Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Debut Album by the Oxygen Ponies

The great lost Luna album – at least most of it. Darkly glimmering second-generation Velvets rock hasn’t been done so well since Dean Wareham and crew, about 15 years ago. “Get me out!” is the theme that recurs again and again here. The Oxygen Ponies’ debut release is a not a happy album, and it doesn’t end well. It’s a concept record about a breakup and its aftermath, a pungee trap that’s left a thousand songwriters impaled on the sharp bamboo sticks of self-pity and bloated ego. Credit frontman/songwriter Paul Megna for getting through this one with just a few scratches, his morbid sense of humor and withering cynicism solidly intact.

It begins quiet and acoustic with the downcast It’s Yr Life, a theme that will recur later. The next cut, Devotion begins with a 6/8 nice piano intro that comes back in at the end (themes both lyrical and musical abound on this album). “God I hate asking for favors, just get me out of this mess,” complains Megna as dirty, dirgy wall of guitar like Luna or the Jesus & Mary Chain circa their late 80s peak kicks in. After that, Brooklyn Bridge sets the stage for what’s to follow:

Heard you been talking shit my friend
Well you can talk talk all you want
If she gets fuckin’ hit again
It’s the asphalt you will haunt
‘Cause I have known a lot of girls
In that swimming pool called romance
Where simple oysters crush the pearls
With a steel toe’s swift advance
Washington, Washington, god I miss the Brooklyn Bridge
Get me out of Washington, take me where she lives

The next track The Truest Thing begins with tasty, reverberating Wurlitzer electric piano and what sounds like standup bass:

I get up 6 AM
Coffee, paper, back to bed again
Cause the news is never good
I only read the parts I think I should
Think I should write the perfect song
But everything is wanting since you’re gone
I’m up again, 12:15
My body yearns for more caffeine
The coffee burned to the pot
I thought I turned it off
But I forgot

It’s one of the most evocative portrayals of clinical depression ever set to music. It’s followed by Chainsmoking, the big breakup song, with more Wurly and nice layers of guitar on the chorus, evoking the Church at their most atmospheric. There’s a delicious lapsteel solo straight out of the Jon Brion/Aimee Mann school of arranging.

The second side of the album (the cd is divided into two sections, pre-and post-breakup) starts out with the slowly, sadly swinging, slightly jazzy Umbrellas in the Rain with its buoyant, muted horns:

She thinks I’m having a party
She thinks I’m baking a cake
She thinks I’m celebrating
Great

Then the guitars – all jangle, clang and feedback – kick in on Have You Forgotten. Here’s where the Luna/J&MC comparisons are most apt. It’s even more apparent on the next cut I Don’t Know Why, with its insistent rhythm underneath a soaring steel guitar melody. The accusatory Happy Where U R follows, a dead ringer for the J&MC tune Happy When It Rains. If this is intentional, the irony is very clever; if not, it’s a fortuitous coincidence because it works so well.

The slow woozy waves of depression return with Get Over Yrself, turning to mania on Starshine, a glimmering, growling hit waiting to happen. The album winds up with the epic The Quickest Way to Happiness – which leads you straight to hell. “I’ll survive,” intones Megna as the song builds to a majestic, orchestral chorus, but one has to wonder how much he means it.

Don Piper’s pristine production deserves major props for making this cd sound like a vinyl record, drums back in the mix where they should be, vocals slightly out front, guitars always cutting through. Fans of the gutter-poet school of songwriting: Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Shane MacGowan et al. will love this just as much as the guitar aficionados who will revel in the album’s textures. One of the better efforts we’ve heard this year.

June 28, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Weekly jazz in NYC – who knew? And it’s FREE!

Thought this would bring some of you jazzcats out of the woodwork…. the nonchalantly brilliant guitarist Matt Munisteri sent this over:

“New York keeps losing venues for live music every month, and last summer we lost a wretched – but oddly loveable – joint called The Cajun (NYC developers, and their Lord and Master Michael Bloomberg, finally succeeded where the board of health repeatedly met with failure.) So flash forward to summer 2007, and NYC still has no place where traditional jazz is a regular offering – for the first time in maybe 80 years. So Jon Kellso and myself are starting a regular Sunday hot blowing gig at The Ear Inn (Spring St a half block from the Hudson on the island of Manhattan ).

The Ear is it, folks. It will be free, with tips graciously accepted and respectfully encouraged. And it will be early – 8pm to 11pm. And it will feature many of the best local – and national – players in the scene. And, even better, while we’re calling it a “traditional jazz” gig, you know…that’s just the jumping off point – and pool’s shallow end has been roped off. The only sour note is that it may take a few weeks for Jon and me to be there together.

On the subject: If you’d like a taste of the Ear gig, Jon Kellso’s first CD in around 10 years has just been released. It’s called “Blue Roof Blues” and it’s really good. Go get it. Now.”

June 28, 2007 Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, New York City | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Problem of Peer Review

So in recent weeks, I’ve quoted some linked articles in Alexander Cockburn’s ongoing tirade against the global warming hypothesis. Today, I finally waded through the source material of this tirade – an ongoing ‘debate’ between Monbiot and Cockburn hosted by Znet after Cockburn’s first column appeared in the Nation several months back. Bracketing any dispute I may have with Cockburn on the ‘global warming’ issue, after reading the exchanges, I can now completely understand why his columns took the direction that they did – and I have completely lost all respect for Monbiot. Let’s start at the beginning.

Let me begin this response with an admission of incompetence. I am not qualified to comment on the scientific claims made in Alexander Cockburn’s article. But nor is Cockburn qualified to make them.

George, you are a journalist who writes almost exclusively on environmentalism and environmental science. If you are not ‘qualified to comment’, you should seek another field. But this point is just the opening volley of a gross appeal to ‘experts’, to people who seem more qualified to offer their opinions simply because they have letters after their names and their writings have been ‘peer reviewed’

When a non-scientist attempts to dispute the findings of an entire body of science, a good deal of humility and a great deal of research is required. Otherwise he puts himself in the position of the 9/11 truthers.

Right, so when someone appeals to the work of scientists who disagree with the prevailing paradigm, they are immediately to be deemed conspiracy theorists who believe that no plane hit the Pentagon. Great. Got that point.

Cockburn’s article cannot be taken seriously until we have seen his list of references, and affirmed that the key claims he makes have already been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. This would not mean they are correct, though it does mean that they are worth discussing.

And we reach the point – the only science ‘worth discussing’ is that which appears in peer-reviewed journals. Before I dissect this, I would like to backtrack to one more statement made in this foray by Monbiot:

If you want to believe that HIV does not cause AIDs, you can find a professor of medicine who supports that view.

Well, given your high appraisal of peer review, I ‘d like to see the peer-reviewed article in which 1. HIV has been isolated, 2. HIV has been shown to be present in vivo in blood and fluid, 3. HIV is shown to have a clear pathogenesis resulting in AIDS, and 4. That the non-specific antibody tests for HIV actually predict an AIDS diagnosis in the absence of other factors which could result in an AIDS diagnosis. Don’t put yourself out George, Kary Mullis has been asking the HIV royalty for this ‘peer reviewed’ article for about 15 years, neither Gallo nor Montaigne have coughed it up. And for your information, some 2,500 scientists, doctors & academics have concluded from a review of the literature that HIV does not cause AIDS. There are several Nobel laureates, there are a vast array of people formerly working in the field, there are a vast array of some the most prominent scientists currently alive on that list.

Why are their opinions not worthy of grants George?

Peer Review.

I have long had issues with the ‘peer review’ system. We now seem to accept it unquestionably as the only way to vet knowledge. It wasn’t always such. And it serves a far more nefarious purpose than one would imagine. David Noble has written a great article on the history of peer review that should be a both a revelation and reiteration for anyone following science in the ensuing decades.

Led by New Deal senator Harley Kilgore they put forth a plan for a postwar National Science Foundation that emphasized lay control over science and political accountability. It was to be headed by a presidentially appointed director advised by a board whose members would include citizens representing consumers, labor, and small businesses as well as large corporations and scientists. The agency would let contracts to firms and universities on an equitable basis and would retain public ownership of all patents. Kilgore envisioned the new agency as a democratic means to socially responsive science.

This democratic proposal alarmed Bush and his elite academic and corporate colleagues who formulated a counter proposal, for National Research Foundation (later, also called the National Science Foundation). Central to this plan was an agency that guaranteed professional rather than lay control over science, was insulated from political accountability, and gave its director discretion over the awarding of patent ownership. In essence, the Bush agency was designed to guarantee public support for scientists – and, indirectly, for the corporations they served as well – without public control, a regime of science run by scientists and paid for by the taxpayer.

And

In 1950 a compromise version of the Bush bill was passed and signed by Truman, now once again under (cold)wartime exigencies. The new agency included a presidentially-appointed director but a board composed only of scientists committed to continuing the comfortable patterns established by the OSRD during the war. As a bulwark against democratic oversight and lay involvement in the awarding of scientific contracts and grants, the agency adopted a new mechanism of exclusion: “peer review.” Only peers – fellow privileged professionals, whatever their unacknowledged ties to commercial enterprise – could be involved in deciding upon the merits and agenda of science.

Hence the origin of ‘peer review’ – a political attempt to keep ‘science’ under the control of government and the corporate interests they serve. Keep that in mind the next time you ask for ‘peer reviewed sources’.

But this gets to the crux of the matter. What has this legislative dictum wrought? Precisely what we have today – a world in which the status quo is reaffirmed by grant after grant, and those doing real science, those questioning, those debating, those doing whatever they can to cobble together research that contradicts the ‘right’ ideas, are completely excluded from the ‘scientific world’. They are cranks, quacks and snake oil salesman. It doesn’t matter if they’ve won Nobel Prizes or are recognized in other ways as some of the greatest scientists of all time. They’re still heretics in the face of ‘peer review’, because their ideas don’t serve political ends. 

June 28, 2007 Posted by | Politics, Public Health, Science | 2 Comments