the pataphysical study of randomized sound
Top Whatever of 2004
Fred Anderson/Hamid Drake - Back Together Again (Thrill Jockey)
Björk - Medulla (Elektra)
Comets on Fire - Blue Cathedral (Sub Pop)
Devendra Banhart - Rejoicing in the Hands (Young God)
Espers - s/t (Locust)
The Ex - Turn (Touch and Go)
Faust vs Dalek - Derbe Respect, Alder (Staubgold)
The Gris Gris - s/t (Birdman)
Joanna Newsom - Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City)
Noxagt - The Iron Point (Load)
Oneida - Secret Wars (Jagjaguwar)
David Thomas - 18 Monkeys on a Dead Man’s Chest (Smog Veil)
Dan Trueman - Machine Language (Bridge)
Various - DFA #2 (DFA)
Various - Katamari Damacy Soundtrack
Albert Ayler - Holy Ghost (Revenant)
DNA - DNA on DNA (No More)
The Flesh Eaters - No Questions Asked (Atavistic)
Galaxie 500 - Uncollected (Ryko)
Gizmos - Rock and Roll Don’t Come from New York (Gulcher)
Homosexuals - Astral Glamour (Hyped 2 Death)
Shrimp Boat - Something Grand (AUM Fidelity)
Mars - Complete Recordings (g3g/Spooky Sound)
Metal Urbain - Anarchy in Paris (Acute)
Zolar X - Timeless (Alternative Tentacles)
Various - Cambodian Rocks (Khmer Rock)
Various - Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label (Numero Group)
Various - Popular Electronics (Basta)
Various - The Third Unheard (Stones Throw)
Acid Mothers Temple/Psychic Paramount at the First Unitarian Church
Devendra Banhard/Joanna Newsom/Espers at the First Unitarian Church
The Ex at the First Unitarian Church
Hella at the First Unitarian Church
Kinski/The A Frames at the Crocodile (Seattle)
Metal Urbain in Philly
Sonic Youth/Bardo Pond/Fursaxa/Magic Markers at the Electric Factory
Sun City Girls/Bardo Pond at the Khyber
Things I didn’t hear enough of to say:
Dungen - Ta Det Lungt
Reigning Sound - Too Much Guitar
Wolf Eyes - Burned Mind
2004 was probably the best year for music since I started paying attention to underground music in 2001. There could have been a long list of honorable mentions tacked on to this, but that would start getting pedantic, and I'm happy with the list here. I'll refrain from offering more general comments until a later post, if I do any at all. I will, however, posit that 2004 was a year of geezer rock, in that so many groups/people that have been around for at least 20 years put out meaningful releases: Mission of Burma, Sonic Youth, The Ex, David Thomas and 2 Pale Boys, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, The Fall, Mekons, Faust, and Einsturzende Neubauten, to name a few. What this means, who knows.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Museums about music are strange. Generally when I think about museums, what comes immediately to mind is things - an object, the stuff associated with the object, discussion of the object, a context of the object, but mainly the object. And that object is generally some kind of physical being or something that can be represented and crystallized into a physical being. Or, with art museums, a place to put things in view where you can look at them at your leisure. However, the center point of all these different views of the museum is the thing itself. Which is what makes a museum devoted to music fundamentally flawed. Music is inherently ephemeral. Even with recordings, which store the music in a reproducible, physical form, the music still exists in time. You can’t just look at a CD and say, “oh yeah, I like that song;” you can look at a CD, see the title of a song, and say “oh yeah, I like that song” but the title is only a reference to the song, not the song itself. This wouldn’t be a problem if music museums did nothing but play music and provided a place for people to go to listen to that music, in its entirety, at their own leisurely pace. Then it would be an equivalent of an art museum. Or, more likely, an iTunes playlist.
However, museums of music are generally about everything but the music. Instead they are all about the culture surrounding the music, collecting the ephemera that goes along with the process of music making. In the case of a museum for a composer, they’ll have his desk or her piano or manuscripts of the original sheet music (whether or not sheet music counts as the
music is a discussion for another day). For a rock museum (like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Experience Music Project in Seattle, both of which I’ve visited in the past 6 months), they collect guitars, amps, drumheads, clothes, lyric books, photos, albums, and all the things that rock stars (since they both focus almost exclusively on artists who have sold at least a million records) come in contact with in their lives. But instead of giving complete fully contexualized musical examples, these places play on the loudspeakers 5-10 second clips, generally from the chorus, of songs that people know simply by existing within American culture. And not only are there only clips, but these clips are constantly fighting with clips from other sections of the museum for control over the aural space of the room. Now, I would have no complaint about this if they were, say, playing all the b-sides of the Stones hit singles, or cuts from deep within The Wall
or perhaps something deeper still. But, alas, all we get are the choruses of all the classic rock mainstays played in medley format while looking at record covers, drumsticks, and revealing outfits on mannequins (though I will say that I want most of the Al Green outfits they had at the Hall of Fame).
Another point of contention for me is the nearly strict focus on the mega-hits without even a mention of the lesser knowns. At art museums you’ll see an ultra-famous painting put next to something that you’ve never heard of; not so at rock museums. The only strange juxtaposition to be found at the R&R Hall of Fame is in the section where they talk about regional scenes and the put LA folk/rock immediately next to New York and London punk. And the only other mentions of the underground at both museums are in the local sections; the Hall of Fame has 2 little display cases on Pere Ubu, Devo, and co (I will admit to wanting to break into the case and steal the 30 Seconds Over Tokyo
7” as well as most of the Devo memorabilia, though). The EMP is a little more thorough, documenting most of the Seattle scene starting from the early 80s on including video interviews and full song samples of bands like Sleater-Kinney.
I went into both museums with a certain amount of trepidation, and neither failed to disappoint me. The EMP at least had better interactive features, a cool building, and a sci-fi hall of fame which I unfortunately didn’t have time to go to, so I left at least partially entertained. The Hall of Fame, however, felt like a walk-in VH1 special, long on hollow facts and short on substance.
I’m going to start phase 2 of this blog talking about something that combines many parts of who I am. Anyone who’s been around me for the past couple weeks has heard me do nothing but rave about the Gizmos. They tout themselves as the first punk rock group from Bloomington, Indiana, forming in 1976 and doing their thing until 1981. I’m not entirely sure what it is about their music that makes me weak in the knees, but it sure does.
It starts with their logo, a simple curved block script with the “z” exploding into its own thing. It might be that their from the midwest, the place that will always be home for me even if I live elsewhere. But my love of them basically boils down to the purity of their music. I’m generally not one to talk about musical purity; I’m all for bastardized, mongoloid musical mutts, but when it comes to the Gizmos they take purity to such a degree that you can’t help but take note. The songs all feature fairly basic rock guitar licks that show a heavy surf influence, surprising considering that the nearest ocean is about a thousand miles from Bloomington. Adding to this is that they really only use clean guitar tones (with some mild distortion every now and then); the lack of heavy distortion makes the songs float gently into your welcoming ears. What strikes me the most about the music, though, is the forthrightness of the lyrics. Yeah, they use a lot of the 50s “shoo-bee-do-whop” type thing in choruses, but the verses all have a kind of naïve honesty to them. Whether they’re being honest to a girl (in “Cry Real Tears”), wanting to become famous (“Dead Astronaut”), mourning because the girl they like is a lesbian (“Melinda is a Lesbian”), just missing home (“The Midwest Can be Allright”), they always talk in simple and forward terms which is totally irresistible. They only have a few different distinct songs, but that’s ok; Johnny Thunders, Nikki Sudden, Jonathan Richman and others of their ilk (and I consider the Gizmos to be of their ilk) from that period were about the same.
All of their releases have come out on the generally fantastic Gulcher
record label. In their Bloomington period, the Gizmos recorded 6 proper EPs, all of which are fairly jokey with songs like “Muff Diving,” “Amerika First,” “Human Garbage Disposal,” and “Progressive Rock.” In 1980 or so the group moved to New York where they recorded a bunch of demos that show their songwriting at its peak, simultaneously simple and complex. There are three pretty fantastic CD comps of their stuff which Gulcher put out over the past few years that have just about everything they ever did: 1976/77 The Studio Recordings
, 1978-81: Never Mind the Gizmos Here’s the Gizmos
, and Rock and Roll Don’t Come from New York
. I would call them all pretty much essential, if you’re a punk rock fan. That and the amazing Gulcher sampler, Red Snerts - but good like finding the LP, which is crazy hard to find, although Gulcher did reissue it on CD.
I've had a moment of inspiration. My pondering from 3 months ago has now come to fruition. Or at least it will. Henceforth, what was once merely a place for playlists, will now be a place for talk of a musical sort. We'll see where it takes us...