a coccoon of superlife

my 2009 part 1

This is a last-year-in-review post, so let’s start with one of the good things from last year: The HEAPS debuting our version of “Motorcycle Rider” at our show in November opening for The Dutchess and the Duke at their UCI show set up by Acrobatics Everyday:

[Erin: blortmaphone; Franz: guest beats; me: vocals & bass]  As you may remember, “Motorcycle Rider” was one of my song from the soon-to-not-be-latest Brothers K album–you can still hear the original on the Bros K myspace.

Personally, 2009 was a pretty good year for making music . . . in the spring The Heaps had a small show in Pomona and 2 of our spontaneous songs with my brother that were good enough to make the album, then we played a houseparty at Tia’s and circulated our second album “Love Dinosaurs Forever”, then over the summer we reconnected with our just-departed keyboardist Matt to have a recording session while driving down a windy Norcal highway, then in the fall we nailed our new arrangement of Erin’s “Destiny Inn” while singing for our supper at Verano Day 2009, then we had a blast opening for The Dutchess and the Duke when they played UCI [see above and last week], and then the year ended with unexpected recognition from Japan for my chiptune Elvis covering skills and a rejuvination of my old band the Bros K as a big hairy looping monster.

Before we talk about last year, what’s up for 2010?  Well, we’ve got our 1st show of the year slated for February 3rd–we’ll be playing at Malone’s bar in Santa Ana as part of their weekly Casa De Rock promotion alongside The Middle Initials, our friend S.A. Bach‘s new band.  We’re staying a 3 piece for now and it looks like we may be rolling out some new songs for the show.

Speaking of shows, here’s footage of The Dutchess and the Duke performing “Out of Time” from the November gig:

More of that next week.

AND NOW, A LIST WITH NOT INSUBSTANTIAL PREAMBLE wherein venerable poetic forms are co-opted:

As much I enjoyed listening to music in 2009, it wasn’t a great year for albums.  I’m not the only one who thinks so.  I figured that a guy who has a blog about music has a sort of obligation to drum up and jaw off a year-end list but a year like this reminds me acutely why I stopped making (or at least circulating) these lists a few years ago.  If your list is about records from a year, do you have some sort of “responsibility” to seek out and pay lip service to “important” albums that leave you a little cold (there was basically only one song that really stuck with me on both the new Grizzly Bear [“Two Weeks“] and Animal Collective [“My Girls“, duh] albums –to paraphrase Matt, ‘one single doesn’t make a summer.’)  If you’re going to justify your inclusions, what kind of position does that give your reader?  And if you’re not going to justify yourself, what value is the list?  If you let your list include old albums that were new to you in that year, is it just solipsism to call it a year-end list?  Who are you anyway that people would care what musty old records you like that they’ve never heard of?

The absurdity of trying to construct a “responsible” list struck me as I was re-listening to the new Yo La Tengo the other day to see if I “needed” to include it on my list (the answer is no, it’s fine but not all that new though the minimalist soul of “Periodically Triple Or Double” almost had me reconsidering–the scruzzy energy of the new Yo La cover album as ‘The Condo Fucks‘ reminds you how unfair it is that they can blow ‘full time’ garage bands out of the water and yet choose to take it so easy on their real albums–who’s going to save Tony Orlando’s house now?!).  If I was going to make a “personal” list of albums that I’d dug during the year, might as well make it totally honest and not try to dredge up significance from albums that I hadn’t gotten around to during the year or which didn’t connect the first time.  I do keep up pretty well on new music but I prefer being “responsible” only to myself–I’m glad that other blogs and magazines are putting together lists that help suggest to me things that I missed that are worth checking out [see for example the first Joanna Newsom album a few years back], but it’s no great failure of taste to not like or have even heard of interesting stuff that’s out there.

SO, here’s a list of records (new and old) that made me take notice in 2009.  Did I mention that I wrote a haiku about each one?  It’s not because I’m a great poet but rather because the constraint makes you really decide what’s important to express about a given album.  I’ve also combed Youtube to give you a taste of each without having to upload anything myself.

Grass Widow -“Grass Widow” (2009):

Rollicking ladies

chanting harmonious rounds

–rubbery tumbling.

(Putting them at the top of the list has nothing to do with the super-cred feather in our caps for having seen them play live between two container trucks in an industrial neighborhood in SF with only xmas lights as illumination–but it doesn’t hurt.  While drinking beer from a measuring cup, Matt once demanded to know what new stuff the recent lo-fi flurry has actually done, and while I know that nice three-part harmonies are hardly new, I think the ladies of Grass Widow are doing something wonderfully different with it.  There’s a through-line to The Raincoats and The Slits, sure, but this is hardly a rehash.  They’ve got a knack for chosing ridiculous times to play L.A. [Thanksgiving weekend?!] but I can’t wait to see what they do next.)

DNA- “DNA on DNA” (compilation 2004 of tracks circa 1981):

Spindly and tuneless.

Language stretch’d to jagged yelps.

Better with the bass.

(When I first heard the legendary “No New York” compilation the only band I liked on it was James Chance and The Contortions because the free-jazz saxophone blasts were subversive but the rawked out werewolf vocals kept it traditionally intelligible.  This year, I watched the No Wave scenesploitation movie “Downtown 81” staring artist & musician Jean Michael Basquiat and I was simply blown away by DNA’s 2 songs (including ‘Blonde Redhead’ from where that other band’s name comes).  Turns out that after the “No New York” session, the keyboardist left and the bassist from Pere Ubu joined and in my mind, that helps a lot.  As you can see in the video, he walks with great precision.  I’m wary of the fact that it’s fashionable to namecheck No Wave as an influence–we watched a documentary called “Kill Your Idols” on the influence of the 70s No Wave bands on the crop of New York bands from the early 2000s that included the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, and Gogol Bordello and none of these newer bands could really make a good case for deserving the title No Wave–but I wish I had the revolutionary commitment / courage to make music this raw and alien.)

Screamers – “A Better World” (bootleg release 2001 of tracks circa 1979):

Gravelly vigor.

L.A. punk: not just hardcore.

Distorted organ.

(It’s been said that classic punk is really about singles rather than albums [since many bands were lucky to stay together long enough to record even one album] and L.A.’s The Screamers prove the point–the band basically had one album’s worth of songs in them but even these songs were never officially released.  The Screamers were sort of a one-trick pony–though they are hardly that screamy by modern standards–but it was a good trick and unusual at the time–a punk band organized around keyboards instead of guitars.  You can Netflix a video of them in concert with a few promotional musical videos as well, and it’s worth it if only to see that premeditation and punk vim are hardly mutually exclusive–frontman Tomata du Plenty does the same Deerhoof-esque abstract ritual dance moves every time he does a given song but he’s magnetic to watch.)

Deer Tick – “Born On Flag Day” (2009):

Don’t like much country

but this faux Cobain rasp could

tell me a white lie.

(Next to Grass Widow, this was the album we listened to the most  in the car off my iPod of 2009.  I guess sounding tortured is nothing new to country music but the raw quality of this guy’s voice makes you wonder if he has been and it’s wonderful.  Yes, it was the offhand Friday the 13th part IX reference that first caught me but there’s a lot more to love about this album.  And no I don’t care if it has any real country cred.)

Thee Oh Sees – “Sucks Blood” (2007):

Not only rave ups–

haunting saw coed doubling.

Nuggets return, no.

(The Facebook page for Thee Oh Sees politely asks people to stop comparing them to the B52s, but really what people need to stop doing is acting like Thee Oh Sees is merely another throwback to the seminal garage rock collection Nuggets.  Certainly the rave-ups of “The Master’s Bedroom” and “Help” albums have some of that raw energy of garage bands past but the pervasive use of vocal processing (even in a live setting) and close-harmonious vocals really sets these guys apart from their forebears.  You want to accuse a band of not trying to go beyond the classic garage rock sound?  Say that about the (also excellent) King Khan and BBQ Show but not these guys.  Anyway, “The Master’s Bedroom” was at the top of last year’s list [along with Titus Andronicus and the first Dutchess and Duke album] that I don’t think I bothered to write down, and my selection of “Sucks Blood” here is not so much because I wore out this particular album this year as it is standing for the armful of older recordings of theirs I discovered this year dating from when they were called OCS.  As I understand it, “Sucks Blood” was released to raise money for the recording of the higher-fi “Master’s Bedroom” which says a lot about the band’s ridiculous work ethic.  Right now, the less frenzied numbers of “Sucks Blood” and all of their albums before it run together in my mind but it’s further proof of the band’s unique abilities and I look forward to someday being able to tell these songs apart.  Also, it’s worth not underestimating their twitchy, amazing live performance even though the 2 times I’ve seen them they don’t really do any of the delicate numbers live, which is a shame.)

Well, I’ll finish the list next week.  This week’s post title brought to you by Jon Wiener’s evenhanded and insightful book “Come Together” about John Lennon’s relationship to the 60s counterculture and New Left protest movements.

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2 Responses to “a coccoon of superlife”

  1. […] Zombie Public Speaking tracks from The HEAPS, The Shrapnelles, and my other musical projects « a coccoon of superlife […]

  2. […] was the big secret weapon from our previous show when Erin played sax in public for the first time but since Ben wasn’t there,  this is sort […]

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