Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Hell of a Woman (1954)

Jim Thompson wrote a lot of crap and a handful of masterpieces, all of them, of either persuasion, slim and (mostly) compulsively readable volumes. In general, I find The Killer Inside Me overrated, The Getaway underrated, and A Hell of a Woman the best of the bunch. The misogyny is perfectly unpleasant, the language strong and straightforward and direct from the vernacular, and the plotting meticulous enough to ensure that the atomization of the ending was deliberate, and hardly the result of an exhausted writer who couldn't think of anything else to do with his story. Despite the ubiquitous labels, Thompson's work cannot fairly be called "suspense," "thriller," "mystery," or any similar genre. "Post-Depression American Psychosis"—yeah, there, that's the ticket. "Depression" referring to both the personal/emotional and the historical/economic disasters. We shouldn't, after all, forget that Thompson was a native of Oklahoma who died in Los Angeles.

In case it's not at the library.

Friday, September 28, 2007

James Brown

009 James Brown
listed shortest to longest...

James Brown, "Cold Sweat [w/ Dialogue]" (1967) (0:23)
James Brown, "Hold It (Instrumental)" (1958) (1:24)
James Brown, "I Cried" (1958) Featuring Tammi Terrell, then known as Tammy Montgomery. (1:53)
James Brown, "No, No, No, No" (1958) (1:55)
. . .
James Brown, "For Goodness Sakes Look at Those Cakes" (11:33)
James Brown, "Mind Power" (1973) (12:03)
James Brown, "Time Is Running Out Fast" (1973) (12:46)
James Brown, "Escape-Ism (Complete Take)" (1971) (19:09)

More information in comments.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sleeps With Angels (1994)

It's hard to imagine what it must have felt like for Neil Young to hear Kurt Cobain's suicide note close with his own incoherent denim koan of some 15 years earlier—"better to burn out than to fade away." Particularly as Young & crew's recent and most spectacular return to form paralleled the rise of grunge, even giving a helpful hand to Sonic Youth as opening act on the Weld tour, just as Sonic Youth in turn gave a helpful hand to Nirvana in getting signed to DGC. It's all balled up there. Neil Young stood even more in the crosshairs of history than he knew on that one. I've heard a lot of people dismiss this as journeyman '90s Neil Young, over the hump and on the down slope from his recent heights. But "Change Your Mind" alone belies that to me, 14+ minutes of deceptively amiable anguish that deploys all the sonic extremes of grunge, from a whisper to a scream as it were, delivered in fine Young/Crazy Horse fashion, whose overarching theme is the request to reconsider. There are plenty of missteps along the way, but even if it's the least of them, this is one of the keepers by Young.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Rust Never Sleeps (1979)

I've already nominated After the Gold Rush as my sense of the best Neil Young album (with or without Crazy Horse, and of course allowing for the ridiculousness of such judgments) so I can't say that about this one. But even with weak tracks and/or moments here and there among its nine songs ("Welfare Mothers") this is an awfully close second. No other rock artist has come so close to nailing the experience of the U.S. Civil War as Young does here in "Powderfinger" – not bad for a Canadian, not bad for a history lesson. (N.b., so it seems to me. I wasn't there. I can only speak for the amazing power of it, which has repeatedly set me to bawling.) Ditto "Pocahontas" re: that American legend. Elvis Presley and Johnny Rotten also make brief appearances here that ring with veracity and authority. In short, perhaps no one at the time understood better the moment in history in which he existed. And that's just talking about the lyrics. The music? It's Neil Young and Crazy Horse in peak form. What else do you want to know?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Tonight's the Night (1975)

By design, this is an exceedingly dark album. The original gatefold vinyl LP was black inside and out, including the Reprise label itself, normally orange. Based on Neil Young's visceral reaction to three separate drug-related deaths in Crazy Horse and their road crew, some have gone so far as to call it anti-drug, which I suppose is fair enough, but a little bit of a stretch for someone who lives inside a marijuana cloud (not, in the interests of avoiding the appearance of hypocrisy, that there's anything wrong with that). More than anything it's a wail of pain, and the first of many abrupt revitalizations that would come to be a feature of Young's career. It's sloppy, loud, plain-spoken to the point of homely, self-indulgent, self-pitying, and often unlistenable. But when the mood suits – and that mood has more to do with Neil Young and Crazy Horse generally, rather than anything you might guess, like depression, sadness, or being bummed out – nothing else will do.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Visit Zinhof
One of the first (at least to me) and still one of the best, Zinhof at one time seemed to be everywhere at once, with boxes, new releases, and an endless stream of goodies. Now more or less confined only to the latter, the focus leans toward classic rock with a blues streak a mile wide. The selections are choice, knowledgeable, and always worth the benefit of the doubt. Mostly full albums available indefinitely, with some bootlegs, hand-picked track mixes, and pointers to dexes. Archives worth browsing, but last time I checked the trolls still move fast here.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

After the Gold Rush (1970)

Ah, more high school memories. In this case, the debate centered on the quality of Neil Young's voice. Everyone agreed, however grudgingly, that there was something amazing about Young and his songwriting. But many – including myself, I'm sorry to say now – couldn't handle the turns of high-pitched wheedling. "I just can't stand that voice," our ignorance spoke to eternity. Two decades later I would hear the same argument applied to actress Rosie Perez, but even by then I was well over it or anything like it. This is where so much begins and exists for all time with Neil Young. If I had to pick only one of his many, many albums to pack for the proverbial desert island this would likely be it. His songwriting is rarely so strong track to track – everything, even the two clocking in at less than two minutes, is perfectly realized, and the typical division for him between folkie and hard rocker is rarely so hard to draw. Not to mention other divisions along the lines of melody master, politically outraged spokesperson for a generation, and man of disaffected alienation. It's all here, and it just doesn't get much better than this.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)

Some things probably everybody knows: 1) Neil Young is good, but Neil Young with Crazy Horse is usually better. This is the first album by Neil Young with Crazy Horse, and includes such signature career classics as "Cinnamon Girl," "Down by the River," and "Cowgirl in the Sand." 2) Neil Young tends to work best in collaboration, whether it's Crazy Horse, Crosby, Stills &/or Nash, Emmylou Harris, or whoever. His first band, the Mynah Birds, was fronted by fellow Canadian Rick James. (Yes, that Rick James.) 3) Neil Young is a folkie with the capacity to rock harder than practically any other gentle strummer of an acoustic guitar. He's also wily in his effectiveness, viz., "Down by the River," in which at one point Young plays the same note some 43 times consecutively. One of the greatest guitar solos ever. 4) People routinely claim this as one of the great rock albums. Others say it's the greatest. I'm not about to get in anybody's way on this, but listen, there's no question, this is a really good one.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Live Through This (1994)

All these years later and I'm still not exactly sure what to think of this, the only album by Hole that matters. At one time I took the side of Courtney Love – call it the sympathy vote – but in light of the band's skimpy follow-ons I have since, grudgingly, come to believe the insinuations about Kurt Cobain having a much, much bigger hand here than he is officially credited for. Not that this is a bunch of Nirvana songs he wrote and threw to the object of his love and hatred, only that he was heavily involved, with an enmeshment that has the density of a Lennon/McCartney collaboration, one of those where it's hard to know where one author ends and the other begins. That's one of the bitches of a primary relationship. One of many. I'm happy to give the nod to Love for the calibrated choice of Young Marble Giants cover, "Credit in the Straight World," the gratuitously bizarre denigration of all things Olympia, Washington, the various passages of shrieking and throaty caterwauling, along with putting the band together in the first place and supplying all the drive and ambition, that being hardly the least significant piece of the proceedings here. The imagery of milk and other bodily functions related to baby-having came from them both – a fascination for which being one of those things they shared. Everything else has something (or everything) of Cobain to it – all the riffs, licks, hooks, and sundry dynamics of sound. Hate Courtney Love as you will. I can't say I think much of her myself. But this album is as much testimony to Cobain's love for her as the timing of his suicide was testimony to his hate. You just can't pick it apart. There's the rub. It's frozen in time that way.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Midnite Vultures (1999)

In which Beck seems to evince the idea that the '70s was all about sex and Kraftwerk. Just guessing here. Whatever he is about on this outing, it remains my favorite album from him. Sure, it's just plain wrong-headed when you try to add up all the elements. The charm doesn't fit the sleaze that oozes from every pore, and vice versa. Subject and object rarely find the verb to make their relationship work. There are too many ampersands in the titles. And what happened to the jokes? (Please don't tell me Scientology.) So my recommendation: Don't try to add up all the elements. Play this only where there is adequate space for dancing. Power down the brain and any instinct for rational analysis. There's no other way to do it. But there is pleasure waiting for you on the other side.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Odelay (1996)

Beck first came to the attention of the world at large with the inescapable hit "Loser" in 1994, arguably enough anthem for a generation particularly coming as it did just when Kurt Cobain had retired from everything. Yet, as auspicious as it was, the promise of "Loser" was not delivered on until this album more than two years later. (Most people would probably agree that the erraticism would become a hallmark of his career, even if they wouldn't agree on what's an up and what a down.) Teaming with L.A. producers the Dust Brothers, Beck & co. mix up a rich stew of lo-fi recordings, samples, found sound, skronk, squawk, hard drumming and fine guitar both electric and acoustic, all underpinned by confident songwriting and some pretty good jokes. The same things that made "Loser" so great, in short. For a long time, except for "Jack-Ass," I thought this was basically overrated – it was everybody's #1 with a bullet at the time. But the years have been surprisingly kind to it for me and now, 11 years on, it sounds better every time I play it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998)

Lucinda Williams's fourth album in 18 years (in fairness, she stepped up the pace after this) was the one that finally brought her to my attention (and the world's), the result for me of randomly happening to hear "Right in Time" on the car radio, one of those sit-bolt-upright and got to know what the hell that was experiences. Having since plowed through the oeuvre past present and future I think there's no denying she's something special. There's a lot of drunkenness in her material, a lot of southern wrack and ruin, and her appreciation for the chosen objects of her affection – Paul Westerberg, X, and rock critics in general, to name a few – often take me by surprise. She's country to her bone. But she's an awful lot more as well. This is as good a primer as any.

Dead End

Visit Dead End
Dead End, perhaps needless to say, is anything but. Operating at the point where classic ('70s) rock shades into fusion shades into eternity, it offers near-discographies of names both familiar to me (Who, Focus, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1969 Woodstock festival, Electric Light Orchestra, King Crimson) and unfamiliar (Eloy, Dream Theater, Le Orme, Spock's Beard, Porcupine Tree), which is a good way to help a poor slob like me branch out and try something new. Operative concept: "I know, it's only rock 'n' roll. But I like it."

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Monday, September 03, 2007

The Contino Sessions (1999)

Death in Vegas—duo Richard Fearless and Tim Holmes + sidemen, following the departure of co-founder Steve Helier—muscled up for this follow-up to the debut. More rock, less electronica. More band, less studio. Old saying, however: you can take the Brit out of the electronica, but you can't take the electronica out of the Brit. Thus the boop-bip-bip meandering remains, but a nice variety of ominous, doomy texture more often make the various proceedings spooky, alluring, and occasionally thrilling. The all-star cavalcade of guest artists are due no small amount of credit: Dot Allison ("Dirge"), Bobby Gillespie ("Soul Auctioneer"), Jim Reid ("Broken Little Sister"), and Iggy Pop ("Aisha"). I could do without the serial killer shtick, but it's always nice to hear someone make good use of Iggy.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Dead Elvis (1997)

Death in Vegas spun out of Britain's trip hop maelstrom of the mid-'90s, the band calling itself Dead Elvis until pressure from the Presley estate forced them to use the name only for the debut album (even that no doubt a gesture of defiance) and move it along from there. "Dirt," which samples a hilariously self-important announcement from the stage of the 1969 Woodstock festival, comes on like one of those booming, overpoweringly infectious Chemical Brothers tracks. But the rest of the album is relatively sedate, leaning toward the dense, rich atmospherics of dub, with little touches of jazz and slightly larger touches of techno or electronica sprinkled in. While a good deal of this album wanders aimlessly, it never retires entirely into the background. Put it on when guests are over and someone sooner or later is bound to ask what it is.