Tuesday, August 31, 2010

TVD Previews the next Story/Stereo with John Davis

It's Day #2 of our Story/Stereo event in advance of Friday night's unique confluence of words and music at Bethesda's Writer's Center.

It's also Day #2 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:

Velocity GirlThe All-Consumer
I first got into punk and indie culture as a teenager, like most reading this blog did. I was also an extremely partisan D.C. fan. I ferociously loved and advocated for nearly all music that was made in the D.C. area with a certain blindness. Looking back, a lot of that music hasn’t stood up for me but more than a fair share has. Fugazi, certainly. Tsunami’s “Deep End,” Unrest’s “Perfect Teeth,” The Nation of Ulysses/Cupid Car Club and a handful of others. Velocity Girl was near the top of the list for bands I loved back then and, happily, most of their output still sounds great to me. The early singles (which I’m hoping are being rediscovered by all of the people who have flocked to the Black Tambourine reissue) and their first record, “Copacetic,” are unimpeachable. The first time I saw VG live was a little late in the game, relatively speaking. “Copacetic” had been out for a few months but, still grappling with the concept of “school nights,” it was hard for me to get out to see bands during most of my early high school sentence unless they played on a weekend. Finally, by senior year, I was generally able to get around at will. In September of ’93, I saw Velocity Girl and Tsunami play a show together in The Tavern, a bar at American University. An incredible show, it remains one of the best I’ve ever seen. Later that fall, I went to a house in Temple Hills, MD, where Velocity Girl practiced, to interview them for my new fanzine. My clear memory was that, save guitarist Archie Moore, they were unbearably snarky and clearly disinterested in talking to me. Archie was game and tried to answer my mediocre questions as best as he could but the interview was a relative bust. Still, the day was salvaged when they let me watch them play a few of the new songs from their yet-to-be-recorded second album (1994’s “Simpatico”). I took pictures which, regrettably, didn’t turn out. “Simpatico,” the album from which “The All-Consumer” is drawn from, proved to be the record that brought Velocity Girl a limited form of indie/alternative stardom. It still mostly stands up to my ears and is loaded down with excellent songs that were able to be catchy without being too cloying. I think people who didn’t grow up with this band might be a bit turned off by some of the squeaky-clean elements that emerged when the band stopped cloaking its tunes in fuzz (the sonic difference between “Copacetic” and “Simpatico” is dramatic) but I think and hope that this band will endure.

The Byrds – Why (Single Version)
This is the single version of “Why,” one of David Crosby’s last notable tunes for the Byrds before Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman took a drive up to Laurel Canyon and gave Crosby the boot. A b-side to “Eight Miles High” from the spring of ’66, “Why” shares its single-mate’s affection for the volcanic solos of John Coltrane but also adds a raga element, purportedly due to Crosby’s affection for the music of Ravi Shankar. Certainly, by 1966, pop music has undergone some radical changes. In 1962, number one hits were had by Shelley Fabares, Chubby Checker and Bobby Vinton (no offense to the Polish Prince – I’m a huge fan). By 1966, we’re talking about “Paint It, Black,” “Paperback Writer” and “Sunshine Superman.” So, it’s no surprise that the visionaries in The Byrds were pushing things even further. Their album from the summer of ’66, “Fifth Dimension,” is my favorite Byrds record. “Why” is a bit of a footnote since it didn’t come out on an album until 1967’s “Younger Than Yesterday” and in the form of a fairly different recording. That makes it all the more notable to me, though, since a song of this quality being able to get lost in a group’s canon strikes me as a pretty profound testament.

Astrud GilbertoTristeza
Speaking of high school, when I was 17, my girlfriend and I used to hang out at her aunt’s house often during the summer. Her aunt was well off and had this amazing house that was lifted straight out of 1964. Naturally, the cool jazz of The Dave Brubeck Quartet and the breezy bossa nova of Stan Getz and the Gilbertos frequently wafted through the house and the yard. There was a pool in the back and it wasn’t unusual to float there in the languid July heat while “Three To Get Ready” or “Corcovado” murmured quietly from the screened-in porch. I’m pretty certain that period will always be a strong memory for me. It’s funny how you know you wouldn’t want to be the person you were at a certain time (Christ, I know I sure wouldn’t want to be who I was at 17 again), yet some aspects from that period still exert such a strong pull of bittersweet memory, despite themselves. I suppose there isn’t a more appropriate music to evoke those feelings than the sweet, sad sounds of Gilberto, Getz, Baker, Brubeck, Desmond, Pepper, et al. “Tristeza” is a fairly upbeat song for the idiom but is still full of the wistful regret that makes this music eternally relevant.

Kitty Wells – Dust On The Bible
When it comes to Kitty Wells, I’m mainly a fan of her slightly later work. The 50s recordings, like this one, have a tinny, sub-Hank Williams quality that I find kind of irritating. The squareness and piety of this song also manage to include a touch of hectoring that pretty completes the trifecta of displeasure. Probably time to pull this song from the iPod. If we’re talking Kitty Wells, I love her Jim Reeves tribute album or some of her tunes like “Heaven Says Hello” or “As Long As I Live” or “The True and Lasting Kind.” Those songs’ll rend your soul, if you ask me. So, skip this one and go a little deeper.

Paul Williams – Do You Really Have a Heart
Paul Williams is probably best known to people for his ubiquity on 70s television (“The Love Boat” and its ilk) or for his role in “The Planet Of The Apes.” When it comes to movie roles, I wish he was best known for his turn in “Phantom Of The Paradise,” one of my favorite movies of the 70s. Brian De Palma’s rock and roll movie goes into some strange, strange places. The music itself in the movie isn’t that great but the colors and the sass and verve of the film make it a must-see for anyone who liked “The Apple” or “Rocky Horror.” All of that said, Paul Williams was also quite a songwriter. He and Roger Nichols co-wrote a bunch of hits for the likes of the Carpenters and Three Dog Night. Later, Williams gave us “The Rainbow Connection.” In 1970, Williams was still trying to cut it as a singing star in his own right and he released an album called “Someday Man.” The definition of a buried musical treasure, there are so many great songs on this record that it’s hard to believe it was a stiff. I’ve already written about my love of the title track elsewhere but if you haven’t heard it, make it happen. I’d call it a perfect song. “Do You Really Have a Heart” is nearly as good. Williams’ voice is this funny little woebegone thing. The music is an odd yet effortless mix of jauntiness and melancholy, a sensation that runs throughout the entire album. None of Williams’ other records come anywhere close to the “Someday Man” LP and it wasn’t long before he was a Hollywood Square but it’s rare for an artist to hit his mark as fully as Williams did on this song and this record.

Velocity GirlThe All-Consumer (Mp3)
Paul Williams – Do You Really Have a Heart (Mp3)

TVD Class of '71 | The Chi-Lites, "(For God's Sake) Give More Power To The People

(Before we begin, a bit of explanation again about what we do here. We reach into the racks behind us and pull out a vintage slice of vinyl from the '70s. The records aren't meant to represent the best of a particular year. They're simply interesting records, so let's listen to them again together. On to the grooves!)

Much of what I know about about soul music comes from listening first to AM radio in the early ’70s, then FM radio for the rest of the decade. That left me with a wide but sometimes shallow pool of knowledge. I'm working on it, even now.

I plead guilty as charged when it comes to the Chi-Lites. I long knew this Chicago soul group for only its radio hits, those smooth, gentle love songs—“Have You Seen Her” from 1971 and “Oh Girl” from 1972.

Then, a couple of years ago, I heard “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People” and was taken to school again.

It's a funky, nasty protest song featuring Creadel “Red” Jones’ deep bass voice. I'd thought the Chi-Lites, were just that—lite—and man, was I wrong.

That tune—off the 1971 album of the same name—is done along the lines of the harder-edge stuff done by the Temptations for producer Norman Whitfield at the time, and oh, how I dug those Temptations.

Another of today's tunes, "We Are Neighbors," brings to mind an only slightly gentler "Psychedelic Shack."

(And, yes, just in case you haven't heard the sweet, timeless "Have You Seen Her" in a while ...)

The liner notes suggest you “stoke up your stereo and treat yourself to a generous helping” of the Chi-Lites. So please do.

The Chi-Lites - (For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People (Mp3)
The Chi-Lites - We Are Neighbors (Mp3)

The Chi-Lites - Have You Seen Her (Mp3)

Buy (For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People here.

TVD's Twitter Music Monday for 8/31/10

Kanye West is all over
#musicmonday. I want Kanye West to go away.

Can that be all? Am I done for the week?

My frustration with Kanye has grown in direct correlation with his most recent ascendance. If you drew a graph with my Kanye frustration on one axis and Kanye’s popularity post-2009 on the other, it would be a straight line with a slope of positive one. Y=X.

I am a lifelong contrarian, an “I decided in kindergarten that I didn’t like pizza because it was everyone’s favorite food and I continued to insist that I didn’t like pizza until college when I realized pizza is actually both delicious and necessary” contrarian, and pop music was an early target of my obstinacy. I haaaaaaated Ace of Base. And Mariah Carey. I actually Sharpie-markered a t-shirt at camp one year that read “I like Manson, not Hanson”—I was super popular at that camp dance, I’ll tell you what. So now you know how old I am, and also that it’s possible I’m fed up with Kanye because I am easily fed up with the things that everyone else likes.

It’s possible, though, that Kanye West is actually really freaking annoying.

We all know that in September of 2009, Kanye wreaked major havoc on the MTV Music Video Awards and the world of internet memes when he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech to proclaim that Beyoncé was more deserving of the award at issue. He was appropriately criticized and responded with appropriate chagrin and while his outburst was classless and distasteful, forgiveness requires that the forgiver acknowledge that an action was wrong, so yeah he was wrong, I suppose I forgive him and most of the rest of the world appears to have done the same.

But then there’s his internet presence. Kanye West’s two official websites give me the fantods. I’m exploring them for the first time as I write this column, and I find them impossible to navigate, overly full of pop-up media, and devoid of useful information. I know that complaining about a website makes me a grumpy “get off my porch” person and that the law of the Internet clearly states that anything someone hates, someone else loves (I’m looking at you, Foursquare Twitter update haters—just ignore that particular Tweet from me, ok?), but I crave function as well as form and fail to find the former (that'd be function, not form, despite the word "form" being in "former") in these two (2) official websites.

Also, I fail to find the allcaps shouty text that the Internet has led me to believe dominates Kanye’s blog. Whither the allcaps? All I’m seeing are Interpol videos (what? why?) and obscene pictures of expensive cars, houses, and women.

Mostly, though: Twitter. Kanye joined Twitter earlier this month, and Twitter feeds everywhere were immediately filled with folks retweeting Mr. West’s odder 140-characters-or-fewer communiqués. Retweets don’t really do this Twitter feed justice, though, because the true oddity lies in the juxtaposition. Only on Kanye’s Twitter feed will you see “Do you know where to find marble conference tables? I'm looking to have a conference... not until I get the table though” followed immediately by “Yo why people gotta make they internet passwords so damn complicated???” And only a celebrity of Kanye’s profile could so completely blow up the internet by announcing the release of a new song every Friday until Christmas.

OH my GOD is that annoying. Not only is Kanye not going to go away, he’s going to recur every Friday until Christmas. He’s like a chronosynclastically infundibulated Twitter specter who will haunt my feed with terrible hip-hop for the rest of the year.

I realize I have made it through this entire column merely complaining, without really explaining why I find Kanye annoying. I think it’s a lot of things: his apparent revelry in being a tastemaker, the fact that he seem to think adding one non-hip hop artist to a song makes his music indie or underground, the perpetual God talk mixed with the crassest commercialism…and this: “Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh? I put the pussy in a sarcophagus.” That is an actual line from today’s #musicmonday favorite, “Monster,” which Kanye dropped on Friday and which features Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Bon Iver, and Nicki Minaj. WHY DO PEOPLE LISTEN TO THIS NONSENSE?

My #musicmonday pick: Listen to this nonsense instead, if you want something to dance to that involves indie darlings: War Again, by Balkan Beat Box

Note: Yes I referenced both David Foster Wallace and Kurt Vonnegut in a post about being a contrarian. WHATEVER. Some things get stuck in your consciousness, you know?