Sunday, April 30, 2006

Genius Of Crack (1993) – Tsunami

Simple Machines founders Jenny Toomey and Kristin Thomson embodied the D.I.Y. ethic of the early nineties, not only running their own independent label out of their house in Arlington, Virginia, but also strapping on guitars to front the label’s flagship band, Tsunami. Although suffering from subpar production that deprived the instruments of their dynamic range, Tsunami’s debut album Deep End still stands as the apotheosis of agitated “punk la la rock” filtered through a sieve of melodic gumption.

“Genius of Crack” relates the self-reproach of a person who has failed to take advantage of her talents to reach her aspirations. The sandpaper grit of distorted guitars slowly unfurls in billows of dissonance as the tempo gradually gains momentum, as if to impose impetus upon the inertia. Adopting the persona of an underachieving slacker, Toomey confronts her failures and disappointments. Unable to achieve financial or social prestige, she will always be disposed to itinerant waywardness. She acknowledges that her unfulfilled potential stems from choices she has made in the past, and the inability to harness her experiences into animus. In the interest of cognitive dissonance, Toomey adheres to the notion that music worth making lacks commercial appeal. But, foundering in a morass of futility, she invokes her muse to inspire, her fortitude to spur. Cohort Thomson concurs with impassioned harmonies, deploring the repercussion of their debilitating fecklessness: “We’re so slack / We come off like geniuses on crack.” The strain of regret devolves into a maelstrom of discordant guitars and crashing drums, exploding in a cathartic detonation as Toomey’s sense of self-worth is obliterated, a musician manqué on the precipice of resignation, coming to terms with the demise of her dreams.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Saturday, April 29, 2006

    The Days of Wine and Roses (1963) – Julie London (Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer)

    Retrieving mementos from the annals of her mind with a bittersweet sense of nostalgia and a torch singer’s wistfulness, Julie London reflects upon how unyieldingly time slips away, each moment irretrievably lost. Life dispatches its affairs with episodic brevity, later revisited in fleeting impressions that commemorate the pleasures and delights of yesteryear. London fondly recalls “the days of wine and roses” when romantic gestures were inspired rather than expected; days that embodied a vernal joie de vivre; days that frolic in brief sparks redolent of youthful innocence. Evenings find her companionless, yet comforted by the warm illumination of such fond memories.

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  • Tuesday, April 25, 2006

    The Camera Eye (1981) - Rush

    The appeal of Rush vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee’s shrill voice is obviously a divisive issue (as is drummer Neil Peart’s lyrics). However, if need be, one could overlook such individual vexations and regard Lee’s voice as an adjunct, aiding and abetting the song’s overall flow, rhythm and arrangement. At the very least, “The Camera Eye” is lyrically immersing—a fastidious perspective fostered through photographic pursuits—and vocally engaging—with Lee managing to diplomatically temper melody with harmonious restraint.

    Against a background of car horns honking in the distance, a (now) démodé synthesizer patch sprouts to the germination of modulating gurgles. A snare breaks the gridlock with military rudiments, yielding to the warm purring of Alex Lifeson’s guitar. As the cityscape swirls with activity, the pace opens to a leisurely tour of its outskirts. In approaching the city limits, the tempo shifts into high gear, purposefully racing toward the bustling epicenter. Drummer/lyricist Neil Peart has learned to absorb every detail of his surroundings—lighting, angle, composition. Like the camera lens, he is able to capture the moment in his mind’s eye, and admire the minutiae that pedestrians hastening to their destinations fail to appreciate. In New York, in London—he is in tune with the life energy enveloping him, telling him its stories. Lifeson’s guitar occupies the soundscape with measured arpeggios, then sizzles in kinetic outbursts and axial riffs, buttressed by the signature growl of a Rickenbacker articulating Lee’s nimble bassline in rhythmic melodies. Peart plies his trade in an architecture of propulsion and scattershot fills of cracking snare and tumbling roto/rack/floor toms betwixt distinct ambulatory breaks. Lifeson’s solo glides into the coda, meting out notes with poise before collapsing onto the floor in a hissy-fit. As the 11-minute excursion abates, a straggling synthesizer trails off in errant pulses as Peart retires to his darkroom.

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  • Sunday, April 23, 2006

    U.S. Drag (1982) – Missing Persons

    (Part Two of the Mine Ears Have Heard The Glory of the Banging of the Drum tetralogy)

    Future Duran Duran guitarist Warren Cuccurullo picks out a fidgety pattern on guitar. Together with drummer Terry Bozzio’s perplexing rhythmic puzzles, they obfuscate the meter in which the band is playing. Singer Dale Bozzio’s strung-out meanderings about the tedium and angst of life on tour serve as reminder that “U.S. Drag” is, at heart, a rock song, albeit one decked out in a funk/new wave fusion that boasts an unconventional time-signature. (Perhaps Terry and Warren concocted such an unusual rhythm to keep themselves occupied on the tour bus.) Key in on the hi-hat accents that occur on very odd off-beats, coordinated with the interplay of snare and kick drum, and the beat only becomes more baffling. As such, one’s awe of Bozzio’s drumming adeptness grows exponentially. As the fade out approaches, Bozzio somehow (assuming not by overdubbing) adds ride cymbal pings to the equation to elucidate that the song’s herky-jerkiness is anchored in 6/4 time. Like Radiohead’s “Myxomatosis” (4/4 time), stripped of the sleight of hand, the meter proves to be relatively straightforward, but the effect is alchemic.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Tuesday, April 18, 2006

    Dream Of Me (2001) – Kirsten Dunst (Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman)

    Best known for her portrayals in Spiderman, Bring It On, and Interview With The Vampire, Kirsten Dunst has also played an integral part in two Sonic Lager faves: The Virgin Suicides and Get Over It. While the former slowly suffocates in an anesthetic shroud of acedia, the latter is quintessential teen romantic comedy à la 10 Things I Hate About You, Can’t Hardly Wait, and She’s All That. What sets Get Over It apart from its peers, however, is Dunst’s performance of “Dream Of Me” in her school’s musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One can easily imagine Kristen Bell qua Veronica Mars, having lost out to Dunst for the part of Helena, ditching her role as understudy to play the lead in Neptune High’s production of Fame, while likewise, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy opts to wax musical through the streets of Sunnydale in Once More, With Feeling. As the sole scene-stealer in town, Dunst flourishes in the spotlight. Against a backdrop of piano, her voice drapes the scene in gossamer layers of lyrical translucency, at times overly delicate, but never without winsome appeal. Helena’s idyllic musing of unavowed love stirs the soul, awakening desire. All the while, an unobtrusive supporting cast of oboe, strings, chimes and triangle hit their marks in balmy orchestration.

    A school campus assumes a completely different character at night: students loiter in the shadows cast by moonlit buildings before soaking in the nascent energy of an auditorium buzzing with excitement on opening night, the audience a tableau vivant of anticipation. Tonight, an ingénue will build monuments, melt hearts, inspire epiphanies. As the curtain falls, she is wont to tally the scores who have fallen in love with her.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Saturday, April 15, 2006

    Machine Gun Etiquette (1979) - The Damned

    Rat Scabies’ drums come crashing in on a runaway steam engine bound for gory, as bassist Algy Ward tosses coals into the furnace to feed the fury. Dave Vanian snarls petulantly to gloat about impending domination on the charts, with guitarist Captain Sensible barking a scrappy rejoinder: “SECOND TIME AROUND!” After claiming their place in history as the first British punk band to release an album (Damned Damned Damned), but failing to gain respect in the music community, The Damned were roundly panned for their sound-alike sophomore effort Music For Pleasure. Thus, on Machine Gun Etiquette, their third album, they waive their “second time around” in the faces of their critics: let us remind you how you slagged-off Music For Pleasure because we are going to kick your arses with this onslaught! Hence, the machine gun etiquette—indiscriminately gunning down the masses with their sonic salvo.

    Facetiously predicting commercial success, Vanian cites their lead-off single, “Love Song,” which immediately precedes “Machine Gun Etiquette” as the album’s opening track. The Clash’s Paul Simenon and Joe Strummer barge in with handclaps as the band stomps to the top of the charts. In under two minutes, The Damned exact revenge by lambasting our brains, excising the will to resist in an auricular lobotomy that begets hebetude.

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  • My Sister (1993) – The Juliana Hatfield Three

    Masquerading as a tribute to her sibling, “My Sister” finds Juliana Hatfield flanked by the ringing sustain of Gibson SG humbucking grit and a stout rhythm section that features the authoritative drumming of Todd Philips, his crisply recorded hi-hats, ringing ride cymbal, cutting snare and tumbling tom-toms. Juliana teases with perspicuous lyrics and a girlishly melodious voice, toting a fetching melody while dropping sly hints throughout that, in fact, she has no sister. Not unlike Hurley’s imaginary asylum pal on Lost, Hatfield’s sister is an idealized construct of her alter ego, an impetus for indecorous inclinations: callous, blasé and aloof. A concussive guitar break detonates in lieu of a chorus, thrusting the song into headbanging territory with drums flailing and bass grumbling. As reflected in such songs as “Everybody Loves Me But You” and “I Got No Idols,” in shaping her own persona Juliana has emulated the attributes of her fictional big sis. But as she began to accept accountability for her own foibles, her sister ceased to exist. Hatfield reveals that she was, in fact, precocious of her own accord. Still, she misses the panache with which her “sister” inspired.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Sunday, April 09, 2006

    Misty (1959) – Johnny Mathis (Erroll Garner/Johnny Burke)

    A genteel progression of piano chords sashays across a courtyard, sprinkling clusters of stardust over clouds of metaphors and similes that drift on the zephyr of Johnny Mathis’ gentle croon. Elegant strains of violins swell on cue, then meander in the background to serve as chaperons until called upon. “Misty” embroiders disorientation on its topcoat as an emblem of bewitchment, decorated with tinctures of harp, ornaments of enchantment. A clarinet promenades complacently until Mathis’ falsetto descant alights from heavenly heights. The aftereffects of a dizzying fascination linger with moonlit lustre.

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  • Saturday, April 08, 2006

    Numbers/Computer World 2 (1981) – Kraftwerk

    The electro-funk movement found its progenitor in Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Forces’ “Planet Rock,” which in turn owed its foreboding space-synth hook to Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express,” and its ubiquitous beat to Kraftwerk’s “Numbers.”

    In the vacuum of a space station interrogation chamber, the listener is numerically debriefed in German by cyborgs before being jettisoned into an asteroid field of erratic tone modulations: satellites orbiting an austere synthetic beat that would find immortality as the foundation for “Planet Rock.” Soon, pulses of energy oscillate in belts of pattering palpitations across the sonic spectrum. An androidial master of ceremonies sputters granular German gurgles in a counting symposium of international robotics, inviting exchanges in Speak & Spell™ English, French, and Spanish. Periodically, a decomposing Cylon interjects in obfuscated Italian drawls. A Japanese duo of geisha automatons chime in, while a Russian numericist finally realizes that it takes simultaneous formant and carrier signals to activate a vocoder. The colloquium seamlessly transitions into “Computer World 2,” in which synthesizer découpage sparingly laminates “Numbers” before the dialogue disintegrates into garbled chatter.

  • Listen to "Numbers" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Listen to "Computer World 2" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • I’m Happy Just To Dance With You (1964) – The Beatles

    While hipsters and rock critics seldom bestow accolades upon Beatles songs pre-Revolver or perhaps Rubber Soul, “Happy Just To Dance With You” represents the best of the Fab Four’s peppier output from the Ed Sullivan era. Written by John specifically to feature George on lead vocals, “Happy” opens the doors of minor chord apprehension to enter a dancehall of mirth as George spots a potential partner. Off to the side, John’s rhythm guitar waggles a watusi while Ringo drubs an Arabian bongo in the corner askew from his Ludwigs. Paul’s signature melodic bassline rises and falls on the peripheries in search of wallflowers to coax out of dormancy. George is in lively spirits as he confesses his benign romantic optimism. With a naiveté one would find credible only in the toddlerhood of rock ‘n roll, George dishes either a chivalrous brand of blandishment or a venerable notion of contentment reflected in the song’s title. If only we could believe this were true.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Saturday, April 01, 2006

    The Purple Bottle (2005) – Animal Collective

    Reminiscent of Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue,” resonant Taiko-esque drums throb out a ritualistic cadence, coupled with clattering rim-clicks that skitter across the expanse of Animal Collective’s habitat. Kaleidoscopic brushes of sonic watercolors pirouette about, suspended in an indistinct gestalt of guitars above an enchanted lake of piano echoes, coalescing into purple hues indicative of an intense adoration: Prince—he knows all about it. “The Purple Bottle” is a williwaw of nervous energy, all clickity-clack and yakitty-yak—the Beach Boys on amphetamine, quaffing a caffeinated cocktail of reverb and balderdash, Willy Wonkan wackiness and Bacchanalian abandon. A frenzied strain of erratic lyrics spit out in a loopy streams of consciousness celebrating the disorienting swirl of infatuation as the Purple Bottle is unceremoniously uncorked: a heart chock full o’ ecstasy gushing forth; wine pouring out in an elixir of dizzying intoxication; Barbara Eden coaxed out of her confines to grant her master’s wishes. Moments of repose settle in as the hullabaloo adjourns for a recess of subliminal mumbles, mews and murmurs before morphing into the playful clicks of one drumstick striking another being held out and thrown down into the snare amid a mélange of joyous whoops and exuberant exclamations, floor tom wallops, ripples of snare and a dash of cymbal. With the blithe zestfulness of a Milton Bradley™ jingle, “The Purple Bottle” waxes amorous, punch-drunk and slap-happy after being bludgeoned by the fierce charms of “a girl that likes to drink with horses,” “knows her Chinese ballet,” and “smell[s] like fruity nuts and good grains.” Veritable sonic lager on tap.

  • Listen to "The Purple Bottle" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.