Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Moutain Goats - "Catherine Antrim's Kid"

I've been thinking about this song a lot lately. Ever since I heard a leak of the limited edition All Survivor's Pack tape that came with pre-orders of All Eternals Deck, I thought "Goddamn, this sounds exactly like a classic Mountain Goats jam but you can see how much John Darnielle's songwriting has matured and aged like fine wine it's so fucking spectacular." This is one of the two tracks that weren't featured on the album, and though I'm saddened that I don't get to hear studio versions of both this and "Rotten Stinking Mouthpiece," I'm pretty content because the acoustic boombox versions are haunting and beautiful and pretty much perfect as is.

"And the night wrapped me up/ In its long dark embrace/I had that same expression on, as that one picture of my face/Which was all anyone would ever know about me."

So, I've been thinking about "Catherine Antrim's Kid," a song about Billy the Kid, and this morning I saw that the only known photo of Billy the Kid sold at Auction for $2.3 Million. This was apparently totally unexpected. The photo was expected to rake in four grand. It says something about American culture, or how American culture is percieved, in that people universally love Billy the Kid. Hell, people love outlaws in general despite the fact that they murdered folks and gave sheriffs what fer. The irony though, is that the photo was purchased by William Koch, whom with his brother David, run Koch Industries. Considering that Koch Industries is trying its hardest to destroy America by funding clowns like Wisconsin's Scott Walker and backing the Tea Party Movement.

It's an incredibly American sort of thing. That is, American as the term American means now. Which means that it's wealthy people trying to convince the poor people that their being poor is their own damn fault and they should vote for candidates who will cut taxes for the rich so a real proper plutocracy can be put in to place. It's plain as day if you look at it, but I guess it's hard to see through the values veil if you're from the heartland or wherever the fuck these Tea Party people's RV's come from. These people certainly love Billy the Kid because they see themselves as outlaws in their own pathetic way. They refuse to address the historical figure of Billy the Kid, the murderer, the criminal, and only look at the romanticized version of the outlaw doing whatever he wanted and sadly gunned down by the mean old law. The Tea Party likes to do this with history: Pick out the nice bits that make you want to wave a flag and discard all the stuff that makes you want to move to another country.

"Catherine Antrim's Kid" is the sort of image of Billy the Kid I like. A microhistory of the famed outlaw that makes him a sympathetic character. Not a great hero, just a guy. Somebody's son. It's sad to think that maybe all of our historical artifacts will someday be owned by billionaires. What, if you throw out the government like they want, they could buy anything they wanted. The Smithsonian, what have you. They could lock all the artifacts up so no one ever had to think about historical value and the everyone would receive a patriotic re-education. There's a saying about people who don't learn from history, and I bet the Koch Brothers known damn well what it is. And I'm pretty sure they're hoping everyone else doesn't. Have fun inspiring a bunch of fools, Billy the Kid's photo. Here's to hoping they don't hold a rally on your grave.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The The - Soul Mining

The The – Soul Mining
Epic, 1983
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2011
Price: $2.50

Once, when Jenny was working at the Merc, she said that one of the baker guys asked if I was wearing a “The The” shirt and he said that if I was, “That I was awesome, and that he totally approved.” I can’t remember what shirt it was. I think it was my green Hold Steady shirt with the praying hands. I felt embarrassed because I’d never listened to The The, but apparently they were cool. Great name, I have to admit. So a couple of The The records show up at work and I go “Snatch snatch snatch.” And it doesn’t sound early 80s cornball at all like it should. Instead, it sounds like really awesome post-punk at the base of the new wave. I really love “This is the Day” because it’s the song I know on this record. I was like “OH THIS IS THE THE I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW GO FIGURE!” Too bad I have to know the song from a car commercial or whatever but you have to admit, it sounds pretty car commercially. What with that accordion riff and that really great sounding chorus. It’s lighthearted like Austrialian alt-pop, or what I have as the platonic ideal of Australian alt-pop from the 80s. Not just that song, but this whole album. It’s a little more frenetic at times but mostly I’ve just been throwing this on when I need to put something on to cook dinner to or clean up the living room or whatever. It’s good background music that grows on you. Scratch that, background music sounds like a knock against this, and it’s not meant to be. It just goes well with any situation. Cool record. Approachable but still has a little weirdness. Side B sags a bit under the lengths of the songs (and suffers from some dated synths, but it's only really the last couple of tracks and even then the're still pretty good) but it’s still cool.

And, hilarious music video.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ace Frehley - Ace Frehley

Ace Frehley – Ace Frehley
Casablanca, 1978
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2010
Price: $1.50

You know what, I got this album seven months ago and I’m just now listening to it. Fucking weird considering that I searched high and low for this album for the better part of a year because it was the only one of the Kiss solo albums that I didn’t have. Then it showed up, I bought it, and never listened to it. So much for collector culture. But now I’m listening to it because “New York Groove” is in some commercial about people who do tattoos on HGTV or whatever channel it is that Jenny watches all the time. ANYWAY, that song is the jam. And this is most definitely the best of the Kiss solo albums. It’s just a straight forward, motherfuckin’rock’n’roll record. It’s brisk, the lyrics are fucking awful 70s cock rock, but goddamnit if those songs aren’t catchy without putting their cock rock all up in your face (see: Paul Stanley, which is weird since until hearing this one that was my favorite (but only because Gene’s and Peter’s were you know, pretty godawful)). Sure, the best song on this thing is a cover, but it’s a goddamned great cover. Anyway, the best thing about this album is that it’s a straight forward, no bullshit rock and roll record that wants to be nothing more than a rock and roll record. Sure, it’s technically awful if you want to think about it and analyze tasty lyrical nuggets like "But an hour along, comin’ on strong, I was gettin’ drunk/ The next thing I knew I looked at you, I was blind as a skunk” on the ode to getting way too drunk and still being able to bone some bimbo, “Wiped Out.” Actually, analyzing the lyrics all the way through, you find out that they run out of wine so they switch to rum, and then they rhyme word with bird, fun with rum, and the couple either burn with passion or the booze catches fire and the house they’re in burns down. I CAN’T TELL! These songs are so straightforward, I can’t imaging Frehley and his co-writers incorporating any metaphors. And yet, this is still wayyyy better than the other three. Sure, there’s a good dosage of cock rock, but there are some inspired moments like “New York Groove” and the instrumental finale “Fractured Mirror,” and Frehley’s vocals are actually really fucking good. They’re clearly not what you were supposed to sound like back then, but they’re passionate, if you can believe it. Well, as passionate as you can get when you’re singing some really poorly written tunes, but it’s cool nonetheless. Shitty cool, and obnoxious, and ok “Ozone” is godawful but I’d listen to this ten times before I ever listened to Peter’s again. Ok, maybe like two times. At least now I have a good conversation starter: “Have you ever heard Ace Frehley’s solo album?” Good thing I’m not single, otherwise chicks would never talk to me again. Unless I had a time machine. And took that time machine back to 1978 when this sort of thing was cool and I could wear leather pants and…

And because you need this:

Tom Waits - Blue Valentine

Tom Waits – Blue Valentine
Asylum, 1978
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2011
Price: $4

The only Tom Waits record I own, and I bought it because it has “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis” which always finds its way into heavy rotation around Christmastime despite being fucking sad as all hell. Listening to Blue Valentine, I’m listening to it through the filter of having seen the 2010 movie of the same name. A good movie that, like this album, is full of sadness and desperation yet lacking the grit of Mr. Waits who can clearly weather this storm unlike the film’s disintegrating couple who can’t deal ever. I should say, there are only a couple of songs that I tied back to that movie (the aforementioned “Christmas Card” in which the aforementioned hooker mentions a new man who’s gonna raise the baby in her belly that ain’t his (granted, this all turns out to be a big fat sad lie)). Jenny is listening to this right now and is clearly uncomfortable. “How do people like Tom Waits?” she asks during “Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard” and first I say “BECAUSE HE’S TOM FUCKING WAITS.” Then I say “BECAUSE HE’S FUCKING AWESOME.” And then, actually thinking about the question, I say “Because no one else in the world sounds like Tom Waits and it’s totally pure and unique and the rough-around-the-edges-ness of it all is one of the things that makes it so great.” Something like that, not so eloquent. “Kentucky Avenue” follows “Whistlin’” and I say “People love Tom Waits because of shit like this, these slow sad songs that sound like they’re coming from the belly of a dive bar in the seediest part of the seediest city in the world.” Something like that. The way the strings swell up in that song when the lyrics start really, really blowing you away is spectacular. “I’ll take the spokes from you wheelchair/ And a magpies wings/ And tie ‘em to your shoulders and your feet/ I’ll steal a hacksaw from my dad/ And cut the braces off your legs/ And we’ll bury them in the night in the cornfield.” It’s beautiful and heartswelling and elegant. One doesn’t typically associate elegance with Tom Waits, what with that gruff drawl that slinks across his back catalog, but on those sad slow piano songs he knows exactly how to break your heart. And THAT is why people like Tom Waits. Besides the fact that he’s a total badass, but that’s a given.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska

Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
Columbia, 1982
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2011
Price: $1.50

Now stepping back five years from Tunnel of Love before synthesizers were invented (or, you know, at least not as much as a blatant ear-sore as they were in the 80s, the Boss’ usage aside) and the Boss recorded a best selling album in his bedroom like all the popular young bands do today. Thus, it’s raw and that’s what any good album should be on some level. It feels real, like a guy in a room with these unadorned songs that sell themselves because the Boss knows how to write a goddamned song. Like “Atlantic City.” The Hold Steady covered this song, and yeah it’s pretty good and kind of perfectly suited for the Hold Steady (and shows that with electric guitars and a full band, these songs could really scorch) and despite the fact that they’re my favorite band, the intimacy Springsteen brings to this song about a dude bout to join the mob and living it up for at least one night with his lady under the bright lights of the titular burg. The songs are all pretty sad, about death, about driving in cars, and working man’s blues. Pretty rad move to use your success to put out an album of songs recorded for the price of the portastudio.

Here's the Hold Steady's rippin' cover:

And then you know, the original:

Bruce Springsteen - Tunnel of Love

Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love
Capitol, 1987
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2011
Price: $2.50

Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love has been in heavy rotation for months. I know I said some pretty nasty things about the Boss in my write up of Born to Run, and I’ve been meaning to revisit that alleged classic because fuck, how could I harsh on the Boss? At least that’s what’s running through my head listening to “Tougher Than the Rest” which is one of my new favorite love songs of all time. It so excellently captures that willing to fight for somebody attitude without sounding corny or sentimental. Yet there’s a sense of dread to it with that ominous drum machine foreshadowing a bit of love gone wrong, but at the moment. This is a divorce album, pretty much, and I love me a good divorce album and I can’t believe I’d never heard that song before. It’s almost embarrassing. Fuck, I can’t believe I’d never heard this album before that one day at the end of winter when all the snow was melting on the roof of Half Price Books and dripping into the break room. The CD player was out of commission and we were playing records on the little all in one record player CD player at the register. I took it home that day and now we listen to it all the time. “Brilliant Disguise” was another hit I’d never heard before, and it really kinda sealed the deal on this record for me. Somehow, the Boss manages to circumvent all the cheesiness of 80s production on this one because his songs are just so damn good. The synths on “Tougher Than the Rest” are used as elegantly as if they were organic and those sort of “Fuck yes” fist to the heart lines like “The road is dark/ And it’s a thin thin line/ But I want you to know I’ll walk it for you any time” add a sort of timelessness that almost every well produced record from the 80s has a hard time achieving because everyone was obsessed with technology and horrible sax interludes (note: I’ve reconsidered my criticisms of the sax usage on Born to Run, because the Boss totally pulls it off). Tunnel of Love has shit kickers (“Spare Parts”), sensitive heartbreak ballads (“Cautious Man”) and OK, the title track has the corniest synths on the album but goddamn if that hook isn’t the jam. There’s an overall sense of sadness on this album that’s the kind of sadness a real man feels. A sort of hyper-masculinity that isn’t abhorrent but kind of satisfying because there’s also that thread of vulnerability that runs through the record. The Boss manages to lay out his bare emotions without looking like a sucker or a sap.

Here's a lovely cover of "Tougher Than the Rest" by Camera Obscura. Jenny says, "She sounds better here than she does on their records." Dunno about that, but I do love the Scottish inflection and how despite being cuter, that ballsy-ness is still there:

But, you know: