Monday, April 18, 2011

New Column!

Hey kids,
Today I'm introducing a new column called "Bipolar Opposites." Each month I will focus on a particular topic as seen through the lyrics of two different musical artists. Compare and contrast, if you will. Today's subject is small town life. Obviously, there are pros and cons to this sort of lifestyle, and each of the musicians featured today paints a dramatically different view. First up is the folk singer Iris Dement. Her song is pretty and nostalgic, almost to the point of being saccharine. Call me Grandma, but I think there's a timeless quality to it that makes it enjoyable. I have no idea what happened to Ms. Dement (I'm too lazy to look it up on Wikipedia); she made a couple of albums in the 90's and then seemed to fade away. Maybe she should've moved to a bigger city.
Next up is the 80's noise band Big Black. Their take on small town life is a bit different. I remember really liking this song as a teenager; for a bored kid in suburban dullsville, how could it not resonate a little? Anyway, it's still a great song, with the best guitar sound of all time: it's like they're sawing through sheet metal. I'll take it over Clapton any day.

Iris Dement:

Big Black:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Revisionist History

Anyone who knows me knows that I love music. In fact, I like reading about it almost as much as I like listening to it. There are a handful of websites that I go to for my music fix, but probably the most well-known of them is Pitchfork. They're sort of the Rolling Stone magazine of the internet age, and they've become influential enough to turn unknown bands into popular ones, at least on the indie rock circuit. That's fine by me, since their opinions are usually pretty reliable. Except when they aren't.
Back in the late 90's, I started listening to the music of Robert Wyatt, a British art rock musician. One of the first albums of his that I heard, and the one that really impressed me, was Rock Bottom, an early 70's album that had been reissued on CD around that time. It's a weird record, and definitely not for everyone, but as an experimental pop album it's just about perfect. Anyway, I remember Pitchfork giving a negative review of it back then; I think they rated it a 4 out of 10, which is pretty bad on their scale. It didn't make any sense to me, and I just assumed that the website didn't have much interest in pre-90's music. Well, a decade later the same album was reissued again, and Pitchfork gave it a 9. What happened? A different critic probably reviewed the second reissue, but it still annoyed me that there could be that much inconsistency. So I searched their archived reviews and found something even more troubling: they deleted the previous review! I imagine that they were embarrassed by their first review after giving the album a second listen. But the fact remains that they duped their readers. They couldn't admit that they were wrong the first time, so they had to hide the evidence. And that's just not cool. So the next time you read their website, take their opinions with a few large grains of salt. And listen to Rock Bottom!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Giant Sand - Giant Sandwich

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! It's time for another edition of Sounds From The Cave. Today we're going to talk about a band from Arizona called Giant Sand. Now, I know what you're thinking: nothing good has ever come out of Arizona. And I can understand how you feel- the state is famous for its anti-immigration laws, crazed gunmen, and leather-skinned senior citizens, not for any kind of music scene. But there are a few notable exceptions- bands such as the Meat Puppets, Calexico, and Giant Sand, all of whom create music that is distinctly southwestern in style. It's probably no accident that these bands also tend to be kind of loopy: living in 110 degree heat probably fries the brain a little, and these bands are a wonderful example of this.
Giant Sand has been around forever. They're still making music, but for me their peak was way back in the 80's. During that decade, they put out several albums full of twangy, Neil Young-ish desert rock, and they were much more straightforward and consistent than they are now. Their leader, Howe Gelb, has been a guitar hero of mine ever since I first heard the band; he could play everything from folky acoustic picking to spontaneous noise freakout, sometimes within the space of a single song. And he wrote some great tunes, too.
A good place to start with this band is Giant Sandwich, which is a compilation of highlights and outtakes from their 80's albums. It's good enough to make you forget about all the negative things in Arizona, at least for a moment. Check out the soundclip below:

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Culinary Revolution

I am nothing if not a man of ideas. Anyone who knows me knows that I am constantly thinking up new ways to prepare and serve food: the gravy-filled biscuit, the double-sided pizza, the monkey-staffed kitchen...the list goes on and on. Some ideas, such as the cereal restaurant and the breakfast pizza, have been ripped off from me by unscrupulous businessmen who used them for their own profit. And yet I soldier on. Anyway, I recently came up with a new idea for a restaurant which could, ahem, "revolutionize" the food industry. Let me explain.
One of Japan's greatest contributions to modern society is the conveyor-belt sushi restaurant. There are a number of them here in Seattle, and they're my preferred choice for eating sushi. The reasons are numerous. First, I always get exactly the amount of food needed to satisfy my hunger, no more, no less. Second, variety: why eat ten pieces of spicy tuna roll when you can have a couple pieces each of several different rolls? Third, instant gratification: no waiting around for the waiter to take my order or the chef to prepare it. Fourth, visual stimulation: watching all of those colorful pieces of sushi go around is fun. Even my one-year-old daughter can appreciate this. If there's a downside to conveyor-belt sushi, it's that you never know exactly how long the sushi has been sitting out. But a little extra wasabi should be enough to kill off any unwanted food pathogens.
So I got to thinking: why not apply the conveyor-belt method to other types of food? With the modern trend of small plates, it would seem like a natural fit. You could have conveyor-belt tapas, conveyor-belt BBQ, conveyor-belt Thai, you name it. It's such a no-brainer that I'm surprised that nobody's done it yet. But it's bound to happen sooner or later. You heard it here first, friends.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Wow, has it really been three years? No, not since my last post- I'm talking about three years since this blog started. So much has happened during that time: I got married, my daughter was born, I saw the Facebook movie...I'm a changed man now. And this blog has changed, too: what started as a humble celebration of an underappreciated grape has slowly evolved into a multimedia juggernaut with soundclips, videos, and lots of other stuff I can't remember right now. But enough about the past; what can you, the loyal Concord fan, expect in the future? More of the same! And that's a good thing. I'm talking about more Sounds From The Cave, more fake restaurant reviews, more hostile reader comments, and more of everything that has been charming the planet for the last three years. And, I promise, more frequent posts. Can you imagine a greater gift than that? No, you cannot.
See you next year!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Volcano Suns - Bumper Crop

Hello dear readers,
Welcome to another edition of Sounds from the Cave. As I write this, a volcano in Iceland is spewing huge clouds of ash and disrupting air travel all over Europe. In honor of this glorious event, I have chosen an album by 80's Boston band, the Volcano Suns. These guys formed out of the ashes (ha!) of another great band, Mission of Burma. Like a lot of other indie groups of the era, the Volcano Suns combined catchy melodies with loud, distorted guitars. They did it better than most, though, and had a sense of humor to boot. But what really separated this band from the rest of the pack was the fact that they had a singing drummer. This is remarkable because singing drummers are almost always a huge liability; two examples that immediately come to mind are Night Ranger and Phil Collins-era Genesis. In both of these cases, the drummers were so busy singing that they were unable to fully rock out on the drums, thereby causing them to play limp-wristed power ballads. This was not the case with the Volcano Suns--these guys played kick-ass, balls-to-the-wall rock n' roll. (That's right, I said "balls-to-the-wall.") So they broke the mold, so to speak.
The other thing that distinguished this band was their propensity for butt-ugly album covers, as evidenced by the image above. Just look at that eyesore--you're likely to burn your retinas before you even get the record out of its jacket. With album art like that, it's no wonder these guys never made it big. And on that note, I'll leave you with a question: What is the ugliest cover you've ever seen on an otherwise great album? While you're pondering that, here's a selection from Bumper Crop:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Against Carrot Cake

Hello friends,
Once in a while you come across something that you had previously accepted as a normal part of everyday life, only to realize that it is completely worthless and does not even deserve to exist. I'm talking, of course, about carrot cake. It's not that it tastes bad, it's just that it is totally mediocre and undeserving of its popularity. Why it is on the shelves of nearly every grocery store is beyond me. I suppose you could say that carrot cake is the Lyle Lovett of the dessert world, but I think it's about time we stop picking on that poor guy. So let's just cut to the chase and list the reasons why this stuff is so awful.
First of all, it shouldn't be called carrot cake. It is basically just spice cake with a few flecks of carrot mixed in. The carrots add absolutely nothing to its character; they're just there because spice cake would sound too boring. People will try to convince you that the carrots make it moist, but you could easily substitute a million other things (e.g. applesauce, vegetable oil) to achieve the same effect. And there isn't the faintest hint of carrot flavor in this cake.
Second, nobody actually likes carrot cake. Oh, they may say they like it, but they're fooling themselves. What people actually like is the cream cheese frosting. Hell, I'd eat a piece of cardboard if it had cream cheese frosting on it. That stuff is like crack cocaine. But just try to offer someone a piece of homemade carrot cake without any frosting and you'll just get a blank stare. Nobody would even consider eating it.
Whew! I'm glad I got that off my chest. Next week: zucchini bread!