Some Other Records I Liked in 2009 That Did Not Necessarily Come Out in 2009

Chrisma: Chinese Restaurant (1977)

I have to thank the proprietors of Zamboni Soundtracks for turning me on to a lot of really up-my-alley stuff this year.  This was one of those recordings the path towards the discovery of which Zamboni lit with their tireless, tasteful tune torch-bearing.  According to that blog, this husband and wife duo was signed to Polydor Italy by Vangelis’ elder brother and recorded in Vangelis’ home studio in 1977 while the big “V” (this is a play on the fact that Vangelis is a diminutive form of Evangelos!) was out of town with the aid of Vangelis’ equipment and his usual studio engineer.  Welcome to information.

Vangelis— he of Chariots of Fire and Bladerunner soundtracks fame— his last name is Papathanassiou.  What the fuck hath God wrought?

Synthy and rhythmic music recorded between 1970 and 1983 is my favorite.  Welcome to declarative statement.

I like Ms. Christina Moser’s cool assurances on track “Black Silk Stocking” that if you “Put your hand inside it she’ll show you where to find it,” and “When she is not talking be sure she wants some rocking.”  I like a lady who knows what she wants and doesn’t make it confusing for the vendor.  Those European girls.  They’re so ideal.

Dillinger Four: Civil War (2008)

How is it that I haven’t written anything about this at any point until now?  Ever since the first time I heard them— 1998’s Midwestern Songs of the Americas— Dillinger Four has always been my ideal image of what a punk band should be.  Poppy but with that galloping punk drumbeat, pedagogical in that Stiff Little Fingers vein of “You think it’s like this, but really it’s like this” with the alternately angry/sad subtext: someone’s a fuckhead and/or exasperatingly dumb and everyone is going to suffer for it.

The band has put out 5 records in 10 years, 1 a year from ’98 to 2000, one is ’02, and then this triumphant return to form after a 6-year break in 2008.  The songwriting and the music is possibly better than anything they have put out to date— the song structures are poppier and more complex than straight-ahead punk.  The “Get a fucking grip on yourselves before we’re all fucked” message is flavored with a carpe diem wistfulness.  As they beg the listener to learn the lessons life presents them, they return constantly to the theme of mortality- though they do not relent, there is the disappointed niggling suspicion that, as life stretches out further behind and the future is uncertain, nothing is getting any  better.

Don’t confuse this wizened punk attitude with the endlessly self-perpetuating Jesus Christ pose of the martyr, however.  As I have taken care to mention, they are unrelenting in the clarity of their message.  Relentlessness is the optimism that denatures any trace of martyrdom in hopelessness.  Relentlessness, not nihilism, is punk.

Midlake: The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006)

These guys have a schtick and a repeated lexicon that revolves around an idealized golden colonial past.  They use words like “shelter” and “give thanks”, and “stonecutter”and praise a strong work ethos and a simple life of labor and benevolent patriarchy to the heavens.  They worry in song about bandits.  They thoughtfully soothe their “young bride”.  It’s funny, but the music, as much of a put-on as it is, is still somehow a convincing illusion in spite of itself, a very effective piece of faux ’70s nostalgia that transports even the most hardened cynic.  They’re also excellent musicians.

+/- Xs on Your Eyes (2008)

Quite the quiet tour de force.  This was one that emerged at the end of 2008, that I know I listened to extensively, but for some reason didn’t include on either my nearly-were or best-of 2008 list.  What kind of a jerk was I?  Did I think I was keeping them all for myself?  I saw them just this past year opening for the other act these Baluyut boys have been in since they were unplugged from the umbilical cord, Versus, and +/-  were head and shoulders better than the band that spawned them.  This album is some kind of apotheosis.  With acts like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart infatuating the kiddies just long enough for those hipsters’ brain cells that were taking note of the act to die in an avalanche of tight clothes and cocaine, these ’90s veterans came out with the best overwrought and jangly ’90s record ever written.  It was like an instructional seminar led by the hand of God, with the hand of God on drums, the hand of God on guitars, and the hand of God on vox.  Slow-burning and long-playing.  Kind of like the universe.

La Düsseldorf: Individuellos (1981)

Another gem from Zamboni Soundtracks.  The rock scene in Düsseldorf in the ’70s and early ’80s was a big influence on David Bowie and Brian Eno, who, I’m sure I read somewhere once, would meet now and again back in the ’70s and exchange records, let each other know what they thought was “hip,” cat.  (For some reason, my ideal imagining of these exchanges sees the two rock icons cast as beatniks.)  I haven’t been able to turn up that reference, though I can find a few places (here’s one) where Mr. Eno extols the virtues of communal rock drawn from a wellspring of European tradition and ideological foment.

In the interview linked to above, Eno mentions that Klaus Dinger, drummer for Neu!, had seized on the “krautrock” beat as the stripped down essence of the quintessential rock beat.  It doesn’t really change all that much from song to song, but it doesn’t need to.  After parting ways with Michael Rother at the end of the Neu! project, Dinger formed La Düsseldorf and put out three records between 1976 and 1983. They scored a hit in Germany with the single “Rheinita” off second album Viva!.  Find the record online and check out the cover art to see where Brian Eno cribbed the idea for Coldplay’s last album cover.

This 1981 release, with its loud keyboard lines, overt optimism, and its frequent reliance on pure atmospherics, is a departure from the first eponymous album and the second one, Viva!.  Of the two projects that emerged from the Neu! schism, I had always considered Michael Rother’s Harmonia to be the fork in the road that led toward virtue, with La Düsseldorf a great band that had ALL the percussion but lacked the soul and innovation Harmonia seemed to have taken with it.  The brightness and weirdness of Individuellos turns that map around, though.

Dinger passed away in September 2008, so we won’t have the anticipation of any rumored new Neu! revivals to sustain us on our bleak stretches, but we still have the seismic, hypnotic optimism of his catalog.  In this respect, one of the only, we can be grateful the Internet never forgets.

Pedro the Lion: Control (2002)

The year was 2002, the ’90s were well over, and Pedro the Lion were soon never to be heard from again under that name.  Louder, more distorted than Achilles Heel, here we have songs of disappointment and reward from a guy who can’t seem to be happy with anything.  The title of the record says it all- these are all little stories of the situations from which people suck their lives as pulp from a fruit, those situations that wouldn’t exist but for their absolute control of their destinies.

The American Analog Set: Hard to Find (2009)

I was lucky to catch this excellent band on their farewell tour in 2005.  The band had released 6 records between 1996 and 2005 after their formation in 1994, a ten year run of hypnotic and subtle rock often relating the travails and inner vicissitudes of youth and interpersonal relationships.  The pretty and brutal honesty of the title track of the record, “Hard to Find”, gives me pause to hold back tears every time I so much as think of it.  This is music moving in the steady time signature of life, not of the world-time productivity cyborgs we’ve all become.

We leave marks on each other.  We’re not interchangeable.  Stop.  Remember that.

The Go-Betweens: Spring Hill Fair (1984)

My friend Chifumi introduced me to the Go-Betweens sometime between 2000 and 2002.  I don’t know which record, I don’t remember which song.  The Go-Betweens have a wistfulness tempered by cleverness, a poppy tone tempered by impossible time signatures.  Theirs is the sound of a cleanly amplified guitar or an acoustic and a few real things to say.

I don’t have a lot to say about this record in particular.  I love the track sampled here.  I love “Love Goes On” from 16 Lovers Lane.  I really like the entirety of Send Me a Lullaby, their first album from ’81.  I like this record that I heard the first time this year by way of someone dear.

Part Chimp: I am Come (2005)

Loud.  Explodingly loud.  Thanks, Todd.

Sebastien Tellier: Sexuality (2008)

I went back and forth on this album, and then I couldn’t stop.  Right over the top.

How Dare You: Comfort Road (2008)

It was Sunday morning and I was at 1982, a bar in Gainesville, FL, for the final day of The Fest ’08, three days of punk and PBR marketing.  This band was a splash of Aqua Velva on my puffy skin, and it was good to revisit them again and again this past year.

The Loved Ones: Keep Your Heart (2005)

Power pop/pop punk done right.  All right, all right.

T/L + N/A + D4

A tiny moment of confluence that I write down here just to remember as an articulated thought.

Nelson Algren’s Nonconformity: Writing on Writing I was yesterday morning reading. Ted Leo’s early solo single, work of supreme retro styling and contemporary reflection “The Great Communicator” I have now more than 8 years been repeating the act of committing to the grooves of my inconstant human memory.
The chorus of Ted Leo’s song runs something like this:

You get detached from what’s been going on/they feed you crap you can’t keep growing on/they give you stats that tell you nothing at all/about who you want to be

I have been deafening myself now and again with Dillinger Four’s catalog for near on the same amount of time.
Their very piquant pop song entitled “A Floater Left with Pleasure in the Executive Washroom” on 2002’s Situationist Comedy sports the chorus,

This isn’t what we want/this isn’t what we need/this is what we can afford

Algren writes:

Ours no longer being the lonesome prairie’s desolation, but the spiritual desolation of men and women made incapable of using themselves for anything more satisfying than the promotion of chewing gum, a goo with a special ingredient or some detergent ever-urgent. Working one trap or another for others, the aging salesman of bonds or used cars, having made his little pile, senses dimly that he’s backed up into a trap of his own devising.

The tiger-pit of loneliness out of which there is no climbing. Alone at last with his little pile, the weary years in and the weary years out haven’t brought him a thing he wanted in his heart. It was only that which he was taught he was supposed to desire that he now owns so uselessly.

From the coolest zoot-suit cat getting leaping-drunk on straight gin to the gentlest suburban matron getting discreetly tipsy on Alexanders, the feeling is that of having too much of something not really needed, and nothing at all of something needed desperately. They both want to live, and neither knows how. That’s the trap.

The funny bankruptcy we brick ourselves in with is observed and trumpeted with clarion calls throughout the century by our artists, our artists who believe in keeping ideas in writing, in speaking, in singing.

The desperate traps we ensare ourselves in seemingly for lack of anything better to do, when in this short life we should instead be remembering how to live without insipid diversions and games of aging uselessly.

Going to the Fest: A Weekend of Marathon Drunks, Cheap Beer, and Creddy* Times

Actual Cred
Image Added 12.2.07
I shot down to Orlando, Florida a few Fridays back to get in a car and drive up to Gainesville for The Fest 6.  The Fest is a 3-day punk and post-hardcore extended, gassy and creddy drunk-on.  The kids were there in force and in full uniform, mocking my earlier vintage constitution with their stamina.  These guys were hanging out for the three straight days on sidewalks between show or in bars.  I was only there on Saturday, and I had a late start, and I was still eventually laid low by the debilitating effects of alcohol in spite of all the invigorating earnestness and emo pheromones floating in the air.  Seriously, that should be part of Chinese medicine.  Put a dude with a bad case of recalcitrant attitudes in a closed room filled with collegiate emo vapor, and something about his worldview will have to change.  For the better.

We got a late start on Saturday, so we only really saw a handful of bands straight through their set, but the ones we did see were great.  We were lucky to have tucked right in catching Gaslight Anthem.  These were a group of guys from New Brunswick, New Jersey dropping Tom Waits and Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros references and screamed singalong vocals a la Gainesville sons Hot Water Music to the effect that the mainly dude audience was worked into a hugging froth, a kind of bathtub-gin and sweat mochachino of aggressive sincerity.  There was so much earnest dude-embrace afoot that the band almost couldn’t play.  Did I forget to mention that people were onstage hugging the band and stealing the mic?  Through it all, the singer kept a smile on his face and the band didn’t miss a note.  When the show was finished I was emptied of my usual vitriol and cynicism.  Watching a group of people allow each other to have such an unabashedly good time was really, really fucking refreshing.  It was a good change from the usual black hoodies and blank faces behind ridiculous oversized sunglasses, hangovers, and paranoid drug experiences that you get on the street in NYC.  These punks were so, so… well adjusted.  And good.  Seriously.  Very good.

My favorite venue of the night, The Side Bar, and the one to which I kept returning,  was featuring mainly English bands playing stripped hardcore.  We caught the last half of Chillerton‘s set and wished we had caught the first, so my compatriots and I threw $1.50 at cans of Pabst and 12 oz. at our thirst.

We got a good spot at the main venue to see the night’s headliner, Dillinger Four and, once the show got underway after various amp problems were resolved and a long, rambling, alcohol and Adderall-assisted audience conversation between bassist and vocalist Paddy Costello and the nearby pit drunks was completed, we were treated to what Paddy described as folk music.  I’m paraphrasing, but the reasoning is something like this: “We’re not making punk music, we’re just folks and you’re folks and this is music so let’s listen to some fucking folk music.”

A few words about one of my favorite bands, the Dillinger Four.  This is the real thing.  They come from the punkest city on earth, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and their “Midwestern Songs Of The Americas” is one of those albums that defines what punk rock should be.  All metaphysics as to what is punk and what negates punk aside, it’s the ice-nine of punk rock.  I don’t know what punk was before the Dillinger Four, but since they started making music the whole configuration has changed, and there is no reason whatsoever to think you’re making punk rock if you haven’t considered the birds of the air that are Dillinger Four.  Guitarist and vocalist Erik Funk and his wife own and operate the Triple Rock Social Club, great venue and great bar.  Guitarist and vocalist Bill Morrissette runs Extreme Noise Records in Minneapolis, the all-volunteer run record store cooperative where I may have bought a Planes Mistaken for Stars EP and definitely bought the first  Antarctica EP.  Drummer Lane Pederson is a doctor of clinical psychology.  Paddy Costello is a verbal weapon and anthropomorphic social affront.  Together, these guys are one great fucking band.

The show was incredibly tight, sufficiently long, setlisted mainly by songs from their first album and, despite the fact that this place seemed to be a former 1930’s-era theater with multiple tiers going up one story and down another, incredibly packed.  Though that meant one was constantly being nudged aside or involuntarily brushed up against, the fact that 95% of the people there said things like, “excuse me” (in the way that means excuse me, not in the kabbala-derived open-sesame sense mistakenly used by many) and “Sorry, can I get through here?” meant that the crowd density led to a good experience of solidarity and not one of mounting annoyance.  Punks are great.

To be honest, most of the rest is fuzzy, but you can be assured it was all creddy- and sufficient to put me back in the mind that I should be excited about making music again.

*Creddy: Adj. Having or pertaining to cred.  Genuine.  Imbuing those associated with a thing with an objectively admirable and witheringly intimidating sense of the genuine.  See also, F’real.

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