Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Be Your Own Pet/Headcoatees

in the spirit of the Stains, I post the video for "Becky," by Be Your Own Pet.

Be Your Own Pet were a Nashville band who did noisy pop punk. Their hooks were good,but their real selling point was Jemina Pearl, the kind of cute bad ass that all the girls want to be and all the boys want to be with. They have two albums out. I've only heard the Get Damaged EP, which features "Becky," and I want to marry it.

Speaking of female-fronted garage punk bands, I've been digging up my old Headcoatees albums. Thee Headcoatees were basically Billy Childish's garage punk band the Headcoats, but with female singers. They mostly did covers, or dirty versions of Headcoats songs, turning "Come Into My Life" into "Come Into My Mouth," for example. My favorite thing about them was that they sang in French, and did a wicked cover of Plastic Bertrand's "Ca Plane Pour Moi."

One of my favorite songs by them is "Punk Girl," which I think was an original. It was on their Punk Girls LP, which featured their takes on various punk songs by the Ramones, Undertones, and the aforementioned Plastic Bertrand. Here's "Punk Girl":

Punk Girl - Thee Headcoatees

And here's "Ca Plane Pour Moi." Women singing punk in French=heaven.

CA Plane Pour Moi - Thee Headcoatees

They split up a few years ago. Ludella Black passed away, I believe, and Holly Golightly has turned up on stuff by the White Stripes, along with a steady output of solo stuff. The Headcoats, as far as I know, are still around.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains is a 1981 film directed by Lou Adler about a female punk trio called the Stains who become a cult sensation amongst the teen set with their skunk hairdos, see-through blouses, and attitude. Their motto is "We're the Stains, and we don't put out," and they call out the audience on the bullshit of life in the stifling suburbs. Musically, the Stains are primitive at best, and though I never heard of this film until it was released on DVD this year, I can't help but think that the Riot Grrrls of the early 90s must have seen this movie. There is a lot of Stains in early Bratmobile and Bikini Kill. The movie is a remarkably clear look at adolescent dissatisfaction, and then-17-year-old Diane Lane does an amazing job as the disaffected lead singer. She is full of attitude and anger, and is the ultimate cool female antihero. She's a badass, and commands respect. Despite the fact that she spends most of the movie in tights and a see-through blouse, she isn't a sex object. Yes, she sleeps with the lead singer of the band they tour with, but on her terms, and she uses them to her advantage. She approaches him as an equal, not a groupie.

In the movie, they tour with a band called the Looters, comprised of Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, Paul Simonon of the Clash, and actor Ray Winstone on vocals. Cook and Jones wrote the music for the movie, which is convincing British punk, and actually kinda good:

Paul Simonon was always one of the coolest looking punks, what his sort of James Dean meets Elvis but with safety pins thing, and Steve Jones is a killer guitarist. I was way into the Sex Pistols when I was 13, but it was only when I was in my 20s that I came to appreciate just how solid his riffs were. The Pistols weren't the best punk band, but they were an amazing rock band. Cook and Jones had, at this point, done a few songs as Here We Go Again for soundtrack to The Great Rock n' Roll Swindle. A horrible movie by the way, which represents the very worst of what the Pistols were all about, namely Malcom MacLaren and his faux rebellion and massive ego. The documentary The Filth and the Fury is a much more important document of the Pistols. I'd recommend avoiding anything they've done since then. Johnny has been milking his dickhole personality for thirty-three years, and it's high time he move on. It's just embarrassing seeing him shilling himself now.

The girls go on to steal the Looters big song "We're the Professionals" for themselves, playing it to a mall full of skunks:

The movie ends with the Stains resurrecting themselves as a new wave band, complete with a video for "We're the Professionals."

It's totally dead on, and reminded me of the early videos of the Go-Go's, who had a similar trajectory of crumby punk band turned successful new wave act.

I loved this movie, and my only regret was that I didn't see it twenty years ago. I think it would have meant a lot more to me as a 13-year-old than as a 33-year-old. It's a much better punk movie than, say, Suburbia, in that it seems like it was made by someone who actually cared about punk culture. Lou Adler also directed Cheech and Chong's Up In Smoke, which had the Germs in it, so I guess he knew his shit.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Earthquake Weather

In thinking about albums I've loved that sucked, I thought of Joe Strummer's 1989 solo album, "Earthquake Weather." I've read that it sold somewhere around 7,000 copies, which isn't very many given he was the lead singer of the Clash.

I was a massive Clash fan (despite Cut the Crap), and I bought "Earthquake Weather" a few years after it came out. Like a lot of solo albums, it is mellow and introspective, and I was a little disappointed by it. It was the second solo record by an aging punker I had bought that turned out to be country tinged mellowness (John Doe's "Meet John Doe" being the other). Still, there were some pretty great songs on it, including the beautiful "Leopardskin Limousine," which features the genius lines "Dressing like a duck/not giving a fuck."

Leopardskin Limousines - Joe Strummer

Listening to tracks from this on Imeem, I have to admit that it isn't quite brilliant. There's "Boogie With Your Children" which is an embarrassing funk song, and a few other duds. The production leans towards a crisp, whiteboy reggae/funk sound which sounds dated. Still, there are also tracks like "Slant Six," which could almost be a lost Clash song, or "Passport to Detroit," which is pretty great despite the cheesy wah wah.

Passport to Detroit - Joe Strummer

"Earthquake Weather" didn't convince me to buy any of Strummer's other solo work, but there are some good songs on it, and it might be worth tracking down. Yeah, this is what I do when I'm sick and feeling sorry for myself.

Bad Albums I Have Loved

I came of age before the Internet, and I grew up in a small town that was gorgeous, charming, and not exactly tapped into what was cool and new. I didn't know very many people who were into punk or "college" music, and I got into a lot of punk bands because they were on the leather jackets of the punks who would hang out in downtown Santa Cruz. Every other week I'd go to the record store and buy a cassette with my allowance. Sometimes I struck paydirt, like with the Sex Pistols or Black Flag or the Subhumans, but as often as not I'd end up with something kind of mediocre that I had to put up with anyways, both because I didn't know better and because I was stuck with it. One thing about physical media: it induces more loyalty and dedication than a bunch of mp3s. I'd stick with my tapes even if I suspected they weren't so hot. Here are four albums I loved despite the fact that they totally suck.

1. The Clash, "Cut the Crap."
Sadly, this was the first Clash album I bought. This album taught me that with punk bands, you wanted their early stuff, not their later material. The title sounded punk, but really the Clash were a shell of their former selves, with most of the band booted out, and the remainder doing a weird mix of punk music with electronic flourishes. I actually still like some of these songs, including "This Is England," but not anywhere near as much as I like "Sandanista!" or "The Clash."

This Is England - The Clash

Adolescents, "Balboa Fun Zone."
Adolescents were a SoCal punk band whose eponymous debut is considered a classic. Instead, I bought this record, which came out in the late 80s. Punk bands tend to become bad rock in their old age, and Adolescents were no exception. I listened to this a lot, even though I knew it was terrible.

GBH "From Here To Reality."
GBH were always a sort of terrible band, even if they made some brilliant songs. By 1990 they were about seven years past their prime, and "From Here to Reality" is pretty dreadful. Even the album artwork is horrendous. It's amazing to me to think that I owned four GBH albums when I was 15, but nothing by Crass, the Germs, or any of the East Bay punk bands that were exploding around 1990. Instead, I was investing time and money in crap. Like this:

Moonshine Song - G.B.H.

P.M. Dawn. By 1991, I was getting into hip hop. Being the hippie bleeding heart that I am, I was trying to find rap music that wasn't sexist or violence. As Ice Cube and NWA were topping the charts. So I settled on P.M. Dawn, who were total hippies, and are totally embarrassing. I still like this song, even if it is cheesy. KRS-One totally punched out Prince Be.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Best Hip Hop of 2008 in Videos

My best-of list is up at RapReviews now, here:
Videos from my favorite albums, in alphabetical order:

1. Atmosphere, "When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold," and "Strictly Leakage." Official video for "Guarantees."

2. Erykah Badu, "New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War)." "Soldier" live on VH1.

3. Black Milk, "Tronic". Video for "Give the Drummer Some."

4. Cool Kids, "Bake Sale." Video for "Black Mags."

5. Elzhi, "The Preface." Performing "Moown 25" live.

6. Invincible, "Shapeshifters." Video for "Sledghammer!"

7. "Machete Vox Presents Sneak Preview." Z-Man's "Crumb of the Bay" (not on the album).

8. Q-Tip, "The Renaissance." "Move."

Q-Tip - "Move" from Three/21 Films on Vimeo.

9 Red Ants, "Omega Point." The video for "Dirty Space Alchemy" using footage from the Ralph Bakshi film "Wizards." I'm not totally in love with Modulok's bombastic flow, but Vincent Price is a wicked beatmaker.

10. Steinski, "What Does It All Mean?" "Lesson 3," with visuals.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Best-selling Vs. Best-reviewed albums of 2008

I play lip service to populist ideals, and I believe in some of them, but at heart, I am an elitist. Most critics and music snobs are. We thrive on the obscure. We also have way, way better taste than the unwashed masses, as a comparison of the best-selling records and best-reviewed records reveals.

First, let's look at the albums that sold the most (in the U.S.), according to Neilson.

1 As I Am by Alicia Keys
2 Noel by Josh Groban
3 Tha Carter III by Lil Wayne
4 Long Road Out of Eden by the Eagles
5 Taylor Swift by Taylor Swift
6 Rock N Roll Jesus by Kid Rock
7 Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends by Coldplay
8 NOW 26 by Various Artists
9 Carnival Ride by Carrie Underwood
10 The Ultimate Hits by Garth Brooks

These albums all share one thing in common: I didn't buy or listen to any of them. In typical music snob fashion, I don't even know what a Josh Groban is, and all I know about Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood is is that they are blonde. I respect Alicia Keys, Coldplay, and Garth Brooks, so long as I don't actually have to listen to them, and Lil Wayne got so much hype this year that I can't be bothered to plunk down money for any version of his album. I actually have heard Kid Rock's big hit, both when he did it, and when Lynyrd Skynyrd did it, much better, thirty years ago. I've also heard some of Lil Wayne's stuff, and the song that Coldplay ripped off from Joe Satriani. Other than that, I haven't listened to anything on the top 10.

Let's look at Metacritic's list of highest-rated albums (Those numbers are the aggregate review scores):

1 Welcome To Mali by Amadou & Mariam 92
2 London Zoo by The Bug 90
3 Fed by Plush 89
4 Dear Science, by TV On The Radio 88
5 Exit by Shugo Tokumaru 88
6 For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver 88
7 Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes 87
8 Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds 87
9 Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury House 1968 by Neil Young 87
10 Robyn by Robyn 86
11 Hercules And Love Affair by Hercules And Love Affair 86
12 Black Sea by Fennesz 86
13 What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006 Retrospective by Steinski 86
14 Harps And Angels by Randy Newman 86
15 Fortress by Protest The Hero 86
16 Rook by Shearwater 85
17 Life...The Best Game In Town by Harvey Milk 85
18 In The 7th Moon, The Chief Turned Into A Swimming Fish And Ate The Head Of His Enemy By Magic by Kasai Allstars 85
19 Third by Portishead 85
20 Stay Positive by The Hold Steady 85
21 Laulu Laakson Kukista by Paavoharju 85
22 Chemistry Of Common Life by Fucked Up 85
23 Music Tapes for Clouds & Tornadoes by The Music Tapes 84
24 Sycamore Meadows by Butch Walker 84
25 A Piece Of What You Need by Teddy Thompson 84
26 Don't Do Anything by Sam Phillips 84
27 One Kind Favor by B.B. King 83
28 Real Animal by Alejandro Escovedo 83
29 The Renaissance by Q-Tip 83
30 Brighter Than Creation's Dark by Drive-By Truckers 83

Notice that there is zero overlap with the best selling albums. Notice also that the highest rated album isn't even available in the US - it is a foreign import. It is ranked 47,865 in sales on Amazon (102 in sales by Amazon UK). To be fair, both Lil Wayne and Coldplay made some year-end lists.

How did the critics like the best-selling albums? Alica Keys got a middling 66, and many of the others didn't even warrant a Metacritic score. A search for the Eagles, for example, yields reviews of albums by Eagles of Death Metal and Department of Eagles, but not legendary, multi-platinum band.

I am sure the top-selling albums have been the soundtrack for some important moments in a lot of people's lives, from break-ups to first kisses, romantic dinners, groping in the back seat of a car, sweaty nights on the dance floor and quiet evenings alone. That's awesome. That's what music is for, and as long as it means something to you, go for it. Still, I'll stick with the best-reviewed albums any day of the week, even if we critics have no clue as to what moves the masses and makes them buy albums.

Check out Metacritic's year-end page here: http://www.metacritic.com/music/bests/2008.shtml

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Very Best Review

This week on RapReviews.com I reviewed The Very Best's free mixtape, Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit are The Very Best. It's pretty awesome. He is a Malawian, they are from Europe, and met in London. They do originals, and reworkings of songs by indie rockers and, ahem, Michael Jackson. I'm really into their version of M.I.A.'s amazing if overplayed "Paper Planes." He sings in his native tongue, I got no idea what he's singing about, and I fully admit that I only heard about them because of Pitchfork.

But whatevs. Go download the mixtape for free here:

And read my review here:

03 Tengazako - Esau Mwamwaya

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Favorite (Non Hip Hop) Albums of 2008

This was the first year I made a conscious effort to hear as much new music as I could. I still missed a lot of albums, and I'll be catching up on what I missed during the coming months and years. For me, year-end lists are a way to see what slipped past me, what music I haven't heard that got a lot of people excited. It's through year-end lists that I heard the Panda Bear and Field albums, and both of those are amazing.

What follows is a list of albums released in 2008 that I am most excited about. These are the albums that I tried to get my friends turned on to, the names I would drop when people asked what I was listening to, the songs that were in heavy rotation in my Ipod and on my stereo. These are the albums that people should revisit five or ten years from now when they are revisiting the late 2000's.

Also, this list is about what I'm excited about, not rock snobbery. Music is a powerful, important thing, and it is too important to get bogged down in cooler-than-thou politics or the endless quest for the latest, greatest, and most obscure. I am not cool, and I don't have the energy to try to keep up with the hipsterati. I just love music, and I love discovering new artists and albums. With that said, here's my ten favorite albums of 2008:

10. She & Him Volume One I couldn't care less about Zooey Deschanel, or any other actress turned singer. They only thing I care about is the fact that she has a great voice, and this is actually a pretty good album. I particularly love "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here."

Why Do You Let Me Stay Here? - She and Him

9. Abe Vigoda Skeletons
Angular guitar riffs with African polyrhythms? Yes, please.

Skeleton - Abe Vigoda

8. Vampire Weekend These guys did not deserve the obsequious praise heaped upon them, or the backlash against them for said praise. When all is said and done, they still produced a highly entertaining album. Think Paul Simon's "Graceland" done by preppy indie kids. This album is as enjoyable and consequential as a mojito on a hot summer's day.

7. Dodos Visiter The Dodos are a two-man indie folk duo from the Yay Area who make interesting and pretty music. Their single, Fools, is flawless.

6. Port O'Brien All We Could Do Was Sing Yet another indie-folk band from the Bay, Port O'Brien have a little more of Arcade Fire's multi-instrumentation and cacaphony. I loved "I Woke Up Today," but the album is full of many other fine moments.

I Woke Up Today - Port OBrien

5. TV On The Radio Dear Science
A beautiful, beautifully packaged disc that contains layers upon layers of sounds. I think this is a grower, not a shower, because the more I listen to it the more I like it.

Halfway Home - TV On The Radio

4. Fleet Foxes I'm going to burn my mom a copy of this, because they sound a lot like the mellow sixties folk she was so into back in the day. Beautiful harmonies, bushy beards, slightly medieval instrumentation....what more could you want?

Tiger Mountain Peasant Song - Fleet Foxes

3. Fucked Up The Chemistry of Modern Life Husker Du meets My Bloody Valentine meets Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins meets hardcore punk. This is a gorgeous, intense album. How many hardcore songs do you know that start of with Middle Eastern percussion?

Magic Word - Fucked Up

2. Deerhunter Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
Deerhunter let their more melodic side shine through, and produce an album MBV, Sonic Youth, and Trail of Dead would be proud of. This is one of the few albums I have totally fallen in love with in recent years.

Never Stops - Deerhunter

1. Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago Any depressive asshole with an acoustic guitar and a decent computer can make an intimate break-up album, and tons of assholes do it every year. Very, very few do it well, which is why Bon Iver's debut is so spectacular. They are also a band who seem to have a sense of humor and not be totally stuck on themselves. I love this album, and I made it my mission in 2008 to make all of my friends love it. It is intimate, haunting, and gorgeous. Watch the live performance of "Flume" below. If it doesn't break your heart, you probably don't have one.

So there you go. My best of 2008. What did I miss?

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