Sunday, December 31, 2006

Top Ten Singles/Albums 2006

Below is the ballot I submitted to the first ever non-Christgau-helmed Pazz & Jop at the Village Voice. Damn right I'm schizy about it. But the man himself is voting. And it's a different world out there now, sorta like a cross between Brave New World and 1984, contrary to what this book says.

The albums list is a mess which is why it comes second (beyond the fact that I'm a singles guy). #10 is pure tokenism and a reissue (of sorts) which I hate including on albums lists. Some of these I've heard only a few times. And with others I either still need to hear them (T.I.: King) or haven't figured them out yet (Dylan). But as usual, I stand by my singles list. Tall.

1. Lady Sovereign: "Public Warning" (Def Jam)
2. The Federation: "18 Dummy" (Reprise)
3. Mocean Worker: "Under The Matzos Tree (Remix)" (MP3)
4. Justin Timberlake: "SexyBack" (Jive)
5. Mew: "The Zookeeper's Boy" (Sony BMG)
6. Rick Ross: "Hustlin'" (Def Jam)
7. Lily Allen: "LDN" (Regal)
8. Simon Bookish: "Terry Riley Disco" (Playlouder)
9. Skeletons & The Girl-Faced Boys: "Fit Black Man" (Ghostly International)
10. Ceephax: "Hardcore Wick" (Firstcask)

1. New York Dolls: One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This (Roadrunner)
2. Todd Snider: The Devil You Know (New Door)
3. Herbert: Scale (Studio !K7)
4. Sonic Youth: Rather Ripped (Geffen)
5. The Coup: Pick A Bigger Weapon (Epitaph)
6. Beirut: Gulag Orkestar (Ba Da Bing!)
7. Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Domino)
8. Girl Talk: Night Ripper (Illegal Art)
9. Congotronics 2 (Crammed Discs)
10. Queer Noises 1961-1978: From The Closet To The Charts (Trikont)

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Box Sets Suck 1 - What It Is!: Funky Soul And Rare Grooves (1967-1977) (Rhino/WEA 2006)

Here's part one in what I hope will be an undying attempt to rid the world of box sets and the horseshit claims made on their behalf. For each installment, I will take one overrated box set (which is almost as redundant as saying "a Bollywood musical") and winnow it down to one, snarkily titled, consumer-friendly CD. The buck starts here.

First up is What It Is!: Funky Soul And Rare Grooves (1967-1977), Rhino's bid for the discretionary income of your younger brother the aspiring DJ. What it isn't is very good, 91 tracks of mostly justifiably obscure funk (aka rare groove) begging some rapper or turntable magus to put up sparkling mansions onto its scaffolding. It starts off promising with The Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band's well-named "Spreadin' Honey," a slinky instrumental that could serve as a band introduction to the late soul man of your choice. And then track two - wow! You already get the best track on the entire box with The Bar-Kays giving you the "Soul Finger," as joyous a party as early Sugarhill. But then track three - blech! You now have the worst track on the box, Brother Jack McDuff's flute-infested take on "The Shadow Of Your Smile," cocktail funk so weak it couldn't stir your shaken martini.

Had the box alternated like that, one would've been able to mine at least two CDs worth of gems and leave the rest as the soundtrack to pushing your shopping cart. But for better or worse, funk is so utilitarian that when it doesn't jam above and beyond the call of duty (as happens here with the "Tighten Up" clones and Criscoed-up Hammond B-3s), 5 hours of the stuff blends into a sort of musical camouflage. You literally can't hear many of these tracks.

Which is why it was very easy to compile the CD below (which still rates only an A-). The great and the godawful (see previous post) stood out like brightly colored easter eggs in a basket of 90% fill. I have no doubt that, oh, The Unemployed's "Funky Thing - Part 1" could funk me something good if I choose to boogie this new year's eve. But the schlock synths and proto-Mariah Carey trills of Funk Factory's "Rien Ne Va Plus" were so grotesque that at the last minute I welcomed them on the CD in place of Seatrain's "Flute Thing" (which I had included only because it sounded like an outtake from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy).

Oh and can we talk about "rare groove," the lamest generic designation of all-time? Naming a genre after the obscurity of the records within it?!?! What's next, planned obsolescence punk?

Finally, shame on Amazon review Jerry McCulley for describing the box's previously unreleased take of Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady" as "radically different." It's virtually identical to the original save for the absence of horns and some slowing-down at the end. When fancy packaging won't sucker 'em into buying box sets, bold-face lying should do the trick. Caveat downloader.

What It Really Is!: Funky Soul And Grooves (Bozelkablog 2006)

1. The Bar-Kays: Soul Finger - A "Mary Had a Little Lamb" quote, a snare peal that slides non-stop into the main horn seizure and we're off!

2. Jimmy Norman: Gangster Of Love (Parts I & II) - Only here for its noisy guitar.

3. Rufus Thomas: The Memphis Train - C'mon 'n ride it.

4. Natural Bridge Bunch: Pig Snoots, Part I - I'm off to the grocery store.

5. Eldridge Holmes: Pop, Popcorn Children - Goes well with pig snoots. Great avant horn breaks.

6. Johnny Cameron & The Camerons: Funky John - This sounds like a party in the next room that you're not sure you want to join. But there's some sonic value to that.

7. Titus Turner: Do You Dig It - I love parties where all the boys are bear-hugging.

8. Little Sister: Stanga - Sly's Fresh backup singers. Nuff said.

9. Ananda Shankar: Jumpin' Jack Flash - Nice to hear campy psychedelia with a tight bottom.

10. Curtis Mayfield: (Don't Worry) If There's Hell Below We're All Going To Go - Possesses an urgency the rest of the box lacks.

11. Johnny Harris: Stepping Stones - Hated it at first but its manic obnoxiousness eventually won me over. If there's gotta be flute, let it be hyper, damn near breathless flute.

12. 6ix: I'm Just Like You - More Sly. More drum machine. More nuff said.

13. Mongo Santamaría: I Can't Get Next To You - Was prepared to hate it but damned if it isn't even faster than The Temptations' version. And theirs didn't have congas in overdrive.

14. Hammer: Tuane - Scatting more desperate than professional.

15. Harlem River Drive Featuring Eddie Palmieri & Jimmy Norman: Seeds Of Life - Jamming more professional than desperate.

16. Baby Huey & The Babysitters: Hard Times - Male psychosis with creepy organ and Spam on the menu.

17. Earth Wind & Fire: Bad Tune - Also, a weird one.

18. The Beginning Of The End: Funky Nassau (Part II) - I hear very vague traces of highlife in here.

19. Little Richard: Nuki Suki - 15 years later, he still sounds very naughty.

20. Claudia Lennear: Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky - I like how the Sly-like guitar talks.

21. The Mystic Moods: Cosmic Sea - Prog funk by accident.

22. Funk Factory: Rien Ne Va Plus - Prog funk on purpose.

Time - 1:17:10

Trades are welcome.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The worst band in the world (worth hating)

I've long had this theory that the worst music ever is not the worst music ever. That is, not a record/band you loathe but one that no one loathes. And one that no one loves. Something inconsequential rather than godawful.* Godawfulness is frequently fun - William Hung or maybe Mrs. Miller. And even when it isn't (as with new age or acid jazz), it still provokes a reaction. You really want to beat the shit out of an Enya or a Galliano after sucking back their puke. But inconsequentiality is the true musical menace. A CD that fails to make any impression whatsoever actually makes me angrier than one that, well, makes me angry. In fact, inconsequentiality elicits all sorts of similar contradictory statements - "I can't figure out if this CD is worth figuring out;" "I hate that I don't hate them," which latter designation I recently pronounced upon Coldplay. Coldplay epitomize inconsequentiality and therefore might very well be the worst band in the world.

Think about it. Who on earth could truly despise Coldplay? And who can absolutely adore them? They are the inevitable culmination of alternative in ambience. Not noticeably tangential like Spacemen 3. But also not as illegible as The Verve Pipe. Just...there. Even grandma doesn't mind them unless she's the type who becomes enraged at the hum of lights. We always wanted a U2 without pretensions and unfortunately, we got it.

You can glean all this simply by considering Coldplay's lead singer. What's his name? Brad Robinson? Matt Jones? My guess is that he was born John Smith and changed his name to something less conceptual-sounding, something that wouldn't draw undue attention to its blandness. "John Smith" always raises an eyebrow. But "Chris Martin" (it turns out) can slip by the front desk as imperceptibly as electrons.

And he has looks to match. Look.

Neither prohibitively beautiful like Ty Cashe my all-time favorite porn star

nor like this Commie

nor stop sign ugly.

To quote famed Canadian queer Buddy Cole, he and his band are the porridge Goldilocks chose.**

An apt analogy too. Think of where the straight and narrow got Goldilocks. Nowhere. No one seems to recall exactly what happened to Goldilocks at the end of the story. All most of us know is that she chooses, a perfect model for the era of indiscriminate downloading without consequence (we hope). And Coldplay is the apposite soundtrack to this tale told in an extended present.

The gift economy of Soulseek and mp3/entire album blogs hasn't allowed music to finally shake off its commodity status; quite to the contrary, it underlines that status. What matters here is less the actual act of listening than music's convenient position in the orgy of acquisition (no surprise that one P2P program is called Acquisition). Judgments of good and bad, feelings of rapture and disgust meet in an "eh" middle, forever delayed until we've acquired every sound ever recorded.

In the eternal meantime, we have Coldplay, the sound of unbridled access rendering music listening inconsequential, the paradoxical sound of all that music we download but never hear. Listen hard and you just cannot hear them. There is no exhausting mastery, no rank offenses. They are just...there, a representation of the totality of music just there for the downloading. They are the worst band in the world because they epitomize the lack of imaginative resources necessary to escape that totality.***

Ok all that's quite lovely if a mite overstated. Many of us do still listen to music even if while downloading it. So in an "imperfect" world of Rapidshare uploads expiring and music actually turning your stomach, what is the worst band in the world? My vote is Chicago.

But already the question needs qualification. Where it would be impossible to hate Coldplay, it would be pointless to hate, oh, Deeds of Flesh. Pointless for 99.99% of the world, that is. I'm sure making a distinction between Deeds of Flesh and some other death metal band would signify in some communities. But those are extremely small communities. What good (or bad) would it do to stand in the middle of the street and shout "I have heard Deeds of Flesh's Inbreeding the Anthropophagi and it is indeed an atrocious album"?**** They're so information poor that I'm not going to be able to enter into any meaningful discourse with the pronouncement above. In short, they're not worth hating.*****

Chicago are worth hating if only because everyone with whom I've ever shared my Chicago hatred has had an immediate reaction. Some other reasons:

1. They've made an obscene amount of money, money that could have been given to the New York Dolls.

2. They've enjoyed three irritating runs at the top of the charts: the jazzier early period, the Peter Cetera-led rock ballad era, and the Peter Cetera-less hook-up with hack songwriter Diane Warren in the late 1980s. Christ, even The Bee Gees weren't so lucky.

3. They're still hacking away at the festival circuit most recently with Earth, Wind & Fire for one of those evil package tours designed to maximize (more) profits by cutting out half the backstage salaries.

4. On two volumes of The Heart of Chicago 1967-1997, I knew almost every single song. You do too.

That's why they're worth hating. Now why are they the worst band in the world?

1. Jazz-rock. In the late 1960s, rock-n-roll 'bettered' itself into rock and one of the ways it achieved that betterment was by fusing with more respectable musics - classical in the case of a lot of prog and jazz with Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago. More often than not, the result failed miserably at both, Chicago most definitely included.

2. Horns. Horns and rock do not mix well and I've never been able to figure out exactly why. Maybe because as not part of the basic guitar-bass-drums combo, they tend to announce themselves as little more than conspicuous consumption ("Look what we could afford!"). In any event, Chicago had lots of them and they sounded rich (and I don't mean aesthetically).

3. Pretentiousness. If rock needs betterment, why bother playing it? This is not a rhetorical question. I really want to know how Chicago would answer it.

4. Fickleness. When their ballads started to hit, they abandoned those jazz pretensions right quick.

5. Peter Cetera's voice fails to conceal his profit-taking motive. Listen to "If You Leave Me Now" (in your head because sadly, it's there). He doesn't sound like he cares that her leaving will take away the biggest part of him (and which part is that, Pete?). "Ooo, ooo, ooo, ooo, no, baby please don't go," he sings. But why the "ooos?" The Mr. tried to convince me that he's actually happy she's leaving thus cementing the song's complexity. Karen Carpenter did something similar with "Rainy Days and Mondays" in that her blissful rendition lets us know that she gets down (with her man) on rainy days and Mondays. But as a victim of all sorts of repressions, Carpenter had to sing under veils, through scrims. What need would Peter Cetera have for such lyric-voice tension?

6. Geographical location as band name. It never works. Witness Kansas, Alabama, Boston (despite the magisterial "More Than A Feeling"), um, Foreigner (despite Greil Marcus's favorite single of the 1980s).

If you notice, most of the above concerns money on some level which suggests that music becomes soiled once cash is exchanged. This conclusion goes against my fervently held popist belief that the profit motive is responsible for more great music than not. And other reasons just don't hold water in and of themselves. Such as

7. Anonymity. Peter Cetera is replaceable and has been ever since he left the band. But so what? Many of the masterpieces of dance music are more anonymous than that as are many of my favorite singles of the 1990s. And here, K-Punk reveals how one of the best albums of the 1980s was about the self as pure fiction. So maybe the difference is that Chicago is merely anonymous rather than about anonymity. Or they don't instantiate anonymity in a compelling way.

8. "They demand next to nothing from the listener," I recently told the Mr. But you could say the same of Subway Sect or Low or Smog. Not big fans of any of them but they've popped off more good minutes than Chicago ever has.

9. They're making really fucking tired right now.

10. No one has come up with a better alternative for the worst band in the world worth hating even though most people with no special relation to the band seem oddly compelled to defend them whenever I bring up the charge. So pipe up. What am I missing?

* I always say that the first rule of rock criticism is "better godawful than boring" after Xgau's review of the graded-much-too-low-at-B+ Upstairs at Eric's here. But instead of "boring" or "bland," I think I've always meant "inconsequential."

** Gad, even wife Gwyneth fits snugly in this matrix, she being the star of Shakespeare in Love, the most okay movie ever to win the Best Picture Oscar.

*** Unsurprisingly, this entire post was inspired by an afternoon of music sharing with Nick Marx. Part of the afternoon was spent debating whether or not to leech albums I already had on vinyl from Nick's iPod. I wound up getting Electric Ladyland only to discover the next day that I already had the fucker on CD. Grrrr.

**** I have actually heard this album. The Mr. brought home a stack of free death metal CDs from one of the Metalfests in Milwaukee which would seem to suggest a certain indifference towards Deeds of Flesh for even the death metal faithful. And click that link - it leads to a rare negative (or, rather, exceedingly blasé) Allmusic (that phrase again!) review. And dig that title which intensifies the band's insular obscurity. Anthropophagi are cannibals, obscure right there. But inbreeding them? What effect does that have?

***** Another idea stolen from Xgau in his review of Ministry's Filth Pig here.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The hardest working man in show business is resting


"It is with great sadness and sorrow that the world lost a legend and pioneer of the music world. James Brown was known to all as 'The Godfather of Soul.' I knew him as a very good, kind, and religious man, so how befitting it is that he passed on the day Christ was born."

R.I.P. J.B.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Top Ten dresses worn by Joan Crawford (with links!!!)

The ONLY good thing about Today We Live is this amaaaaaaaaazingly ridiculous gown Joan Crawford wears towards the beginning of the film (maybe in her first scene?). TCM host Robert Osbourne described it as looking like an ironing board was attached to it. It remains my all-time fave Joan outfit because this insane creation absolutely sucks everything into it including the narrative. You can't even concentrate on the dialogue which is just as well.

The outfit was designed by the great Gilbert Adrian. Adrian's concoctions could be wild; my all-time fave dress from ANY designer is his beach outfit from the fashion show in The Women.

This is the only pic I could find and sadly, it fails to show that there's an actual mannequin hand on the front! Utterly nutter! (There are two great pix of it in Gowns By Adrian by Howard Gutner - great pix all around but Gutner stupidly ignores Adrian's homosexuality.)

But Adrian was attentive to narrative purpose. If he had veto power over Crawford, he would never have allowed such a creation into Today We Live. But since the narrative is in such shambles anyway, it works perfectly.

Thinking of this wretched film made me realize that it was time to share my top ten fave Joan outfits with the world. Lumiere! Musique!

1. The "ironing board" from Today We Live

2. The white silk crepe and black bugle beads gown from Letty Lynton

3. The kite lapel/"Crawford Collar" from No More Ladies

4. The silky ribbons at the end of Susan and God

5. A dress she models in Mannequin that looks as if a huge chunk of fabric has been ripped out of it

Sorry, no link.

6. Her "lounging" outfit from Female on the Beach

7. This number from Our Modern Maidens

8. The Jean Louis cape from Queen Bee

9. The "where's her head?" fur from Letty Lynton

10. Off the rack for Rain

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Academic newsflash!!!!

Mary Kearney was granted tenure yesterday!!!!! A collective sigh of "'bout motherfunkin' time" could be heard emanating from the annual RTF end of the year party at the home of Thomas Schatz where the decision was announced.

I myself heard from the ever modest Matt Payne who was far too modest in this context. At the party, he whispers that he has something to tell me. So we go outside for some privacy only to be confronted with one Nick Muntean. I didn't know if what Matt had to say was secret. So I tried not to engage Nick in a lengthy, compelling conversation, say, about nunsploitation, my new favorite film genre and latest obsession.

After about five minutes spent trying NOT to talk about nunsploitation, I'm breaking out in a characteristic sweat. FINALLY Matt turns to me and says "I just heard - Mary got tenure!"


I ran inside and told EVERYONE including a couple who would've been living out a Sirk melodrama had Mary NOT gotten tenure. Bigmouth strikes again.

I wasn't sure if we were supposed to know. But when Mary arrived, a sizable crowd formed around her. So then I knew it was okay to give her a hug. We congratulated each other (me for my less milestoneish achievement). It was quite moving.

And sheesh - the entire evening was positively intense and intensely positive - new babies, secret marriages, leads on dream jobs, champagne (and amaretto) toast to Mary, something potentially cool for me that I'm soooo not going to talk about for fear of jinxing (Bigmouth does NOT strike again), etc. Amongst the colorful characters there included an actress who starred in Fletch, a gal who wanted to talk to me because she heard such great things about me (from Donna Deville who hates my new long hair and was NOT impressed that I lost 3 pounds), the guy who made my favorite film in The Film Loop (who? wha?) student showcase, and a nutter 6th year PhD British bisexual who was off to Oilcan Harry's to get his "top off, greased up, and grooved on" and who hit on...wait for it...Nick Marx.

I forced Mary to drink some of my $11 amaretto. She asked what you drink when you become a full professor. "Why, the peanut butter and jelly shot (Frangelico + Chambord), of course!"

Elissa Nelson and I got TOTALLY DITCHED by Courtney Hate and the snooty first year PhDs. So we rang David Uskie up and he met us at the Kerbey Lane Kerbey Lane. I so thought it'd be a drunken good time. Instead, it was a deeply intellectual good time. We're all three dissertating on the 1980s so we had some truly gripping conversations about hardcore punk, Heathers, and The Breakfast Club, a film I have an even more intense love/hate relationship with than Groundhog Day.

Note to Dave Gurney: a waitress told me that we are legends at Kerbey Lane for our pancake slapping!!!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Hot juicy news!!

I successfully defended my proposal which means (in UT-Austin parlance) that I am now officially a PhD CANDIDATE. I always thought you were a PhD candidate the minute you got accepted into a PhD program. But no - only NOW am I a candidate. Apparently, 45 hours of course work and a successful completion of my comprehensives (not to mention my entire MA) was just wanking off.

Still, I must not think bad thoughts. I'm very happy cuz now "all" I have to do is write a dissertation/book. And teach. And...