the Horn Farm Paste Mob


three is three

The other day, something reminded me of 12 Inches Of Snow, the first album by Canadian reggae vocalist Snow. Its title is a rare example of a triple-entendre in popular culture: “12 inches of snowfall”, “a 12-inch record (i.e. an LP) by Snow”, and “Snow’s penis is 12 inches long!”

At least, I think such things are rare. The only other one I can come up with, off the top of my head, is the name of Parappa’s master in Parappa The Rapper. Chop Chop Master Onion is an animated onion (something you chop up), an Asian stereotype (“chop chop!”), and a martial-arts master (who teaches Parappa to do a karate chop).

In both cases, I’m not totally confident all three meanings were intended by the creators, though it seems likely. (The fact that LPs are exactly a foot across might seem too obscure to refer to were it not for “twelve-inches”, i.e. non-LP singles of that size. But also, that was 15 years ago, and even if nobody was buying vinyl, it was still a pretty vivid cultural memory.)

Possibly I have idiosyncratic criteria for ‘real’ triple-entendres, but there must be more. At the very least, there must be a third one!

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I’m reeling; I’m drunk and triumphant

Foil – Reviver Gene (mp3)

From 1998′s Spread It All Around. By 1998 anyone who listened to “alternative rock” had their bullshit detector wound tight to flash NO NO NO if they were offered a UK guitar band who were “sort of grunge, but not really”. But this Scottish single deserved better (if not the rest of the album–I couldn’t get into it). The guitars sound like shoegazer guitars to me, only with too many notes in the main riff to blend in on a My Bloody Valentine record; singer Hugh Duggie has an initial twinkle-eyed cool that gives way to moments of Eddie Vedder snarl on low notes and little-kid glee on high notes, all without actually sounding versatile or anything. He’s just this guy, and for four minutes he is WINNING AT LIFE.

Which is the real reason this song is not plausibly marketable as grunge: it screams and grinds a little, but it kind of makes me want to hit a home run and then eat ice cream.

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all spiffed up and looking ideal

I think I first heard about the Balloon Man from Fluxblog a few years ago. Here’s all I can tell you: forty years ago, Bill Morrison had a ‘difficult’ stand-up comedy act involving balloon animals that was briefly successful, and in 1971 he recorded a bunch of one-minute “bio-vignettes” hoping to get them on radio. It didn’t happen, though in the years since he has spent a decade or two as a cult figure on California public access TV. The mp3 below is three of those vignettes strung together, and if you listen to it… well, I can’t promise that if you listen to it you’ll never be the same. But if you DON’T listen to it, then you’ll ALWAYS be the same, and who wants that?

Bill Morrison – Popped Blue Balloon Moods / Get A Balloon / Just Coats With Folks

The Mister Morrison Show on YouTube: 1 2

The CD’s page at CDBaby (out of stock right now)

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THE HOLD STEADY – Stay Positive (Vagrant)

I like the Hold Steady’s music, but it largely exists as a backdrop– or occasionally a scaffold– to Craig Finn’s lyrics, and at first, I thought Stay Positive mostly failed lyrically. The three central Hold Steady characters, Gideon, Holly and Charlemagne, are nowhere to be found. Most of the songs are vivid but maudlin standard-issue Finn scenes: here’s a college girl who parties with townies, in legal trouble after someone gets stabbed; here’s a guy in love with a girl who’s slowly killing herself with drugs; here’s, like, fifteen references to Jesus in one song.

But in search of more details about a line in “Two Crosses”, I found two things: an interview with Finn in which he says that the album is entirely about the same cast of characters, unnamed to make the task of untangling the narrative more difficult; and a message board thread in which a truly huge number of lyric snippets are cross-referenced and a number of theories (some certainly garbage) are hatched.

Possibly I’m the worst possible sort of listener for this album– attached enough to the idea of a running inter-song narrative that I miss it, but not so attentive that I got the clues. Nor am I sure why eleven stories about the same themes should bother me more than one eleven-song story with lots of thematic repetition. Maybe Stay Positive‘s grim theme– the main thread connecting the songs seems to be a murder– made me tune out.

Anyway, the music’s still bombastic; most of the songs are trying way too hard to sound like climaxes and turning points, and the fact that they might actually be those things only partially mitigates it. What would otherwise be cutely self-referential declarations about music’s power to save souls sound defensive. I could see it growing on me (though I’ve liked it less with repetition, not more) or becoming a valued piece of the overall Hold Steady project (you don’t have to listen to read the lyrics!) or being redeemed by the CD-only bonus tracks (Hold Steady b-sides have generally been awesome). But I don’t find myself with the boundless patience I had for their last album.

The Hold Steady on MySpace

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we’ve seen the things you do (repost)

The first time I posted this, the links didn’t work. Sorry! Try this.

While I liked other songs on Bluebird (Jagjaguwar, 2000), it was only “Bride” that made Sarah White’s name stay in my head long after she seemed to vanish from the indie world. Her voice sounds like a coffee-table puzzle in which seven different kinds of defeat interlock to form a surprisingly-shaped contentment, which is half of why I loved the song; the other half is the way the guitar acts as the main rhythmic element, constantly anticipating itself with the sound of fingers on strings.

So that was a long time ago, and I guess I burned the blueprint of that song into my brain thoroughly enough that the presence of drums on her newish album White Light (Antenna Farm, 2006) is a constant surprise. Every single whack of the snare drum sounds potentially deafening, like, man, I’m glad that guy is all the way in the corner, or else I’m pretty sure it would overwhelm Sarah White’s voice.

But as I said, “or else I’m pretty sure it would overwhelm her” is White’s specialty.

Sarah White – Bride
Sarah White & The Pearls – Spoken Word

MySpace | home page

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JOHN BERRYMAN – 77 Dream Songs

I didn’t have the heart to bring Ulysses camping with me, so I stepped sideways to another opaque modern monument that I had wanted a little quiet time with. 77 Dream Songs is the first (and much shorter) of the two books that the Dream Songs were collected into. (Or “was collected into”? The blurbs on the back refer to the 385 poems collectively as one long poem, which seems precious to me but maybe is standard poet talk.)

So okay so, if you don’t know anything about the Dream Songs, the deal is that they are all (all?) about a figure named Henry, who is frequently in conversation with a second, unnamed figure. This figure distinctively addresses Henry as “Mr. Bones”, which makes it very hard not to call HIM, the unnamed friend, “Mr. Bones”. Often, one of the two speaks in a minstrel-show parody of black dialect; probably a lot has been written about what that means, but I haven’t read it. Henry has suffered “an irreversible loss”, which I’m assuming, maybe unimaginatively, is similar to the suicide of Berryman’s father.

Even forgetting Berryman’s own eventual suicide, these are often (dear God!) kind of depressing. I settled on the strategy of taking them in as I would a batch of songs– letting each one off the hook right away if it made no impression and rereading only the ones I wanted to. While good lines were plentiful even in the middle of allusive thickets, I found myself returning to the poems I mostly understood, like #67:

I don't operate often. When I do,
persons take note.
Nurses look amazed. They pale.
The patient is brought back to life, or so.
The reason I don't do this more (I quote)
is: I have a living to fail--

because of my wife & son--to keep from earning.
--Mr Bones, I sees that.
They for these operations thanks you, what?
not pays you. --Right.
You have seldom been so understanding.
Now there is further a difficulty with the light:

I am obliged to perform in complete darkness
operations of great delicacy
on my self.
--Mr Bones, you terrifies me.
No wonder they didn't pay you. Will you die?
--My
          friend, I succeeded. Later.
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we’ve seen the things you do

While I liked other songs on Bluebird (Jagjaguwar, 2000), it was “Bride” that made Sarah White’s name stay in my head long after she seemed to vanish from the indie world. Her voice sounds like a coffee-table puzzle in which seven different kinds of defeat interlock to form a surprisingly-shaped contentment, which is half of why I loved the song; the other half is the way the guitar acts as the main rhythmic element, constantly anticipating itself with the sound of fingers on strings.

So that was a long time ago, and I guess I burned the blueprint of that song into my brain thoroughly enough that the presence of drums on her newish album White Light (Antenna Farm, 2006) is a constant surprise. Every single whack of the snare drum sounds potentially deafening, like, man, I’m glad that guy is all the way in the corner, or else I’m pretty sure it would overwhelm Sarah White’s voice.

But as I said, “or else I’m pretty sure it would overwhelm her” is White’s specialty as a singer.

Sarah White – Bride
Sarah White & The Pearls – Spoken Word

MySpace | home page

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MTV2 Pack 1 + Maximo Park

MTV Games owns Harmonix. If memory serves, this is the first real cross-pollination we’ve seen out in the open: MTV2 had a contest whose three winners got their songs in Rock Band this week.

Now that Activision is trying to scare people into waiting for Guitar Hero 4 rather than buying Rock Band*, there’s a whole political element to what songs are released as Rock Band downloads when. So it’s sort of inconvenient for old debts to come due at any particular time, and maybe they would rather not have had to give a whole precious week of the release schedule to unknown bands. But in the abstract, it’s a good idea.

Them Terribles – Bullets & Guns Rockabilly for Robert Smith. I feel like there’s some joke inherent in 80s alt-rock that these guys are Just Not Getting, which isn’t to say there’s no smiles in play– the stagy way the singer stutters “that’s why she moves so fa-a-a-ast” is obviously fun to sing and, well, NONE of it seems that serious. As for why they took a guitar sound straight out of “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, I have no idea. You’d hate for these guys to have beat a truly brilliant band in the contest, but a distribution channel that consistently delivered music at this interestingness level would get a thumbs-up from me.

Drums: Simple but fun. Kind of bashy, lots of bass pedal (the latter not really fun, but manageable). So simple, in fact, that just thumping straight through the drum fills with tiniest bits of embellishment sounded good! That doesn’t usually work. And there’s enough variation to keep the second half from feeling like a punishment for enjoying the first half (see “Roam”). The only song from the pack I immediately wanted to play twice.

The Myriad – A Clean Shot A badly smudged xerox of The Bravery, who already were not so original. If they weren’t murdering a genre I have some fondness for it would be forgettable, and in fact within a few minutes I will have forgotten my grudge against them. However: This sucked.

Drums: On verses, the same kind of ticky hi-hat rhythm as “Orange Crush”, which never mind that it’s a monster cliche for this kind of music, is a lot of fun to play when one can stand the music. So the jury’s out. Switches to extremely stupid and un-fun beat on the chorus, though a rest between jittery parts is quite welcome.

The Miracle – Moving To Seattle Female-fronted ??emo??, somewhere between the slightly overwrought pop of Paramore’s “Crushcrushcrush” and the deeply overwrought misogynistic bullshit pathos of Coheed & Cambria’s “Welcome Home”, both of which have been big hits on Rock Band. I guess we’ll find out soon enough whether RB players love Coheed & Cambria because they like the music or because they like violence against women. Musically harmless; the kind of thing I miiiight even grow to like despite myself if I play it enough.

Drums: Some pleasingly confusing patterns and syncopated bass drum. Not a lot of rockstar moments, but a fun way to be in the background, and definitely an unusual chart.

Maximo Park – Girls Who Play Guitar Paul Smith’s voice (especially, yeah, his accent) is nice even on so-so songs. This is… so-so+. None of the frantic energy that “Apply Some Pressure” or “Our Velocity” had, and they lay it on kind of thick for the chorus– no, not too thick, just too evenly.

Drums: Nearly all the bass kicks in the song, including the ones that appear at slightly tricky times, come in pairs, making it potentially good practice for clumping those mentally. It is notch more difficult than interesting, and I am now very curious whether the Maximo Park songs I think of as rhythmically livelier are in fact any more fun to play… my intuition about these things still isn’t very good, c.f. my totally wanting to play Police songs out of all proportion to any interest they hold for me as listening material.

Overall: The musical variety bodes well, as does the fact that even losers aparently now want to live in 1983. The omens for drummers and for corporate synergy are less clear. If “Bullets & Guns” is at all fun on guitar it will probably get played quite a lot.

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MINDLESS SELF INDULGENCE – If (The End Records)

It’s strange being more or less able to hear myself think while listening to an MSI album. Not a terrible thing, though, and MSI are still heaven-sent if you’ve ever wondered, say, what Britney Spears’ personal life would sound if like set to music by someone who wasn’t trying to sell records to Britney’s audience. They’re still intensely trashy, antic and (sonically) vicious, but no longer all at once all the time. And they’re catchy again. I wish I could stop there and just put this on repeat.

But in a few of these songs Jimmy Urine runs bady afoul of the fact that a male misanthrope who writes songs about women has about five ways to sound like a misogynist fuckwad, and with limited context (i.e. not knowing the guy personally) I can’t tell the difference between

#1: Writing songs whose point is to make you look like a creep (playing with audience/performer relationship)

#2: Meaning to reclaim the whole idea of hostility as being about you, not about whoever you shout at (though this can segue into “Hey, I’m just expressing myself” which is usually a veil for #5)

#3: Just wanting to push people’s buttons

#4: Expecting people to realize you have just as much contempt for men

#5: Actually being a misogynist fuckwad

We suspect from past MSI records that Urine’s feelings about people he hates and/or thinks of only as sex objects are complex and interesting and probably forgivable. But we also suspect from those records that he can weave lyrics a little tighter than “You wouldn’t take no for an answer you fucking BITCH”. That the thread in question is dayglo and looks like it can’t possibly hold weight is beside the point, because he’s done it before.

MySpace, with whole album streaming

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BEANS – Thorns (Adored & Exploited)

If it’s true, as he says in one song, that Beans spent two straight years on tour “damn near homeless” because he got kicked out of his house for constantly cheating with women he met on tour… well, he seems to regret it, but it’s pretty obvious how well it might suit him. A self-reinforcing closed loop that outputs opportunities for Mr. B to fuck and rap is exactly the habitat you’d expect to find a robot Beans occupying in 2108′s hip-hop museum; give him points for realizing he might have made mistakes (and more points for drawing a connection between his father’s early death from cancer and his own more self-inflicted disappearance from his daughter’s life), but there’s no repentance here. The gist of Beans’ lyrics has always been “HEY I AM BEANS CHECK IT OUT”, and perhaps that constant repetition has made him realize that he’s stuck with himself.

(In the context of all that, you have to give him a pass on the record’s one entirely forgettable song: “MVP”, where he sappily addresses a (new?) beloved and confesses that the song was “the hardest to write”. Fair enough.)

So I like Thorns, but even with a softer side showing, Beans hasn’t calmed down at all; his forceful delivery can wear out a listener fast, making all his metaphors about the physical harm that his mic skills do to his rivals unfortunately vivid. And yet I started writing this post meaning it to be positive. At the very least I’m impressed. Beans is a difficult listen and yet it never seems that way while his music is playing. Like I said, self-contained.

MySpace page

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