Wednesday, September 1, 2010

TVD Previews the next Story/Stereo with John Davis

Back with Day #3 of our Story/Stereo event in advance of Friday night's unique confluence of words and music at Bethesda's Writer's Center and it's Day #3 with Story/Stereo's musical guest for the evening, John Davis, who returns with the first five random tracks off his ipod—and musings upon each:

The Pixies were one of those bands that helped me bide time until I found punk. I heard “Doolittle” shortly after it came out in the late 80s and then I played it to death when I was away at camp that summer. There were five tapes that made the trip with me – that two of them were cassingles demonstrated a tremendous lack of foresight on my part. In my bag I had R.E.M.’s “Chronic Town,” The Pixies’ “Doolittle,” The Who’s “Who’s Next” and the aforementioned cassingles – R.E.M.’s “The One I Love/Maps and Legends (Acoustic)” and The Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man/Into The White.” A bit of overkill on that second cassingle since “Here Comes Your Man” was already on “Dootlittle,” though I really did love that b-side, “Into The White.” I had only recently started to really get into “real” music, abandoning top 40 radio and my collection of hair metal tapes. I don’t know what sparked it but I picked up “13” by The Doors and my musical tastes changed dramatically. A few months later, inspired by raves in Rolling Stone magazine, I got into “alternative” music – The Replacements, The Clash, Elvis Costello and The Pixies. I was about 12 at this point. It was a steady diet of college rock/alternative and classic rock until one magnificent summer where I got into Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Minor Threat, Minutemen/firehose, Dinosaur Jr., etc. I still enjoy The Pixies and they have my eternal gratitude for keeping me busy those few years. For the record, “Trompe Le Monde” is my favorite record of theirs.

Eric IdleGibberish
When I was a kid, my uncle passed along to me a mix tape that he had in his possession (someone he knew had given it to him). I’m not sure why he wound up giving it to me and I remember very little about what was on it other than a Last Poets track and this, Eric Idle’s “Gibberish,” which opened the mix tape. It’s originally from the “Rutland Weekend Songbook” record and has always made me laugh every time I hear it (as does Idle’s “Fuck Christmas,” which should be a holiday anthem). Idle does a news broadcast in a steady stream of nonsense that is so effortlessly and smoothly administered that it actually starts to make a strange kind of sense. “Machine-wrapped with butter? Machine-wrapped with butter.” That “meanwhile on Rutland Weekend Television, it’s time for music” line at the end totally makes this perfect fodder for opening up a mix tape, for those who still make them. When we were making the Georgie James record, we briefly thought we were going to include something like this gibberish bit on the record, believe it or not. We were struggling to come up with an intro for a song that badly needed one and we thought we might do a pseudo interview back and forth where the question was literal and the response was Idle-style gibberish. I’m pretty sure we got as far as starting to write out a script, as I recall fitting in references to Jim Vance and Arch Campbell in there, for some reason. It’s probably for the best that we didn’t do this, though the song that we intended to append it to wound up being my least favorite on the record so it maybe could’ve used something after all.

Bill FoxOver And Away She Goes
Bill Fox is great. I’ve been hoping that the recent reissue of his first solo record, “Shelter From The Smoke,” will get him at least part of his due. After making some fantastically spiky power pop records with his band The Mice in the mid-80s, Fox went solo and went almost entirely acoustic on both “Shelter” and its follow-up “Transit Byzantium.” An image is easily created in my mind when listening to those two solo records of Fox sitting in a cold Ohio kitchen banging out classic songs into his 4-track tape machine. “Over And Away She Goes” is nearly anthemic with its chiming acoustics and insistent maracas that hiss like sprinklers. Tight harmonies and hooks and a slight glaze of analog hiss combine to make a nearly perfect record. While I’d love it if Fox made another album (it’s been more than a decade since his last one now), I’m happy to even have these two solo ones (and The Mice records, too).

Elizabeth CottenRun…Run/Mama Your Son Done Gone
I first heard of guitarist Elizabeth Cotten via a mix CD that my Q And Not U bandmate, Harris Klahr, made me several years ago. Cotten’s story is fascinating. After decades of anonymity, working as a housekeeper and only playing her guitar in church, she was discovered in her 60s and soon became a darling of the folk set in the late 1950s/early 60s. A southpaw guitarist who, like Jimi Hendrix, played a right-handed guitar upside down, Cotten’s style is singular. Maybe a bit like John Fahey and his ilk in parts but with a Spartan elegance and deceptive dexterity which give her a clear signature. “Freight Train” and “Ain’t Got No Honey Baby Now” are two of her best. This track, “Run… Run/Mama Your Son Done Gone” is not one of her best but it still boasts her fluid fretwork and also features her weathered, papery singing voice -- a charming instrument on its own. A clip exists of Cotten doing a few songs on Pete Seeger’s short-lived, mid-60s TV show, “Rainbow Quest.” Seeger is comically earnest and Cotten’s laconicism makes the scene even more awkward. Still, the thrill of watching Cotten play guitar transcends all of that. It can be found on DVD, if you’re interested.

The Beach Boys
Time To Get Alone
This one is from one of my favorite Beach Boys records, if not my favorite, “20/20.” Brian Wilson was already getting deep into his infamous mental funk by the time the Boys’ put this album together in 1969. Still, the record features some quality contributions from Brian and “Time To Get Alone” is one of them. I think that’s Carl singing lead on this, though. My true favorite song on this record, though, is Bruce Johnston’s rapturous “Pet Sounds” ripoff, “The Nearest Faraway Place.”

Eric Idle - Gibberish (Mp3)

Bill Fox - Over And Away She Goes (Mp3)
Elizabeth Cotten - Run…Run/Mama Your Son Done Gone (Mp3)

TVD First Date | TAPE

"My very first recollection of being familiar with any music at all was when I was three and still in Edinburgh. My sister and my visiting cousin would get up early in the morning and rather than stick on cartoons, we whipped out a gatefold copy of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds and scare ourselves silly. It sounds pretty cheesy to anyone I play it to now but I just remember the soaring synths, guitars, harpsichords and Richard Burton's voice commanding the imagery and storyline perfectly. It had such darkness and foreboding to it which explains a lot of the “depressing” stuff my sister says I listen to nowadays. It was the artwork that had almost as much of an effect as the music; a big square book that fit in the sleeve along with one of the discs, full of terrifying illustrations of major events in the story; huge Martian tripods destroying buildings, boats and people with the heat ray, the red weed creeping and engulfing the landscape and the final picture of ravens picking apart the Martian's innards. I love it to this day and still play the same copy I did when I was three.

I remember flicking through my parents vinyl collection to find Led Zeppelin II, Alison Moyet, Phil Collins and a Eurythmics greatest hits which had everything on there and must have been my first exposure to those iconic eighties synth sounds that are once again ubiquitous in pop music today. They also got the occasional 7” single, one of which was The Proclaimers' 'Letter from America' and something nobody seems to have heard of although I understand was popular at the time, the Brazilian flavoured 'Lambada' by Kaoma. Those were my final recollections of vinyl when the nineties brought with it audio cassette, then (a little late in my household) compact disc. In spite of vinyl's resurgence through the 2000's, I didn't take to it at the same time as everyone else. For me, it was actually completely by accident.

I asked my aunt one Christmas for the Millionaire album, 'Paradisiac.' Although to her I referred to it as their LP, by which I meant 'album' of course, on CD obviously, but being of her generation she thought LP meant gramophone record so went ahead and got me just that!

Initially disappointed, I had every opportunity to return it... but I didn't. I thought it was so cool; how big it was by comparison to a jewel cased CD which meant the artwork was extra detailed along with the big typeface for the track listing and credits. I retrieved a really nice 70's turntable from my parent's attic and after getting appropriate pre amps and connectors to bring it up to date, it worked perfectly. So I stuck on my new Millionaire LP. I was far more enthralled with the idea that I was playing vinyl than I was with the music that was on it! I loved it. Where there were once small plastic discs encased in larger square plastic containers there was now cardboard stained with ink and at least one big, black, glossy disc inside which had the music physically worked into grooves. And following years of ease, skipping songs on iTunes after you've heard a verse and chorus, playing vinyl is more of an event and there's incentive to listen to it end to end because otherwise you have to get off you're arse, lift the needle, flip the disc... but that's a good thing. And a vinyl record just feels like more of a 'possession' than a CD and especially more so than a download, of which there is nothing for you to leaf through or look at or even just hold in your hands.

Since then I've been getting on eBay for original scratchy copies of Queen's 'A Night at the Opera' and 'Low' by David Bowie along with a few others. However my favourite purchases have been anything I could get hold of by Boards of Canada; my favourite artist bar none. They are utterly penetrating and almost ethereal but in a way that no one else can come close to reproducing. Massive swelling landscapes of synths, beats and the sounds of anything ranging from giggling children, to audio extracts from ancient nature documentaries. BoC are big fans of composing with anything and everything analogue even by way of feeding loops and synths through an old cassette deck or reel to reel so that they wow and flutter. Hearing all of that on vinyl is just... profound. I managed to get hold of a copy of 'A Beautiful Place Out In the Country' EP (my desert island disc) which comes in sky blue vinyl. When the title track rolls on I can't possibly describe how good it sounds; you have to hear it for yourself.

Their vinyl albums are quite elusive under £50, but I live in hope of finding them cheaper!"
—Andy Gill

Find TAPE at Myspace the 'Let's Not And Say We Did' EP will be on Spotify, iTunes etc., and available for free download from Monday September 13th!

TAPE - Back Down (Mp3)
TAPE - iFear (Mp3)
Approved for download!