I've never been too good with names (but I remember faces).

So this morning I woke up and jumped in the shower, going quickly because I was running late, and suddenly I had a Lemonheads song stuck in my head. It was one of the less famous songs from "It's A Shame About Ray", and it just underscored for me the feeling I've always had, that that album is one of the truly perfect pop albums of our time. And suddenly nothing else would do but that I had to hear this album again, so now, after a hectic morning, I'm settled in at work and I'm listening to it and of course, even after owning it for 15 years (!), it's still perfect. There are 8 other albums credited to either The Lemonheads or Evan Dando, and although some are better than others, I don't think Dando and whoever he was working with at the time ever came up with another record this amazing. In other situations, I've heard people discuss how frustrating it can be to see an artist who can come up with a full album of pure pop greatness at any time to instead fill records with experiments and half-baked tossoffs. Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices is a great example here, but I don't think Evan Dando is. Dude has released plenty of records that were half great and half annoying, but I've never believed that he had it in him to just churn out A-level material on a consistent basis. Evan Dando, even today, is a troubled, disorganized guy, and I'm sure that whatever record he releases at any point is truly the best he can do right then. Thank God, then, that he was at least able to do this well once.

"It's A Shame About Ray" is less punk than any Lemoheads album that had come before it, at least where distortion is concerned. And yet, its length is very punk--13 songs, just over 33 minutes in length, and before their cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" was added to the album, its 12 original songs lasted less than half an hour. A lot of times in situations like the one that arose when "Mrs. Robinson" was released on the soundtrack to "Wayne's World 2" and then surprised everyone by becoming a mainstream hit, I tend to view the later version of the album with the surprise hit single tacked on as ersatz, and the original version to be the pure one. However, in this case, I think the album really benefits from the addition of "Mrs. Robinson". Instead of ending with Evan's acoustic demo of "Frank Mills", from the musical "Hair", the only true tossoff on this album, we get a second cover song that's catchier and more fully formed, giving the album a much more solid ending. The "Mrs. Robinson" cover (which, by the way, Evan legendarily hated) turned out to be just what the album needed.

The song I woke up hearing in my head was "Hannah And Gabi", track 9 on the album and certainly one of its lesser tracks--if that can really be said about anything on here. It's a quiet, introspective, mostly acoustic track, and even though the words would look trivial separated from their musical context, Evan's delivery of them, combined with the mood set by the music, makes it an incredibly evocative track. I've always felt, when listening to it, like I used to as a teenage kid, riding in the back seat of my parents' car listening to my Walkman and staring out the window, wishing I were absolutely anywhere else. At the beginning of the song, Evan describes himself as staring out a train window, which is pretty interesting considering that the music evokes such a similar setting in my own mind. Ultimately, evoking a mood is all the song really does--there appears to be a narrative here, something about a breakup or a relationship that never quite happened at all, but I can't get enough out of what's actually revealed in the lyrics to understand what happened. That's OK, though; it's not really necessary for enjoyment of the song.

One song on this album that I have always been able to relate to is "Bit Part", which begins with bassist Juliana Hatfield screaming "I just want a bit part in your life!" Then the music kicks in and it's upbeat, but nowhere near the explosion her screams lead you to expect. By the way, before I go on, I know that Evan Dando wrote most of the music on this record all by himself, but I think Juliana Hatfield's presence on "It's A Shame About Ray" is pretty essential to its brilliance. Her soft, pretty backing vocals (and occasional screams) fit perfectly with Evan's lead vocals, and there's something about the relationship between Evan and Juliana that, I've always believed, fueled Evan's creativity and made this album a career peak for him. You can see it in the band photo on the inner sleeve--at first glance, it's all cameraderie, with the three Lemonheads (the third being drummer David Ryan) holding cigarettes and beers and sitting together backstage, presumably after a show. But look closer--on the left, David's drinking his beer as the photo is taken, as if he's trying to look casual in the face of tension. Evan's on the right, with one arm around Juliana and his other hand on her shoulder. In the middle, Juliana has her knees and elbows drawn together and appears as if she's trying to smile but just not quite making it. Maybe the narrative I've always constructed around this album is completely fictional, but it plays well in my head--after the departure of longtime bassist Jesse Peretz, Evan gets his friend Juliana, whom he's always secretly had a crush on, to become the new bass player, then finds his crush nearly impossible to deal with in the close quarters required by touring and recording. This tension drives a lot of the songwriting he's doing, but also strains his relationship with Juliana. Tellingly, by the time of "Mrs. Robinson", recorded six months after the rest of the album, she'd been replaced by Australian transplant Nic Dalton. The official story is that Juliana was just filling in, returning the favor for Evan's having played bass on the first Blake Babies album, and this may be true, considering that Juliana still does a lot of backup vocals on "Come On Feel the Lemonheads". But then, there's also the story about how "It's About Time", from "Come On Feel", was really about how it was about time that Juliana either a) lose her virginity, or b) sleep with Evan. Or c), both. No matter which it was, when Juliana found out, she got angry with Evan, and their relationship was never the same.

So anyway, "Bit Part". Maybe I was imagining all of that tension, and maybe all the songs about girls on "It's A Shame About Ray" (and there are a bunch) are about someone else. But when I listen to "Bit Part", it's hard not to believe in the narrative I've constructed around this album. "I want a bit part in your life--a walk-on would be fine." That's one of about 6 lines in the song, the one that's repeated the most. I've felt that way plenty of times myself; you know the drill, right? You like a girl, you know she's not into you, and you're still willing to accept the least little token of her affection, even if it only torments you during private moments, even if it keeps some tiny spark of hope alive long past any point where it should. I've had bit parts in lots of girls' lives, and I'm sure they were all a lot more important to me than I was to them. It's depressing when I'm thinking about it late at night, but when I hear Evan Dando sing about the exact same thing, it's poignant. It makes me feel better, because (even if he's not singing about Juliana Hatfield in this song) I know I'm not alone in feeling the way I do.

"Bit Part" is one of the shorter songs on the record, and it takes on the structure that a bunch of other songs on here also use--a verse, a chorus, another verse, another chorus, done. It's about a minute and a half long. "Ceiling Fan In My Spoon", "It's A Shame About Ray" and "Confetti" are written in the same way, and this probably has a lot to do with the album being so short. It's cool, though--the songs don't need any more than they get. If anything, they leave you wanting a bit more, which has always seemed far preferable to me than songs that go on too long and make you tire of them before they end.

One song here that has a more complex structure is "Rudderless". Other than the cover of "Mrs. Robinson", it's the longest song on the album, and it was a big part of my choosing to buy this album back when I was a 17 year old senior in high school with no job and no real money to speak of. You see, I used to sit in my room with blank tapes in my stereo and make recordings of the local college radio station. They played legitimately underground rock music, but only after 11 PM, and I would stay up waiting for the rock programming to start, then put a tape in the stereo and go to bed. One morning, I woke up to discover that, towards the end of the tape, there was a song from the new Lemonheads album. It was "Rudderless", and I really liked it, but then the tape ran out halfway through the last verse. I was quite bummed. Finally getting to hear the whole thing when I bought the album was quite awesome. I could relate to all the stuff in the words about being alone and uncertain of what direction to take. And when Evan said "I guess I don't wanna die," I could understand it both as hope and ambivalence--the feeling that things might get better, but the worry that they'll get worse. By the end of the song, he's singing one line over and over: "A ship without a rudder's like a ship without a rudder's like a ship without a rudder." Yeah, I've been there too. I think maybe I'm there right now.

The Lemonheads - Rudderless
The Lemonheads - Bit Part
The Lemonheads - Hannah And Gabi



I love the sound of a guitar playing...

I know I've talked to you guys about Randy Holden before, back when I was checking out some of those albums that Decibel Magazine picked as the top 50 obscure proto-metal albums or whatever. I distinctly remember telling you guys that "Population II" was the absolute jam, and posting an mp3 of "Guitar Song", the opening track off that album. Therefore, I don't want to belabor the point too horribly much.

But the new issue of Ugly Things had a cover story on The Sons Of Adam, who were the second group Randy Holden was ever in, and technically the first group too, since the Fender IV, his surf group, was just Sons Of Adam with a different drummer. The story in Ugly Things went into detailed discussion of his time in both bands, and even talked a little bit about The Other Half, the band he joined after leaving Sons Of Adam, who are best known for their song "Mr. Pharmacist", which made it onto the "Nuggets" box set and was covered by The Fall. So, as a consequence, I've been listening to a lot of Randy Holden lately. All eras, from his early days in Fender IV and Sons Of Adam to his work with The Other Half and Blue Cheer, up to and including "Population II". And I've been thinking about what a great guitar player he really was.

I know "Population II" was the final realization of what he'd been trying to do all along, and that it undoubtedly marks the pinnacle of his career. And don't get me wrong--a good bit of the listening I've been doing has been to this album in particular. It's pretty fascinating--he talks in the interview he did with Richie Unterberger for Perfect Sound Forever about the custom silver stompbox he had during that time, which doubled the volume he got from his amp without adding any distortion. You can hear that thing all over "Population II", and while I've always been the type of guy who loves fuzz and crunch, and would never have thought that I'd be stoked about a pure clean guitar tone ripping through my skull, I can't deny that the clean gain he gets from that mysterious pedal is sick and crazy and totally on another level from pretty much anything else I've ever heard. I walked to the store tonight with "Fruit And Iceburgs" on my Ipod, and at some points when his leads would switch speakers rapidly (why, I ask you, did people stop playing with the panning on stereo albums after the 60s ended? That shit was cool!), I felt like my head was going to split open, in the best possible way.

But none of this is said to belittle any of his other work. Take the Fender IV, for example--I've long been a huge Dick Dale fan, but I've never found any other surf music that blows me away the way Dale's surf-era recordings do. Nobody else deals out as punishing a barrage of notes, nobody else rattles the speakers of his amp as harshly, nobody else sweeps me up and carries me along like an out-of-control tsunami the way Dick Dale does. Don't get me wrong, I like Link Wray and Duane Eddy and The Ventures and Davie Allan and a lot of other stuff from the era, but nothing else grabs me and drags me along in its wake the way Dick Dale's stuff does.

But the Fender IV come damn close. Randy Holden's got that same double-picked note assault as Dick Dale, and his guitar tone is almost as noisy as Dale's. And if the Fender IV are, in the end, a little too mannered to just sweep me away like Dick Dale, they make up for it with some interesting original tidbits, mainly the ska-influenced upstroke rhythms that Randy got rhythm guitarist Jac Ttanna to play underneath his frenetic leads.

Sons of Adam, who were 3/4 of the Fender IV, plus later Love drummer Michael Stuart, were more standard garage rock in the "Nuggets" style, and although I would like to hear a more assertive vocal style on their tracks, Randy's playing is always strong and solid. The excellent guitar breaks on their cover of "Mr. You're A Better Man Than I", originally by The Yardbirds, are excellent, but the best overall track from Holden's time with them (he and Michael Stuart had both departed by the time of their third, most famous single, the Arthur Lee-penned "Feathered Fish") is "Saturday's Son", which is an excellent garage punk track in the "we're bad seeds" template that was so popular then.

The Other Half takes what Sons Of Adam were doing and improves upon it, by adding the stronger, snottier vocals of Jeff Nowlen, and giving Randy more opportunities to stretch out and get psychedelic. They were still garage rock in the style of The Seeds, and in fact, "Mr. Pharmacist" sounds like it could have been written by Sky Saxon, but they have a lot more going on in their sound than that song demonstrates. The best demonstration of just how free they can get comes on the last song on their album, "What Can I Do For You", which is split into two tracks, "(First Half)", which was released as a single, and "(The Other Half)", which adds nearly seven more minutes to the track's original 2:42 length, most of which are just Randy Holden cranking out the same intense, string-bending leads that show up all over "Population II". Here, they're blasted out over a slow blues vamp.

However, on side two of Blue Cheer's "New! Improved!", constituting all 15 minutes of Randy's recorded tenure with that band (who went to shit as soon as he left), he first taps into the sound that would become his forte on "Population II". Basically, both his half of "New! Improved!" and all of "Population II" sound like some sort of frozen wasteland, in which the only living thing for miles around is Randy Holden's delightfully organic guitar wailing. The rhythm section (or, in the case of "Population II", the drummer) gives him ground to stand on, and his rhythm guitar tracking adds distant mountainous formations to the landscape, but once he steps on that little silver box and kicks his 8 Sunn full-stacks into high gear (by the way, I'm not making that up), all is leveled for hundreds of miles around. The clean, pure volume of his guitar tone evokes a frosty coldness in my mind, and when it swirls around from speaker to speaker, it's like the winds kicking up swirls of icy powder to spin into my ears and tunnel into my mind. It's insane. I love it.

The Fender IV - Everybody Up
The Sons Of Adam - Saturday's Son
The Other Half - Oz Lee Eaves Drops
Blue Cheer - Peace Of Mind
Randy Holden - Keeper Of My Flame

By the way, the title of tonight's entry is taken from the first line of the first song on "Population II", "Guitar Song". The full lyric is "I love the sound of a guitar playing. I love the way it makes me feel inside." Right on, Randy. May you never stop playing.



Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls.

Some years ago, I acquired vinyl copies of several early LPs by British pop-punks Mega City Four. One of them--their first full-length, "Who Cares Wins"--contains an interesting disclaimer: "Because this LP is 50 mins long and because we didn't want to take anymore songs off of it, the sound quality of the record may be slightly impaired, so with that in mind FLOOR IT!" It was this disclaimer that sprang to mind tonight as I viewed Russ Meyer's "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls". It was my first time seeing this movie, and indeed, my introduction to Russ Meyer's career as a whole. Being an aficionado of trash cinema in all forms, I've been hearing about Meyer's work for a long time, but I've never had the opportunity to see more than the occasional bit here and there. I wanted to start with something that seemed more reflective of his work as a whole, but "Beyond The Valley of the Dolls" was all Netflix had available, so I decided to start with it rather than purchasing copies of "Mudhoney" or "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill!" off the internet. I was worried that "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" would be too conventional to really give me an idea of what Russ Meyer was all about.

Well, I'm not sure how much of an idea of what he's all about I really have at this point, but one thing's for sure: I needn't have worried about "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" being conventional. That is one thing it certainly is not. The reason that quote from the Mega City Four album insert came to mind almost immediately was because of the pell-mell narrative style the movie engaged in throughout. Truth to tell, the plot didn't make all that much sense. Early in the movie, four of the main characters, who are in a band together, show up at a happening party in LA, where they have just moved. Somehow, without any sort of general introduction, everyone at the party knows all of their names, and one guest even determines from one of the band members' last names that she's the daughter of a US Senator--this without said character's last name having ever been mentioned before in the movie. There are moments like this throughout, where the plot of the movie makes huge leaps of logic that slide by OK but, with even a second's examination, are seen to be ridiculous. And with any other director, flaws like this would ruin a movie.

Not so Russ Meyer. He directs with the pedal to the metal throughout, and in so doing, keeps the viewer from ever pondering unexplained things like the aforementioned leaps in logic, or the fuzzy motivation that is a problem for almost all of the characters at one point or another. Character is developed in only the most rudimentary ways, and everyone is pretty one-dimensional... until they're not, that is. And most of the main characters do experience what, in any other movie, would be a developmental character arc. However, with Meyer at the helm, it seems less like development and more like, every now and then, some character or another will do something that makes no sense in light of their previous motivations and behavior. There might be some tossed-off 5-second attempt to explain it, but there might not even be that. As the viewer, though, you're too caught up in the pell-mell narrative style to even care. You think, "Wait, what? Oh, fuck it." And you roll with whatever Meyer throws at you. In a weird way, this is part of his oddball genius--he does shit that should not work, but makes it work by doing other shit that shouldn't work either.

About that pell-mell narrative style: the best way I could describe it would be as "compressed", which is a word used popularly in comic book criticism to describe stories in which intricate, well-developed plots are fit neatly into 25 pages or less. Some fans are really into this whole style, and rail against the "decompressed" writing styles of guys like Brian Michael Bendis, who will take 5 issues of a story arc to vanquish a villain and then give us one more issue solely devoted to the tying up of loose ends in a hero's personal life. Generally, I'm the type to prefer the decompressed narrative style, so by all rights I should hate Russ Meyer's directing style. But even with me, it works, just because I'm having too much fun to complain. It was weird to look at the time-elapsed display on my DVD player and realize how much had already happened in the movie and it was still only 30 or 45 minutes from the beginning. But I couldn't really mount any objection.

I think the real key to everything Russ Meyer does with narrative in "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" comes down to the way he looks at set pieces, of which there are many in this film. Rather than using them the way a lot of directors do, as climactic points throughout a film that advance the plot, Meyer seems to see the set pieces as the whole point. "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" has a plot that moves in a unified narrative arc--it's not a David Lynch film or anything--but the plot is constructed in such a flimsy manner, it seems like it's threatening to fall apart at any point. It's only Meyer's directorial velocity that keeps it from doing so. And the plot gets flimsier every time an opportunity for some other garish set piece arises. It seems like no more than 10 minutes go by without the characters all going to a party. And what parties they are--characters are constantly popping pills, smoking weed, making out, groping each other, shedding clothes, walking in on couples fucking, etc, etc. I knew to expect this, but it's still kind of stunning to see just how much female flesh is bared in this movie. For a Hollywood picture, even a B-movie, to show as many gratuitously naked tits and asses as "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" has on display is hard to imagine. I have no idea how Meyer pulled off getting this film made. And perhaps that's why it's the only film of his aboveground enough to even be available from Netflix. I can only imagine the levels of debauchery that await me if I ever do track down one of his other films.

In fact, maybe this train of thought explains the truly weird ending to the movie. All of the action is done by the time there are 5 or so minutes left, but from there, a narrative voiceover that has not existed anywhere else in the movie leads us through a discussion of all of the major and some of the minor characters, and exactly how their moral failings led them to the positions they ended up in. A lot of the supposed moral lessons included in this ending voiceover are absurd and nonsensical, but they're there nonetheless, as out of place as the police lecture at the end of John Huston's "Asphalt Jungle". I'm glad Hollywood isn't forcing directors to tack this sort of thing onto the end of their movies anymore, but it's always interesting to see nonetheless.

I'll leave you with this Youtube clip from the film. It spans about 4 minutes at the beginning of the film, maybe minute 5 to minute 9 or so. In it, the all-female band finishes a nowhere gig, heads out to their van, smokes a joint provided by their male manager, who then begins to make out with the singer. The other band members scram, and the singer says "Let's make love." "Where, here?" "No--IN LA!" Singer and manager proceed to have a rhyming argument about the the pros and cons of LA, set over a rapidly-cutting visual montage of random street scenes and clips from party scenes that will show up later in the movie. Said montage includes its fair share of exposed tits and asses, too. By the end of the argument, the band and manager are depicted driving across the country on their way to LA, and the band girls shake tambourines and sing one of their songs, presumably called "Gentle People". The clip ends as they arrive in LA--a lot of plot development for less than 4 minutes of the film. And if you agree with me that this short clip is a pretty interesting mix of fun, titillating, and confusingly absurd, then you'll probably enjoy this movie just as much as I did.



One of those fucking awful black days.

There's a style of music coming out of the UK right now that I'm a big fan of, a style that mixes typical British pop melodicism with a slight edge of punk rock snottiness and comes out somewhere between The Kinks and The Jam. I've liked pretty much every band in this style I've heard--with the notable exception of The Arctic Monkeys, who have a couple good songs but for the most part do nothing for me. My favorites, though, are Maximo Park, a band I learned about through The Big Takeover, so when editor/publisher Jack Rabid came out in favor of The Cribs, a trio made up of a set of twins and their younger brother, I figured I'd better check them out. I quickly obtained a copy of their newest album, "Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever", and loved it from first listen. The style The Cribs play doesn't require a great deal of description, and therefore it would be easy for them to seem generic by now, as the 18th band, give or take, that I've heard playing that style. However, if anything the opposite is true--their catchy choruses and excellent melodic riffing makes them stand out from the other groups around them. Unlike some of these bands, they've got a good bit more going for them than an immediately recognizable style.

They further distinguish themselves by having excellent lyrics, especially on songs like "Our Bovine Public", which mocks all of the Brit-pop Johnny-come-latelies hopping on their stylistic bandwagon and hoping to replicate the success of The Libertines and The Arctic Monkeys. "You'd never exist if you wasn't generic," they sing. "You'll have to impress our bovine public." At the end of the song, they further twist the knife, stating "I'll never regret anything that I've done, but you'd never exist without us, so maybe I do." The validity of a seemingly new band taking these sorts of potshots increases when you discover, as I did only recently, that "Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever" is actually their third album, and that they've been playing in this style since long before it was popular.

After this opening salvo, they turn towards more standard woes, mostly about girls. On "Girls Like Mystery", they mock the way girls often seem more interested in guys that are enigmatic and unapproachable. "There's not much to say for me, but that's OK--you know that girls like mystery." But this is a character, and on the choruses they revert to their true selves and lament the uncomfortable flipside of this fascination with enigma: "They say love me til the end; they only see me as a friend." By being open, being friendly, they find themselves removed from the pool of possible dates. I've sure been there.

Possibly the best song on the album, though, both musically and lyrically, is "Men's Needs". It's a bit slower than most of the songs here, and has what is without a doubt the catchiest chorus on the album. The song is expressed as an argument with a female friend, so there's still some frustration with the naivete of some women. This song follows "Girls Like Mystery" on the album, and its sentiments are pretty similar in the end, but this time, The Cribs turn their lyrical frustration and cynicism away from women to focus on the men that prey on them. "Have you noticed I've never been impressed with your friends from New York and London," they begin. "I'll level accusations like the press until you realize you've dressed yourself in tatters." It's a poetic way to say it, but what this really means is: the fancy boys you hang out with are all just egomaniac assholes underneath it all. You could do much better. The chorus seems to constitute a response--"A man's needs are full of greed", but this doesn't wash with the singer, who swears "A man's needs are lost on me," his point being that he doesn't find himself "needing" these things which his female friend seems to accept as inherent in men. By the end of the song, he's declaring "You say your man's needs apply to me. I don't agree." One wonders whether he eventually convinced his friend to expect more from men's natures. I can't help but hope so.

There's one more song that I want to mention from this album, and in fact it's the one that made me want to write this entry in the first place. "Be Safe", the tenth of twelve tracks on this album, is a complete departure, both musically and lyrically, from the rest of the album. A dark, brooding, indie-rock jam, it stretches out to six minutes, making it twice the length of most of the tracks on this album. The vocals mostly consist of a long monologue delivered by guest vocalist Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, who begins with a paragraph fitting the musical mood of the song: "One of those fucking awful black days when nothing is pleasing and everything that happens is an excuse for anger. An outlet for emotions stockpiled, an arsenal, an armour. These are the days when I hate the world, hate the rich, hate the happy, hate the complacent, the TV watchers, beer drinkers, the satisfied ones. Because I know I can be all of those little hateful things and then I hate myself for realising that." From there, it grows more abstract, and as the music builds towards what passes for a chorus on the song--a section that is incredibly restrained compared to the huge pop hooks on most of this album's choruses--Cribs vocalists Ryan and Gary Jarman sing the song's title over and over in the background. When the chorus finally arrives, they sing a line that seems to have nothing to do with Ranaldo's monologue: "I know a place we could go where you'll fall in love so hard that you'll wish you were dead." They sing it four times on each chorus, but by the time they've made it through the line once, Ranaldo has resumed his recitation, which slowly develops a somewhat linear thrust. By the end, he seems to be talking about a relationship that has ended, but he's speaking metaphorically, discussing a movie that's suddenly missing its lead character. At this point, the chorus starts to make a little more sense, but it's all so abstract. In the end, though, the abstraction is a good thing. The frustrated, depressed feel of the song is something I can relate to on a lot of levels, and by keeping the lyrics abstract, it makes it relatable to more situations. I don't know why I tend to find comfort when I'm sad, angry, or depressed in songs that reflect just as bad a mood as the one I'm in, but the fact remains that I do, and I'm pretty sure this will be a song I come back to for a long time. I would link to the lyrics, but unfortunately, I haven't found any reproductions on the internet that are 100% accurate. Therefore, I've decided to reproduce my own transcription in full at the end of this entry. Feel free to skip it if you want, but you're missing out if you do.

The Cribs - Men's Needs
The Cribs - Be Safe

One of those fucking awful black days when nothing is pleasing and everything that happens is an excuse for anger. An outlet for emotions stockpiled, an arsenal, an armour. These are the days when I hate the world, hate the rich, hate the happy, hate the complacent, the TV watchers, beer drinkers, the satisfied ones. Because I know I can be all of those little hateful things and then I hate myself for realising that. There's no preventative, directive or safe approach for living. We each know our own fate. We know from our youth how to be treated, how we'll be received, how we shall end. These things don't change. You can change your clothes, change your hairstyle, your friends, cities, continents but sooner or later your own self will always catch up. Always it waits in the wings. Ideas swirl but don't stick. They appear but then run off like rain on the windshield. One of those rainy day car rides my head imploded, the atmosphere in this car a mirror of my skull. Wet, damp, windows dripping and misted with cold. Walls of grey. Nothing good on the radio, not a thought in my head.

[Be safe. Be safe. Be safe. Be safe.

I know a place we could go where you'll fall in love so hard that you'll wish you were dead.]

Let's take life and slow it down incredibly slow, frame by frame with two minutes that take ten years to live out. Yeah, let's do that.

Telephone poles like praying mantis against the sky, metal arms outstretched. So much land travelled, so little sense made of it. It doesn't mean a thing, all this land laid out behind us. I'd like to take off into these woods and get good and lost for a while. I'm disgusted with petty concerns; parking tickets, breakfast specials. Does someone just have to carry this weight? Abstract topography, methane covenant, linear gospel, Asheville sales lady, stygian emissary, torturous lice, mad Elizabeth. Chemotherapy bullshit.

[Be safe. Be safe. Be safe. Be safe.

I know a place we could go where you'll fall in love so hard that you'll wish you were dead.]

The light within me shines like a diamond mine, like an armed walrus, like a dead man face down on a highway. Like a snake eating its own tail, steam turbine, frog pond, two full closets burst open in disarray, soap bubbles in the sun, hospital death bed, red convertible, shopping list, blowjob, death's head, devils dancing, bleached white buildings, memory, movements, the movie unpeeling, unreeling, about to begin.

I've seen your hallway, you're a dark hallway, I hear your stairs creak. I can fix my mind on your yes, and your no. I'll film your face today in the sparkling canals, all red, yellow, blue, green brilliance and silver Dutch reflection. Racing thoughts, racing thoughts. All too real, you're moving so fast now I can't hold your image. This image I have of your face by the window, me standing beside you, arm on your shoulder. A catalogue of images, flashing glimpses then gone again.

I'm tethered to this post you've sunk inside me, and every clear afternoon now I'll think of you up in the air twisting your heel, your knees up around me, my face in your hair. You scream so well, your smile so loud it still rings in my ears.

[I know a place we could go where you'll fall in love so hard that you'll wish you were dead.]

Inefficient, distant, tired of longing. Cleaning my teeth. Stay the course. Hold the wheel. Steer on to freedom. Open all the boxes.

Open all the boxes.

Open all the boxes.

Open all the boxes.

Times Square midday: newspaper buildings, news headlines going around, we watch as they go, and hope for some good ones. Those tree shadows in the park here, all whispering, shkk-sing leaves around six pm. Shadows across the cobblestones. Girl in front of bathroom mirror. She slow and careful paints her face green, mask-like. Like Matisse, "Portrait With Green Stripe". Long shot through apartment window, a monologue on top but no girl in shot. The light within me shines like a diamond mine, like an unarmed walrus, like a dead man face down on the highway. Like a snake eating its own tail, a steam turbine, frog pond, two full closets burst open in disarray, soap bubbles in the sun, hospital death bed, red convertible, shopping list, blowjob, death's head, devils dancing, bleached white buildings, memory movements. The movie unpeeling, unreeling, about to begin.


The best Canadian hardcore band you've never heard.

This entry starts with a painful admission: I paid $17 for a 7 inch last week. Worse yet, it's a 7 inch I used to own, which I bought brand new for $3 in 1995, and probably sold for a measly buck a year or two later at a time when I needed cash badly. I didn't sell my whole record collection, or even most of it, but somehow this 7 inch still made it into the "Eh, I don't really listen to this stuff too much" pile. It was a stupid decision, one I've regretted countless times in the intervening decade or so. So when I idly mentioned how much I wished I still owned said 7 inch in a random thread on a message board, and some other poster responded to tell me that he was currently selling a copy of that 7 inch on Ebay, well, there wasn't really any choice. I had to have it. Even if it did end up costing me $17. And boy, it hurt to make that last bid. I'd told myself I wouldn't go above $20 under any circumstances, though, and if nothing else, I can be thankful that my resolve on that point wasn't tested, because I'm not at all sure it would have held.

So what is this prized record, this long-lost gem I was willing to pay uncalled-for amounts of money in order to own? It was the one and only 7 inch by the French-Canadian hardcore band Drift, which came out on Great American Steak Religion Records in 1995. Drift issued at least one more song on a split 7 inch with fellow Canadians Jonah, and I have that 7 inch, but their song from that 7 inch just didn't have the kind of blistering fury that I remembered from their first EP. So for years, I'd play that song, and think about what a poor substitute it was for the 7 inch I'd sold.

I'll start by saying that I remembered Drift as being like Union of Uranus, but faster. However, for many of you, an explanation of Union of Uranus will be needed in order to even understand that much. So here's a quick crash course. First of all, Union of Uranus were the foundation of Canadian hardcore in the mid-90s. Their guitarist founded the Great American Steak Religion label, and they were the first of the Great American Steak Religion bands to release a record. These bands, all of which came from the Eastern half of Canada (usually either Quebec or Ontario), had a similar sound, and Union Of Uranus provided the template. The essential ingredient was the riffing--fast, double-picked, vaguely melodic, and generally structured around octave chords (though Drift were more into power chords--more on that later), these riffs had some stylistic similarities with those being played by Scandinavian black metal bands of the same period. It's questionable as to whether these Canadian hardcore bands were aware of Norwegian and Swedish black metal--I myself discovered both scenes within the same three-month period, but that's not to say that my own relative ignorance of black metal was shared by the Canadian underground hardcore scene. Really, it's irrelevant, because whether or not the Canadian riffing style was influenced by black metal or developed concurrently, there were several other elements of Canadian hardcore that diverged completely from the black metal sound. Union of Uranus's vocals were high-pitched screams, which may seem like a black metal trope. However, their influences were not Slayer or King Diamond but hardcore vocalists like those who fronted Negative Approach or Crucifix. The difference in Union Of Uranus's vocal sound from these past hardcore bands came entirely in how low in the mix they were placed. The guitars were much louder, but so was everything else. Really, the vocalist sounded like he was singing in another room--or through the sort of subpar PA system that was par for the course in the basements and VFW halls where bands like Union Of Uranus generally played. Finally, the tempos of the songs, though occasionally speedy, were generally midtempo, driving, and powered by an undeniable groove. The combination of the groove and the simultaneously driving and melodic riffs was what defined the sound of Canadian hardcore during the mid-90s, and Union Of Uranus was the template for that sound.

So it makes sense that, in my mind, Drift's first EP sounded just like Union Of Uranus, only faster. It had been a decade since I owned the record, and even records you loved start to blur in your mind when you haven't heard them in that long. I was aware that 4/5 of Drift had gone on to have a much longer career as the band Born Dead Icons, a somewhat crust-punk sounding band that always reminded me of Motorhead crossed with Amebix and also struck me as noticeably inferior to Drift. In my memory, there was no connection between the sound of Born Dead Icons and Drift--despite containing almost all of the same members, they had nothing in common musically.

OK, that's all background that you needed to understand in order for me to tell you what I discovered when I took my new copy of the Drift EP out of the mailer and put it on my turntable. First and foremost, it was awesome. I'd built it up over the years to be at least as awesome as Union Of Uranus's magnum opus, the double 7 inch "Disaster By Design". And I wasn't wrong. Sure, that Union Of Uranus record is great, but if you're more in the mood for a compact blast of fiery hardcore noise, it's Drift you want to reach for. But what I didn't remember was that same biker-metal edge that informed so much of Born Dead Icons' work, an edge that makes itself obvious from the opening notes of "#8", the first song on this EP. It starts with their lead guitarist playing two notes, bending the second one, and then letting it hang there for a few seconds, in a manner reminiscent of Ted Nugent. After a second, he hits a couple of chords, and the band comes in with a typical driving, midtempo Canadian hardcore riff. Two different vocalists scream and howl in tandem, barely making themselves heard above the music, the bass throbs underneath the octave-chord riffing, and the drumming pushes along an undeniable groove. So far, nothing unexpected. But then, about 90 seconds into the track, the band does two dramatic chugs and slams into a fast, straightforward hardcore riff. The vocals are still low in the mix, the guitars are still way fuzzier than conventional hardcore riffing would dictate, but once you look past these potentially misdirecting surface elements, it's undeniable that this is a hardcore riff--it's even got power chords instead of octave chords!

Back in 1995, if I had noticed this sort of thing, it certainly would have turned me off to this record--at the time, I had no tolerance for either crust or old-school hardcore. Therefore, I'm lucky that the misdirecting elements of Drift's sound fooled my younger self, because if I'd been repelled by what Drift are doing on this song, I would have missed out on some really great songwriting. If Drift were using conventional hardcore riffing in a standard way, it would indeed be boring, but by combining it with the more original elements of the style their scene created, they not only improved upon the template Union Of Uranus developed but helped to make an old and somewhat stale technique seem fresh again. For the rest of "#8", they alternated between crustcore riffing, out-and-out blast beats, and the sort of midtempo grooves they'd begun the song with, and did so at breakneck speed. Having converted the song to an mp3 file in order to post it at the end of this entry, I discovered that the first transition from midtempo groove into uptempo hardcore riffing came slightly past the halfway point of the song, which surprised me, as I'd always perceived it as happening less than a third of the way through. This is undoubtedly because of just how many different ideas they cram into that last half of "#8". For a less talented band, this technique might make the song seem cluttered, but Drift use it to craft brilliance.

They up the ante on the second song, "Fade", which immediately slams into the sort of fast hardcore riff that "#8" spent its first half laying the groundwork for. This sort of speed continues throughout the first half of the song, once seeming to stop for a second, as the band drops out and the lead guitar runs through a slightly slower riff... but instead of introducing a slower section of the song, the band comes right back in with a riff just as fast as the one it had just come out of. They proceed to build you right back up to another guitar break, and you almost expect another fakeout. But nothing can prepare you for the one you get--the lead guitar runs once through a fast riff, then abruptly chokes off the final chord, and there is one glorious nanosecond of silence before the entire band slams into a full-on breakdown. It's not a mosh part, though, but instead a midtempo groove part of fine Canadian vintage. But before you know it, the band's back in hyperspeed mode, and the song's last half ends up being just as dominated by uptempo hardcore riffs as its first half was.

The final track on this EP, which takes up all of side two, is "Swindle", and it hews most closely to the Union Of Uranus template. Union Of Uranus were known for writing long, complex songs (though not as long and complex as those by later Great American Steak Religion band One Eyed God Prophecy, who were almost psychedelic in their experimentation with song structure), and "Swindle" is the only track here that seems like it could have been written by Uranus. It has a long intro, with vocals not coming in until almost a minute has elapsed, and it relies on midtempo grooves, which ebb and flow through many changes while mostly avoiding the fast hardcore riffing that showed up on side one. However, this doesn't make it any less good than the other songs on this EP--after all, Drift had no shortage of great quality riffs, and "Swindle" contains just as many as the other two tracks, albeit taking twice their length to utilize them. And there are occasional glimpses of that raging hardcore undercurrent, even in this song--a short uptempo riff around the 1:30 mark and the near-blasting riff that brings the song to its final screaming climax are both good examples of that.

Yeah, I really do love this Drift EP, so much that I really don't regret spending $17 to bring it back into my collection. In fact, I'm going to make an exception to my usual method of blog operation, in which I only offer a taste of the records I discuss. After all, this record is long out of print. The songs have never been available on CD, and I'm sure there were no more than 5,000 copies of this 7 inch pressed. I'd hate for all of you to have to drop nearly $20 on Ebay just to find out if this record really is as good as I say it is. So, what the hell: here are all three of the songs from this EP (plus a bonus Union Of Uranus track, from "Disaster By Design"). They're ripped from my turntable, which runs slightly fast because the pitch control is almost impossible to access, so they're probably not supposed to be quite this short. But what the hell, they're free, right?

Drift - #8
Drift - Fade
Drift - Swindle
Union Of Uranus - Pedestal



No More No More.

It's not exactly news to anyone that's been reading this blog for a while that I never let the amount of cool points a band does or does not have affect my love for them. And I'm sure by now people expect curveballs from me, especially where emo is concerned. But sometimes when I really start digging deep into the stacks, I find myself thinking, "You know, I'll bet this record's presence in my collection would surprise some of my closest friends." Such is the case with my Aerosmith records. Believe it or not, I own the first 7 albums by Aerosmith on vinyl, and I'd no sooner sell them than I'd sell my collection of Smiths and Black Flag LPs. As far as I'm concerned, everything Aerosmith did up until Joe Perry quit the band in disgust over Steven Tyler's drug use (1979, right after "Night In The Ruts") is solid gold. Granted, the copies I have of these albums are scratched and beat up, and most of them were purchased for a buck or two, or maybe even less than that, out of flea market record bins. But still, the fact remains--these records are great.

Most of the time, even when people agree with me on this point, they're talking about 70s hard rock classics like "Walk This Way" and "Back In The Saddle". "Those songs rule", they say, and they're not wrong. But my own enduring affection for Aerosmith does not come from songs like these. No, in fact, if the AOR chestnuts we've all been hearing as background music for the past two decades plus were really the best drug-era Aerosmith had to offer, I wouldn't cling to my vinyl, wouldn't drag it out month after month and year after year. The songs that lead me to drag these records out are songs that I discovered myself after having bought these albums to hear different songs entirely, songs that blew me away, led me to think (even as a preteen middle-schooler), "Wait, why wasn't THIS the single?" These are songs that are better than "Dream On" ever thought about being, songs that hit me even harder than "Sweet Emotion" does. And the reason they do this, the thing that elevates them to a status that forces the recontextualization of songs like all of the ones I've mentioned previously as B rather than A material, is that they all contain the kinds of heartstring-tugging minor-chord melodies that are generally considered the province of, well... emo.

Take "No More No More", from "Toys In The Attic", the song that prompted me to pull out said album at 2:30 in the moring, which led to me writing this entry in the first place. It begins with acoustic and electric guitars playing arpeggiated chords that wouldn't be out of place in the intro to a Teenage Fanclub song, then moves into a first verse driven by restrained, cleanly strummed electric guitar riffs and a simple, solid piano rhythm line. "Blood stains the ivories of my daddy's baby grand," sings Steven Tyler. "Ain't seen the daylight since I started this band." Behind him, lower in the mix, Joe Perry sings the song's title in a refrain that runs throughout the verse. But all of this is just prelude to the stunning chorus, in which the drums drop out, and the arpeggiated chords from the intro return. "Baby, I'm a dreamer, but I found my horse and carriage," Tyler sings, presumably using this metaphor to show that in music, he's found the thing he was put on earth to do. I sure can relate to that.

The emotional climax of the song comes in the third verse, as Tyler and the band move upward through several keys, moving each line a step higher. They draw the verse out in this fashion, until eventually Tyler is belting it out at the top of his voice: "Same old story, never get a second chance, in the dance to the top of the heap!" He draws out the last word as, again, the drums drop out, and the arpeggios come back in. This time, this transition hits even harder than it did the first two times, as the buildup has been so dramatic. It's an emotional, affecting moment, even though the song is obviously about struggling to be famous and "make it" in the rock biz, something that way too many bands wrote about in the 70s. This time it works, and it works because of the undeniable genius of the musical backing to the relatively cliche lyrics.

But this isn't the only Aerosmith song that has a surprising emotional affect. Another one that I have to bring up is one that's not considered a big hit, but is always regarded among fans as one of Aerosmith's finest moments (Note: judging by cover versions, "No More No More" also has this regard among fans): "Sick As A Dog", from their fourth album, "Rocks". This is one of very few Aerosmith songs with music written by bassist Tom Hamilton, and if it's any indication, they should not only have allowed but actively encouraged him to write a lot more. It's hard to analyze what makes this track as amazing as it is in the same way I did with "No More No More", as the hooks are a bit less obvious. There's not as much heartstring-tugging emo riffage (generally the songs that have these sorts of riffs going on are written by Joe Perry), but the clean, melodic verses are catchy as hell, and the way they transition into the dramatically different but equally awesome choruses is pure genius, as is the half-speed intro that is brought back as a bridge towards the end of the song. This isn't a hard-rocking jam--it's much easier to imagine a song like this influencing bands like Buffalo Tom than Cinderella, though I can hear elements that later appeared in both bands' styles in this song. But hard-rocking or not, it's awesome.

There are a few other amazing and unjustly overlooked Aerosmith nuggets that deserve a mention here: "Lick And A Promise", also from "Rocks", with its sadly beautiful "na-na-na-na-na" chorus (which seems like it shouldn't work, but SO does); "Seasons Of Wither", a dark, moody, acoustic ballad from "Get Your Wings" that successfully employs a chorus based around the line "Oooh, woe is me"; album-ending ballads "Home Tonight" (from "Rocks") and "Mia" (from the flawed but still worthwhile "Night In The Ruts"), and even "Jaded", which appeared on their 2001 album, "Just Push Play", and is absolutely the only post-"Pump" Aerosmith song for which I do not have active contempt. But it's "Sick As A Dog" and "No More No More" that bring me back to their respective albums most often. And believe me, once I get there, I enjoy "Walk This Way" and "Back In The Saddle" every bit as much as I did when I was 12 and had just bought those albums. As good as those songs are, though, I'll always see them as a sideshow rather than the main attraction.

Aerosmith - No More No More
Aerosmith - Sick As A Dog



Pablo Honey.

This started out as a message board post, in a thread entitled "Defend a band's 'worst' album", but I decided that I wanted to post it here, because I just feel this strongly about Radiohead's much maligned debut album. So here you go.

Radiohead - "Pablo Honey": OK, first of all, no matter how overplayed it is, "Creep" is a really good song. Simple, yes, but so's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", and that CHUNKA! CHUNKA! guitar thing right before the choruses is incredibly intense. We've all heard it so many times that the impact is dulled, but if that song didn't knock you out the first time you heard it, I'll buy you a taco. I'll give you that "Thinking About You" and "How Do You" are pretty trite and average, and that "Stop Whispering" goes on a touch too long, but the latter is a pretty great example of that intensely emotional English guitar ballad that bands like Catherine Wheel were really good at, and it's from track 6 on that this album really roars. First, "Anyone Can Play Guitar", which is a raveup anthem of epic proportions (as proven by this blistering performance from MTV in 1992), then one awesome jam after another until the end of the album. "Ripcord", "Vegetable", "Prove Yourself" and "I Can't" are all great melodic-verse/crunch-chorus rockers with the sort of tortured, emotional lyrics that really hit home for me as a teenager, such as when Thom Yorke screams "I will not control myself!" on "Vegetable"s chorus, or his plea at the end of "I Can't"s second verse--"If you give up on me now, I'll be gutted like I've never been before." Classic stuff that still affects me even now. The quieter "Lurgee" and epic closer "Blow Out" finish the record in fine fashion, and honestly, by the time I get to that point, I've completely forgotten that half of the first side was weak. The album could have been better if some of those tracks were replaced with superior non-LP B-sides of the era, such as "Faithless The Wonder Boy" (which I got by purchasing the "Creep" cassette single--a worthy investment), but as it is, I still prefer it to anything they've done since "OK Computer".



Mogwai Fear Satan.

I'm sure you've all noticed that I haven't been posting on here much lately and if any of you wondered whether that was indicative of my having a hard time with depression lately, well, guess what? You were right. Depression makes me think everything I try to write sucks and I may as well not bother. The only way I've ever been able to get through periods like this is to force myself to write whatever I can think of without concerning myself with the quality, just getting it DONE and moving on. So here's an entry that might suck and be horribly organized because fuck it, it's SOMETHING. Right?

Last night I saw a movie called "All The Real Girls", which came out about 4 years ago and was written and directed by a guy named David Gordon Green. It was one of the best movies I've seen in a long time, but it also had a pretty intense effect on my emotional state because of its subject matter, that of a relationship between two people who are both making their first real attempt at taking a relationship seriously and being vulnerable to their partners. I wish I could explain more about it but I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it, and I'm afraid I'm giving away the ending by even saying this much. But still, I have to mention this: the last third or so of the movie was heartwrenching and I could see myself in the emotional struggles of the characters. In fact, having opened myself up to significant others several times during the course of my 20s and having it end disastrously and heartbreakingly every time, I could understand when one of the minor characters said, towards the beginning of the movie, "I don't ever want to be that close to anyone else again." Sometimes I don't think I'll ever be capable of it again either.

The big music-related moment in the film came for me when, after a pretty intense scene, the next few minutes of the movie were a sped-up montage of the characters going on with their daily lives (something I can imagine was pretty hard considering how they were probably feeling under the surface). The montage was set to one of the quieter sections of "Mogwai Fear Satan" by Mogwai, a song I've loved for years. It's hard for me to explain the attraction I have to a 16-minute instrumental that consists of a band playing the same three chords over and over, with the only variations being how loud they're playing them at any given moment. But ever since I heard it for the first time, while on a somewhat stressful solo road trip, I've been fascinated by it. It's just a song that seems to fit perfectly with certain moods. I've always thought that it would make perfect soundtrack music if it were used with the right scene, and "All The Real Girls" came close to doing that (though if it were me, I would have used one of the parts of the song where it goes suddenly from quiet and reserved to loud and distorted).

This morning when I woke up, I wanted to hear it again, and I put it on repeat while I was getting ready for work. Now, at work, I'm listening to it on repeat again. It seems like I should be tired of it by now--that droning three-chord motif should have worn me out a long time ago. Instead, it's worked its way into my head, as it always does, and I can't really stand to listen to anything else. I wish I could put my finger on what the feeling this song inspires in me actually is--maybe it would make this entry seem a little less like a stupid waste of time. But I can't. I just know it's there. And when I'm feeling crappy like this, it helps. A little bit.

Mogwai - Mogwai Fear Satan

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