Monday, November 9, 2009

A brief meditation: SF Bargain Buys from the summer

I wrote this over the summer but somehow didn't manage to publish it. Enjoy:

Record buying season is slow in the Bay and if I had felt like snapping up vinyl now would be the perfect time. One day at Amoeba Berkeley I saw all the first five Pere Ubu vinyls, originals, on sale. As well as June 1, 1974. All decently priced. During the school year, forget about seeing that. Oh yeah, also, the economy's continuing to fail. Well, if you have the money, take charge; these things can be long-term investments and you won't see them forever.

Myself, I can't really be arsed to collect vinyl anymore. I love vinyl. Anything I hear on that outdated shit first, I have to hear in that format to enjoy. But I am a mover and shaker and it's hard for me to wrap my head around the vinyl experience at all times. Or feel like I can make the time. I have a hard time committing to watching a TV show. I'm glad that this reactionary movement has stimulated the record-buying economy. It is good to own something "real." But for all you so-called analog purists, consider this: almost any vinyl record released after the mid-80s has been DIGITALLY MASTERED or, at the very least, the music was at one time dubbed onto a DAT - a DIGITAL AUDIO TAPE - for delivery to a pressing plant. So you might as well be listening to a CD dubbed onto a cassette, my friends. Notable exceptions, of records on analog from studio floor to your livingroom floor include those Jackpot! reissues which actually go to painstaking lenghts to master original analog tapes the analog way (like those awesome new Wipers reissues), The Breeders' Mountain Battles (mastered the old-fashioned way at Abbey Road)(which is such a good record anyway you should already own it in some form) and anything from The Microphones/Mount Eerie (not that his purism is doing anything for his self-centered, murky music these days).

Oh, by the way, Bee Thousand, the #1 four-track record of all time, was mastered and edited on ProTools.

And Nirvana's "Something in The Way," is built on a series of digital loops. Oops. I talked to the guy that did it at a guitar shop in Los Angeles.

And there is no Santa Claus.

Fuck Steve Albini:

Good News For Modern Man - Grant Hart

It can be safely said by now that Grant Hart has spent more of his career hating his former bandmate, Bob Mould, than he has making music. One can't really blame him - back when Hüsker Dü were really making great music, they did it at a rate that was essentially inhuman. I mean, New Day Rising, Flip Your Wig and Candy Apple Grey were recorded in a year and a half. (Not to mention the fact Zen Arcade, a double album, got recorded and mixed in three days.) No, you probably couldn't do that, no matter which drugs you were on. Following what by all accounts was a horrific breakup, I'd want a little break time myself. Hart has made a couple solo records and tried to get a new band, Nova Mob, off the ground - but the band was all but destroyed after a head-on collision with a reckless driver in Germany. Bob "Overachiever" Mould, instead, has made a bunch of records of varying quality by himself and with Sugar (who themselves were more or less ended by his unwelcome 'outing' in the mid-90s), and, by now, has comfortably settled down in the mediocrity of adult contemporary, if his latest effort is to be believed. And he blogs a lot.

Good News For Modern Man finds (or found, this was already 10 years ago and there hasn't been another album since) Mr. Hart taking a short break from putting Mould down in the press (for some good reasons, but with all the over-the-top spite of an ex-lover) to make some music that sounds not unlike his material with Hüsker Dü: poppy, wall-of-sound-like and graced with his bleating, occasionally effeminate vocal stylings. When he's on, it's well worth a listen. "Nobody Rides For Free" stands out as a true gem, although the ranting, monotonous verses bespeak of a somewhat frazzled Hart, bringing all the vulnerability of his early greats such as "Pink Turns to Blue" and "Chastity, Charity, Prudence and Hope" full-circle with a now well-honed world-weariness. "Teeny's Hair" is among the more "modern" sounding tracks, with an electronic wash of a background backing up some haunting block chords and especially literary lyrics - one sees Hart looking up to his old friend Burroughs here (whose picture appears, in tribute, on the album's liners). "A Letter From Anne-Marie" is so 90s-alternative-whatever I almost feel embarassed to like it, but it is a pretty great song, definitely one of the best of the bunch - even though, at 6 minutes, it runs a bit long for the idea presented. Later on, the surfy and bleepy "Let Rosemary Rock Him, Laura-Louise" stands as one of the few good rock instrumentals I've heard in some time.

So let it be known that Hart isn't just a bandmate-basher, all efforts of the previous ten years to the contrary. Flaky? Yes. Unproductive? Guess so...his remix of a Nova Mob album is now about eight years overdue, and his alleged collaboration with Godspeed You Black Emperor is also taking its sweet time to see the light of day. A bitter bastard? See for yourself. But a quick dive through the Husker Du bargain bin (I bought this for five bucks) will reveal his talents more or less in tact on Good News. And hell, it doesn't even sound like a bad carbon copy of his old band. Glory be!

'Em Are I - Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard

I like the idea of this artist, and this album, a lot better than I like the reality so far. I discovered Jeffrey Lewis after a long-winded interview with him appeared, somewhat bafflingly, on the Fall News website, which I check everyday without fail. At the interview's end, the writer quickly, and somewhat awkardly, opined that 'Em Are I was "much better than anything The Fall have done in years."

Well, I loved 2007's Reformation Post TLC (fuck the haters) and last year's Imperial Wax Solvent (which is actually one of the most innovative albums the band has ever put out), so, actually, that's a pretty high mark, for me. One that 'Em Are I did not surpass.

Jeffrey Lewis is a highly self-conscious writer, cartoonist and songwriter. Any artist involved in an autobiographical comic strip about his life (see Harvey Pekar, early Matt Groening, etc.) is bound to be a little more earth-bound than your average dreamer, and Lewis certainly fits the bill. So far, he's either been known as the guy that made all those Crass songs into twee indie delights, a Moldy Peaches associate (he did their album artwork), or the guy that wrote that funny song about Will Oldham raping him. It's a good song, actually.

He's been compared to Jonathan Richman, Lou Reed, and all kinds of other people he doesn't sound like, but what shines through to me is a pretty strong likeness to They Might Be Giants: wordy, cerebral and intelligent lyrics that tie into good old sing-along choruses and, frankly, not particularly challenging music. (I still love TMBG) This is not love-it-or-hate-it music, and, unlike these icons Lewis gets compared to, his music isn't extreme enough in any direction to inspire that kind of passion. So 'Em Are I tackles all kinds of neuroses and various real-life situations we often find ourselves contemplating (baldness, death, busy schedules) with some catchy melodies and passable indie-band playing. I still haven't listened to all of it. I don't love it and I don't hate it. Next time I have the inclination to concentrate on any of the lyrics (i.e. extremely ill) I'll give it another spin. Perhaps I'll change my mind. Perhaps not. I still admire him for his productivity and travel off the beaten path of the shitty indie music that gets all that high praise today.