Thursday, June 29, 2006

killing jason off and countless screaming argonauts

They Might Be Giants - Birdhouse In Your Soul (live on the Tonight Show 1990, with Doc Severinsen and the NBC Orchestra, 1990)

What a performance! This is included as an extra on the They Might Be Giants DVD "Gigantic". An amazing version of my favourite song of all time.

This was a major crossover event for an underground band - kind of like the 1989 edition of Top Of The Pops (RIP) that featured The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays! I remember watching that and thinking, "wow! they're OUR bands and they're on the telly!" - it was a big deal and I think this performance was for American music fans.

Mostly, though, look at the sheer joy on the faces of the two Johns - they approach this performance with such glee! Imagine (*fumbles around for contemporary band name*) feckin' Razorlight appearing on a chat show with Glenn Ponder's band!?! It's not going to happen.

Check out the band in this clip - are they digging it? How great is the bass player? The guy on trombone??

About the only other band that could pull this off is The Flaming Lips - another band who are genuine and un-ironic about their LOVE of what they're doing, who clearly relish grabbing the audience and engaging with them. That's quite rare and it's a shame - Wayne Coyne's approach, to paraphrase from a recent interview, seems to be, "Well, Thom Yorke's not going to do it, so I might as well." Not a bad statement of intent, I reckon.

They Might Be Giants - Birdhouse In Your Soul

How can a song that tells the story of a child's nightlight from the nightlight's point of view be so moving? The lyrics are nonesense, but just thinking about them makes the hairs on my neck stand on end. It's the relentless beat and the sympnoic chord structure - it's so unutterably triumphant. Also, the phrase "Birdhouse In Your Soul" is beautifully poetic - sounds like, I dunno, JOY??

I have been known to play this song back to back for hours and never get tired of it. FAMILY TAKE NOTE: this is the one for my funeral!

Visit - They Might Be Giants
Buy - Flood
Buy - Gigantic: A Tale Of Two Johns

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Extra curricular

Just a quick post to send you over to the latest edition of the Contrast Podcast, which I've taken part in.

Go there to hear my dulcet tones (read: stilted delivery) as I introduce "Dolphin Field" by Meat Puppets (previously seen on Domino Rally here). Hope I haven't turned it into a SPODcast.

Visit - Contrast Podcast
Visit - Meat Puppets
Buy - Meat Puppets

Thursday, June 22, 2006

we are rolling

Medeski, Martin & Wood - We Are Rolling

Medeski, Martin & Wood - Is There Anybody Here That Love My Jesus

I always wanted to hear a Hammond organ being kicked down the stairs and "We Are Rolling" is about as close as I'm going to get. The first time I heard this was on a listening post in a record shop, and it made me grin like a slobbering loon for all of it's 7+ minutes. If you have chance to have a headphone listen yourself I'd recommend it, it's pretty intense!

It's great to hear John Medeski take the Hammond Organ (and his armoury of ancient keyboards) far away from jazz-lite territory and it's really exhilarating to hear them take flight with such abandon. It's like they started the tape with no plan and hit it from the off. I also love the fact that MMW put "We Are Rolling" as Track 1 on their 2000 album "The Dropper". It's a real statement of intent from a band who's members have previously played with groups like The Lounge Lizards, John Zorn's Masada, and Marc Ribot's Shrek.

"The Dropper" didn't go down that well with fans who had grown to love their earlier, less-spiky Hammond-led stuff and the band themselves have subsequently distanced themselves from the outer reaches they were charting here - a real shame, in my opinion.

"Is There Anybody Here That Love My Jesus" is from the 1996 "Shack Man" album and is a skronky, angular-iffic take on an old spiritual. This is great stuff - love the nasal keyboards and filthy groove. Testify!

Visit -
Buy - The Dropper
Buy - Shack Man

Saturday, June 17, 2006

slow down

In DominoLand, summer is well and truly upon us. The temptation is to keep it upbeat but, y'know, really morose and slow music can communicate the heat just as well. So lay back and soak up the misery!

Codeine - Pickup Song

That elephant-like guitar sounds like that crazy heat-haze you get off really hot roads - and if anyone can explain to me exactly what causes that, please leave a comment. I'd appreciate it.

Codeine - D

My favourite fact about Codeine is that their first recording was a NINE MINUTE version of Harry Nillson's "Without You", slowed down to Codeine speed. I'd love to get hold of that! Oxbow and I once did a Codeine-ified version of Bryan Adams' "Everything I Do...", which also worked well.

I think I bought Frigid Stars, Codeine's classic study of angst and sloth, in the early summer of 1991 - maybe that's the link with sunny good times? Okay, you got me - despite my tongue-in-cheek tone, "Frigid Stars" blew me away when I first heard it and it's still a mighty powerful album.

Idaho - Skyscrape

Idaho were one of the many slowcore bands to come out after Codeine. They didn't create that much interest, possibly because they sounded too clean? Despite that, they must have had a fairly decent following as they're still going. This is a great song and a graet sounding song: ace feedback (that wobbly heat-haze again!), a distant relative of Mark Lanegan on vocals and that barely-arsed tempo. Was there a lot of really heavy drugs around at this time?

Can't have a discussion about slowcore without referencing Galaxie 500, can we? The band who taught me that it didn't have to all be dissonance and angular guitar riffs, and that it was sometimes ok to listen to songs based around G and E minor chords. I'm assuming you have all the Galaxie 500 albums, so get yer lugs 'round this if you haven't heard it before.

Pierre Etoile - Nineteen Sixty-Nine

Pierre Etoile was the name that was given to the demo recordings that Damon and Naomi of the band put together for the fourth Galaxie album, before Dean Wareham broke up the band. They got released on Rough Trade just before the label went under for issuing too many Butthole Surfers side-project albums. A lesson for us all, there.

Buy - Codeine, "Frigid Stars"
Buy - Idaho, "Year After Year"
Buy - "Pierre Etoile" by Damon and Naomi (reissue) on Elefant records

Visit - Codeine fansite
Visit - Idaho
Visit - Damon and Naomi
Visit - sadcore on Wikipedia

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Short and Sweet

The Lemonheads- 'It's A Shame About Ray' doesn't hang around, it's said everything it needs to say within about 30 minutes but it made a big impression on me when it was released in 1992. For a start it was one of the first albums I bought on CD, it was a rare purchase of music by a US alt-rock band and it really made an impact on the way I wrote songs at the time.

My band-mates in Johnny Domino wholeheartedly embraced the US hardcore and alternative music scene (hope this isn't insultingly simplistic chaps), I found it more difficult, I own nothing on the Sub-Pop label and see elsewhere for my opinion on Sonic Youth. The instant accessibility of Evan Dando's songwriting combined with the unfussy production made it an instant hit round my way. Obviously he lost his way and became a crack poster boy but he has a good-sized satchel full of classic pop songs (Outdoor Life from the patchy 'Car, Button, Cloth' is a real gem).

This was US indie with stabilisers on and helped me start to understand the more gnarly stuff. If I record an overdriven guitar I usually put an acoustic underneath, pure 'Its a Shame About Ray'

The Lemonheads- 'It's A Shame About Ray'

The Lemonheads- 'Alison's Starting To Happen'

Buy The Lemonheads- 'It's A Shame About Ray' here

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

feel the love

There comes a time in the life of every man of a certain age when he finally GETS The Beach Boys' later material. It's something that took me a lot longer than most, following a summer spent working at the American Adventure theme park.

It was the height of the summer season so staff were working 12 hour days (30 minutes for lunch? Thanks!). I was working on an "attraction" called 'Surfin' USA', which consisted of a giant plastic wave with a surfboard attached. People would pay a couple of quid to stand on the surfboard and we would then take a POLAROID of them, which we'd put in a flimsy paper envelope.

Not exactly taxing. However, we had to play a "Best of the Beach Boys" tape (which included NOT ONE surf-based song!) on a loop all day. The album was 30 minutes long. After 24 plays, the "I wanna go home" refrain of "Sloop John B" really starts to mean something to you. It took me years to be able to listen to The Beach Boys without breaking out in a cold sweat.

"Pet Sounds" is for me a bit like "Citizen Kane" - I know I'm meant to like it a lot more than I do. It's like bran for the ears - you listen to it because it's meant to be good for you. And for such a supposedly great album, I find the child-like lyrical worldview a bit difficult to get past. Plus all of the songs (no matter how good) sound exactly the same. How is that meant to be an answer to "Revolver"?

However, when they all lose their minds, start consorting with mass murderers and make records tinged with a more psychopathic infantilism... Now that's a different matter.

The Beach Boys - Be Here In The Morning

How HIGH are those vocals???
This is the first track on "Friends", their 1968 album which followed on from the series of disasters that was "Smile/Smiley Smile/Wild Honey". They released the gentlest, simplest, shortest (26 minutes!), most melodic album of their careers, at a time of musical, social and political upheaval, making "Friends" the lowest-charting BB album (up to that point). Having said all that, is it me or is it just a bit creepy when they sing, "I only hope that you come here alone"?

The Beach Boys - Busy Doin' Nothing

I love the bizarrely mundane lyrics to this one - you can just picture Brian sitting in his sandpit with his dressing gown on, writing his lists and trying to think of his mate's phone number. And probably having a bit of a cry to himself. Am I being too dark here?? Whatever, great tune, a fantastically different arrangement - and the lyrics are weirdly brilliant.

The Beach Boys - Anna Lee, The Healer

Even Mike "The Great Satan" Love got down with it! Allow me to quote from the CD booklet:
The world of rock'n'roll can get very tense, and on this tune, the Beach Boys pay tribute to a masseuse who knew how to use her hands to make you feel a lot better
The main thing that strikes you when you listen to the album is how different it sounds to other Beach Boys releases - it's so mellow but recorded really simply and starkly, so that each sound is right up in your face. And The High Llamas got a good couple of albums out of it.

The Beach Boys - Transcendental Meditation

... but, really, what is going on here? The final track on their mellowest album, a song about the calming and refreshing act of meditation, features the most demented and energised arrangement.

Look - I love the Beach Boys, but they sound absolutely mental on this album. Maybe I'm hearing it through ears that know about well-documented drug-related psychosis, the Manson family and the never-ending Wilson-Love war, but I love it - it sounds so different to anything else they ever did.

Buy - Friends and 20/20 on CD
Visit - The Beach Boys
Visit - The Beach Boys on Wikipedia

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

electronically yours

Before they became the synth-pop Abba, The Human League were a bunch of sci-fi electronics geeks from Sheffield. Their live shows were accompanied with slide shows and ex-Hospital porter Phil Oakey would swing his magnificent fringe to the steam hammer thump of drums programmed on their Roland System 100, the first two albums contain no drum machines or 'real' instruments at all. In spite of being name-checked in The Undertones 'My Perfect Cousin' as the archetypal late 70's art school band the 'League were magnificently and grumpily Northern. 'The Path of Least Resistance' captures them brilliantly in this phase, welcome to the future ladies and gentlemen, it's going to be a bumpy ride!

The Human League- The Path of Least Resistance

Visit The Human League

Buy 'Reproduction' by The Human League