Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Most Halfway Decent Album Of All Time

So, this year happens to be the 20th anniversary of the debut album by Manchester band The Stone Roses, and the UK music media are falling all over themselves. Polls are coming out voting it "the greatest album of all time", and I realize I have never heard a note of it. Don't ask me why; I guess I had better things to do in 1989. I know they were often grouped with Happy Mondays as exemplars of the "baggy" scene, and I've always thought Happy Mondays were utter crap. Also, it wouldn't be the first time the British have made an icon of a phenomenally unimpressive rock band (Manic Street Preachers, anyone?), so no, I never once sought out this alleged cultural touchstone until now. But you know, I'm a curious sort, so one day, with some record store credit burning in my pocket, I decided to check it out.

What's it sound like? Well, to these ears, kind of like a slightly watered-down Brian Jonestown Massacre. (Yes, I know the Roses probably came first.) Or maybe an '80s New Zealand band with a huge studio budget. Catchy tunes, driving beats, lots of reverb, a hazy psychedelic tinge, some neat guitar bits, and breathy, somewhat colorless vocals. It did live up to the "sounding like you're coming on to ecstasy" hype, frankly. It's quite pleasant. I can play it all day at work and it rolls over my ears in an agreeable way without sticking out too much.

I like the song that runs the previous song backwards with new lyrics that sound like a phonetic interpretation of the original reversed vocals. And I like the fact that the song entitled "I Am The Resurrection" turns out to be about some jerk who has wronged the singer in some way, but the singer is too cool (and probably high) to engage said jerk on his level, instead rejoicing in his own ability to rise above such pettiness and "resurrect" himself. It's so gleefully over-the-top egomaniacal in a benignly enlightened way that I have to smile at the presumption of it.

My copy has one bonus track called "Fools Gold" that sounds different from the album: a long, plodding percussion-heavy attempt at a funky jam that goes nowhere and takes forever to get there. But the album itself is nice. Greatest of all time? Hardly. But it's nice.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The most refreshing thing to see after a long, stressful workday

I had to google "Bill Of Attainder" to refresh my memory on this. All I remembered from junior high civics was that the Framers specifically targeted it in the Constitution and it was a fucked up loophole in British law that allowed all kinds of unjust abuse. Well, it turns out that it totally applies to this "Defund ACORN" bill running through the House right now, and my current favorite Representative, Alan Grayson, is on the case.

Man, this guy is such a breath of fresh air. "Will the gentleman yield?" "NO." Watch it, and keep giving this brave, audacious lawmaker your support. We need a few hundred more like him.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Busy little bees, we are! Working on our new release. Previews in shock wave flash files!

Hi Visitors!

We are having so much fun making our next digital album by The Granite Countertops!

We have a new routine. We make them, show them off in flash player so you all can know what is coming.

Then we release it on iTunes, and on our radio show.

This is the preview stage. We've been leaking them for a while. And we know you are enjoying them and passing them around because we check our hits and visits everyday and see what is moving around. The Blame's version of Leonard Cohen's anthem Democracy, from the EP The Full Disclosure Principle, is still getting loads of attention, along with some other great tunes. Check it out at iTunes. You can google it or go to our website for links.

On this new material, hits and visits seem pretty constant. We have uploaded previews of 5 and adding these three we now have a total of 8 finished mixes. Once we finish the next four, we will release the album on iTunes and notify you all at that time to get out your dollars and humor us with your choices!

But for now, check out these three newest ones J Neo uploaded today. We have some guest appearances.

The horns in Lullaby For Hamza, a Robert Wyatt cover song, are played by Junko Suzuki Parsons from Cyclub. Every time I hear them, I feel for the children of war, and want it to stop.

Lullaby For Hamza

On our cover of Donovan's Riki Tiki Tavi we revisit the notion that there really isn't anyone out there anymore to kill our snakes for us, so we have to do it ourselves, just like in the sixties/early seventies. Good to revisit, hopefully re-inspire. We saw a recently-produced Donovan DVD and recommend his music for the younger set, and offer our version for your pleasure.

Riki Tiki Tavi

And finally one for the more mature crowd (you know who you are), we originally wrote this song during the Iranian upset and were empathizing with the struggle for freedom of expression in Iran and wanted to share a sense of what freedom might sound like when they finally produce a Democracy of choice, and what it might sound like when two equal human beings make love. I am both pleased with this and shocked often. It's nice.


Give us some feedback!

UPDATE: Fixed the "Haystack" link. Check it out!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

More sound judgement from the Values Party

Missed this when it was on. Worth seeing again. Rub it in their faces, Jonny.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview

Delta 5 on Top Of The Pops

Excellent vintage clip of this once-forgotten band from Leeds, who recently had their old material reissued by Kill Rock Stars on a CD that used a couple of my photos. You can actually hear both bass parts here! Hot stuff.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Song and dance man

We can now cross "see Bob Dylan once in your life" off our to-do lists, despite the best efforts of unknown malevolent forces out there.

Word to the wise: if you're taking your car from San Francisco to a show at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, come early, find a safe parking space and make a day of it. We gave ourselves an hour and a half to get there only to be stuck in a huge traffic jam from South of Market to Treasure Island, then by the time we got to Berkeley, every parking lot was full. We finally found a paid UC campus parking lot with a broken ticket machine and took our chances. (The fate of our car loomed in the back of our minds through the whole concert; we hoped that we would just be ticketed rather than towed or booted.)

Shaking off our stress (we're here at last! Let's have fun!), we tromped down Bancroft and up the hill on Piedmont, hearing cheers and bits of harmonica, organ, and a familiar wheezy voice. Shit, he's started already. Hope he hasn't been playing long. We finally found the right set of stairs to reach the entrance while the guitar line from "I Don't Believe You" wafted over our heads. Once we got in, everything was cool. Two little bowls of Thai food and a couple beers later, we strolled into the enormous amphitheatre.

The entire band was dressed in black with black gaucho hats to match. Bob looked as old as the hills, but he was extremely animated, prancing and grinning from ear to ear. He only played guitar on a handful of songs, preferring to cup a harmonica and a big microphone together in his hands, bluesman-style, or stand behind a keyboard pumping out warm, vibrato-laden Al Kooper-like organ parts (which he did quite well...maybe he really did play piano for Bobby Vee all those years ago) and apply his strange, dessicated croak to songs from the 60s or from his most recent albums, leaving out pretty much everything in between.

New Bob Dylan songs tend to be bouncy Jimmy Reed-style shuffles with mischievously flirty lyrics. He brought down the house with the final verse of a song called "Spirit On The Water":
You think I'm over the hill
You think I'm past my prime
Let me see what you got
We can have a whoppin' good time!
The multi-generational crowd ate that one right up.

The biggest surprise was a soulful, organ-led take on "The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll", done as if it was a Percy Sledge ballad. Wow. When Bob came out from behind the organ to deliver a harp solo, it sounded nothing like the endearingly dissonant high-pitched squeals that have punctuated his songs for years. A lot of that familiar sound comes from using a harmonica holder while playing a guitar; close-miked and cupped, the tone was rich and expressive. News flash: Bob Dylan has actually been a really good harmonica player all these years after all! Who woulda thunk it?

What I had not expected was how much fun Bob was clearly having. It suddenly became clear why he has taken on such a rigorous touring schedule (popularly known as the "Never-Ending Tour"); he's got a band who know his every move and can play any style they choose, a massive catalog of material to draw from, and even more pertinently, a guy on rhythm guitar who's so solid that Bob can fart around on other instruments all he wants with no loss of groove. Bob Dylan (an artist who is infamous for never rehearsing and changing set lists at will) goes onstage knowing he has total musical freedom to follow any tangent he chooses, knowing those guys are right there. And he's having a whopping good time.

So yes, old man Dylan is still worth seeing. Caveat: you have to accept the state of his voice. Personally, I like how he sounds these days, even though lyrics sometimes get obliterated in the phlegmy grumble. In the 80s, I couldn't handle the way his voice had deteriorated into a high nasal whine, but by the late 90s, his throat had achieved such a completely wrecked state that by Time Out Of Mind, it had evolved into something bottomless, emotional and compelling. Now it sounds like the croak of a an old sage with a heart of a trickster. Nice to see an illustration of how an angry young man may run the risk of turning into a cranky middle-aged man, but if he can keep delving into the heart of his craft, he has the chance of becoming a wise old man in the end.

Oh, and the car was fine when we got back. No tickets, no nothing. Win!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Here they come, la la la la la la...

Quick notes from last night's Part Time Punks mini-fest at the Mezzanine:

We came in just in time for Death Sentence: Panda!, who make an incredible racket with drums, shrill girl vocals, and a heavily-treated, distorted clarinet. They were something like a cross between Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and Henry Cow. Occasionally the singer added flute or glockenspiel to the maelstrom. The only band of the night that I felt the need to stuff cocktail napkins in my ears for. An adorable hurricane.

The Magic Bullets were catchy, Postcard-style indie-pop with snappy soul-funk riffs and warm vintage keyboards flickering amid the jangle. Their singer was a hyperactively bouncy six-foot-plus warbler. The lyrics were droll slice-of-love vignettes. Fun.

Veteran Slits guitarist Viv Albertine (who sat in on a few recent shows, but announced recently she has no intention to rejoin the band permanently because in her view they have become Ari's backup musicians rather than a group of equals) played a brief but stunning solo set of new songs. Wry lyrics, elastic rhythms, and that same ticklish guitar style that helped give the Cut album such a distinctive sound. She's got a new four-song limited edition CD, but judging by her set, there's a lot more where that came from.

Savage Republic are as mesmerizing as ever. Big sonic landscapes that sound like they are reverberating across the desert. A sound full of wild, open space and relentless rhythm. They ended their set with a cover of "Viva La Rock And Roll" by Alternative TV. The crowd went wild when they recognized it; that's the kind of show this was. Post-punk is here to stay!

In the early 80s, Section 25 was considered "one of those OTHER Factory bands", and not given much respect. The title of their best-known song didn't help matters. It seems they're all too aware of that themselves these days; when someone in the audience requested it, the singer sheepishly mumbled, "Ehhhh, sorry about that one. Girls DO count!", to thunderous applause from the audience. The songs they did do were mostly driving, propulsive, one-chord bass-and-drums led motorik chargers over which the singer chanted and sneered (when he wasn't delivering nakedly romantic love lyrics) and the guitarist alternated between spiky Manchester post-punk riffs and oddly incongruous flashy high-velocity rock soloing. Later in the set they shifted from one-chord songs to two-chord songs, including a faithful cover of Joy Division's "Shadowplay", which they dedicated to the late mad genius producer Martin Hannett.

What we came for was the first-ever west coast performance of the Raincoats, a band I have wanted to see for thirty years, ever since their debut single, "Fairytale In The Supermarket", came out on Rough Trade in 1979. I'd already heard and liked the Slits, Kleenex, X-Ray Spex, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Essential Logic, but here was an all-female band who had invented their own radiantly messy take on the Velvet Underground with frantic, yowling vocals, crudely strummed folk-rock guitars and mad, scratchy violin: totally up my alley. The Raincoats didn't have the accessibility of many of their post-punk peers and they weren't fashion plates (though they always looked cool and gorgeous in the same thrown-together way that gave their music so much appeal), and they didn't have any problems with the "f" word (feminism, I mean), so they were always a little-known cult band with a select few devoted fans until Kurt Cobain convinced them to reform in the 90s. Now that a new generation has embraced them as pioneers (check how the New Bloods totally bite their style and put their own unique spin on it at the same time), they have reformed yet again and San Francisco finally gets a chance to see them in person.

Offstage, Ana Da Silva was incredibly sweet, gracious and friendly, perfectly happy to look a couple of gushing fans in the eye and listen to what they have to say. Onstage, she was grave, serious and reserved, like a lightning rod around whom the giddily exuberant Gina Birch and the confidently powerful Anne Wood could fly wildly. Her guitar sound is as primitive as ever (a good thing in this case!), but no one else plays quite like her. Occasionally when picking out a melody line or trying to get a sound out of a small cymbal and then dropping it haphazardly, she seemed more like someone grumpily puttering around in the attic than a musician putting on a show. Then she would open her mouth and unleash that haunting Portuguese-accented contralto moan, and you just got carried away by the emotion and knew you were in the presence of a true artist who is authentically herself every single moment. She made mistakes sometimes, but she never made a wrong move.

The other original Raincoat, Gina Birch, was a perfect foil and co-frontwoman, irrepressibly chatty and hilarious, a lanky bundle of energy and laughter. Her own songs are quirky, blunt, and neurotically wise, her once-chirpy voice has matured into a craggy Marianne Faithfull-like rasp, and her bass was bubbly, snaky, and all over the place. She seemed to enjoy teasing her relatively stern bandmate Ana, who indulged her antics like a slightly annoyed big sister. She joked, "We break up after every show! David Thomas told us that's a sign of a great band!"

Anne Wood, who replaced founding member Vicky Aspinall when the band first reformed in the 90s, tore into the violin parts with relish and joined in the bass-and-guitar roulette with Ana and Gina. Vice Cooler, a young veteran of bands like XBXRX, did a great Palmolive impersonation on drums. Speaking of whom, at one point Viv Albertine joined the Raincoats onstage to perform "Adventures Close To Home", a Palmolive song recorded by both the Slits and the Raincoats. Gina gushed, "We're all going to visit Palmolive in New York soon!"

The best thing: we were treated to two unfamiliar songs: one performed solely by Ana and Gina with two slashing guitars, and one by Gina with verses that went "You ask me if I'm a feminist/if I'm angry/if I'm happy...why would I not be?" and a chorus of "I'm a city girl!* I'm a warrior!" Profound and goofy at the same time. Is there a new album in the Raincoats' future? That's something I look forward to hearing.

*I did originally hear this is "I'm a silly girl/I'm a warrior", which is kind of a cool lyric in its own right, but it's incorrect. Thanks for the heads up, everyone.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nine Versions is out!

The newest Ear Candle release is a collection of cover songs by J Neo Marvin & the Content Providers, three of which are seeing the light of day for the first time.

Click the icon below to get yourself some spankin' new mp3s and help us recoup the money we paid the composers of these fine songs:

J Neo Marvin & the Content Providers - Nine Versions

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Heretic pride

Two masters of the Unreliable Narrator trope, together at last!

The Mountain Goats showed up on the Colbert Report for an interview and a song. Apparently, the new album is based on the Bible. Knowing John Darnielle, this will be yet another splendid opportunity to write some truly creepy songs and inhabit some truly twisted characters' psyches.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
John Darnielle
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMichael Moore

Is this song about the Tiller murder?

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Mountain Goats - Psalms 40:2
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMichael Moore

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Not quite spring yet

After the madness of the last decade, it's just great to see Gil Scott-Heron alive and onstage again. After a great unannounced set by a young East Oakland poet named Ice Life (hope I got the name right...we need to hear more from this guy) and some energetic funk by Orgone, one of the greatest sharp-witted honey-voiced black protest singers of all time came swaggering casually toward his Fender Rhodes piano as members of the audience leaped from their seats and rushed the stage to shake his hand. It was a tremendous show of respect, and a good omen for what was to come. We had come to witness the dry humor and righteous anger of the genius showcased in the excellent documentary Black Wax, but I had some fear in the back of my mind that we might get something more on the order of Arthur Lee's final show, where the reverent crowd got a serious challenge to their reverence. (One day I'll write about that show. It was great drama.)

No need to fear. Scott-Heron, while showing some signs of having had a rough time of late (a slight slur in his speech, a touch of nervousness in his gestures), was all there and focused on his music and his message. Opening with a long monologue that began with a sincere tribute to civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, then veered into 10 minutes of hilarious stand-up comedy covering everything from the internet ("I go online and I read about things I NEVER did"), rambling bits of autobiography, and his new plan to move Black History Month from February to May because everyone can pronounce it and the weather's nicer. Simultaneously cranky, quirky and warm, he had the whole audience in the palm of his hand from that moment on.

Sitting down at the piano and laying down his distinctive jazz-soul chord progressions and bringing out a group of veterans from his past bands, he ran through a string of classics, stretching them out with long improvised introductory monologues, improvisations and new choruses. "Home Is Where The Hatred Is" became an exorcism of his recent troubles, alternating an extended "kick it, quit it" chant with a mournful repetition of "I'm going home tomorrow". I wondered how, after being MIA through most of the Bush years, Gil Scott-Heron might comment on these times, where we actually have a black President, but real change is still frustratingly slow. Scott-Heron never mentioned Obama by name, but in a long prelude to "Winter In America", while telling a humorous parable about the seasons, he kept coming back to the lines "NOT. QUITE. SPRING. YET.", which seemed to sum up what a lot of us are feeling right now.

Some of the frequent instrumental breaks left me impatient after a while ("OK, you're great musicians, thank you, but I want to hear more Gil and less jazz showboating , please!"), but otherwise the show was riveting. Gil Scott-Heron is as vital, witty, conscious and soulful as ever, and you need to spend some time in a room with the man while he is still here. Thank you for coming back to share yourself with us, sir.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ear Candle Radio's Top 20: September 2009

Our Top 20 is bookended with returning guitar wizards this month, the remarkable Kaki King on top and our Japanese pen-pal Takeshi Murata bubbling under. These are dread times, and dread times call for the dread sounds of Bunny Wailer, Trinity, Ranking Dread, Earth & Stone, and the Easy Star All Stars, whose take on Pink Floyd is no mere novelty act. The late Joe Strummer keeps the reggae groove going with a track from the stunning Global A Go Go album, which belongs on any "best albums of the Noughts" list anyone is cooking up right now.

We've also got the twisted cabaret of Vinsantos; some sarod-filled goodness from George Harrison's best-ever record (featuring the artistry of Ashish Khan, son of the late Ali Akbar); a whole side of mad, enigmatic, decadent comedy from the Bonzo Dog Band's genius wordsmith Vivian Stanshall (Neo did promise to add this to the playlist, and obviously the listeners have given it the thumbs up; he says he finally heard this for the first time only this year and while he can recite "Rhinocratic Oaths" in its entirety, it will take him a lot longer to master this one); a little anatomical romance from Mose Allison, an awesome single by the duo of Sharon Cheslow and ex-Quail Julianna Bright, aka the Electrolettes; and just in time for our hat-tip to Drake Levin, a cool Paul Revere & the Raiders album track wherein Fang lays out his plans for an ideal community. Thank you, Fang. Hope you've kept your ideals after all these years.

Also: Judy Collins shows that she can kick ass on a Brecht-Weill tune; four guys from Liverpool slouch their way through "All You Need Is Love"; those boys from the Beards (new season starting soon!) lift their voices on the Leonard Cohen song that still packs a punch no matter how many times you hear it; Vomit Launch, another band we've paid tribute to recently, is here with the gorgeous ballad that made a surprise appearance on the soundtrack to The Wackness; 60s cult heroes the Move do a moving baroque-pop song about homelessness (one of the very few Roy Wood songs whose lyrics actually make sense); and Swiss post-punk goddesses LiliPut regale us with one of their greatest numbers, a convulsively stirring rocker about air travel fear.

OCTOBER 17, 2009 MARKS THE FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF EAR CANDLE RADIO! Our little station is going strong, and we're proud to be here, spinning the mp3s on the virtual turntable of your mind. Keep listening; we have so much more music to get to!

1. Kaki King - Close Your Eyes & You'll Burst Into Flames - Everybody Loves You
2. Easy Star All Stars - Us And Them - Dub Side Of The Moon
3. Bunny Wailer - The Monkey - Hook Line & Sinker
4. Vinsantos - Anger Makes Me Mad - A Light Awake Inside
5. Trinity - Mohammed Ali - Three Piece Suit
6. George Harrison - Gat Kirwani - Wonderwall Music
7. Vivian Stanshall - Sir Henry At Rawlinson End Part 1 - Sir Henry At Rawlinson End
8. Mose Allison - Your Molecular Structure - The Best Of Mose Allison
9. Electrolettes - Octane Lies - Octane Lies/Anxiety
10. Ranking Dread - Love A Dub - Greensleeves Most Wanted
11. Paul Revere & the Raiders - In My Community - The Spirit Of '67
12. Judy Collins - Pirate Jenny - In My Life
13. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - At The Border, Guy - Global A Go-Go
14. Echo & The Bunnymen - All You Need Is Love (The Life At Brian's Sessions) - Ocean Rain (Reissue)
15. Conspiracy of Beards - Hallelujah - Demo CD
16. Earth & Stone - Devil Wise - Kool Roots
17. Vomit Launch - Exit Lines - Exiled Sandwich
18. The Move - Mist On A Monday Morning - The Move
19. Liliput/ Kleenex - DC-10 - Liliput/ Kleenex
20. Takeshi Murata - Decipher - Decipher