Archive for July, 2011

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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

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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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Heavy Rotation 76

July 13, 2011

[What? This old thing? Actually, a bit better than that. This week’s combatants for your hearing affection are Curve, WALSH and Insect Guide. Perfect mood music for whatever it is you’re doing today, including reading this here blog thing. Need a track removed? Just ask: 2timegrime@gmail.com.]

Previous Rotations here:
The Heavy Rotation Archive

Curve – I Feel Love.mp3

I have an inordinate amount of affection for Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. If I’m at all honest with myself (and by extension, you), I probably have no fewer than 20-25 versions of this track floating around my hard drive like so many pulsating disco divas. Giorgio Moroder laid down the ultimate in basslines on the original and the twin powers of Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia emulate this immaculately, trading in their normal percussive wash of wah and distortion for a bottom end that just won’t quit (or words to that effect). Welcome to alt.disco.

Insect Guide – Insider.mp3

This track is the sort of wintry mix that cozies up next to you on the couch in front of a roaring fire, casually draping an arm across your shoulder before leaning in to whisper threats in your ear. Insect Guide’s whole album runs this way, seducing with instrumental haze while roughing you up a bit lyrically, like a street thug in a velvet smoking jacket.

Walsh – Sweet Draemz.mp3

As the highlight (there’s a joke in there but I’m too lazy to throw quotation marks around it) WALSH’s Smoke Weed About It EP, Sweet Draemz delivers the fogged-up goods. Plays like a narcotized Hawaiian vacation dream. You know, the kind where you can only move about 3 feet per hour and everyone’s mouths are moving but no words are coming out. Like that, except that the perverse weirdness of the dream is replaced with the preternatural calmness that only comes from being chemically altered. Sunshine that shimmers and water that peaks in near-motionless waves. To sum up with more clarity, it sounds like a possible b-side for Brian Eno’s atmospheric “diving-into-a-toilet-bowl-in-search-of-a-lost-suppository” track, Deep Blue Day.

-CLT

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CLT: The Interview

July 8, 2011

Yours truly, in stereophonic (via cellphone) sound…

http://hoodcast.podomatic.com/entry/2011-07-08T07_49_39-07_00

(Starting about 23:00 in and running to about 49:00, at which point the conversation suddenly ends, but keep listening. The hosts do some nice riffing as to whose fault this actually is…)

Handy background material:

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110513/03043214263/many-killers-music-industry-analog-era.shtml

Pro tip: Bash recording industry, get interview.

-CLT

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Advice on Writing Advice for Writers

July 5, 2011
[This post was kicked into gear thanks to a FB note by JPM, whose Facebook feed is often full of moments like this. This piece has been laying around in my “unfinished” work folder, under the presumption that at some point I would finish the mofo off and send it out to be rejected by various humor sites.
Thus properly motivated by JPM’s note, I took a look at it and decided that it looked pretty finished to me. I also have other “unfinished” posts that tie into this one, so I’ll probably be looking harder at those as well. If nothing else, you’ll get to see (and experience) the immense amount of self-loathing that goes into calling yourself a “writer,” which makes all of us a bit masochistic and probably even more than slightly deranged. (This isn’t some sort of power tripping derangement either. This isn’t a “I suffer for my art” thing. This is a “I hate writing but am internally compelled to do it” sort of thing.){Also, it’s not a real “hate.” Obviously. It’s a special kind of love that manifests itself most frequently as hate and is usually self-directed and has nothing to do with writing as much as it has to do with “not writing”.}]

This is what a blogger looks like. Except, replace the "pipe" with a nicotine patch and the pen with "completely useless box o' electronics/internet."

So, you want to be a writer? Waving aside the fact that this makes you about as unique as a band influenced by the Velvet Underground, and the fact that there’s an entire internet full of writers already, you have to ask yourself, what do I have to offer the written world? What do I bring to the table that hasn’t been brought to the table so often it’s being sent back?

Still drawing a blank? Put down that sketch pad and listen up. (Just a little metaphoric humor there. Feel free to use that when breaking the ice at your next book club meeting or whatever the hell it is you writers do with your spare time.)

What most writers are looking for, despite the fact that they’ll never ask directly, is advice. All writers, especially writers who have never been published, crave writing advice. If nothing else, it allows them to put off writing for at least another 10-15 minutes. Never underestimate a writer’s desire to be doing anything but writing. This element is key to the “writing about writing” business.

Another crucial element is a side-effect of the advice itself. Whether the reading writer agrees or disagrees with the advice is immaterial. The end result is always the same; a refreshing confirmation of the reader’s superiority to other readers/writers/advice authors.

If the writer agrees with the advice, it justifies his or her peculiar habits, no matter how unpleasant or anti-social.

What if the writer disagrees entirely with your slapped together and mostly borrowed (without attribution) advice? Not to worry. Your new adversary will be enjoying a nearly identical sense of superiority, with each point of disagreement becoming a shiny new feather in his or her cap of Writing Knowledge.

My other typewriter morphs into a large beetle. I get more work done on that one.

An added bonus for the reader is the chance to compose an overly long comment expressing (point-by-point) how completely wrong you are about everything from the amount of time you should spend writing each day (2-12 hours) to how much margin is acceptable for submissions in .doc format (2-12 inches). Once again, the aspiring writer is allowed to escape the hellish prison of their current novel/essay/fanfic submission and right (or should I say, “write”?) any and all perceived wrongs with a pure passion borne of vindictiveness and procrastination. (You’re correct. I shouldn’t say “write.” We’ll leave that for the struggling writers to use.)

At this point you’re probably wondering why YOU have to do all this writing while other writers are allowed to duck their chosen profession. Well, I’ve got good news and great news.

The good news is that practically anything you come up with off the top of your head can be considered “advice,” whether it’s a suggestion they read every day (something they already do) or more drastic recommendations like cutting themselves out of important family events (immediate and extended) to ensure they have more time to sullenly glare at their blank pages.

The great news is that other writers have written plenty of advice for writers already. It’s everywhere. A quick internet search should find you a few thousand articles to cherrypick from. If you don’t mind doing a little transcribing (don’t worry, it’s much easier than writing “from scratch”), you should easily have at least 10-15 items on your list. With this pre-paved list in hand, you may now allow the children to return from their basement exile, provided they still communicate using ASL only.

Still need another nudge? Here’s a brief list of sure-fire advice:

Problem solved: My homunculus will be writing all future posts. In second person.

1. Read more.
Reading is a great procrastination technique. Writers reading are “doing research” or “developing technique” or simply doing it because “it’s a dying art. Well, both reading and writing, actually. Turn off that TV. It’s killing your brain.”

2. Write more.
As much as writers hate being reminded that, as writers, it would logically follow that they spend a great deal of time writing, it’s an even bigger faux pas to leave this off the list. Try to give your readers some leeway. Make it sound like a suggestion and utilize the word “try,” which will allow them to excuse their failed attempts and often, their failure to attempt. Avoid specifics as to what kind of writing should be done. This allows your reading writers to justify angry comments, angry Facebook status updates and angry comments on the statuses of others as being part of their “writing 2-12 hours a day.”

3. Be honest.
Basically, this is “write what you know” phrased in a way that allows writers to more highly regard their own confessional pieces involving more unseemly moments in their lives. These moments are often something they’ve often secretly wanted to brag about without having it sound like a rejected Penthouse Letter. Just as every writer believes themselves to be a “unique voice,” they also tend to regard themselves as the “last honest writer.”

4. Write in your own voice.
Yet another form of “write what you know.” Nothing makes writing easier than writing the way you speak. In theory, just typing up whatever rolls through the writer’s head (unless it’s sporting a foreign accent) should get their great American novel or Kim Possible fanfic epic kicked out in no time. Everything should click for a few minutes until they realize how limited their vocabulary actually is. A loss of momentum is to be expected as they spend the next hour or two looking up synonyms for “nice,” “awesome” and “asstacular.”

This should give you the headstart you need to start cranking out post after post of “Advice for Writers.” In fact, you could just copy and paste what’s included here for a quick eHow post. Just make sure to remove all disparaging comments leveled at your potential readers before submitting.

-CLT