Monday, May 31, 2010

Best Things I Heard a Couple Weekends Ago: Casting Crowns doing "If We Are the Body" and Canton Jones doing "My Day"

And from there, we draw conclusions about the entirety of Christian AC radio! The Burnside Writers' Collective will tell you more. I'll just emphasize that the Sunday morning radio show "Street Sermonz With Keno" is great great great great. (7-10am on 92.3, playa. That's Keno up top.) Keno's playlist is right there with pretty much any secular rap/R&B that's being made.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Best Thing I Heard Today: Frightened Rabbit doing "Swim Until You Can't See Land"


If Glasvegas have taught us anything, it's that Scottish people can get away with lyrics the rest of us can't. Maybe Scottish music fans don't feel the same way, maybe such an attitude is culturally condescending, but this guy... let's see... SCOTT HUTCHISON delivers his pitiful little lines with some kind of irony. He seems to know that things aren't really as bad as he's making them out to be. It's like when God asks Jonah if he's angry, and Jonah says "Yes; angry enough to die." So our Mr. Hutchison sez this:

"And the rest of me is a version of man
built to collapse into crumbs"

And we know he's just being silly and he'll get over it. Come on dude--are you a man or are you a bag of sand?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Best Thing I Heard Today: Iron City Houserockers doing "We're Not Dead Yet"

If you're analyzing the decline of MySpace, look no further than this damning sentence:

"We're sorry but we didn't find any results for 'Iron City Houserockers' when we searched in Music on MySpace."

As any presidential candidate could tell you, you can't win if you don't suck up to Pennsylvania! To be fair, Pittsburgh's favorite son and Houserockers leader Joe Grushecky does have a myspace of his own; but to get the full story, you have to hear this band. More and more, it's looking like you have to scrounge around in used vinyl bins to do so. (Or you can buy remastered CDs, yes. That's the best way to make sure Grushecky gets paid.)

"We're Not Dead Yet" depicts the Houserockers raging against the dying of the light with fire and panache. Since that particular song is dead to the Internet, here's "Junior's Bar" instead. It depicts a desperate loser trying to score with a 17-year-old, with anything BUT fire and panache.

Grushecky was and may still be a special-ed teacher in Pittsburgh, probably an even tougher job than trying to make it in the music biz. (He's also still making well-received music.) The Houserockers were on MCA and came tantalizingly close to hitting it big, but got dropped after three albums. They were sort of the missing link between two strains of drinking rock: the new-wave British pub-rock of Graham Parker, and the throwback American bar-rock of Springsteen. Their second album, Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive!, pulled those strains together with production by Springsteen sidekick Steve Van Zandt and glam hero Mick Ronson, among others. Grushecky sang with the passion of all those guys, and he wrote some really good songs to boot.

Chuck Eddy on the Houserockers: "Listening to radio in Detroit in 1980, I deduced that Iron City Houserockers' blues-rock was new wave and Herman Brood's blues-rock wasn't, but history proved me wrong on both counts."

And Jimmy Guterman: "All [the Houserockers'] characters... end up crushed, muttering warnings for those about to face the wheel. This bloodied defiance linked the Iron City Houserockers to punk..."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Best Thing I Heard Today: Drive-By Truckers doing "The Fourth Night of My Drinking"

Play it loud! (You kind of have to.)

The Truckers have a real knack for cool guitar tones, clouds of noise, and musical atmospheres of foreboding. Take "The Fourth Night of My Drinking": it's a song about four nights of drinking and their effect on Patterson Hood's "disposition". They could've played the lyrics for laughs, or for that classic country stance of tight-lipped impassivity. Instead, Hood and band get a real sense of longing and dread out of their drinking song. Credit goes mostly to the lead guitar tones of Mike Cooley and John Neff, and especially to the impressive extended chords--9ths, 11ths, whatnot--of whoever. (Bassist Shonna Tucker? Maybe we can credit her with the chord inversions, at least.) This song sounds really good when you play it on the piano, like some romantic wastrel cabaret. So naturally, it sounds EVEN BETTER with three electric guitars blasting it out.

(I should really keep up with these guys, because The Big To-Do sounds fantastic. Better than 90% of the music I've heard this year. In fact, it's probably got the most purely beautiful sound of anything I've heard. It's go too many slow songs; but what doesn't?)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Best Thing I Heard Today: LiLiPUT doing "Die Matrosen"

The Boy and I spent an enjoyable morning watching a DVD of vintage LiLiPUT TV clips, released a couple months ago on Kill Rock Stars. LiLiPUT were a Swiss lady band, late-'70s/early-'80s, who had to change their name from Kleenex when Kimberly-Clark started gettin' litigious. "Die Matrosen" features some almost-in-tune sax along with whistling(!), and nearly all their tunes have cool little FX like that. (I actually prefer their song "Split," which hails from the same album as "Matrosen" and features an elaborate vocal arrangement celebrating hopscotch and hara kiri; unfortunately, Youtube seems to disagree with me.) Those sound effects probably constitute much of the band's appeal to a four-year-old, along with the visuals on the DVD and the fact that their music is impossibly cheerful.

(Greil Marcus on "Hedi's Head," another impossibly cheerful number: "The feeling of people breaking loose is irresistible: they sound like ten-year-olds manically cutting up their Barbie dolls.")

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Surfing with Rez Band

Resurrection Band's "Babylon" is a rockin' apocalyptic warning, a precursor to Holy Soldier's "When the Reign Comes Down" and W.A.S.P.'s "Babylon's Burning," and cousin to a whole bunch of Rastas.

Not much to say about it, except that Glenn Kaiser and band seem particularly offended by the way wealth and comfort can obscure the difficult call of the Gospel:

"Sometimes it flowed like magic
The pleasure hid the flaw
But oh forever tragic
Him you never saw"

And if you STILL don't see Him when Babylon begins to burn, you are, apparently, toast.

Without speculating on whether their scriptural reading is correct, I will say that Rez have more room than most rockers to talk about the spiritual perils of wealth and comfort. They're the flagship band (currently on hiatus) of the Jesus People USA, Chicago's preeminent Christian commune. According to the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music, they've got some neighborhood political clout on social justice issues. They live close to poverty level and use their communal earnings to feed the poor and desperate. From their website:

"We can see only one good reason why God makes a person prosperous: so that individual's needs can be met and they can in turn give away the overflow. It is like milk and cream. Cream is the richest part of the milk. It is the top cut. When the Lord meets your needs and then gives more, that cream is not to be skimmed of the top for yourself. We should willingly think, 'Oh, I have more than I need,' and immediately distribute the overflow to others."

So I tend to give their apocalyptic diatribes a little more weight than those of Blackie Lawless. Not that Blackie doesn't rock, but I don't think their politics would sit well with him.

JPUSA also run Cornerstone Festival, coming soon to a muddy field near you! (Or not.) Watch for several bewildered Christian Rock Overviews in the alternative press! (Demon Hunter is a Christian band? Who am I thinking of?) (DEVIL DRIVER.) (Carry on.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Best Thing I Heard Today: Ke$ha doing "Your Love Is My Drug"

Until I saw this remarkable video, I didn't truly appreciate how TALL Ke$ha is. She's a real Amazon.

The video should also make clear that Bearded Guy's love is specifically a hallucinogen, maybe peyote. Shockingly, this is among many Ke$ha lovers' least favorite Ke$ha songs. It's one of my three favorites, mostly for the chorus, which is pure joy. I love the perfect automatron clarity of her singing, and the percolating synth, and the CHORD INVERSIONS, sweet chord inversions; and there's plenty of good lines, too. My new favorite is, "So I got a question: Do you wanna have a slumber party in my basement?"

And now there's this video! As wise Ke$ha fan Jonathan Bogart said at the Singles Jukebox, "Video’s out now. Would have bumped it up at least a point for me."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

This new W.A.S.P. album is TOTALLY WORTH IT! (I may have mentioned already...)

Read all about it at the Burnside Writers' Collective! I should caveat that it's not TECHNICALLY a 2010 album, since it came out late last year. However, nobody voted for it in the Pazz/Jop poll and W.A.S.P. just released the "Babylon's Burning" single this year, which leads me to believe the album's real cultural impact is yet to come. (In other news, cutting taxes will save the economy and I'm a superhero.)

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Surfing with Probot! and Soulfly! and Probot ft. Max from Soulfly!

The cast of characters in this post gets a little long, so bear with me:

Dave Grohl we know. He drummed for Nirvana, played almost everything on the first Foo Fighters album, and is generally considered to be one of the best rock drummers of our age, and also a very very kind and rich man. Almost a decade ago he decided to make a metal album, sort of a tribute to the guys he listened to growing up. So he recorded a bunch of original metal songs, again playing almost everything, in the various styles of his heroes. With help from Zwan guitarist Matt Sweeney, he recruited most of those heroes to sing/bark on their respective songs. You can imagine the childlike glee this must've inspired in Grohl's quivering fanboy heart (much the same glee that the above playset inspired in MY heart nearly 30 years ago--maybe that's what inspired the band name?). The resulting album looked like this:

The album got mixed reviews, though everybody seemed to like the drumming. Two of the standout tracks concerned Babylon. Grohl hasn't written any Babylon songs for the Foos, so it's not like Babylon is a going concern of his. But if you're playing around with traditional metal themes, you've gotta sing about Babylon SOMEWHERE.

The first, more obvious tune is "Access Babylon," a brief hardcore rant featuring Mike Dean from Corrosion of Conformity and, on guitar (MY fanboy heart quivers), Bubba Dupree from the original unhinged DC hardcore sickos, Void. (They're my favorite band on the old Flex Your Head comp!) Nice touch!

"Access Babylon" is a dumb joke on "Access Hollywood," sort of like W.A.S.P.'s "Sunset and Babylon" was a dumb joke on "Sunset and Hammond," or whatever the intersection of the Rainbow Bar & Grill is. Babylon equals Hollywood, the way Babylon ALWAYS equals Hollywood (or at least L.A.)--see also the Transplants and Steely Dan. The song's aimed at a former straightedge stalwart who's been corrupted by fame and money. Sellout! Probably Dave, Mike, and Bubba called up this sellout poseur to invite him to their TV party, and he was out visiting the Playboy Mansion. So now the boyz make a shredding mockery of their poseur friend, in hopes of piercing his heart and getting him back. And they're also shredding against the system of temptation (Babylon) that stole him away. Flex your soul, dude.

A world away is Probot's other Babylon song, "Red War," featuring and co-written by Max Cavalera from Sepultura and Soulfly. Seriously, you NEED to hear the drumming in this one.

"Red War will fall on my enemies!
Babylon is full of hypocrisy!"

"Red War" is lyrically problematic, at least if you subscribe to the notion that rock stars should not declare holy wars on other countries. Cavalera is no stranger to prophetic outbursts. His group Soulfly is basically a very vengeful and disturbing Christian metal band. Cavalera uses war imagery to lyrically "downstroy" his enemies--excuse me, GOD'S enemies. It's a brilliant, if not always theologically justifiable, conception of Christian metal. Who are the loudest, angriest dudes in the Bible? The prophets, right? So that's who Cavalera imitates.

Here, though, he gets disturbingly literal. It's one thing to declare Red War on your enemies. It's another to give their address as the Khyber Pass, which connects Paki- and Afghani-stans, and which will apparently be the recon point for Cavalera's army of heavenly chariots/tanks/unmanned drones. He also growls about carrying "the sign of the cross" into war, and bringing along "the twelve tribes in the mountains of Zion." Again: the lyrics of "Red War" suggest that the Afghan War is wreaking divine vengeance on the enemies of Max Cavalera, which is to say the enemies of the Judeo-Christian God. If this were U.S. policy, it'd have pretty dire implications.

But really, what do I care about a dreadlocked metal dude's politics? It's not like he has the ear of American politicians--he makes his living melting faces metaphorically, and he does a fine job. And it could be that he's merely DEPICTING the adrenalin jolt that accompanies battle, much like that movie that just won Best Picture (Cavalera's a bit less thoughtful), or like the "Charge!" movement from Karl Jenkins's Mass for Peace. Then again, maybe Cavalera sees our mission against Afghanistan as the final showdown in some eschatological battle, and what difference would that make, really? What, do I have to AGREE with everyone that melts my face these days? That'd really thin out the pack.

To recap, the Probot album has the distinction of containing two Babylon songs, each with a very different symbolic use. One is the decadent Babylon of L.A., its face set like flint against the honesty of the hardcore crowd. The other is the infidel Babylon of the Middle East, its back turned on none other than God. Though both places are called "Babylon," their residents probably wouldn't find much to talk about at a dinner party.

As a postscript, Cavalera would return to the scene of the sin a year or two later, with Soulfly, for the song "Corrosion Creeps" (just reading that title puts the Fall's "Cruiser's Creek" into my head: "There's a party goin' on around here!--Corrosion Creeps, now..."):

This one starts with a metallized Dick Dale riff, so you know it's either about surfing or Arabs. "Blood on the sand", "Khyber Pass" (AGAIN), "Babylon is not far": I'll give you one guess, meathead. Cavalera's always open to interpretation (i.e., escape hatches), but I THINK it depicts the inner turmoil of a soldier in Afghanistan--spiritual corrosion, whatever. Geographically though, if you're standing at the Khyber Pass and you say "Babylon is not far," you'd better not mean "Iraq" or you're in for a world of dehydration and disappointment. To get to Iraq from the Khyber Pass would mean crossing Afghanistan AND Iran, and we all know what happens when you mistakenly hike into Iran.

So Babylon must not be Iraq, it must be THE SYMBOLIC AXIS OF EVIL, our soldier's unholy destination, whatever that may be. The Taliban shipyard, how do I know? At least, Max Cavalera seems very sympathetic to our boys in blue, so God bless him, and I'd like to check his papers.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Best Thing I Heard Today: Rev. Marvin Sapp doing "Praise You Forever"

Wanna hear a gospel song that sounds like Coldplay? Sure you do.

And in case you were thinking "Praise You Forever" sounds like "Clocks" on accident or something, here's part of an interview with Rev. Sapp over at Interviewer Chanel Graham says that she "can't get the track 'Praise You Forever' out of my head after listening to the album just once. Though the song is clearly a departure from what he usually does with its piano-heavy intro and gentle crescendo reminiscent of the song 'Clocks,' I love it. I tell him, 'It has a Coldplay vibe.' Sapp sounds relieved. 'You got it,' he exclaims victoriously. 'That's what we went for!'"

Went for AND SURPASSED. "Clocks" has always sounded stiffer than the swirling minimalism it apes--the drums sound like they're running on sand, and the piano riff thuds out its welcome way too quickly. Sapp gets around those problems by chucking the minimalism. His drummer, Calvin Rodgers, is better and subtler than Coldplay's, and Sapp's chords are more interesting. The choir's refrains of "I am sear-ching for..." and "I am thir-sty for..." are really powerful. On the word "for," they hit a V chord over tonic, a beautifully unexpected dissonance in its context. I also dig those synth squiggles over the piano riff. It's as though, on his first foray into "rock," Sapp took what he liked about "Clocks" and then just let the music blossom. Maybe God let "Clocks" happen just so THIS song could exist. (Mysterious ways, man...)