June 30, 2008

Internet Forum Begats Cheesy Connecticut-Yankee-Redux Ballad

1000AD.jpgHillel (first name unknown) is the Ben Folds of internet memes, albeit with far chessier arrangements. He first gained notoriety back in March with a song based on a truly dodgy collection of online drawings of dragons having sex with cars.

Now, after reading a Marginal Revolution forum about survival tips that would be useful in the event of being transported back to the Europe of 1000 AD, he's produced another internet-ephemera-inspired ditty that starts out as a pleasantly jaunty update of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - Hillel arrives back in 1000 AD with a whole host of plans, like distilling brandy, passing off Beatles songs as his own and inventing the Haber Process, that will presumably set up him up quite nicely in this early medieval period. As the song progresses, however, it becomes apparent that he will ultimately be thwarted by his inability to speak the local language, and it ends with him perishing from lack of food and shelter.

Trust our cynical modern songwriters to destroy all our fantasies about being able to lord it over our benighted forbears...

Posted by Warren at 11:20 PM

Nuevo Lo-Fi De Monterrey

Xyx.jpgRight now, the warm throbbing heart of the whole lo-fi-DIY-indie-punk-post-punk-whatever scene is Columbus, Ohio, home to such lovable scuzz-meisters as Times New Viking and Psychedelic Horseshit. Giving them a serious run for their money, though, are a handful of acts from Monterrey, Mexico with a similar love for damaged punk and rough-and-ready recordings.

The standard bearers of this nuevo lo-fi scene are Los Llamarada, who revel in ear-bleedingly overdriven guitars, song "structures" that alternate between Dead C distorto-drift and hyped-up Stooges chug, and recordings that sound like they were made on a Walkman held aloft at one of their shows. Although they have gained the bulk of the coverage so far, other notable bands that are starting to register on the radar are scrappy art-punkers Ratas Del Vaticanos; and XYX, who have only released one 7-inch to date, but have a talent for big hooks and fiendish knob-twiddling which suggests they will go far.

Los Llamarada - Nobody Calls Me
Ratas Del Vaticano - Olvido
XYX - Nunca
XYX - Microvibracciones

If you want to purchase product from any of these band then your first, and only, stop is Nene Records.

Posted by Warren at 11:34 AM

June 26, 2008

The Best Use of A Turntable You Will See Today

After the dense ramblings of the last post, I thought I'd pass on something that could summed up in a single YouTube post and a single word - brilliant! Jim LeFevre has taken the principle of the zoetrope, applied it to a video camera and turntable and created... the Phonographantasmascope! (via Metafilter)

Posted by Warren at 09:27 PM

June 25, 2008

Depressing Country Music

From its earliest days, country music has thrived on tales of personal tragedy; spinning them into finely wrought narratives of betrayal, despair and untimely death that never shied away from the gruesome details. The reasons for this preoccupation with the cold hard facts of life are many and varied. Country's roots in 19th century murder ballads, its emergence during the Great Depression, and the fact that it pitched itself to a decidedly adult audience while rock and pop were busy pandering to teenagers, could all be seen as contributing factors.

The end result, in any case, is a truly deep and rich vein of depressing music. And this week on the show, we took our pickaxes to it in search of the mother lode of misery. To help us in this daunting task, we enlisted the services of our good friend and long-time country aficionado, Peter Galvin. Here are some of the gems he unearthed for us:

George_Jones.jpgGeorge Jones - He Stopped Loving Her Today
It's virtually impossible to engage in a discussion of depressing country music without mentioning George Jones. (Indeed, Curtis Edmond, who has compiled one of the web's most extensively "best of" lists of depressing country songs, devotes an entire section to the man!)

And the jewel in the crown of Jones' morose oeuvre is He Stopped Loving Her Today, a song that he initially refused to record because he thought it was "too sad" (or, more accurately according to Pete, too tasteless...)

The song is ostensibly a third-person tale of undying, unrequited love, which starts out as touchingly tragic but quickly veers towards the unhealthily obsessive (Kept some letters by his bed / Dated 1962 / He had underlined in red / Every single I love you)

Then, all of a sudden, the pining vanishes... The narrator visits the song's protagonist and finds him dressed up in his Sunday best and smiling for the first time in years. The reason isn't immediately revealed but as the chorus rides in on a wave of high-fructose Nashville orchestration and Jones tosses out a reference to a "wreath on his door", it all becomes clear - he's dead. (This means that the aforementioned "smile" is actually the result of his cheeks being stapled back by the embalmer!)

As a final twist of the knife, the song ends with the protagonist's beloved visiting his grave and Jones gratuitously observing that: This time he's over her for good.

Never before have the mawkish and the maudlin been combined with such casual brutality... Here's a video of George performing this grim masterwork.

Porter_Wagoner.jpgPorter Wagoner - The Cold Hard Facts Of Life
This song is a classic example of the country-fied murder ballad. In its original incarnation, murder ballads served as a kind of pre-mass-media tabloid reportage of notorious slaying. Typically, the slaying would be a "crime of passion" in which a woman who was "guilty" of infidelity or inconvenient pregnancy would be knifed or bludgeoned to death by her lover.

In the country version of the murder ballad, real events have been replaced by fictional scenarios which are often constructed to deliver a moral lesson in the most macabrely sensationalist way possible. (An especially notorious example of this is Ferlin Husky's anti-drink-driving jeremiad, Drunken Driver, in which a man who abandons his kids for the booze runs them down while driving in a state of inebriation.)

In The Cold Hard Facts Of Life, Wagoner takes the murder ballad morality play and twists it into something far more cynical. The song follows a man who's come home early from a business trip. He decides to surprise his wife and stops off at a bottle shop to pick up some champagne. While there, he hears a shady character at the counter boasting about how he's off to "party" with a woman whose husband's out of town on a business trip. After following the guy, the protagonist discovers the "woman" is his wife, catches the two of them "in the act", then knifes them to death. The song concludes with him solemnly declaring: I guess I'll go to hell or I'll rot here in the cell.

The moral?... Well, on a superficial level, there's the glib misogynistic insinuation that women are not to be trusted. But any moral superiority that the "victim" might have gained from this "revelation" is immediatedly annulled by his murderous response; a response that is swiftly punished by a penal life sentence and the prospect of eternal damnation. It's a classic "sin begats sin" scenario but the only person who's left alive to learn anything from it defiantly signs off asserting: but who taught who the cold hard facts of life...

So, the undeserving suffers and the wrongdoers are punished BUT in the process the undeserving becomes a wrongdoer and gets punished by a higher power and, because he was originally undeserving, he clings to his self-justifications and ultimately learns nothing... The only conclusions we can draw from this are that human beings are self-serving, self-justifying, self-destructive and self-deluding. Definitely, the facts of life at their coldest and hardest.

For a mp3 of this track and decent sized scan of the brilliantly cheesy sleeve that the album was released in, follow this link.

Willie_Nelson.jpgWillie Nelson - Little Things
Unlike Jones' magnum opus which wallows in pining passivity and Wagoner's Cold Hard Facts which dwells on the consequences of blind reactive violence, Willie Nelson's Little Things is about a different and far more modern response to rejection/betrayal - passive-aggressive stalking.

The song is basically an extended message to an ex left on an answering machine. He starts off by apologising for intruding on her life and then passes news about their child's progress at school and, because it's delivered by Willie in that vaguely vulnerable, matter-of-fact style of his, we have no reason to expect that it will get any more sinister.

Then, however, he brings up their former neighbours just so he can cattily mention that: they broke up just like us. And it spirals down from there - the house they used to live in has been torned down, that part of town has been razed to build a freeway, AND IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT, YOU BITCH!!!

Well, actually, that last part isn't in there, but its an obvious subtext, and that's what makes it so depressing. It's not so much the content, but the way we get lured in by Willie's trademark genialty then sucker-punched by bitchiness.

Here's a video of Tammy Wynette performing the song with almost unbearable pathos.

Hot_Burrito.jpgThe Flying Burrito Brothers - Hot Burrito #1
The final song in the segment was delivered with something of a confession by Pete - this is the song he's listened to after every relationship break up he's had. And it's not hard to see why. Unlike the other three songs on this list, there is no maudlin melodrama here; just a sincere and sorrowful first-person lament for a lost love constructed like an imaginary "conversation" with the missing other half.

We aren't given too many details about the break up, but it's clear that the narrator's ex has quickly moved on to someone else. Rather than use this as an excuse to descend into bitter rancour, the narrator tries to maintain his dignity and shore up his ego by reminding himself that he was her first sexual love.

Just as this starts to dip dangerously close to boastful assertions about "teaching her everything she knows", the chorus arrives with this heartbreaking but carefully underplayed couplet: I'm your toy, I'm your old boy / But I don't want no one but you to love me

At present, the narrator is hopelessly fixated on what he's lost. He knows it, but he also knows that the world keeps turning and one day he will find himself in another relationship. From where he stands though, he is incapable of believing that he could ever move on and reciprocate another's affections...

And that is exactly how one feels in such a situation, and it is that which makes it such a perfect post-breakup song.

The writer of this song was country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons, a man with an unearthly beautiful "crying"quality to his voice; something which is clearly on display in parts of this incredible performance of it. (YouTube link, once again)

Posted by Warren at 09:41 PM

June 18, 2008

In Defence Of Surf Music

Thai_Shadow.jpgAs "The Web's Longest Running Strange-Music Blog", Music For Maniacs deserves our enduring admiration and affection but, beyond that, they should be applauded for championing a genre that is consistently overlooked in definitions of the rock canon - instrumental surf music.

To quote MfM: "If you subscribe to the Rolling Stone/Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame/Baby Boomer critics world view, there was Elvis, Chuck Berry, etc, then rock died in 1960. Then, in the mid-'60s, Dylan and the Beatles "saved" it. Uh, yeah. Right. Actually, if anything, surf music saved rock. When The Bel-Aires and Dick Dale made their 1961 debuts, reinvigorating rock 'n 'roll with a fresh, exciting new sound and instantly inspiring countless musicians, the charts and airwaves had gotten fairly rock-free."

I'd add to this that surf music also helped kick-start the globalisation of rock music thanks to The Shadows, who revelled in the surf guitar sound and embarked on world tours that visited places like Turkey and Thailand that had never been venues for rock music before. As a result, the first rock acts to appear in these countries were often Shadows-style "surf guitar" bands. (As an example of such bands, check out Shadow Music Of Thailand which was recently released on Sublime Frequencies.)

Posted by Warren at 01:35 AM

A YouTube Meditation On The Amen Break

Originally played by "GC" Coleman and recorded as a 6 second drum fill on Amen Brother, the B-side of a Grammy-winning 1969 single by the Winstons, the so-called Amen Break is the most sampled piece of music ever; popping up frequently on hip hop tracks and forming the rhythmic basis of jungle and drum-n-bass.

In the process of becoming an almost ubiquitous "breakbeat toolkit", the Amen Break has inevitably found its way into musings on the "ownership" of creativity in our remix culture. (What makes it particularly pertinent in such discussions is the fact that a sample CD distributor of "drum-n-bass kits" in the early noughties was treating it as virtual public domain and claiming copyright over their re-recordings of it, without supposedly passing a cent on to the Winstons.)

In the video at the top of this post, artist and writer Nate Harrison takes us on a fascinating excursion into the many uses (and abuses) of the Amen Break (including the aforementioned piece of copyright bastardry).

And he's not the only one to be inspired to it - mathematician Michael Schneider has also pondered the ubiquity of the Amen Break and decided that it's all down to the Golden Ratio. (via WFMU)

Posted by Warren at 12:22 AM

June 13, 2008

RIP Saban Bajramovic, The King of Gypsy Music

Saban.jpgTo the wider world, Saban Bajramovic is probably best known for his musical contributions to the films of Emir Kusturica (Underground, Black Cat White Cat), but in the world of the Roma, this Serbian artist has been immortalised as the man who first recorded Djelem, Djelem, the official Gypsy national anthem. In addition to this, he wrote and recorded close to 650 other songs. On Sunday, he passed away from a heart attack in his hometown of Nis in southern Serbia.

Saban Bajramovic - Djelem, Djelem

Posted by Warren at 02:28 AM

The Should Have Been Black Ramones

Death.jpgHistories of African-American involvement in punk generally begin with the band Pure Hell, who formed in Philadelphia in 1974, or Bad Brains, who burst on to the DC scene in 1977. Before either of them though, there was an all-black group from Detroit called Death, who had already recorded their first single - a slab of proto-punk that was heavily influenced by The Who, Black Sabbath and The Stooges - in 1974. Initially, Columbia Records had offered to release it but only if the band changed their name to something more "commercial". In true punk fashion, they told them where to go and it was 1976 before they were able to release the single themselves. Shortly thereafter, they disappeared off the radar...

Now, however, they are not only starting to receive their dues as the first "all black punk band" but the son of one of the band members has unearthed a whole album of master tapes which will hopefully be released in the near future. Until then, here are the two tracks from their 1974 single (via Metafilter)

Death - Politicians In My Eyes
Death - Keep On Knockin

Posted by Warren at 01:00 AM

June 11, 2008

Celebrate Euro 2008 With Swiss Artpunk!

Grauzone.jpgThis week on Rummage, we decided to celebrate Euro 2008 - which is currently being played in Switzerland and Austria - by delving briefly into the world of Swiss "artpunk" with four tracks - two from bands "back in day", one from the mid-80's, and another from the the early 90's.

First up was Kleenex, an all-girl post-punk-pop band who cheekily named themselves after a proprietary local brand of tampons, were forced to changed their name to LiLiPUT, and became the latter-day face of early Swiss punk thanks to a Kill Rock Stars compilation released in 2001.

Kleenex - Hedi's Head

Although Kleenex have gained all the subsequent hipster approbation, the big stars of the Swiss scene back in the early 80's were Grauzone. An outfit who took their cues from the French cold wave sound of the time but also threw metal-shredding guitar, squealing saxophone and video game sounds into the mix. Here's their signature tune which apparently became a top 10 hit in the German speaking world. (Trivia: this track was recently given the lounge treatment by Nouvelle Vague.)

Grauzone - Eisbar

The final two tracks are from the more free-jazz-influenced, art-damaged end of the Swiss music. 16-17, who are currently experiencing a minor reissue-based revival, have been cutting an abrasive sax-skronk-lead swathe through the local scene since 1983. Think Borbetomagus with more driving rhythms... Finally, there's Alboth who deal in avant-metal shtick with piano taking the place of the guitar. The overall effect is reminiscent of John Zorn's Naked City outings.

16-17 - Direkt B
Alboth - Villiger

For more information on the Swiss artpunk scene, check out this post on WFMU.

Posted by Warren at 06:31 PM

Insanely Awesome Edo Cultural Dance

Edo.jpgFrom the Edo State in Southern Nigeria (I think...) comes this video of one of the most incredible dance styles I have ever seen. Prepare to have your mind blown by guys in harlequin-coloured full-body sack outfits who've somehow managed to turn themselves into high velocity off-center centrifuges!

Posted by Warren at 05:30 PM