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Top 40 Albums of 2011 (20-1)

And then there were 20.  For those that have followed BDWPS.com all year (all two of you), you may see some entries on albums that look very familiar.  Instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, I decided to save myself time by simply copy and pasting my thoughts on the album from months past.  I hope this isn’t disappointing, but I am only one man and this hobby of mine can be a lot of work. Whatever way I can cut corners I will.  

And now, the Top 20 Albums of 2011…

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Best Album Covers of 2011

20. Hello Echo

“Hello”

I placed this cover at the bottom of my list because I’m not sure if it’s actually a great cover, or if I’m just in love with the idea of a battle between a giant tree (or ent) and a robot building pulled straight from the movie “Big” (“I don’t get it! I don’t get it!”). If only they had thought of this concept for the movie “Real Steel”; it may have actually be watchable.

19. Friendly Fires

“PALA”

Friendly Fire’s guitarist says of their 2011 release “Pala”: “Our goal is to make vibrant, wide screen songs, but they must retain spontaneity, have an energy and mysticism around them.” Add the fact that their music is often labeled “tropical disco” and you’ve got the perfect cover for “PALA.”

18. Autre Ne Veut

“Body EP”

Um, so yeah…um, this is a picture of…well, um…you know. I questioned whether this was one of the best or worst covers. Is it pornographic or scientific? Is it alluring or disgusting? I came to the conclusion that a great cover should cause this type of uncertainty, stir up these questions, and add to your listening experience. When else would you be forced to try making a connection between stripped-down R&B and…well, something that rhymes with Mulva.

17. Iron & Wine

“Kiss Each Other Clean”

The good news: Iron and Wine’s cover for “Kiss Eachother Clean” is colorful, original, and refreshing. The bad news: the same can’t be said for the stale music on the album.

16. Braid

“Native Speaker”

I’m a sucker for a cover that doubles as optical illusions (check my number one cover back in 2009), and the cover for Braids “Native Speaker” satisfies this need. What at first may seem like a blasé portrait of the view through a shower door will soon have your eyes crossing and seeing visions like you're tripping off the vapors from a Sudafed shower tablet.

15. Thee Oh Sees

“Castlemania”

So what do you think will make the monster more furious: when he realizes it's a toy phone or that it’s a rotary?

14. Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestra

“The Hills are Alive”

Flowers and mountains, and green growing pastures, Blue skies, and white clouds, and hairy goat faces, these are a few of my favorite things!

 13. BOAT
“Dress Like Your Idols”

Wearing your influences on your sleeve is so old hat. Wear them on your album cover! (I recognize seven of the nine album covers parodied here. Can someone help me and specify the albums in the top two squares of the right column? I feel like a hack for not knowing).

12.Gillian Welch

“The Harrow and the Harvest”

So you’re telling me that the guitarist from Baroness drew the cover for a country artist? BAD. ASS.

11. Young Galaxy

“Shapeshifting”

Can someone help this poor girl? Is her face glued to the floor? Are her feet excessively buoyant? Or is her bra stuffed with bricks?

10. Radiohead

“King of Limbs”

I’ll admit it – “King of Limbs” didn’t live up to expectations. It’s too short (37 minutes!), there’s none of the jaw-dropping songs we’re accustomed to, and simply put: it’s not “In Rainbows” (no one could have followed that album up; give them some slack!). Despite all its short-comings, the band still delivers with some truly haunting album artwork that is part graphiti over a photograph of trees and part demented rejects from Pac-Man (Blinky! Is that you!?)..

9. Jay-Z and Kanye West

“Watch the Throne”

If you’re going to have album called “Watch the Throne” you better bring the goods when it comes to packaging. Kanye and Jay-Z don’t disappoint with a Riccardo Tisci designed album cover that resembles a decadent engraving in gold. With its intricate embroidery and textured surface, it’s the coolest “golden” packaging since “The Legend of Zelda” (Zelda’s ‘bout to go HAM!).

8. Luke Temple

“Don’t Act Like You Don’t Care”

As a kid, if you ever imagined your drawings coming to life, this is what it might look like. I love the sheer chaos of the image coupled with the childish, messy style. This scribbly aproach gives the cover movement, and if you look at it long enough, the little fellow on the bike might just get away after all.

7. Discodiene

“S/T”

Taking advantage of primary colors, this cover shows that simple is sometimes better. Without the red lions, the blue cavern, or the yellow light of hope, this would be just another classical black and white drawing. Just think, with the help of Photobucket picture editor, YOU could make the top 20 list next year!

6. Bon Iver

“S/T”

I actually didn’t appreciate this cover when I first saw it. In fact, I found it to be a bit hack (a secluded cabin in the woods…WE GET IT JUSTIN!). Then I saw a short youtube clip showing the progress of making the cover and saw nuances I’d never noticed. Realizing this was in fact a multi-media, 3-dimensional masterpiece, I had to take all my pessimism and hide it in that pathetic little cabin in my soul.

The video clip that changed my tune:

5. Gang Gang Dance

“Eye Contact”

So much depends upon a grasshopper, glazed with morning dew, atop a green plant.

4. J. Mascis

“Several Shades of Why”

Mark Spusta, the artist who made the fantastic cover for Dinosaur Jr’s “Farm” is back, and this time he takes cool to all new territories. Yes, it’s trippy and wild and all that “Farm” had with its attack of the trees imagery, but it’s also cute in a “Hello Kitty” kinda of way. Yet, it’s still somehow a deeply depressing image. It’s rare that a color pencil drawing can conjure up so many reactions. When is this guy going to get a movie deal? Enough with Pixar; I want to explore the strange world found in Spusta’s mind.

3. Erland and the Carnival

“Nightingale”

Every year my list inevitably contains a cover that features a photograph that is either retro or that captures the energy of the music. This cover accomplishes both with a girl appearing to float amidst a room filled with 70s nostalgia (is that a poster of “Columbo”?). The cover’s greatness is furthered when the background of the photograph is revealed: this is a picture taken of Janet Hodgson, a girl supposedly possessed by the devil back in the 70s, being thrown across the room by the evil spirit. Poltergeist has never looked this fun.

2. Cut Copy

“Zonoscope”

In 2011 we saw the media try and convince us that a hurricane was going to hit New York (they also tried to get us to believe that Tracey Morgan hates gay people). As in most cases, only the crazies believed their fear mongering. Cut Copy’s “Zonscope” album cover presents an elegant view of what it may have been like if the news had been actually telling the truth. And how would New York respond? With a middle finger in the form of the Empire State Building.

1. Teebs

“Collection 01”

Almost all of the albums featured on this list are created by outside artist. Whether it be a picture taken by a polish photographer, a color pencil drawing by an artist, or a slide stolen from a gynecologists office, most bands draw inspiration from others creations. Not Teebs though (actual name Mtendere Mandowa). This hip-hop producer creates both his art and music in unison, using one to inspire the other and vice versa. As a result, his beats are glazed in nature while his paintings of flowers are influenced by modern society. It’s one of the rare cases where you can actually judge an album by its cover.

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Top 20 Albums of 2011 (So Far…): 10-1

Amidst my rambling to introduce 20-11 of my “Top Albums of 2011 (So Far…)” list, I forgot to post my list of honorable mentions. Below you’ll find some wonderful albums that almost made the cut.

Honorable Mention:

Alela Diane “Alela Diane & Wild Divine”

James Blake “S/T”

Earth “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1”

Paul Simon “So Beautiful or So What?”

Skull Defekts “The Temple”

Thao & Mirah “S/T”

Mike Watt “Hyphenated-Man”

Yuck! “S/T”

And now, the Top 10 Albums of 2011 (So far…):

 10. Bill Callahan

“Apocalypse”

[Drag City; 2011]

Truman Capote once dismissed Jack Kerouac’s stream of consciousness approach saying, “It isn’t writing at all – it’s typing.”  I suppose he would have the same response to Bill Callahan’s “Apocalypse.” I say this because of the album’s rambling lyrics that wander about like a Bedouin in the desert. Prior to “Apocalypse,” Callahan used themes as a scaffold to his stories; on “Apocalypse” his stories wander in search of a theme, sometimes never arriving at their destination.  This experience is often close to the heart with Callahan singing about his own confusions or channeling those emotions through his characters.

Callahan has never been one to follow songwriting norms, and on “Apocalypse” he has stretched his terrain to the unexplored. His songs are sparser, more personal, and more perplexing than anything he’s done since his days with Smog. He rarely aims to give us answers but puts us in his mind’s eye, giving us the task of trying to answer them ourselves. Whether its his personal story of seclusion as a musician on “Riding For the Feeling,” or his tale of a lonely cowboy on “Drover,” this is an album about the “Apocalypse” within; the endless, draining apocalypse of our heart and soul and how “ this wild, wild country/ It takes a strong, strong/ Breaks a strong, strong mind.” If that’s not songwriting, I don’t know what is, Mr. Capote.

“Riding For the Feeling” tells of Callahan’s disconnect from both his fans and himself:

9. TV Ghost

“Mass Dream”

[In The Red; 2011]

Last weekend, while visiting my friend PthestudP in Omaha, I played TV Ghost’s “Mass Dream” for him, knowing he’d like its chaotic take on post-punk. Within the first 40 seconds of “Wired Trap” I could see his eyes light up with excitement.  Half way through the song though his take on the album had been altered, “I really like this, but I don’t know if I can handle it right now.” I wasn’t offended; I knew exactly what he was talking about.  He was feeling that same combination of excitement and fear that I’d felt upon my first listen. Plus, sitting in a car and listening to “Mass Dream” is like drinking a 5-Hour Energy and watching “Antique Road Show.”  You can not sit still and listen to this album, and if you do, seizures are probably in your future.

Just when it seemed the post-punk rebirth had run its course, TV Ghost’s take on the genre has tossed expectations for a loop, the church organ moaning behind the shrieking, surf guitar riffs, and the ballyhooing of singer Tim Gick.  His voice, a combination of David Byrne’s nervous, jerky shouts and David Yow’s tortured, muffled howls, provides the mad scientist to this seance of terror and trepidation.  You cannot resist the supernatural powers of “Mass Dream,” so just let the music grasp your soul and shake it.

As frenzied as “Wired Trap” starts out, the organ riff that surfaces at the 2-minute mark calms your nerves, if not for only a moment:

8. J. Mascis

“Several Shades of Why”

[SubPop; 2011]

When I first got J. Mascis’s “Several Shades of Why” I didn’t expect much. Mr. Mascis without his trusty Jazzmaster and his wall of Marshall amps is like Samson without his locks. Or at least I thought as much. With all the distortion and guitar soloing gone, Mascis’s true strength is finally revealed: his songwriting.  Neil Young has said that all great songs should sound just as good without effects and Mascis proves this sentiment with 10 delicate songs of love and loss that are warm and welcoming.

With effects all but gone, a vocalist’s strengths or weaknesses are put right out there for all to hear. But as we’ve learned over the years, Mascis’s distinct croaking vocal style is strangely an asset. On “Seven Shades of Why” this is especially true with it being backed by the pairing of an acoustic guitar and strings (I can’t help but wonder if Mascis’s friend Thurston Moore had a hand or at least an influence on this album).  Don’t worry, Mascis guitar prowess is still on display, in this case, finger picking his way through one bittersweet ode after another.  Then again, one of my favorite moments on “Seven Shades of Why” is when Mascis’s guitar returns to the stomp box for a quick Dinosaur Jr guitar solo at the end of “Where Are You,” just a quick reminder that he still has plenty of Guitar God power in his back pocket if his long silver locks ever do get cut off.

I’ve been trying to post only audio clips as not to slow down my page, but I couldn’t resist displaying Mascis’s trippy video for “Not Enough”:

7. Fucked Up

“David Comes To Life”

[Matador; 2011]

I have to confess that Fucked Up’s “David Comes To Life” shouldn’t be on this list.  While coming up with it, I made the rule that all albums had to be released before June 1st in order to be considered, just to make life easier. “David Comes To Life” came out on June 7th of course, so what gives? For one, I’ve actually been listening to several of the tracks off the new album plus a handful of other rarities for a couple of months now. The Montreal-based band is so fan friendly that they gave free downloads of rare material for those that pre-ordered the album.  But that’s still no excuse.  I guess it boils down to this: with something this great, I couldn’t just sit on my hands until December.  That would be, dare I say, fucked up.

Now that I have the entire album, my adoration for this hardcore-rock-opera has only grown more.  In 2008 I placed the band’s “The Chemistry of Common People” in my top 10, saying that it saved hardcore. The band is back to their savioring ways, this time resurrecting rock n’ roll.  The riffs on “David Comes To Life” tear out the speakers with sharp edges that cut their way into your brain.  This is the type of riffage you’d find on a Bon Scott era AC/DC album, and the wall of guitar carnage is comparable to the multi-layered assault of Queen’s Brian May. Unlike May, who sat in a studio for weeks at a time recording a guitar over a guitar over a guitar, Fucked Up utilize three guitarists, often recording all together in one take. It’s truly teamwork at its finest with each guitar not simply backing the other up, but providing flourishes to fill the entire canvas.

Pink Eye’s vocals are the one piece in the band maintaining that hardcore sensibility, barking out one anger-laced tale of heartbreak after another. Unlike “The Chemistry of Common People,” this album never rests to take a breath. It is one backbreaking anthem after another for 80 minutes straight. As you’d expect, this can be a bit daunting, yet it’s totally fulfilling (if you can survive the Armageddon).  Any other band would have cut out songs or saved half of them for the next album, but Fucked Up aren’t like any other band.

“The Other Shoe” will have you nodding your head and pumping your fist as you sing along to the chorus of “Dying on the inside!”:

6. Death Grips

“Exmilitary Mixtape”

[Third Worlds; 2011]

Not only is “Exmilitary Mixtape” the best rap album of 2011 so far, it might be the most unique rap album of the past 10 years. Death Grips is the side-project of Hella drummer Zach Hill, and his mastery of the “unpredictable” surprisingly translates well to hip-hop with 48-minutes of nightmarish madness.  The beats are glitchy and jittery, the bass lines booming and foreboding, and the screaming vocals violent and cannibalistic: basically, it’s an Aphex Twins album for the world of hip-hop.

The entire album plays like a mix-tape (because it is I suppose) with each song blending into another vicious attack, resulting in a nonstop assault on the listener. Hill’s love of music is apparent with samples from all ends of the spectrum: Pet Shop Boys, Link Wray’s “The Rumble,” Black Flag, and even audio of Charles Manson. The use of the Manson audio to open the album is no mistake.  “Exmillitary Mixtape” resembles what is probably going through Manson’s head at this very moment.

This past week I watched the entire first season of “Game of Thrones” and as I revisited “Exmilitary Mixtape” for this list, I couldn’t help but thinking of Khal Drogo: savage, fiery, and sadistic.  Stretching boundaries like Tribe Called Quest did in the 90s, Death Grips could easily be called Tribe Called Dothraki.

I’m not quite sure what a “Death Yon” is but I’m definitely feeling it:

5. Snowman

“Absence”

[Dot Dash; 2011]

When I finally figured out this mid-year list, I was a bit shocked that Snowman’s “Absence” ended up being this low due to how often I’ve listened to it over the past few months. Although the albums ranked above it are masterpieces, “Absence” is no slouch. It’s depressing to think that this is their last album, breaking up before it was even released.

A month ago I wrote of “Absence”: “An easy approach to reviewing an album is comparing it to what has come before. Whether it sounds like Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” or Ziggy Stardust, the use of compare and contrast helps guide the reader toward what they are in for with a certain album. With ‘Absence,’ my guiding light is, well, absent.  It is both brooding and sinister like Earth and Pyramids, but you’d be hard-pressed trying to find any distortion here. It’s filled with harmonizing, ghostly vocals, but it is far and away from anything resembling Bon Iver or Panda Bear.  It has the synthy pulse of Four Tet and Flying Lotus, but the drumbeats take more from tribal territories than dance clubs.  There is no need to pigeonhole it: this is Snowman; this is ‘Absence’.

The atmosphere of Snowman will have your mind reeling with visions, your heart beating with anticipation. I realize that the word ‘atmosphere’ gets thrown a lot in music reviews (it’s become somewhat of a crutch for me) but in this case, it truly transports you to a temple of both solitude and mystery. It somehow calms the soul, yet builds a tension within.”

“A” will catch you off-guard, so prepare yourself:

4. Destroyer

“Kaputt”

[Merge; 2011]

Last year on his EP “Archer of the Beach,” Dan Bejar included the song “Grief Point,” an eight-minute ramble about his confusion on the role of music in his life and the lives of his listeners. Fortunately he had one more album for us all to enjoy, and he’s made sure not to follow expectations.

While many artists draw their musical inspiration from 80s sounds such as new wave and post-punk,  Destroyer borrows from the most unpopular of 80s music forms – smooth jazz. Yes, smooth jazz: electronic piano plinks, cheesy saxophone solos a la Kenny G, echoed trumpets, and new agey synth walls fit for a massage parlor.  Rather than going with lo-fi which he perfected decades before it was cool, the songs on “Kaputt” are done in the most produced of all musical forms.

He’s not using the form ironically like Beck used funk for “Midnight Vultures.”  Bejar’s said in interviews that this album is about America, and if so, the smooth jazz form conjures up the 80s, a time of superficiality and indulgence, both prominent attributes of “Kaputt.”  Despite these two unsavory elements, Bejar has created one of the most honest albums of 2011 via one of the most superficial genres.   He sings with confidence on songs that will make you feel like you’re alone, roaming city streets in the fog at night in search of something: a taxi, another drink, or a long lost love.  When he sings that “we built this city on ruins,” he’s not only playing off the Jefferson Starship song, but he’s also making a statement about the state of our nation today. As expected, Bejar is still writing tongue in cheek lyrics that are both amusing and insightful. Let’s just hope this isn’t the last we get from one of America’s finest songwriters.

“Song For America” would probably be Patrick Bateman’s favorite song:

3. Fleet Foxes

“Helplessness Blues”

[SubPop; 2011]

The first time I heard the opening line to “Helplessness Blues” first track “Montezuma,” I couldn’t help but have an emotional reactio: “So now I am older / than my mother and father / when they had their daughter / Now what does that say about me?” A few weeks back a friend of mine on Facebook posted the exact same lyrics, and I wondered how many other aging drifters out there connected to Robin Peckfold’s tender lyrics.

I think that’s what makes “Helplessness Blues” such an incredible album. I’m not sure if it’s the lyrics, the guitar arrangements, or Pecknold’s soft voice, but I listen to this album and feel like it is a private, personal experience. The fact that thousands across the world are having that similar encounter tells me that this is more than a simple folk album. It somehow creates community through intimacy, if that makes any sense.

I often listen to music too much with my ear, analyzing them more than necessary, but with Fleet Foxes, I listen with my heart. I can’t necessarily break down what they do that is so great; okay, I could (harmonizing, break-downs, etc) but I don’t want to. The songs stir up the nostalgia and regret felt with old age, yet for some reason I don’t find it to be a total bummer of an album.  Despite song after song of depressing tales, I sense in Pecknold’s voice a grain of hope. By the time the final track arrives, “Grown Ocean,” the narrator has realized that he can’t change his mistakes, so he continues on as the wide-eyed walker introduced on “Battery Kinzie,” always moving forward toward an unknown horizon.

On “Lorelai” he compares old age to being trash on the sidewalk, yet the guitars, melody, and mandolin only cause one to smile:

2. PJ Harvey

“Let England Shake”

[Vagrant/Island Def Jam; 2011]

One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn’t pay attention in history class during high school. I could blame my lack of historical knowledge on my mediocre teachers, but it is entirely my fault for being too preoccupied with girls, sports, and rock and roll.  Now, when in a discussion with others that pertains to anything in history (American or world) I find that I know almost nothing.

This lack of knowledge becomes even more frustrating when listening to “Let England Shake,” PJ Harvey’s intricate collection of songs about England’s history. The songs focus primarily on WWI, although the remnants of this war have apparently cast a shadow on modern Britain (this is an assumption based on PJ’s lyrics; not on anything I learned in history class).  I find myself listening to “Let England Shake” again and again due to its collection of memorable songs, each distinct in its own way.  And although I don’t know anything about the Gallipoli campaign, the Anzac trench, or Battleship Hill, PJ provides enough hints for even a dolt like myself to grasp the message within her imagery of  “a pile of bones,” “Deformed children,” and soldiers that “fall like lumps of meat.” The lyrics read like a book of Wilfred Owen’s war poetry.  Harvey creates a unique dichotomy by pairing her gruesome descriptions of war within high-spirited songs that range from reggae, pop, and folk.  As a result, the ugliness of war is anesthetized and treated in the same way it is in a textbook, revealing the facts in a way that is disconnected from those that lost their life.  In the end, that’s the message of the album; all the soldiers died so that the ideal Britain could live on, when ironically that British ideal is now dead itself.  I guess I learned something after all.

The lyrics to “All and Everyone” had to be taken from Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” I swear it!: 

1. Kurt Vile

“Smoke Ring For My Halo”

[Matador; 2011]

  Was there any doubt who would be at #1? Anyone who follows my blog knows how much I adore Kurt Vile’s “Smoke Ring For My Halo.”  I over-killed this album so severely that I hadn’t listened to it for three months in fear of ruining my enjoyment forever. Yet, for this list, I knew I had to revisit it in order to see where it placed.  Fortunately I wasn’t disappointed and found the feelings associated with this album quickly resurfacing.

Here’s what I wrote of the album back in March: “On the surface, Vile’s album doesn’t seem like much more than a collection of slow strum-bling and mumblings of a sarcastic, disaffected youth.  But this isn’t just some jangly, patch-work of songs; a closer analysis and you’ll quickly see that every song is intricately constructed within a lush, cave-like environ that only magnifies the creaks and buzzing of Vile’s acoustic.  While he seems all alone with only the ghosts of his band the Violators hiding in the background, the production hugs his vocals and creates an ambiance that is one part groove, and one part melancholy.  Much like Neil Young’s ‘On the Beach’ or Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ each song on ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’ is distinctly different, yet they all feel to be a part of the same world. It never feels like Vile is giving much effort, but don’t be fooled. This man is wearing his heart on each note captured on this album.

Vile’s lyrics also portray this feeling of indifference, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that there is a lot of pain being masked behind his nonchalance. For example, on ‘Ghost Town’ he mumbles: ‘Raindrops might fall on my head sometimes / but I don’t pay ‘em any mind. / Then again, I guess it ain’t always that way.’ Instead of a message facing adversity with ‘I will survive,’ Vile’s lyrics convey a feeling of simply giving up and continuing his journey of ‘Sleep walking through a ghost town.’  These white flag mantras are throughout the album, whether it be giving up on religion, society, love, or life.’

I’ve read several articles that compare Kurt Vile to Tom Petty, and although I don’t totally see it, “In My Time” is pretty damn Petty:

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Video Clip of the Week: St. Vincent does Big Black

Over Christmas, I met up with my friend SongsSuck for a few drinks, and our discussion got into books. He asked me to list my top 10 favorite books of all time.  As I tried coming up with my list, one book kept popping into my head: This Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad. At first, I resisted listing this title, trying to focus on the classics, but again and again the book kept creeping into my brain. I knew why. This one book had such a profound affect on me and my love for indie music, that I dare to say that this book could change your life.  It did mine.

You can’t help but be changed by the stories of bands like Sonic Youth, Minor Threat, The Replacements, and Black Flag and how they were able create music that was original and honest without any money backing their efforts. To this day I reference moments from the book, whether it be the tumultuous relationship between Lou Barlow and J. Mascis or the untimely death of D. Boon. This book shows you music at its rawest form and gives you insight into the trials and tribulations these kids dealt with as they took their four-track garage rock and made it into something legendary.  Our Band Could Be Your Life is the indie rock bible; no question about it.

Yesterday, to mark the ten-year anniversary of the book, a show was put on at the Bowery Room consisting of current indie bands covering bands from the book, just another testament to the staying power of the book.  While I enjoyed the clips from the show I saw of Ted Leo, tUnE-yArDs, and Titus Andronicus, it was St. Vincent covering Big Black that blew me away. I’ve never gotten any St. Vincent and never had any desire. What I’ve heard has never really peaked my interest, but after seeing their take on Big Black, I’m all in.

Their incredible performance “Kerosene”:

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Video Clip of the Week: Mike Watt joined on stage

I guess you could say that Mike Watt changed everything for me.  Back when I was 15, my older brother took me up to St. Paul, Minnesota to see Primus, and opening for Les Claypool’s band was a fellow master of the bass, Mr. Mike Watt and his band.  At the time I didn’t know who Mike Watt was, nor did I know of The Minutemen; my journey into the world of punk rock was in its early stages. Regardless, I still distinctly remember the opening boom of Watt’s bass as he violently punched his low E string with a resounding pluck of his finger.

My brother and I would both go on to purchasing Mike Watt’s star-studded “Ball-Hog or Tug Boat” featuring guest stars such as J. Mascis, Frank Black, Mark Lanegan, Sonic Youth, and Henry Rollins.  To say this was an introduction to the world of indie would be an understatement.

Since then, Watt’s released several more solo albums without the assistance of star power, but last week during a live performance in Seattle, Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, and Pat Smear, fellow “Ball-Hog or Tug Boat” guests, came onto the stage and performed a 10 minute jam version “Big Train” (a classic from the “Ball-Hog or Tug Boat” album). Despite the camera man’s incessent declaration of shock, it’s pretty cool to see these big names paying their respects to a true legend.

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Road Trip 2008: Day 14, Vonnegut and the Vikings


“Always rise to an early meal, but eat your fill before a feast.
If you’re hungry you have no time to talk at the table.”
Odin from the Hávamál”

By the time we reached Malcolm’s, the sweat from the concert had dried, yet we decided to go to bed, stinky and all.  I fell asleep instantly, completely worn out from the evening of ultra-violence.

The next morning we went out for our last breakfast at a place called “Twisters”, kind of a poor man’s “Chipotle” (yes, we were going for breakfast burritos).  Paul and Malcolm relished their last tortilla based meal together, talking about their college days and even a little about how underrated Tom Arnold is as a comedic actor.

“Dude, we could bring back the Tom Arnold Schwarzenegger connection! You can be the tough Arnold character, and I’ll be the funny sidekick.”

Outside we said our goodbyes and thanked Malcolm for his hospitality and returned to the road.  Our days of rest at Beorn’s had refueled us, heading back out on our adventure in search of strange music and exotic brews.

The Next Tom Arnold Schwarzenegger Connection

We headed into downtown Denver and decided to check out Wax Trax, a record store nestled amidst the ghetto.  We found it by accident the night before while searching for Bush and Bull Pub.  The ratty outside appearance intrigued both of us.  The inside was much homier than the exterior with posters and CDs lining the walls.  As Paul began his meticulous scouring, I roamed the used CD section and discovered Dinosaur Jr’s “Where You Been” for five bucks, a CD my brother owned over a decade ago.  I listened to the disc endlessly, enjoying J. Mascis and his boistrous guitar while playing Madden 95 on Super Nintendo. The songs on that album still conjure up images of a pixilated Cris Carter running for a touchdown.

I ended up buying some more CDs, and Paul made his visit quick, only picking up another five or so albums.  On our way back to the car we passed a quaint little bookstore and decided to take a quick look.  Inside I found myself entranced by the selection of Kurt Vonnegut books, the majority of them being in original hardback, mint condition. It had been almost a year since I had read any Vonnegut, so you can imagine how tempted I was to purchase an original hardback version of Blackbeard, a book my friend Eric recommended to me.  As I pondered spending more money (I had already spent 50 dollars at Wax Trax), Paul approached the counter with a handful of books by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick.

The clerk said to Paul, ” So you’re a Philip K. Dick fan?”

“Yeah, I love Dick,” Paul responded. I wasn’t sure if he said this on purpose, but I held my laughter down to a snicker from behind the Vonnegut shelf.  Once the “Dick-Lover” paid for his purchases, I decided Bluebeard could wait and followed Paul to the door.  As I passed the counter I caught a glimpse of a t-shirt with a picture of a trout on the front and the words “Kilgore Used Book’s and Comics”.

Two steps out the door I made the connection.  Kilgore….Trout….Kilgore….Trout…. “KILGORE TROUT!”

Paul turned to me, “What?”

“Kilgore Trout! That’s the name of a recurring character in Vonnegut’s books. Dude, they named their store after Kilgore Trout!” Before Paul could respond, I was heading back into the store on a mission: get a Kilgore Trout t-shirt.  I approached the counter blurting out, “Is your store named after the Vonnegut character?”

A smile grew on the clerk’s acne covered face, as he nodded and said, “A ha, you got it.  Most people don’t.  I take it you’re a Vonnegut fan?”

I went on to gush about the late great author for a few minutes, and then threw a t-shirt up on the counter for purchase. That day, my “Kilgore Trout” t-shirt officially took the top spot of my coolest t-shirt roster, closely squeaking past my “ELC Midget Special Olympics” t-shirt (my high school mascot was a Midget).

What's cooler? An obscure reference to a Vonnegut character or an unintentionally humorous take on the Midget Special Olympics?

After paying for my new shirt, Paul and I returned to the Element and drove north towards Boulder through Denver’s afternoon traffic.  Paul thought we should hang out in Boulder for the afternoon, and then hit a couple breweries before camping for the night.  We arrived in downtown Boulder and parked on a side street so we could roam Pearl Street that sunny afternoon. We didn’t have any purpose set other than to enjoy the hippie atmosphere and admire the college women sauntering about.  We hadn’t been a part of civilization for a few weeks, so upon first sight of a few attractive girls, we began behaving like Encino Man, stalking and sniffing the civilized females around us.

"Life's about greasing the 'do back, buddy, and wheezin' on the buff-fest, man."

As we meander through the street performers, hippies with petitions for Darfur, and street stands selling tie-dye shirts, Paul would turn to me occasionally and say, “Dude, did you see that chick?”

And each time, I would turn to him in confusion and ask, “Which chick?” I would then turn around to see the backside of a ratty haired hippie chick wearing one of those earth child, renaissance, nature dresses.  I knew I hadn’t lost my radar for attractive women over the duration of our trip. In fact, my sensors were on high-alert due to the lack of women over the duration of the trip.  As our walk continued, I made sure to take better notice of the women that passed.

Paul continued his occasional exclamation of, “Did you see her?!” and with each girl he pointed out, I began to come to a realization.  Every one of these “attractive” women he pointed out were wearing the same style hippie, moo-moo dress.  I didn’t say anything to him, but began searching out girls who looked like they raided Mother Earth’s closet. Lo and behold, my theory rang true. Each time a girl with unshaved armpits walked by in one of these dresses, Paul would turn to me and profess her hotness.

It's totally hot in a "I bought this material on clearance at JoAnn's Fabrics" kind of way.

As we neared the end of the street a tall Asian girl in her hippie gear approached us.  Her face was a disaster area, with her wide nose, flared nostrils, beady eyes, and a drive-in movie theater forehead all disproportionately placed upon her greasy face, flat as a frying pan.  I began to grin, knowing she was the true litmus test for my theory that Paul responded to hippie dresses like Pavlov’s dog.  As hypothesized, once the monster passed, Paul turned to me saying, “Tell me you saw that hotty.”

“Seriously?! She was nasty!” I answered.

“Are you kidding?” he said in shock.

“Sorry, but I have this weird attraction to faces.”

“You’re crazy; she was gorgeous,” he said, dismissing my opinion.

“Dude, you would be attracted to a turd if it was wearing a hippie dress.”  He didn’t like this assertion, and decided my hormones must have somehow evaporated in the mountains, turning me into some type of balding androgynous freak.

By the time we got back to the car, Paul was acting grumpy, probably due to my ribbing.  Once inside the car I asked, “So you want to go to that Meadery outside of town?”

“Eh,” he noncommittally answered.  He seemed unenthused. I didn’t care; we were going to the meadery. I’d never tasted the ancient wine that I imagined that Beowulf and the Vikings chugged while playing Mead Pong in some ancient temple basement.

When we pulled into the mini-mall where the Redstone Meadery was located, Paul mentioned that he might stay in the car and take a nap.  My response? “You have to come in.  It’s mead, dude; fucking mead!”

Much to his chagrin, Paul joined me.  Inside we were greeted by a waif of a man, asking us in an effeminate voice, “Would you gentlemen like to sample some of our mead?”  It’s not often that you get such a proposition, so we both bellied up to the taster’s bar.

After giving us a brief history of the honey based wine, he began leading us through the gauntlet of mead: meads that tasted like wines ranging from the pinot to the red; meads that tasted like beer from the amber to the hoppy; meads that tasted like candy from the Bit O’ Honey to the Shock Tarts, meads that tasted like preserves from the raspberry to the boysenberry.   By the time we had finished, we’d tasted 15 different varieties of mead, and as you can imagine, we were feeling pretty good. Paul’s grumpy attitude, just like the mead, was a thing of the past.

We both bought a bottle of the nectar of the God’s and returned to the car, feeling both slightly buzzed.  Giddy from our trip down meadery lane, we giggled the entire drive north to Longmont where we planned to visit Left Hand Brewing Company.  I’d tasted a few Left Hand brews over the years and always enjoyed what they had to offer.

Paul and his loyal left hand.

Once we located the bar, we made our way inside, where we found a rustic atmosphere and a large crowd of drinkers.  We plopped down at a table and began sampling the beers on tap, one after another.  At that point, I don’t recall any beer being better than the other, but I distinctly remember enjoying every pint that came to our table (even the ginger beer Paul ordered).

With the combination of mead and Left Hand beer pumping through our blood, we rambled like school girls about our past fuck-ups and laughed about the idiocy that was created when the two of us joined forces with Tony back in college.  We lost track of time, and two hours later the Left Hand brews were going down easily.  By the time we stumbled out of the brewery, the sun had set and we were faced with the task of finding a place to set up camp in the dark.  Fortunately, we were feeling too good to care about the difficult task ahead.

We drove the winding road north toward Estes, and came upon a hiking trail, where we parked the car.  We filled our packs quickly by dome light, and began hiking up a path we could barely see in the moonlight.  15 minutes into our drunken hike, we came upon a camping area.  We found a flat spot hidden by trees and set up camp by flashlight.  We had little trouble assembling the tent; at that point in the trip we could have done it blindfolded.  Since we hadn’t eaten since our breakfast burritos with Malcolm, we needed to get a fire going, so we could enjoy a late night soup.  Paul searched for rocks while I gathered wood. When I had enough wood, I grabbed a rock and completed our rock circle for the blaze. Soon, we had ourselves a crackling fire to cook our soup upon.

Guess which rock I grabbed...

Still both feeling pretty good, we continued giggling through the night, talking about our trip that was coming to an end in a few days.  When thinking about that afternoon, Paul mentioned, “That mead was amazing! That might be my favorite stop yet. We gotta go to another meadery tomorrow; I think there’s one in Denver.”

I smiled as I looked into the flames, nodded my head, and said, “I told you dude: mead; fucking mead.”

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Video Clip of the Week: Jazzmaster Guitar

Last weekend I splurged and purchased a new electric guitar. Not just any guitar though – a Fender Jazzmaster.  The same legendary guitar that indie rock heroes like J. Mascis, Lee Renaldo, and Thurston Moore made famous. Oh, and I forgot to mention that little known artist Elvis Costello…here’s a couple clips of the masters explaining what makes the Jazzmaster so great along with some interesting stories as to how they ended up with the guitars that helped define their sound.

J. Mascis:

Lee Renaldo:

Elvis Costello:

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