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Spencer Dickinson – The Man Who Lives For Love

January 4, 2013 1 comment

YepRoc Records, 2006

The man on the cover is flashing me the ace of hearts, so you know what that means!  He lives for love, for he is the man who lives for love.  He also apparently lives for chubby keyboardists, speeding tickets, and shootouts at gas stations according to the illustrations behind the late stage Jim Morrison look-alike.  Along with the retro design and songs like “Zigaboo” and “(Chug Chug) It’s Not OK”, this looked to be a record worth a spin just to see what kind of colorful tale I’d get wrapped up in.  Of course, if the background illustrations showed puppies sleeping, a few math equations and Christopher Walken, I’d probably still buy the record.  I’m pretty easy to impress.

Spencer Dickinson is actually a side project for Jon Spencer (of Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion) and Luther & Cody Dickinson (of the North Mississippi All-Stars), so these guys bring a solid background of rock and blues with them.  At nineteen tracks, this concocted group apparently had a lot to get on record that couldn’t be done with their usual bands, which is quickly apparent given the eclectic mix of style throughout the album.  Some of the songs could be placed with either group, but some are just completely out there.  I guess that’s what side projects are for, right?

“That’s a Drag” begins the album with a powerful blues guitar chug, with Spencer singing as if in personal pain.  If one had to think of what an Explosion/All-Stars song would sound like, this gritty and straightforward rocker is it.  With “I’m Not Ready” following in a similar vein, one may begin to think that Spencer Dickinson is just another predictably enjoyable blues rock album (sort of like the Black Keys and every record they have ever released).  But no, as “Zigaboo”s jilting changes in tempo and addition of organ attests, these guys didn’t get together to pass the usual time.  Spencer Dickinson’s momentum from the first two strong tracks takes a heavy sedative with the lulling slide guitar on “Body (My Only Friend)”.  Spencer has even lost all of that early punch as he mumbles and whines his lyrics in this five minute journey.

And so it goes.  With every tune that sounds like it’s a solid blues rock moment, there is one that causes one to rub one’s eyes.  “Primitive” sounds like a trucker on a CB radio losing his mind over the course of the song.   Can’t understand a word Spencer’s mumbling or screaming over the fuzz, can’t get past the jolting guitar pops, and can’t find a bit of replayability in the tune itself.  That song couldn’t get over with fast enough, though I do know what to play if someone asks me to a recommend them a song that would devolve them into madness.  “Flood (The Awful Truth, the Living End)” is collision of singing and shouting that culminates in a dismal screech-a-rific ending.

I suppose when nineteen tracks are compiled there are going to be duds, but there are a few particularly fun ones.  “Sat Morn Cartoons” is two minutes of guitar solo aggression while “Love Without a Smile” is definitely a toe-tapper with its excellently peppy pace near the middle of the song.  The funky title track has the lyric “I wanna mashed potato/down on my knees”, which illuminates the light-hearted feel that Spencer Dickinson delivers on the tune.  Truly, if the guys just shaved off seven or so iffy tracks this would be a very strong album with all the good music on the record.  I am not sure if that goal was really on their mind when Spencer Dickinson put this album together, though.

Since this is a side project that defines the term ‘off and on’, there isn’t a whole lot to go to on the Internet for them.  However, you can listen to a few tracks by Spencer Dickinson on Last.fm.

The group that is Spencer Dickinson has only put out two records, with this one in 2006 and the previous one in 2001.  Since nearly seven years passed after “The Man Who Lives For Love”, the slide guitar on this side act may have been put away.  That may be even more evident with the fact that Jon Spencer’s main act has ended their lengthy hiatus (begun two years before this record), so one half of this side project may not feel that itch to dabble with the Dickinsons for awhile.  Then again, if the point of Spencer Dickinson is to just be something to do when the main players want to get nonsensical and crazy, they might bring back the man and his ace of hearts.  However, if they wait too long they’ll have to name the new album “The Man Who Lives For the Early Bird Special” or “The Man Who Lives For Grandkids”.  Everybody, start brainstorming ideas for that fetching album cover…

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Bablicon – The Orange Tapered Moon

November 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Misra Records, 2000Image

I bought this record at a small record store that is known for its wonderfully unique taste.  They have got psychedelic rock from the sixties, solo artists on no art, no frills CDs just getting their music out there, and tunes from bands you and I will never know or hear of ever again.  Truly eclectic!  Buying dollar discs from them has been quite the challenge over the years, and Bablicon’s album is no different.  The art and print betray nothing, aside from possible chaos.   Uh oh, chaos.  If this is another one of those experimental records I get tricked into buying I’m going to open my window and blast it for my neighbors.  I’M not going to be alone in this listening debacle.  Take that old folks!  Call the cops if you wanna, they won’t want to come anywhere near this place.

And yes, as it turns out Bablicon is experimental all the way.  But at least they’re not screaming at me, or making noises my mind can’t comprehend.  Well, not entirely anyway.  Bablicon let it rip right away with a Liars-like tune entitled “Silicon Bucktown”.  The singer sounds like he’s straining just to keep up with his humorous (re: choppy) delivery of the lyrics, which explains quite a bit when the rest of the record lacks vocals.  Bablicon is mainly about the music, which for the most part on “Silicon…” consists of a steady bass, drum, and violin presence.  “Muomed/Moy Mermotman” is much more experimentally typical, with some strangely random drum taps and mournful saxophone.  At this point, I was getting a bit nervous about my patience level.

The third track, “Anne on an Infibulus” is similar to “Muomed…” in that the drums can be wayward and urgent, but the difference is that it actually has a pretty good intense build to it early on.  The bass line sounds a lot like the “Doctor Who” theme, so if that show ever had a chase scene where a guy in a very long scarf had to pursue some kind of humanoid from another time (oh, watch the show already) this would be the theme song.  Unfortunately, the tune fades out halfway through and is replaced by an eerie chimes concoction with a brooding piano stepping in periodically.  Ah, that’s right, forgot I was listening to experimental music for a bit there.  There are no rules.

Another song that stood out to me was “210”, which was a bit long for what it was but had some moments that made me think it was part of a movie score.  The harsh oboe (or perhaps flute) sound early on sounded like something out of a Hitchcock film, while the rat-a-tats from a simple drum kit sounded like something from “Peter and the Wolf”.  Some sounds on this one reproduced that tone you hear when your ears are ringing.  Along with some other inverted, sometimes frightening sounds that sweep and fade across the speakers, I was impressed at what amounted to a short soundtrack to an unknown suspense film.  A B-film director should give Bablicon a call for this tune alone.

Bablicon only have two songs on their Myspace page but there’s a few videos on Youtube that can get you interested in their live show from back when they were around.

Shockingly, I don’t mind this record all that much.  Of course there were some discordant songs that didn’t work much at all for my ears (Mustacho, The Well Tempered Alligator), but a few tunes on here actually held court well.  I could hear a solid jazz tune here, a meditation there, and not get too derailed by random assaults so that I would turn the album off.  Bablicon, you have given me something to think about!  Well, until the next musical bludgeoning comes along and makes me grit my teeth and bulge my eyes.

Bablicon only put out three records, the last in 2001, before calling it quits.  It’s hard to say if the world is worse off with Bablicon gone, since there are so many who are capable of throwing some instruments together to make a cacophony of seemingly aimless sounds.  However, as I mentioned earlier I think the group had some solid talent when they caught a directional vibe.  According to a couple of sites, their third record is slightly better than this one, so I may even check that out for a dollar.  I’ll even let the old folks sleep if I do.

Witches With Dicks – Manual

October 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Kiss of Death Records, 2006

So let me get this straight.  These guys named themselves after transvestite dabblers in black magic?  How many of those are there?  Well, needless to say they didn’t have to worry about the old question of “Wait, what if someone already named their band ‘Witches With Dicks?”  No chance guys, so congratulations.  Given the typeface on the album art and a song called “Your Job Does Not Rock Balls”, I had a feeling this record was going to be punk all over the place.  Ahem, I mean that it will more specifically be a punk rock record by transvestite dabblers in black magic.

Boston’s Witches With Dicks play loud, urgent punk that sticks with traditional speed and grittiness.  The four guys in the band all sing/shout at various times during the record, and even though there is nothing pretty about it, at least they sound honest.  On “How to Cook 40 Humans”, the band gets hopeful with the realization that despite a difficult time in one’s early days one can still come out on top if they just stick out the troubling times.  At least, that’s what I could get out of the lyrics, which for punk rock came across as surprisingly thoughtful.  The band’s unabashed dislike of certain types of men in blue on “One Whopper For the Copper”, a song that paints some of the more power-hungry policemen in a bad light.

I am still a fan of the title of “Your Job Does Not Rock Balls”, which of course is a quick denouncement of getting stuck in a cruddy job.  I am making a note of that phrase to get my point across succinctly if a weary friend needs it told to him/her straight.  Another example of Witches With Dicks trying to help out in two minutes or less, the band promotes cutting off deadbeat buddies in “Die Painfully”.  Why hang onto a relationship if there is no reciprocation?  Thanks Witches With Dicks.  My favorite line is “So take a walk outside tonight cause it’s nice/There’s fireflies.”  This is a sensitive punk rock band that wants to hold your hand and give you those knowing eyes!

And hey, any band that makes a reference to 8-bit Nintendo wins some review points automatically from me.  The tune “Skate or Die Two is Going to Be Awesome When It Comes Out” is so true.  Granted, the song doesn’t seem to have anything to do with “Skate or Die”, but it got me thinking that I should have another go at punching out that mohawked punk again in the 1-on-1 skateboard race.  That guy always seemed to sideswipe me near the back alley finish line.  And uh, let’s not get into my lack of virtual halfpipe skills, okay?

Give Witches With Dicks a few listens to a couple of punk tunes at their MySpace page.

This is not a bad record, nor is it a great record.  It’s a punk record.  Straightforward tunes by guys who knew how to turn up the volume and not drag it on too long.  If one likes that nineties-to-now punk sound then this is a fine enough grab for a dollar to hear a few solid, quick ones.  As for the band, according to a clip on PunkNews.org Witches With Dick are no longer together.  So, aside from a few singles and this “Manual” album, Witches With Dick made a short, somewhat minimal stay in the Boston punk scene.  Some may say that it’s no big deal since these guys sound like a lot of other bands, but for Boston fans, it’s a pity to lose a crew that were capable of blasting out some high energy.

CoCoComa – Things Are Not All Right

August 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Goner Records, 2009

Oooh, quite the color scheme.  Orange, white, and fuchsia.  Through the fluffy clouds and bright rainbows are five missiles heading towards some unfortunate destination.  So, I suppose one couldn’t ultimately decide this was going to be a light pop band.  Maybe without those missiles, but they’re there, so there has to be some sort of edge involved.  I also figured that songs like “You Better Beware”, “Lie to Me” and “Suspicious” hinted at some sort of relationship entanglement.  Like an obnoxious rubbernecker nearing the result of the traffic jam they’re stuck in, I had to stop and see/hear how CoCoComa were going to explain that cover art with music.

This second album from the Chicago-based group is a rock ‘n roll release, nothing less and nothing more.  The missiles proved true when the guitar feedback introduced the foot stomper “You Better Beware”.  It’s got all the rousing elements of rock with its tempo, group shouting during the chorus, and its general disregard for deep, intricate verses.  “The Right Side” continues with the theme with its rambling style and more group shouting (including the ever effective “Yeah Yeah!” between lines … when has that never worked?).  It’s very evident early on that CoCoComa want to overdose everyone immediately with their energy and zeal.

After only a few tracks in I recognized where I’ve heard lead vocalist Bill Roe’s tone before.  His voice sounds a lot like a combination of the lead vocalists from Television and the Futureheads where it always sounds like he’s got a cold.  It blends in well with his group mates during the choruses, but on its own it could annoy after awhile.  Thankfully the music tends to be the primary focus, and songs like “The Right Side”, “Lie to Me”, and “Water Into Wine” are straight forward, good time rock ‘n rollers.  Since every song is rarely above three minutes, there isn’t any time to think a tune has gone on too long.  One could say that the band knows how modern attention spans work, eh?

Perhaps the best song on the disc is the last one, “Alright, Alright, Alright”, which references the album title.  It’s got group singing (plus), constant pounding of drums (plus), and repeats the song title over and over again with increasing emphasis at the end of the song (plus!).  The song practically puts you in one of those rockets and launches you into the great silence that occurs in the aftermath.  It’s kind of like leaving a great party and, upon staggering around the streets, you come to wonder why you left at all.

Have a listen to many of CoCoComa’s tracks from this album on their MySpace or Last.fm pages.

This is a good energy-inducing album, though it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.  For thirty minutes you get to hear a band that sounds like they’re having a great time blitzing through their cadre of upbeat rock compositions, so at least there is no room for downers.  CoCoComa is still around as far as I know, though with this record it has been about three years.  It’s getting into that territory of unknown future, but I hope they’re still packing the bars with their raucous style.  CoCoComa may not be original but they’re a lot of fun, so I imagine people will always want more of that whenever it is available and ready to break out some new tunes.

The Self Righteous Brothers – In Loving Memory Of…

July 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Black & Greene Records, 2006

The album cover looks like a couple of ghosts from Pac-Man got together and said, yo, forget this ‘getting eaten’ gig!  Let’s start a band!  The band name of Blinky and the Roadmasters was already taken, and Pac-Man Sucks probably reminded them too much of their old job.  So, due to their love of the Righteous Brothers’ song “Unchained Melody” from their favorite movie “Ghost”, they created a spinoff band moniker in tribute.  For a dollar I wanted to find out what the ghosts’ musical abilities amounted to after years of chasing and getting chased.  However, it is possible that the group is actually comprised of three Boston musicians.  But c’mon, that seems less likely.

Turns out these are a bunch of Boston guys mixing up between pop, rock, and some experimental tendencies.  The opener of “Floyd” is a sometimes abrasive, sometimes dated rock affair that introduces the listener to what the Self Righteous Brothers can sound like, even if it is not that interesting.  Despite their choice of introduction, it doesn’t take long for the group to slip into their primary sound of pop rock.  On “Alan Watts” the Self Righteous Brothers wanted to sway kindly when they sang about the late British philosopher, who was all about the Zen.  This carefree sound continues into the forlorn “Graduated Cylinder” as well as the catchy “When I Want To”, which is actually half moody instrumental and half nineties indie rock.

I was beginning to like the Self Righteous Brothers, mainly because the pop songs as well as the pensive instrumentals of “Didjeridon’t” and “48 to 6”, really kept the variety interesting.  Sometimes the group would venture a little too far from what they’re good at (like unfortunately funky “Electric Boogaloo”) but they are generally quite palatable after that “Floyd” number early on.  They do manage to slip a few zingers in periodically, as is evident near the end of the album on “Sidecar Jesus”.  As the record appears to finish on an upbeat pop note, the Self Righteous Brothers couldn’t resist finishing the cheery “Sidecar Jesus” with a confusing noise guitar segue as well as a sped up, louder version of the chorus.  (sigh)  Perhaps they didn’t want to end on a predictable note, though listeners may not appreciate the non-Zen interruption.

Listen to a few tunes by the Self Righteous Brothers (one of which is a Beatles cover) at their Myspace page.  Er, read about wedding arrangements in, uh, Japanese at their website?

Despite a few hiccups, this is a decent pop rock record that has a few good songs on it.  Most of the weirdness is contained on the album cover as the Self Righteous Brothers prefer to be easier listening than those bizarre ghost masks may infer.   With the limited amount of information on the internet about these guys (and not the Australians by the same moniker) it appears that this was the group’s one and only album.  Perhaps their confusion about what they really wanted to sound like did them in, or perhaps it was just time to move onto more focused projects.  Like running away from that juiced up, yellow ghostivore!  Gahhh!!

Gigolo Aunts – Minor Chords and Major Themes

June 29, 2012 Leave a comment

E Pluribus Unum Recordings, 1999

When you like a band once, you keep checking to see if you still like them.  I truly enjoyed “Flippin’ Out” so their follow up record was a must spin for me.  Even if I hadn’t heard of these guys before, the retro album cover with the purple trim is certainly grabbing.  However, showing pictures of contented dudes in a studio screams light music, so anyone else who was willing to dish out the dimes and nickels to hear what Gigolo Aunts were about probably left the hard stuff on the shelf and poured some lemonade as they popped this disc in the player.

The early part of this Boston pop group’s third record can easily turn off some of the more grounded listeners.  The overwhelming positivity of “C’mon C’mon” will give many people a toothache with its sugar impact.  The lyrics of “C’mon c’mon/can’t you feel something going on?” get repeated effusively and, aside from a few bits here and there, they are the only lyrics for the song.  What kind of a tune is that?  Then there’s “Everyone Can Fly” whose title made me gag just by reading it.  Who titles a song that sounds like it was lifted from Sesame Street?  It’s a much softer song in sharp contrast to “C’mon C’mon”, so I am not sure what the point was in getting everybody in a sky high mood only to douse them with light guitars and melancholy vocals.  So yes, the album starts off a bit awkwardly.

The tunes get back to more vibrant pop with “Half a Chance” and “Super Ultra Wicked Mega Love”, though the latter has a few power guitar riffs that heavily remind one of the early to mid-nineties, never mind the late nineties.  As the album quietly slides into “You’d Better Get Yourself Together”, Dave Gibb’s high vocals become very noticeable.  Five tunes in he’s gone from singing with exuberance, singing with balanced aggression, and finally to an absolute feeling of soothing gentleness.  It’s on “Together” that really makes Gigolo Aunts stand out as not just another power pop band.  Gibbs’ vocals help, but the sharply contrasting composition styles give an impression that Gigolo Aunts aren’t going to be predictable for thirteen tracks.

The best track, “The Big Lie”, could have been a big radio hit if it got out of Boston.  Well, and if boy bands and teenage pop princesses didn’t rule the airwaves at that time.  The tune has an urgency during its chorus, which turns out to be Gibbs’ profession that he’s not the right guy for whoever it is.  This is also a song that got stuck in my head for a few days, probably because it actually built up the adrenaline during that aforementioned chorus.  The band doesn’t let up for too long before “Rest Assured” bursts out a few tracks later.  It’s almost as if the band knew their listeners might be nodding off at this point to include two really strong power pop tracks so close together.  The reason is quickly apparent, however, when the last few songs resemble a steep decline into the nice soft pillow that is “Residue”.

Listen to a few tracks by Gigolo Aunts on their MySpace page if you need a power pop shot in the arm.

My body got the shakes from listening to this record, mainly because its energy level got jerked around so much.  I went from snapping the fingers, looking forlornly at a sad puppy picture, swiveling rabidly in my swivel chair, and then passing out.  These songs are everywhere, which can be very frustrating if one wants dwell on a particular side of Gigolo Aunts music.  I personally liked the group when they were energized, but I felt that they sunk too much into the lightweight stuff so that any sort of momentum was quickly eradicated.

Gigolo Aunts did manage to put out one more record in 2002, but the pop band called it quits after a decade of power popping.  It is too bad that their sound is no longer with us, but perhaps they went the way of the Gin Blossoms when they realized everyone (sadly) was listening to nu metal or throaty pop songs.  To think that if they had only stuck around for eight more years they could have caught on the Train bandwagon and sugared us over with crappy songs.  Except they wouldn’t be crappy, for despite my misgivings with the numerous soft tunes I still think that Gigolo Aunts are a great band.  Definitely check them out on 1994’s “Flippin’ Out” or even this album.

The Gordon Highlanders – The Bagpipes and Drums of Scotland

June 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Laserlight Digital, 1990

At the risk of getting a flashing “HIPSTER POST!” emblazoned on the front page of the blog, accompanied by the wrong answer buzzer sound from “Family Feud” on repeat, I chose to pick up this compilation of bagpipe music from Scotland.  Why?  Well, I like bagpipes every once in awhile.  Not as a multi-hour listen but whenever they pop up in movies, events, or randomly during a road race (hello Portland, Maine) I appreciate them quite a bit.  I don’t even know how they work, really, though I see a lot of squeezing, blowing, and terse concentration by whoever is letting loose with that high pitched sound.  It’s impressive to watch the mysterious instrument in action, and with it the flashy attire of the musician (speaking of which, there appears to be some kind of blade attached to the guy’s ankle on the cover.  Don’t mess with the bagpipe dude).  So … I guess I thought I just wanted to hear fourteen bagpipe tracks to see if I could stand it.  I suppose the album’s also good to have on hand in case one likes to drive down a road full of people and blast this baby out of one’s car speakers.  Just for the heck of it, of course.

Every song on this collection performed by the Gordon Highlanders is labeled as “traditional”, so these songs are apparently well known to some group of people somewhere in the world.  Of course, “Amazing Grace” is as traditionally well known as it gets, and just to jump start this bagpipe party the Highlanders put it first in line.  That’s right, the song they play at funerals and emotionally moving parts in movies immediately sobers up any sort of upbeat mood the listener is in.  Sheesh, it’s like a brick to the face.  Sounds excellent, of course, but I would think something more peppy would have been better served as the first track.

That’s the only negative thing I could think of for this album, for everything else sounds just like it should.  There are a lot of marching to battle tracks, like “Battle On the Tyne”, “Regimental March”, and “When the Battle Is Over”.  One can picture the well adorned Scottish (or British, or Irish, or Welsh) troops with their military regalia stomping through the streets during a parade.  I wonder if these types of bagpipe tunes are used for the military in any other sense these days?  Perhaps they’re only brought out on the modern day battlefield when it’s early in the morning, mist covers the fields, and warriors gaze into the distance with the anticipation of fighting.  Okay, okay, I stole that image from “Braveheart”.

Not all songs on this album ring of battle, for “Miss Kirkwood” must be some sort of poignant love song that the Scottish compose so well.  Of course, there are no words, so one just has to imagine what kind of emotions the stoic bagpiper is going through when he’s playing it.  At least with its upbeat sound it might actually be a joyful tune, so perhaps no one died in the storyline.  “Scotland the Brave”, which is understandably a patriotic Scottish song, made me smile due to it being used as a rollicking punk intro on the Dropkick Murphys’ debut album “Do or Die”.  The Highlanders’ version has got enough to it to be a dance, but if you want something you can punch someone to check out the Murphys’ spin on it.

Admittedly, around “The Conund Rum” the songs were all starting to sound the same.  It could be due to my untrained bagpipe ear, but most songs on this record seem to blend together due to the consistent presence of bagpipes and drums.  I suppose that was predictable, wasn’t it?  With “Pipe Set 2”, however, a bit of a jig occurs with what sounds like an accordion and a flute.  I was picturing lasses with long hair and men with kilts doing some sort of Scottish dance at a local pub late in the night.  Given much of the droning and marching stuff early in the album, “Pipe Set 2” is the clear track winner.  If there is ONE bagpipes song you listen to this year …

It’s easy enough to find bagpipe music on the Internet, but hey, I’ll help you out with some “Battle on the Tyne”:

Now that I have listened to all fourteen tracks, I feel at ease about my bagpipes exposure.  When else, or at what other opportunity, would I have a chance to absorb this much of this unique instrument?  It’s not like there are bagpipe artists all over the pop charts … though perhaps that’s for good reason.  For a little bit of money this disc ended up worth the spin if only to say I had made the effort to understand the allure of the bagpipe.  Will this now get repeat spins through my speakers?  Well…

This is certainly one of those albums that you just have around for whatever occasion may arise.  I have a lot of music I just sort of hang onto just in case, like classical music, jazz music, some blues … and now bagpipes.  Perhaps when the Scottish Korean guy comes to visit in order to explain his long distance familial ties to my wife will I actually break this record out for the reunion.  Otherwise, it’s just a nice cultural set of tunes to have in case I end up visiting Scotland one day.  I suppose that depending on who you are you may run out and pick up this record at your earliest chance or go all the way and buy a set of bagpipes.  Hey, I heard there’s a niche market out there for ya!