If you live somewhere in England (and I’m not going to try to act like I know the geography over there, even though my brother lives in Durham) you have a rare opportunity to catch one of San Francisco’s best local bands: Enablers. Their last record, End Note, was released on Neurot Recordings and has all the power and majesty you would expect from a label that also puts out Isis and Oxbow. But Enablers are more nuanced than loud. Sure, they roil and scream around lead talker Pete Simonelli but since Simonelli doesn’t sing they have to hold back a bit for fear of burying him under a sonic avalanche. Simonelli tells stories of broken hearts, broken heads and baseball. What Simonelli does may well be called spoken word but what the band as a whole does is all rock. Try to check ‘em out if you’re able and tell Simonelli that Pete Funk says, “get hot”.
MAY 30: Swindon w/ Oxbow at The Victoria
MAY 31: Derby at Victoria Inn
JUNE 1: Liverpool at Heaven and Hell
JUNE 2: Exeter at Cave Club
JUNE 3: London at Barden’s Budoir
JUNE 4: Manchester w/Acid Mother’s Temple at Klondyke Club
JUNE 5: Brighton at Freebutt
Upon first hearing the new Herbaliser single, my jaw managed to completely unhinge itself within the first five bars. The hard-hitting rummage sale of orchestra hits and gritty rap talent instantly had me hooked like a fish. This single, aptly titled “Generals,” features none other than hip-hop’s residing “great girl hope” Jean Grae. (Maybe you’ve heard of her?) I’ve always seen a lot of potential in breezy, and this song definitely ups the ante as far as that’s concerned. Here’s why:
“Generals” finds Jean and The Herbaliser caught up in the Deltron and Gorillaz brand of comic book hip-hop. For whatever reason, I’ve never been too up on this stuff. I’d take plain ol’ Madlib over Quasimoto any day. But it’s no real surprise Jean would eventually go this route, even if only for one song. (After all, she did lift her alias from an X-Men character, for shit’s sake.)
The Sneaking Suspicion: It seems Jean has managed to assemble an entourage of custom-built MCs using nothing more than a few filters and her own voice. Think of it as a reverse Quasimoto (times five). She has her verses contorted and pitchshifted throughout the track so that she accurately fakes a male Dirty South bawss (Daddy Mills), a slapstick white chick (Cheech Marina), a naughty eighth grade girl (MacGuyver), a Wu-admiring gun talker (Trap Clappa) and a token 50 Cent biter (A.K.). Jean also appears as herself on the track.
The Giveaway: This is all just speculation for the time being, folks. I certainly don’t know without a shadow of a doubt that these five individuals are all the tampered voice of Jean. But I have quite a hunch. Had breezy not tackled the MacGuyver ego, I may have not even caught it. But MacGuyver is clearly just a slightly sped up Jean Greasy. Upon making that distinction, I fiddled around with the “Generals” acapella, and well, when sped up, all the male characters sound like Jean as well, some more than others. This is further accentuated by her perfectly punctuated trademark syllables of which she’s always been known for, i.e. “hundred” instead of “hunnit.” Pair that with the fact that the video features CGI versions of every General except Jean herself.
Oh yeah, the video… The only real disappointing piece of this picture is just that. The inappropriately low-budget character renderings just don’t do the track any justice. Each rendering is perpetually poorly synched with its respective verse. But shucks, we can forgive that much. The song stands fine on its own. It’s not dependent on visuals the way a Gorillaz track might be.
Anyhoot, “Generals” is my obsession song for the moment. So I had to share. It could have been no other way.
I really really wanted to share (or probably more accurately show off about the show) the hundreds of thoughts / comments / ideas that zipped through my head about the music performed by The Necks last night. But they didn’t give me chance, you have to suspend any critical faculties you might have and get carried away in the wash.
Playing their usual two sets in one show (50 minutes or so a song) these three unassuming middle aged gents (piano, drums / percussion and some double bass / cello thingy) created two incredible pieces of music that flowed . The pianist had his back to the bassist and the drummer and there seemed to be no communication between any of the players at all; how can you improvise and feed off each other with this level of musicality and seamlessness without communication? For most of the performance time I found myself doing one of those smiles that you probably can’t see (y’know what I mean, like without baring teeth and without moving my lips?) and every so often my cheeks would involuntarily lift my mouth into grins. Seriously, they were that good.
Even though both pieces were untitled improvisational pieces I managed to invent (crap) titles for them (”Rain” and “Mayfly”) from the massive overload of visual imagery I got from the songs. “Rain” began with a lone rippling piano line (and the way he hit the keys you could hear both the notes and the soft percussive patter of the drops on the window. A handful of beads / shells on a cymbal providing a scratchy water on a cold tin roof and then…I don’t know I got lost in the song.
Both me and my friend were scanning each player towards “Rain”s conclusion to see where the odd alarm type sample was coming from worrying that the building was actually on fire, it was the upstroke of the beater he was using which he deftly caught the underside of a cymbal. The way he dragged his hand down the upright drum stick on the snare skin drawing a deep drone noise or the way he banged a upside down preacher hat shaped cymbal with his hand inside it creating reverberating electronic wave noises. Or the warmth of the bass playing (he had a slim Jah Wobble look about him) that brought images of bodies within my imaginary rain beaten room. In the two songs he swung between minimalism, funky lopped bassline to noisy dissonant bowing at the strings. I could go on for hours, its all coming back to me this morning.
I hope that when they said they liked playing the venue and they’d be back they were serious.
Forget to mention I went to the Warp / London Sinfonetta night at Gateshead Sage where the Orchestra performed works by both experimental composers and Warp artists. As well as covering some incredible pieces by Steve Reich (a blissful piece for Marimbas and the evolving spinning magic of (I think) “Violin Phase”. Accompanying all the pieces played was the huge cinema screen behind them playing short films and promo pieces. John Cage’s “Metal Composition 1″ was accompanied by a Marilyn Manson-esque film and its scraping clanging built an interesting structure from dissonance, a little harder to get into but more rewarding was George Antheil’s “Ballet Mechanique” (http://www.antheil.org/) whose surrealist movie accompaniment and intense changes and grinding monotony reminded me of a day at work.
Plaid teamed up some Sinfonetta members to perform an amazing “Scope-e” in front of a short film of a wooden post being painted fault line style and chipped down to reveal new paint layers…looked better than I described it. But highlight of the show was one of the greatest most unexpected performances I have ever seen from Jamie Liddell. Performing an improv piece entitled Liddell Fiasco #8 he came onstage in a kimono and preceded to do some brief scatting, sample himself then sing along to and over it. He was funny, funky, insane and utterly involving. Next time he plays live anywhere near or far from you, get there. I’ll refund you if you are not entertained.
Unbeknownst to most of the audience we were treated to Chris Cunningham’s Rubber Johnny at the interval on the big screen. Epic bizarre disturbing stuff, check Stylus movie archives for a review. They showed a few more Rephlex / Warp promos but nothing else really lit up the audience like Johnny did. Ending the evening on a total high the Sinfonetta performed Polygon Window’s “Polygon Window” bringing waves of nostalgia for those heady days of early techno. The Orchestra brought the show to an end moving into the aisles with drums pounding out the songs remaining beats. It might sound like a cheesy idea done a million times buts it’s an experience you should see in the flesh
“All I want from tomorrow is to get it better than today.” - Huey Lewis & the News, “Jacob’s Ladder”
Huey Lewis and his band of merry men are responsible for some of my least-favorite, most-generic music of the 1980s. But this one time they nailed it - in large part, I think, due to the song itself, written by Bruce Hornsby. Yeah, that Bruce Hornsby. [Oddly, this song was on the charts at the exact same time as Hornsby’s debut with his band the Range, “The Way It Is.”] There’s something about that particular line that just gets me; it’s such a simple, basic trueism, but one never stated quite so clearly in song (at least not that I know of). The rest of the song is fine, as well, but that particular line sums up so much of how I feel about life. Kudos to you, Mr. Hornsby, for writing it so simply and so well, and kudos to you, Mr. Lewis, for having the good taste (!) to record “Jacob’s Ladder.”
Right now, being back from CA long enough to feel vaguely rested, I’m rather loathing NYC. Given that I usually find festivals more trying than edifying, day 1 of Coachella was pretty wonderful.
For me, the Raveonettes provided a good start, though maybe not as good as blasting Arular (for my second hearing) in the convertible as I drove in. They did a spectacular rendition of “Attack of the Ghost Riders” that really was reminiscent of Suicide, to whom they dedicated it, and “Ode to L.A.” came off perfectly, even if Ronnie was only along on tape. Then they started (ugh) “Somewhere in Texas” and I rushed off to Ambulance, LTD. for some generally pleasant grooves, including ultra-jingly “Anecdote”, the sweetly pining “Stay Where You Are” and “Stay Tuned” and a “Young Urban” that they brought to a very incandescent climax. Oh, Shit!
Hurry, M83 have already started—and, actually, the prior wall of noise was a knock-out intro to “Run Into Flowers”. I immensely enjoyed the rest of the set, despite not recognizing anything else until the very overdriven set-closer “Don’t Save Us From the Flames”, one of the day’s peak moments. Then, falloff. The always (for me) underwhelming Snow Patrol were well beyond competent, but didn’t make me want to run back to the albums In fact, this would’ve been a perfect meal-break, if I hadn’t eaten in the parking lot. Razorlight, upon first encounter, did very little for me, and even Tiga was more monotonous than I expected. He did have a nifty light show—CG graphics on screens were echoed on multicolored LED displays reminiscent of giant Lite-Brites.
Rilo Kiley brought things back up to speed. Though I’ve not got their material down, they sounded great, a nice loose swing, but still all together. “The Good That Won’t Come Out”, “It’s a Hit”, and, I think “So Long” (one of Blake’s vocals, anyway) stood out. Jenny’s voice was in great form, but I had to run before they ended—I’d never seen Wilco before. The somber tunes won out over the likes of “War on War”. A couple of the following made me well up: “At Least That’s What You Said”, “Muzzle of Bees”, and “Radio Cure” —a favorite of mine, and the day’s second transcendent moment.
Weezer, I still don’t get. Maybe I’ll do an On First Listen for the Blue Album someday… They were just, I don’t know, there… The sound wasn’t balanced, heat and hunger finally got to me, so I sat in a far corner eating dinner before moving on to Four Tet, who didn’t have a highlight. It was ALL blasting from start to finish; my shorts, fingertips and hair all vibrated at different frequencies. Another act I’m not so familiar with, “Hands” and “My Angel Rocks Back and Forth” were all I could place, and those, only by trace elements. The entire show was underlaid with a constant innards-twisting subsonic rhythmic onslaught barely hinted at in the recordings. At the beginning the tent was Ľ full. By the end, it was loosely filled.
Bloc Party was a bit disappointing, primarily due to someone’s colossal error of booking them in the second-smallest tent. Even had I booked out halfway through Four Tet’s set, I would then have been packed inextricably into the mass of bodies that absorbed most of the guitar notes. The lighter songs, such as “Blue Light” sounded wonderful. “Like Eating Glass” and “Positive Tension” came off well, but “Little Thoughts” and “Banquet” lost some of their verve due to both the sound quality and lacking a bit of the recordings’ swagger. I lay outside catching my breath, and listened to a muffled but not muffed “This Modern Love” before moving on.
I arrived at the second stage shortly before Mercury Rev slid into “Holes”, another epiphanic moment, as I’d never seen them perform. They stuck primarily to later material, which constant uplift and bombast was occasionally irksome, but some of the inspirational quotations superimposed over the new-age space imagery were entertaining, and the band performed immaculately. If only there’d been something more rocking than “Chains” to round out the sheen. “The Dark is Rising” was an overwhelming enough ending that it took a while to realize that, ahem, the setup for Spoon is taking ForEVER. At last they got rolling, but took a couple songs to get juiced. “My Mathematical Mind” finally found them shredding, and they got in a near-perfect 40 minutes, including a spot-on “Small Stakes” with some extra reverb, and a very slinky “Take a Walk”. Generally, Spoon stick pretty close to the recordings, with only minor added hooks and filigrees. “Paper Tiger” was delirious, with it’s spookiness further augmented by some very ominous abstract guitar lines added throughout. They were reminiscent of Ira Kaplan’s more subdued freakouts—another of the day’s indelible memories. We also were treated to “Sister Jack”, “I Summon You”, “The Way We Get By”, and a ludicrously taut “Jonathan Fisk” as the endup.
I suppose if I’d skipped just three or four of those songs, I’d have beat enough of the crowd to the parking lot, and shaved a lot off my 140 minute crawl through traffic for approximately 30 miles to the hotel. And that even, once people dropped into closer hotels, was taken at mostly upward of 80 MPH. I actually wish I had, but only because I missed my flight in the morning. Otherwise, the 3:00 AM tumble into bed wouldn’t have been regretted.
I found a new place to get coffee in the morning. After one day, the moustachioed man knew how I took it: “Hey howareya Large Black To Go.” This morning, the girl at the cash register said, “baby, you want some sugar,” at which I fumbled with a few pre-lingual sounds before she said “for your coffee.”
Anyway, I got to see the Mountain Goats at the Knitting Factory in New York last night, and I loved it- which I expected. Stylus colleague Bryan Berge wrote in March about the joy of seeing them; for fans, anticipating a John Darnielle performance kind of makes all cynicisms and fears temporarily disappear, which is rather amazing and overwhelming. His banter is pretty much always great, and he’s so gracious for a live performer, which makes the experience a lot nicer, at one point saying something to the effect of “I hope everyone in this room is able, at some point in their lives, to feel as good as I feel right now,” to which the crowd responded by, well, probably making him feel even better. He was joined by John Vanderslice and a couple guys from Shearwater (one of the openers, featured members of Okkervill River, closed with a cover of Talk Talk’s “The Rainbow” that pretty much slayed), making for some unusually full-sounding performances, including a volatile “International Small Arms Traffic Blues” that broke my mortal heart for a minute. I could talk for longer, but let’s just say it made my day and you should see them if they’re coming around your area.
Also, read Can’t Stop Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang. Like anything on this earth, it has its problems, which I won’t go into now (if you want to comment, comment away, I’ll respond), but its best strength is the fact that it takes music as an integral part of culture as the damn premise (which it should be), linking it to a history of political activism and concerns of a sociological kind; it’s kind of textbook-y in that way, but it draws all kinds of fantastic links and is, above all, a history that’s been marginalized and could use some light. I know I’m echoing what’s been basically unanimous praise (so far as I know), but for me- someone who isn’t a “hip-hop guy” per se- it was fascinating and got me more interested in both the music and the politics.
Also, and this is something I should’ve said a while ago, I saw Jandek on Corwood. I don’t have anything particularly analytical to say about it (what a relief!), but it made me a whole lot more interested than I already was. There’s something about his specificity that makes a whole movie dedicated to him seem so appropriate; he has the kind of aesthetic/story that is best recieved, in my opinion, through total immersion.
In addition to having a scary-seminal catalog including songwriters like Elliot Smith, Quix*o*tic, Sleater Kinney and the Decemberists, noise and no-wave like Bikini Kill, Deerhoof, Xiu Xiu, OOIOO, Men’s Recovery Project (that list goes on and on and span’s KRS’ 5RC imprint, one of the best record label imprints in the U.S.), and artistically daring audio works by the likes of Kathy Acker and Miranda July, KILL ROCK STARS is one of those rare record labels over 10 years old (gee, close to 15) that has never stopped taking chances, never lost its credibility, and managed to survive.
In another interesting and unexpected rivulet of reinvention, Kill Rock Stars is venturing into modern dance. You heard it on Stylus first (or maybe second, but you heard it *better* here…first…). Given the relationship between experimental music and modern dance going back to the days when John Cage and David Tudor began collaborating with Merce Cunningham, it makes sense that as the high art of sound art became the domain of a sexier low art (I mean “low” in the best possible way) that the union between art-dance and art-rock make itself manifest. To date such things have been given over mostly to the Sigur Ros’ and Radiohead’s of the world (not quite the same) or individual artists being thanklessly passed over by the few critical eyes that pay attention. Now that a record label of unimpeachable taste and cred is getting behind modern dance, maybe it’ll become ok for people to pay attention.
KRS will release “Starter Set: New Dance and Music for the Camera”, a seven part DVD (details at the end of this post). In promotion of this event, producers Slim Moon (KRS founder) and Katie Eastburne (of Young People), are coming out to New York, dancers in tow, to put on a live music and dance event at the newly revitalized Tonic on MAY 12. Some of my best friends are dancers - no really. Here’s the skinny…
Thursday, May 12, 2005 at Tonic, NYC, located at 107 Norfolk Street between Delancey and Rivington Streets.
Doors: 8 pm.
Live performance of a new dance by Katie Eastburn, with Emily Manzo performing John Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano.
DVD premiere screening
and live performances by:
Free Blood (featuring members of !!!) and Roxy Pain.
DJs John Pugh, Wolfy, and KayRock, other suprise guests, potentially
Starter Set is a seven part DVD. A brief description is as follows:
DNA: Blood Memory
Choreography: Jane Paik aka Janet Pants (of Janet Pants Dans Theeatre/Leg and Pants Dans Theeatre) (sic)
Choreography: Ryan Heffington
Music: Katie Eastburn (of Young People) Remixed by Matt Sims, aka Mount Sims.
In Can Can Descent
Choreographer and Music: Lindsay Beamish (of Janet Pants Dans Theeatre/Leg and Pants Dans Theeatre) (sic)
Choreography: Katie Eastburn
Music: “Miracle”: Aaron Hemphill (Liars)
Emily Manzo (First Lady of Kuntry & the
Jarrett Silberman (Young People)
Director: Dana Edell
I’m The Insides
Director: Lindsay Beamish
The Making Of
-Includes documentaries for chapters 1-6, plus interviews.