Radar Bros.

The Singing Hatchet(See Thru/Chemikal Underground 1999)

http://www41.zippyshare.com/v/43809736/file.html

At first listen, the Radar Bros sound like any number of 90s sad sacks enamored with grandiose crescendos and morose sentiments set to song. A quick stroll through my admittedly hazy memories uncovers a panoply of Acetones, Lows, Idahos, American Analog Sets and Red House Painters equally enamored with this weathered, but worthwhile formula. At the time, I thought of every single one of these bands as my sullen stalwarts on those rainy days that bled into lonely nights, but time has eaten away at their charms. What was once soothing and intimate to these ears, now sounds bloated and boring. However, the Radar Bros are still as cozy as an afghan blanket. Yeah, they mined the same territory as the rest, but there has always been something panoramic and ostentatious about their music. To be honest, the real reason I love this band, especially their work on The Singing Hatchet and its followup And the Surrounding Mountains, is how it all falls somewhere between the vibe of a slow-motion Pink Floyd ballad and Neil Young at his most bruised and confused. That’s a bit of a dishonest and hyperbolic statement since the Radar Bros aren’t even in the same stratosphere as either, but they do a stellar job of conjuring up the same troubled, but beautiful hoodoo of both. During the 90s and early 2000s, Radar Bros just kind of perfected this languorous, glacial pace that served as the perfect canvas for some honest to god anthems that kind of make you wish they were big in the 70s so you could smoke a bowl and wave a lighter as they plodded through imaginary hit after imaginary hit.

The Singing Hatchet is one of the unsung albums of the 90s. The opening track “Shifty Lies” is kind of the most perfect and sublime beginning to an album that seems mired in defeatist posture. Hell, the chorus to the song is “shifty lies and senseless visions, overflow like frozen rivers, stand in line and watch the time, you’re cattled up and weeks behind, how long, how long until we reach the bottom of the lake?”  It starts off like some 70s cosmic Country and Western meditation until it suddenly swells and rises to an almost proggy chorus glorifying resignation and ennui. It’s kind of epic in its own minor league way. It paints the lovable loser as unlikely hero who sees life as it truly is.

The rest of the album just grows more dour. “You’re on an Island” amps up the 70s prog quotient with some intro that sounds like an Alan Parsons Project instrumental that stumbles into some existential ballad where our protagonist kind of wonders a bit too hard about  lost love a bit too much. In fact, it’s kind of creepy. I guess that’s another reason why I like this album. There’s some unsettling themes going on underneath the Live at Pompeii vibe. In fact, “Shoveling Sons” is kind of macabre too as it centers around  some apocalyptic tale about young men digging the graves of the old as the earth crawls to its inevitable end. I like how the story doesn’t match the instrumentation which carries on as if its some stoned anthem about lazy days in a hammock. It’s kind of one long bummer after another, but there is something so soothing and relaxing about how each song gently eases you down another notch toward a crummy mood. I guess that’s why I gravitate to The Singing Hatchet so much. It’s kind of a thematically perfect narrative about a protagonist who gradually loses the will to fight and grows to like it.

California Dreaming

February 17, 2009

A musical ode to California

http://www.divshare.com/download/6573926-7ab

There was a thread on a message board which invited readers to suggest songs from the late 60s and early 70s that were devoted to the beatification of the state of California. This spun the hamster wheel that fuels my brain since there were so many odes to the apex and aftermath of free love and hallucinogens. Some of these songs embrace the innocence of bursting through social norms, others pay tribute to the majestic scenery of its cities and rural enclaves while others bemoan the loss of innocence in the wake of addiction and the realization that love is anything but free. Anyhow, I figured that I would share my contribution here. Here is the tracklisting that I intended, but somehow my upload rearranged its order. Anyway you slice it, it is still a delicious pie.

Sir Douglas Quintet-Menocino

Moby Grape-Hey Grandma

John Phillips-Topanga Canyon

Guy Clark-LA Freeway

Terry Melcher-Beverly Hills

Neil Young-Revolution Blues

Shirl Milete-Love Child

Robert Charlebois-California

Mickey Newbury-San Francisco Mable Joy

Michael Nesmith-Hollywood

Lee Hazlewood-LA LAdy

Laura Nyro-California Shoeshine Boys

Jim Ford-Working My Way to Los Angeles

Jack Nitzsche-Lower California

Jesse Colin Young-Ridgetop

Flatlanders-San Francisco Bay Blues

Flying Burrito Bros-Sin City

David Crosby-Tamalpais High(At about 3)

Terry Allen-Cortez Sail

Mickey Newbury-Frisco Depot

Dillard and Clark

The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark (1969, reissued in 2000 by Demon)

http://www.mediafire.com/?wlmxun90tdi

I love all posted here, but occasionally I must pull you aside and state the absolute brilliance of a particular album. The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark is one of those albums that reinforce the idealistic attitude twoards music and its ability to make the world so much more colorful by its very presence. To be honest, if you lack love for the Byrds, bluegrass, country and the richness of a well-told tale, then my hyperbole is a mere shout into a deaf ear. It may not be my favorite album in the entire world, but I’ve always felt it walked in lock step with my guardedly optimistic and relaxed personality. It’s a bruised, but hopeful collection of tunes that always nudge me in the right direction while reminded me that all is not sunshine in this dour world.

This Dillard slot in this duo is filled by Doug Dillard, one-half of the 60s most talented purveyors of bluegrass, while the Clark portion is taken up by Gene Clark, one of my favorite songwriters and engine behind the Byrds’ earliest classics. It is a perfect product of the late 60s when folk, country, bluegrass and rock all became a fountainhead for a bunch of long-hairs who crafted it into their own grubby visage. It may not reinvent a well-worn wheel, but it is a respectful nod to their heroes that could’ve only been recorded during this era. God knows that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were on the top of their game during this period, but these two leave the social commentary at the door and just focus on personal woes involving the meaning of life, love and the potential for happiness. It’s a humble, respectful album that breaks my heart only to slap a shit-eating grin on it during the next song. Although it may aim for simplicity, there is a grace and complexity to their songwriting that place it far beyond the others who drew from the same pond.

Music for Melancholy Moods: Part Deux

One of the most popular posts on this garbage heap was Music for Melancholy Moods, a mix of songs designed to drag you into the dumps. The original was conceived amidst a heap of beer bottles and sour intentions and its sequel will be no exception. Being the predictable soul I am, the previous collection stopped at the letter M once my sobriety wore thin like cheap toilet paper. Hopefully, this one will strike the same dour chord.

1. Whiskeytown-Sit and Listen to the Rain (From the Fucker demos)

http://www.mediafire.com/?y0jykjzyn3n

Never cared much for the band, but like some of Ryan Adams solo debut, but the tape hiss coupled with a hushed ode to ennui and rainy days occupies a dear place in my heart. I love few things more than the greyness and incessant drip of a rainy day in spring. These are moments where you ponder your navel while enjoying the mist and drip.

2. Unrest-Imperial (from Imperial fffr)

http://www.mediafire.com/?lxrxwqntm14

This is the song that makes sense of Unrest’s eventual association with the 4ad label. Instead of ethereal balladry ala This Mortal Coil’s take on “Song to the Siren” and Lisa Gerrard’s “Sanvean” we get a pasty indie-rocker who somehow channels the majestic grandeur of the label at its finest. An epic eight minutes that should last so much longer, “Imperial” breaks my heart in all the right places. Awkward falsettos never sounded quite so sublime.

3. Michael Hurley-Tea Song from Blueberry Wine

http://www.mediafire.com/?gbhafylzwue

Never has a song about brewing tea and preparing a meal of honeydew achieved such pathos. His tender description of this snack seems to be the only thing holding together as he speaks of a relationship gone wrong. He tries to play it cool, but this daily ritual of drinking tea along is the only thing tethering him to earth while his emotions are run into the dirt. I had never heard this song until five years ago when I had the pleasure of seeing him live. It left me dumbstruck and found it to be the most moving tale of a man who hugs his humble comforts and sense of humor in times of trouble.

4. Terry Allen-“Cortez Sail” from Juarez

http://www.mediafire.com/?lzkcvumcnbm

Someday I will pay tribute to this lonesome country concept album. This is not the time for such things. However, “Cortez Sail” is awash in folklore and apocalyptic tales of the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. There is something chilling about his portrayal of Cortez as he prepared to attack and something hopeless about the depiction of the Aztecs watching the conquistadors sail onto their shores. It then jumps to a narrative concerning the album’s  protagonist as he attempts to escape his own inescapable fate. The song reminds me that certain outcomes simply cannot be avoided no matter how hard we wish otherwise.

5. Neil Young-“Comes a Time” from Comes a Time LP

http://www.mediafire.com/?wxhvcxjc4it

This ong reminds me of chances missed and those that were taken. The intrsumentation is simple, but perfect as fiddle and a string section duke it out while Neil Yound tackles a moment where life could go horribly wrong or end in happiness. Depending on your mood, you can choose your own adventure with this song.

6. Sunny Day Real Estate-“Every Shining Time you Arrive’ from How Does it Feel to be Something On

http://www.mediafire.com/?m1mtmwcwmil

Don’t laugh. I always loved this album because it is so troubled and in search of meaning in the world. Many of the lyrics seem so naive and innocent in the face of a world that is quickly becoming claustrophobic. This one sticks with me the most because it mirrors the moment I bought it. I had just broken up with a live-in girlfriend and bought every depressing album that my grubby mitts would hold. I immediately bonded with this song because it dealt with a relationship that nudged a boulder up a hill only to have it roll backwards at the last moment.

7. Steve Young-“That’s How Strong My Love Is” from Rock Salt and Nails

http://www.mediafire.com/?se9n3wlkynn

Sometimes it’s just as simple as a perfect country rendering of a soul classic. No explanation is needed.

8. Stephen Stills-Change Partners

http://www.mediafire.com/?myt9df7ibw3

He uses a debutante ball as a metaphor for the restless nature of relationships. Love is temporary because eventually someone taps you on the shoulder and your love is dancing with another in front of your eyes. His reassurances that this is natural provide little comfort.

9. Songs Ohia-“Back on Top” from The Lioness

Suppressed violence and testosterone lurk beneath the surface of this one. It deals with a man tortured by the glimmers of hope he sees in his lover’s eyes and the mere sight of her body. He cannot have what he once had, so he keeps reiterating that he will show her when he is back on top again. It is a battle for superiority in a relationship where both parties view love as a competition instead of a collaboration. There is something about that concept that bums me out.

10. Sibylle Baier-“Tonight” from Colour Green

http://www.mediafire.com/?jgmbxf4dqcy

Not much to this but a woman coming home from work to sit with her lover as they gaze at the moon, but there is something spooky and melancholy about her delivery. It reminds me of lying on a roof and gazing at the heavens because it seems like there is nothing more fruitful than simple observations next to the one you love.

11. Scud Mountain Boys-“Scratch Ticket” from Massachusetts

http://www.mediafire.com/?1x3lmd1ejf2

Instead of wasting money in juke joints and barrooms galore, this character wastes his money in a far less hedonistic fashion. The Scud Mountain Boys recast the country weeper and replace whiskey with the scratch ticket as the bane of the working man or woman. Bleary eyed drunks are replaced with desperate souls with quarters instead of shot glasses.

12. Richard Thompson-“Beat the Retreat” from Small Town Romance

http://www.mediafire.com/?yzyixjynuzn

Masochism at its finest. It is a song about a man who destroys all he treasures just so he may retreat home to the one he supposedly loves. On one hand, it is a testament to the love of a woman who will harbor her troubled husband no matter what, but it is also about a man who creates a tempest as an excuse to feel needed. From reading about Richard Thompson’s life, I’d bet the house on the latter.

13. Richard and Linda Thompson-“Calvary Cross” from I want to See the Bright Lights Tonight

http://www.mediafire.com/?yzyixjynuzn

Well, let’s see where this give and take began. I see this song as a bit of a parable for Richard and Linda Thompson’s troubled relationship. This song touches on some of the same themes as “Beat the Retreat” as Richard Thompson again deals with a similar situation where one wrongs the other, but Christian principles are expected from the offended party. There is one line in the song which sums up this fucked affair. He states that “I’ll hurt you til’ you need me” and talks of someone who remians at the station, but refuses to board the train. He almost seems proud of the mistreatment and confuses need with love.

14. Phil Ochs-“I’ve Had Her” from Pleasures in the Harbor

http://www.mediafire.com/?c13jzuy3unc

I almost hope this song is ironic. “I’ve Had Her” alternates between one man’s romantic perspective of a certain lady, but switches to that of another man who coldly proclaims that “i’ve had her, she’s nothing.” I cannot figure out if it is a condemnation of misogyny or a narrative of love gone horribly wrong.There is something cruel about this song that sticks in my craw. It is orchestrated as a dreamy melody, but the sentiments are so ugly.

15. Antony and the Johnsons-“hope There’s Someone” from I am a Bird Now

http://www.mediafire.com/?bml0mxbft1y

This song unsettles me as it forces you to deal with your last moments and who you would choose as your last visitor. It is a plea for relief and comfort in your dying hours.  I first heard it while walking to work and it made me teary-eyed as thoughts of mortality intruded upon my every thought. Not a great way to start the school day, but a necessary evil as the years march onward.

16. The Mountain Goats-“Sahdow Song” from The Coroner’s Gambit

http://www.mediafire.com/?g1cmxelbbyu

This one reminds me of a time when a relationship cracked, but hope remained that crazy glue and good intentions would reinforce mere shards. It is a song where hope attempts to outdistance the reality of love’s slow demise. Part of me admires its optimism, part of me gets depressed by the reality of the situation.

17. George Jones-“She Thinks I Still Care” from The Spirit of Country Compilation

http://www.mediafire.com/?99udzdxdy44

Where do I begin with George Jones? All of his music has been a destructive buddy in my hours of drink. However, this one is timeless and captures the essence of his masochistic tendencies. There’s plenty of sadism in his love as well, but George does more sulking and sipping than focusing on revenge. However, there is a cruel tinge to his mourning.

18. John Martyn-“Go Easy” from Bless the Weather

http://www.mediafire.com/?wk1nmsygcdy

I remember the day I bought this album and put it on the stereo. Rarely has an album begun in such a vulnerable position. John Martyn is a fucking wreck. His bouts with addiction and ruined relationships have left him a mere eggshell to cover his heart. The song is a plea for all involved parties to take it easy for a bit because his heart simply cannot take much more. The chorus begs for life to go easy on him, but the optimist in him still hopes love won’t pass him by. Another talented masochist whose losses created great music, John Martyn takes 70s folk to some really painful places.

19. Bauhaus-“All We Wanted Was Everything” from The Sky’s Gone Out

http://www.mediafire.com/?j5b5m5tfino

During my teenage years, I sent a package to my girlfriend and wrote the chorus of this song on the envelope. It read “all we wanted was everything, all we got was cold.” The postal service worker stopped me to remark on how she thought the phrase was a witty one. I claimed ownership of this Peter Murphy chestnut, smiled and walked on my merry way. I felt shame afterwards and it saved me from quoting Nitzer Ebb and KMFDM on future letters.

20. The Ink Spots-“I’ll Never Smile Again” from Original Decca Recordings

http://www.mediafire.com/?bwmnt1tv4xl

Every Ink Spots’ song sort of sounds the same, but this one suits this collection best. Lonesome harmonies, pledges of sadness, old-timey innocence and a belief that heartbreak is terminal make this song one where you hang on every sullen word. There is no irony or wit, but a wholehearted belief that this love was the last to be ever experienced. Plus, the baritione breaks down love in such a simple fashion that i cannot believe I was such a conniving clod.

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band

Lick My Decals Off, Baby (Bizarre/Straight 1970)

http://www.mediafire.com/?mnbxzmulmne

Throughout my life, I have chosen small purgatories instead of making wild leaps. Sometimes it just seemed more prudent to ponder before making an action that may directly impact my path in this wooly wilderness. Please do not typecast me as a 99 pound pantywaist since I’ve also acted rashly to both my benefit and detriment in the realms of love, money, profession and mental well-being. Most of these stationary moments have lasted weeks or maybe months, but there is one in particular that lasted an entire year. I had graduated from my Western Pennsylvania college and decided to take a job as a record store manager and see where my long-term relationship would lead this old sap. I spent most of my days listening to Yes and Neil Young and occasionally laid on the floor while soaking in Everybody Knows This is Knowhere or Yessongs as if they were my current gospel. The other manager used to drive around with a mannequin of skeleton in the backseat of his car and pull a string to make it wave during Halloween, but many times it was in July. He also fantasized about jumping into the trash compactor while setting himself ablaze, so it is pretty certain that this purgatory deviated more towards a personal hell instead of a heaven. However, there was a numb calm to these days spent opening albums and listening to them while folks fawned over Princess Di and her sappy anthem.

During these moments of malaise, I was thoroughly embiggened every time that the truck arrived with the latest batch of cut-out cassettes. For every Front 242 disaster and emasculated Iggy Pop disaster, there was my virgin experience with Skip Spence, Hawkwind, United States of America, Flaming Groovies as well as the album highlighted here–Lick My Decals Off, Baby. My only experience with the Captain was in a vague appreciation of Trout mask replica that never went past second base. It was all maneuvering and weaving and bobbing without pathos. I still like it, but Lick My Decals was dense, but there was a melancholy about its songs that became addictive.

Many may disagree, but Lick My Decals is far superior to anything Captain Beefheart ever recorded. It is a close cousin to Trout Mask Replica and some songs fall victim to the chops and noodling of its predecesor, but this one is really touching if you listen to it as much as I have. “One Rose That I Mean” is one of my favorite tracks as it echoes John Fahey and early Leo Kottke, but there is so much hurt in this instrumental. Its meager crescendos seem crippled by the emotion involved in its creation.

For example, “Petrifed Forest” starts off with a kaleidoscope of stuttering riffs, poetic rants and rhythmic acrobatics, but there is a break in the storm and he gets it suddenly turns into a romantic coda and he makes a cryptic claim that he “only wants to rumble through your petrified forest.” It lasts only twenty seconds, but the complexity suddenly becomes a simple plea for a chance at love with someone who isn’t willing to accept his intentions.

I also love the weird eroticism and playfulness at work on this album. On the title track, the old Captain is kind of a love starved soul that devotes his time to “licking you everywhere it’s pink” and to “lick his decals off, baby.” There is more than a perverse tale at work as the Magic Band drives the song along its own peculiar manner. Yes, the the image of Captain Beefheart licking every inch of you may inspire disgust or an idiosyncratic explosion of the sexual kind, but one must admit that his paean to hedonism is quite an image to have lodged in your noggin.

Overall, Lick My Decals Off, Baby is the last we would see of the unhinged and somewhat insane side of the band before they became a bit more polished and bluesy. More importantly, his later songs fail to touch me like Decals, Mirror Man, Safe as Milk and much of Trout Mask Replica. This is his peak, but his slide is infinitely more entertaining than most musicians’ best compositions.

Royal Trux-Thank You

August 13, 2008

Royal Trux

Thank You (Virgin 1995)

http://www.divshare.com/download/5166853-2ad

There was a time in the late 90s and early on in this decade where this may have been one of the best live acts in a sorry period in rock and roll. No one really gives them the time of day anymore and their major label albums can be had for a few bucks. Ignore the ignoramuses because this band had an amazing streak of albums that abandoned the heroin-addled experimental genius of Twin Infinitives and embraced the boogie rock and Rolling Stones worship that always lay beneath the surface. Everything from 1993s Cats and Dogs to 2000s Pound for Pound stood out like a sore thumb amidst what was popular during this time, but you won’t find a more fried take on Jagger and Richards.

During the oddball rush to sign indie acts in the 90s, Royal Trux somehow wrangled a major label deal with Virgin records and got David Briggs, producer of most of Neil Young’s catalogue as well as Spirit’s best work, to take the reins of this album. His influence is readily apparent as this is their most cohesive album as he transforms the band into something resembling Southern rock and the Stones. However, there is no dolling up Jennifer Herrema’s throaty growl, but Hagerty seems like he is in heaven as he can channel his 70s heroes in the hands of a great producer.

Personally, I like Royal Trux much better during their return to Drag City with Accelerator and Veterans of Disorder. These albums reconciled the chaos of their early albums with the big riffs of their Virgin years, but I always had a soft spot for the one moment where Royal Trux was dusted off and presented to the masses as a grandiose rock band. It is even more fitting that Sweet Sixteen, the next album owed to Virgin, featured a toilet full of shit on its cover and some dense, almost Beefheartian shit that I am still digesting. God love this band and their weird and wonderful career.