Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #554:
The Who – The Who Sings My Generation
OK, OK, this is “classic rock,” the one thing we’re trying to stay away from here. But what a rhythm section – and a tragedy that both John Entwistle and Keith Moon both left us so young. This album came out in 1965, when the band’s sound was new and fresh, before Pete Townshend turned into a Jimmy Page wannabe and Daltrey…well, the music here is good enough to make you forget he’s on it. With his completely unpredictable rumbling thunder attack, Moon absolutely owns La-La-La-Lies and Much Too Much. A Legal Matter mines the same amped-up R&B style as the Pretty Things and the early Kinks; the Good’s Gone foreshadows the Move. There’s also the country dancehall stomp of It’s Not True, the blue eyed soul ballad I Don’t Mind and Out in the Street, with its cool tremoloing intro. Oh yeah, there’s also an oldies radio standard, a future movie theme and a primitive, fuzztoned quasi-surf instrumental. The band only miss when they misguidedly try their hand at James Brown. Here’s a random torrent.
Albums like this just warm your heart…and make it beat a lot faster. Most of the guys in this particular edition of iconic Australian garage-punk band Radio Birdman were in their fifties when their Live in Texas album was recorded on their final tour in 2006, but they play with the rampaging intensity of musicians half their age. This isn’t the original band – this regrouped version has frontman Rob Younger plus guitarists Deniz Tek and Chris Masuak, with Jim Dickson of the New Christs burning through Warwick Gilbert’s melodic basslines (and adding a furious, propulsive edge of his own), and Russell Hopkinson – who played on the band’s final studio album, Zeno Beach – doing an only slightly more restrained take on Ron Keeley’s machine-gun work behind the drum kit. This sounds like a soundboard recording – there’s plenty of room for quibbling about the balance of the instruments, but who cares. It’s a good thing somebody had the sense to make a decent-quality live recording from this often transcendent tour (the band’s NYC debut at Irving Plaza on September 8 of that year was beyond amazing: do a little youtube surfing and see for youself). This one’s streaming in its entirety at Spotify, and it’s available from the kick-ass Australian Citadel label via mailorder.
The tracks are full of surprises. Our predecessor e-zine picked Radio Birdman’s final studio album, Zeno Beach, as the best album of 2006, and several of those tracks are represented here. The triumphantly menacing We’ve Come So Far to Be Here Today is a little faster than the album version, and it’s interesting to hear Masuak tackle the brief solo breaks with an off-kilter Ron Asheton bluesmetal attack. Likewise, Locked Up – the last song before the encores – is the only cut here with any kind of extended ending, and it’s very rewarding. Die Like April sets Masuak’s phased washes and ornate McCartneyesque lead lines against Tek’s sputtering distored chords and chordlets, Hopkinsons’s unhinged volleys completing the picture. The riff-rockers You Just Make It Worse and Subterfuge are surprisingly stripped down, arguably mellower than the studio versions, the latter holding its own despite the absence of Pip Hoyle’s catchy piano leads.
But it’s the old classics here that resonate the most. Murder City Nights, with bandleader Tek’s blistering, chromatic solo; the similar Anglo Girl Desire, with Masuak and Tek taking the solo together until Tek goes off bending notes and searing his way through the passing tones; and tantalizing, supersonic versions of the catchy punk-pop hits Burned My Eye and What Gives. The single best track here might be Smith & Wesson Blues, Dickson nailing that killer bassline against the twin guitar assault, Tek soloing out into the ionosphere by the second verse, Hopkinson murdering his snare. Or it could be I-94, one of the most savagely catchy songs ever written, Younger comparing late 70s American beer brands in an Australian accent. The six-minute, dynamically charged version of Hand of Law, a platform for some of Tek’s wildest playing here, is pretty exhilarating too.
There are also some unexpected covers. The version of Circles by the Who improves on the original; Til the End of the Day, which the Kinks absolutely ripped to shreds on their last couple of tours, gets a similarly punked-out fury; and the band do a spot-on impersonation of Blue Oyster Cult on Hot Rails to Hell, right down to the backing vocals. The album was released last fall – do we count this as one of our “best of 2011” when we put up that page at the end of this year? Stay tuned.
The question last night at South Street Seaport was how would the Black Angels respond to playing in broad daylight? Answer: as well as they always do, which means excellently. The way to experience a Black Angels show is to imagine the entire performance as a single song. The band made that easy, barely talking to the crowd, frequently segueing from one otherworldly, reverb-drenched, echoey vamp to the next. As they moved from one to another, they’d let a reverb pedal, or a repeater effect, or an organ chord ring out, blurring the line between transitions even further. Frontman Alex Maas recently went on record (in the weekly newspaper whose going-out-of-business party this show seemed to be) as being in favor of shorter, more easily digestible morsels in lieu of deliciously suspenseful, drony jams, but that didn’t stop them from delivering one long creepily swaying processional after another. Slowly, eerily, even inevitably, they brought down the sun.
Since they take their name from a Velvet Underground song, that band’s influence can definitely be felt, but they’re far from a ripoff. Adding ringing, post-Syd Barrett chords and chromatics and an ocean of overtones that built to riptide proportions and then gracefully slipped away, the majority of the set was the band’s signature blend of Banana Album psychedelic dreampop. There also was a lot of new material in the set, much of it a slower take on the warped, swampy glam/blues of 90s New York bands like the Chrome Cranks and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. What was most fascinating, and enjoyable was how subtly and artfully the band would play against a central, droning chord, trading microtones and the occasional macabre chromatic clang against the glimmering wash of sound. Maas’ reedy, Neil Young-ish voice left centerstage to the guitars, the band’s vocal harmonies adding yet another nonchalant layer of apprehension high in the sonic prism. Drummer Stephanie Bailey kept the procession going with a deceptively simple, subtly rolling groove, sometimes backing off even further and using brushes. Occasionally the sound engineer would give her snare a wicked “snap,” a potently effective move that pulled the dreamy ambience back from morass to reality.
Throughout the show, they employed a small museum’s worth of guitars: Fenders, a Rickenbacker, a twelve-string and also a couple of keyboards, band members shifting between them. Likewise, basslines became a community effort. About three-quarters of the way through the set, the band hit a dead spot. As some of the crowd thinned out, the ganja smoke thickened, and the band rewarded everyone who stayed with a two-song encore that mined the deepest pitchblende in their catalog. If their new album Phosphene Dream is anything like this, it must be amazing.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #577:
The 13th Floor Elevators – The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators
45 years later, the 1966 debut of this legendary, creepy Texas acid garage band – with an amplified jug that sounded a little like a tabla – is still the standard for pretty much every other psychedelic garage band. Setting Roky Erikson’s reverb-drenched, deadpan nasal snarl and nonstop barrage of surreal imagery against tinny, clanging riff-rock that frequently ventures into R&B and funk, it’s a trip, in every sense of the word. The iconic song here is You’re Gonna Miss Me, famously covered by Radio Birdman and a million others; the b-side, Tried to Hide, isn’t bad either. Roller Coaster introduces a macabre riff that would resurface in the Cramps; Through the Rhythm invents a new genre, apocalyptic soul music. There’s also Monkey Island, whose theme the J. Geils Band would echo ten years later, and the more ornate Kingdom of Heaven, You Don’t Know How Young You Are and Splash 1 (Now I’m Coming Home) along with the proto-punk Don’t Fall Down and Fire Engine. Here’s a random torrent.
People will be talking about this all year: one of the best doublebills of 2011, Sunday at Madison Square Park with Those Darlins and Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears. Both bands draw deeply on 60s sounds, yet they’re completely original and in the here and now. Both have a charisma and tightness that only comes with constant touring: they pretty much live on the road, as bands need to do these days in order to make a living.
Those Darlins opened. Frontwoman Jessi Darlin ran her Fender Jaguar through a vintage repeater box for a hypnotic Black Angels vibe on a couple of long, drawn-out psychedelic numbers. Nikki Darlin started out playing dark trebly tones on a Hofner bass and then switched to a Les Paul Jr. Kelley Darlin played sweet, vicious Telecaster leads until midway through the set, when she took over the bass, getting a fat, rich pulse on what looked like an old Vox Les Paul copy. The band’s taste in music is as purist as their instruments (not sure what drummer Linwood Regensburg was playing – his party rumble is as important to the band as their museum’s worth of guitars).
The women’s twangy three-part harmonies gave even the hardest-hitting garage rock songs a country charm. The lighthearted I Wanna Be Your Bro is a vastly cooler take on what Dar Williams tried to do with When I Was a Boy, followed by a Time Is Tight-flavored, soul-infused number sung by Kelley. Later on they brought it down with a gorgeously noirish, 6/8 ballad that Nikki thought might clear out the crowd (it didn’t). The rest of the set mixed catchy two-chord party-rock vamps with a swinging country song about eating an entire chicken, another long, trippy Black Angels-style anthem, a raw, careening cover of Shaking All Over and the best song of a long, entertaining set, a moody, minor-key janglerock tune possibly called What’re You Running From, sung by Nikki.
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears had a hard act to follow, but they made it look easy: not bad for a band who had a second show to play later that night at Maxwell’s. Their albums play up their songs’ funky, purist 1960s grooves, and their potent three-part horn section, but live they give everything a raw punk fury. Lewis is a great guitarslinger in the Texas tradition of Albert Collins and Freddie King. Like Collins, he goes for a chilly, reverb-drenched tone; stylistically, the guy he resembles the most is Hendrix, but the early, noisy, unhinged Crosstown Traffic-era Hendrix. Throughout the set, his right hand was a blur, strumming up and down furiously as he fired off long, searing volleys of hammer-ons: although his chops are scary, he’s more about mood and power than he is about precision. The band is tight beyond belief. On one of the early songs, second guitarist Zach Ernst followed Lewis’ rapidfire solo by leading the band through a razor’s-edge verse of the eerie Otis Rush Chicago blues classic All Your Love.
The intensity just wouldn’t let up. One of the highest points of the afternoon was during the band’s one instrumental, where Lewis finally worked his way out of a long vamp with a relentless solo where the tenor sax player finally stepped all over it, followed in turn by the trumpet and baritone sax knocking each other out of the ring in turn. The crowd reacted energetically to Lewis’ nod to his punk influences as he blasted through a barely minute-and-a-half version of the Dead Boys’ classic What Love Is, and followed that with a funked-up cover of the Stooges’ I Got a Right. From there they wound their way through a casually jangly number that was basically an update on Smokestack Lightning, Lewis finally quoting the riff toward the end of the song. The best song of the afternoon was the fiery antiwar broadside You Been Lying, a tune that sounded like the Stooges’ I’m Sick of You without the machine-gun bassline, the bassist finally picked it up with a bunker-buster blast of sixteenth notes as it wound out. The band got two encores: “H-I-G-H,” Lewis grinned as he led the crowd through a singalong of the intro to Get High, a searing, sun-blasted punk funk song. By the time they got to Louie Louie, everybody was still there, hoping for even more. Lewis and band were scheduled to tape Letterman the following night, a rare triumph – it’s not often that network tv features bands anywhere near as good, or original, as these guys.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #602:
Knoxville Girls – In the Woodshed
Active from the late 90s through the early zeros, darkly swampy New York rockers Knoxville Girls inhabitated a stylized world of Jim Jarmusch noir Americana. With Dimestore Dance Band leader Jack Martin, former Cramp Kid Congo Powers and the Chrome Cranks’ Jerry Teel on guitars, Barry London on organ and original Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert, they were the “the ultimate Lower East Side resume band” as one blog aptly billed them. As entertaining and occasionally menacing as their two studio albums are (In a Paper Suit, from 2004 is highly recommended), onstage they were an unstoppable beast. From 2000, this is their only live album, released only on vinyl and sold exclusively as tour merch. When Teel croons Warm and Tender Love, somehow it feels like just the opposite, a feeling that recurs on I Had a Dream and Charlie Feathers’ rockabilly standard Have You Ever. They take Ferlin Husky’s I Feel Better All Over to the next level, careen through the shuffling Armadillo Roadkill Blues, Kung Pow Chicken Scratch, the tongue-in-cheek One More Thing and the instrumental Sixty-Five Days Ago with an unhinged abandon that peaks in the sprawling, closing jam, Low Cut Apron/Sugar Fix. It doesn’t look like this has ever been digitized: try your local used vinyl joint. The band’s two studio albums are still available from In the Red.
Tuneful and trippy to the extreme, Brooklyn band Not Waving but Drowning’s new theatrical rock album Processional is in some ways a more adventurous take on the Dresden Dolls. It makes a good companion piece with Aunt Ange’s recent psychedelic masterpiece. Where that one’s downright menacing, this one’s more lightheartedly surreal, although not without its disquieting moments. Where Aunt Ange goes out on the gypsy rock tip, Not Waving but Drowning reach back to the sly surrealistic humor of 60s psychedelia. Like that era’s great psychedelic bands, they draw on a kitchen sink’s worth of influences: folk music from literally around the globe, vaudeville, cabaret and garage rock. What’s it all about, other than the shambling procession through an endless succession of surreal images that the title foreshadows? After hearing it several times, it’s hard to tell, although it gets more interesting every time around. To say that there’s a lot going on here is an understatement.
The opening track, Sleep Before I Wake, is basically a mashup of the bluegrass standards Seven Bridges Road and Shady Grove, done Appalachian gothic style with psychedelic, reverb-toned lead guitar and guy/girl vocals, like a more surreal version of the Walkabouts circa 1990. The next track, November 3rd weaves a magical web of bass, banjo, guitar and violin and a lyric about a honeybee. If he’s made it to November 3, either he’s a very lucky guy, or a not so lucky one. Which isn’t clear. Is he running for office? A question worth asking. Tabor Island is a gleefully brisk shuffle over an Indian-flavored drone: “We shall all be made free again on Tabor Island.” A Jules Verne reference? Maybe.
Like a track from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, Thanks a Lot Lancelot is a funny, sarcastic garage-pop song. “Sometimes love won’t do and you knew that from the start,” the singer reminds the poor knight. They follow that with a banjo tune, Windowsill, giving it a gentle evening ambience with trumpet and flute, and then pick up the pace with the scurrying, carnivalesque Station Light. A twisted casino scene of sorts, it’s the most theatrical number here. By the end, they’re not taking any bets – figure that one out.
The funniest song here is Sing to Me, a bumbling attempt at seduction that gets squashed fast, with a pretty hilarious quote from an awful 60s pop hit and an equally amusing outro. The Mission, with its 5/4 rhythm, offcenter violin and piano, is just plain inscrutable; they follow that with the album’s best song, Tiger Hunting, a creepy, slinky chromatic tune with an apocalyptic edge that hints at an old Talking Heads theme. Long Short Walk sounds like a cut from Nico’s Chelsea Girl album, but with better vocals and more interesting rhythm;Willow Garden evokes Country Joe & the Fish at their most reflective and acoustic. The album winds up with the title track, a twisted, swaying waltz that builds to a crescendo of delirious harmonies – it seems to be sort of an acoustic version of what Pink Floyd was going for with Waiting for the Worms. A pleasantly uneasy note on which to end this very entertaining journey. Not Waving but Drowning are at le Poisson Rouge on May 24.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #634:
The Cramps – Songs the Lord Taught Us
As time goes by, we may from time to time pull down some of those obvious picks on the main list page here and replace them with albums that are absolutely impossible to find online (Lennie Tristano, wherever you are, enjoy spot #933 – you’ve made the big time now). For those of you who’ve been paying really, really close attention, the prototypical 1980 ghoul-punk classic was originally sitting there among the rest of the albums we consider to be “obvious suspects,” but we thought it deserved a day all by itself. The Cramps took Link Wray, Hasil Adkins and the darkest side of surf music to its logical punk extreme. Produced by Alex Chilton, who gave Kid Congo Powers a wall of feedback that might never be topped, the late Lux Interior, guitarist Poison Ivy and drummer Nick Knox primitively stomp their way through a bunch of menacing originals – TV Set and Garbageman being the best of them – as well as completely over-the-top covers of Strychnine and The Fever, done the opposite of Peggy Lee with no bass. The fun continues with I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Lux panting like Norman Bates on steroids; What’s Behind the Mask is like that too. There’s also the ghoulabilly of Sunglasses After Dark, Mystery Plane and Zombie Dance among the thirteen tracks here. The Memphis Morticians and a million other ghoulabilly bands would be pretty much unthinkable without these guys. RIP, Lux. Here’s a random torrent.