Bobbie Gentry—Ode to Billie Joe (1967)

odetobillyjoeMichael Strait

I don’t really want to focus on music history here, so I’ll just hit you with the abridged version: Bobbie Gentry recorded the song “Ode to Billie Joe” as an intended B-side, ended up releasing it as a single in its own right, and was stunned at its prompt, immediate success. She proceeded to grab a guitar, a producer, and a bunch of string musicians, and together they set about frantically recording a debut album to capitalize on her success. The end result was barely half an hour long, and about half its runtime was occupied by either “Ode To Billie Joe” or songs that had almost the exact same chord progression as “Ode to Billie Joe”. In other words, it should, by all rights, be kind of a mediocre album at best, and it certainly has absolutely no business being this good.

To be fair, though, we might’ve expected that the woman who wrote “Ode to Billie Joe” would turn out to be an expert at doing a lot with a little. That song is fascinatingly, deeply brilliant, and it’s certainly not encumbered with an overabundance of moving parts. It’s got a few lovely strings to fill some of the space, sure, but they don’t do much more than basic textural work, and that’s all they need to do. The melody, too, is perfectly catchy and not a little haunting, but its real purpose is to direct as much attention as possible to the lyrics. The words are the real meat of this song, and they are, in my humble opinion, among the best ever set to music.

It’s one of those stories that’s more about painting an environment than it is about the actual plot itself, and accordingly the central mystery – the one that’s occupied so much popular discourse about this song – is never resolved. Why did Billie Joe throw himself off the Tallahatchie Bridge? We’ll never know, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you’re left with a fulsome picture of the world in which he lived and died, and it leaves you with the impression that life is rather transient around here anyway. The Mississippi Delta of this song is not quite a dystopia, but it’s an anachronistic relic from an earlier, less prosperous, more brutal era, full of backbreaking farm work broken up only by the weekly church visits and the occasional devastating virus. It’s no wonder the brother ends up moving to Tupelo; it doesn’t sound like there was much for him here. The most indelible mental image the song leaves us is of our poor narrator throwing flowers off the same bridge, no emotion described because no description is necessary. She’s surrounded by death, despair, and abandonment, and there’s little indication that she’s got prospects for anything else. In the end, I’ve always thought this in itself was, in its own way, enough of a resolution to the old mystery. This was the world in which Billie Joe lived, and it was all he had ever known. What more reason did he need to throw himself off that bridge?

“Ode to Billie Joe” is the best song on this disc, very probably the best song of Bobbie’s career, and one of the best songs of the era. It is not, however, the most memorable single moment on the album. That honor goes to “Mississippi Delta”, which is, on my 2007 re-issue, the opening track. I went into this album having been told Bobbie was a country artist, so I expected something like, I dunno, Patsy Cline. Imagine my shock when I throw this baby on and the first thing I hear is that aggressive r&b groove, complete with hard guitar stabs, ominous textural horns and that astounding harsh roar emanating from Bobbie’s mouth, sounding somewhere between an old whiskey-drowned bluesman, a passionate soul singer and a macho rock ‘n’ roll firestarter. She spends half the song’s runtime just repeatedly spelling out the name of her state, and it really has no business sounding as utterly badass as it does. But she makes it sound absolutely natural, and her charisma is instantly enrapturing. On this edition, the title track is the closer, so I spent my first few listens so wowed by the opening and closing tracks that I barely noticed the flaws in between. Sadly, they become more obvious on closer listens, but they’re still quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

You can slot all the remaining tracks into one of two camps. First, we have the songs that are basically clones of the title track, at least in terms of the chord progression; all have very similar bluesy melodies and open with the same little guitar motif, and it’s easy to get a little bored by the time you hit the last one. Second, you have the nice, pleasant folk ballads, usually played with intricate fingerpicking and full of lush string arrangements to add some extra sun. Of the former, my favourite is probably “Bugs”, which remains a song just about anyone living in any part of the South can relate to in the summer. It’s a silly joke song, I guess, but so what? It’s funny, and it works. The way the strings and drums do their best to evoke the motions of various insects in the second verse is highly endearing, and the hook is really very catchy. I’m also quite a big fan of “Chickasaw County Child”, which melds some of that lovely fingerpicking with the bluesy melody and throws in what may be the most optimistic lyrics ever written about Southern poverty. “Niki Hoeky”, despite fitting mostly the same template as the others here, is a cover, and while it doesn’t sound much like the (admittedly superior) original, I wouldn’t say it’s without any charms. I like the quiet piano underlying the whole thing, and those slightly exotic drums do sound quite nice. “Lazy Willie” is probably the most inessential of this lot, but I quite like that quaintly memorable Southern saying she throws in the last verse. “Don’t you remember, Lazy Willie, what Momma used to say?/ That all summer long the grasshopper would play/ The ant would work hard storin’ up his winter supply/ When the snow came, the ant lived, the grasshopper died.” I’m not entirely sure I could vouch for the ecological accuracy, but it brings a smile to my face all the same.

The fingerpicked folk ballads, meanwhile, are uniformly lovely on the surface, even if they aren’t all necessarily equally engaging on a deeper level. “I Saw an Angel Die” ties with “Papa, Won’t You Let Me Go to Town With You” for the title of best. The former is a gorgeous, placid sonic portrait of a sun-baked, lightly wind-kissed Southern meadow married to a very prettily metaphoric narrative that seems to suggest a devastating heartbreak, all grounded in Bobbie’s earthen, slightly raspy voice. The latter isn’t as layered, I guess, but it’s still lovely to hear the various instruments introducing themselves and building up as the song progresses, transforming it from a simple girl-and-guitar ballad to a swirling mess of crystalline strings and regal horns that give the father’s trip to town the air of some great royal expedition. “Sunday Best”, meanwhile, is probably the least essential, being just a fairly lovely-but-unremarkable love ballad. As for “Hurry, Tuesday Child”, well, I guess I’m a little mixed on it; I love the ambiguously tragic lyrics (is the child truly leaving to find a better life, or is he leaving this world altogether?), but the song itself kinda plods along without doing much to draw anyone’s attention. It’s nice, but I don’t find myself listening to it very often.

And… huh, that’s it. I always forget how short this album is! It’s all good, though, ‘cos it keeps the flaws from becoming particularly noticeable and allows you to listen in the briefest little windows of time. There’s a lot of promise here, and she’d largely go on to realise that with the albums to come. This isn’t her best record, nor her most interesting, but it’s a solid start to a career and contains a lot of lovely music nonetheless. I’m still not really sure I’m prepared to call it a country record, but I guess I can see why a lot of people do – she’s a white girl from the South playing acoustic guitar songs about poverty and heartbreak, and even if her particular brand of heartbreak is very different to that of most country singers it’s easy to see how one might make the leap. Myself, I’m not really sure where to properly file her, but I know she’s a goddamn great musician, and you should at least have her somewherein that library of yours.

MISERY WITHOUT COMPANY: Tyler Childers—Purgatory (2017)

614ah2b-h1nl-_sy355_Michael Strait

I’m a man who grew up on rock music, where lyrics tend not to matter unless they’re written by Morrissey or Bruce Springsteen, so reviewing mostly-lyrical music like hip-hop or country can be a bit of a foreign experience for me. There’s a reason the first hip-hop act I chose to review in full was UGK, one of the more musically-focused rap groups of the nineties. This burgeoning series here is the first time I’ve ever really had to review consistently lyric-focused albums, and it presents me with a challenge I’m not sure how to face. So I’ll be trying a different tack from now on: when I need to quote and analyse a full lyrical passage, as if it were an excerpt from a poem or a novel, I will. I’ve been allergic to that up until now, because I’ve internalized the rock ethos and have long held the prejudice that to focus on reviewing lyrics is to indicate that one is too stupid to understand music, but I’m as ready to let go of that now as I’ll ever be. Tyler Childers, see, is simply such a good lyricist that I cannot, in good conscience, ignore the temptation to present and analyze his lyrics. He deserves it, and so do you.

That’s not to say the lyrics are his only appeal, of course. His voice – the first thing I tend to notice about country singers – is a complex instrument, blessed with a truly gorgeous tone and constantly quavering with vulnerability that doesn’t sound at all forced, allowing room for depth of sensuality difficult to come by in other singers. He can convey a very wide range of deeply-felt emotions with tremendous aplomb, and he always sounds absolutely lovely doing it. He’s got a real talent for melodic songwriting, too, as is immediately evident from the first track. After that lovely little fiddle intro, he launches into a vocal melody that accurately captures the exact mix of self-directed anger, wry self-effacing humor and general hopeless inevitability he’s going for with the lyrics, starting off low and quiet before quickly building into a brief crescendo before falling back into meek ennui.

And those lyrics are truly something Bear with me, ‘cos this song demands a lot of words, so this is gonna take a while. Let’s dive into the first verse for a little bit:

I only had a couple drinks last night
And few good hits from an antler pipe
And I must admit, I had a few white lines
And I don’t know what all happened

I woke up in the noon time light
With a poundin’ head, shiner on my eye
And I don’t know how and I don’t why
But it feels like fierce abandon

This is such a well-constructed verse that it almost seems too obvious to peel apart, but writing this good always deserves the honor. Look at the way he starts off, building up those clichés of addiction and abuse until their inadequacy becomes obvious and he just has to admit that he’s just lost control of the situation. Look at that beautiful resolution at the end, where he refrains from framing his addictions as a disease or an assailant and focuses instead on blaming himself, suffering the humiliation of admitting to himself that he does it because some part of him enjoys it. In particular, the words he uses draw my attention – “fierce abandon”, he says, characterising his urges as being ultimately drawn from a deep desire to reject social norms, abandon responsibilities and embrace a rawness anathema to well-adjusted life as an adult. In the first half, he descends into an uncontrolled pit of abuse; in the second half, he comes to the realization that he does, on some level, have some control, and that he is inflicting this misery upon himself. Just eight lines, and we’ve already got a nice, fulsome picture of the basics underpinning this man’s character. That gives him a nice base to work from as he transitions into the chorus, which add a beautiful metaphor to fill out the character. “Ah, working on a buildin’ out’a hand-hewn brimstone/ Workin’ on a buildin’ and I’m buildin’ on it all alone”, he sings, and it’s a couplet packed with complex significance. He’s trying to make an adult life for himself, but all he has to hand are his destructive urges, and with nobody there to share his life with the job is so much more difficult. All he has are his sins, and he knows one can’t build a life out of those.

The second verse is, arguably, even better. Let’s have a gander:

Pay no mind to the words I say
Cause they ain’t no count anyway
I been ramblin’ around and led astray
By the paths that I been choosin’

Cuttin’ paths like a forest fire
Pupils wider than backhoe tires
Throwin’ my money on a funeral pyre
But it sure feels good abusin’

First off, you have that opening joke, which disguises genuine self-loathing under the thin sheen of wry self-critical southern humor that everyone who’s lived there for any amount of time will recognise right away. That, though, is mostly just a setup for the amazing punny wordplay on the word “ramblin'”, where the surrounding context means he manages to convey both meanings of the word at the same time, almost as if he’s using them as metaphors for each other in order to describe his life. Then you have that amazingly significant line, “Cuttin’ paths like a forest fire”, which rivals Hemingway in its efficiency. The idea of finding your own path through life is an old rhetorical cliché, but here Tyler twists it, removing it from its normally benign context and framing it dangerously, quickly capturing both the lack of control he has over the situation (since, after all, men can conjure no force capable of truly controlling a forest fire) and the indiscriminate nature of the harm he sees himself as inflicting on those around him. He keeps up the fire theme with “Throwin’ my money on a funeral pyre”, which is as obvious and excellent a metaphor as one might ever find, requiring no explanation. The third verse isn’t quite so dense, but it’s still very important, tying it all back to reality with a necessary reminder that the character he is describing isn’t at all fictional: “Damn good gig, good damn crowd/ Good God, for cryin’ out loud/ Coming off stage I was mighty proud/ Then I don’t know what all happened”. This is him, his life, and he’s painting a tragically compelling picture of it.

A masterpiece, if you ask me. And it’s not the only one on the album, though it is the best. “Feathered Indians” has a similarly beautiful melody, oozing vulnerability and regret as lightly-plucked guitars and banjos surround him, fiddles sliding all over him and melding with the electric slide guitar into a gorgeous, sweeping portrait of the landscapes he describes. For the most part, the lyrics of this song are just beautifully rich imagery in service of an honest expression of love – “I’d go runnin’ through the thicket/ I’d go careless through the thorns/ Just to hold her for a minute/ Though it’d leave me wanting more” – but there’s more here, too, including a clever extended metaphor about the titular feathered indians that I wouldn’t have noticed if not for the genius page explaining the significance of his belt buckle and the Spirits he’s smoking. Then, of course, there’s the simple eloquence of his naked regret: “If I’d known she was religious/ Then I wouldn’t have came stoned/ To the house of such an angel/ Too fucked up to get back home”. Metaphors are great, but sometimes you really just don’t need ’em. Sometimes, the truth alone packs enough of a punch.

Regret, as with much country, is a persistent feature of this album. It pops up again on the next track, “Tattoo”, which is replete with yet more beautifully vivid imagery: “Flint strikes out to pierce the dark/ Cause a flame from just one spark/ Fill the room with smoke so harsh/ She exhales a memory”. Musically, the song is nice in a way that isn’t vastly memorable, though I do like how the majority of the instrumentation waits until the first chorus to kick in, and it’s a neat trick how the chorus is only two lines long but somehow never feels insubstantial. Really, my favourite thing about it is that it’s a song about regret over a long-dead relationship sung from the perspective of his ex, which is a stunningly mature step I don’t think I’ve seen an artist take before. It’s not a caricature, either – he’s fully understanding and carries not an ounce of bitterness in his portrayal of her, even if there is some small existential despair in his knowledge that the sum of their past relationship is now confined to “A haunted tale for someone else/ A little bit about herself”. Still, it’s rare to find an artist this willing to make themselves the extra in their own story.

This same regret bleeds into fear on the title track, a fairly fast-paced bluegrass song with lots of flaming banjos and delighted fiddles. It all serves to underscore the mortal terror that makes up the song’s subject matter, with the fast instrumentation sounding, after a while, like the sound of a life barreling inevitably towards the grave and – more pertinently – towards judgement. “When I’s a boy/ I’d drink and love and smoke and snort my fill/ But all the while/ I kept in mind the Lord’s redeeming grace”, he pleads, lamely trying to salvage some righteousness from the sins he sees overwhelming his life and trying every manner of trick to convince himself he won’t end up in the brimstone. “Catholic girl, pray for me/ You’re my only hope for Heaven”, he begs, hedging his bets in a rather charmingly simplistic interpretation of pascal’s wager.

I’m gonna pause for a second: I’ve always been an atheist, so the fear of eternity spent in the torturing flames is one of those fears I’ve never been able to relate to (I substitute with fear of The Void, though, so it’s all okay in the end). But the culture of much of the less fortunate side of the States is deeply rooted in Christianity, and it motivates a lot of really fascinating existential music. Future’s “Monster”, Hank III’s “Straight to Hell”, Bruce’s “Nebraska” – all have very Christian themes of sin, failure, and the certainty of a fate worse than death at the end of the line. I can’t imagine the terror such belief must induce, or the depth and extra dimensions it must add to the self-loathing one feels after every very human failure. This album is another to add to the list. “I know that Hell/ Is just as real as I am surely breathin’/ But I’ve heard tale/ Of a middle ground, I think will work for me”, says a desperate Tyler, angling as hard as he can for the temporary suffering of purgatory, knowing as he does that he has already sinned too much for anything more but hoping against hope that he hasn’t yet damned himself permanently to the eternal kind.

Christianity isn’t the only spiritual influence on this album, though. “Born Again” has some really lovely, reverby steel guitar in the chorus, sweeping and vast as the great stretches of time it concerns itself with lyrically. It’s a song about the cyclical, endless nature of life and death, tackled through the concept of reincarnation. If that sounds a bit ambitious for a simple ol’ country song then you needn’t worry, ‘cos Tyler has the good sense to frame it as a personal series of vignettes from the perspectives of animals, living out their lives and eventually dying. The masterstroke is that he frames each death as being caused by another being struggling to keep their own family alive; he casts no useless moral opprobrium on, say, the fox who takes the hen to feed her family, but he also doesn’t celebrate it, and the masterful melodic downturn in the chorus serves as a reminder that the cyclical, inevitable nature of death makes it no easier to cope with. Death is inflicted to stave off death, but Tyler never lets us forget that all respite is temporary. “I took one in the boiler room/ To put food on the table of a dying breed of man”, he says as cattle, and this is the sort of spiritual fear I can totally understand. The great cycle of life and death is a difficult topic to write about effectively, so Tyler deserves all the more praise for pulling it off. It takes a master to manage something like this.

Nature is a topic that’s clearly close to him, actually, because he returns to it on “Universal Sound”, another song tackling a topic that’s difficult to handle without coming across as corny. Tyler’s no cornball, though, and the arena rock delay effect on the guitar is deployed to uncharacteristic use as the starry backdrop for a portrait of blessed loneliness in the middle of the empty American wilderness. The melody is, once again, gorgeous, and the lyrics keep pace nicely. Observe:

I’ve been up on the mountain
And I’ve seen his wondrous grace
I’ve sat there on a barstool and I’ve looked him in the face
He seemed a little haggard, but it did not slow him down
He was hummin’ to the neon of the universal sound

Even I know enough about the bible to recognise the reference here. It’s a nice blend of traditional biblical imagery with traditional down-on-one’s-luck country imagery, and a pleasant slice of optimism in the face of all the misery one can find elsewhere on this record. It takes a lot of talent to turn the phrase “the universal sound” into anything more than just a hippie faux-aphorism, but Tyler manages it.

Tyler’s also no stranger to the art of non-autobiographical storytelling, and he indulges in a couple of classically country moments of it here. There’s “Banded Clovis”, one of many country murder ballads that’s secretly about more than just the brutality. This one is mostly about poverty and the opioid crisis, starring a dirt-poor man who goes digging for old native artifacts with his friend and then murders him when he finds some in order to keep all the money for himself. “A clovis like that is a hard point to find/ Makes pills swift to come by with a good chunk of change”, he says triumphantly, though the triumph is a mere temporary comfort before the isolation of the cell. The song is near-nonexistent, musically, but the story’s compelling and the underlying themes deeply relevant, so there’s still plenty to like.

The other such song, meanwhile, is almost the complete opposite. “Whitehouse Road” is possibly the most explicitly musical song on the album, and one of few I think it’s really possible to appreciate (though not FULLY appreciate) without paying attention to the lyrics. He leaves a lot of empty space between his lines in the verses, allowing the instrumentation to fill them with its steady, subtly driving rhythm and its minimal, expertly-applied guitar slides. This emptiness and spaciousness transitions into a faster, more urgent chorus, rendered cathartic and powerful by sheer force of contrast. Simple juxtaposition is underrated as a musical force, and it does a lot to make this song powerful. I get an urge to get up out of my chair and move to this song, even if not necessarily in a musical way; this is music for walking somewhere with a purpose, or driving cross-country at speed. Not bad for a song that is, by any normal standard, quite slow and quiet.

As for the lyrics, well, there’s a line in the chorus that I feel is probably the single most important line on the album, and one of those lines that doubles as an expression of a wider cultural moment. “Get me higher than the grocery bill”, he croons, capturing the essence of not only the rural drug epidemic that has made so many headlines recently, but also the general millennial mindset as a whole, efficiently expressing the basic life philosophy of many of my closest friends and summarizing the joke behind many a viral tweet. The song is, in many ways, a fantasy – about leaving all consequences behind as one embraces the sin that follows Tyler like a shadow on this album, rejecting social norms entirely in the pursuit of, indeed, fierce abandon – but it’s a fantasy rooted deeply in the lived reality of a generation of Americans, and that’s what makes it so powerful. “We been sniffing that co-caine/ Ain’t nothin’ better when the wind cuts cold/ Lord, it’s a mighty hard livin’/ But a damn good feelin’ to run these roads”, he sings in the chorus, emphasising the drug so as to properly convey its severity without ever actually lyrically condemning it. Tyler, in this song, is the quintessential rap character, transposed from the urban setting to the rural; he’s a gangster with “women up and down this creek”, plenty of enemies, a nocturnal lifestyle and a drug addiction, and much like that very same rap character, he’s a fantasy rooted in a desire to escape the grinding endlessness of poverty. It’s a hard living, but at least it’s got a purpose. Can the same be said for the punch-clock monotony of reality?

There is, at least, one other route Tyler offers out of the monotony, and that – of course – is genuine love. “Honky Tonk Flame” concerns this, but it’s the weakest song here so I won’t talk about it much except to mention the pretty fun Sonic Youth-esque noisy countrypocalyptic breakdown that happens after most of the lyrics are done, with all the instruments falling in on themselves in a rather glorious gentle cacophony that comes out of nowhere and fairly redeems a song that otherwise peaks at merely good. “Lady May”, the closer, is the better song on the subject, devoid of all instruments but the acoustic guitar and his lovely voice. It’s simple enough that there’s not all that much to say about it, but it is one of the most prettily-written love songs I’ve heard in a long while. Tyler’s talent for vivid scene-setting really comes out in the first verse:

I’m a stone’s throw from the mill
And I’m a good walk to the river
When my workin’ day is over
We’ll go swim our cares away
Put your toes down in the water
And a smile across your face
And tell me that you love me
Lovely Lady May

The little things do it; he’s far from the river, but he doesn’t hesitate to go there with her anyway, knowing that sometimes it’s worth expending effort to find a perfect moment in isolation with one you love. If nothing else makes the working life worthwhile, then a memory like that may well be. “I’ve seen my share of trouble/ And I’ve held my weight in shame/ But I’m baptized in your name/ Lovely Lady May”, he sings contentedly, reflecting on all the flaws he’s shown us so openly across the rest of the album and finally basking in a reason good enough to cast them aside. Love songs mean a great deal more when that love is the only consistently positive emotion one can find on an album. Much as with the Sarah Shook album I reviewed before this, it’s clear that a deep, genuine commitment to another person is the one surefire way Tyler knows he can avoid the demons that await him in his lonelier moments, so he values it very deeply indeed.

Gee… that ended up being long. But, hey, this album deserves the effort. This is the dawn of a really fantastic lyricist, and one who totally deserves your time. If you take nothing else from my reviews, take this: listen to Tyler Childers. He’s a real, uncommon talent, and in a brighter world than this one he’d be a superstar. Maybe he will be in time, but regardless, I’m gonna keep listening to this album. It’s an underrated little masterpiece, and in an era where popular country has largely abdicated its role as the genuine cultural expression of the American rural working class it highlights just how important it is to keep supporting the good stuff. Get this stuff in your library, man. He’s worth it, and so are you.

“The Hellbound Fun” – A Hellraiser review

“To William, who doesn’t want a taco”

by Dina Levina

For reasons rooted deeply, we are taught from an early age the notion that pleasure is wicked. Candy is not dandy, it rots your teeth and innards. Masturbation makes you blind. Dirty words make Jesus weep. Say your prayers, have more boiled carrots. Suffer. Perpetually intertwined by the simple logic of our nerve endings, pain and pleasure bind up in a complicated knot with a little help from our family, friends and neighbors. Still, the more illicit things get, the more desirable they tend to become. Such was the case when a mystery man presented a shabby self-recorded cassette to my parents who could never hide bad things well.

The tight tangle of joy and suffering is apparent in horror stories which combine the two openly, so we are pleased by being scared. Such a tale the forbidden tape contained. Even better – two tales at once. I was about seven when a wall had cracked and, along with the intrusion of Western fizzes and sweetmeats, an illegal movie rental manifested itself in my post-Soviet hometown, bringing to its dwellers photocopied lists of movies with titles and genres only. One had to pick carefully, else risking a memorable viewing of something like Jack Frost (1997), where a wayward Snowman violates a girl with his conveniently displaced carrot. Yet some of the faceless rectangular boxes contained wonders, as the one with “Hellraiser I. Hellraiser II” printed crookedly on its soiled sticker soon attested.

It was the perfect time to watch them. My mind was wide open. Not scared but rather fascinated by what was unfolding on the compact TV screen, I absorbed every second of it with my very guts. The puzzle of what was happening to the characters consumed me, the unexplainable was gladly accepted. Two decades later I understand why it worked and still works so well – the story was made with love, a love that is contagious, incurable, permanent. The kind of love an Engineer passes onto its creation to install fear and awe for ages to go.

The story looks simple but works wonders for there’s an intricate universe behind it. Clive Barker translated his written work to the restricted language of movies well, creating a self-sufficing piece, the atmosphere perfectly intact. Like with every translation, some things are lost, some things are gained. While Frank falls wanking to the floor (a Bowie allusion?) in chapter one, his face is being assembled like a jigsaw puzzle on the same floor in the movie, because time and ratings allow the second and not the first. The one essential component from The Hellbound Heart that I miss is the smell, and if cinemas can be equipped to convey all written odors, the audiences will be in for a queer treat – who knew that cenobites smelled of vanilla?

                The setting is a classic worthy of the Grimm Brothers – a clueless dad, an evil stepmother and a relatively innocent daughter arrive at an old house where Evil awaits. Unbeknownst to them, Dad’s rotten brother had a peculiar encounter with a quartet of jaded but well-dressed demonic priests of pain not long ago, and when some blood is spilled on the floorboards of the room where he died, the fairy-tale begins.

 For the most part the story is driven by the stepmother, Julia, who has a relatable quest. When the movie title had to be picked, one of the female crew members suggested “What a Woman Will Do for a Good Fuck”, and was completely on point. To regain her briefly enjoyable (and somewhat censored by the producers) sex life with Frank, Julia kills a bunch of random men and fatally betrays her boring husband, but is herself deceived by her reincarnated lover. Julia happens to be the only truly well-written character in the movie – the fact that doesn’t take anything away from it. The rest work perfectly in their two dimensions. Julia has a ghost, an aim that is taboo, and a load of most bizarre obstacles.

All the tribal horrors can be found here: a no-sex marriage, adultery, inbreeding (uncle Frank with his phallic pocket knife is incest personified) and dead parents of all kinds, stepparents gone wrong and the inevitable destruction of the whole family by its lousy member. Each scene is well-written, each conflict grips you by the balls. Combine it with all the details that broaden the context (the grasshopper-eating hobo, whom I love, is an immediate reference to the Bible, and there are more fun things to find), the special effects that are truly special, considering the low budget, the creepy sound and the beautiful score by Christopher Young, and you get a perfect movie. Julia’s 80-style makeup and hairdos add subtly to the horror. The cenobite scenes are visceral (perhaps that’s how square, middle-aged people envision S&M parties) and they get etched into your memory so you can hear the teeth chatter long after the TV has been safely turned off.

Part II is far from its predecessor’s perfection, with no solid theme or plot in sight. The Lemarchand’s box remains the only three-dimensional character, the Snow White is mentioned openly, and though probably intended as a nod to the original, several scenes look second-hand (Julia chasing Kirsty between two walls in the naughty dimension mirrors the endearing Engineer  scene from the first movie; the final skin twist is silly). Where in the first part there’s a heartfelt tale of people who want to have a fun sex life but fail weirdly, the second only has its ashes for a carcass, and everything falls apart with no spine to get attached to. Doctors are creepy. Hospital security is a mess. Mute girls are mysterious. Cenobites think they’ve been here forever but they are wrong. The Evil is mighty, no one really knows shit, and everything is a fucking puzzle.

The only thing that keeps me really happy during these ninety seven minutes is the hilarity of the freshly made doctor-cenobite – talking in cliché doctor phrases, dragging the perfect first line of dialogue out of the previously mute Tiffany. “And how are we feeling today?” screeches the good doctor before drilling into someone’s skull with a specially equipped tentacle, and I thank him for that. But there’s still no good story, and for me part two is forever a curious afterbirth.

When I first watched them twenty years ago, the conjoined twins on a single greasy VHS, I mistook the teaser at the end of part two for the beginning of a third movie (with no more free space to record onto, Hellraiser II had ended abruptly before the final titles). This was a happy delusion, for as the countless sequels show, the real story had ended here. There is, of course, a faceless number three, the obligatory part about cenobites in space, a movie that was just a random script with Pinhead unnaturally stuffed into it, and many, many more I dared not explore because some doors had better stay shut.

Each fairy-tale has its moral, and some of Charles Perrault’s even have two, at which I pondered while reading the book that should’ve been forbidden for kids but wasn’t. So pick your moral. Sweet things can kill you, sometimes faster than you may have suspected. Sex is bad. Grasshoppers are nutritious. Bad guys come back and good ones don’t. Suffering can be a pleasure. As for the second part, the moral is quite simple: one should always dispose of an old mattress in a safe, responsible way.


220px-dondeestanlosladronesReview by Joseph Middleton-Welling

Assigned by Nicolás Martínez Heredia

I’d previously only knew Shakira from ‘Hips don’t lie’ back in the late 00s. That song was never one of my favourites but I didn’t dislike it, it just wasn’t super on my radar. But from that song I thought I knew what Shakira’s deal was- latin dance pop. So when I got round to listening to this record, her forth, from the late 90’s I was pleasantly surprised.

The sound of this record is quite varied; there’s a bunch of horns on the opening track and a lot of the songs are built around a solid chassis of guitars and keys. Hell there’s even a harmonica solo on the second track Si Te Vas. The only place where electronics really get a look in is with the drums, which sometimes get super 90’s in a slightly unpleasant Vengaboys-esque manner. Gotta get the kids to dance somehow I guess… The album is about a third ballads and some of these are a bit soupy but the rest is a solid pop-rock-dance-latinx-crossover-smoosh. Shakira’s vocals on the whole album have a great amount of bite to them and she’s bends a lot of notes in an oddly bluesy way. Her actual vocal tone is sometimes quite biting, which means the songs have a lot of energy. There’s also a lot of emotion that comes across in her voice, which is useful as all of the songs are in Spanish, so it’s good be able pick up on the emotional contours of the songs for me at least; I don’t speak Spanish, I barely speak English.

But wait! There’s more…. There’s actually a psychedelic song on here! It’s halfway through the record, hovering at track 6 and its called Octavo dio…. And its great. Seriously go listen to it now. It’s got a lemony piano melody and a really cool windup into the chorus. Plus theres some mellotron and backwards piano on it. What’s not to love.

In conclusion, this record is definitely worth a listen. It has its ups and downs, but generally it’s a really fun experience. Would recommend.

Be-Bop Deluxe–MODERN MUSIC (1976)

71grgknawul-_sl1300_Review by Alejandro Muñoz G

Assigned by B.b. Fultz

The songs here are beautifully crafted: they’re full of little intricacies and ornaments (owing especially, though not exclusively, to the guitar) which enhance and reward a listener’s attention. Also, some of the songs have fairly interesting structures: ‘Twilight Capers’ shifts from 4/4 rock, to reggae (or is it calypso?), before ending with a 3/4 kinda space-rock coda, without any of the changes feeling forced. The album’s overall style –an amalgam of glam and prog with a step towards new wave – is successfully accomplished by the band without it ever sounding pretentious.  

Guitar work is terrific and the drumming is delightful too. The synths, however, do sometimes feel purposeless (for instance, in the last minute of ‘Twilight Capers’).  As for the vocals, I think they’re one of the album’s weaknesses. While not annoying or poor by any means, Nelson’s voice sounds rather limited and I can’t help but imagine how the songs would benefit in the voice of a more capable and dynamic singer.

The opening sequence, from ‘Orphans of Babylon’ to ‘Kiss of Light’ is possibly my favourite part of the album. ‘The Bird Charmer’s Destiny’ is a sappy below-average 70s ballad but, thankfully, is kept short to give way to the much better ‘The Gold at the End of the Rainbow’, a beautiful love song. ‘Bring Back the Spark’ may start as one of the most straightforward rocking songs in the album but its worth lies in its coda: an instrumental crescendo of piano-arpeggios and gorgeous guitar work (and somehow reminds me of the ending to Baba O’Riley).

Side-B seems to me less strong than the first one. The ‘Modern Music Suite’ flows smoothly and effectively across diverse sections but for most of it, it didn’t grabbed my attention. It’s mostly good but not really great (and certainly not epic despite its length). ‘Down on Terminal Street’, with its sing-along-type chorus provides a grand ending to the album before ‘Make The Music Magic’ briefly lightens the mood one final time.

When first listening to this album, I thought the best way to describe it was as being the work of a skillful artisan rather than that of a gifted artist. It seemed accomplished and enjoyable but not particularly enthralling; a tad too tamed and lacking memorable tunes. After a couple of additional listens I still think the work the band put onto this songs is considerably higher than the output the listener takes from them. However, the album has grown on me and now I find some of its songs to be truly gripping and effective. In any case, in spite of is limitations, the album is certainly worthy of multiple listens, even if it’s only for its craftsmanship and guitar work.

Black Heart Procession–2 (1999)

r-668060-1395352929-9136-jpegReviewed by Franco Micale

Assigned by Alex Alex

Who are Black Heart Procession? They are a group. What kind of group? They’re a 90s indie rock group, who aren’t anywhere near popularity, but acclaimed enough to have a sizable following. The leader of this band is Pall. A. Jenkins, who, from what I have gathered, played nearly every single instrument on this album, and wrote all the songs. So essentially, this album comes close to being a one man project, yet it never feels like a one.

So, what is this album? It’s their second album, and it’s dark and dreary. It’s very much a singer-songwriter album, but full of all sorts of subtle, experimental atmospherics that are scattered throughout the tracks. Because of this, the album comes off slightly reminiscing neo-folk, such as Current 93 and The Tear Garden. However, with that being said, is the album actually any good? Well, let me give a run through of this work…

The album opens with a booming tampani mimicking the sound of the wind, and it immediately colors up an image of a lonely, desolate harbor along the sea, with the creakling of empty ships and the watery movement of soft waves being the only source of noise in the area. The music starts playing, and it’s sad, mournful, and depressed, but creates imagery of the group playing in an nearly empty bar, located in this empty era. Accompanied by a fender Rhodes piano, an echoic guitar, and changaling chain-like percussion, Pall A. Jenkins sings lyrics that reflect this atmosphere:
“In the time of this winter the waiter had not much to say
He could hear the clock but he could not find his way
If I’m so far from your heart why do I feel it beat
And time won’t wait for us”

Clearly, the waiter is not very happy. But why? Heartbreak? The fear of dying alone? Despair from the loss of a loved one? I honestly don’t know. I’m very bad with lyrics. However, the musical atmosphere in this track is extremely engaging, and does a great job of sucking you in within its first five seconds.

The next track, “Blue Tears”, is even better. This song further cements the imagery of a sad group  playing in a sad empty bar, not only because it has an accordion, but also a trumpet, and a very lovely melody. It’s augmented by a waltz-esque rhythm (though it’s in 4/4, so its not technically a waltz), and very beautifully raw singing from Pall.  The lyrics, again, and very sad. Here are some of them:

“Now I know that I must leave
And I can’t remember when I ever felt so great
It was my time spent with you before the war

But now these blue tears
They keep falling
Falling down from my lonely eyes
They’re falling for you”

After this track, we return back to the sea dock, with the song “A Light So Dim”, which may be my favorite song on the album. It chugs along at a slow, lengthy pace, but is undercovered by beautiful rhythmic piano lines, layers and tinkerings of guitar and organ chords, and a great melody at its core. It creates a picture of seamen rowing an old, broken up boat, on a darken red night.

Following this, comes the acoustic driven “Your Church Is Red”. There’s a lot of imaginary in this song I don’t understand, but it’s  a very beautiful acoustic driven piece that never ceases to sway positive reactions from me.

At this point the album begins to escape me, and I lose  the capability to write pretentious imaginary based on the album. To me,  everything interesting and captivating are condensed in the first four tracks, and after that, it just draaagggs. The music gets so subtle that it simply stops becoming subtle, and is just boring to sit through. It’s not just because the melodies are weak (though they really, really are), but mainly because the atmosphere the music is trying to create is just almost nonexistent. There are a lot of beautiful instrumentation and productional touches, but it never seems to move the music forward or create any sort of defined aural environment, or even any sounds that I find interesting. There’s also the fact that, while the Pall sounds good on the songs that are good, his voice really doesn’t work anywhere else. This is an issue, because this is very lyrically and personality driven music, and while Pall’s voice is fairly soulful, it sounds like a very average indie rock singer, with no distinct tone or mannerisms in his voice. After track four, the whole album just feels like a giant bland, uncolorful mush of pianos, organs, and delay’d guitar.

There is one really good track after the sea of absolute lethargy, and that’s “Beneath The Ground”. It’s a nearly instrumental track that tries to create atmosphere in a manner different from the standard piano + organ + guitar + generic singing routine of the other tracks. Set to the rhythm of a sparse drum machine, Pall uses guitar harmonics to create an illuminous sonic field of fuzz that I find very pleasing to sit through. And the last track is a reprise of the first track, which in of itself, since it’s a good song to begin with, but what sticks out is how fantastically it ends the album, with about 4 minutes of dead, blank windy atmosphere surrounding my headphone
All in all, this is a very tiring album that I’m struggling to review effectively. There’s some very great moments, but it’s such a chore to listen to all the way through that I’m unsure if I would ever desire to play this album again. Perhaps I’m missing something, because from what I can tell, this is actually a fairly well acclaimed album, but simply put, this is just simply not for me. If I depressing, atmospheric indie-folk music that I can genuinely enjoy, I’ll stick to Current 93. There may be quality moments on this record, but sorry Alex, I just can’t click with this. Except for the first three and last two songs. So I guess that’s a good slice of the album. But still, overall this album just as a very lethargic effect of me. I think you get the point.

Wild Beasts–TWO DANCERS (2009)

220px-wildbeasts-twodancersReviewed by B.B. Fultz

Assigned by Oliver Lewis

I’m pretty rusty on review writing and I promised to get this one in tonight, so I’m just going to do a song for song take and give you my general impressions.

The Fun Powder Plot — Interesting beginning. Peaceful, lethargic, synthy background that lulls you to relax. Almost ambient at first, but then picking up momentum and moving in a direction instead of just meandering as ambient would. Strange vocals. I thought it was a woman at first. After a few verses it dropped in register and sort of sounded like Dave Vanian from The Damned. A half-gothic half-comic croon. Hard to describe. I couldn’t make out most of the words but the voice blended in well with the music. I wanted to understand the words because with a title like The Fun Powder Plot it’s not clear what the song is about, and I’m still curious. I guess I can google the lyrics later. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this one.

Hooting & Howling — This singer has a really interesting style. He shifts from an almost soprano croon down to a warbly tenor, often in the same line. This song starts with a simple bass pattern, then builds up into a busy (yet still somehow ethereal sounding) rhythm with quiet interludes. Sustained keyboard notes, little bongo riffs, guitar pings. It reminds me of The Cure crossed with early 80s Psychedelic Furs. The vocals are more varied here and put to better effect in this song than the first. I kinda dig this one.

All The King’s Men — “Normal” vocals for this one, mostly. With some screechy high vocals in the mix. It reminds me a little of the Mercury-May “high/low dialogue” in Brighton Rock. A cool percussion drives this song, bap bap ba ba ba doom, with all kinds of pretty little embellishments. It’s hard to describe but it’s all done to great effect. For some reason I can’t explain at the moment, it reminded me of that early 80s band Big Country. The percussion mainly, which feels Celtic somehow. And maybe it is. I actually like this song quite a bit. It’s really catchy but not in an obvious way. You have to pay attention to it or you might miss the hook. It’s worth seeking though. It’s a good song. Rather than going strictly for atmosphere this time, they actually try for a more traditional song structure, except with a lot of different things going on between the different instruments, and even the vocals. I’ve listened to this one a few times and every time I hear it, I hear something more in it, and subsequently I like it a little more. There’s something irresistible about the way it all dovetails together in a hundred unlikely patterns. It’s like a kid making seemingly random squiggles with a spirograph but when you step back they somehow connect into an amazing design.

When I’m Sleepy — Okay so what the hell’s up with that “Excuse me sir, would you happen to know the time? Yeah bitch, it’s time to –” intro??? So far it’s in three songs in a row and I still don’t get the point of it. It’s time to track, as in record the album? It’s time to trap, as in trap music? It’s time to trek, as in nerd out? What? What is that? … … … This one’s weird and airy and hard to pin down. The percussion is all that anchors it from floating away I guess. It’s not very hooky and before you can try to get into it, it’s over. I’m drawing a blank here.

We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues — I guess the stupid intro is going to be a regular thing. I wonder why they excluded it from the first song but not the others? Life is full of mysteries. This is another one that sounds like it’s from some New Romantic band in the early 80s. No great shakes, but pleasant. Oddly, the most memorable hook is the weird vocal trick where he sings “tongues” as a five syllable word. He has a freaky voice, but at least he knows how to use it to interesting effect.

Two Dancers — Another intriguing percussion pattern. These guys seem to favor upfront percussion. The drumming plays the lead role in this song, in the same way another band would use a guitar. It’s too prominent in the mix to just be considered a rhythm section. The other sounds are again ethereal and disjointed. I’m not sure I’ll remember this later, but it’s an interesting listen when it’s playing.

Two Dancers II — At least the dumb spoken intro is gone. This is another ethereal song full of strange little pings and pongs, and a catchy tap-tap-tap-tap drum shuffle. He goes for a deep croon on this one. His voice gets interesting in this lower register, almost like a Brian Ferry pastiche. Not the sound of his voice so much as his style, if you follow me. Just when I started to like it, it was over.

This Is Our Lot — These guys really love atmosphere. This one’s got the stuttery guitar lead, bubbly bass, and complicated drum tattoo of some really inspired sophisti-rock song from the New Romantic era. This is a pretty good song. The singer goes for a mid range (for him) croon here that might take some getting used to — he seems to be at his strongest when he’s much higher or much lower. But I forgive the voice because the music behind the voice is elaborate and interesting. The bass and drums dance together like old lovers.

Underbelly — The dumb intro is back. Doesn’t this guy know the fucking time yet? Why does he keep bothering the other guy? Doesn’t he know the other guy is trying to track? Or trap? Or trek? People can be so annoying … … … this one’s got a weird echoey monotone beginning with an almost operatic vocal, then becomes a music box of sorts, playing something Eastern and mystical. It’s maybe the strangest song so far. And then it cuts off. Right in the middle of whatever it was doing. I don’t get it. And it’s so short that I didn’t have much time to try.

Empty Nest — Should I call this one haunting? I don’t know. It’s strange, like the rest of the songs. I can’t resonate with it on an emotional level because my brain is too busy trying to internalize this weird music. Not a criticism, just an observation. This one’s melodic, with a lot of interesting rises and falls. That “gone gone gone gone” is haunting though. And hooky. When the higher “going going gone” weaves into it, it’s almost magical. Which is to say it’s greater than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t seem like it should be anything special, but somehow it is. The whole song has a dreamy kind of sway to it. The rest of the songs mostly passed me by in a pleasant but forgettable blur. But Empty Nest stuck with me. I just listened to it again and I was wrong. I CAN resonate with this song. At least after I had time to get used to it. It’s the kind of thing you should play a few times before judging it. Its greatness is subtle and it creeps up on you. It crept up on me, at least.

In Summation …

I liked this album. It’s not something I’d be in the mood for every day, but when I’m in the mood for New Romantic or Sophisti-Rock, or just something that reminds me of those strange days in the early 80s where the music was getting as weird as the hair, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw this on. My one main complaint — and it applies to nearly all of the songs — was that the songs were too short. They take a little while to get your head into the same groove, and when you’re starting to feel like you’re getting into them, they’re over. Some are over before you even half get into them. I guess if the songs were bad, they’d seem too LONG, so the songs seeming too short must mean they’re good songs. Or at the very least, interesting songs. If you can get past the sometimes ear-grating vocals and the fact that most of the songs sound the same, you might dig this. It’s not stunningly great but on the other hand there’s nothing all that wrong with it either. For the kind of music they were going for, I’d say they acquitted themselves more than adequately. Thumbs up.

Best song : ALL THE KING’S MEN and/or EMPTY NEST

Staff Carpenborg and the Electric Corona—FANTASTIC PARTY (1970)

r-2217018-1382991477-6010-jpegReview by William Quiterio

Assigned by Schuyler El Luis

Staff Carpenborg and the Electric Corona would seem to be a musical collective designed to prompt a kind of Residents-style mythologization amongst enthusiasts of bizarro cult music, though it is a fairly safe bet that this resulted more from circumstance than calculation.  Apparently the brainchild of a German musician named Paul Bucher active in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the Electric Corona’s one and only LP Fantastic Party was released in 1970 to little fanfare and seemed fated for oblivion if not for the peculiar fate of a highly influential and stylistically diverse contemporaneous musical movement.  Of course, I am referring to Krautrock, a loose collection of German rock musicians active during the late 1960’s and 70’s whose decidedly grim and angular approach to rock music would end up influencing nearly all popular music with an experimental bent that would come after. Exploring the more obscure corners of this historically important musical movement has, inevitably, unearthed the occasional forgotten gem.  

Can, Kraftwerk, Faust, and Amon Duul are probably some of the more well-known and well-regarded musical acts associated with the krautrock scene, and each one of these groups would launch their experiments from a somewhat different stylistic musical base, with some preferring jazz, others blues, and others whatever the then-current electronic aural technologies could provide.  Fantastic Party is very much a jazz-flavored oddity that gives one the impression that Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band (but not the Beefster himself) had decided to hook up with Third-era Soft Machine to throw a party at a haunted house with a drunk Ray Manzarek. I’ve encountered a review (or two) on the internet that suggests the title and album artwork are something of a deception, as they imply a good-time party atmosphere that any Eurovision enthusiast would dig, but instead the music they accompany is a dissonant, creepy, and highly experimental, collection of jazz fusion stylings from a bunch of Frank Zappa types who never bothered to develop a comparable sense of humor and seem to be haunted by an abstract post-war middle-European malaise.  I would say the notion that the title is inappropriate is something of a half-truth. Fantastic Party is a highly energetic album that does, indeed, give the impression of a party, but it is a fantastic party in the second-most common sense of that word; it is a party that defies credulity, seems distant from conventional reality, and alienated from ordinary human experience.

Let’s break this down, shall we?     

“All Men Should be Brothers of Ludwig” starts things out with a deliciously deceptive beginning; after the fake-out sample from Beethoven’s Fifth, a creepy film-noir bass line rudely intrudes on the listener’s senses and fights a compelling duel with a very Doors-like organ part, establishing a haunted and haunting atmosphere from the get-go.  The almost mechanical beat provided by a methodically beaten tambourine serves as something of a rhythmic anchor to a musical proceeding that seems in danger of falling apart at any second, very much in the manner of a Trout Mask-era Beefheart tune, or really, any of the more audacious jazz fusion or Krautrock compositions. The bass would not be out of place on a Portishead song.  “The Every Day’s Way Down To The Suburbs” provides a rare number featuring vocals, and seems to exist at an intersection between a cut from Zappa’s Uncle Meat (complete with sassy satirical lyrics that would come off as sarcastic if they weren’t so bizarre) and the third Soft Machine album. “Lightning Fires, Burning Sorrows” is propelled by a driving, stuttering- I’m tempted to say ‘neurotic’- bass line and maddening, repetitive, metallic tinkering percussion, which contrasts with bizarrely beautiful organ noises that drift in and out of the mix.  “Swing Low If Like to Do” is probably the most Soft Machine-esque track, with a powerful, if somewhat frustratingly-mixed drum part that anchors a feast of almost-but-not-quite dissonant instrumentation. The organ part seems to belong to a different song, and these fuzzed-out, unidentifiable, distorted electronic noises provide an infectious groove while the electric guitar fills out the mix with this incredibly high-pitched, ‘chiming’ tone that seems to emulate an exceptionally shrill songbird that has lost its sense of rhythm.

“Stainy Heavy Needles” is another bass-driven tune with distant, cymbal-heavy drums that seem to be provided by a drummer intent on playing fills a thousand times more complex than strictly necessary.  Meanwhile, incessant hand-claps provide a bit of effective Chinese-water torture percussion (and are much more prominent in the mix) while an eerie, and seemingly improvised, flute part twitters like that aforementioned rhythm-deprived neurotic bird.  “P.A.R.T.Y.” (aka, “Have fun guessing the probably-non-existent acronym”) has probably the most complex bass part on the album and eerie Suzuki-esque Can vocal wailings that complement the haunted-house organ, even if they maddeningly never congeal into a proper, angular Suzuki-esque vocal melody.  In fact, they seem to play a compelling, call-and-response game with the jagged electric guitar fills. “Let the Thing Comin’ Up” is another vocal track that relegates the vocals to a supporting role; as usual, an appropriately hypnotic bass line is the main event. The completely indecipherable vocal ejaculations seem to derive from a combination of a possessed evangelical preacher and an eccentric German’s idea of what an ‘African tribal chant’ is supposed to sound like.  Bongos and that same incessant, metallic chiming from earlier provide the percussion, and the whole affair perhaps best exemplifies the album’s haunted party aesthetic. “Shummy Poor Clessford Idea In Troody Tapestry Noodles” has an insistent, repetitive guitar line that seems to be filling the prominent groove role usually reserved for the bass (not that the bass is slacking off on this track), and the jazziest drum parts yet. A second, seemingly improvised guitar sporadically pops up and seems to whither under the assault of the main groove, which has a driving power comparable to Can’s “Mother Sky.”  This served as the album closer on the original vinyl pressing, but the cd reissue provides the listener with a memorable ditty called “Afro Rock,” and it lives up to its title. It’s probably the funkiest number on here, opening with a hilarious but still somehow eerie, ghostly vocal ejaculation before settling into a funky groove ably complemented by some smooth, and strangely mournful, saxophone wailings, and some nice Funkadelic guitar.

Really, I have been trying to avoid the adjective ‘trippy’ while writing this review, as it is paradoxically too appropriate to be interesting and just inappropriate enough to be misleading.  Inasmuch as Fantastic Party can be said to be psychedelic, it is the psychedelia of genuine madness, not chemical hallucinogens. As I’ve already hinted, contemporaneous krautrock, the jazzier side of Zappa and Soft Machine, and Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica are the precedents and analogues that most inform the album’s style, and like those works Fantastic Party derives (or at least seems to derive) its tripped out sensibility from the haunted corners of the human mind.  The music is weird because the people who made it had a deep psychological acquaintance with weirdness, and were not merely experimenting with drugs or responding to the vagaries of a cultural zeitgeist.

Built to Spill—KEEP IT LIKE A SECRET (1999)

220px-keep_it_like_a_secretReview by Alfredo Duarte

Assigned by Jonathan Hopkins

Prior to writing this review, i only knew Built to Spill by name. Never actually heard anything by them, but i read some people mentioning BTS as an influential and important band for the indie pop groups that came later. The cover art looked like something good was gonna come out and it was indeed, there’s always more room for 90’s power pop in my heart (oh excuse the cornyness)! I love Jellyfish, Posies, etc.

Problem: this album came out in 1999, and in 1999 for some reason all rock dudes were playing midtempo grooves or jump music. So this is midtempo power pop! See, when it comes to garage pop or power pop, i think that when you have a nice melody is more exciting if you play it fast, at least kind of fast. I remember at a show i saw a patch with The Flash playing drums with someone pointing a gun at his head and saying “PLAY FAST OR DIE!”. How cool is that? Best drummer ever!

Where was I? Oh yeah, so the tunes that sound more exciting to me are the faster ones, like “Sidewalk” wich kicks ass, or the ones who display some intense emotion despite being slow, like “You were right”, my favorite track here, gotta love those clichéd phrases and the whiny chorus. The clichés make it sound like everything is tongue in cheek but the overall mood is so depressing i guess no, is not a joke, he’s just dressing it as a joke but he kind of, wants to die and shit.

First song is also nice, the singles for some reason did not impress me much. “Center of the Universe” has an annoying guitar riff, stop doing that guitar players! “Carry The Zero” is cool but way too fucking long with not much happening in between. OK, there’s some changes but waaaayyyyy subtle for my patience. How about playing it faster? FASTER!

Back to the first song “The Plan”, sweet album opener and it has a ‘Sonic Youth’ dissonant noise rock section wich makes you hope the whole album has moments like this, but sadly nope, that’s the only one.

Overall a pretty solid CD, I am definitely going back to this or other item inside the discography of The Built To Spills for some more midtempo power pop enjoyment.

Sheena Ringo—KALK SAMEN KURI NO HANA (2003)

220px-sheena-kalk_samen_kuri_no_hanaReview by John Short

Assigned by Dinar Khayrutdinov

So I was told by my dear friend Dinar that this Sheena Ringo lady is the Japanese Prince, and I have to say that after listening to this album I was highly disappointed. Not one single song on this album was about incest, bizarre and nonsensical spiritual/sexual themes, or fantasizing about changing genders and engaging in kinky lesbian sex with your girlfriedn. Well, not that I picked up on, but then I don’t speak Japanese, so perhaps it’s only natural.

The circumstances of this review (computer died in the middle of it and this is all roughly from memory of the sadly aborted first draft) make it hard for me to really recall what I originally thought about the album, but the gist of it was that cliche as this observation is, it reminded me a lot of Björk. This is a cop out I’ll admit-  Björk has become a ubiquitous comparison for every female singer not in the Madonna vein ever since the late 90s at the very latest, but being compared to Björk is often a very good thing, and this is certainly the case here. Sheena Ringo clearly belongs to a very long tradition of talented Japanese women stretching back to luminaries such as Sei Shōnagon or Murasaki Shikibu. All and all I’m glad I listened to this, and that I finally know what dear Dinar is talking about, but I’m afraid this is the sort of thing I’ll have to give a lot more listens to to make any kind of definitive statement on it, and sadly at this particular juncture in my life I just don’t have the time for that.