - Serge Gainsbourg
Bike - Pink Floyd
Ode To Billie Joe - Bobbie Gentry
Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye - Leonard Cohen
Happy Together - The Turtles
Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon - Neil Diamond
Here Comes The Night - The Beach Boys
Ruby Tuesday - The Rolling Stones
Mrs. Robinson - Simon & Garfunkel
San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair) - Scott McKenzie
The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion) - The Grateful Dead
Soy Loco Por Ti, América - Caetano Veloso
Aquarius - Hair
[Prince Regent and the Sweethearts – 1st Set]
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band [Beatles]
Waterloo Sunset [Kinks]
Bummer in the Summer [Love]
Here Comes My Baby [Cat Stevens/The Tremeloes]
I Was Made To Love Her [Stevie Wonder]
You Left The Water Running [Wilson Pickett]
Buck [Nina Simone]
Little Wing [Jimi Hendrix Experience]
I Am The Walrus [Beatles]
Tears of a Clown [Smokey Robinson & the Miracles]
Piece of My Heart [Erma Franklin]
Never My Love [The Association]
007 (Shanty Town) - Desmond Dekker
Mellow Yellow - Donovan
Dedicated To The One I Love - The Mamas and The Papas
Beggin' - The Four Seasons
Hip Hug-Her - Booker T & The MGs
We're A Winner - The Impressions
A Question Of Temperature - The Balloon Farm
Strange Brew - Cream
Tried So Hard - Gene Clark
Itchycoo Park - Small Faces
Groovin' - The Rascals
Have You Seen Her Face - The Byrds
Dear Eloise - The Hollies
Come On Down To My Boat - Every Mother's Son
Trip To Your Heart - Sly and the Family Stone
[meant to play: Call Any Vegetable - Mothers of Invention]
[Prince Regent and the Sweethearts – 2nd Set]
Vegetables [Beach Boys]
Fire [Jimi Hendrix Experience]
White Rabbit [Jefferson Airplane]
Sure 'Nuff 'n' Yes I Do [Captain Beefheart]
I'm Waiting For The Man [Velvet Underground]
(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone [The Monkees]
Nobody But Me [The Human Beinz]
Gimme Some Lovin' [Spencer Davis Group]
I Heard It Through The Grapevine [Gladys Knight & The Pips]
Bernadette [The Four Tops]
Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) [Beatles]
The Flesh Failures (Let The Sunshine In) [Hair]
Tighten Up - Archie Bell & The Drells
Expressway To Your Heart - The Soul Survivors
The Oogum Boogum Song - Brenton Wood
Southern Fried Frijoles - Jimmy Castor Bunch
Pata Pata - Miram Makeba
Soul Finger - The Bar-Kays
I'm A Believer - The Monkees
Les Filles C'est Fait Pour Faire Amour - Charlotte Leslie
Break On Through (To The Other Side) - The Doors
Making Time - The Creation
Underdog - Sly and the Family Stone
(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher - Jackie Wilson
Looking For A Fox - Clarence Carter
The Letter - The Box Tops
The Devastator - Stormy
I'm Going Back Home - Nina Simone
Born Under A Bad Sign - Albert King
Sunday Morning - The Velvet Underground
Sunday Morning - Margo Guryan
Carrie Anne - The Hollies
Care Of Cell 44 - The Zombies
Sweet Soul Music - Arthur Conley
"Mission: Impossible" Theme - Lalo Schifrin
Shake - Otis Redding
Jimmy Mack - Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
David Watts - The Kinks
I Think We're Alone Now - Tommy James and the Shondells
A Little Bit You, A Little Bit Me - The Monkees
Creeque Alley - The Mamas and the Papas
(I Wanna) Testify - The Parliaments
Knock On Wood - Eddie Floyd
Respect - Aretha Franklin
Sticks - Cannonball Adderly
If This Is Love (I'd Rather Be Lonely) - Eddie Spencer
Cold Sweat - James Brown
Save Me - Aretha Franklin
Tell Mama - Etta James
Swlabr - Cream
Good Morning, Good Morning - The Beatles
Let's Spend The Night Together - The Rolling Stones
There She Goes Again - The Velvet Underground
Somebody To Love - Jefferson Airplane
I've Been Lonely Too Long - The Rascals
Gimme Little Sign - Brenton Wood
Do Right Woman, Do Right Man - Aretha Franklin…
[3rd Set]
Do Right Woman, Do Right Man [Aretha]
(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman [Aretha]
I'd Rather Go Blind [Etta]
A Change Is Gonna Come [Sam]
Dock Of The Bay [Otis]
Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye [Leonard]
Whew! Surely, that's an exhaustive set all of possible 1967 classics, right? Guess again... Here's just a few of the things that DIDN'T get played:
Sam and Dave - Soul Man
Van Morrison - Brown Eyed Girl
Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell - Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Johnny Cash/June Carter - Jackson
Procol Harum (or Alton Ellis, or the Everly Brothers or...) - A Whiter Shade of Pale
James Carr - The Dark End of the Street
Sly & The Family Stone - Dance To The Music
Pierre Henry - Psyche Rock
Louis Prima - I Wanna Be Like You [from The Jungle Book]
Bob Dylan - You Ain't Going Nowhere; I Shall Be Released
Country Joe and the Fish - Feel-Like-I'm-Fixing-To-Die Rag
The Bee Gees - To Love Somebody
Frankie Valli - Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You
Louis Armstrong - What A Wonderful World

1967: the previews

Here are all the songs I posted leading up to the 1967 a-go-go party, held on September 2nd, 2017.

1967 PREVIEW JAM #1: "San Francisco"
We're two weeks out from this lil shindig! (And, I gotta say, the vocal harmony rehearsals are sounding RIGHTEOUS)
Every day until party-time, I'm gonna share a classic 1967 jam to help get you in the groove. Here's an obvious place to begin: pretty much the unofficial anthem of the Summer of Love, and a not insignificant factor in encouraging hordes "gentle people" to congregate in the bay area over the course of the year...
It was written by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas (who are from LA, by the way), and performed by Scott McKenzie, whose other main claim to fame is having written the Beach Boys' "Kokomo," twenty years later.
Apparently it was the second biggest-selling 1967 single worldwide – 7 million copies! (the Bee Gees' 'answer song' "Massachussetts" was the fourth) – which means, interestingly, that it was a substantially bigger hit outside of the US (where it only reached #4; and #48 on the year-end chart.)
Between the glockenspiel and the obligatory sitar, it does a decent job of summing up the '67 pop zeitgeist too (just missing some vocal harmonies.) Killer bridge too!

1967 PREVIEW JAM #2: "So You Want To Be A Rock'n'Roll Star"

By the way, none of the songs I'm sharing here will be performed by the band at the party... no spoilers – you'll just have to come and find out what made the setlist.
I did initially hope we'd do this one – for some reason, it's one of the first things I thought of when I concocted this whole crazy idea. Funny thing is that it's not really a rock'n'roll song at all – more like a slightly psychedelic Latin number. Not too many pop/rock songs feature a guiro. The trumpet is played by South Africa's Hugh Masakela, whose big hit "Grazin' in the Grass" wouldn't come out until '68.
I've always loved the lyrics, whose utterly deadpan sarcasm regarding the commodification of rock'n'roll (complete with hordes of screaming fangirls) makes an interesting juxtaposition with the song's fairly progressive, hard-driving, decidedly non-cookie-cutter music.
It was apparently inspired by the Monkees, who had only arrived on the fast-moving scene a few months earlier. (Their TV show debuted in September '66; their first LP came out in October; their second dropped on January 9th – the same day as this song!; by the end of the year they'd become a fully autonomous band and release two more albums.) But it also feels a bit self-mockingly autobiographical, especially as it grows a little more reflective in the final stanza.
Anybody know where I can get some Byrds™ plasticware?

1967 PREVIEW JAM #3: "Pleasant Valley Sunday"

And speaking of the Monkees... and cynicism...
This one's great. Such a flamboyantly sneering takedown of suburban Squaresville (a.k.a. "status symbol land") – it's like they were DETERMINED to convince you they weren't on the side of the normals. I guess with the Byrds writing that kinda song about you, you might feel like you had something to prove...
This was a #3 hit single and was also on their THIRD album of the year, the oh-so-1967-titled Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd. It was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin which explains a lot about why it's so awesome.
(Their other major writing credit of the year was Aretha's "Natural Woman," which might be one of my top 5 favorite songs ever.) But a good chunk of it is also down to the instrumental performances, the best of which - that killer lead guitar riff and the neat piano figure in the bridge – were indeed actually played by Monkees.
I do kinda wish we were playing this one too – but instead we're playing a possibly even radder Monkees tune... come find out which one!

1967 PREVIEW JAM #4: "All Because Of You"

Yesterday I saw the film Detroit, which is an extremely intense and powerful (and shamefully relevant) portrayal of, surely, one of the most hideous events to take place in 1967: the Algiers Motel Incident during the Detroit riots of the long hot summer. A far cry from the Summer of Love. I highly recommend seeing it – it's playing at the Cinemark in UCity ($5 tix on tuesdays!) – but definitely brace yourself before you go.
One of the more surprising elements of the story presented in the film is the involvement of Larry Cleveland Reed, a member of the R&B group the Dramatics. (Apparently, there were actually two members of the Dramatics there during the incident, though the movie only shows one.) Reed's presence gives the filmmakers an opportunity to inject some music, including this song – which was indeed a 1967 single – and creates a narrative link to the most notable musical force in Detroit at the time, which was of course Motown records.
1967 was a transitional year for Motown: there were still plenty of hits to be sure (including several all-time killer jams that we'll be performing next Saturday...!), but most of my favorite, iconic "classic era" Motown singles came earlier, while the edgier, more experimental and progressive stuff didn't get started until '68 (the Supremes' "Love Child"; the Temptations' "Cloud Nine," etc.), which was also the year that Berry Gordy started shifting the whole operation to LA – a move inspired at least partly by the '67 Riots. Not unrelatedly, 1967 also marked the end of Motown's relationship with Holland-Dozier-Holland, who had written many of the label's biggest hits.
But the Dramatics, even though they were from Detroit, weren't on Motown (though, according to the movie, they were trying hard to get signed there) – this single came out on a tiny, short-lived local label (Sport), and they later (in the '70s) had a bunch of hits on Stax/Volt. Still, this song is obviously right in line with the Motown sound – "Get Ready," in particular, is a rather audible influence. Who knows, maybe it even featured some of the same players. Love that big honking sax!
Further connections: both "All Because Of You" and its flip (the ballad "If You Haven't Got Love," which is actually the A-side) were written by Sidney Barnes – shortly thereafter a member of the psychedelic soul group Rotary Connection, whose 1967 debut is well worth checking out – and Andre Williams, a longtime legend of weird, funky leftfield R&B (and a proto-rapper of sorts) who started out in the '50s and is still at it (he put out a pretty great album last year.)

1967 PREVIEW JAM #5: "If This Is Love (I'd Rather Be Lonely)"

Keeping it on the Northern Soul tip – this red hot lil number was originally recorded by a Detroit group, The Precisions, who had a minor hit with it in 1967 (#26 R&B, #60 pop.) This version, evidently cut quickly thereafter, uses the exact same (totally killer) backing track.
But while the original is great I'd say this one gets a slight edge thanks to the gritty, desperate vocals of Lynval "Eddie" Spencer, a Jamaican-born singer who settled in Toronto after touring there with a ska band earlier in the decade. (I first heard it on the great Light in the Attic compilation Jamaica to Toronto: Soul Funk & Reggae 1967-1974 – evideyntly there were enough such transplants to make up a scene very worthy of documenting.) I'll have more to say about Jamaica before this series is through...
Mothership connection: one of the song's three co-writers, the awesomely named Cholly Bassoline, is/was later a manager of Parliament-Funkadelic for many years (he's thanked on the liner notes of many P-Funk albums, and is the namesake/subject of a track on Funkadelic's 1978 One Nation Under A Groove.) I have no way of knowing this, but it seems possible he was already involved with (perhaps even managing?) George Clinton and his group at the time, The Parliaments, who scored their first big hit with "(I Wanna) Testify" – recorded in Detroit even though the band was based in New Jersey – in (you guessed it) 1967.

1967 PREVIEW JAM #6: "Tell Mama"

So there was obviously plenty going on up North, for my money Southern soul is really where it was at in '67... in Memphis, Stax/Volt was riding high with Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Booker T & the MGs, Carla Thomas, and of course Otis Redding (in his final year – he died on December 10th), while James Carr cut a string of classics for Goldwax (so good!)
Meanwhile, an equally ridiculous bounty of iconic soul grooves were being laid down at FAME studios down in Alabama, including timeless work by Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, both Northerners who were sent to record there by Atlantic's Jerry Wexler. Leonard Chess (of Chess records) did the same for Etta James, effectively rebooting her career with this fiery, indelible anthem – a slight tweak of Clarence Carter's "Tell Daddy" (does it really count as an 'answer record' if all you do is switch the genders?) – as well as the eponymous full-length that followed in early '68.
It's interesting what James had to say about the song, looking back – apparently she never really liked it: "Maybe it's just that I didn't like being cast in the role of the Great Earth Mother, the gal you come to for comfort and easy sex. Nothing was easy back then."
Fair enough, but it's hard to deny the track's monster groove, nor how fiercely James rips into it. (Incidentally, the single's B-side – the blues ballad "I'd Rather Go Blind" – is completely different, yet every bit as potent and classic.)

1967 PREVIEW JAM #7: "Pata Pata"

Is there a happier piece of music in existence?
I know very little about Miriam Makeba, although she was clearly a highly fascinating, multifaceted figure. (Did you know she was married to Stokely Carmichael?) Anyway, this song was a #12 hit in the US, and it's not hard to hear why, even if listeners at the time had next to no context for African music. (Save, I guess, for "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" aka "Wimoweh," which Makeba also recorded, in its original Zulu, on her first album in 1960.) If anything, she initially reached an American audience in more of a folk context (she did a Grammy-winning 1965 LP in collaboration with her longtime supporter Harry Belafonte), but this is a pop song through and through.
Supposedly Makeba originally wrote (and recorded?) "Pata Pata" in 1957 when she was still in South Africa. But it also has a co-writing credit from (Philly-born!) R&B/pop songwriter Jerry Ragovoy (who also wrote "Piece of my Heart" – which was also originally released in 1967.) Not sure what the story is there, but I'm intrigued.
The B-side is a rather pro forma rendition of the schmaltzy/maudlin Broadway tune "Ballad of the Sad Young Men." I guess she wanted to show her range?
By the way, the song is Makeba's native tongue, Xhosa (except the parts that are in English, obv.) The title means "touch, touch." Ok, I think it's Pata Pata time!

1967 PREVIEW JAM #8: "Whiter Shade Of Pale"

From "Johannesburg way" to Kingston town... Down in Jamaica, '67 was the heyday of the relatively slow, deeply groovy genre of rocksteady – essentially, the link between ska and reggae – which originated in 1966 and was on the way out by 1968. Though short-lived, the style gave us plenty of enduring, oft-covered island classics, including Alton Ellis' "I'm Still In Love With You," Desmond Dekker's "007 (Shanty Town)," Dandy Livingstone's "Rudy, A Message To You" and the Paragon's "Tide Is High" (all originally from 1967.)
Of course, Jamaican musicians' relationship with (in particular) US R&B and soul music being what it was, the covering went the other direction as well. Ellis, called the father of rocksteady, included renditions of several then-current international hits on his aptly titled Sings Rock and Soul LP, including the Foundations' "Baby Now That I've Found You," the Bee Gees' aforementioned "Massachussetts," and this, the highest-charting and best-selling 1967 single worldwide.
"A Whiter Shade of Pale," as the original song is properly titled, was the debut single for England's Procol Harum and, obviously, by far its most successful. (Though they did have a couple of other hits I'd never heard of.) My dad recently picked up a two-CD set of the band's first four albums, which DOESN'T include "Whiter Shade," even as a bonus track – it's slightly mind-boggling to me that such an item exists. (Their rationale for leaving the song off their debut LP, which didn't come out 'til '68, was essentially "well, if The Beatles can do it...")
It's not hard to see why it caught on (for one thing, organs were seemingly as zeitgeisty in 1967 as they were in 1667), but also why its success was hard to duplicate – what's harder to divine is why it works as well as it does. It seems like it should come across as numbingly pretentious, what with all that flowery, allusive, high-minded lyrical poetry and the proto-Prog Bach-cribbing harmonic complexity – yet it manages to feel at once solemn and sprightly. Even after five decades of overplay there's something fresh about it. I guess that's just the magic of 1967.
And if the biggest problem with the original version is that you can't really dance to it...well, now you can!

1967 PREVIEW JAM #9: "Pictures of Lily"

English rock bands? Oh yeah, there were a few of those around. We'll be taking on some of the more obvious suspects this Saturday, as you might imagine, but still sadly/inevitably giving short shrift to several of the greats.
The Who, for instance, had an(other) amazing year in 1967, which they closed out by releasing probably the best concept album of the year, The Who Sell Out – the best, in part, because its concept is actually reasonably coherent: it's designed to resemble a continuous broadcast from a pirate radio station (which were outlawed in the UK in August '67), complete with station jingles and "fake" advertisements (some for real products) which blur into the actual songs. It's the only album I know of to inspire (and deserve!) a full-length one-woman a-cappella cover version. (By the inimitable Petra Haden – absurdly ambitious and well worth hearing.)
Before that, though, there was this barnstorming one-off single, which has been pegged as ground zero for power pop. Or, anyway, Pete Townshend evidently coined the term in reference to it. Somehow, goofily galumphing French horn solos didn't become a standard trope of the genre.
It's pretty delightful lyrically, too, recounting a childhood episode that's a pretty obvious, winking allusion to masturbation – but rendered with more genuine sweetness (and subtler humor) than you might expect. The punchline isn't the suggestive subject matter itself, but rather the (gloriously harmonized) reveal that the titular object of fascination – speculated to be 19th century vaudeville star Lillie Langtree – has been dead since 1929. (Ba-dum-bum.)

1967 PREVIEW JAM #10: "I Don't Intend To Spend Christmas Without You"

One of my favorite '60s songwriters, Margo Guryan is probably best known for her 1967 song "Sunday Morning," recorded by Spanky & Our Gang among several others (but not to be confused with a certain other '67 "Sunday Morning"...) This one was recorded by (and commissioned for) Claudine Longet, a coquettish chanteuse with a rather colorful life story. But I much prefer Guryan's own version, which is technically a publisher's demo; undoubtedly recorded in 1967, but never released before it appeared on a (fantastic) 2001 compilation.
It's pretty astonishing that this is just a demo – the arrangement (written by Guryan herself) is just so rich and full, complete with vibes, horns, and multi-tracked harmony vocals. It's a typically tricky, harmonically (and rhythmically complex tune, drawing freely on her jazz and classical chops – and it's also just so darn funky.
And yeah, it's ostensibly a Christmas song – even though the lyrics don't say anything Christmas-related at all other than "it's cold" – but it's way too good not to listen to the whole year 'round.

1967 PREVIEW JAM #11: "The Proper Ornaments"

Although it's not like it was the MOST dorky kind of music that was popular circa 1967 (the schmaltzy crooner Engelbert Humperdink had the top-selling single of the year in the UK...fifth-highest worldwide), it's kind of astonishing how even a theoretically super-square genre like sunshine pop was actually incredibly hip and weird and interesting and musically rich. Why don't we have sunshine pop anymore?
(According to Wikipedia, the genre "peaked [commercially] in the Spring and Summer of 1967" – that's...oddly specific.)
Take the long-obscure, more recently hipster-famous family outfit The Free Design; the Dedrick siblings of Delevan, NY.  The title track of their (awesome) 1967 debut is "Kites are Fun," and it is about precisely that. (Key lyric: "see my kite, it's fun") This song, though... thinly veiled under all those chipper ba-ba-bas is a sardonic takedown of polite society that's leagues more bitter and scathing than, say "Pleasant Valley Sunday." It's pretty vicious stuff.
Musically, however, it is lithe, intricate, and freaking glorious.
It now has an indie-pop band named after it – a perfectly fine, jangly guitar-based outfit of the sort often said to be '60s-inspired. Which they may well be – but I'd be hard-pressed to name a current band of that ilk putting this level of craft and invention (not to mention social commentary) into what they do.

1967 PREVIEW JAM #12: "For What It's Worth"

This one speaks for itself. Buffalo Springfield's original (released Jan. '67) is a well-deserved classic, of course. But there's not much in the world that can't be improved by Pops Staples' guitar, let alone his daughters' voices.
So yeah, this basically slays. And, not to go there but it sounds absolutely as timely and relevant now as ever, if not more so.
By the way: out of all the artists I've featured here – with the possible exception of The Who – Mavis Staples is pretty much the only one who's still rockin' it fifty years later. And that's nothing – she started her singing career in *1950*. And she put out my favorite album of 2016, no foolin'. (Okay, okay, the Monkees also put out a surprisingly pretty fabulous album in 2016 too. Who knows.)

1967 PREVIEW JAM #13: "Can You Dig It"

So what was going on during the Summer of Love in the City of Brotherly Love? Good things! 1967 marked the end of Cameo/Parkway records, the local powerhouse which had been home to the likes of Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp, The Orlons ("South Street") and apparently ? and the Mysterians (who were from Michigan.) But it was also the year of the first Gamble/Huff hit, The Soul Survivors' still-killer "Expressway To Your Heart" (released on Jerry Blavat's Crimson label) and, as such, the true beginning of the Philadelphia International story.
Bunny Sigler ("Mr. Emotion") was one of a few artists to bridge those two eras of Philly pop/soul; he'd been cutting singles since 1959, several for Parkway, and his debut album, released in (you guessed it) 1967 was among Cameo-Parkway's final releases – and it was produced by Gamble and Huff.
This tune, like most of the record, is fairly obviously indebted to the sound of Hitsville USA (in this case, Marvin Gaye's "Ain't That Peculiar" being the most evident source of, er, inspiration.) But that doesn't prevent me from saying "yes sir I can indeed dig it Mr. Sigler sir."

01 October 2015

Review Round-Up: September 2015

Lou Barlow
Brace The Wave

Lou Barlow is a legit legend – if, as he’d probably prefer it, of the little-“l” variety – and every bit as much of an old-guard indie-rock lifer as Malkmus or Pollard or, say, his old nemesis J Mascis.  If he lacks much of those dudes’ cachet and practically any of their mystique, put it down to his unassuming, emphatically casual persona, as reflected by his preferred aesthetic modes, both aural and visual: low-key, low-strung, lower-case (and hand-written) – and, naturally, lo-fi.  Historically speaking, at least.  Brace the Wave, like the two previous Lou Barlow LPs, is a notably more polished and considered affair than his erstwhile Sentridoh offerings, though it captures a comparable sense of intimacy and immediacy.  (Elliott Smith’s Either/Or is a decent reference point, sonically and otherwise.)

Given the prolificacy (and, y’know, lenient self-editing) of Barlow’s home-taping decades, it’s telling that, even trailing his last album by six years (which saw the continuation of successful reunions for both Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr.) this outing contains a mere nine songs.  Frill-free cover on down, this is a deliberately small record: trim, but hardly slight.  Each song boasts a strong, memorable melody, buoyed as always by Barlow’s familiarly resonant, expressive, pliable voice, and there’s an appreciable dynamic range within its generally understated, drum-free palette – from the poppy, burnished near-rocker “Boundaries” to the sweet, gentle acoustic picking of “Repeat.”  Early standout “Nerve” – one of many self-critical ruminations here, with Barlow staring down fifty, haunted by memory and sleeplessness – builds from a gruff, jagged off-kilter march into an unexpectedly lush, harmonized chorus: “What’s wrong with wanting more than I deserve?”  As usual, he’s selling himself short.  Go get it, Lou!

The Diet

Kurt Wagner – Lambchop mainbrain and inveterate Nashville weirdo – is not entirely a newbie to beat-based music (peep the early experiments and remixes cached on 2001’s Tools in the Dryer comp) but he’s probably one of the last people you’d expect to find making an, er, electronica album in 2015.  As opposed to, say, 1997, when basically everyone was messing around with dubious bleeps and drum loops.

HeCTA, Wagner’s amiably befuddled new project, evokes some of the what-the-hey knob-twiddling spirit of that happily bygone era, layering his familiarly laconic musings (and, in one instance, a sliced-up old Buddy Hackett routine) atop an assortment of dense, not especially subtle (nor, incidentally, very danceable) beatscapes.  It’s pretty weird.  Not necessarily any weirder than your average Lambchop record, although it is, for the most part, considerably less gorgeous.  (Perhaps tellingly, The Diet is best at its mellowest – the warm, poignant synth-pop of “Sympathy for the Auto Industry”; the almost Books-ish chamber-glitch “We Are Glistening.”)  Decidedly – and by design – a curiosity, but worth seeking out for those who enjoy such things.
originally published in Magnet Magazine

Yo La Tengo
[Indie Rock/Folk]
concert preview

Stuff Like That There (Matador) is our darling Yo La Tengo’s gentlest, sleepiest album; a significant distinction, considering stiff competition from 2013’s understated stunner Fade, 2003’s underrated Summer Sun, and 1990s Fakebook, the curveball fan-fave whose template – an acoustic, country-tinged smattering of covers, self-covers, and a couple new originals – they’re blatantly revisiting here.  Ira Kaplan has called this move the crassest thing they’ve ever done, but retracing familiar footsteps – complete with Fakebook-era guitarist Dave Schramm – makes it, if anything, all the more endearingly personal.  So lay back, relax, enjoy this “an evening with” business, just don’t get too cozy – they’ll totally bring the blazing feedback-solo epics next time around.  Right??

Bad Bad Hats/Mynabirds
[Indie Pop]
concert preview

Lovers Know (Saddle Creek), Laura Burhenn’s atypically glossy third Mynabirds album, marks a further stride away from her debut’s rootsy, gospel-tinged stylings in favor of familiarly synth-kissed mid-tempo/mid-budget mid-‘10s “indie”, while retaining her sturdy, world-weary anthemism.  Nobody’ll mistake her for Dusty Springfield this time out – Florence Welch is more likely.  I get a little Sundays/Blake Babies vibe, meanwhile, from Psychic Reader (Afternoon), the debut by Minneapolis’ Bad Bad Hats; its jangly sweetness tempered by pleasantly spiky power-pop moves and Kerry Alexander’s lightly raspy, Lana Del Rey-ish alto.

Thee Oh Sees
concert preview

Mutilator Defeated at Last (Castle Face), this year’s Oh Sees episode – they've reliably issued one album (or more) annually since 2006, last year’s putative “hiatus” notwithstanding – sure sounds victorious.  And it is indeed a triumph: one of the band’s strongest outings yet, despite (or perhaps due to) representing a significant retreat from their typically coarse, blistering garage-psych assault.  Fear not: John Dwyer and co. still bring the flamethrowing guitar-scrawl and regular bouts of gnarly, contortionist punk-scuzz – they’re just tempered here by atypical levels of moody, kraut-blues nuance and (relative) polish; even, on murky seven-minute centerpiece “Sticky Hulks,” some downright pretty organ playing.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
concert preview

These ineffable Quebecois cranks – the po-faced agitprop mystics with the goofball moniker – came juddering out of semi-retirement in 2010, still nine strong, the fury, passion and esoteric allure of their towering instrumental manifestations undimmed by the typical reunion rock hokum.  This year’s Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (Constellation) is a continuous full-album suite that traverses familiar tropes (dramatically building, buzzing drones) and some curveballs (unexpectedly sanguine opener “Peasantry” lurches toward a drunken, folksy jam-along) in satisfying, if admittedly succinct fashion.  This is their first Philly show in over a decade not to sell out months in advance, if only because it now seems clear they’ll be around for awhile.

Sturgill Simpson
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Sturgill Simpson’s gently genre-muddling 2014 breakthrough, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (Thirty Tigers), introduced just a dropperful of psych into its earnestly reverential honky-tonk.  Lead single “Turtles,” despite flanger-dosed references to psilocybin and reptile aliens, sets a tone with its Elvis in Memphis guitars and Waylon Jennings twang that mostly hold sway throughout the spirited boot-scootin’ shuffles (plus one tear-stained synth-pop cover) that follow.  It’s not until the backmasking, cavernous reverb and resplendent fuzz-tones of the LP’s mini-epic closer kick in that things really start getting wooly and “meta-modern,” though one senses that might happen more quickly in a live context.

Jenny Hval
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This year’s Fringe Festival is bringing us several opportunities to experience challenging, high-concept Norwegians, and Jenny Hval should fit right in.  Even more than her previous work (notably 2012’s mini-breakthrough Innocence is Kinky), the recent Apocalpyse, Girl (Sacred Bones) offers an exquisite juxtaposition of pleasure and discomfort, with Hval’s airy voice as likely to whisper discomfortable, deadpan semi-absurdities – poetic pokes at political, gender-troubled and/or bodily squirminess – as it is to soar sirenically atop serene, transporting art-pop shimmer. 

concert preview

What is to be said?  In her words: bitch, she’s Madonna.  What exactly that means in 2015 is a subject explored exhaustively, if hardly conclusively, across the twenty-five or so tracks comprising Rebel Heart (Live Nation/Interscope)’s bewildering assortment of editions.  It’s an archetypically sprawling, messy affair, encompassing ballads and bangers, glorious throwback house-pop and edgy, almost-au-courant dubstep twerks, heartfelt triumph and utterly embarrassing silliness, familiar themes (sex, religion, rinse, repeat) and uncommon stabs at introspection – all adding up to easily her most vital work in a decade.

The Internet
concert preview

The Internet started out as an Odd Future satellite side-project – initially, the low-key duo of singer-songwriter Syd the Kid and producer Matt Martians; now, as of their excellent third album Ego Death (Odd Future/Columbia), a fully operational, delectably funky live band – but their output pointedly lacks the confrontationalism – or, indeed, ego – of that collective.  Rather, they emanate a graciously grooving, loosely jazzy, distinctly Soulquarian vibe – Syd’s airy, mellifluous voice, in particular, is deeply reminiscent of Jill Scott.  So Philly should know just how to get down.

Earl Sweatshirt
concert preview

He couldn’t really spell it any more clearly: the title I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside (Columbia), slapped against a flat, tattered black field, makes for a pointedly un-enticing cover image, and the contents of the latest full-length from Odd Future’s most gnomic member – a one-time prodigy turned bitter, disillusioned veteran at age 21 – follow suit.  It’s a deeply dour, insular affair, an old-school-style half hour/ten tracks of little but bleakly minimalist post-El-P beats (mostly self-produced) and Sweatshirt’s dogged, deliberate, ticked-off rhyming.

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The word that Germany’s Lorenz Brenner chose for his production alias – one I personally will never encounter without hearing Gang Starr’s Guru discuss Thelonious Monk, though that’s another matter – means “abstruse” or “little-known.”  It’s a nifty name, sure, but not especially applicable to his music, which is decidedly straight-ahead, if particularly elegant minimal tech-house, garnished with warmly seductive bass tones (as on his recent Iffy LP (Innervisions) –another top-notch adjective) or subtle tweaks of 303 (per 2012’s breakthrough On Acid.)  Nor, at least in certain circles, does it apply to the man himself, considering that scene-defining electronica website Resident Advisor named him as the most popular live act of 2014.

[Space Disco]
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His buddy Todd Terje may get all the shine these days, but Hans-Peter Lindstrøm remains the original impishly irreverent Norwegian cosmic synthesizer-disco maestro.  Ever since his excellent, wildly divergent 2012 LPs – the concise, scintillating dancefloor bomb Smalhans and the sprawling, demented screwball-prog fantasia Six Cups of Rebel – his work has been increasingly bifurcated, and his 2015 output follows suit: a couple majestically buoyant dance-pop singles with female vocalists – Maya Vik’s “YMD (Young Michael Douglas)” and piano-house stomper “Home Tonight” – plus the utterly loopy, tripped-out Todd Rundgren collaboration Runddans.  Who knows which version of Lindstrøm we’ll get tonight; either way, cosmic euphoria is a pretty safe bet.

The Orb
concert preview

For anyone who may have lost the signal sometime in the quarter-century since Dr. Alex Paterson first kinda-sorta launched the concept of ambient house: yes, the Orb are still orbiting; still blithely bouncing around the cosmos; still grooving along in their lush, trippy, gently whimsical fashion.  And they may quite well still be doing so 688 years hence.  Or such seems to be the promise of Moonbuilding 2703 AD (Kompakt) – somehow, improbably, the outfit’s first overtly moon-oriented LP – whose four typically languorous, extended bliss-outs, apart from the titular trip-hoppy funk-a-thon, mine an enjoyably fluid, slowly-morphing minimal techno vein.

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It’s been ten years since JD Twitch and JG Wilkes devised the mashup-era apotheosis that was their brazenly eclectic, almost obnoxiously tasteful How To Kill The DJ – a psychedelic/techno/post-punk/worldbeat whirlwind that remains, for what it’s worth, easily the highest-rated DJ mix in Pitchfork’s cache – and five since the shuttering of their storied, eponymous Glasgow club night.  But while times have changed and tastes have streamlined, the duo’s reputation as adventurous, dependably unpredictable party-starters hasn’t waned.

originally published in Philadelphia City Paper

Blanck Mass
concert preview

Blanck Mass, a.k.a. Benjamin John Power (an exceptionally apt surname), is only one half of Fuck Buttons, but by pretty much any other measure – drama, magnificence, sheer intensity – his music readily equals that of his better-known electro-noise project.  Plus it’s a good bit easier to dance to.  Terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure, Power’s body-troubled concept-opus Dumb Flesh (Sacred Bones) is a miasma of throbbing, towering industrial grooves; writhing sheets of cyborg sound wrapped around thunderously funky drums, with squealing, distended melodies that splice the difference between disco-diva wails and haunted-house screams.
originally intended for publication in Philadelphia City Paper, until the show was cancelled.

01 September 2015

Review Round-Up: August 2015

Kitchen Cinq
When The Rainbow Disappears: An Anthology 1965-68

The industrious pop archaeologists at Light in the Attic continue their trawl through Lee Hazlewood’s ill-fated LHI imprint with a set compiling the lone LP (1967’s Everything But) and a slew of associated recordings by this little-known, absurdly named (and frequently re-named) Amarillo, TX everyband, whose story traces a familiar That Thing You Do-esque boom/bust arc.

Boasting several decently punchy (if rather lyrically dweeby) originals and a grab-bag of covers ranging from Buffy Sainte-Marie to the Coasters, their oeuvre includes thrillingly competent snatches of pretty much every imaginable mid-sixties trope: Nuggets-y garage snarl, affable folk-rock, Hollies-style boy-band harmonies (probably their strongest suit), quasi-psych conceptualism, Wrecking Crew-enabled baroque chamber-pop, etc.  In other words, these guys really didn’t have much of their own musical identity.  Key Cinq-ster Mark Creamer, as quoted in the lovingly researched booklet, regarding the band’s whirl with the LA limelight: “We basically floated through the whole thing, you know?”  You don’t say. 
originally published in Magnet Magazine

Ariel Kalma/Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe
[New Age/Ambient/Electronic]
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Last year the forward-thinking folks at Rvng, Intl. compiled some unreleased 1970s proto-New Age tape recordings by Paris-born composer and experimental musical wayfarer Ariel Kalma; this Spring they linked him up with latter-day psycho-spiritualist Robert A.A. Lowe (Lichens, Om) for the 12th installment of their intergenerational FRKWYS collaboration series.  The resulting We Know Each Other Somehow LP opens in a dense field-recorded thicket of droplets and crickets before wading deep into drone, saxophony and meandering modular synthesis – so it feels fitting that they’ll be performing by the river with, apparently, an actual plant as the opening act.

Time Wharp/Magical Mistakes
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True to its name, Astro Nautico specializes in heady electronica that’s a little bit spacey, a little bit soupy.  Saturday’s event, something of a local coming-out party for the label, in conjunction with their fellow Philly/Brooklyn-straddling pals at Paxico records, boasts live sets from Time Wharp – whose recent eponymous LP swirled buzzy, meandering jazz-fusion vibes with zoned-out but serviceable house – and Osaka, Japan’s Magical Mistakes, whose Cracks in the Surface EP is built largely from wonky analog wheezes and kinetic, slightly cartoonish percussion.

Kamasi Washington
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This Trane-worshiping tenor hero’s involvement in the latest Kendrick and Flying Lotus opuses, and the self-evident audacity of his own three-hour, triple-disc debut for FlyLo’s Brainfeeder label, has turned plenty of (habitually jazz-averse) heads, raised some eyebrows and made The Epic one of 2015’s loudest conversation pieces.  Silencing the chatter and listening to the beast yields a far more enjoyable, less intellectually taxing proposition than the hullaballoo suggests: a roundly impressive, surprisingly tradition-steeped set of lush, impassioned big-band jazz ranging from knotty post-bop and acid-funk groovers to smooth, soul-stirring slow-burns – with just the occasional over-the-top choral/orchestral apotheosis.

Nicki Minaj/Meek Mill
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Hip-hop’s first couple of the moment have been doing a lot of stirring the pot lately, between Nicki’s Swift-baiting sour grapes over the VMA nominations and Meek’s righteous twitter assaults on Drake’s realness. (I suppose, as fellow Philadelphians, we’re vaguely obligated to side with Mill, although the whole business feels pretty silly and rather charmingly old-fashioned.) Whether all this hashtag-heavy topicality makes for a compelling mega-concert remains to be seen, though at least they’ll have plenty to talk about.

La Luz
[Indie Pop/Rock]
concert preview

Surf rock and airy girl-group harmonies typically conjure up sunny, summery vibes, but this Seattle four-piece clearly prefers the dark end of the beach.  Their Ty Segall-produced sophomore jaunt, Weirdo Shrine (Hardly Art), is a decidedly overcast affair; between Shana Cleveland’s spooky, deadpan vocals and classically twanging Wray/Dale-style leads, and Katie Jacobsen’s rickety organ, the mood is darkly atmospheric and shiver-inducing on roughed-up rawkers and wistful ballads alike.
originally published in Philadelphia City Paper