Monthly Archives: February 2014

TVD’s The Idelic Hour with Jon Sidel

Greetings from New York City!

A frigid NYC, I may add. I’ve been hearing about the bitter winter most of the country has been dealing with these last couple of months and I’m back here on the lower east side feeling like I’m in the center of the arctic circle!

I was thinking I can bear the cold outside much easier than the dry heat and yucky air in these heated offices, taxis, and restaurants, but that was until last night when the temp started dropping from bitter—to absurd.

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Graded on a Curve: Strummin’ Mental, Vol. 1

In the ‘90s, Crypt Records received quite a bit of well-deserved attention through releases by the New Bomb Turks, Teengenerate, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. But the label’s activities in the previous decade are just as interesting, and a huge part of the reason draws from a slew of compilations detailing all sorts of once secret rock ‘n’ roll mayhem that spawned from the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Some of the best entries came through a series titled Strummin’ Mental, and anybody thirsting for a taste of the pure youthfulness of early-R&R expression should seek out Volume One.

It was once considered by quite a few that the period falling between the initial rock ‘n’ roll explosion of the mid-‘50s and the eventual appearance of The Beatles and the ensuing madness of the British Invasion was essentially an accumulated span of downtime, an era that in its supposed aimlessness was often summed up as the music’s wilderness years. Elvis was a movie star, Buddy Holly was dead, Jerry Lee Lewis pretty much committed career suicide, Little Richard was tangling with religion, and Chuck Berry was plagued with legal troubles.

These days it’s not a bit difficult to locate numerous examples of uncut R&R action from within this timeframe, though much of it was waxed either by one-hit wonders or via acts that managed to attain no more than regional success. Predictably, even this minor chart activity proved fleeting. Amongst other factors, the challenges of record distribution posed a big problem. For example, the certifiable hotbed of early rock motion that is New Orleans found some of its finest material kneecapped by limited access to the wider listening public, with soon to be classics withering on the vine at the time of their first release.

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TVD Recommends: Stephen Malkmus &
The Jicks at TLA, 3/1

With a year well on its way and a new album in hand, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks are out on the road again. Wig Out at Jagbags is the first proper release from the band since 2011’s Beck-produced Mirror Traffic. The record has been well received by fans and media alike and continues to display Malkmus’ strength in crafting infectious hooks and melodies.

The band is currently on tour supporting the new LP and as they make their way down the east coast, the band will stop at the TLA tomorrow, March 1, to give Philadelphia a proper taste of the new songs in a live setting. Opening the show is New York City’s Endless Boogie.

As they were making their way across the country, I was able to chat with Malkmus’ longtime friend and collaborator, Joanna Bolme of the Jicks.

What was the biggest difference between working with Beck as producer on Mirror Traffic and Remko Schouten on Wig Out at Jagbags?

Well, before Mirror Traffic we had pretty much produced all the records ourselves with an engineer. Beck was the first person we ever brought on board to produce, so we let him do his thing. Remko has been doing our live sound for years, we didn’t really have to say much, he just got it all set up real quick like when we’re 2 hours late for load in.

How did recording in Belgium differ from recording in the US? What challenges did you and the rest of the band have to overcome?

It’s not really different than recording in the States, except there were ponies across the street and better cheese. When it comes down to it, it’s just the band and a room, you just play and hope the guys in the other room are doing their job.

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Graded on a Curve:
Sly and The Family Stone, There’s a Riot Goin’ On

By 1970, Sly Stone was no longer his happy-go-lucky, upbeat-hits-producing self. Stone and his band had taken to ingesting large quantities of cocaine and PCP, a paranoia-inducing combo it ever there was one, and Sly’s own intake was such that he carried his stash in a violin case. The results were predictable. Sly went from multi-racial inspiration to Richard Nixon-level paranoiac, and hired shady characters, gangsters, and even a Mafioso as a Praetorian Guard to keep an eye on his “enemies,” some of whom happened to be members of The Family Stone. Recording came to a standstill, and Stone began his infamous habit of missing gigs.

When Stone finally dragged his bad self into the Record Plant in Sausalito to record the band’s fifth album, the results were completely unlike any previous Family Stone release. What is surprising, given Stone’s precipitous psychic decline, is that the result, 1971’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, is perhaps the most brilliant LP he ever recorded.

Dark? No shit. Gone was The Family Stone’s trademark cheery psychedelic rock and soul, replaced by a raw funk—which would reverberate in the ears of George Clinton and innumerable future funkers like a revelatory crack of thunder—that was as every bit as murky and hopelessly disillusioned as it was bracing. “I Want to Take You Higher” had become “I Want to Bring You Down, Way Down.” There’s a Riot Goin’ On was a sign o’ the times—of riots in the inner cities, Altamont, The Manson Family, and the Death of the Age of Aquarius—just as his more playful earlier LPs had been signs of theirs. But Sly had done more than just tap into the gestalt; he had just recorded his Exile on Main Street.

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UK Artist of the Week: IndianRedLopez

IndianRedLopez are making a triumphant return after their debut album Empty Your Lungs And Breathe. Their second album Commit is an indie electro odyssey into the mindset of a band who’ve made leaps and bounds since they last hit the scene.

Drawing upon influences like Mew and Talk Talk, IndianRedLopez manage to navigate a fine line between 80s influenced synth and straight-up indie goodness. The result is an album with eleven highly accomplished, polished tunes. Their return heralds a new direction and a future with promise.

The band plan to tour around the release of the album throughout March. Catch them at one of the dates below.

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(Re)Graded on a Curve:
Bill Doggett, “Honky Tonk Popcorn” b/w “Honky Tonk”

In 1969, with the help of James Brown and his band, veteran organist and bandleader Bill Doggett returned to the fertile soil of “Honky Tonk,” the song that remains his greatest achievement in both commercial and aesthetic terms. The King Records’ single “Honky Tonk Popcorn” b/w “Honky Tonk” wasn’t a hit however, and its current rep is too often absorbed as part of Brown’s long string of musical triumphs. But in relation to Doggett, it does provide a valuable lesson; never count an artist out. And nearly forty-five years later, the single continues to sound fantastic.

Even though his career spanned a large portion of the 20th century, Bill Doggett’s name will always be associated with his biggest hit. And that hit was indeed a huge one. “Honky Tonk (Part 1)” was simply a monstrous object; not only the most successful R&B single of 1956 (chalking up thirteen weeks at the top spot), the 45 additionally attained the stature of true crossover smash, making it all the way to number two on the pop chart.

Subsequently, that killer and its fabulous flipside “Honky Tonk (Part 2)” have become part of the lore of the early rock ‘n’ roll era, even though Doggett was far from any kind of rocker. Born in 1916 and considered a child prodigy on the piano at age 13, William Ballard Doggett began his career shortly thereafter, and by the ‘30s he was leading his own orchestra.

Tough times led him to sell his band to Lucky Millander. Doggett continued to work with the group, making his recording debut with that outfit in 1939. In 1942 he became the pianist and arranger for The Ink Spots. Employment with Count Basie, Wynonie Harris, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, and Ella Fitzgerald followed, and by 1947 he’d stepped into the piano role for Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five. It was with Jordan that Doggett first played the Hammond organ, the instrument that came to be his calling card.

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Zeke Fishhead releases Preservatives Volume 3

This is a real treat for fans of the Radiators as well as anyone interested in understanding the legacy of New Orleans piano.

Ed Volker, aka Zeke Fishhead, frequently performed back in the day under pseudonyms. Some of the bands that he appeared in while not playing with all of the members of the Radiators had whimsical names such as Bwana Dik and the Headhunters and Waldo and the Peppers.

On June 15, 1981, Volker played a solo piano and voice show at Tipitina’s under the moniker Annaconda Smith.
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Shell Zenner Presents

Greater Manchester’s most in the know radio host Shell Zenner broadcasts the best new music every week on the UK’s Amazing Radio and Bolton FM. You can also catch Shell’s broadcast right here at TVD, each and every Thursday.

“On this week’s show my ROTW is All Unrevealed Parts Of The Unknown by Sudden Death Of Stars. I’ll be playing three gorgeous songs from the album on the show and letting you hear exactly why Ample Play records are the coolest.

I’ll also have that new feature to share with you—the #shellshock—a song that simply stopped me in my tracks when I first heard it, a kind of track of the week if you will. It was a tough call this week. The Cheatahs’ track engrained itself in my brain and won’t leave!

There will be the usual accompaniment of new and emerging music as I spin some of the best new alt releases. Love music? Don’t miss it…” —SZ

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Graded on a Curve: Andre Williams, “Bacon Fat” b/w “Just Because of a Kiss”

Zephire Andre Williams has packed a lot of living into his nearly 80 years on this planet, and along the way his name has been attached to a whole lot of records. In the second half of the 1950s he cut a slew of smolderingly low-fi platters for Detroit’s Fortune label, with “Bacon Fat” b/w “Just Because of a Kiss” growing into a national hit. The a-side is amongst the most potent R&B of its era, and it rightfully stands as a classic.

Specifically due to its scarcity, Andre Williams’ early work was once the stuff of legend. Not just his run of singles for Fortune, but his subsequent motions for ventures of differing size and longevity such as Wingate, Sport, Avin, Checker, and Duke. He was also noted for his role behind the scenes at Motown during the first half of the ‘60s and as a co-writer (with Otha Hayes and Verlie Rice) of “Shake a Tail Feather,” the original of which was recorded in Chicago by The Five Du-Tones for the One-derful imprint.

The waxing of that ludicrously swank monster occurred in 1963 during one of Williams’ absences from Motown. It’s now well-established that he and Berry Gordy’s relationship was a highly volatile one, and by ’65 the two men had parted ways for good. His biggest post-Motown success came at Checker, one of the numerous subsidiaries belonging to Phil and Leonard Chess. Hooking up with Ike Turner in the early-‘70s sent Williams’ life into a downward spiral, mainly due to the steady availability of copious amounts of cocaine.

And Williams’ frequent label-hopping combined with his overall lack of national hits to basically insure difficulty and neglect in the anthologizing of his discography, even after he’d made his comeback. In ’84 Fortune Records, still in business against seemingly insurmountable odds, issued the compilation Jail Bait, but by the point of his ‘90s resurgence copies of that slab were long gone.

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TVD Live: The Pixies at the Fox Theater, 2/21

How great are the Pixies in 2014? They didn’t miss a f**cking beat while treating the capacity crowd at the glorious Fox Theater to a set list of more than 30 songs. For the record—let’s get this out of the way—the Pixies are touring without bassist Kim Deal, who left the band last year. Paz Lenchantin of A Perfect Circle/Zwan fame is filling in and let me say she’s a very capable addition.

Black Francis might not be the most personable frontman, but the sheer magnitude of blistering dynamics kept the crowd from ever blinking. One song into the next, the Pixies proved that their “legendary” status is rightfully upheld and their mark on the past and present is well-preserved.

The true highlight for me was the new music and how amazingly well it came across live. I personally prefer “EP 2” and currently have it on a playlist called “Brilliant New Music for 2014,” and it’s on repeat. The setlist included three songs from “EP 2,” “Magdalena 318,” “Greens and Blues,” and “Snakes.” Surprisingly enough, “Blue Eyed Hexe “was missing. That would be the only song of the evening that I did not hear that I really wanted to.

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(Re)Graded on a Curve:
Cult Hero, “I’m a Cult Hero” b/w “I Dig You”

Some call it an inspired gag, others dismiss it as a mediocre lark and a few select oddballs are downright determined to overpraise it to the rafters, but one thing’s certain; “I’m a Cult Hero” b/w “I Dig You” is a true curiosity. Perhaps that should read Cure-iosity, for Cult Hero was a brief early digression for UK Goth titans The Cure, featuring the band with a handful of added help, most notably a pub-haunting postman named Frank Bell on lead vocals. While it’s not really well-suited to accompany the midday mope of a cardigan-clad sad sack as they sip from a cup of lukewarm Earl Grey tea, the appealingly minor charms of the 45 are surely worthy of a retrospective salute.

Back in the second half of the ‘80s, as part of a small group of post-punk acts that managed to hang around long enough and grow in stature to become one of the initial bands in the first wave of the marketing-based non-genre known as Alternative music, The Cure came to be esteemed by quite a few as underdog survivors. But simultaneously, the outfit was on the receiving end of an uncommonly high level of flack.

They were reliably disparaged for such miscalculations as horrid dress sense, ludicrous hairstyles, overzealous and poorly applied makeup, banal subject matter, trite lyrics, ham-fisted song construction, and brazen music-video clowning. And these assessments were often spouted from folks who actually professed to like the band.

Observers who did not enjoy or even downright hated The Cure could frequently be found seething over the very existence of the group, deriding them as an affront to the cherished modes of acceptable rock and roll behavior. The derision of these bitter sorts reliably focused upon bands of the Alternative persuasion (to say nothing of newfangled Rap music), but The Cure seemed to catch a little extra opprobrium, many because they seemed to have no problem with being perceived as ridiculous.

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Graded on a Curve:
U.S. Maple, Long Hair
in Three Stages

Defunct noise-rock outfit U.S. Maple’s career was one long acknowledgement of failure, futility, and self-hatred. The Chicago quartet went on record stating Rock was dead, but instead of taking the coward’s way out by abandoning their guitars for grad school (the last refuge of a scoundrel), they set out on the perverse course of deconstructing their songs, and putting them back together helter-skelter. The results were songs that were like Frankenstein’s monster, only with the legs sewed on where the arms should be and a head for a foot.

With each new release, U.S. Maple made rock music that celebrated the utter folly of making rock music, struggling to create something new under the “been there, done that” sun only to stop, shuddering in horror, upon realizing that all it was doing was dreaming up new ways to flog a dead genre. It is only in hindsight that one can see that while U.S. Maple may have failed, just as all true artists fail (“Only one thing matters,” said E.M. Cioran of artists and life in general, “learning to be the loser”), they did succeed in creating a body of music that is as initially difficult and out-of-kilter as it is ultimately perversely lovable and even funny.

The twisted and prickly structures of their screwball anti-songs have a way of sneaking up on you, of growing you a new set of ears as it were. At which point they still won’t sound right—U.S. Maple never sounds quite right—but they will sound as exciting and as innovative as rock (with its two million identical bands recycling the sounds of maybe 20 better bands) gets.

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Vikesh Kapoor,
The TVD Interview

The Ballad of Willy Robbins is Vikesh Kapoor’s loose concept album about a working class man whose life crumbles and he loses his health, wife, and home. After playing for Howard Zinn’s family at the late historian’s memorial service in Boston, Kapoor was inspired to write the album over the course of two years in Portland. What resulted was a beautiful collection of stories of determination, grit, and the nuances of the human condition.

Kapoor is often compared to the great Americana folk singers like Pete Seegar and Woody Guthrie, but Kapoor tells me that his music isn’t intentionally political. Rather it’s the tradition of telling stories of the working class that Kapoor has revived. He stands out among many artists who live and produce music within a highly digitized world where songs are churned out constantly and consistently and put together by a producer on a computer.

Last Sunday’s (2/16) Schuba’s crowd warmly welcomed Kapoor’s raw pickings of the guitar, the bluesy sound of the harmonica, and Kapoor’s clear, full vocals. It’s true, most of the audience did not know Kapoor before Sunday but once he started singing, the entire room fell silent—and not in the way that implied that the show was boring, rather the audience had every intent to listen and connect with the stories they were told. Here was an actively listening audience—something that can be a rarity for those talented but still unknown musicians embarking on a major tour for the first time.

Just before the show, we sat in the basement of the legendary Chicago venue and reveled in the fact that so many great musicians had sat where we’d been sitting, drinking beer, and warming up to play. We talked about what it’s like to tour alone, Willy Robbins, and of course, vinyl.

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TVD Recommends: Daniel Waples at
Gasa Gasa, 2/26

Gasa Gasa continues a run of presenting innovative artists who are not on the radar of the bigger clubs in town. Tonight, the British hang player graces the stage of the uptown club and intends to appear with some special guests.

Since many readers may not be familiar with this instrument (I wasn’t until I heard about Waples), it functions musically like the more recognized steel drum or pan. However, its distinctive UFO shape creates a different form of resonance.

The drum is usually played with the hands and fingers while the player is seated and the instrument is settled on his or her lap. Read More »

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Graded on a Curve:
D. Charles Speer & the Helix, Doubled Exposure

Doubled Exposure is the new eight-song album from D. Charles Speer & the Helix. Mixing non-cornball psychedelia with legit country influence while tossing in a desire to experiment and the impulse to boogie, it produces a tidy and highly individual ride.

Choogling, or if one prefers, chooglin’, is a concept that’s been roughly but not rigidly defined. Coined by John Fogerty, most famously in “Keep on Chooglin’” but also in “Born on the Bayou” (notable bookends on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s second LP Bayou Country), for a dirty-minded few the word refers to coitus, but many more understand it as continued motion in service of certain goals.

For Fogerty there were objectives fitting the action especially well, best expressed in his lyrical couplet “you got to ball and have a good time / and that’s what I call choogling.” But not all fun embodies the choogle; the essential factor is movement. Basically impossible to imagine is the presence of choogling not accompanied by some amount of perspiration.

Dancing obviously fits the bill, as does a game of pick-up hoops, Frisbee in the park with one’s pooch, baking a birthday cake for one’s grandma and delivering it on roller skates, and yes indeed, sexual kicks, either alone or with a well-chosen partner. But not all activity is included under the choogling umbrella. It does appear that some form of life-affirmation need be the aim, with the aura of choogle greatly elevated when rhythmic repetition is involved.

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