You, me, the music, and me.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

JANDEK The Beginning

Corwood 0766 (1999)

Singer/songwriter Jandek may not make the kind of music that results in massive popularity and record sales, but he's a critic's dream; they get to use words like "cryptic", "hermetic", and "idiosyncratic" like there's no tomorrow. Jandek is what you might call a "cult artist"'s cult artist; since the late 1970's he's been recording albums of totally original, utterly unclassifiable songs that usually feature no more than his own wandering, keyless vocal meanderings over a seemingly untuned guitar. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, he's released close to forty albums on Corwood Industries, his own record label, and maintained a small, devoted following, all without touring or (until recently) playing any live concerts or making any public appearances whatsoever.

Stylistically, The Beginning doesn't deviate very far from Jandek's earlier releases; most songs are addressed to a "you" that could be a (former) lover with little in the way of standard pop melody, as Jandek's guitar pumps out harsh, steady ostinatos. The exception is the title track, coming at the end of the album and clocking in at over fifteen minutes. It's an instrumental piece played on a, you guessed it, poorly-tuned piano that nevertheless achieves a majestic, almost classical beauty by its abrupt end.

To learn more about Jandek, check out Jandek on Corwood, an excellent documentary now available on DVD.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

In the news

Thursday, March 13, 2008

MINUTEMEN 3-Way Tie (for Last)

SST Records SST-CD-058 (1985)

When Robert Christgau stated that the untimely death of Minutemen vocalist/guitarist/songwriter D. Boon was on a par with those of John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix for wasted potential, he wasn't exaggerating. Boon may not have achieved the fame of those men in his twenty-seven years on the planet, but it wasn't for lack of trying. After five years and ten records of brilliant, uncompromising punk rock, 3-Way Tie for Last sounded like the beginning of a new direction for the band that would have brought them increased exposure; instead, thanks to a tragic automobile accident, it was to be the band's (and Boon's) epitaph.

Too bad, because the album found the group coming to terms with commercial accessibility in a way that didn't place any limits upon their creative identity or their artistic integrity. From the soaring guitar solo on "The Price of Paradise" that opens the album to the friendly acoustic bounce of "What Is It?", the group stood poised for a breakthrough, even if their increasingly political lyrics (and far-left leanings) seemed unlikely to endear them to radio programmers. Sadly, it was not to be.

A lot of die-hard fans consider their double-LP opus Double Nickels on the Dime to be the Minutemen's finest hour, but I prefer 3-Way for not only its brevity but also its focus; the songwriting is some of the group's tightest. Besides, for a band that made their name (literally) by playing songs that lasted only a minute or under, less is definitely more.

Though punk to the bitter end, in the past the band had been known to record songs from such unlikely sources as Van Halen and Steely Dan (and in the most sincere, non-ironic way to boot). 3-Way Tie (for Last) features no less than five cover songs, including a beautifully straight-up reading of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain", a rendition of Roky Erickson's "Bermuda" sung into a telephone answering machine by bassist Mike Watt, and a powerful version of Blue Oyster Cult's "The Red and the Black" that may be the group's best performance ever on record.

Here's a promotional video for the group's cover of the Urinals' "Ack Ack Ack" that answers the question, "How do you make a video for a song that's only twenty-seven seconds long?" Why, by bookending it with footage of the band paying tribute to the Three Stooges, of course. It echoes the spirit of the sole lyric of the group's "Situations at Hand": "There are still lofty dreams, meager desires, and still silliness!"

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

No Pain for Cakes playlist, 11 March 2008

"Hora Decubitus" - Charles Mingus
"Four Pests" - Joe Morris
"Evidence" - Thelonious Monk
"Equinox" - Pharoah Sanders
"From East Sixth Street" - Jason Kao Hwang/Edge
"Max's Dream" - Wilson/Lee/Bentley
"Helix" - Sam Rivers
"The Path" - ZMF Trio
"Commentary" - Tyshawn Sorey
"Little Fox Run" - Joseph Jarman
"February" - Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble
"Smoke" - Mark Feldman/Sylvie Courvoisier
"My Favourite Things" - Hank Roberts
"The Price of Survival" - George Lewis & Miya Masaoka
"A Frankfurter in Caracas" - Joe Fiedler Trio
"Celebrated Blazons" - Cecil Taylor/William Parker/Tony Oxley


Homestead HMS090-2 (1988)

Along with Sonic Youth and Swans, Live Skull personified the sound of the New York school of alternative guitar rock, class of the 1980's. What set them apart from bands like SY were their standard tunings (Sonic Youth liked to use experimental tunings on their guitars) and their greater sense of economy in their songs, which sounded closer to conventional (punk) rockers than those of their compatriots'. They were still pretty noisy, though: guitarists Mark C and Tom Paine twanged out overdriven riffs that sounded straight out of some imaginary spaghetti western over tribal rhythms from drummer Rich Hutchins and bassist Marnie Greenholz.

LS released a few albums before Dusted, but they didn't really find their sound until the addition of vocalist Thalia Zedek; her melodic range didn't extend much farther than, say, Lou Reed's, but her short, declarative phrasings delivered in a hazy, drugged monotone between bursts of guitars and drums helped set the band apart from its contemporaries (it's fitting that the album closes with a cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Pusherman"). There is a deliberate emptiness, almost a hollowness, at the center of Live Skull's music, but that's not meant as a detraction; you just have to be in the right mood to hear it.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

No Pain for Cakes playlist, 4 March 2008

"Lonely Woman" - Ornette Coleman Quartet
"Cloud Call" - Jason Kao Hwang/Edge
"Port of Call" - Cecil Taylor
"I Am the Walrus" - Tony Wilson 6tet
"Quintet" - Spring Heel Jack
"What's in Your Hand" - Reggie Workman
"Sharpening the windings until they roll up, roll up, roll up and snag on the point of the tear" - Butcher/Muller/van der Schyff
"Composition No. 69N" - Anthony Braxton
"Wherever June Bugs Go" - Archie Shepp
"Taurus at Pasture" - Warren Smith
"No Pain for Cakes" - The Lounge Lizards
"New Rose Neurosis" - Avi Granite : 6
"Revue" - World Saxophone Quartet
"Fredology (1-2-3-4)" - Paul Steinbeck
"Om" - John Coltrane

Hey, look, it's a radio show! Click on the link below every Tuesday night at 9:00 p.m. Atlantic/8:00 p.m. Eastern for two hours of free jazz, improvisation, and general avant garde mischief.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


Verve 823 290-2 (1967)

Ah, the Summer of Love. You won't find any hint of it on the Velvet Underground's 1967 debut. Produced by legendary visual artist Andy Warhol, the album is a dark antithesis to the sounds of its time... no hippies, tie-dyed dancing bears, or Peppery horn sections to be found. What you get instead are nervous, clattering songs about scoring drugs, sado-masochism, and death, as well as some of the most poignant and beautiful ballads you'll ever hear (mostly sung by smoky-voiced chanteuse Nico, who would part ways with the group after this album).

With the aforementioned lyrical content, TVU&N could have been a total bummer, but what saves the album is the wit and humour of principal songwriter/vocalist Lou Reed, who would go on to lead the band after Warhol lost interest. There's a telling moment about two-thirds of the way into "Venus in Furs", a turgid ode to bondage and S&M; just after singing the line "Taste the whip, now plead for me", Reed lets slip a nervous laugh. It's moments like that (not to mention the way that he stretches the word "pleeeeead" to an almost ridiculous length) that give the impression that Reed and the group are in on the joke and not taking themselves too seriously.

With a range that encompassed the gentle "Sunday Morning" and the thrashing, pounding "European Son", the Velvets would inspire a thousand black-clad "alternative" bands, many of whom would sell quite a few more records than they did, and even a couple who came close to "getting the joke".