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: