Talk about extreme irony: about 20 years ago, a major soft drink manufacturer sought the rights to the Dead Kennedys’ Holiday in Cambodia for a tv commercial. As you might have guessed, the band’s label, Alternative Tentacles, turned down the request. Fast forward to 2011: as reported in NME and the Guardian, Heineken was supposedly forced to remove a Spotify banner ad featuring Nouvelle Vague’s sarcastic loungey cover of the DKs’ Too Drunk To Fuck because of complaints that it would “encourage binge drinking.” The official story is the ads were removed not because of copyright infringement, but because an industry watchdog group flagged them as being inappropriate. As a matter of principle, the DKs remain unwilling to sell out their music for use in commercials: the band’s attorneys have been in contact with the beverage conglomerate, which might be a more plausible explanation for the ads’ sudden disappearance. Stay tuned…
Here’s how it works in the blogosphere:we’ve got every PR agent on the planet hammering on our virtual door, pleading for some attention, but we like it best when we do a writeup on the Montreal Jazz Festival, a Quebecois band we’ve never heard of finds it, and then sends us a link to their stuff. And it turns out, they’re great! Canadian trio Swift Years’ most recent album goes back to 2005, and it’s a ton of fun. They’re sort of a north-of-the-border counterpart to Tribecastan. What guitarist Patrick Hutchinson, mandolinist Bob Cussen and bassist Suzanne Ungar have assembled here is an endlessly surprising, eclectic, genuinely amusing mix of cross-pollinated global sounds. They don’t have drums on the album, but it’s so tight that you don’t notice unless you listen closely.
Musically, the two real killer tracks here are The Exile and The Sand, both tricky, bitter, bracing, psychedelic Smyrnika rock instrumentals much in the style of Annabouboula, with layers of mandolin, guitar and soaring bass. The real classic here is Old Man Santo. See, Old Man Santo – think about that title for a minute – had a Farm, E-I-G-M-O. On the farm he had some pot, and some pigs, and some cows, really bloody pissed-off mad cows everywhere. We won’t spoil the plot because it’s as funny as it is unfortunately true.
A lot of the other tracks here add reggae to enhance the comedic factor. Beside Me’s protagonist doesn’t let his lack of money stop him from trying to pick up the girl: “After supper we could split a beer,” he tells her. He’s strictly oldschool: “I’m a rotary phone, I’m the last bus home…at home I drink out of glasses that I take home from bars, an old piggybank is my retirement plan, the clothes from my back are from the Sally Ann.” Rasta Puszta blends reggae, bluegrass and a happy Eastern European dance in there somewhere. And I Dreamed I Stopped Smoking is an amusing faux-country song, like a zeros update on what the Stones did with Dear Doctor.
They do a tongue-in-cheek speed-up and then do it all over again on the gypsy-flavored Hanko Hanko, and merge Quebecois with bluegrass on the equally sardonic Mon Vieux François. The title track, which sounds like the Boomtown Rats doing a creepy reggae tune, offers a view of the afterlife where everything is pretty much the same for these guys, everybody playing everyone else’s culture’s music in one big mashup, with a politically aware edge. In this particular world, right-wing politicians are reincarnated as single mothers. The album also includes a gorgeous, plaintive Belgian barroom waltz, a medley of the Eddystone Light and three jigs, and a lickety-split string band version of Ain’t Nobody’s Business. The whole thing is streaming at Swift Years’ bandcamp site – thanks for finding us, guys! Now it’s the rest of the world’s turn to discover this entertaining band.
Guitarist Mike Baggetta and trumpeter Kris Tiner, who wryly call themselves Tin/Bag, have a tremendously enjoyable, low-key, late-night duo album just out, titled Bridges. It’s a memorably melodic, minimalistic, impeccably tasteful mix of original compositions for guitar and trumpet, along with one cover, Dylan’s Just Like a Woman done as laid-back wee-hours theme. Sometimes this feels as if they’ve taken an early 60s postbop album, completely disassembled it and then put it back together kaleidoscopically using only about 5% of of the original parts. Fragments of comfortable, trad jazz melody, from balladesque to bluesy, will pop up unexpectedly and then vanish – imagine a minimalist mashup of Sketches of Spain. Interplay is not the defining mechanism here: rather, each instrument serves as a complement to the other. Baggetta is subtle to the extreme, employing a clean, round tone with a tinge of tremolo or reverb. In the past, he’s explored a jazz approach to Erik Satie, and that influence makes itself welcome here. Tiner typically handles lead lines, with a crystalline, soulful approach comparable to Ron Miles or Ingrid Jensen. The chemistry between the two is quietly dynamic and richly effective.
The two best songs here – and they are songs in the best sense of the word – are the darkest ones. The title track opens with a rubato feel, as many of these do, and very soon goes into the dark end of the pool, David Lynch-esque with waves of gentle jangle against distantly bright but plaintive blues-tinged trumpet. The Truth has Baggetta opening it with gently plaintive, understated flamenco inflections, Tiner rising with a Miles Davis-ish majesty and articulacy over Baggetta’s calm, austere gravitas. And Maslow – a reference to some kind of hierarchy, maybe? – also hints at flamenco, then Tiner goes up and out just a little while Baggetta keeps it steady with smartly chosen whole-note chords.
The opening track, Bobo, kicks off with a subtly ringing taqsim of sorts, each player settling matter-of-factly into his role, Baggetta holding it together as Tiner takes his time and goes exploring. The other tracks are a clinic in the surprising amount of diversity that can be achieved within a simple set of parameters, i.e. just two players in mellow and thoughtful mode. Osho, kicking off with Baggetta solo, is a pensive big sky tableau a la Frisell in a particularly optimistic moment. It segues into the harmonics of Aurobindo, which reaches for a hypnotic ambience with judiciously chosen chordal moments and spaciously placed accents. Govinda, the most “free” track here, has Tiner fluttering and bubbling a little over Baggetta’s allusiveness. A question followed by an answer (or maybe the other way around), Inayat Khan is the most skeletal track here. Tune in, turn on, chill out.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #558:
The Moody Blues – Long Distance Voyager
Did the Moody Blues invent art-rock…or at least chamber pop? Maybe. Fans of the tuneful, philosophically inclined psychedelic pop band are probably mystified why we chose this 1981 reunion album of sorts over well-loved 60s releases like In Search of the Lost Chord or On the Threshold of a Dream. Answer: all of those albums have some great tunes, but also a bunch of real clunkers as well. This, on the other hand is solid virtually all the way through, and the songwriting is arguably the band’s strongest. The production manages to be ornate and genuinely majestic despite the heavy synthesizers. The big, brisk top 40 hit was The Voice, followed closely by the artsy, ELOish, disco-tinged Gemini Dream (a great song to cover if you played it loud and fast like a lot of bands of the era did). The irresistible Talking out of Turn is a seven-minute pop song that actually works. Guitarist Justin Hayward’s lush kiss-off anthem Meanwhile is genuinely poignant, as is bassist John Lodge’s sweeping, understatedly anguished art-pop ballad Nervous. There’s also the morbid 22,000 Days, the twisted cabaret of Painted Smile and the even more twisted Veteran Cosmic Rocker, a surprisingly snarling satire of aging hippie rockers by a band who knew a little something about being one. Here’s a random torrent.