Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tim Fite

This blog was not meant to be a place to review live music, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention a show I saw last weekend at Joe's Pub by Brooklyn iconoclast Tim Fite. You won't be able to hear the show as I heard it, but you can go to his website and download two albums for free. you won't regret it.

Tim Fite is impossible to categorize. When we sat down in our seats not ten feet away from the stage he was setting up his gear, which included an oversized boombox made of unpainted plywood embedded with flashing leds, a digital projector, apple laptop, and slide projector screen. He and his "brother" were dressed in blue coveralls, and his shaved head with tiny rattail and huge plastic rimmed glasses betrayed a concerted effort to look like a mental patient. Tim is nothing if not deranged. When the show started, Tim was dressed in a seersucker suit. By the second song it was apparent by his profuse sweating why that particular fabric was chosen, but the effect was more John Goodman in 'O Brother where art thou', as Tim exploded into each song with such fury and passion that it seemed he must have been possessed by some holy spirit. Several times I thought of tent revivals and televangelists as he careened around the stage, herky jerky, stumbling, deliberately making himself appear the part of a yokel, a lunatic. This is all for effect: when the songs come out of him (especially his more political rants) its akin to the mad street preacher suddenly becoming coherent.

I was introduced to Tim Fite through his album 'Over the Counterculture', which is a hip hop album that revels in delicious satire, political sermonizing, and a direct slap in the face to modern American culture in it's ultra-hyped violence-driven consumerism and the societal acceptance of the lowest-common-denominator media/political establishment. Tim samples expertly (and pays a dollar or less for each sample). When he plays these songs live, the music is mostly canned (he raps and sometimes plays guitar along) but he projects video of himself (often sitting in a white padded room in a wheelchair) playing the other instruments, spinning on the turntables, harmonizing, or dancing. Other songs are acoustic folk numbers that he plays on the acoustic guitar. Still others are blues, power pop, grunge, country, all of which he plays with abandon, and between which he transitions by telling stories accompanied by rudimentary animations, childrens books, small props, and the rapt attention of everyone in the room. Its not easy to pull all this off, and the only reason he is able to do so is that his personality is completely wrapped up in every song and story. In other words, he is a chameleon; at one time acting as eye doctor as he administers an eye exam to everyone in the room ("cover your left eye and read along - NO ONE IS TOO COOL FOR THIS!"), at another time stealing a front-row seated bewildered teenager's eyeglasses as he intones a funeral dirge about theft. One telling moment was during a transition from a rap song called "In your Hair" (sample lyric: "a king is not a president, a roof is not a residence, the truth is not self-evident when youth is on the line. the boss is not the boss of them, the cross is on the cross again, a crime is not a government, a crime is just a crime.") to a song called "No Good Here". As soon as the song was over, Tim's "Brother" (the projection operator) said "that was serious, this isn't", and they launched into a synth and guitar driven dance pop so sugary sweet that when it devolves into crunchy guitar and Tim screaming, "your money's no good here" it all makes sense, because HE GIVES HIS ALBUMS AWAY FOR FREE! With that kind of marketing strategy, he can say and do what he wants. And He does.

The standout track from "Over the Counterculture" is "Camoflage" where he starts with a simple question: why is camoflage a reasonable fashion statement? From there he connects the dots in a truly astonishing manner.

"the neck bone's connected to the head bone
and what's your head bone got on itself, a cap made for stealth?...
wanna blend in?....
what you wanna look like, like you're ready for war?"

From there, war itself becomes the fashion statement

"vietnam, korea, even better desert storm,
and if you really wanna pop put this new shit on."

The buyer is convinced and buys in:

"has anybody got a bag for this?
body bag for this? body body bag? body bag.
I just paid a lot for it I think I deserve a fucking bag,
a big plastic one with a zipper down the front,
that's the kind of bag I want."

You can see where it goes from here, as the selling of the war becomes a celebration in and of itself, and a new kind of consumerism emerges.

"camoflage looks good with everything,
especially capitalist, colonial commemorative pinky rings.
oh my god, oh my god.
I got this defending a barrel of gasoline."

From there the gloves come off:

"it seems like this camoflage is camoflaging kings,
posing as presidents, camoflaging the evidence
that the patriot act is tapping every phone in your residence,
every home in your settlements, every bone in your skeletons,
bone in your skeletons, bone in your skeletons..."

It's an amazing song, switching narrators on a dime, sneaking in snarky barbs amid bursts of stilted electric guitar and beats that wouldn't seem out of place on a kanye west album, and for me it's one of those masterpieces that demands reverence for songcraft even if you don't appreciate hiphop.

If you have a chance to see Tim Fite live, do it at (almost) all costs. If not, download his albums.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

masckedman's 15

1. "Beautiful Noise" from Beautiful Noise. Neil Diamond, 1976.
My earliest musical influences came from my parent's vinyl collection. I remember dancing around to this album, and this song in particular, so energetically the needle bounced off the record. This is not a particularly well regarded Neil Diamond album (are there any?), but it has a unique sound, it could have been a Broadway soundtrack...

2. "Ridin' on the City of New Orleans" from Judith. Judy Collins, 1975.
Another from my Mom and Dad. This is an amazing number, I can visualize my dad singing along to this while standing in the kitchen of our house on South Orchard. I must have played it thousands of times. When I hear it today, I'm still blown away by her vocal quality.

3. "The Mayor of Candor Lied" from The Road to Kingdom Come. Harry Chapin, 1976.
The last of the songs on this list from K. and K. Very long, narrative song, about a guy who falls in love with the mayor's daughter, only to learn that the mayor was his father too. I remember the moment of realization about what all of that meant, I was shocked. It is sad and weepy, about lost love and growing up. Haven't heard it in a long time.

4. "Thriller" from Thriller. Michael Jackson, 1982.
We were on a ski vacation, probably the winter of 1984, we had rented a chalet with 4 or 5 other families. The Lund twins were much older, probably 9 or 10 to my 6 years, they were impossibly hip. They had this song on tape. We listened sprawled out on the red shag carpet while playing "Hungry Hungry Hippos". That weekend, I think we also watched "E.T." either on Cable TV or Beta...

5. "I Think We're Alone Now" from Tiffany. Tiffany 1987.
Instantly, I'm at Skate World. It is the Eastern Elementary Skate Night, I'm wearing dorky rented roller skates, skating in circles under orange fluorescent lights and a mirror ball. I probably didn't have the courage to actually ask Megan M. (or Megan S., or Lindsay P.) to hold my hand and skate with me, but I'd like to think that we did...

6. "We Didn't Start the Fire" from Storm Front. Billy Joel, 1989
106KHQ did an all-request countdown every weeknight, the "Northwest Nine at Nine". If you called in and recited the previous night's list, you won a free tape. I called in (long-distance!) and won, Halloween night 1989. This song was on the countdown, and this was the tape I picked. One of my dad's students had to pick it up, since we didn't live near a Tape World store. I remember spending a dollar at the Copy Plus to enlarge the lyrics large enough to read. Then I spent a happy afternoon with the World Book Encyclopedia at the library, looking up everything. Still a favorite song, the first of many favorite "litany songs".

7. "Notes/Prima Donna" from The Phantom of the Opera. Original Cast Recording, 1987.
The Phantom. Imagine something changing your life as much as this show changed mine. Crazy. We went to Toronto to see it, and this continues to be my favorite song. Not one of the hits, but lots of words, and a little look at life "backstage." I was hooked from then on...

8. "Overture" from Jesus Christ Superstar. Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 1973.
I don't remember when I heard this the first time, definitely long before I ever saw the movie. I know it was the first time I heard (and recognized) a Moog synthesizer. It is an amazing piece of orchestration, rock and roll meeting the musical, really and truly.

9. Appalachian Spring Suite, Aaron Copland, premiere in 1944. Conducted by Leonard Bernstein/NY Philharmonic 1962.
My friend Larissa was much cooler than I. She was also a fantastic musician. She shared this CD with me when we were in 9th grade or so, I had never heard something as beautiful. Parallel 4ths sliding into each other in the first movement. Of course I had no idea who Aaron Copland was, or Martha Graham or what any of this meant, I just knew I liked it.

10. "Merrily We Roll Along (1961-1960)/Bobbie and Jackie and Jack" from Merrily We Roll Along. Original Broadway Cast, 1982.
I'd like to take this moment to write a thank-you note to whatever librarian at the Traverse City Public Library bought CDs. They had a phenomenal collection, music of all kinds, and show music was no exception. I didn't know what it meant to be a confused teenager growing up in the Northwoods, mostly because I could get all kinds of musicals from the Library. This is another "litany song", Sondheim rhyming internally, amazing. It necessitated another trip to the World Book Encyclopedia.

11. "Ants Marching" from Under the Table and Dreaming. Dave Matthews Band, 1994.
In High School, everyone else had heard this during the previous summer. I missed it totally (see above). Joey D. had a T-shirt, and I recall being embarrassed after asking what it was. The snapping snare at the beginning drops me right into high school angst.

12. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" from Joshua Tree. U2, 1987.
Similar to the experience above. I was working at Interlochen, during the summer of 1997. Hot hot P. Eberhard had just been to see U2's "PopMart" tour. I had no idea who U2 were, but I knew that if Parker liked them, I should too. He shared generously. I think I stole his copy of Joshua Tree when the summer was over.

13 Symphony #9 "From the New World", Antonín Dvořák, premiere in 1893.
Another Interlochen experience. We worked late frequently, hanging lights, loading out shows. I was awakened early one morning, just hours after going to sleep, with the World Youth Symphony Orchestra outside my window, playing this. I didn't go back to sleep. The recording that I bought later was some obscure Eastern European Orchestra, it hardly matters anyway.

14. "Super Trouper" from The Abba Generation. The A*Teens, 1999.
So I'm at the University of Michigan. Still not out. I don't think I knew who Abba were, actually. Of course I knew what a Super Trouper actually was, having spent months running one at Interlochen. Super Trouper was the name of my 1993 Ford Escort, and this was the theme song. Those Swedish teenagers took me a long way down the road to who I am now. When I met Court, he not only knew who the A*Teens were, he had the DVD too.

15 . "When My Boy Walks Down the Street" from 69 Love Songs. The Magnetic Fields, 1999.
Sarasota Opera, Sarasota, Florida. The incomparable Elicia C. introduces me to 69 Love Songs, as well as many other amazing artists and ideas. This was one of the first actual gay love songs I'd ever heard. It made me think that good things were possible, and they were generally right...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

rockitscientist's 15 Most Influential Songs

I have to let this list go. I've been working on it for months and will never stop editing it unless I post. I'm happy with my choices for the moment and don't feel as embarrassed as I expected. I am feeling very self-revelatory releasing this onto the internet, but I hope you enjoy it.

1 – The Beatles - Octopus’ Garden
All I have to hear is that opening guitar riff to be transported back to age 6 with my brown FisherPrice record player. At some point my parents figured I should graduate from Bert and Ernie’s hit “Doin’ the Pigeon” (as heard on “Sesame Street Fever”) and gave me a copy of The Beatles 1967-1970 (the blue album) on vinyl. So began a lifelong appreciation of the Fab Four. Octupus’ Garden was my favorite track and I remember sitting on the floor with the record sleeve singing along. Surely I was exposed to the Beatles in other ways at that age but singing along to this track was probably my first experience with non-kiddie music, and the first time I discovered a song that I liked without being told that I must like it!

2 – The Monkees - (I’m Not Your Steppin’) Stone
Christmas 1987: my cousin and I receive matching pink radio/tape decks. As I remember, we both get one tape: she Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and I The Monkees Greatest Hits. I am at the age where fictional Barbie/Ken relationships are acted out during after school playdates. This song was the first adult-themed song that I actually listened to the lyrics of and somewhat “got” the message of. Ken wasn’t going to be Barbie’s stepping stone anymore after this song… or vice versa. “Barbie, those clothes you’re wearing are causing public scenes!”

(I almost didn’t include this, mostly because even I admit that the Monkees are cheesy, but I have to own up to my love of this song and the doors it opened.)

3 – Janis Joplin - Mercedes Benz
The St. Louis radio station that my parents listened to had a Saturday morning classics show that, looking back, was really phenomenal. It exposed me to Jackson Browne, Elton John, the Allman Brothers, and a wealth of other 60s and 70s rock legends. At the end of each show they played a Janis Joplin cackle and this song is a really strong childhood memory for me. Mom, Dad and I hanging out in the house or driving in the car. It was years and years before I knew who Janis Joplin was and I was stunned to see a big crazy haired white woman was the person who created that unique vocal sound.

4 – Ben Folds Five - Kate
Driving to a swim meet in a white Volvo station wagon with some girls who were, admittedly, infinitely cooler than me, I heard this song for the first time. It’s not a great song but I really liked it and it opened me up to Ben Folds Five and made me realize that not all of a band’s fun or good or interesting songs make it onto the radio. I was tired of hearing their Brick song played incessantly by radio DJs, and had written them off to some degree. I didn’t buy much music in high school – I depended on crappy radio stations for music. This was the beginning of the end between radio and I.

5 – Daft Punk - Da Funk
I had a lame pseudo-boyfriend for a short time in high school who had pretty bad taste in, well, everything. But I was too excited by the fact that I actually had a cute guy to stick up for the fact that I thought the things he liked were lame. However I have to give credit where credit is due and admit that he introduced me to Daft Punk. He went away to school and I didn’t listen to Daft Punk again until maybe a year later when I realized that unlike the rest of his music, Daft Punk was actually really interesting and cool. Around the same time I came across a track from Air, and as I see now they aren’t all that similar, but they’re also French and I like them.

6 – Liz Phair - Supernova
The first time I experienced belligerence of the drunken sort was at a festival concert I attended with a bunch of my friends. We were a bunch of naive sixteen-year-old private school girls being bullied by two 30+ year-old assholes who wanted the sound guy to turn up the volume during the Liz Phair set. And when they gave up on that they decided to start yelling obscenities at my friends and I because we were ignoring their attempts to hit on us – to the point of being really afraid of them. So I don’t remember much about seeing her live, I remember the faces of those two assholes that said all of those nasty things. I was completely turned off from anything having to do with Liz Phair. Now I don’t think she has put out anything worth listening to in the last 9 years, but when I finally listened to her Whip Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg albums a few years later, I realized how fitting it was to have had that experience with bad men at her show. And I loved that that female angst could be expressed in a snarky strong intelligent manner through music. I think that has a lot to do with how much I enjoy Lily Allen today.

7 – Beck - Where It’s At
It was early 1997 and Beck was on Saturday Night Live as the musical guest, promoting Odelay. My dad and I were the only ones still awake, and we were laughing hysterically at his look and this silly song; it remains an inside joke between us. Two turntables and microphone, dad. A few years later I had several Beck albums in my collection when he was driving me back to college and I played some for him. Surprisingly, he actually appreciated it! Good times.

8 - Apples In Stereo - 20 Cases Suggestive Of
Being introduced to the Apples In Stereo in 1999 had an important impact on my musical tastes. Listening to this album (The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone) led to discovering fellow Athens, Georgia band Of Montreal and making the connection to the Athens sound with REM (helped along by this blog’s owner, illgomine). I also really noticed and picked out some of the more electronic sounds in their songs (for instance, the main melody in the beginning of The Bird that You Can’t See) and soon after found myself revisiting Daft Punk, Underworld, and exploring the groups featured on the Trainspotting soundtrack. Coincidence? I think not.

9 – Paul Simon – Graceland
This song reminds me of falling in love, even though it’s about the opposite. Or maybe it’s just about looking for something and having faith that you are going to find it. Faith is just believing in something for which there is no proof, and I had no proof that love was going to work out. Regardless, I was headed towards my own Graceland. The whole album recalls images of rural Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas and we still pull it out as required listening on any road trip, however few and far between they are these days.

10 - Badly Drawn Boy - Shining
The warm sound of this song still makes me melt. I don’t listen to this album much anymore, but in making this list I dusted it out of my iTunes and this song remains one of the most affecting tracks I own. It was the end of 2000 and I was bored with school and my dismal music collection. Looking at some random UK blogger’s list of top albums of the year, Badly Drawn Boy stuck out and I downloaded (think Napster’s big days) the tracks. Love at first listen. Early on I really only enjoyed the first half of the album, more melodic, less stream-of-consciousness. But as I embraced the sound of the second half, those tracks became some of the first trance-like musical feeling driven (as opposed to primarily lyrically driven) tracks that I came to truly love.

11 – Belle & Sebastian – The Boy With the Arab Strap
Not recalling which Belle & Sebastian track I enjoyed first is dismaying, but the Boy With the Arab Strap and If You’re Feeling Sinister albums were the first ones I owned and they remain in heavy rotation. Growing up sheltered in Catholic schools and suddenly having homosexual friends in college wasn’t a difficult transition for me but I loved the unabashed boy-to-boy love themes of Belle & Sebastian. A breath of fresh air after a childhood filled with sexuality courses that told us people would go to hell for those sorts of things.

12 – James Brown – The Payback
I love James Brown; rest his dancing bones. After hearing “I Feel Good” my entire life I was re-introduced to him via the Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels movie soundtrack. He is the reason I find myself drawn to soul and funk and lot of African popular music. Which leads to a general love of a lot of world pop music like Konono No 1 and Kid Albeha. While those genres make up only a very small portion of my music collection it is a portion I plan to expand.

13 – Wanda Jackson – My Big Iron Skillet and Wilco – Pick Up the Change
I’m cheating with two songs here, but I think I have a legitimate reason. First, Wanda Jackson made it OK for me to like country music. She was one of the first female rock and rollers in the 50s (touring with Elvis) and also sang country tunes. I am not the world’s biggest country fan today, and I abhor 99.9% of all popular country music, however without laughing at Wanda’s songs about cheatin’ husbands I strongly feel that I would still be adverse to all country today. Second, Wilco made it OK to like a contemporary alternative-country band and opened the door to others like the Jayhawks, Granddaddy, Ryan Adams, and more recent discoveries like the Amity Front and the Avett Brothers. Additionally, I feel confident saying that Wilco is the best live band touring today and I just could not bear to leave them off of this list.

14 – David Bowie – Suffragette City
This is an AH HA! moment. Fellow blog member Total Blam-Blam introduced me to David Bowie and when I was looking for a song to represent the importance of Bowie on this list, I realized where the pseudonym comes from. This song! How very appropriate. Exiled for a few years in eastern Connecticut, I had a long commute to and from work every day. This being pre-iPod days, I had CDs in my car but was notorious for not rotating the selection; for perhaps as much as a year there were at least 3 Bowie albums in my 12 CD visor case: Diamond Dogs, Ziggy Stardust and Space Oddity. I still go back to Bowie when I need a pick-me-up in the morning… he’s as good as coffee, I swear. And to top it off, he’s still sexy at 60. What more could you want?

And finally, a recently influential song that I may regret including but...

15 – LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends/Yeah
Seeing this band at Randall’s Island Summer 07 was pretty much a music-life changing experience. I wasn’t listening to much electronic music prior to the show and when a fellow music friend introduced me to LCD a few months before the concert, for some reason I wasn’t motivated to listen. And then they played these two songs back-to-back live, going into an extended freeform trance inducing techno love fest on Yeah. And hello electronic dance music, rockitscientist is back and loving you. Where are my friends tonight? Let’s dance.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Frugal's Top 15 Influential Songs

Compiling this play list was enjoyable, it brought back many memories of angst ridden teenage years when I started developing my own taste in music. Although I rarely listen to these songs lately, many of them were gateways into artists who I have grown to love (NIN, Tori, Bjork, Imogen Heap). My greatest challenge in creating this list was cutting it down to 15 songs. It may suffer from extreme editing.

Songs are listed chronologically based on when I discovered them.

#: Title - Artist - Album

01: King - Belly - King
02: Hand In My Pocket - Alanis Morissette - Jagged Little Pill
03: That's what I get - Nine Inch Nails - Pretty Hate Machine
04: Cast No Shadow - Oasis - (What's The Story) Morning Glory
05: Army Of Me - Björk - Post
06: Vow - Garbage - Garbage
07: Paranoid Android - Radiohead - OK Computer
08: The Perfect Drug - Nine Inch Nails - Lost Highway Soundtrack
09: Children - Tilt - Ministry of Sound , Ibiza 99 The Year Of Trance D1
10: Better Off Alone - Alice Deejay - Who needs guitars anyway?
11: Spark - Tori Amos - From the choirgirl hotel
12: Angry Angel - Imogen Heap - i Megaphone
13: Frozen - Madonna - Ray of Light
14: Machinehead - Bush - Sixteen Stone
15: Trip Like I Do - The Crystal Method - Vegas