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The University of Hartford

A Head Full of Peach Salsa
By Moondog

Yeah, I know, it's not much of a title for a music column, but you probably picked this guide up for free anyway, so quit yer complainin'. Besides, it gives me a reason to start using a ratings system (for all those who, like me, prefer a user friendly precise option in their media reviews):
^^^^^= Five chips- The salsa's great and the chips are eternally refreshed. Dunk at will and repeatedly. Own this.
^^^^ = Four chips- The chips are a wee tad staler than you would prefer. Enjoy the salsa, though, 'cause it's mighty tasty. You might want to own this.
^^^ = Three chips- Salsa's less than perfectly fresh and the chips are still stale. It adequately mimics the peach salsa experience, but that very special something is missing. Borrow this at least.
^^ = Two chips- It physically resembles chips and salsa, but it ain't it. Don't feel bad if you miss hearing this.
^ = One chip- It seems to resemble a foodstuff, but who knows what it is anymore? If you must, crane your neck briefly to take notice of this, as you would a car wreck on the highway.
_ = No chips- Better you eat cow chips than this. Avoid this and warn your friends to avoid this. Please.
All set? Good. Now for the new reviews…

Ah… let me see… I started with the station back in 1988… there was a hawkish, seemingly uncaring President in the White House… the Campaign season was reinforcing certain ignorant people’s fear of free speech and expression, and those people were encroaching on such institutions as the National Endowment for the Arts and the Federal Communication Commission… basically a time that any organ of free speech (that is speech relatively free of the direct control of THOSE VERY RICH GUYS) was made to feel under fire…
Oh, so that’s what’s been happening lately. It’s not an encroaching erosion of our civil rights by fearmongers and backwards thinkers. It’s just late eighties nostalgia.
Alright, I think I have some cures for that. Let’s start with nostalgia for the pre-war (well, pre-this- war) year of 2002.

The Black Keys (singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney) burst on the scene from Akron, Ohio with a sound not unlike their Midwestern cousins, the other guitar drum duo The White Stripes. But where the Stripes’ sound most frequently recalled punk and new wave (through their own post-modern lo-fi filter), The Keys are more reminiscent of that Jeff Beck-ish, late 60’s Brit-Blues-Rock. That is, reminiscent of the best things about that sub-genre. Dan Auerbach’s vocal, in fact, recalls contemporary Blues influenced Brit-pop singer, Ben Ottewell (from the band Gomez).
The Keys also seem share a love of groove and jamming with Gomez, all in full evidence in their debut, The Big Come Up (Alive, May, 2002) (^^^^½).

(And, yes, it took me two years to get around to hearing this album. For this you can thank iffy distribution and the fact that I don’t travel to the Midwest much. Hey, the wheels of college radio grind exceedingly slowly, but they get their groove on sooner or later. Or, in comparison to our commercial brethren, sooner…)
The deliberately “medium fidelity” nature of the recording (as it is referred to in the liner notes), give a wonderful garage-y feel to everything. Who knew that you could get the perfect snare drum sound if you aped the sound you get when you close the hood of your 1994 Chevy? It’s that explosive snap, and your basic groove sensitive percussive work, that so allows Carney’s drums to meld so beautifully with Auerbach’s distorted but melodic guitar. That’s the sound you’ve got to achieve when you’re just two guys trying to sound like four or five.
The songs explore territories familiar to the blues. A woman has left, followed by much moaning and/ or shouting. A funky groove is laid down with an invitation to dance, which doubles as an ever so slightly camouflaged solicitation to, as Howlin’ Wolf said, “Do the Do.”
“ Do the Rump” is the latter. “Busted” is the former. “Countdown” is a funky “leavin’ you” tune, so that splits the difference. The tune also features Gabe Fulvimar with a shifting Moog drone that ably apes a Hammond B-3 (ancient tech subbing for still more ancient tech).
The most amazing thing here? These guys are in their twenties and sounding this good, with plenty of room for musical growth, as evidenced in their follow-up, last year’s Thickfreakness, which managed to show up in these parts courtesy of well-deserved, though a tad late arriving, distribution from Fat Possum and Epitaph labels. Blues fans take note: there are some new musical primitives to take note of. They travel light and play heavy, heavy soul…

Steven Wilson, of Porcupine Tree and No-Man (the British group with Tim Bowness, not American Roger Miller’s project) has been making music for something like twenty years now. And it seems that he’s only lately been hitting his stride, with production work for Swede heavy-metal band Opeth, P-Tree’s excellent 2002 album In Absentia, and lately with his collaboration with Israeli musician Aviv Geffen, the lyrical and ambiently beautiful Blackfield (Helicon (Israeli import), February, 2004) (^^^^½) (go to www.blackfield.org for more info).

Of course, that’s no knock on Wilson’s previous work. Far from. Wilson has molded his pop sensibilities and songwriting, sharpening lyrically (as with the chorus “all I have left are my precious scars” on “Scars”) and vocally (able to remind one of early Genesis one moment, Crosby, Stills and Nash the next), and not losing a love for the more organic electronic textures of mellotrons, while throwing down full orchestral textures (as on “Lullaby”) and even groovy dance beats (on the breaks in the middle of “Scars”).
With Geffen (no relation to David, so far as we know), Wilson has concocted a winningly dreamy pop album, which, even lyrically recalls the work of Matthew Sweet. What is awfully close to a goth/morbid/romantic fascination intersects with soaring melodies and scorching guitars. The result lands very much in Matthew Sweet territories of Carpe Diem seduction and rock and roll.
The ultimate upshot of it all is that Wilson, coming out of the prog-rock scene, has done what the best musicians of that scene (say, Adrian Belew, Bill Bruford and, most of the time, Robert Fripp) have done. He’s grown into an artist defying such labels. Good stuff.


They Might Be Giants are back with a new EP on the heels of the documentary “Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns” which arrived in Hartford at Real Art Ways last year (Sam Hatch and I had director AJ Schnack as a guest on Culture Dogs on that occasion). In fact, one of the tunes referenced in that film, the playful “Ant” makes a second EP appearance with a new version on Indestructible Object (Barsuk, April, 2004) (^^^½). “Ant,” in typical TMBG style, confronts us with the idea that what ants and presidents do often goes unnoticed while we sleep. “Am I Awake?” begins the EP, which is… well, pretty typically funny and quirky Giants fare. “Memo to Human Resources” is an offbeat declaration of independence from employee to employer, or, at least, a declaration of free thought.

And I, being completely fulfilled in my day job, just cannot relate to that. Haha.

Neptunes Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams team once more, not in their guise as producers to the stars, but, with Shay completing the trio, the more rock oriented N.E.R.D. (an acronym that means “No one Ever Really Dies”). Well, almost. Adding to the musical schizophrenia that created rock stars from star rap and pop producers (on the plus side, Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass”; in iffier territory, Britney Spears’ "I'm a Slave 4 U"), the new N.E.R.D. is “produced by the Neptunes.” The reality of N.E.R.D.’s second album, the pop-py and genre stretching Fly or Die (Virgin, March, 2004) (^^^½), is that it challenges our ideas (as so much good music should) about how, even if, music should be classified.

For all the help they get from Joel and Benji Madden (the twins heading up pop-punkers Good Charlotte), British producer Andrew Coleman, Lenny Kravitz and Roots drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, Fly’s sound is pretty minimal, deceptively simple and surgical even. But it’s a slightly different kind of minimal to their more pop material. “Wonderful Place” wanders without abandon through Bacharach-esque pop, Chicago-like (the band, that is) horn and rhythm arrangements, rap rhythms, soulful vocals and post Shuggie Otis psychedelia. “Backseat Love,” “She Wants to Move” (with its’ now semi-infamous hook, immortalized in a literal video interpretation ("Her ass is a spaceship I want to ride"), and “The Way She Dances” combine the spiritual, the carnal and the funky in a way that purple guy could appreciate. “Drill Sargeant” is a poppy, anti-military tune, reminiscent of XTC or Matthew Sweet in its guitar and vocal driven sound. A further evocation of Shuggie Otis and 70’s psychedelic soul in general, is evident in the structure of the over 7 minute tunes, “Wonderful Place” and “Drill Sargeant,” which are split up into separate sections (or “parts”) ready for single release.
Pharrell and Hugo (with Shay) should be able to keep this fun little side project going as long as they keep employing this level of flexibility and inventiveness. Heck, it’s almost enough to make me want to pick up their 2001 production, Lil’ Bow Wow’s Doggy Bag…
Then again…nah.

Also keeping things simple and ridiculously prolific, if with less popular success, is former Young Fresh Fellows frontman Scott McCaughey, whose going concern for over a decade, between sessioning for Marc Eitzel, John Wesley Harding, Robyn Hitchcock, Liz Phair, R.E.M. and Pete Yorn, has been his relatively loose aggregation of talent known as The Minus 5.
When last we heard from “the 5,” McCaughey and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck were joined by, among others, members of Wilco for the ironically titled Down with Wilco. It was during the early negotiations of that teaming that McCaughey recruited his “Wilco 5” during the “closing ceremonies” of their beloved Chicago nightspot, Lounge Ax, in January 2000. As the story goes, McCaughey arrived with, as McCaughey’s notes say, “a bunch of hastily scribbled songs… which were performed, if not rehearsed.”
That March, in Seattle, McCaughey teamed once again with Buck, as well as guitarist John Ramberg and Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin to set down some hastily organized studio versions of ten of those tunes, then sold that limited edition cheap at some of their gigs.
But it wasn’t until now that that material was made available through any kind of national distribution. It wasn’t until Yep Roc records (who picked up the delayed Down with Wilco due to similar corporate shenanigans to the ones that held back Wilco’s own Yankee Hotel Foxtrot ) entered the picture that McCaughey decided to organize a version of In Rock (Yep Roc, February, 2004) (^^^) for general release. After reentering the studio last year, refining things ever so slightly with contributions by John Wesley Harding and former Presidents of the United States of America frontman Chris Ballew (among others), McCaughey lopped off two of the original CD’s tracks, and added four new numbers. The result is some good, simple, earnest and intelligent guitar pop.
The album starts out with the post-surf instrumental “Bambi Molester,” one of the new additions. Ballews bass pumps under distorted tremolo guitars and Hammond B3 drones. “Dear My Inspiration” finds McCaughey trying to get in touch with his not-so-embodied muse, begging for “a lullaby,” while the music frugs away, like a more polished version of the Kingsmen or the Count 5.
And 60’s garage pop sounds are pretty par for the course in this set, whether it’s a lyrical musing on mortality and futility (“A lonely coffin is the best for all you’ve done,” McCaughey muses on “In a Lonely Coffin”) or workweek malaise (“The Forgotten Fridays”) or post-Beatles seduction songs (“The Girl I Never Met”) or Austin Powers’ arch nemesis (or someone like him, on “Dr. Evil: Doctor of Evil”).
Hey, it’s Spring, after all! Isn’t it time for guitar pop?
Heck, isn’t it always?

Sure, they recently released a long bootlegged mid-sixties Dylan live set, but the real treasure worth remembering, from the time when men were men and punks were punks, is Dead Kennedys’ Live at the Deaf Club (Manifesto, January, 2004 (^^^^½). Jello Biafra and company displayed ample creativity in the studio, but it’s here, in this live set recorded in March of 1979, that they display the incendiary power of their live shows. 1979’s Biafra continually makes anti-disco cracks (encouraging the crowd to “Dance, you lemmings!” on the “disco version” of “Kill the Poor,” and admonishing the band to stay in tune because this is their “big chance with Robert Stigwood”), and rails against the spreading militaristic culture (with the proto-version of “When You Get Drafted,” “Back in Rhodesia”) and L.A. and California cops run amok with, of course, “California Über Alles” and “Police Truck.” The line-up was a unique 5-piece for the Deads, including frontman Biafra, Klaus Flouride on bass, East Bay Ray on guitar, Ted on drums, and 6025 on guitar. The set even premieres the previously unreleased “Gaslight” with lyrics by 6025.
Fans of the DK’s should consider this a must-buy, but you young hotshots take note also, coz this is Grandpa talkin’ (of all of 38 years yet): the DK’s were the soul of Punk Rock politics. Remember that? Before the days when Green Day and Blink-182 co-opted punk energy for pop hits? (Of course, they should be the first and definitely won’t be the last to “sell out” the energy of punk to lesser-brained politics (though I’m sure they are very nice people who can sling mud at major soda pop sponsored pop festivals with the best of them)) The DK’s are the real thing, confronting ugly Americana with the bloodier side of its’ history, while armed with hefty doses of irony. It’s something the big clampdown doesn’t want you to have.
And, as if the music and the history wasn’t enough, this disc includes a pull-out flyer inviting you to join the “Department of Federal Eradication And Retaliation” (“F.E.A.R.”) by “(turning) in a neighbor, friend or family member and (earning) ca$h now!” The clipout coupon is addressed to “Mr. Fear ? Dept. of Homeland Security, 666 Bechtel Plaza, Enron, TX 77010.”
Hey, like I said, who needs eighties nostalgia when we’re reliving it in spades?

Well, that’s all for this issue. Please join me for more attempts at musical guff every Friday night/ Saturday morning from Midnight to three a.m. on the “Call It Thing” show, in the Friday Gothics slot.

Until next time, see you on the radio.

Copyright©WWUH: May/June Program Guide, 2004

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