Sunday, January 31, 2021

Alfred E. Neuman "What - Me Worry?" b/w "Potrzbie"

(ABC-Paramount, 1959) This is a classic novelty record in the straight up "Pac Man Fever" tradition, where the popularity of MAD's mascot and his catchphrase are exploited as rudimentary novelty pop fare, with Alfred (and his Furshluginner Five) musically cutting up. The two most notable things (in 1959) were the Don Martin figures reacting to Alfred's face on the picture sleeve  (Martin's jazz LP covers had nothing to worry about) and that they decided Alfred had a kind of goobery nerd voice, neither sounding like the almost mystical trickster he seems to be on so many covers, or particularly Jewish, as one would assume he was considering all of the pseudo-Yiddish in the magazine. But the afterlife is a little more interesting. The song's composer, Charles R. Green, a/k/a Charles Randolph Grean, had a lengthy career as a composer and arranger (he arranged Nat Cole's "Christmas Song"). Though a few pockets of MAD-heads and dementoids dug this record (it reached #1 on Dr. Demento's Funny 5 in '75), it was pretty quickly forgotten my most. Thus, when Grean found himself in the odd but oddly successful position as the main man behind Leonard Nimoy's Mr. Spock-fueled music career, he had few hesitations about recycling the music and structure of the Alfred song to create his masterpiece. "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" (1968) is magnificent ("Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins, he's only three feet tall...the bravest little hobbit of them all"), and we have Alfred's failure to thank for it. I haven't seen any of those Lord of the Rings movies (I've only read the MAD parodies), but I assume they use that song a lot. To hear my mashup of the two songs check out this viral (8 likes on Twitter and 4 views on Youtube so far!) video I made!

Saturday, January 30, 2021

SnickersPeanut Brownie Squares


(, 2021) To be fair, it would be hard to live up to this promise. Snickers is an icon of solid candy goodness, and introducing the idea of turning it into some kind of fudge, and brownie-fying's too good to be true! Thus, I will say this tastes pretty good and not hold it to my fantasy standards. BUT I am not feeling the "squares" concept. Slightly wider than a "fun size" (though possibly not as tall) this presents (in lieu of a bar) two strangely unsatisfying four sided nuggets. With the odd size mixed with the unfamiliar chocolatey flavor this starts to feel like something is up here, like a Weight Watchers product that trims off ounces and sweeteners to fit the calorie count, or some kind of laxative health aid being presented as normal candy. There was something called AYDS in the 70s and early 80s, a chocolate appetite reducing candy that the spokesperson defended as foolishly as any spokesperson in public relations history by saying something like, "Let the disease change its name." I don't think I ever ate AYDS, but these weird squares somehow reminds me of it. So to summarize, this is pretty good, but makes me think of AYDS.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Dangerhouse - Complete Singles Collected 1977-1979


(Munster) I normally would never be one to pimp CD over vinyl, and I am not exactly doing that here, as a set of exact artwork reproductions of all of the Dangerhouse singles is a magnificent thing to possess. But the 2 CD set, with a booklet of the front cover art for each single and a liner note booklet and everything sequenced chronologically is a delight. I don''t even have a real CD player anymore, but I have put these discs into my DVD machine about 100 times, just delighting in the rock 'n' roll absurdity of these L.A. punk gold miners. Dangerhouse seemed to have known how to record and present both super professional bands like X and teenage tricksters like Rhino 39 with the same sheen and power. Legit classics like Weirdos' "We Got The Neutron Bomb" and the Avengers  "We Are the One" co-habitate with the Randoms powerful "ABCD"and the normcore obscurity "Obsolete" by Howard Werth. Hearing everything sequenced together gives a more dynamic feel for what was happening in L.A. than playing each single individually, and most importantly, the second disc feels so much more insane than the first, unravelling into madness as the label comes to a finale. Alley Cats, Avengers, and to a lesser extent X, are (all early singles) some of my favorites of the era, but they re kinda just regular bands, but the Bags and Eyes and others on disc two capture some incredible anarchy and chaos, and the weird No Wave evil pranksterism of Black Randy (the supervillain of the scene and this comp) goes nuts with inappropriate James Brown tributes and unhinged nastiness. I am usually a bit of an East Coast and Midwest snob when it comes to early punk, but this comp is a convincing hammer to the head in defense of the LeftSiders.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Ken Nordine "Passion in the Desert"

(FM, 1963) Topping even the notorious Mama Lion album cover for big cat/human boob action, this album of the late great Ken Nordine reading a Balzac story is a grower, not a shower. The A-side showcases Nordine's alchemical vox cutting through HdB's London/Conrad-esque Man V Terrain narrative like cold steel on ice, and I guess that would have been enough, though it didn't feel especially special. But, as promised by the freaky cover, side 2 goes there! It becomes an erotic love story of a man becoming deeply, emotionally intimate with a leopard. It is clear why Nordine felt he could make word jazz out of this tragic forbidden love story, because it is a challenge and a crazy thing to make this bizarre story of survival and passion and doom tangible. He is ably accompanied by the slinky sounds produced by Dick Marks (I guess Marx, father of both Richard and the theme song of those Blackhawks whom Nordine would promote so magnificently, had to un-Red his name during the Cold War era) and Johnny Frigo. The cover alone makes this a bargain at any price, but to contain a few passages of Nordine's arguable wildest work makes this a beastly treasure.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Signature Select Frosted Flakes


( My son really likes mascots, so I thought he would be excited by this bear on the house brand frosted flakes, but he just dismissed the cereal as "Frosted Fakes," so I said a polar bear was a better mascot than a tiger for this kind of cereal because of the frost, then he said Tony was the mascot because his cereal was, "GRRReat," then I said tigers didn't "grrrrr," they roared, then he gave me a look as if to say, "that's lions," but he didn't say it out loud because we both realized that whatever a tiger's go to iconic noise might  be, "Grrrr" is not it, and we sort of just left it at that. Anyhow, these are a little worse than Kellogg's, but all of them are worse than just putting a heaping tablespoon of sugar on your corn flakes, so who's really the frosted fake?

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

White Rabbit candy


(上海冠生园食品有限公司,1943-present) This candy is apparently a revered Chinese classic, but I am utterly confounded. If you told me it was made of congealed rabbit skin glue I would not believe you, because that would have more flavor. Perhaps they start off chewy and tasty in China but by the time these got to my neighborhood store they started out harder and more flavorless than I could believe. I had to Papa John this, which means having a second one because you couldn't accept that the first one was actually as bad as it was. No this eventually, after more mouth work than it merited, became softer and revealed a mild vanilla flavor and a weird milkiness (it is a variation of an English confection called "milk candy" which I now am noting to avoid), so it is certainly not as bad as Papa John's, and unlike that pizza abomination, a third try is not an impossibility. An unfortunate googling reveals some notorious formaldehyde and melamine contaminations earlier this Millennium, but to be honest, this could use the flavor boost, so I get  it.

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Complete Work of Fante Bukowski by Noah Van Sciver

(Fantagraphics, 2020) This masterful comic book novel presents the non-rise and series of surprisingly steep falls (considering he never reaches the corresponding altitude) of Fante Bukowski, a young man who looks like a rough-living fifty year old due to his embrace of a romantic ideal and his affliction of deep, deep stupidity. Like Tim and Gregg's yin and yang of unearned arrogance on On Cinema, and Donald Trump's everything, Bukowski's is a tale for our era: a profoundly mediocre White man believes his delusions of self-importance so much that he aggressively demands recognition of his specialness. Oh wait a minute, that's every era! Anyhow, Van Sciver's viciously funny narrative, and the straightforwardness of storytelling necessitated of any tale centered around such a simpleton, makes this a brisk read and a delight. Bukowski is a man who has embraced his fantasy of being a "true" writer, refusing to work a straight job, oblivious to any gates kept by gatekeepers, and enamored with the self-destructive lifestyle of his namesake. Van Sciver is pretty merciless to his protagonist (and not kind to himself during a cameo) but is not merely making fun of him as a 2-Dimensional post-beat poet version of Comic Book Guy. We actually get to care for him a bit by seeing Fante through the eyes of three women, none of them fooled by his facade (well, maybe one of them a little), but all amused enough by his shenanigans to try to figure out how to find value in his worthlessness. They (and we) realize that his passion for art, or at least for being an artist, kinda means something. That the agents, critics, and publishers he encounters are no less pathetic and weak and ethically stumbling than this sorry man (who we know to be genuinely awful at handling artistry, adulthood, or human being-ness) means that perhaps he has not chosen the wrong field. The book is meticulously designed to look like a Library of America anthology, but at 450 pages it's actually bigger and more important looking than many of those titles (and if you take it out from the library as I did the whole elevated shebang goes up a notch). In addition to the complete saga, this edition includes portraits of Fante by twenty of our finest cartoonists, including Anya Davidson, Simon Hanselmann, and John  P. (whom makes an unflattering cameo in the narrative), and more importantly, a replica of Fante's Xeroxed six-poem chapbook, featuring an epic ultimate poem with a twist that would make O.Henry blush (and flush). 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Zesty Rodz, Hot Rodz

(El Ranchero, 2021) When I was growing up eating Jay's potato chips was the same as drinking Old Style: it was the Chicago brand. You were a sellout if you went Lay's. Instead of a bigger bag they sold the large size in a huge box, bigger than, but comparable in audaciousness to, those cereal-sized boxes that house the alleged-porno VHS tapes sold by Maxwell Street hustlers (I say "alleged" because though I was never bold or desperate enough to buy one, I was stupid enough to buy enough "gold" jewelry on Maxwell Street that turned my skin green to have doubts about the signals on that magnetic tape). My brother pitched for one of the Metro-Afro American League semi-pro baseball teams in Washington Park and their coach worked at the Jay's factory and opened one of those boxes and gave you one of the two bags inside as a reward if you won a game (he won at least one, and saved that bag for far longer than any manufacturer's recommendation). But in 2007 when Jay's was sold to an Eastern pretzel conglomerate I shifted allegiance to Vitner's, even though I'd been told that their South Side factory actually only produced pork rinds, and they jobbed out chip manufacture (today's Internet indicates I may have had bad snack intel). Sometime in the 2010s they merged with something called Snak King from California, but that just sounded made up, and they still seemed to get preferentially placement in every gas station and liquor store in town, so I still pretended they were 100% local. But it was just announced that Utz, from Pennsylvania, bought out Vitner's and plans to move all the manufacturing out of town. So looking for a new local snack fave I am willing to go outside the chip box (or bag, in the post Jay's heyday) and was excited to see that the El Ranchero tortilla chip company is pushing something called Rodz, which are "tortilla sticks" that are tiny, tightly rolled tortillas, which are harder and crunchier than most of your stick-sized snacks. The Hot Rodz lives up to its "lime-chili" claims by definitely having a better flavor-to-heat ratio than most of the "Flamin' Hot" fam snacks, but I'm not crazy about them enough, and the heat they do have kind of slows down my snacking. (as opposed to the speeds attained by their cinematic daredevil namesake, portrayed by Andy Samberg). I'll "stick" with the Zesty Rods, which don't exactly have as much citrus punch as promised, and are maybe too salty, but I sure kept eating them. I cannot say that I have found my new Chicago Ride or Die snack, but I will definitely get these again, and lots of points for getting behind a non-basic snack format. And for making a "Z" out of tight tortilla rolls.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Kit Kat Duos: Mocha + Chocolate

(Hersheys, 2020) Now I'll buy chocolate candy if I'm ready to snack and coffee if I'm sleepy, but an imitation Dunkaccino doesn't sound too thrilling to me. Maybe I got a really old one (doubtful -- this seems too new a candy to have gone that far beyond sell-by date) but this had a kinda dry and stale vibe. That said, you can actually taste the difference of the two flavors, so it delivers on its promise even if it isn't Dunkaccino-level delicious. Kids from seven to seventeen, though, will probably not enjoy this flavor profile.

Friday, January 22, 2021

The Scissor Girls "The Scissor Girls"


(Jabs, 2020) I have been in a few bands and all of them had two things in common: the singer had excellent hair and their demos were fucking terrible! Of my friends' bands I would say that possibly 20% had a demo that you wouldn't toss (in CD-R era) or tape over (prior to that, or recently if your friends are super hip) at the first opportunity. Well, I was too boring back in the day to qualify as an actual friend (and maybe a bit intimidated by their futuristic savagery), but I knew the Scissor Girls, and this re-release of their 1992 demo (getting a sexy 45rpm 12" vinyl treatment) showcases no wave minimalist chaos geometry groove sounds that are better than any music you've heard this month and sure as hell better than any demo in shoebox of friends' band'stapes. In their original lineup, before Kelly Kuvo added vaudeville sensibilities that complimented and contrasted with Azita's gravely serious (while still absurdly theatrical) magic. The sounds of Sue Anne's urgent, weird guitar attacks brings back jarring Czar Bar memories that are both warmly nostalgic and a form of PTSD (courtesy Heather's martial drumming), and since Sue Anne left the band before most of their recordings this is an invaluable document. Demo-nic!

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Krayolas "Savage Young Krayolas"

 (Box/Saustex, 2020) I only have a glancing familiarity with these four decade-strong Lone Star local legends, but I always fugured Texas is pretty fucking big, so I never write off bands from there...they could be monumental without me knowing jack about them. According to the boss beats on this archival release, this band was monumentally talented. Broken up into two parts, the first collects recordings that should have been released as the meat of a 1980 album that would have put them on one of those maps that features 49 other states. These are gorgeous rocking power-ish pop New Wave recordings by a band that apparently at the time wore space suits (I do not know the full legend, but my picture of the young act had them in Beatles get ups).  The most punky/rockabilly song of the set is called "Roadrunner"(no relation) and is a highlight of the "album," and a boss,slinky Kinks cover lets you know what kind of covers band they were (as they tried to sneak their originals into the set). The rest of this release features an eclectic collection of pristinely recorded diverse songs they did in the late 70s.  "Gator Gator" is a 60s-ish party pop tune with B52s-style vocals and Tex-Mex seasoning.  "All I Do Is Try" is a full on Fabs-clone shoulda-been hit that would make Dave Edmonds jealous. "Alamo Dragway" is a savage and youthful drag/surf instrumental. So they could do it all, and apparently did, and while we all should have been at the parties they played in the cusp of Carter/Reagan, now at least we can pretend we were there!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

President Donald Trump

(2017-2021) God damn it! What the hell? Fuck. How did we survive this (excluding the hundreds of thousands who didn't)? How long until I can wear a red 1972 White Sox cap again? That was really, really terrible. Really terrible. Fuck.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Toon In With Me

 (MeTV, 2021) When almost every cartoon can be found on Youtube or viewed on demand on a streaming service why would anyone, child or adult, wake up at 6AM to view cartoons on broadcast TV every weekday morning? Well, Svengoolie's home channel has a few answers to that question. First of all, hosts! That one is a puppet does not hurt, and Toony the Tuna may not be as hilarious as Ratso (IM-apparently not so-HO), but he's pretty dang funny. His design may be a little too FAO Schwartz Muppet Shop slick for my tastes, but his fin waves!  More important is the human co-host. Bill the Cartoon Curator is way more regular guy than you would expect from a job historically held by clowns, cowboys and vampires, but the curatorship concept is the key component. If the joke was that the host had little control over the lame cartoon contents, like Krusty or Count Floyd, I’m not sure I would keep watching. But that he (or the expert for whom he is avatar-ing) opens the Old MacDonald-themed episode with "Duck Amuck"  because of one short farm gag in the daffiest duck cartoon is special, as is the ability to present a collection of cartoons featuring incidents of piano teeth (where one's teeth are replaced by crumbling piano keys after being steamrolled by a Steinway). Warner Brothers, Popeye, and Tom and Jerry have so many great cartoons and having them programmed with intelligence and taste is a huge selling point. I'm jealous of little kids just discovering these and I'm thrilled to re-enjoy classics (and remembering with surprising vividness things like Popeye turning around a manhole cover to re-direct Wimpy to his diner is some pleasant deja voodoo). Plus there's fish puns that would make Kid Addotta (Rest In Perch) wince, like "halibut-tosis!" Carp this up and I'll cod-tinue to tuna in!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Sun City Girls "Live at the Sky Church - September 3, 2004," Derek Monypeny "The Hand As Dealt"

(Twenty One Eighty Two Recording Company, 2020, 2021)   Considering that I have spent the last thirty years obsessing over masked rock n roll it's surprising how little I know about Sun City Girls.  I have two LPs by them (one gloriously titled "Horse Cock Phepnar," and one on Gregg Turkington's Amarillo Records featuring chaotic covers of pop songs). I believe they have in the neighborhood of 100 releases,  and, as with many prolific experimental agents of chaos, it is kind of intimidating trying to figure out where and how to jump in. While many folks I admire have reverence for the band I never quite got a handle on them enough to say I liked, or even vaguely understood, the Sun City Girls. A new series of albums triangulating vectors around the now-defunct (via death, not acrimony) mischief makers on Twenty One Eighty Two Records further confounded me, as these beautiful vinyl artifacts have elegant aesthetics, stunning production values, and understated design elements that don't seem to relate to horse cocks or cacophonous covers of "Brandy." I was even more boggled by the label's latest release, which isn't even in the series: After luxuriating in the sonically gorgeous Monypeny album, a blissful space-via-desert soundscape of peaceful, contemplative stringed instrument psychedelia, I got thrown a bit while spinning the bonus 7" of shahi baaja (an Indian zither with an oud-vibe) Sun City Girls cover songs. I didn't even know they had songs? Well, the label's live LP/DVD from a 2004 performance helped clear things up, while simultaneously making me feel kind of fuzzy and drunk. Watching the video (shot with a single camera from the worm's-eye view lip of the stage) my first revelation came from seeing the Girls literally attack the audience, as their riff on Rod Stewart's goofy practice of kicking soccer balls over the stadium crowd becomes using a golf club and a strong throwing arm to just pummel the attendees with balls. Actually, the first revelation came on the DVD menu, which features one of these monsters of rock checking out Mein Kampf, a preview of the t-shirts, props, and a puppet bandmate that gave shout outsto an All Star lineup of dictators, terrorists, and global menaces. Wearing hideous masks, alternating between walls of audio weirdness and ugly pop music (one Girl shrieking off key Roberta Flack lyrics while another mumbles semi-related grievances), and most sublimely, dancing like monkeys while balancing bananas on their heads, it is clear that Sun City Girls are not art rockers that are pretentiously indulging themselves. These bishops and gooches are 100% there for the listeners/ pelt them with literal and metaphorical balls. It is on the spectator to decide what, if anything, to do with the Sun City Girls' ugly, noisy, offensive, banana balancing balls. So now I truly (sort of, in a way, possibly) understand Sun City Girls. They are a set of ugly balls that want to attack me.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Kip Addotta "Life In The Slaw Lane" single/music video

(Rhino,1986) The late Addotta's hard boiled detective meets overcooked fish pun record "Wet Dream" on the lowly but hilarious Laff label was surprisingly successful in 1984 which led to a little known vegetable pun follow up on Rhino. This should be a $500 record because who bought it? How many copies could exist? But somehow used copies are well under $5 and you need to own the literally worst collection of awkward puns ever assembled: "I got off-acado," "a radish-ing beauty," "the problem still romaine-d" "my little story is okra now...thank you so mulch!" "Mulch" barely qualifies! You want to end on that one? I love you Kip Addotta! The video features Kip as a detective, for some reason, alternating with surreal ancient veggie cartoons. COMEDY!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Freaky Magazine


(, 2020) I know we complain about the algorithmic surveillance state of the Amazon/Google Gestapo monitoring our purchases and searches and direct marketing to us beyond belief and acceptable norms.  But if this is the fucking reality can't they at least be better at it? Last year there was a tour that hit Chicagoland of a Ronnie James Dio hologram backed by Dio members and I did not hear shit about it until it was too late! How does that happen in this supposedly Orwellian data-megeddon? And now I receive the FOURTH ISSUE of a contemporary  MAD-magazine knock off featuring some of the best Roctober cartoonists and it's the first I've heard of the publication? Is there a glitch in the Matrix? Andrew Goldfarb delivers his funniest stuff yet in this slightly naughtier and occasionally nastier take on the sublime and lame humor of the Usual Gang of Idiots.  And these New School Idiots include the wonderful King Merinuk, my all time fave 21st Century Wolverton-ian. In fact, that Goldfarb's take on MAD consists almost entirely of  Wolverton, Don Martin, and  the weirdos in Will Elder's background makes this more timeless than the issues of Sick,Weirdo, and Crazy burdened by bad movie parodies by subpar artists. This magazine has great artists, poop jokes, funny margin gags, and a "See Thru"feature that is cleverer than four fifths of the Fold-Ins! I love this Freak show so imma Freak tell the world: FREAK OUT!

Friday, January 15, 2021

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Beatles "Meet the..."

Gary Meets The Beatles…only Somewhere Else.


(CAPITOL, 1964)

Being eight years old in the Toronto suburbs of 1963, I was at the perfect age – and in the perfect place – to, yes, Meet the Beatles. Because by the time “these youngsters from Liverpool” hit The Ed Sullivan Show on 9 February 64, my friends and I had already spent the past several months familiarizing ourselves with John, Paul, George and Ringo’s initial A-sides via Ontario’s mighty 1050 CHUM-AM Radio. 

In other words then, the British had no reason to invade Canada. They were invited.  

Unlike with our big neighbours to the immediate south you see, each of the Beatles’ earliest discs garnered automatic release via Capitol Records of Canada, beginning right at the beginning with “Love Me Do” in February of ’63 (the version with Ringo on drums, by the way!), and the Canadian Beatle Discography boasts many other rare slices of vintage vinyl totally unique to the genre …and as a result extremely collectable.

For example, the Canadian Beatlemania! album not only sported an identical cover and track line-up, but was released the very same week With the Beatles was in the UK (making it the first Beatle album released anywhere within North America), and its twelve-inch Capitol Canada follow-up, the Twist and Shout album – # 1 on the Canadian charts for ten weeks in early ’64, as documented in Piers Hemmingsen’s most authoritative The Beatles In Canada: The Origins of Beatlemania! – was in fact the very first “big record” I ever had the pleasure to have owned. Not counting my beloved Jetsons and Deputy Dawg long-players, that is.

And what a remarkable record it was:  Fourteen action-packed tracks featuring all four – “count ‘em”! – of the band’s first Brit 45 top-sides, plus a generous helping of Cavern-baked covers from their homeland debut album Please Please Me. Being too young then to know, and still too young to care if nary a Beatle wrote each and every note or lyric herein, Goffin and King’s “Chains” strung so easily around Len/Mac’s similarly George Harri-sung “Do You Want To Know A Secret,” Bacharach and David’s “Baby, It’s You” seamlessly followed John and Paul’s “P.S. I Love You” on T & S Side 2, and the magnificent Arthur Alexander’s “Anna (Go to Him),” which kicked off this entire collection, continues to this day to hold more than its own against any Beatle composition you or even I could mention.

And while Lennon’s wholly larynx-fusing “Twist and Shout” completed the first Beatle album in Great Britain, the ever-inventive Canadian Capitol chose to close its namesake 33-and-a-third with none other than – wait for it – “She Loves You.” Take that, Sir George Martin! (and tell Dave Dexter, Jr. the news).  

Meanwhile in the seven-inch division, “Please Please Me” actually hit the CFGP Top Forty in Grande Prairie, Alberta during April of ’63, while two of Capitol Canada’s most unique couplings, “All My Loving”/”This Boy” and “Roll Over Beethoven”/”Please Mister Postman,” sold sufficient (smuggled) copies to reach even the American Hot One Hundred a year later. Also, the U.S. Tollie “Twist and Shout”/”There’s a Place” 45, which soared to Billboard # 2 in April of 1964, was an identically-coupled Canadian Capitol Top Ten much, much earlier. 

Plus! May I just add that every single one of the above-mentioned original deep-grooved, meticulously mastered Canadian (mono!) pressings put their American counterparts – not to mention even the latest digital incarnations, truth to tell – to total, unequivocal sonic shame. Really!

The moral of this absolutely Fab story then? Good music IS good music, and shall forever remain so, regardless of the size, format, packaging, advertising budget or even country-of-origin of the item in hand. 

And of course, any discussion of very, very good music that doesn’t contain multiple uses of the word “Beatle” is a discussion I just must immediately bow out from. Unless it comes to that up-coming “happy” Let It Be cinematic re-tooling, that is…

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Alpha Cat "Pearl Harbor 2020"

 (Aquamarine, 2020) When I used to work exclusively as a dishwasher (it was the easiest job to get, you never had to interact with customers, and you could pick your own music) some old timers used to refer to that vocation as "pearl diving," and dishwashers as "pearl divers." I guess it was because you ostensibly had your hands deep in a sink full of water, but that's not exactly diving, and there weren't ever actual full sinks (instead we used upright Hobart dishwashing machines, though I once worked at a cafeteria with a horizontal, SUV-sized conveyer belt Hobart). None of that has anything to do with this album of moody, dark-ish pop with evocative vocals, but i just can't think of anything interesting or insightful to say about this (apparantly a deluxe reissue of an earlier album) so I was just reaching for a prompt.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Maggot Brain #3

 (Third Man, 2020) I genuinely love magazines, LOVE them, from Jet to The Ring to Circus to Sister 2 Sister to Brutarian to Kicks to The New Yorker to Cracked to Black Beat to Inside Wrestling to Maximumrocknroll to everything else, I really love a textile pleasures of holding and folding back the pages, the experience of swimming in text, and the roll up and stick-in-your-back-pocket-like-Dennis the Menace's-slingshot magic of a traditional print publication. And I am not alone. Just like half the older cops in Chicago seem to want to retire and open a jazz club, plenty of your better music-associated "brands" have tried to dip their toes in these papyrus waters over the years. You couldn't really use resources better than the Beastie Boys did with Grand Royal (Biz Markie flexi; Kareem in Game of Death feature) but the less said about Gene Simmons' Tongue magazine the better. In recent years Pitchfork did OK with their attempt, but to little surprise, when it comes to design and curatorship Third Man Records topped them with their recent eclectic entry, Maggot Brain. The centerpiece of the new issue is a dive into the actual "Maggot Brain" album, letting the Detroit-heritage of the Third Man label trump (should we retire that word?) its Nashville-ness. I also loved a pair of tributes to the unjustly obscure artists, who both came to presumably similar (yet still mysterious) ends, Ephraim Lewis (new to me) and Lydia from Algebra Suicide (not new to me at all, but someone who has never received this kind of critical and research attention). The Southern and Midwestern photo spreads (the former a look at empty spaces where Confederate monuments were removed, the latter a White Stripes concert throwback) are both lovely. There is art and contemporary music and comics and Cockettes and a feature-length Kicks Book review and generally great senses of inclusion and cool that are beautifully expansive. That said, there are weak points and this is not a writing tour de force from cover to cover, but I will take weaknesses because of wideness over something with blinders on any day. Perhaps to many this sound like feint praise, but I sincerely mean it when I say this is a motherfucking MAGAZINE!

Monday, January 11, 2021

Rich Krueger "Life Ain't That Long," Nowthen," "The Troth Sessions"


(Rockink, 2017, 2018, 2020) Sometimes is seems like there are just too many bands. One of the early Roctober contributors felt strongly that reviews should function as herd thinners, discouraging would-be artists on the bottom of the Darwin pile to give it up. While that mainly seems like a fantasy/grandeur illusion about imagined influence, it's also just mean, but on occasion I definitely get overwhelmed with mediocrity. However, what keeps me going is the opposite phenomenon. Sometimes I can't believe how many absolutely excellent musicians are out there that I've just never heard of. There's an inevitability of lost geniuses of yore popping up on curated archival releases or in the pages of Ugly Things or the Oxford American music issue, but what blows my mind is when a new CD or link, often accompanied by unimpressive graphic design that holds little promise of greatness, reveals something genuinely, sublimely wonderful. Listening to Krueger's 2017 debut (I just discovered his three albums) I am marveling at the rich, powerful poignancy of his storytelling and the genre-expanding quality of the music, feeling both enriched and like a sucker for not knowing who the hell this was. While steeped in Americana, and traditional in a sense, the strongest music muscle memory I experienced was recalling hearing Lyle Lovett for the first time,  and how he took the best narrative and musical and sincerity aspects of Country music without feeling bound by the genre's limitations. Krueger similarly looks beyond Country/folk/singwr songwriter  to all kinds of jazz and a few kinds of rock, and the musicianship and production is beyond stellar (looking through the co-conspirator credits on these records I can see why: Gary Lucas, Peter Stampfel and Robbie Fulks all sit in with his excellent band). Tales of bar-haunters and all kinds of love shine through on the first album, and the sophomore release has a harrowing portrait of an amazing character (and a skit where his family berates him for spending too much money recording albums). The new album builds on some old demos so the slick studio polish and army of collaborators is gone (and his kids have less to complain about, vis a vis, their inheritance going the way of Chinese Democracy), and it seems like a suite of song created to perform at weddings of very close friends. But the lyrics, about the complexity and challenges and idiosyncrasies of love and partnership are so precise and cutting that these must either be the most solid couples imaginable or their future is doomed for starting on these beautiful but offsetting notes. But if they break up, it will be OK. There's still a lot of fish in the sea of love, and there are still a lot of amazing musicians swimming in the review pile.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Snack Factory Pretzel Crisps, Cinnamon Sugar


(Snack Factory, 2019-present) So these are already merely pretzel-shaped, but not actually pretzels, because they are crispy chips instead, which is awesome if you can still convince me of their pretzelness. But if you then replace the salt with sugar I am out! I hate to be a Pretzel Truther in these days when conservatism has the worst name it's ever had, but this just ain't a pretzel, and pretzels taste better than this! Oh, I ate it all. But under protest. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Sunn Trio "Electric Esoterica"


(Twenty One Eighty Two Recording Company, 2019) Interstellar psychedelic Middle Eastern jazz, as a rule, should feel like a time-defying mystical incantation calling forth spirits of beautiful, blissful chaos. By that standard, this is a success. Not sure what other standards one might appl, but if they involve a a  snugly fit obi, a cover designed to be a sacred black and gold object, and tasteful oud (or as i call them, the three "O"s), this also checks those boxes. 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Every Night is Saturday Night by Wanda Jackson with Scott B. Bomar


(BMG, 2017) Roctober and Chic-A-Go-Go got to meet and speak with Wanda a number of times and she is a delight and a good storyteller, but I had no grand hopes for this book, expecting possibly the co-writer taking over and leaving Wanda voiceless, or thinking her religious views (she went Gospel for a long stretch before the rockabilly revival beckoned her back with open pompadours) might make for sanitized revisionism. But none of that happened. This is a gifted woman with a long, twisting career that was always close enough to the big time to keep it interesting and far enough to keep her story kinda unknown and tenacious enough that she kept working and doing fascinating things over and over and over, making for a compelling read. Her drive to become a working musician as a very young girl; her vision to become a rock n roll pioneer (with a pretty good understanding of the carnal qualities of driving, growling music, even if she does not put it in those exact words); her parallel careers in mainstream Country and rockabilly; her meticulous fashion sense; her pivots to sacred music, Japanese cult stardom, and Jack White; and her honest breakdowns of the economics of rock n roll make this one of the most enjoyable rock reads. Wanda Jackson is one of the best we have ever had and I am so glad she got around to sharing her story.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Behaving Madly by Ger Apeldoorn and Craig Yoe

(Yoe, 2017) Readers of reprints of the early Kurtzman MAD comic books may recall that they frequently made fun of their seemingly hundreds of imitators (they even published one of their own, Panic). When the comic transitioned to a hyper-successful magazine in 1954 the imitations did not stop, they just did not thrive.  In the 70s and 80s there were always low rent MAD knockoffs, including three long running magazines, Cracked, which had a couple of veteran brilliant comics artists elevating the mostly unfunny comics, Sick, which after a brief heyday before my time had weirdly dismal art, and Marvel's Crazy which was weirdly bad before a brief last gasp of semi-relevance when they got a little raunchy and cynical under the leadership of of drunk, dirty clown mascot. But from the launch of MAD as a a mag until the end of the fifties there were a bunch of imitators that lasted one to six issues, and distinguished themselves from their mediocre descendants by more consistently sporting brilliant artwork (or passable artwork by brilliant artists).  Occasionally they seemed to target humor towards actual adults, and sometimes they were even kinda funny!  This wonderful book opens with a brief but thorough rundown of each publication, with impressive research and authoritative critical assessments of Cuckoo, Cockeyed, Zany, From Here to Insanity, and the rest. The remainder of the book is a Best Of, including nutty artwork by Steve Ditko, Basil Wolverton, Jack Kirby (not as fun or funny as his earlier goofy animal comics), Jack Davis, Al Jaffee, Bill Elder, Joe Kubert, and the magnificent John Severin (who would later elevate Cracked out of the crapper for the next seemingly hundred years). There are monsters, movie parodies, some space race ridiculousness, some Elvis goofing, and a lot of swings for the other King. It seems that MAD did a pretty dry article attacking these knockoffs, and (as seen in a special section of this book) the knockoffs answered the article's criticisms very specifically  by skewering MAD with a lot more vitriol than these editors held for Soviets or manipulative advertisers or Frankensteins. Don't get mad...get this book!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Crazy Nail "Flaming Fire"

 (NoSides, ?) Tired: Buzz bands. Wired: Bands that just make buzzing noises!

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Button Power by Christen Carter and Ted Hake

 (Princeton Architectural Press, 2021) Who knew that development of a kind of celluloid that could protect a piece a printed paper that could be attached a pin and stick into your clothes did not happen until l896, marking the birth of the pinback buttons that have aorned many a campaigner, punk rocker, Union Man, and Beatles fan? Well, a cadre of collectors knew it, and luckily for lovers of art and culture they saved enough of these beauties to create an art book for the ages. Specifically, two buttoned-down minds made this happen. Veteran button collector/historian Ted Haake (who appears on a few buttons himself in the book) and the Button Gal herself, Christen Carter (who sneaks in a badge of her amazing band Budget Girls --- if you see a copy of their 1997 LP within my under-$35 budget let me know!) curated the button selections and crafted the text in this book, all of which is delightful. While we learn some details about the company that brought pinback buttons to life and the visionary who made them a potent force of hippy protest (and fashion), mostly, in nimble paragraphs, we learn the stories behind dozens of specific buttons...with briskly written summaries of the politics, historical figures, company histories, social movements, big games, crimes, conventions, labor movements, disasters, popular cultural characters, and snake handling circus folk deemed button worthy. And the photographs of the buttons, capturing the rich printing, the poetic corrosion, and the magnificent artwork and design deserves its own button! It would be easy to list how many amazing pins made the cut (Klaus Nomi, Rube Goldberg, Bart Simpson, Major Taylor, Shirley Chisolm, pre-MAD Alfred, mammoth corn cobs, both MJs, Satan, Alvin, Simon, Theodore...) but instead this bizarrely affordable book should just be purchased by everyone so they can them all see for themselves. And with that plug I'll put a pin in it.

Monday, January 4, 2021

The Chicago Boogie Volume 2: This Love Will Last

(Star Creature, 2021) The great record collector Bob Abrahamian used to have the best rare soul radio show, and whenever we would listen my historic wife would point out how you could always tell what was just a little bit off and inferior about these indie also-rans as opposed to the actual dusty hits Herb Kent spun on Sundays. 60s and 70s R&B is one of the rare eras in pop cultural history when the most talented artistts and tastemakers with actual taste seemed to be calling the shots. There was definitely a path, sometimes a quick one, from the bottom to the top for talented musicians and producers, and while many geniuses did not make it as high as they should have, and many independent records showcased thrilling skills, it did not take a sophisticated ear to tell the big winners from the not-so-muchs. One of the best things about the hip hop era was that line becoming erased. Not only did young bedroom producers have their ear to important trends, they also could make something as polished as anyone in a zillion dollar studio. I recall reading about how Manny Fresh and his cohort were prolific in part because they would get standard production money from their major label partner and have to use so little of it to create an album length product (I also recall an underground musician railing against the "unplugged" movement as an attempt to get old school studio pros back in the game). But bridging traditional R&B and hip hop there was the synth-heavy era that collectors call "Boogie," which saw the Whispers and D. Train and Alexander O'Neal (who I once saw live in a tiny club with his band playing racks of over 40 keyboards, like a metal band with fake Marshall stacks) could record electronic instruments direct line, no thousand dollar mics needed. There was still a line drawn between private press/indie releases and major label stuff, but it was getting thinner. The only actual thing disappointing about volume 2 of this series curated and somewhat remixed by the Boogie Munsters behind this label is that they did not call it Attack of The Chicago Boogie Volume 2 (obviously I get my paycheck from Roctober, so I wish they told us more about the artists and original releases, but the beautiful artwork and grooving music let's me forgive that).  Special Touch deliver a slinky party groover that is fully functional. Duke Turner is the highlight of the EP, alternating between a Bootsy funk man voice and a falsetto as he does his best to wife a lucky (?) lady.  On Stage is a nice dose of futuristic funkery with the bass poppin' like Orville Redenbacher is slapping the strings. Kareem Rashad brings it home with the most delightfully dated track, a perfect boogie-era dance track called "Dance" about dancing, with my favorite vocal on the collection. There are a couple of moments here and there on this collection where these vocalists might hit a note that would not have made it onto Motown, but for the most parts Chicago innovation and talent elevate these pieces of private press to treasured tune status. 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

White Stripes "aside from that and beside this: Thew White Stripes Greatest Hits"


(Third Man, 2020) I am not sure exactly what to say about this one. Amanda Petrusich at the New Yorker (who earned my loyalty with her great book on 78 collectors) responded to this LP with a treatise on Greatest Hits collections in general, and that's just about right, because this is a functional Greatest Hits. Because they were legit playing the shitty clubs and releasing 45s on the same labels as the other underground garage bands in their first years, and because they didn't change or compromise when they became Major Label sorta-superstars, it takes me a minute to remember they had actual real life hits, which all sound really good packaged together. Jack White's songwriting, and their good taste in cover songs, and the band's stripped down energy and good drumming, and the fact that they were the only group since to fifties to remember the value of a two-minute pop song, made their hits actual good songs they did not age poorly and are fun to listen to (individually or together). My broke ass has stupidly been unable to bring myself to quit the Third Man record club, which I cannot afford, but for my bad financial decision making this quarter I was rewarded with the deluxe edition which has a third LP of B-sides, a remix, and Loretta Lynn and Tegan and Sara covers, plus special artwork and a toy, and art prints. I don't necessarily like the design on this more than the photo-centric standard album artwork, but the production of this is bizarre and exquisite (there is printing on the inside of gatefold sleeves, and the one that holds two LPs is wider than the one that holds one, and the red striped white vinyl is  stupid beautiful) so I hope Congress is glad to know my stimulus check was well spent.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Friday, January 1, 2021

Pauly Shore Is Dead (directed by Pauly Shore)


(LandingPatch Productions, 2003) This movie is so painfully unfunny that it makes me like Pauly Shore more, out of sympathy. To grow up surrounded by comedians and have humor be a cryptic foreign language is a tough cross to bear. In this movie Pauly fakes his death to help his career, and along the way coerces scores of his pals to do cameos (including one dead one, via an impressionist). Runner Up for winning the movie is Adam Sandler who makes Stiller and Sheen and Durst and Mini Me look like chumps for feeling obligated to film their scenes, as Adam only appears as a disembodied voice (Pauly writes a scene where a prison janitor mistakes Pauly for Sandler, which seems like a stretch --- Rob Schneider I woulda believed). In addition to fantasizing that he is Sandler-esque, Shore also imagines that Black people really like him, as it opens with Ja Rule being the only one on earth that digs his TV show, and later features a painful scene of him winning over a Black prison yard clique with repetitions of the N-word. The top performer in the movie is Todd Bridges who decides to play his role as a Koran-reading prison veteran straight and earns his dignity, his props for good acting, and a Redd Foxx doll. Actually, the Redd Foxx doll was the MVP.