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Recommended: The Cult of Mr Light – For a New Conception of Time

March 29, 2013

[Reposted by request. The blog this originally appeared at now links to a check cashing scam operation. NEVER LET YOUR DOMAINS EXPIRE, PEOPLE.]

I was given a copy of this album a few hours before its release by Revolving Door Records label head ƸC†OPL∆SM. It seems odd to say “given” considering the album is freely available at Bandcamp, with the emphasis on FREEly, but nonetheless I was given a few hours’ head start with the tunes. Of course, life being life, I was unable to take advantage of the advance copy, but here’s where I pay back that favor, but not before I head off on a bit of tangent.

There are a lot of netlabels and a lot of artists on those netlabels, all of whom seem to be generating hundreds of hours of music per year. At this point, my Facebook feed resembles a firehose of multicolored, symbol-laden, provocatively dressed avatars, each cranking out link after link to their stuff, their labelmates’ stuff, the stuff they listen to when not making music, the stuff they’re intending to remix/rap on/obliterate, etc. Just between ƸC†OPL∆SM (Sam Hatzaras), Nattymari (Dafydd McKaharay), Joe Royster ( Co-founder – Aural Sects netlabelspf5Ø), Mike TXTBKMatt Supa Solley (Sortahuman), Party TrashMikey Shad-do (Baku Shad-do netlabel) and the Amdiscs label, there’s more music being foisted upon the public than any one human being could reasonably be expected to listen to.

You know that old complaint about how piracy has taken away the incentive to create because nobody can make money with music anymore? Well, that’s obviously complete bullshit. This may mean those who were used to getting paid (back in the day) have lost the will, but sweet goddamn christ, it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anyone who’s been creating without the expectation of getting paid. If anything, this whole internet thing has turned them into some sort of compulsive creators and we, the people on the receiving end, are the beneficiaries of a leveled playing field, even if that means that we’ll constantly be swimming upstream against a torrent (or with torrents – piracy joke lol) of incoming music, knowing we’ll always be at least a foot under metaphoric water.

Go, just go and click this link for an example of what I’m talking about. This is the Aural Sects netlabel. Click on that link. I’m not even asking. DO IT. Click and gaze in wonderment at the almost-literal wall of album covers. Each of those represents, at the very least, two tracks to listen to. Many of those are full albums. Some are the internet equivalent of double albums. By the time you’ve finished gazing at that and reading this sentence, Royster and his conspirators will likely have uploaded another 15-track compilation and a couple of EPs and is, even as we “speak,” dumping the links into my Facebook firehose. (Abbreviated hereafter in this set of parentheses only as “FaceHose” for maximum comic effect.)

I wish all these guys (and girls) the best. Holy shit. They’re amazing. The counterargument (often delivered by the same people that think no one will create without incentives) is that if it’s for free and there’s that much of it, it must be about 90% shit. It’s a terrible argument, based more on leftover physical label elitism than on any, you know, research. Not only that, but this “counterargument” fails to take into account a little thing called “subjectivity.” One person’s 90% shit is another person’s 90% gold. Even if it is 90% shit (and it definitely isn’t), at the prices they’re charging, you can afford to bin 9 out 10 songs. You’re not going to be out of much, if anything, other than time.

That’s where I hit the wall: time. There’s no way to keep up with it all. I’ve downloaded several albums, dumped them into the mp3 player and am now making my way through them at my own pace, which is roughly 1/100th of the speed that it’s being generated. There’s some amazing stuff, some merely good stuff, a lot of average stuff and a few absolute clunkers. But all that statement means is that it’s exactly like any other genre distributed in any other fashion. Just because there’s no limited edition vinyl and radio airplay and etc. does not mean the quality of the music is any more or any less than anything else out there. The ratio of bad-to-good is no different with these netlabels as it is with other, more “acceptable” labes, whether it’s Fat Possum or Sub Pop or 4AD or Sony.

So, you have this constant onslaught of NEW STUFF.  And if you’re going to deal with it, you going to need some filters. I’m one. Other blogs are. I’m a clogged filter though, time having filled most of the holes with two jobs, a house and a family to take care of. Consequently, there’s a backlog of dozens (quite possibly hundreds) of songs I want to write about and even more albums that I’d like to review, all trapped in my filter, unable to make it further in my position as your filter. If I could limit myself to 30 words and a something-out-of-5 rating system, I might be making some progress. But when I like something, I want people to know why I like it. And if that’s not enough, I want people to understand the how of why I like it, if that makes sense, which takes even more time, because there will be pictures and links and digressions and inside jokes.

This is how I do it. “Be a music writer. It’ll be easy. You like music, right? The shit practically writes itself and there’s plenty of music out there. Easy. LOLOLOLOL. [Laughter trails off leaving only an uncomfortably manic gleam in my eye as it watches my FB wall fill up YET AGAIN.]“

But, getting back to the recommended album at hand. I was specifically given this to listen to. I had some time free up and I listened. And I was blown away.

I’m not sure why I expected less. Maybe it’s the numbing effect of running into a scrolling wall of creative effort every time I log into the Feeb. Maybe it’s the fact that between Soundcloud, Bandcamp and Youtube, these artists I’m in contact with are adding to their CVs pretty much around the clock and while they’re keeping the hose going, I can only dip in periodically and hope to come up with a winner. Maybe it’s the feeling that, while I expected it to be a good listen based on the pedigree (thus making it full of Things I Like), I didn’t expect it to be as great as it is.

Keep in mind: without Hatzaras singling me out, it would have been caught up in the firehose/loop that I’m praising/complaining about at great length. It would have scrolled by and fallen off the radar, ending up far away from my ears. Which would have been a real shame, because it’s a solid, inventive album that goes far beyond the scene that surrounds it.

The Cult of Mr. Light (Alexein P Oris and Phelyx Lambert) have crafted a stellar album and you don’t have to be tuned in to witch house, drag, icepunk, seapunk, juke, or any of a million other microgenres (each one full of unstoppable creative bastards, all attaching their own feed lines to my INCOMING FB scroll) to enjoy it. You just have to like music.

It’s essentially genre-less. Electronica, except with huge doses of acoustic guitar. Ambient, except with moments of tense propulsion. Industrial, except more prone to borrow from Italo-horror soundtracks and late-70s sci-fi-obsessed disco. It’s hardly everything to all people but it is definitely not for genre divisionists or electronica acolytes only.

Firing it up, I was hit with the first of many unexpectations: acoustic guitar. The reptilian brain recoils slightly, wondering a bit about whether this album might just be someone’s pretensions masquerading as music. (The “reptilian brain” is borrowed from someone, but I can’t remember who. P.J. O’Rourke? David Foster Wallace? Help me out here. [Use the comment thread.]) “I didn’t sign on for THIS.” I tuned down my internal dialogue and went browsing elsewhere as the track unfolded pleasantly before veering down a very dark alleyway in which lurked David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti, waiting to beat me up for my drug money and abuse me with violent sexual imagery. The reptile brain subsides.

And then thrills. Track 2, Phone Calls from God is straight up electronics, a 2-1/2 minute ominous set of oscillations, leading into another surprise left turn with Space Fanfare (see above), which finds the complementary tones of Italo-horror soundtracks and retro-futuristic space disco (Goblin vs. Gianni Rossi, basically).

Many, many more highlights follow. Neon Island is the sound of a waking dream. And not a good one. Hallucinogenic and eerie without having to resort to the cliché of doom-laden chords from the “heavy” end of the keyboard. Tribute to Glauber Rocha brings back the acoustic guitar, resulting in something almost pretty enough to play in mixed company, but still spiked with surface tension. Assassins is Middle Eastern pop falling apart on a faulty reel-to-reel, menaced by various electronic devices.

Then there’s Interzone, which really deserves a post of its own. Electronica-space-rock that scorches the earth while heading for the stars, sounding like Hawkwind with a headful of steam and a welcome sense of focus. Without resorting to a guitar-heavy sound, The Cult of Mr. Light manage to erect something that could very possibly kick out the jams, motherfuckers, if given a little shove. Or less profanely, the ultra-tight retrolectro sound of Giorgio Moroder producing Palermo Disko Machine under the influence of a fistful of amphetamines. I’ve played this one repeatedly and respectfully suggest you do the same.

The final track is an extended coda, surpassing the 10-minute mark without requiring you to a.) zone out or b.) muscle through it. There’s an underlying theme that never goes away, but does get fucked about with in a rather amiable fashion. It unwinds and recoils reflexively, circling itself and unveiling new twists every few minutes.

In summation: a fucking brilliant album and one that makes me wonder just how much other truly great shit I’m missing by being unable to keep up with my FB feed. Probably lots, if I’m honest. Which is my loss, and consequently, yours as well. But I’m trying. To everyone I pointed out way, way back in the introductory paragraphs, I’ll get to you. Really, I will. It may not be timely, but it will be… eventual… I guess. Go and download For A New Conception of Time. You won’t regret it.

/s/CLT

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Moving On

December 19, 2011

As is surely evidenced by the date of the latest post, Fancy Plans is for all intents and purposes another corpse littering the expansive backyard of WordPress.

It’s been a great ride but it’s time to move on. Here’s where you can find us now:

Minor Scratches

I’ll be blogging about music (mostly) along with added cultural detritus. Fancy Plans will be marked as [OF ARCHIVAL INTEREST ONLY].

Thanks to everyone who took time to read (and comment) on the very sporadic output at Fancy Plans.

-CLT

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New Writing Gig

September 1, 2011

I’m now writing for Lost In The Sound, an absolutely fine music blog. The first couple of posts are up, and I’m hoping there will be many, many more in the future. I’ve also added the link to the Side Projects.

This would be in addition to my Techdirt gig (73 posts and counting…), which will explain the upcoming dearth of posts here, if anyone asks. Or it may not. We’ll see how it goes.

-CLT

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CLT Recommends: Frank Black – Teenager of the Year (Part 2)

August 23, 2011

After the speedy opening romp of Pong/Thalassocracy (detailed here in Part 1), Black pulls back a bit for the next four and unwinds. The pace slows down towards “amble” and even approaches “truly laid back,” which could easily be mistaken for “coasting,” if he weren’t only six songs into a 22-song set.

3. (I Want to Live on an) Abstract Plain.mp3

An ode to wanting to be elsewhere, which is one of those vague feelings that gets under the skin like nostalgia, only with generally better results. You can’t go back. Nothing is like you remember it. However, with the right sort of wanderlust you can push forward. (Although, unfortunately, nobody ever really trusts a drifter.) Frank says “this town is dead to me,” only using better wording and imagery.

I’ve had it with this town
I never saw those shifting skies
I never saw the ground
Or the sunset rise

A bit later, he hints at the antagonism that lies underneath the unfocused (more omnidirectional than vague) “let’s blow this joint” emotion:

I’m building a frame
A place to put my ten-yard stare

But despite all the underlying tension (most of which I’m attributing to it with no assistance from the source material and a lot of self-awarded editorial leeway), the song itself is amiable, catchy and features a couple of tempo shifts, which as the album goes on become more and more common. This would seem to suggest that Frank Black’s new, um, black is tempo changes, replacing all the groundwork laid by the Pixies’ damn-near-patented “loud/quiet/loud” dynamics.

4. Calistan

This track remains one of my favorite Frank Black tunes (of ever!), not so much for the tune itself (although it does sport some rather large hooks), but because of the subject matter. There’s a dry and dusty near-Western feel to the lyrics (and the music), but what pulls me in is the border town imagery, illustrated by the Spanglish chorus.

Used to be sixteen lanes
Used to be Nuevo Spain
Used to be Juan Wayne
Used to be Mexico
Used to be Navajo
Used to be yippy-ay-I-don’t know

Note that “Navajo” is pronounced “Nava-joe” in accordance with Black’s bastardization of Spanglish pronunciations. In Spanish, the “j” would be pronounced as an “h” (as in “Jesus”)(also, as in the way that the Navajo pronounce it). Black inverts it completely by giving it the hard “j” (probably not an actual thing, this “hard j” — at least not according to prominent Englishologists), doubling the language tweakery by blowing right past the border English “h” and grabbing onto the imported Americans’ (German, Dutch, etc.) practice of pronouncing letters of “foreign” words in completely the wrong way. No doubt about it: English (especially the American version) is a tough language to glom onto, what with it’s shifting “rules” and incessant borrowing from other cultures.

So, as an immigrant, when you’re tangling with a brand new language and its odd habits of using consonants as vowels and taking sudden hard left turns at certain consonant groups and then ignoring them completely later in the sentence, it certainly doesn’t help that the word “jalapeno” or “Navajo” are part of the vernacular. Which rules do you follow? And why do adopted words seem subject to local accents? As if the whole thing wasn’t ridiculous enough (citizenship tests, et al.), you’ve now got the opportunity to further display your “not-from-around-here-ness” by completely fucking up the pronunciation of a word that shouldn’t even be let across the border without a phonetic spelling. You can’t win.

Black being a denizen of L.A. (and the citizens’ band [BUT LATER ON]), he knows his way around the mishmash (and frequently, mismatch) of blended cultures. He references pachinko parlors and karaoke while namechecking the La Brea tar pits, all the while blending things further with his polyglot chorus.

I can identify.

Growing up in El Paso, Texas, a literal stone’s throw away from Mexico, I knew all about Mexicans. (Of course, no one really uses the term “Mexican” any more. Mexicans = people from Mexico. 20+ years ago, “Hispanic” wasn’t really used much in regular conversation. Mexicans were Mexicans and Hispanics were Mexicans with political aspirations.) The culture that is a border town is (dichotomously) diversity defined, while still noticeably marked by pockets of exclusivity . It all depends on which side of town you’re on. Heading to where the money is, border towns look like inland empires (obligatory Lynch reference, yo). It’s all new money wealth and in-ground swimming pools and white teens with riced-up sports cars and bomb-ass ghetto-fab SUVs.

Head to another side of town and you’re going to need a guidebook and an Spanish-English dictionary. Of course, each side of town is equally authentic and there are a few areas where you see some dithering (a digital term! for no apparent reason!), but generally speaking, border towns are not so much “Oh, Melting Pot!” as they are a somewhat uneasy coexistence of homogeneous cultures.

But authenticity is key. You can’t get real Mexican food without real Mexicans. Ask anyone who’s lived near the border. Trying to find good Mexican food is a fool’s errand in many parts of the country. This fact was plainly expressed in a very short-lived radio ad that ran while I was living in El Paso. It proudly announced that a restaurant had “Mexican food made by real Mexicans.” There’s an underlying offensiveness to that phrase. (See also: the second part of the restaurant holdup scene in Pulp Fiction, specifically Tim Roth’s shouted instruction — “Mexicans! Out of the fucking kitchen!” Even impulsive Brit stickup men knew who was working the back of the house.)

The insinuation is that the Mexicans will never get out of the kitchen, thanks to continued racism and random oppression from the Man and while you may actually prefer to have your authentic Mexican food to be prepared by authentic Mexicans (i.e., the ones most qualified to make native food), you really don’t get to go around saying so in so many words. Hence, the ad vanished, but for my brother and I, it lives on. Forever.

If you could ignore everything else about undocumented workers, etc., it’s actually the perfect tagline. If you heard an ad touting German food made by real Germans, you’d think “Fuck yeah! Bier und Sauerkrauten FTW!” and never once be troubled by the image of fiercely nationalistic young blonds slaving over a hot, authentic Stoverevekkenkerffumuschitteren. But if you use that phrase in relation to any of the so-called “marginalized” races (for the most part, “not white” [although "White-Hispanic" hits all the buttons at once]), you get in trouble. All hail White Guilt.

But enough about le culture, and more about Frank. The track sports some steely guitar and a windblown feel that makes it the perfect summer track. Of course, this track would be equally welcome in winter, especially since the heat of lyrical imagery would be a welcome blast of hot, dusty air during those colder days. You can almost smell the melting asphalt and see the shimmering, “pool ofwater” mirage spreading across the sixteen-lane horizon.

5. The Vanishing Spies

Another song that touches on the ineffable sadness of life not being nearly as magical as it once was. As you go further in life, the number of “unexplained” occurrences drops, replaced with facts and footnotes and the scars left by Occam’s Razor.

More specifically, this is Frank’s lament (as spoken by Fox Mulder’s office backdrop): I WANT TO BELIEVE.

Give me a blip, oh
And I’ll totally flip, oh yeah, yeah
Say it’s nothing but sky
And I’ll be a lonely guy

As to who the titular “Vanishing Spies” are, Black remains coy (or rather, “noncommittal”), but you can’t argue with the wistful quality of the music. Implicitly (through the power of editorial overreach), I’d say the vanished spies are the no-longer-all-that-common alien visitations. When all the mysteries are gone, all that’s left is life that plays out like a shitty street magician, telegraphing all its misdirection and plainly showing its cards. No one wants that. Not you. Not your kids on their 10th birthday. All he wants is for someone to say it’s “possible.” It doesn’t even need to be “probable.” Is that too much to ask?

6. Speedy Marie

An unabashed love song, filled with ecstatic imagery. Black goes nearly Shakespearean with Speedy Marie, his ode to his (at the time) wife. Early on, he mentions that he “sings this romaunt.” And he does exactly that.

In the sixth track, Mr. Black’s sings “I sing this romaunt”. A romaunt is a romantic poem. And, sure enough, the song ends with a quite lovely, romantic poem directed to a woman. This last section is written and sung in the classic 14-line sonnet style, with a rhyme pattern of A-B-A-B, C-D-C-D, E-F-E-F, G-G. The lines are actually an acrostic; the first letter of each line spells out “JEAN MARIE WALSH,” presumably the Speedy Marie of the title.

To wit:

Juxtaposed in each moment’s sight
Everything that I ever saw
And my one delight
Nothing can strike me in such awe

Mouth intricate shapes the voice that speaks
Always it will soothe
Rarer none are the precious cheeks
Is the size of each sculpted tooth
Each lip and each eye

Wise is the tongue, wet of perfect thought
And softest neck where always do I
Lay my clumsy thoughts
She is that most lovely art
Happy are my mind and my soul and my heart

Now that Frank Black has made everything any guy has ever done for his girlfriend/wife/s.o. look like so much underwhelming and non-poetic drivel, I guess we (the guys) have nothing else left to do but punch ourselves in the brain for being cursed with above-average brains (at best) and see if we can somehow shoehorn one of these intricate couplets (my favorite is: “And softest neck where always do I/lay my clumsy thoughts“) into an anniversary card or singing telegram (public domain only I’m afraid — to keep costs down).

Or maybe we can just point out that Mr. Black and Ms. Walsh are now separated, as if that were evidence enough that the amazing amount of effort needed to produce this sort of loveliness is obviously a complete waste of time. Or something.

Also of note: not the first time Mr. Black has gone acrostic. There’s also Ana, which spells out a very simple message… (See the top comment.)

Until next time…

-CLT

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Heavy Rotation 77

August 10, 2011

[More fine tracks arriving at variable intervals, thanks to the stellar musical talents of the Moon Duo, Clive Tanaka and The Voluntary Butler Scheme. No longer can this blog be trusted to be updated in a timely fashion. Perhaps some sort of ur-blog fascism is in order, because if nothing else, it made the Italian trains run on time. With that being said, as long as I'm in charge of providing content, it's probably a forgone conclusion that as long as "things to do" continues to outpace "time available," this blog's tin-plated reputation will never rise above tin-plated. That additional thing being said, the tracks I'm featuring are really excellent. So there's that... Would you like to play a game/remove a track? Email me: 2timegrime@gmail.com.]

Previous Rotations here:
The Heavy Rotation Archive

Clive Tanaka Y Su Orquestra – Lonely for the Highscrapers.mp3

Clive Tanaka (whom I’ve expressed adoration for previously) is back with a lushly moving track that threatens to shatter even the most jaded of hearts into thousands of pieces. As I’ve said before, it is written exactly NOWHERE that music needs to be made from all-organic components to have “emotion.” Those strange people who cling to some sort of Luddic ideal that prevents them from enjoying something made entirely of electronics need to be boxed repeatedly around the ears (and other sensitive areas) by Tanaka’s mastercraft until they can see the beauty behind the algorithms.

The track washes over the listener, with the beat serving as the only thing keeping it from floating skyward. Tanaka conjures up the kind of misery that loves company, which is the best kind of misery. It’s a larger-than-life feeling that is still purely, subjectively “your” experience, albeit one that everyone can identify with, even in the best of times/moods. When you can wring that sort of emotion out of bits, bytes and presets, you’re truly a “transcendent” artist and this track is, yes, exactly that: transcendent.

Moon Duo – Mazes.mp3

The SanFran bay area and psychedelia go together like acid tabs and orange juice. Moon Duo are no exception, filtering their Cali sun-kissed psych-rock through a variety of effects pedals and a Spaceman 3-esque chug-and-drone framework. While a few of their tracks push towards a mantra-esque repetitionrepetitionrepetition (i.e., Motorcycle, I Love You) that tend to preach directly to the chemically-altered choir, other tracks (such as this one) move beyond the attuned and welcome those who gather at the outskirts, wondering what the hell they’re missing out on.

This is not to say that Mazes completely forsakes the chug/drone/meander of Moon Duo’s more psychedelic outings. In fact, the entire track wraps itself around the rise and fall of some simple tones and while the guitar takes an exploratory run through a couple of effects, the tune itself ties together into a neat, tuneful, ultra-melodic near-romp that calls to mind a mildly-sprawling take on 60s garage pop. It’s a blast that rolls on charmingly, with four-on-the-good-natured-floor. It’s the perfect welcome mat for those wishing to dip into Moon Duo’s spirited acid rock revivalism.

The Voluntary Butler Scheme – To the Height of a Frisbee (Dan Le Sac Remix).mp3

Incredibly vibrant stuff here, and I don’t say that lightly (even the music itself edges towards that). The amazing output of one-man-band Rob Jones, The Voluntary Butler Scheme makes the kind of upbeat electronica that a million bedroom producers aspire to. Captivating, melodic and brilliantly evocative, TVBS is pure pop brilliance. Unfortunately, today’s pop world is less concerned with brilliance than marketability and there’s no chance in hell for this slice of immaculate joyousness to claim a place on the charts.

So be it. Now, it’s ours and we can take it places and show it to our friends and watch their jaws drops and be part of the “in-crowd” that is cool we don’t even give a shit that others refer to us as the “in-crowd.” When they do refer to us as that, we’ll express surprise and smile a little. Music isn’t about exclusiveness. Not if it’s done right. It’s about inclusiveness and when you’ve got something this amazing on your hands you’ll be dying to spread it around. Hell, it’s not even going to care if you shove it on your virtual shelves right next to your cherished Gap Band reissues and secretly-loved Kylie Minogue singles.

Music this good doesn’t need a pedestal. It just needs more fans.

-CLT

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CLT Recommends: Frank Black – Teenager of the Year (Part 1)

July 27, 2011

Frank Black’s second solo album appeared without much ado in the summer of ’94. There may have been more “ado” elsewhere (perhaps Boston or L.A.), but for someone in South Dakota who visited the local records in a somewhat religious fashion (when money was available — so, not frequently, but more “periodically”, like a backslidden Catholic [which FB very much could be, if the lyrics of Weird at My School are to be believed]{but he actually isn’t, which is fine}), it was bit of a surprise. All of a sudden, there it was on the “New Release” rack: Frank Black, in all his weird glory, looking like a prom date that was the result of a lost bet.

More background: I discovered the Pixies in 1992, shortly after their dying gasps. These dying gasps of one of the most important bands ever were apparently delivered by Frank Black (known at that time as Black Francis) via an instrument that was very much of its time and place: the fax machine. “Dear Band – We are no longer,” or words to that effect were faxed to Kim Deal (bassist) and David Lovering (drummer). Joey Santiago (guitar), however, received a phone call, and in fact, was invited to play guitar on Black’s first solo album, Frank Black.

As is often the case when you discover genius only to have it torn away by forces beyond your control (see also: Skinny Puppy, Love & Rockets, My Bloody Valentine — all of whom ceased operation between 89-91, right about the time I was getting into them [although they've all come back since then]), it leaves behind a feeling not totally unlike the ungainly metaphor of a bandaid being ripped off a fresh wound. Frank Black’s first solo album failed to resonate immediately, but steadily grew on me for the next decade. However, Teenager of the Year arrived a couple of years further down the road when the old wounds were pretty much closed, sealed by fate, etc. and some of the more exposed edges had been rounded off by the quiet resignation that sometimes comes with living life.

The Pixies were indeed a once in a lifetime experience and I had missed out, but… well, there’s nothing you can really do. So you move on and distance yourself a little more from bands that seem to be implosive, and then find all of your overwrought “feelings” about said bands mocked openly by their eventual reunions and endless touring. (See also: all the bands I listed. Except Love & Rockets, who made a few more albums before re-vanishing again, but not before I got to see them as 3/4 of the reformed Bauhaus, which was pretty fucking kickass.)

This sounds more dramatic than it actually is, but the fact remains: Teenager of the Year will always hold a place in my heart that Frank Black (the album) never can and I’m pretty sure that’s because of two year’s worth of perspective. Obviously, I wanted Frank Black to sound like the Pixies. He doesn’t, especially on Frank Black. There are hints and motifs but these are very much Frank Black’s albums.

Put both of these albums together though, and you see some patterns emerge. Lots of sci-fi references and UFO fascinations trotted out. Pop culture meets skate culture meets L.A. melting pot meets mystic shit borrowed from Native American culture and fringe cults. It’s all in there and it’s all a continuation of Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde, the last two Pixies albums and the two that most fans agree are the weakest. And they are, if we’re being honest, although it took me a few years to figure that out. They’re by no means “bad” albums (in fact, stacked up against 95% of all other bands’ output, they’re actually excellent albums, but when you set the bar as high as their first 2-1/2 albums did…), but they are definitely more Frank’s albums than they are Pixies’ albums.


This is probably why Frank Black (again, the album) felt like a continuation of Black’s solo album aspirations from Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde, only extended to an actual solo album. I wanted the Pixies to go backwards and reclaim their glory. Frank just wanted out. Kim just wanted a million cigarettes and a semi full of booze.

The towel was thrown in well before the faxing, though. I still have in my possession a 1992 bootleg of a live set the Pixies did opening for U2 in Florida. Pretty lifeless as live sets go, with the band sounding more “perfunctory” than anything else. Still, it was the first time I’d heard Manta Ray, which is one their best b-sides.

It was a combination of various things that turned this into the perfect summer album, my head space being one of them. At some point, you lose your teen angstiness and are then able to appreciate lighter efforts like these, rather than feeling that if it’s not a doom-laden epic (like, say, the Cure’s Disintegration), then it isn’t a serious artistic statement. There’s plenty of hummable tunes hidden throughout Black’s album, as well as some weightier pieces, but nothing that drags you and your soul down to the darker side of town to make a deal with the devil or, at the very least, play a bit of craps in a metaphoric back alley.

It’s a sprawl of an album at 22 tracks, but most of them breeze by quickly enough that it never feels like an effort, even if you listen to it from front to back. There’s some surfer vamping, some steel guitar, a lot of angular guitar (even some regular guitar!) and plenty of quotable lyrics. The incredible thing is that out of 22 tracks, there’s only a handful of clunkers, most of which are purely subjective clunkers. There’s really not a bad track on the album.

I’m going to run through Teenager of the Year from front to back, pointing out anything I liked or thought was interesting or anything angular and spiky enough that I can hang a digression from it. I won’t be posting the whole album, but I will be posting (and addressing) most of it. Those that don’t make the cut will still be toyed with briefly before being dismissed. Hopefully, you’ll find this to be half as entertaining as I imagine it to be.

CLT Recommends: Frank Black – Teenager of the Year

Teenager opens with a pair of blistering, get-you-in-get-you-out, punk-as-post-punk-deconstruction-reconstructed, catchy-as-all-hell two minute romps. Here they are in their sequentially numbered glory:

1. Whatever Happened to Pong?.mp3

The opening track begins with a head fake: guitar that feints in the direction of anthemic mid-tempo rock before sprinting in a new, punkish direction. The title gives it away. An ode to Pong, which much like anything else that appears overly-simplistic, is also an ode to wasted youth (not the drunk kind of wasted, although I would imagine Frank was no stranger to the booze — after all, he went to college).

My brother and I used to play it down at the bars
Taking money from guys more used to the playing of cards

Most of the lyrics mimic the ball action (a sentence opening which will seem progressively dirtier with each readthru), paddle, left, paddle, right, with the riffs shifting gears here and there to allow another verse before the chorus heads back into the left-right action.

Now virtually everyone’s singing a popular song
But I still believe in the excellent joy of the pong

Bash radio. Get nostalgia. And it’s purposeful nostalgia. Time travel namecheck upcoming.

Now if they take it H.G. Wells
I’ll be on the first flight
To a time before the Kong
Oh, whatever happened to Pong?

Progress. It’s a killer. Everything seems better when you look at from a distance. Frank Black, proto-gamer longs for sub-8-bit graphics and sub-midi-file bloops.

All in all, a good opener. Catchy with a bit of fluff but still spiky enough to snag outre ears. Oh, and check the video, which was made with the combined power of stock video and couch change:

2. Thalassocracy.mp3

In case you needed to be reminded, Frank Black has a (partial) college education. Grossly simplified, thalassocracy means “ruling the sea.” The sea is another of Black’s fascinations. He refers to watery kingdoms and accompanying mythology a few times in his preceding work. On the Pixies’ 1989 album Doolittle, he touches briefly on one “ruler of the sea” in the song, Mr. Grieves:

What’s that floating on the water?
Old Neptune’s only daughter

(To make the syllables work properly, you have to pronounce Neptune as “Nep-tune-ah” like Black does here. He’s halfway to the Fall with that one word, echoing Mark E. Smith’s appended “-ahs”.)

On Trompe Le Monde (above), he’s got an entire song about the underwater world, Palace of the Brine, which, believe it or not, refers to the Great Salt Lake in Utah:

In a place they say is dead
In a lake that’s like an ocean
I count about a billion head
Every time there’s a motion

Later he gives it away, through the restorative power of screaming:

Beneath reflections in the fountain
The starry sky and Utah mountains

This, however, is some sort of vindictive fight song, for lack of a better term. It roars out of the gates and never slows down, with Black spewing intricately layered invective in the general direction of his nemesis. It paints an ugly-as-sin word picture using $64 words and heady references:

Wait
It isn’t so great since you learned karate chop
You’re walking machs and I’m just swimming in the slop
You waved your wand at me and made me dance flip flop flip
I want to sing for you and make your head go pop

But, like anything else Black writes, a picture will emerge. It seems to be a trick of evolution the protagonist is railing against. Someone has made it onto land (karate chop/walking machs) while he’s still stuck in the sea (swimming in the slop). There’s even more to it: “waving your wand” – fishing rod, “dance flip flop” – caught on the line, “sing for you and make your head go pop” – sirens?

The chorus refers to both the Inuit Indians and Caeser, which seems to be an contrasting of living in harmony with nature as opposed to the Romans’ relentless march towards domination through conquest/technology. This is confirmed in the second verse:

Hey
You’re spraying in the windy and I’m just pissing off
I’m literally deaf down here from your canned philosoph
Soft, soft, soft, soft, softly can you hear me through the sucking of your quaff
I’m thalassocracy and you’re just Romanov

In other words, I am the sea and will be forever. You may have evolved but I’ll outlast you and your “kingdom.” (Incidentally, the Romanovs were the last ruling Russian family before the February Revolution ended their reign, leaving the country in [eventually] Lenin’s hands.)

All in all, extremely deep stuff for a 97-second punk-pop tune. This one-two punch of bare-faced nostalgia and multi-layered mythological narrative speeds by in less than 3-1/2 minutes, laying the groundwork for the rest of the album. It’s an intro that lets you know exactly what you’ll be dealing with (oddball shit + brain exercises), even if the tempo rarely reaches this pace again.

That’s it for this section. This retrospective will continue (hopefully) over the next few weeks. If nothing else, the cumbersome introduction is out of the way, leaving us with plenty of music to enjoy between wordy bits from yours truly.

-CLT

h1

Sonic Collision 9

July 25, 2011

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted under this heading, but I’ll be goddamned if I’m the only one who can’t get these particular mashups out of his (or her, as the case may be) head. My unofficial apologies for the sporadic posting schedule, one that only becomes more sporadic as time goes on and would most likely be unnoticed if I didn’t draw attention to it with every introductory paragraph. Onwards we go, to the better times and music that lies below this awkward paragraph that now hangs here like something awkward (possibly a gawky and eternally forlorn teen) hanging over a particularly fun party (with great music), killing the mood with his (or her, quite possibly) eternal forlorness and awkwardly decorative noose.

Now that you have this wholly inappropriate word image in your head, please try to enjoy the rest of the post.

Previous wreckage here:
The Sonic Collision Archives

Fissunix – End of the Walrus (Daft Punk vs. the Beatles).mp3

This track heads up the Collision solely because I still find myself wandering around doing a non-hippie approximation of John Lennon, much to the consternation of the pets, children and my wife. Why, in the name of all that is considered holy by various demographic groups, would a grown man sing “I am the walrus,” especially in a voice that was made for writing?

Because dear friends, the simple (but not all that simple, really) addition of Daft Punk’s bottom end and assorted electronic noises. And let’s not forget the various inserted samples from the movie Tron. Those help a bit. But mainly it’s just Fissunix’s mastery of his media, turning an old “standard” into the finest electro-rock.

Fissunix on the World Wide Web

Krazy Ben – Fake Disco Flex (Fake Blood vs. Arabesque vs. Dizzee Rascal).mp3

Aw, Ben so Krazy. So c(k)razy that I’m sure he’s sick of internet writers opening paragraphs with any variation of those worn out words. My apologies in arrears for not leading into this paragraph more forcefully. This mashup deserves more than that.

As you can clearly see (and imagine) from the “cover art,” this is a hi-energy track (as is evidenced by the missing silent letters), which pops and bumps like the warped vinyl of a dancefloor classic that has been exposed to the heat once too often. The vocal stylings of Dizzee Rascal rub up against Fake Blood’s nu-house and the occasional string squiggles of Arabesque to devastating effect.

Krazy Ben’s tumblrrrr!

-CLT

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