Monday, March 31, 2014

KK Barrett Changed My Life

(Another cross-post with the KSFS blog. Hope ya like it.)

Say what you like about Spike Jonze's movies; one thing you can expect when you step into his world is uncanny production design. Last year's Her is no exception, and it earned longtime Jonze collaborator K. K. Barrett his first-ever Oscar nomination. Barrett has been doing production design for Jonze for a long time, even before Being John Malkovich, when he was still known mainly as a music video director. But I never actually noticed until my wife and I stuck around to watch the credits roll at the end of Her. A familiar name popped up, and I thought, "K. K. Barrett...where have I heard that name before?"

Come join me now as we turn back the hands of time. It's early 1978, I'm underage, and the people I carpooled with to see Patti Smith at Winterland have dragged me to the Mabuhay Gardens on Broadway. Miraculously, I avoid being carded and slink into the early San Francisco punk mecca like the wide-eyed Santa Cruz hippie kid I am, where I am confronted with this:

Check out the baby-faced blond kid on the drums. Yes, that was K. K. Barrett, powering the astounding Screamers, LA's first real punk band. Four guys, not a guitar in sight, yet they had a ferocious intensity that no ordinary rock and roll band could match. I was floored. I didn't fully understand what I was seeing and hearing, but I knew that this was the future, this was what was needed, and this was where music had to go to matter anymore. A week later, I was back home, watching a fast-rising new band called Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Previously, I'd been excited about this show; Petty had a fresh new sound that echoed the spirit of rock and roll from back when it still meant something. Now...I shrugged my shoulders and thought, "ehhh, they're OK I guess." I had just seen a revolution, and I was feeling the wind with a brand new skin. The Screamers had just raised the bar for weirdness, and I would never be quite the same.

The Screamers had a good run, doing things their own way. They never released a record because they were holding out for video as the next artform and thought that merely putting out vinyl was too much of a compromise. (Now, of course, their recorded output has been lovingly compiled for old and new fans.) Singer Tomata DuPlenty passed away from AIDS in 2000. Synth player and main songwriter Tommy Gear has vanished into his private life. Electric pianist Paul Roessler is still a well-regarded and very active LA musician. And K. K. Barrett is creating the visual environments for some of the trippiest movies that mainstream Hollywood has to offer these days. But even if none of them had ever been heard from again, they were responsible for one misfit kid's epiphany in a seedy little North Beach bar he had no business hanging out in. Bless 'em, one and all.

Lush Is The New Lo-Fi

(Just submitted this to the KSFS blog. A little bit of history for the young'uns.)

In his book How Music Works, David Byrne puts forth the theory that new forms of music develop, not merely through inspiration, but as a direct result of the architecture of the buildings where they're performed and the limits of the technology used to record them. When I think of music this way, the last 25 years of indie-rock make loads of sense.

In the 80s and 90s, cheap 4-track cassette recorders and a D.I.Y. aesthetic led to the inventive, fuzzy lo-fi sounds of bands like New Zealand's Tall Dwarfs, who used primitive overdubbing, crazy tape loops and inspired songcraft to create crude-yet-subtle music a four-piece punk rock band couldn't quite pull off:

One of my favorite artists in the lo-fi home recording scene was Baltimore's Linda Smith, whose recordings were like miniature paintings full of detail, melody, and quiet wit. (Nowadays, Linda has mostly retired from music and actually DOES create miniature paintings!)

John Darnielle's earliest Mountain Goats recordings took the idea of instant creation and accessibility even further as he bashed out freshly-written songs on a cassette boombox to capture the inspiration instantly, as it happened. Darnielle's work was infectiously spontaneous, and his natural gift for songwriting was oddly complemented by the imperfect sound, like a field recording from a mythological past:

But in the 21st century, with digital recording more accessible than ever and tape harder to come by, the old lo-fi sound no longer carries the feeling of "I have this idea and I have to get it down RIGHT NOW!" When sounds are reproduced with mathematical accuracy and the electronic tones that once required synthesizers can now be done on your own computer with a piece of plug-in software, the fuzzy sounds of the 80s and 90s sound like an affectation. The urge to reinvent the Velvet Underground for the 2000th time has not exactly gone away, but now, people in their own home studios also have the option of imagining they're Brian Wilson falling down the rabbit hole of Smile and landing in the middle of a disco with Philip Glass. Case in point: another artist from Baltimore who had a bit of a breakthrough not long ago:

In the end, what we create is not only a result of, but is directly altered by the tools available to us. It's hard to believe now that a clear, widescreen sound used to come off as "selling out" to underground ears. Now, instead of drowning in cruddy-sounding recordings that could be either works of genius hidden in atmospheric murk or just mediocrities posing in grubby clothes, we're confronted by new artists grappling with the urge to cover everything in reverb and use 100 tracks when four would do. What hasn't changed, though, is that a unique musical vision will emerge with each new set of tools that comes along. Right now, this is hitting the spot for me:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Deep End: It's Raining

We're a bit under the weather here at the Deep End, so what is there to do but play with it? We find ourselves gifted with an extra hour of blank canvas due to spring break at SFSU, and we've filled it with rain songs, sun songs, and much, much more. Let's bundle up, shut the windows, and enjoy the roar.

The Deep End: We are gonna make it through this year

More KSFS podcasts! Here is last week's. We roam from vintage keyboard-driven punk to sizzling garage classics to deep and weird dub grooves to tragic folk ballads to progressive political baby-makin' music. Your sonic guide J Neo Marvin takes you on another trip through the Everests and Marianas Trenches of sound and emotion, shows you that you're everywhere, and gets you home for tea.

New video: Rainy Night In Florida

From our upcoming documentary on the Granite Countertops' album, Planets Don't Twinkle. The song is not over yet.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Deep End: Super Duper Rescue Heads!

I've got an electric guitar and half a bottle of warm beer. I've got some funny ideas about what sounds good.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Deep End: Making plans on sure things that aren't.

And with this one, you are fully caught up. Join us for the next Deep End this coming Wednesday at 9 PM Pacific time on KSFS!

The Deep End: The Eagle Never Hunts The Fly!

I don't know how I missed hearing Pearls Before Swine's hilarious Dylan parody before, but now that it is part of my life, I must make it a part of yours as well.

The Deep End: This is the story of Johnny Spud

More than a touch of Neil Young in our second show of 2014, and a shout-out to the Global Neil Young Professional Society. Also, check out the Roger McGuinn PSA I found. I'm going to find it hard not to play this on every single show.

The Deep End: There ain't no kings at the Insect Lounge!

Yes, I have been back on KSFS for a while now, as I hit the home stretch in my return to higher education. And what a ride it has been. But let's catch up with some podcasts. Nothing like a little bit of Love to kick off a new semester. What is happening and how have you been?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ear Candle Radio's Top 20 for February 2014

1. Pulp - Joyriders - His'n'Hers
2. Grant Hart - Is the Sky the Limit - The Argument
3. Steve Mackay - The Prisoner (featuring Iggy Pop) - Sometimes Like This I Talk
4. David Bowie - Always Crashing In The Same Car - Low
5. Paul Revere & The Raiders - Louie, Go Home - Midnight Ride
6. The Julie Ruin - Lookout - Run Fast
7. Patrick Simpson and Family - When The Vote Catches On - Voting Songs
8. Ovarian Trolley - Microscope - Ciao Meow
9. Ken Nordine - Gold - Colors
10. The Mountain Goats - Commandante - Devil in the Shortwave 7"
11. The Dirtbombs - Strings Of Life - Party Store
12. Chastity Belt - Seattle Party - Seattle Party (single)
13. The Trade Winds - Mind Excursion - Excursions
14. Naahant - Uhh...Yeah - (nei-haent) EP
15. Swell - Forget About Jesus - 41
16. Lou Reed - Cremation - Magic And Loss
17. The Julie Ruin - Cookie Road - Run Fast
18. The Mothers Of Invention - Ian Underwood Whips It Out (Live On Stage In Copenhagen) - Uncle Meat
19. Thee Outside - Empty Mind - Deaf Disco
20. Kristin Hersh - When The Levee Breaks - Strings

Thanks for your feedback and keep listening, dear ones.