1/30/2007

 

Music Review Cha-Cha: Billboard Singles Chart

Today, I think I’ll subject myself to one of my favorite forms of self-abuse: A random trip through the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart. OK, be brave, let’s motor…

Fall Out Boy: “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race” (Island) My friend Melanie says she drives her teenage girls nuts by referring to Emo as “Emu.” Emo is still a term that instantly gets my back up, bringing to mind floppy-haired miserable waif boys with some epic guitar riffs and a broken heart. It’s had a slow build in popularity, crossing from college-kid hip in the mid-90’s to alterna-mall-rock status today. I’ve never been a fan of the Emo trend, those boys just whine too much and they don’t really seem to bring anything fresh to the table.

Fall Out Boy almost seem too clever to fall into that exact trap, and manage to inject just enough originality to rise only slightly above the rest of the mall-punk pack. In a way I’d rather see something like this hit #1 on the charts than, say, Hinder or something really, REALLY bad. Still, I have very little love for this kind of thing. The voice is the most annoying yowl on the radio since Rob Thomas and Matchbox 20 reigned, the lyrics are striving for some kind of deep irony, but remain pointlessly obtuse, and the music is overproduced lip gloss smeared on the pouty lips of teen angst. Rating: 4/10 Current Billboard Hot 100 Chart Position: # 1

Nelly Furtado: Say It Right (Geffen) Nelly the barefoot gypsy hippie from a few years back didn’t really twirl my pinwheels, except for the Timbaland remix of “Turn Off The Light” that rattled pop radio at the time. I wanted to resist the new all-Tim version of Nelly, but like a not-unpleasant Portuguese-Canadian fungus, she has quite grown on me. “Maneater” especially was my jam, and here they keep it flowing. They slow things down a few notches here, getting all cozy next to the campfire where Tim throws beats instead of logs and they make the fire burn even hotter causing Nelly’s icy, robotic vocals to melt. I thought it was wild when I head that Timbaland would be working with Duran Duran, but I can actually hear some of their influence here. There’s a glacial, Nick Rhodes quality to the keyboard lines and the cheesy guitar riff comes in toward the end like a preening Andy Taylor stuck in time. Rating 7.5/10. Current Billboard Hot 100 Chart Position: #3

Daughtry: “It’s Not Over” (RCA) God, no. A hundred kinds of no. I was so happy to hear that Creed, the worst band to have ever terrorized pop culture, had broken up a few years ago. Little did I know there were dozens of Creed clones waiting in the wings like hungry rodents, ready to scamper out and bite the ass of music. Hinder. Nickleback. Stone Sour. Three Doors Down. Cobain died for somebody’s sins, but not these assholes. The evil Seattle-throat behind this generic post-post-Grunge-by-numbers yowler was a 4th place American Idol loser. Honestly, I couldn’t listen past the first chorus, so gut wrenchingly bad was my reaction to this utter tripe. Anyone who would purchase this crap needs to be deprogrammed, and then given a copy of the new Bloc Party album, pronto. Rating 1/10 Current Billboard Hot 100 Chart Position: #6

Paula DeAnda: “Walk Away” (Arista) Paula DeWho? I can’t think of anything much to say about this bit of pointless R&B fluff. Her voice is only average, the beats are mid-tempo and nothing to write home about. I’m assuming the co-credit of “The DEY” is referring to the not-so-fab male rapper that makes this track turn from smooth to nerve-jangling. Just boring. Rating 2/10 Current Billboard Hot 100 Chart Position: #12

Avril Lavigne: “Keep Holding On” (Fox/RCA) I’m reluctant to admit I’ve often had a soft spot for Miss Avril. She came out of Canada just 16 and all punky-like and sang “Adult Alternative” hits that parents could enjoy as much as the kiddies while driving the minivan to the Soccer park. Not since Madonna and her wannabes in the ‘80’s have we seen one girl start such a fashion craze – “Complicated” and “Sk8ter Boi” destroyed the airwaves and left in their wake a gaggle of girls wearing raccoon eyeliner and a loose necktie over a t-shirt with a sassy message. Now our girl is all growed-up at 23 and gave up the skater look for haute-couture long ago. I do have to admire her for having a fair amount of self-respect and never being photographed with her hoo-hah hanging out, unlike some of the other pop queens.

However “Keep Holding On” is nothing to jump up and down about, a massively mega-produced epic power ballad that’s nothing special at all and is instantly forgettable. Avril’s voice is fine (cute Canadian accent still intact) but she’ll never really be considered an artist until she ditches the syrupy pop gloss and does something edgy and unique. Maybe she’s not smart or talented enough to pull anything better off than this middle-of-the-road tanker. I don’t think the parents or the kiddies can manage to stay awake through it. Rating 3/10 Current Billboard Hot 100 Chart Position: #21

KT Tunstall: “Suddenly I See” (Virgin) Actually, I like her. I saw her perform on a talk show awhile back and she had just her guitar and a series of pedals – she was able to somehow create loops of her tapping a rhythm on her guitar and of her voice with these pedals. The result was a massive sounding one-woman band and she came across as energetic and fresh. This single isn’t quite as sonically engaging as that, but it’s nice and breezy like a shampoo commercial. It’s mercifully free from the hi-gloss and airless overproduction that so much pop music suffers from these days. She’s not a true original, but she has her own style, like Melissa Etheridge minus the Bruce Springsteen quotient. Rating 6.5/10Current Billboard Hot 100 Chart Position: #23

Unk: “Walk It Out” (Koch) Ugh. Unk’s name is short for Unknown and I wish he would have stayed that way. As open as I like to be toward Hip Hop, lately I’m just amazed how bad it’s gotten. This is to Hip-Hop as The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus is to Punk. There’s a grain of the real deal buried somewhere deep within, but it’s certainly not worth suffering through the muck to find it. There’s no originality whatsoever on display. The music is Old-School 101 for Ghetto Casio – totally canned. The sound is about as fresh as Nelly’s (not Furtado, but the rapper) rejected demo tapes from 2002. Unk’s shouty, moronic rhymes make me crave an instrumental version. Totally abysmal. Rating 1/10 Current Billboard Hot 100 Chart Position: #28

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus: Face Down (Virgin) Terrible name. Here’s another overproduced slice of rotten emo-mall rock for moody suburban boys (and girls) trying eyeliner for the first time. This has no personality whatsoever. Who’s to blame for this insipid, generic brand of commercial pop music that sounds like it was manufactured specifically to be the background music of the Warped Tour TV marketing campaign? Who did this crap first? Do we blame AFI, maybe My Chemical Romance? At least those bands have some schtick. “Face Down” is faceless, clichéd and miserably overwrought. Rating 1.5/10. Current Billboard Hot 100 Chart Position: #43

Sigh. I want the last hour of my life back. I could've listened to the the new Of Montreal album again.

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1/29/2007

 

Video: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Chuck Berry Cook Macrobiotic Style

In the early 1970's, after John Lennon's attempts to raise awareness of world peace landed him at the top of the FBI's watch list (a subject superbly covered in the recent film "The US vs. John Lennon"), he decided to become as public a figure as possible, just to anger those who wanted him to shut up. So, he jumped at the chance to co-host "The Mike Douglas Show", along with his wife Yoko Ono, for an entire week. It was during this week that some of the most surreal and bizarre moments in television history were created. Some visionary marketing soul saw to it that the entire week long series was made available as a DVD box set, and I've been looking for a cheap copy on eBay. Meanwhile, YouTube is full of insane clips, and this is one of my favorites. Some random hippie chick ("Hilary Redleaf") comes on the show to teach John, Yoko, and a bemused Chuck Berry how to make macrobiotic egg rolls. All three appear absolutely clueless in the kitchen as poor Hilary's patience wears increasingly thin and she actually gets snippy with the rock-n-roll legends. She just wants the food to be "full of good vibrations." While Chuck and John share an apron and make snide comments and crack jokes, a game Yoko at least attempts to use a rolling pin with little success. Must be seen to be believed, so here ya go:

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Extra Snark / Keyword Analysis Q & A

Well, cool. It's been getting more and more trafficky here at Making Flippy Floppy. Seems like my vow to at least try to blog something every day has got people popping in from all over ze place. Once again, a special shout out to DFO, who has featured this very blog in his Huckleberries column in the Spokesman Review, the old-fashioned paper-and-ink version, even. Check it out:
OrangeTV Reviews Served w/Snark

OrangeTV is one of the many treasures who hang out at Huckleberries Online. He's the twentysomething who posts superb reviews of music, the Coeur d'Alene night scene and eateries on his Making Flippy Floppy blog. His local restaurant reviews are my personal faves. Of the Sherman IGA Deli last week, he raved about the Chester Fried chicken, barbecue spareribs and jo-jos, while recalling when he was about 12 that he and his mother "hid shivering behind a mayonnaise display as the store was being robbed."

What separates OrangeTV from other reviewers are observations like this: "Evening and night at the store is a whole different vibe – it turns into a edgy hotspot for welfare moms on meth, drunk college boys on meth, and extremely munchie-afflicted emo kids. Oh, and Hagadone honcho Jerry Jaeger. I've seen him shopping there a dozen times, late into the night, and I just know he can afford to upgrade to at least Super 1 or something. Maybe he does it to show us wee villagers that really, he's just a regular guy after all – just one of the folks."

In another post, he praised the new Breakfast Nook as a decent addition to Midtown, but he wasn't crazy about the hostess who waited on him: "The hostess coldly wrote our names on a list and still offered no clue as to when we might be seated. She was too young to be so frowny-faced and bitter." Fiesta Mexicana. Panda Express. Paul Bunyan Famous Hamburgers. OrangeTV reviews places where most North Idahoans can afford to eat. You can find a link to the Making Flippy Floppy reviews on my blog.

Awful nice isn't he, especially the part about "twentysomething." How did he know my sixth 29th birthday celebration was just around the corner? Also, you may be seeing a lot more of me in the Spokesman Review, but nothing is for sure yet, so I'll save the details for now.


A significant part of the traffic on this site comes from people searching Google and Yahoo for a variety of oddball topics. I love examining my StatCounter Keyword Analysis to see exactly what makes Making Flippy Floppy rise to the top of the search results sea. I felt the need to address some of the more unusual search terms, as well as the ones that show up on a regular basis:

"sue diamond" - Slovakian porn princess whose 87 films to date films include "Lipstick Lesbians" and "Bound and Gagged Cheerleader." I had never heard of Ms. Diamond when I copied and pasted a chunk of text from a email spam and called it "poetry" ("Sue Diamond, leggy blonde enticing a merchant prince") but I soon found out, and now her name is frequently at the top of my Keyword Search list. Sorry, fellas, there are no hot and nasty pics of Sue in action to be found in these parts, but I have a feeling you won't have too much trouble finding all of her online, even one-handed.

"spring session m cd reissue" - Ah, the classic debut from LA's best new-wavers Missing Persons. It was my favorite record when I was 11 and I wore the thing pretty much grooveless. I'm not sure who keeps hounding my site about the topic, or why, but I'm actually glad they did because I just pulled my copy of the 1995 CD reissue off the shelf and damn, 'Destination Unkown" still sounds fresh 25 years later. Try Amazon.com.

"connie vannett pussy" - "My neighbor stole my kitty / But I did see / I said to my neighbor set my pussy free / Free pussy / Sore, wet, hot, bad free pussy / Just a friendly little cat." John Waters seems to have rediscovered this novelty hit by the mysterious Ms. Vannett when he used it in his film "A Dirty Shame" in the scene where Sylvia Stickles wanders around in a concussion-induced sex craze. I think I had an MP3 posted at one point, but sorry, it's no longer here. Buy the soundtrack album.

"lola hagadone" - The enigmatic wife of Duane, who seems to prefer to remain private. In fact, there is absolutely zero information about her floating around on the web. A Google search only serves to bring up some useless info about her namesake yacht, the Lady Lola. I have personally sighted Mrs. H only twice ever, her big, blonde hair poking out from the sunroof of her luxury white car. I'm curious to know more about this local glamazon, and I'm vowing to crack the mystery of Lola - I will settle for nothing less than an exclusive interview - stay tuned.

"blonde hairdocatfight" - This one clearly has to do with the infamous Shore Lounge karaoke catfight incident. Whoever it is that keeps bringing it up like this needs to have their spacebarcheckedout.

"how to rip cassettes" - Actually I've been trying to figure out a better way to deal with this lately - I want to bring you all some cassette-only thrift store finds in MP3 format, but can't figure out why my PC soundcard is being cranky about it. I have an external preamp and a cassette walkman, but still no sound, not even a signal registering on my recording software. The only think I can figure is a faulty patchcord. Advice anyone?

OK, these are sorta fun, eh? Look for more "keyword Q&A" later...

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1/28/2007

 

Random Photo: Ling In A Box

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1/26/2007

 

Mom's Hamburger Roll-Up with Creamy Pea & Carrot Sauce

I really don't cook all that often at home, but when I do, I've been told I'm pretty good. I've decided to post some favorite recipes now and then for a few reasons. Firstly, I can never find the one I'm looking for around the house: What book was it in? Where did that little scrap of paper I write it down in go? It'll be much easier to find them here. Second, I've been wanting to preserve some family recipes that I'm afraid will get lost in time if I don't save them somewhere - some have never even been written down!
It's hard to imagine that my mother came out of the gate as a good cook. She was a bit of a party gal back when, and the kitchen just doesn't seem like it would've been her favorite place to hang. However, she worked hard over the years to improve her skills, and despite a few famous mis-steps along the way (Creamed Asparagus on Toast, or as my dad called it, "Shit on a Shingle."), she has become a master, delighting the whole family with her ingenious culinary temptations.
Every now and then I'll get an insane craving for something she made years ago and that I haven't tasted forever. One of my favorites she made fairly frequently when I was growing up was her "Hamburger Roll Up", a recipe which she claims to have invented herself and up until now has never been in written form. It's simple and very tasty and should be served as a main dish with a side dish of cottage cheese and canned pears.
Mom's Hamburger Roll-Up with Creamy Pea Sauce
Ingredients: 1-1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 white or yellow onion
1 cup celery
box of Bisquick
1/2 cube butter
1 package frozen peas (or mixed peas & carrots if desired)
2 cups milk
1 egg white
flour
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
salt & pepper
Cut onion into small pieces. Chop celery width-wise, about 1/4 inch slices.
Cook ground beef with onion, celery, a little butter, chili powder, salt, and pepper.
When ground beef is cooked, do not drain - add a few tablespoons of flour to absorb grease and thicken the mixture. Set aside.
Prepare Bisquick according to directions on package, enough to flatten into an appox. 12"x12" square, 1/4" to 1/2" thick. Lay out dough on non-stick baking tray.
Fill center of dough square with the hamburger mixture and fold sides together to form roll. Lightly seal top and bottom of roll by pinching dough.
Coat top with egg white and cut slit in middle of roll to vent.
Follow exact busicuit baking heat and time from Bisquick box.
Sauce:
In saucepan, melt about 1/4 cube (3 tsp) butter and add flour until thickened. Slowly blend in milk and onion powder, salt and pepper to taste. Cook peas and carrots seperately, then add to cooked sauce.
Cut cooked hamburger roll into 1-2 inch slices and pour over sauce. Enjoy!

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1/24/2007

 

Random Photo: Jessi Smiling

Photo by Patrick 1/21/07

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1/23/2007

 

RIP Kenny the Shoe Shine Man

Living in this town for so long, there are just certain things one takes for granted. Local places and people that just seem like they've always been here and always will be. One of these was dear old Kenny the Shoe Shine Man at the Coeur d'Alene Resort. Moments ago, I found out poor Kenny was dead. I'm at a loss, as if the very foundation of this town has been turned upside down and shaken. When the news broke yesterday afternoon that some kids hiking Tubbs Hill has spotted a body floating in the lake near the city docks, it was disturbing enough. However, when police announced it was a black man in his 60's, the thought of Kenny went through my head immediately. After all, there honestly aren't a whole lot of black men in their 60's wandering about in this town. But I thought, no - couldn't be him, that'd never happen - he was much too cautious. Sadly, it was just announced this morning to his family and co-workers that it was indeed him, although no details about the exact circumstances of his death have come forth. I remember climbing on Kenny's shoe shine stand as a bratty kid, when the CDA Resort was still the North Shore, and the thing to do was play on the elevator, run in the halls, and climb up on anything and everything until management kicked you out. I had seen Kenny around town, and at the time he was kind of like a novelty act: you just simply did not see a black man in North Idaho. However, anyone who knew Kenny knows that he didn't think that way at all - he was never degraded or put out one bit by the narrowmindedness of others. He just smiled and spread good vibes. He was a man who was proud of his work and he was darn good at it. Anyone who any spent any time at the Resort, both locals and guests, knew about Kenny - he was actually one of the area's most famous and loveable characters. Years later, when I worked at the Resort, I would frequently buy a copy of the New York Times to read and kill some time up in the parking garage booth where I sat for many long hours. When I was done reading it, I always made sure to drop it off with Kenny, because I knew he enjoyed it, too. I think maybe we both had dreams of bigger and better places, but had resigned ourselves to making do here in this town. I could relate to Kenny as an outsider, that feeling that you seem to belong here but not really. He was kind of a loner, and at the time, so was I. After I quit the Resort, I would still see Kenny walking by my house to and from work every day, always carrying 3 or 4 bags, occasionally stopping to pet the cats, or update me on the latest resort gossip (although he would never say anything mean about anyone.) After I moved from that house a few years back, I missed Kenny - I had been meaning to pop in and catch up with him, but sadly never did. I didn't know Kenny the shoe shine man very well, but his positive spirit gave me a little bit of a lift every time I encountered him. I'm sure there are thousands of folks who've had "Kenny moments" over the years who are beside themselves with the news of his mysterious passing. He was a quiet, kind, and peaceful soul and was so built into the landscape of this town, it simply will not be the same without his presence. I've heard there is a memorial already being set up on his shoe shine stand in the CDA Resort lobby, so if Kenny touched your life at all, please drop in and pay your respects to a true Coeur d'Alene old-school original. RIP. Let's hope his longtime boss, Duane Hagadone, has the good sense to name a memorial garden or at least a conference room after one of his longest and most honorable employees. His warm smile will be missed, but not easily forgotten.

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1/22/2007

 

Event Review: Concert for Kim Hagen @ Mik-n-Mac's

Last night's Concert for Kim Hagen benefit show went down magnificently. Mic-n-Mac's Lounge here in CDA has never looked so good - the place was transformed with layered curtains, scented candles and white floral arrangements. The local community really came together to raise money for one of our town's most talented and unique individuals, Kim Hagan. For those of you who haven't kept up on the story, check out www.bringkimback.com for full details. In brief, Kim Hagan was hit by a car while skateboarding in Eugene, Oregon late last summer and suffered massive head injuries, spending several weeks in a coma. She has since woken up and has been slowly recovering. She was finally able to return here to her family before Christmas and was doing excellent. Unfortunately, an infection developed and she had to return to the hospital and has her most recent surgery happening today. Kim has thousands of friends across the globe. She has performed with the Cirque de Soleil and as a street performer in major cities in the US and Europe. She is a dynamic and flamboyant personality with a major sense of adventure. Her spirit is infectious and unforgettable. Since the accident, her family and friends from all over have been donating time and money and offering support in many different ways. Her medical bills will be in the millions of dollars, so every bit helps. Last night's benefit show was organized by Kim's sister Christine, who is a bartender at Mik-n-Mac's. Bar owner Rita Mikalatos was kind enough to not only open on a Sunday for the event, when the place is normally closed, but she also put every dime of liquor sales and tips earned toward the Kim Hagen Foundation. Dozens of local businesses and artists donated items and gift certificates for the silent auction. Seems like everyone donated something. To name just a few: Alex Atha donated a gift certificate for his hair salon, Bryan Howell donated a dozen of his original art prints, Yvonne Bright donated a gorgeous framed print, Cafe Doma donated pounds and pounds of their special "Kim's Blend" coffee. A local travel agency donated a week long trip to the Caribbean, for which a separate raffle was held. Kim and Chris' mom Marsha held down court in the auction area, answering questions and chatting with well-wishers. Meanwhile, local musicians Kite, Cristopher Lucas, and Mark Stephens turned in some excellent performances and donated the proceeds from CD sales. Live music has been a rarity here at Mik-n-Mac's, but Rita mentioned to me that she now wants to make Monday nights sort-of an open mic night, with drum circles, guest DJ's, and live acoustic music. This is great news, and could turn into an important weekly event for the local music scene. After the music, Christine had everyone in the house come up to the dance floor and hold hands and concentrate on Kim in her hospital bed for a moment of healing, hope and silence. I haven't yet heard how much money was raised for Kim, but I'd imagine the total amount to be very nice - at least $10,000. The place was packed and people were being extremely generous with their donations and auction bids. When we heard the drink proceeds would go to Kim as well, my little group became very generous, ordering drink after drink: "I'll have another martini for Kim!" Well, the last part of the night's details are a fair bit hazy, but I do know we had an absolute blast. Here are two live music videos I recorded during the event. Apologies for the less-than-dazzling sound quality. Mark & Tessa: Kite:

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1/19/2007

 

Death Crows, Hot Rocks, and Jackass

On KPBX right now I’m hearing classic TV themes performed in the style of Mozart, and “The Brady Bunch” is kicking my ass. Brilliant!

If anyone dies in the next day or two, I know why. My friend Jessi had me rapt the other day with her superstitious beliefs and all their stories. She said throughout her whole life, every time she crosses the path of a crow, someone she knows dies, from her grandmother when she was little, to her first husband, to the poor guy who died in that drilling accident in Sandpoint a few days ago (he happened to be best friends with her sister.) Yeah, she crossed a crow the day before.

Okay, maybe it’s just Jessi that’s cursed with this annoying problem, but when I was coming out of IGA this morning there was a fat crow waddling around by the front door, and it took me a few seconds after I’d walked past it to realize the potential fatality of the situation. I mean, maybe I have the crow death curse, too, but I’d just never noticed. Horrors!

Last night, I got to fondle some really sexy rocks – it was the first meeting of my Geology lab class. I was a bit peeved after I found out my old school pal Melanie was in a different section, but yesterday an opening miraculously appeared in her section so I was able to switch into her class at the last minute. We actually had fun working our way through a huge toy box of several dozen different mineral samples, performing a variety of tests to determine their identities. It’s been so long since I’ve had an actual hands-on science class, I felt like an eager kindergartner in there.

The bitch is that there’s also a nasty Geology quiz each week and tests that we have to go to the evil NIC Testing Center to take; The Testing Center, where I was accused of cheating with a calculator on a History exam. I had taken said History exam in a sweaty little room with other random people taking other random tests. I had no calculator on me, in fact I haven’t even owned one in years. I don’t believe in math. All I had was a pen and a test.

Anyway, I got an email a few days later from the instructor saying that a student had reported seeing me fiddle away freely on “what appeared to be a calculator” before handing my test to the gossipy, lost-in-space ladies at the main counter. I was totally stunned – I’d never been accused of cheating once in my life and always worked hard for my good grades – how dare some snatch come out of the blue and create such a mess for me – I could get suspended for something this serious! I explained to the instructor there must be a mix-up, and marched down to the Testing Center to rant and told them they’d better figure out what the heck they did and pronto. The instructor finally mentioned that the accusation came in the form of a post-it note attached to my test, which prompted the dimwit counter girl to realize she must have put the note on the wrong test – in reality she meant to put it on someone’s MATH test, hence the kerfuffle about the CALCULATOR – um, hell-O. I’ve been leery about taking exams there ever since.

I had the mixed pleasure of watching “Jackass 2” the other night. I got it mainly to see John Waters’ briefer than brief cameo appearance, but made it through most of the rest, with my finger on the fast-forward, that it. I’m queasy easy and I’ve never been the biggest fan of the gross-out genre. Some of the stunts here are actually clever and funny, but you get the feeling Johnny Knoxville is trying too hard to prove that he still “has it”, and hasn’t gone too Hollywood. All these guys are getting older and richer and they sometimes seem like they’re just going through the motions. Although, there were bits I just couldn’t bear – drinking horse semen? Swallowing zebra dingleberries? No thanks, not for me. Oh, and those of us who’ve been dying to see Bam Margera’s full manly business finally get our wish in the bonus section. Ow!

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1/18/2007

 

Random Photo: A Picture of Q Taking a Picture of Me Taking a Picture of Q.

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1/16/2007

 

Concert For Kim

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1/15/2007

 

Music Review Cha-Cha (Part 2)

Marnie Stern - In Advance of the Broken Arm LP It's pretty rare these days that it happens: a record so original, so unlike anything anyone's ever heard creeps out of a dark corner and bites the ass of the avid music listener. I think the absolutely noisy and jaw dropping debut from New York guitarist/vocalist Marnie Stern is bound to be one of those albums. It's a wicked mix of punk-metal acrobatic guitar riffage that seems totally random at times, scattered - overly arty, but amazingly concise - nothing proggy here, she molds what could be ten-minute over-the top epics somehow into economic three-minute tunes. Stern's guitar skills are otherwordly and purposefully noodley - at times she comes straight from Planet Eddie Van Halen. Yet, just when the big-hair and spandex quotient of the speed-metal riffs begins to become enjoyably unbearable, the song shifts into something else and bam - another complete shift is chasing right behind it. Stern's voice is feminine and powerful, childlike at times, chanting unintelligible mantras. The drummer seems to just complicate matters - his patterns totally random and improvised, heavy, but when they click with the rest of the cacophony, the effect is gripping. The closest comparison I would make is to the first Throwing Muses album from 1986, only if Kristin Hersh had loved AC/DC instead of the Violent Femmes. But it's much noisier than that. Or maybe if Joanna Newsom did an album with Lemme Motorhead, and it was produced by Sonic Youth. A Yeah Yeah Yeahs record played at 45 instead of 33 RPM. None of these comparisons do really do In Advance of the Broken Arm a lot of justice. It's wild and untamed, experimental but familiar. Stern's lyrics are sufficiently arty as to create an appealing shroud of mystery and chemical imbalance. This album might not appeal to everyone - it can truly be a bit much at times - but I have a hunch it's going to have an impact and influence that will linger for years. Rating 8.5/10 Deerhoof - Friend Opportunity I've always had a bit of a hard time wrapping my brain around the music of San Fran's Deerhoof. Early works were pure noise and nothing but squawkity-squawk to me. They seemed like a band that was just being weird for the sake of being weird, abandoning any inroads toward actual listenability. Fortunately, recent releases have seen Deerhoof shift the focus to more direct melodicism and aesthetic appeal. Last year's release The Runners Four finally intrigued me enough to merit repeated listens. Friend Opportunity is even stronger, brimming with pop riffs and unexpected melodic shifts. The band retains an experimental edge, and keeps it sonically exciting by dropping in some intriguing and occasionally oddball electronic elements. A major part of the appeal is Satomi Matsuzaki's voice which is light and pleasant throughout, avoiding the cloyingly cutesy tendencies of similar Japansese female voices. Deerhoof allows themselves a lot more breathing room here, at times drifting into cinematic territory (the wistful and gorgeous "Whither The Invisible Birds." There is a nice balance on this record between these delicate moments and guitarist John Dieterich's more in-your-face classic rock riffage, such as on the Beatle-esque "Cast Off Crown." The album for sure has a more mature vibe than earlier releases, with the exception of the silly "Kidz Are So Small", a wacky Cibo-Matto style old-school hip hop farce. Also, closer "Look Away" meanders tunelessly for eleven slow minutes, causing the listener to crash into a naptime nightmare of noise. Rating 7/10 Hinder - "Lips Of An Angel" I don't know exactly why I would torture myself by even putting this absolute turd of a song into consideration. When something comes along that's this bad and actually makes it into the upper regions of the pop charts, I feel it's my duty to heavily make fun of it and anyone that actually takes it seriously. Like the irritatingly rotten Creed before them, the music of Hinder appeals to lazy consumers who cannot see beyond mainstream radio and the WalMart music section, and still believe that somehow hi-gloss grungy hard rock is edgy and cool, and that rock stars come only in one sensitive, uber-masculine, pleather-pantsed variety: some asshole with Seattle-throat and some bad junior high love poems. A glance at a publicity photo shows five hilarious young men who were plucked, tucked, and fucked by record company honchos, given a "rock star" makeover with a few facial piercings, perfectly messy hair just so, a bit of eyeliner, a moody glare. The corn-fed kids of Hinder claimed recently that they want to "bring the fun back into Rock and Roll!" On that front, they truly get a zero for effort, because this track is about as "fun" as toenail fungus and the surgery to have it removed. The lyrics and melody are just plain embarrasing, cloying and cringeworthy. Reading them is like being socked in the gut: "well my girls in the next room / Sometimes I wish she was you /I guess we never really moved on." or "girl you make it so hard to be faithful /with the lips of an angel." Yeah, it doesn't even make sense and manages to be pathetic and misogynistic at the same time. The production is pure '80's power ballad a la Great White. But even that makes it sound more interesting than it actually is. It reminds me of something from one of those TV soundtrack albums from the mid-90s, like "Melrose Place" or whatever, some anonymous post-post grunge song they used in the background of a pukey love scene. This track is just so fucking boring, it brings absolutely nothing new to the big table of popular music and mocks all other music by managing rise into the pop charts and sell millions of albums. Are the kids really listening to this or is it an older crowd, like a grunge-burnout crowd of some type? Personally I don't know anyone who would admit to liking it, even if they were trying to be somehow ironic. I guess no matter how much we try to flush it away, the bloated turd of post-grunge will forever float in circles in the toilet bowl of rock. Rating 0/10

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1/13/2007

 

Music Review Cha-Cha (Part 1)

What’s been fading out, ker-chunk-ing, then fading back in lately on the Making Flippy Floppy 8-track tape deck?

LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver (released 3/12/07)

Lead track “Get Innocuous” comes creeping in from the dank cellar of the disco, through a secret door in the middle of the dancefloor. Its grouchy dance music, like something Eno might have dreamt up if he’d never been hit by a car, or maybe if he’d died that accident and his ghost helped Giorgio Mododer produce Bowie’s Low instead. What if Talking Heads were signed to Factory Records in 1982? LCD man James Murphy conjures a realm of musical “what-ifs” throughout the excellently titled new album Sound of Silver. The DFA sound is in full glorious effect here, bone-dry beats, all crisp and bright; cow-ca-bell, cow-cow-ca-bell; one half-snatch of funk; comfortingly glib detachment; basslines that are simultaneously moody and booty; the analog love from granny’s antique thingybox. The album is actually perhaps not as reliant on studio wizardry as prior releases, many tracks push a more traditional approach, like the pounding pianos of “All My Friends,” the everyday funk of “Us Vs. Them,” or the post-post-punk rock of “Watch the Tapes,” which is the best track The Fall never recorded in 1985. Closer “New York I Love You” is an effective homage to Tranformer-era Lou Reed and longs for the gritty city the Big Apple was before it became a safe and Disney-fied. Lyrically, the irony level never quite approaches the heights attained on earlier LCD classics such as “Losing My Edge” or “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”, except “North American Scum” with it’s Jane Fonda aerobic vibe and shout-along vocals. “Something Great” is probably the best thing Murphy has ever written – the lyric is effective and sentimental without being at all cloying. The melody is something you can almost chew on – the rubbery synth bass could have been lifted from a lost Travelogue-era Human League demo, the chime of the bells evokes early OMD and you want to crawl into it like a warm, familiar synth pop quilt.

Strangest of all is the brilliant title track which repeats its awkward lyric endlessly, mantra-like, atop the most deliciously minimalist electronic funk since Kraftwerk played a little melody on their pocket calculators all those years ago. It’s an amazing track, and impossible not to move to, and it’s bleeps and bubbles slowly fade out to reveal – what else – an impossibly intricate cowbell riff was happening underneath the track the entire time. Sound of Silver looks to be one the essential albums of the year. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater” / Justin Timberlake – “My Love”

With few exceptions, I have never been able to resist anything producer Timbaland touches. The last few years seemed a little rough for him creatively, not even Missy wanted him around much. Happily, he seems full of fresh ideas recently and these two massive hits are modern pop at its absolute finest and most forward-looking. His sound is so instantly recognizable that his vision always comes though no matter what artists he is working with. He’s never afraid to branch out into new musical realms, bringing to

reality situations that seem absurd yet fully alive with possibility – he has recently worked on the new albums of Duran Duran and Bjork. “Maneater” does the seemingly impossible task of making Nelly Furtado seem almost likeable, reducing her voice to a delightfully sassy squawk, robotically sexing up a corny (but extremely fun) lyric. The steam-and-piston beat stomps your head in, the massive synth riff swoops your body to and fro involuntarily. It’s what the Human League may have sounded like if they were early Prince protégés. The swooshing synth sound makes a re-appearance on Justin Timberlake’s “My Love,” but Timbaland slows things down a few notches, replacing “Maneater’s” in-your-face bump and grind with a more sublte, skittery beat and Justin’s melt-in-your spleen falsetto. When I hear this song, I’m right there with him, walking down the beach hand-in-hand, throwing our clothes in the sand, and who isn’t? Apparently, there's a rapper caller T.I. on here somewhere, but he is instantly forgettable next to the expansive glory of Justin's lovelorn longing, and Timbaland's comforting-older-brother production job. Timbaland keeps the music relatively simple here, choosing to let the many layers of vocals do the effective part of the work.

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1/12/2007

 

Restaurant Review: McDonald's Breakfast

I'm really not much of a fast food eater. In fact, pretty much the only thing I can handle in that fetid genre of foodstuffs is the McDonald's breakfast. Specifically, a sausage egg and cheese McGriddle sandwich, a berries and yogurt parfait, an oatmeal cookie, and an extra large lemonade. This is what I get on my way to work usually two, sometimes three days a week, and oddly the total for this combo plus tax is always $6.66. I'm always pleased with the fast and accurate service - pretty much the same high standard at every McDonald's in the world, as far as I can tell. Whenever I try a different drive-through I am stunned by how long it takes to get through. McDonald's is always terrifically swift. My particular McDonald's is the one here in CDA on Appleway. Years ago, they had a little log cabin out front and despite the fact it smelled rather like piss, I celebrated at least one childhood birthday there - I must have been about 4 or 5. I remember The Man himself, Ronald McDonald showed up and must have been at least 7 feet tall - he had to constantly lean down in that little birthday cabin to keep from bonking his head. We played rousing games of stack-the-styrofoam-Big-Mac-boxes and pin-the-tail-on-Grimace, and I remember my puke-breath friend Diana winning both, causing me to lose it and cry at my party like Leslie Gore. A few years ago I went to an after-bar party at a friend's house they had just moved into and during the tour she mentioned that the walls in the basement room were made of the old McDonalds kiddie cabin. The old owners of the house had bought the cabin at auction and used the logs to decorate - everyone screamed with disbelief and delight since everyone else had spent at least one childhood birthday in there. Wild. So, today I pulled into the McD's drive through to get my breakfast fix, almost running late for work as usual. My bronchitis from earlier this week has turned to laryngitis so I can't blame Natasha for entering in my order wrong - it was hard to rasp loud enough for her to hear. She told me just to pull up and we would figure it out. She fiddled with the register and told me she had to do something tricky to fix my order in the system and told me to make sure and double check that I got the right stuff at the next window. It may be a little sad that I know the McDonald's drive-thru girl on a first name basis, but Natasha is my homegirl, and she's working everytime I go through there. I pulled up to the next window and the kid (new?) says "two burritos and an orange juice - thank you" as he hands me the bag and goes to immediately shut the window. I said "Um...no. It's a sausage egg and cheese McGriddle sandwich, a berries and yogurt parfait, an oatmeal cookie,and an extra large lemonade." So he asked me to pull over into one of the parking spots to the right that they make you wait in if they mess up and order or if you order too much stuff. So I said "Oh, no. That's alright, I'll just wait here." and the kid looked at me like I just kicked his little puppy. "Uh...okay." he said nervously, wide-eyed. He closed the window and turned to tell his supervisor that I refused to park, and I chuckled and smiled back as the supervisor gave me a death glare. Normally, I wouldn't be so snotty and would have pulled over but I just knew that if I sat there holding up the line they would be forced to get their shit together pronto and get my order out now! If I'd pulled over and parked, who knows how long I would have been waiting with my order on the proverbial back burner. Sure enough, they scrambled together my order in about 10 seconds and the fool handed me an extra orange juice to boot! I had the poor kid so shaken up, his world was upside down. Ah well, at least I'll have something to tell Natasha about next time I go through...

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1/10/2007

 

Product Review: Sandisc Sansa MP3 Player

I was sort of resisting the portable MP3 player revolution. I do still have a soft spot for hard media. I was sad when the LP succumbed to cassettes and finally CDs. But I grew to like CDs and I certainly have collected enough of them over the years. I always liked holding the sleeve in my hands and looking at it while I listened. Now, the best you get is a postage stamp size image in the window of your digital media player, and it just ain't the same. However, that's my only gripe, and since I got a little Sandisk Sansa portable MP3 player, it hasn't left my side for a moment. When Santa asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year, I said "iPod", but Santa gets a little confused when it comes to technology, so I got a healthy sized Best Buy gift card instead. This worked out even better, since I'd since decided that I really didn't want an iPod, that is the actual Apple product, I wanted a different brand. I'm not the world's biggest fan of Apple products and to use and iPod you need iTunes installed and I've tried iTunes - it kept crashing my computer and wreaking havoc so I ditched it. After browsing the selection of doo-dads at Best buy for awhile, I decided on the 2 GB Sansa E250R - it's sleek, black and sexy and bulit for durability. I take it in the car and it hooks up through the cassette adapter. I take it to work and listen on a pair of little accessory speakers. I listen on the big comfy headphones whilst drifting off at night. It's always in my pocket, ready to fire up in case a dull moment should occur. I've been changing the songs on it daily. It's a fun new obsession. The interface is Windows-like and easy to use. It holds videos, photos, and even gets FM radio. Most interestingly, it came with 2 months of free Rhapsody service. I think I'm going to have to somehow squeeze it into the budget. For $14.95 a month you get unlimited access to millions of songs and complete albums by every artist you can think of in any genre. It's like having a complete catalog of the history of popular music at your disposal. You just click and drag the titles you want either onto your computer hard drive or directly onto your MP3 player. Best of all, you can download Rhapsody Channels in dozens of different genres - they update automatically every time you plug your Sansa into the computer and each channel contains about 6-8 hours of music by different artists in that genre. My favorite is "Computer World" which consists of robotic synthpop from classic to modern - Kraftwerk, OMD, Devo, Goldfrapp, The Knife - some of the selections are downright obscure and even I have been turned on to some new music. It's like a long, excellent mix tape from someone who knows your musical tastes to a tee. There are also endless playlists you can download that were put together by various musicians and celebrities - Robert Smith picked Muse, Cocteau Twins, and Iggy Pop among others. Even just browsing Rhapsody is hours of endless fun. I've only had the little bugger for a few weeks now, but I honestly can't imagine life without it. I don't think I will give up on buying CDs quite yet - if it's an album I really love, I simply must own a hard copy. I'll be thrilled if the music industry or someone finds a way to tie in sleeve art and liner notes into the digital music experience. In the meantime, I'll be content not to have to carry piles of CDs around in the car and to and from work - I have all my music right here in my pocket.

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1/09/2007

 

Random Photo: Is There Anything Better Than a Hot, Fully Loaded Baked Potato?

Photo by Patrick 12/31/06

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1/08/2007

 

Sickness and Bad Kitties

Ohhhhh...my joints ache, my ears are pluggy, the glands in my throat are swollen. I can't get any sleep cause I keep coughing my head off - my tummy muscles are ragingly sore from coughing. I'm sick sick sick and my world is fuzzy. In my attempts to feel better in the last few days I've taken these drugs: Advil Sinus, Tylenol Sinus Night-Time, Emergen-C drink, Ibuprophen, Generic Theraflu, 24-Hour Claratin, mysterious purple cough syrup, Herbal Tea, Echinacea , 2 Jamba Juice Coldbusters with Immunity Boost, Hydrocodone, and one other "herbal remedy" that legally I best not mention here (I didn't inhale, really). After all that, does my cold feel better? No. Do I suddenly need rehab? Probably. Waking up this morning with a fog still lingering in my brain, I came out of my bedroom and had the sudden urge to murder some cats. See, last night it was all I could do to drag my sick, over-medicated ass to Safeway and get some TP, which I need lots of to blow my nose with etc. I cracked open the package and left the rest sitting on the bathroom counter. The cats have NEVER even noticed rolls of TP before, so what happened is irritatingly odd. I woke up to the entire package of TP, all four rolls, in shreds all over my entire house. It's 3 inches deep in the bathroom alone. I lost my temper, yelling and bellowing about the "god-damned cats" as they flew in three different directions. They're truly lucky they found some good hiding spots or there would have been some little dead kitty mummies, all wrapped in layers of shredded toilet tissue. I calmed myself down, realizing that it was pointless to be angry and imaging how much pure feline FUN they must have had creating this disastrous mess. I'm not looking forward to cleaning up the mess, however, and the whole thing makes me want to try my granny's surefire cold remedy: shots of bourbon.

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1/07/2007

 

Spokesman-Review - September 6, 1965

I love old local newspapers, postcards, menus, and whatever other kind of random ephemera I can pickup cheap by combing the thrift stores. I think I'll start featuring some of these artifacts here, partially as a tribute to cdadave, who recently relocated to the Oregon coast, but used to feature quirky local retro finds all the time on his old blog. I recently paid a buck for a musty copy of the Spokesman-Review dated September 6, 1965. The front page news was the death of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, but not much else really seemed to be happening. Here are some highlights:
Just a quick little informative piece about that kooky Klan. Other than describing the honcho as "red-faced", the tone of this article is rather blase about it. Spooky.
I remember Newberrys and it was a fun place. I used to eat at the cafeteria with my grandparents and I'll never forget the smell of that brown gravy in the air.
Judge Parker & Winnie Winkle? These comics make no sense. Were they at all popular? The only one in the whole section I'd heard of was good 'ol "Wizard of Id." "Peanuts"must have been the new kid on the block since it was tucked away by itself in the classifieds.
Highlights from the "Women's Section," - I love the article headed "Be Comfortable," advising women to look their best when their hubby's take their photo since they'll have to look at those photos for years to come, and who wants to look like a hag in some photo for the rest of eternity?
This was apparently unrelated to the earlier Klan article as it appeared on a separate page as the prior article. Yes, it was the height of the civil rights era, but I still find it strange that the SR would feature the group so much,and in such casual fashion. Was this really only 40 years ago?
The movie listings: Only $1.50 per carload at the drive in, and The Beatles classic "Help" in its 3rd and final week. Looks like the "El Rey" showed movies of the blue variety.
It was nearly impossible to find an apartment anywhere priced at over $100 a month. If my rent were this cheap today, I'd be living large.
From the opinion page, this pretty much speaks for itself. I wonder what this would say today if the SR were still running it.
Amazingly, several of these shows survive to this day: The Price Is Right, Jeopardy, Today Show, General Hospital. What ever happened to the Wallaby Show?
Isn't this way more fun than today's boring horoscopes? Mine for this day would have been: "You may be sorry for thoughtless words." Me? Never.
Woah - they were still in the process of putting I90 together. This was looking west from Maple, but it's hard to get a good mental picture of what this looks like today. Is this right at the bottom of the hill near 3rd Ave?

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1/05/2007

 

MP3: Rockabye Baby- The Cure: Homesick

Tribute albums are strange creatures. The last big trend in that sometimes sticky realm was "A String Quartet Tribute To..." and no-one seemed immune, from Britney Spears to Dead Can Dance. It seemed that literally every musical act had some mysterious String Quartet tribute CD on the racks. Were there all performed by the same String Quartet or what? Who buys these pointless and likely unlistenable silver coasters? The latest thing in the world of tribute LPs is rock classics turned into children's music. Devo 2.0 was that band's hits lyrically tamed down a notch and sung by teen girls. I've heard something about an upcoming Ramones-For-Kids project of some kind. Oddest of all, however, is the Rock-a-Bye Baby series of releases on Baby Rock Records. These albums feature soothing, music-box-esque "lullaby renditions" of over a dozen rock artists including: Pixies, Radiohead, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Tool, and my favorite, The Cure. With the latter's lullaby tribute, the focus is primarily on the band's poppier hits (Friday I'm In Love, Boys Don't Cry, Close to Me.) My favorite is today's MP3 pick, a plonkity-plonk dreamy version of Disintegration's Homesick in which the lovely melody of the tune is brought out of the original's beautifully doomy muck. The music's not bad - it's not synthesized like one might expect but performed live on acoustic guitars, dulcimers, and xylophones. It makes good background music for just chilling with a book and relaxing.
Rockabye Baby - Homesick (The Cure) MP3 128kbps 3.7MB

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The "Old" Safeway

I’m not the kind of person that does major grocery shopping all in one big go. I prefer to just pop into the local store often and just pick up what I need for the day: bottles of lemonade, cheez-its, box of cat food, a presto log, whatever grabs me. Living in downtown Coeur d’Alene, the closet local supermarket is the old Safeway on 4th street. I’m not sure when the building was put up, but I honestly can’t remember a time when it wasn’t there, sitting next to its twin sister Joann (which for many years held a wonderful store called Pay-n-Save). The parking lot is ill-planned and often chaotic, its diagonal spots not really meant for the modern era. The store itself is a relic, the ugly elder stepchild of the cool, trendy newer Safeway uptown on Government way. Although it is nice to venture into the big Safeway now and then, I still prefer the simplicity of my neighborhood store.

I do worry a bit about the place. I read recently that the Safeway on West 3rd in Spokane, which was my neighborhood store when I lived over there, was gone – closed due to being “un-upgradable.” The old Safeway on Broadway in Seattle, a place where I once ran into a mumbling Courtney Love in the wine aisle, met the same fate a few years earlier. I can’t imagine that the Safeway Corporation would consider our little store worth pouring remodeling dollars into. We can only hope that the place is still taking in enough money to justify its existence for a few more years.

I’m probably not the only one who considers that store to be another part of my home. I often pull in with full-on bedhead and wearing sweats and slippers. I’ve never worn my robe, but I have seen others do it. Us regulars know exactly where to find anything, and if something is moved or missing, we panic. I know how to get in and get out in under 5 minutes if I need to, no matter how long my shopping list is. The selection is nowhere as dazzling as that of it’s big sis uptown, but it has what I need. I really would love it if they would put in a Chinese food deli, but for now chicken strips and corndogs will do just fine. The San Pellegrino sits warm on the shelf instead of cold and crisp in the cooler, but my fridge and a little patience takes care of that.

I see the staff at the old Safeway almost more than I do my own family. There’s frail Hart with her dazed expression and mothering demeanor. There’s Bob, the silver fox with the semi-mullet and the dry humor. Silly Sally, whose horoscopes I knocked all over the floor and when I tried to reorganize them said “No, it’ll give me something to do when I’m bored.” There’s the meat department guy who always talks really loud, his voice booming through the whole store; the haughty pharmacy girls, who seem cliquey and stuck in their own universe in that little room; the orange-vested senior baggers who always seem pleasantly mentally ill. There’s even some feasible sexual tension going on between the smiley dark-haired manager guy and the young lass who works the photo counter. Some have been around since longer than I can remember and some come and go in a few months. I always see how long it takes before the new ones don’t have to look at my name on the receipt before announcing it as they always do. A few years back, there was a girl whose line I went through so many times she had my club card number memorized.

There’s something comforting about the old Safeway – it’s one of the last of its kind and in a town that is changing and growing up and out so rapidly, its one place you can count on to stay the same. I recently went there with my father, who used to shop there all the time years ago, but he now lives in Hayden. He was actually surprised to learn it still even existed. He hadn’t been into that store in probably 15 years, but he said it was exactly the same and he still knew by instinct where to look for the English muffins, sweet pickles, and light bulbs. They were still in the same place. I guess when they finally close up and turn the place into a Value Village (hey, that’s actually not a bad idea) I’ll have to downgrade to crusty old IGA, or deal with the maddening crowds of Albertsons. I do dread the day…

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1/04/2007

 

Random Photo: What's in Alex & Steve's Fridge?

Photo by Patrick 12/31/06

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1/03/2007

 

Album Review: Depeche Mode - Best Of Vol.1

...or the shocking true story of a DM addict.

I’ve loved - or more accurately, have been addicted to - this band for nearly twenty-five years. If there were meetings for such things, my introduction would likely start out like this: “Hi, my name is Patrick and I’m a Depeche-Mode-a-holic.” I’ve been obsessing over these Basildon Boys since nearly the dawn of Depeche - 1981 to be exact, when I heard them on a K-Tel collection titled “The Beat.” This tremendously influential cassette held a magic new wave blend of things like A Flock of Seagulls, the Go-Go's, Bow Wow Wow, Duran Duran, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and of course Depeche Mode whose "Dreaming of Me" (sadly, not included here on the Best of Vol.1) marked the band’s US debut, as well as my first taste of the stuff. I was instantly enthralled by the sound, which was so coldly synthetic and precise, but somehow warm like a chewy piece of bubblegum. The electronics were tinny and the voice was slightly detached, the lyrics abstract and futuristic: I loved it.

My next hit of Depeche Mode was administered to my system via MTV in the form of their 1984 video hit “People are People.” This was the band’s first big mainstream success in the USA, and there were thousands like me across the nation, young, moody and vulnerable, and suddenly elated by this massive Mode fix. “People are People” was unlike any record before it, its sampled clanks and clamors, its cascading whirligigs of metal sounds so brilliantly arranged like a clever, pop-art collage. It’s “why can’t we all just get along” message may have been a bit hokey, but at the time it seemed deep and life-affirming. The accompanying video was Middle America’s first glimpse of the band. Here were some fairly ordinary blokes in a record-pressing plant wandering about and watching big machines moving to the beat and pressing up records of the very song we were hearing – main singer Dave Gahan, synthmen Fletch and Alan Wilder. But who was this fair creature in the leather skirt and chains with the huge blonde brillo-pad hairdo and the swipe of thick black eyeliner? Who was this otherworldly girly-boy with the wonky-teeth and the melty croon? It was none other than Martin Lee Gore, whose look had an instantaneous effect on fashion, causing moody, disaffected girls (and boys) everywhere (but especially California) to buy stock in fishnets, kinky leather, bleach, and eye makeup.

The band camped up this image even more with the follow-up single and video “Master and Servant” (a peppy ode to S&M), and the accompanying album Some Great Reward began a stint in my walkman that lasted the entire summer of 1984 and beyond. I was in California for the majority of that summer, and Depeche Mode was a force you could practically feel in the air, the sound drifting from car windows, record shops, and nightclubs or roller rinks. Some Great Reward was their finest moment to date, taking earlier audio experiments in surprising and chaotic new directions. Lyrically, it was an album that lit up my teen angst like a flame lights a candle. “Somebody” taught me about love, “Master and Servant” taught me about sex, and “Blasphemous Rumors” made me question the concepts of God and religion.

At Tower Records in San Jose I bought the entire DM back catalog up to that point and began the descent into the throes of addiction, sinking deeper and deeper into Depeche world. 1981’s debut Speak and Spell was different than the other records, more poppy, something we can now attribute to the musical presence and songwriting dominance of Vince Clarke. There was something a little kinky bubbling under the surface of this sterile “New Romantic” synthpop. To this day, I think songs like “Boys Say Go” and “What’s Your Name” were my own personal introduction to homoerotic flirtatiousness. The album is represented on The Best Of Vol.1 by the classic “New Life” and “Just Can’t Get Enough”, a song that would eventually become one of the band’s defining tunes and still fills dance floors 25 years later.

In the photos on the inner sleeve of their second album A Broken Frame the boys look a wee bit serious, lost in deep thought. Suitably, the dark clouds which appear in the sky on the sleeve image actually do hang over the music itself as well. Fame-shy Vince Clarke had suddenly departed, taking with him a few new tunes (“Only You”) that were written for Depeche but ended up being recorded by Yazoo, his subsequent synthpop act with Alison Moyet. Seemingly unrattled by his absence, Martin Gore picked up the proverbial pen and Depeche Mode’s next single “See You” became their biggest hit yet in the UK. “See You” is as catchy and pop-oriented as anything on Speak & Spell, but like the rest of A Broken Frame, it has a subtle darkness, a muffle in the production, that gives it an odd, deeply olde and European vibe, like a noir Abba echoing through hushed, Alpine hills. The band itself considers this album to be among their worst, frequently dissing it in interviews over the years, dismissing it as drab and dismal. However, hardcore fans realize that the dark textures of album tracks like “Shouldn’t Have Done That” and “Sun and the Rainfall” created a template that the band would follow to this day, and that would heavily influence every slightly depressed synthesizer geek from Berlin to Boise, including me.

Alan Wilder showed up in time to record 1983’s Construction Time Again, and he apparently brought some Einsturzende Neubauten records with him. With this album, and its hit “Everything Counts”, Depeche Mode took the harsh clamour of the German Industrial scene they were so fond of at the time, and softened it, creating an entirely new sound in the process. According to legend, the band and their Mute Records label honcho Daniel Miller hit the streets with a primitive digital sampler, recording every junkyard clank, factory whistle, and metal-pipe-meets-spoon sound they could muster, creating a fresh, experimental framework for Martin to hang his increasingly gloomy, but continuously addictive songs. I absorbed these early Depeche Mode albums deep into my bloodstream, returning to them again and again over the years to get another dose of their naïve creativity and cold emotion. As I write this, “My Secret Garden” from A Broken Frame is my ringtone.

1985’s dryly titled Catching Up With Depeche Mode was the US counterpart to the international compilation The Singles 81-85. It was a fantastic collection and included the new single “Shake the Disease”, one of my all-time favorite DM tunes, accompanied by an effective video which had the band looking rather ill and still makes me nauseous with it’s sideways camera tricks. Although it was probably less than a year, at the time it seemed like an eternity for us Depeche Mode junkies before 1986’s Black Celebration saw the light of day. Oddly, this is the only album in their catalog that is unrepresented on The Best Of, Vol. 1 (What? No “Question of Time?” OR “Question of Lust” Blasphemy!) However, true fans recognize it as a quietly intense masterpiece, cathedral-like and full haunted open spaces as well as dense and doomy sonic epics like “Stripped” or “Fly on the Windscreen.”

The 1987 smash “Strangelove” was a straightforward dance track and hinted at a crisper, bolder sound. It was released well in advance of its accompanying album, but nothing could have prepared the devoted for the massive Depeche Mode narcotic overdose that is Music For The Masses. The album opens with the grandiose and dramatic choir and orchestra swells of “Never Let Me Down Again”, a single that sent shockwaves through Depeche world by featuring an actual guitar riff(!), a motif that was entirely new for the band at the time, but that it would expand upon over the years. Music For The Masses became the band’s biggest international hit to date, and Depechemania hit a peak with a huge world tour including sold-out show at the Pasedena Rose Bowl, documented in the band’s next project, the D.A. Pennebaker live film and double album titled 101.

I nearly wore out my VHS copy of 101,which not only featured an excellent live show, but also fascinatingly documented a contest sponsored by an LA radio station in which the winning fans would follow the band around on a bus during the last part of the tour, with their antics being filmed for the actual movie itself. In a way, it was a predecessor to reality TV, pre-dating MTV’s Real World by several years. I loved the movie, and I could so relate the lucky winning fans, who were made up of a couple of slightly gothy gay boys and their bitchy fag hags, a couple California princesses, and a game jock or two. This mix was pretty much a cross section of the band’s fan base at that point. It’s too fun to watch as this dramatically overdressed posse of DM fans drunkenly terrorizes astonished “regular folks” in middle-of-nowhere hotels and gas stations across the US. I was bitter with jealously, wanting so badly to be part of this DM in-crowd. I watched 101 not long ago and these fans that were once, to me, the ultimate in cool, now seemed hopelessly geeky.

“Personal Jesus” arrived in the brand new “CD single” format in late 1989, right around the time I landed my first record store job. That song sounded absolutely revelatory and amazing on the store’s massive stereo system, cranked up to full volume after the store was closed. With a bevy of diverse remixes and a running time of nearly 45 minutes, that single seemed like a full album, and my boss and I played it constantly. I remember going insane listening to my boss sing along with the words all wrong (“Reach out and touch face…”) Spring 1990’s rather dark and foreboding Violator became Depeche Mode’s biggest international hit, zooming to number one on charts from Anchorage to Zaire and sold millions.

“Enjoy the Silence” followed suit, accompanied by a breathtakingly gorgeous Anton Corbijn video. This was to be their biggest US hit single to date, and deservedly so – its blend of cold electro and emotional warmth was classic DM and brought on board a whole new generation of admirers. It’s the song the band will probably be remembered best for, with Martin Gore hitting the highest heights of his songwriting ability. The song remains a favorite and has been reissued and remixed more than any other track in the band’s extensive discography.

Another sold-out international tour was followed by a few years off. Martin released the cover record Counterfeit, Alan made a Recoil album, Fletch counted the money and Dave began a classic descent on the downward spiral of rock-star drug drama. Grunge had hit big, and influenced nearly every corner of the music industry. Not even DM was immune to its cultural impact. 1993’s “I Feel You” was filled with insane layers guitar riffs and feedback – the sound was big and mighty. It was quite a shock for fans, but a pleasant one – the sound may have been touched by grunge, but the underlying pulse and sentiment of the lyric was classic Depeche. Even more shocking was the video which revealed a pale, skin and bones Dave Gahan, all tattooed up with shoulder length hair and smeared with eyeliner.

Songs of Faith and Devotion followed and again landed the band atop the album charts around the globe. Sonically, it’s everything-AND-the-kitchen-sink approach resulted in a gigantic and mucky production. Layers and layers of sound and effects come together to create a rather claustrophobic wall of sound. “Walking in My Shoes” was the next bombastic single, saved from the overproduction heap by a sinewy electro bass line and a great Gore-ian lyric (the usual themes: guilt and redemption.)

This wave of success found the band in full-on party mode for the following Devotional tour. These previously clean teens (at least in the public eye) were suddenly interested in good old fashioned rock-n-roll excess: cocaine and groupies, sweaty shirtless photoshoots in LA, spontaneous hotel lounge piano bar performances. I saw the band in Seattle midwat though this tour and gasped as a skeletal Dave Gahan rasped his way through the show, his infamous stage energy replaced by a zombie-like shuffle and an overused Jesus Christ pose. This tour was such a doozy for the band that afterwards Alan quit the band for good, Martin went immediately into rehab, and a heroin-addicted Dave had paranoid Weather Channel marathons and nearly succeeded in offing himself with a razorblade in a sleazy motel while talking to his mum on the phone. In 1996, after several more ugly and rather public overdoses, he decided to kick, and has been healthy and sober since.

A rather weary 3-piece Depeche Mode made their way back into the studio and the first taste of the new album Ultra was the less-than thrilling “Barrel of a Gun” – with it’s over the top rock vibe and confessional lyric it’s a throwback to Songs of Faith and Devotion rather than the usual step forward DM had always taken – mercifully, they chose to leave it off The Best Of Vol. 1. Faring better was the 2nd single “It’s No Good” which also broke no new creative molds but was a solid club track with a pulsing bassline and a wacky video. The boys seemed tired and chose not to tour behind Ultra, choosing instead to hit the California sun and rejuvenate. DM finished the nineties with some singles collections and a sell-out world tour which found the boys refreshed and on their best behavior.

The sublime acoustic guitar and candlelit drama of “Dream On” was the first taste of 2001’s Exciter album, and with it’s shuffling break beat and spacious production it hinted at a new musical direction. However it turned out to be the highlight on an album that even the band themselves now admit was a bit disappointing. It’s not a bad record by any standard, just kind of boring. For a band who built a career out of dramatically experimenting with the format of pop music and influencing new genres of music, Exciter was simply not up to par. It seemed underproduced and underwhelming.

However, the accompanying tour proved they were back in the swing of things live-wise. I saw them play in Summer 2002 at the George in George, and DM came onstage with a huge, gorgeous sunset happening behind them and played a magnificent set that had the whole hillside full of fans dancing and singing along. Thanks to my friend Misty, we were able to sneak into one of the exclusive box seats that was occupied by some semi-famous Seattle band (I can never remember exactly who). They weren’t so into DM and were leaving so Misty asked if we could take their spot and we were served free food and drinks in our overstuffed armchairs with perfect views of the show. Highlight: Martin Gore’s disco ball suit.

“Precious” was the first hint of 2005’s Playing the Angel album and it was such a marvelous return to form that it made all us old DM fanatics swoon like we were teenagers again. Written for Gore’s children whilst in the middle of a messy divorce, the song’s tender melody and heartbreaking sentiment is met with one of Dave’s finest and most subtle vocal performances. Like the rest of Playing the Angel, it sees DM returning to their old experimental ways but maintains a certain warm familiarity as well. The album was released to rave critical reviews and is considered by many fans to be their best since Some Great Reward (1984), an album it shares some sonic similarities with: the high energy level, the bang and clank of samples, the depth and strength of Martin’s songs and Dave’s voice.

Best of all was “Suffer Well”, the albums 2nd single which was the first Depeche Mode single ever written by Dave Gahan. Dave’s 2004 solo LP Paper Tigers had revealed for the first time that he had a few songs up his sleeve, but nothing on that album hit the ironic heights of “Suffer Well”, an excellent upbeat tune with a endlessly catchy guitar riff, sonically fresh electronics, and a lovely backing vocal from Martin. It’s already one of my all-time favorite DM singles and makes me excited to see how great the next album will be with two excellent songwriters now involved. The Best Of Vol.1 includes the obligatory “new track”, which in this case is “Martyr”, a track that was recorded during the Playing the Angel sessions, but was left off the album due to “not fitting in.” It’s nothing terribly new for the band, but it’s a solid, catchy track and fits in well on this best-of collection.

Although I’ve certainly heard the tracks that make up this collection a zillion times each, and even though I already own said tracks in varying formats, I still delight in The Best Of Vol. 1 each time I give it a spin. It really does represent the toppermost hits of a band which helped define my life, as well as the lives of thousands of other fanatics and casual admirers around the globe. Like The Beatles’ 1 collection from several years ago, we already know the songs up and down, but it’s the new context that lends pleasure to hearing them again. My own selection of the “best” DM tracks might have been a little different, but overall there is no reason to bitch. Plus, it comes with a DVD featuring the videos for all included tracks and a cool documentary about the band. If you are a seasoned veteran DM junkie like myself, of if you’re just dabbling in the stuff for the first time, The Best Of Vol. 1 will surely get you off.

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1/02/2007

 

New Years Eve / 365 Days

I just love January 2nd. The hustle and hassle of the mad, mad holiday season has drawn to a close and things are starting to return to normal as another fast year begins. One of my many New Years resolutions is to keep this blog updated on a more regular basis and at least put something up everyday, whether it's a random photo, a pointless story, a music or restaurant review, an oddball mp3 etc. Speaking of oddball mp3s, I was delighted to receive an email from Mr. Otis Fodder yesterday, announcing the return for 2007 of his "365 Days" series of daily mp3s. In 2003, Otis and many other music weirdos contributed to this mp3 series, which includes thrift store finds, found cassettes, bad celebrity cover versions, song-poem records, and anything else fun and freaky that fell through the cracks and is begging for rediscovery. Get your daily dose here at 365 Days. Anyways, New Years Eve always manages to be fabulous and fun. This year, I was invited to a party at some friends' house. I decided to bring a fruit salad and got quite carried away in the produce department at Albertsons picking out exotic fruit to the tune of over thirty bucks! Ah well, for my first ever fruit salad it was gorgeous, and I proudly carried it into the party, opening it to delighted oohs and ahhhs. The night started out well with a handful of hairdressers and some free-flowing Stoli Citrus and Fresca's. However, the night was young, and after a few drinks and no-one else showing up, I began to panic. New Years Eve is one of my favorite nights and I like to be where the action is. At it's height, there were maybe 10 people at this party and the crowd was starting to dwindle at 10:30. So we basically snuck out, telling them we were going "to the store" and would "be back." We did actually intend on making it back there eventually, but it never happened, so now I hope the party throwers don't hate me forever: I do feel bad. Also, I never even got to try my own fruit salad: serves me right, I guess. So - of course, we were off to Mik-n-Mac's and we made it in the nick of time as all tickets were sold out and we just happened to run into one of the owners at the door who let us be the last to sneak in. This was more like it: the place was full of familiar, smiling faces ready to celebrate at full speed ahead. There was some kind of vague "Hollywood" theme happening, so co-owner Rita was running around looking like Marylin Monroe and waitress Jessi looked stunning as usual in 40's Spanish Film actress garb (see above photo with Brett). A pitcher of beer, shots of Rumple Minze, cheap plastic glasses of champagne: the drinks were flowing fast and as midnight struck, I found myself at the lesbian table making out with the girls. I made my way kissingly around the room, getting a little New Year's sugar from whatever random folks were willing to let my lips land on them. The rest of the night is a blur, and thank God that Brett was driving because I would have surely hit a pole or something. I sorta remember some after action at my house, and in the morn there was evidence: half-full bottle of Moet, warm cans of Coors Light, and most shockingly the aroma of smoke and some ciggie butts in an ashtray. Lordy, I must have had a good night because I never let anyone smoke in the house. Woah. The hangover wasn't actually too bad, but I'm still exhausted just from the holidays in general. I did party pretty hard for a few weeks and spent a fortune in the process, but I had a quite fun time doing it. Time to hibernate and get on a bit of a health kick for a while methinks...

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