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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 9/17/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Thursday’s song is #314:

Elvis Costello – Worthless Thing

This came out in 1985 on the vastly underrated Goodbye Cruel World album, the same year the Dead Kennedys did their anti-corporate music rant MTV Get off the Air. Both reach the same conclusion, Costello a little more elegantly. The Rhino reissue from the 90s has a whole bunch of interesting outakes (including a transcendent solo version of Richard Thompson’s Withered and Died); otherwise, there are mp3s at all the usual places.

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September 17, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll

This is hands-down the funniest album of the year. It might also be the best. Matthew Grimm is the populist that Springsteen probably wishes he still was – over a pummeling highway rock backdrop, one part Social Distortion stomp, one part turbocharged Bottle Rockets barroom roar, he drops one direct hit after another on religious fanatics, Wall Street swindlers and the system that allowed them to take power in the first place. If the Dead Kennedys had survived Tipper Gore’s assault and traded in the surf rock for Americana, they might sound something like this.

Like Stephen Colbert, Grimm’s satire knows no bounds. He’s been as formidable a social critic as songwriter since his days in the 90s and early zeros fronting twangy New York rockers the Hangdogs and this time out he spares no one, and despite the full-frontal assault he’s a lot subtler than it might seem. The first cut on the cd is typical, hardly the self-effacing narrative the title, My Girlfriend’s Way Too Hot for Me, might suggest: it’s a raised middle finger at the yuppie who has everything but the hot girlfriend and who just can’t seem to be able to buy the piece of ass who would complete his collection. Grimm makes it clear how aware he is that it’s always the smart guys who get the hottest girls (and vice versa). Lead guitarist Jason Berge mimics an air-raid siren as Grimm has a laugh or five at the expense of doomsday Christians on the next cut, the Bodeans-ish Wrath of God.

Hang Up and Drive is a late-period Hangdogs song, a deliciously unleashed barrage of invective against the kind of guy who doesn’t exactly need those three tons of steel and glass to chill out in the left lane at 60 MPH while he calls his wife. The even funnier and characteristically spot-on Ayn Rand Sucks explores the righteous world of a rich suburban girl who brags about her fondness for the “Nazi skank” on her Facebook page: “Mein Kampf by any other name is Mein Kampf.” If that realization doesn’t get you, you won’t get this album. The best song on the album – and maybe the best song of the decade – is a savage, anthemic kiss-off to George Bush titled 1/20/09. “I know you won’t be troubled with states of reflection/Still a cloistered and dull trust-fund kid,” Grimm rails. “But maybe one shiny day, we’ll see each other again in the Hague.” The album’s exhilaratingly optimistic final cut, One Big Union is just as catchy and just as fiery an anthem, and it’s been picked up by more than one political campaign as a theme song.

Even the less politically-charged tracks here have a remarkable social awareness. The title track does double duty as an evocative examination of working-class drudgery and how people somehow manage to make it through the day fueled by tunes from realms people who have never opened their ears have never seen. There’s also Cry, which manages to be sympathetic while reminding a heartbroken girl how much better off she is than the rest of the world, and the less sympathetic Cinderella, where Grimm turns both barrels on a woman looking for soap opera-style yuppie contentedness and ends it by hitting on her. And he also proves himself adept at hip-hop during the break on White, which might be a parody:

Who thinks Sarah Palin’s smart? Who still watches MTV?

Who thinks sitcoms are funny and reality shows are reality?

Who deducts hookers, cooks the books and burns the paper trail?

Grifted away your 401K, won’t ever spend a fuckin day in jail?

I don’t wanna be white anymore

Turning in my Amstel Light, my golf clubs and my gun…

Look for this one high at the top of our best albums of 2009 list at the end of the year. Iowa-based Grimm and his band’s next show is an acoustic gig at Tornado’s, 1400 3rd St. SE in Cedar Rapids on October 1, sharing the bill with Sarah Cram.

September 12, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 8/31/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is #331:

Jello Biafra & NomeansnoChew

Nightmare wee-hours NYC subway platform scenario with one of the most guitarishly delicious, reverb-drenched intros ever. The rats are everywhere, and they’re on the attack. Finally the train comes, but in typical MTA fashion, it doesn’t stop! From The Sky Is Falling and I Want My Mommy, the Dead Kennedys’ frontman’s otherwise so-so 1989 collaboration with the dadaesque Canadian punk band. The link in the title above is a youtube clip of the full track.

August 31, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Three Killer Vinyl EPs by the Hussy

The Hussy like short songs. They keep it simple, just volcanic, distorted guitar and drums, punk beats and blistering garage-inflected tunes. Both guitarist Bobby and drummer Heather sing. Sometimes they take turns, sometimes they do it together. It’s catchy, anthemic, fun stuff. If what they’re doing in the studio is any indication – a lot of this sounds completely live – their shows ought to be killer. And they have three records out on vinyl, something that more bands like this ought to be doing.

The Winter Daze 7″ manages to squeeze in six songs. One Word is like Ramones without the bass, with sassy punk pop vocals. A couple of these are barely a minute long: Herbie, sung by Heather sounds like a NY Dolls demo with one of the groupies joining in the melee. Turkey might or might not be about slaughtering a bird – it’s as assaultive as everything else here. Head Set  is sexy, confrontational 3-chord garage punk with guy/girl vox. Winter Daze is poppier, with layers of guitar including an incisive solo – and is that a Casio? The best song on the ep is the irresistibly fun bubblegum punk Drinking Song which turns the original idea of teenage pop on its head. What do kids do? They get wasted! “Let’s go out and drink tonight with me!”

Also available is the Science of Sound split 7″ with the entertainingly playful garage/punk/noise band Sleeping in the Aviary. The Hussy’s contributions are I Got Soul, a minor-key riff-rock rumble; One Time, which sounds a little like X,  layers of overtones and natural distortion screaming from Bobby’s amp, and a barely thirty-second number about snakes that resembles the DK’s.

The Creepy Season bonus tracks (which you can also get online) include Oh No, vintage Stooges gone unhinged, lo-fi, zeros style; Brown Eyes and its 60s Sonics fuzztone guitar vibe and Going Home, a snotty frenzy of cymbal crashes and a catchy walking guitar line. The Hussy have a whole slew of Madison and Milwaukee shows coming up: Summerfest next year, guys!

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade

Call the Oxygen Ponies’ second album Love in a Time of Choler. Recorded during the last months of the Bush regime, it’s an attempt to reconcile the search for some sort of transcendence with the need to overthrow an enemy occupation. It’s also a strong contender for best album of 2009 (stay tuned!). Savagely lyrical, swirling and psychedelic, the obvious comparison is to the great Australian rockers the Church, although sonically and texturally a lot of it is gentler and sometimes more overtly 60s-influenced. Lots of dynamics here, organ and piano floating in and out, backing vocals sometimes adding a gospel choir flavor: it’s a triumph for producer Don Piper. Many of the tracks feature indie rock siren Randi Russo’s velvet vocals adding subtlety and menace. Frontman Paul Megna has always been a formidable lyricist, but here he vaults into the uppermost echelon. The cd’s opening track Love Yr Way begins skeletal, almost Leonard Cohen-esque, before leaping to an ecstatic crescendo at the end:

 

They broke my itchy trigger finger

Scratched an X upon my door

When they hang this message bringer

Blood will rain down through the floor

 

The insistent, midtempo Fevered Cyclones pans to a less-than-idyllic outer-borough hell:

 

We live like clones in our suburban homes

Substituting plastic to get by

You got the best, you want the rest

And you don’t think you’re living a lie

 

The War Is Over, a percussive garage rock stomp, throws another elbow at someone a little too perfect to believe:

 

The war is over, the bastards won

Don’t leave home without your lungs

They’ll shoot your mouth off without a pause

Every body has its flaws

But not you…

The war is over

The heroes lost

Cauterize the permafrost

 

The title track somewhat woozily chronicles two curiously named, possibly fictional, possibly pseudonymous women, Harmony Handgrenade and Melody Marzipan and the nasty repercussions their nonconformity brings them. Yet, it ends on a hopeful note. Grab Yr Gun begins slow and pensive, building to a catchy garage-pop chorus and then goes gospel, and satirically so: “Let your gun be your guide.” A big, scorching rocker, Finger Trigger evokes the loudest stuff on the Church’s Priest = Aura album, desperately flailing for some kind of hope, “Anything to dissipate the grey skies falling.” But it’s too late:

 

You and I and everyone waiting for a brighter sun to shine

We’re wasting time…

I can feel the terrorist inside of me

Choking on the apple of your eye

Hurry up, don’t be late, they’re gonna kill you where you sleep

Shut your mouth, shut your eyes and count the bombs in your heartbeat

 

The most indelibly Bush-era cut is the pensive, hypnotic, yet absolutely defiant, Steve Kilbey-esque Villains:

 

All you mystic gurus

Liars thieves and whores

A plague upon your houses

And all your holy wars

All you self defeatists

I call you all to arms

If we stop medicating

Then who will buy the farm

The fuckers in the White House

Hate your family…

We’ve got a long drive home

 

Defiance reaches a peak on the swinging, macabre ragtime tune Smile, shades of the late, great Douce Gimlet. The cd winds up on a somewhat subdued, sardonic note with A Bottle Marked the Enemy: “They’re gonna come for you, when they comfort you.” Like Simone de Beauvoir’s The Mandarins or the Dead Kennedys’ Frankenchrist, this album perfectly captures a time and place, if one that 5.9 billion people would rather forget. There’s undoubtedly a post-Bush era indie film out there that could match up with this much like Garden State did with the Shins. Maybe more than anything else, this is a cautionary tale, a vivid reminder of where complacency got us the last time around.

May 18, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment