Music can be political without being expressly political. Sometimes the sheer vitality of it can be a force for change. It can shake you, wake you up, make you want to do something different than you were doing before you heard it. This has definitely been true, from even the earliest moments, of rock n roll. Once rock n roll was unleashed it couldn’t help but have an affect on race relations, sexual mores, youth culture, and so on, just because of where it came from and the sheer energy involved, even before it dealt with any of those things in an explicit way.
I’ve mentioned lately that I have been diving into the punk, post-punk, and hardcore bands of the 80’s Washington D.C. scene. Rites of Spring, which featured members that went on to join Fugazi, among other bands, were different from many of the acts of even that time period. Their songs were more melodic and their lyrics were more personal in nature, despite channeling the energy of punk and hardcore. Their lyrics also have a more poetic and interpretive nature than many of their peers. Although I grew up listening to all of the Ian MacKaye bands, MacKaye is a founder of Dischord Records and also went on to be a member of Fugazi, I had never heard Rites of Spring until recently. But listening to their music, one can’t help but feel that something is going on. It possesses a feeling of dissatisfaction, but not of hopelessness. It sounds like people striving to reach someplace new. It is full of passion and self-discovery. Singer and guitar player Guy Picciotto sounds fully committed. Even if none of these things translate into any particular political cause, this is the sound of people becoming engaged with the world. And engagement is the most important ingredient in any kind of social change.
The single and title track from the new Public Enemy record, Man Plans God Laughs. I am extremely glad that one of the greatest groups of all time is still putting out records that are fearless and relevant.
Inside Most Intense Public Enemy Record of the Century
As I looked quickly at the headlines over at Rolling Stone today, I was shocked and extremely psyched to see that Public Enemy is releasing a new album…this week! The album is titled Man Plans, God Laughs. They are one of the greatest groups of all time in any genre, and if they weren’t so intensely political, I believe their profile would be even higher here in the states than it has been in recent years. Their last two albums, Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamps and The Evil Empire of Everything, both released in 2012, were both jaw dropping and worth checking out if you have checked the group out in awhile. (I would definitely get both records as they both feature different sonic textures, yet compliment each other really well from a musical perspective. If you love the group or just love exciting and intense music, you can’t go wrong.) The above video is one of the official singles from Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamps.
I can already imagine the endless grief I will get for posting this from certain band mates and some camps that think themselves too hip for Stewart’s charms. But I fucking love his shit anyway. There’s no doubt that the early solo years and Faces period can never be equaled. (Those years set a bar that most musicians, period, will never equal. And pretty much every musician I know loves this era of records.) But as long as Rod is singing something that has a hint of rock n roll in it, something that makes you cry in your drink, or that you can imagine him kicking a soccer ball to in a stadium, I am in. Really, except for his American Songbook dreck, and his other recent covers albums, I pretty much like everything. (The American Songbook stuff is one of the few times even I will say he went a bridge too far.) It’s not only his voice, but the fact that he seemingly throws himself in with total enthusiasm, even to things that other musicians wouldn’t try, and possibly shouldn’t. But I feel he can get away with it, as he has an exuberance that is equaled by few. This song would be filed under his quasi-celtic soccer stadium anthems, but it’s good fun, and most of all emotional sounding. At the end of the day the first rule of music should be that it is emotional. Rod rarely fails to deliver on those terms, no matter how overly professional his backing band sounds. About eleven or twelve years ago I went to see him live and I was sure I was going to be witnessing a cash grab, but he ended up having the entire audience, all ages, on their feet for the entire night. Not only is he a first-rate interpreter, he is also a really underrated songwriter when he decides to pick up the guitar and pen. Too often his celebrity has overshadowed his very real talents, and his best song lyrics display a great wit, that is equal at conveying sadness and humor. At this stage Never a Dull Moment is probably my favorite record of his. If you doubt Stewart’s talents, but love rock n roll in the slightest, check it out. There are many reasons that I love many kinds of music, but rarely has someone made me smile as much as Rod Stewart. For that reason alone I would feel ashamed of myself for not sticking with him. So there: I love Rod Stewart. What are you going to do about it?
I’m a big fan of the early 80’s punk/post punk/hardcore scene. The Misfits were always one of my favorite punk bands. Samhain, the band that Glenn Danzig formed between The Misfits and Danzig (Which I also like), is a really interesting band. They are neither quite punk, nor metal. The playing is much more primitive than what would come, but is more experimental and strange than the horror punk of The Misfits. It has a gothic ambience to it, despite the underlying aggression which has always been a part of Danzig’s sound.
I have been listening to the first Samhain album Initium. I love it, especially the closing track Archangel. I think what is interesting about it, even if you aren’t into this band or even particular style of music, is how well it has aged, especially the fact that the recording is very lo-fi and primitive even for its time. In fact I would argue that the lack of fidelity ads to this records appeal. It creates a sense of mystery, like you are hearing something that you weren’t supposed to. It allows the imagination to fill in the missing gaps. Nothing is more important to a piece of work than the imagination of the listener, viewer, observer, or whatever, depending on the form of art that is being taken in. When you read a book the imagination is creating the images, which are just words on a page, and that is very powerful. One of the reason old recordings form the 50’s and 60’s have stayed relevant, and not just because they feature great musicianship and performance, is because the technology of the time made a certain amount of mystery inherent in the work. When you listen to a Phil Spector produced record, there are so many instruments being recorded, that it is hard to tell exactly what is in the room. So you have the musicians and what they are performing, but then you have an added element of mystery, of there being something other present, when those recordings play. Whether the mystery inherent in the above Samhain recording was intentional or the result of having no budget, I would bet on a little of both, it has that unexplainable quality to it, where it is a puzzle that can never be completely deciphered. The fact that Glenn Danzig was trying to create a horror vibe in his music is enhanced by this mysteriousness. Think about when you watch a horror movie; Often you are more creeped out before you see the monster, when you are still imagining how horrible it could be. Sometimes modern horror movies will use grainy footage of something to add to their terror. I think this is for the same purpose. As all things more and more towards high definition and sonic clarity, realize that perfection of image and sound can also cause something to be lost along the way. The best filmmakers, musicians, artists, will find ways to adapt, to use new technology to get the same emotional quality as the old, but I think realizing that mystery is an important quality in art is an important step.
I have finally found a newer rock band that I am excited about. (About fucking time! You have no idea the amount of time I spend searching newer records sometimes, hoping something will connect in any genre, only to come up empty handed.) They are the Cloud Nothings and their album Here and Nowhere Else is fantastic. Although I can’t say at this point they are necessarily doing something new, all the elements are in place musically and melodically, along with insanely enthusiastic playing, to create an exciting emotional experience. And they are really young, with potential to get even better. I discovered them through their collaboration with Wavves and went backwards. (That collaboration is also really great, but slightly different in what makes it so.)
What I really like about them, even if you could criticize the fact that they aren’t moving the ball forward, is they get the overall picture right. I feel like a dumbass writing this, but the record simply fucking rocks. There are very few newer bands that you listen to that sound like they are exploding from your speakers with sheer exuberance. This record also sounds like a rock record should, with a tight punchy sound that, while probably more polished than it appears, doesn’t get in the way of the band’s dynamics. And Baldi writes songs that are consistently full of hooks. There is also enough mystery and artistry in the songs and recordings that they live up to repeated plays. Unlike a lot of other modern “rock” bands, everything is not on the surface. It’s that combination of unhinged energy and controlled melodicism, mixed with slight mystery, that make them stand out. Some new bands have exciting musical moments or hooks, but the combination is actually rare.
I should mention that a band is only as great as their drummer and the drumming on this album is ridiculous. I am seriously wondering if the drummer was eating speed before each take.
P.S. I haven’t heard their earlier albums other than clips. The one before this sounds promising, they all sound like they have their charms, but the early albums are different. They are more of a lo-fi rock experience. The band is still really young. As with bands in the 60’s, when bands often had several albums to get it together, bands often take time to gel.
Keith Richards just announced that he is coming out with a new solo album this fall, Crosseyed Heart, for the first time since 1992. His two solo records so far, Talk is Cheap and Main Offender, are both great, with Talk is Cheap being especially loved by many musicians that I know. I was really into these records at one point. Everyone knows that Richards is a great guitar player, but I always loved his singing too, which is full of feeling. He has great phrasing as well. Above is the single Take it So Hard from Talk is Cheap.
While making a mix for my brother the other day I listened again to this song from Johnny Cash’s album Bitter Tears: (Ballads of the American Indian). Imagine a major modern country star writing and recording this song, let alone putting it on an album of other likeminded songs. You simply can’t. Johnny Cash is out on a limb, laying down a heavy trip in stark, clear terms. When most people talk about getting back to real country music, most of them mean getting away from the Nashville created twang pop that is on the radio today. I highly doubt many of them intend for to go this far.
Hoof prints and foot prints, deep ruts the wagons made
The victor and the loser came by here
No head stones, but these bones bring the mascalero death moans
See the smooth black nuggets by the thousands lying here
Petrified, but justified are these apache tears
Dead grass, dry roots, hunger crying in the night
Ghost of broken hearts and laws are here
And who saw the young squaw, they judged by their whiskey law
Tortured till she died of pain and fear
Where the soldiers lay her back, are the black apache tears
The young men, the old men, the guilty and the innocent
Bled red blood and chilled alike with fears
The red men, the white men, no fight ever took this land
So don’t raise the dust when you pass here
They’re sleeping and in my keeping are these apache tears
When the musician Ian McLagan passed away late last year, I looked for the above song to post, but for whatever reason I couldn’t locate it. I’m not sure if it wasn’t on YouTube or it was user error. Anyway, it’s one of those beautiful songs that hits me emotionally ever time I hear it. It’s the cry in your drink melody and the extremely sympathetic playing of the Bump Band. It’s McLagan’s voice which constantly sounds on the verge of breaking up. It’s the lyrics about reaching and failing, about people long gone, but most of all about carrying on.
My brother put it on in the car today as I was driving him to the airport here in Austin. I immediately thought about the happy hours at the Lucky Lounge that McLagan used to play. I realized that I was in Austin for a very special period, when seeing someone like McLagan, for free no less, was a regular event. You just had to muster the energy to drive a couple minutes downtown. Those Lucky Lounge happy hours are gone now, fading into the ether of the past more and more with every minute. A special place in time, once full of life, gone now forever. It was a beautiful dream while it lasted…
If you care anything about grooves like I do, I’m a bass player, then you will find the groove in the above song fantastic. Sly and Robbie, one of the greatest rhythm sections ever, having worked on countless great reggae recordings, lay down the stickiest and deepest of grooves. Sly Dunbar’s drumming has me particularly captivated on this track. An interesting side note: Sly and Robbie also provide the rhythm tracks on Bob Dylan’s 80’s masterpiece Infidels.