Peter Margasak, Reader music critic
Susanna Wallumrød, Jeg Vil Hjem Til Menneskene (Grappa)
I can’t say for sure why this stunning new album by Susanna Wallumrød (of Susanna & the Magical Orchestra fame) hasn’t gotten any exposure in the U.S., aside from the fact that she sings exclusively in Norwegian. But that hardly matters on a recording of such beauty, where she sets the poetry of Gunvor Hofmo to sophisticated pop-rock melodies with excellent instrumental support from Ståle Storløkken (Supersilent) and guitarist Hans Magnus Ryan (Motorpsycho), among others.
Domenico, Cine Privê (Coqueiro Verde)
The first postsplit album by a member of Brazil’s +2 carries on with the same killer mix of post-tropicalia range and curiosity and disciplined experimental impulses. The inventive phrasing of bossa nova and samba lies at the heart of most of these songs, even with arrangements that juggle electronic noise and dissonant harmonies; a perfect balance of songcraft and sonic exploration.
Howard Tate, Get It While You Can: The Legendary Sessions (Mercury)
The death of the great songwriter and producer Jerry Ragovoy on July 13—he was 80—sent me back to some of his best work. Although he wrote “Time Is on My Side,” as well as songs for Janis Joplin, Garnet Mimms, Irma Thomas, Erma Franklin, and Lorraine Allison, my favorite example of his talent was the brilliant recordings he produced for Philadelphia singer Howard Tate in the late 60s, some of the sleekest, grittiest soul-blues ever waxed.
Dan Koretzky, cofounder, Drag City Records
YouTube conspiracy-theory videos
As a coping mechanism for the current economic crisis within and without the music business, I find conspiracy-theory documentaries extremely soothing. The best of these are on YouTube, using no more than still photos and printed diatribes riddled with the kind of typos that can only come from someone who really believes in what they are saying and has only so much time to get that message out. These are often accompanied by truly generic hip-hop instrumentals, the kind they might use in Eazy-E: The E! True Hollywood Story if they weren’t able to afford licensing actual NWA songs—an unlikely but thrilling combination, even if, by the end, you are more concerned about tweaking the filmmaker’s meds than buying gold or hoarding heirloom seeds. All kidding aside, do hoard heirloom seeds. One of my favorites manages to fire on all cylinders because it’s actually about music. The Winged Beatle makes an alarming case that Paul McCartney is not, in fact, the actual Paul McCartney. Gasp! (The way in which they make the case is more alarming than the case itself.) I’ve been hearing this “Paul is Dead” crap literally my entire Earth-life, but after watching this, I can honestly say that Paul really is dead—to me.
It may be a generalization, but I think it’s safe to say that everyone despises music festivals and universally agrees it’s the worst way possible to experience live music. No? OK, we can meet in the middle and leave it at “most music festivals suck.” No? OK, with the exception of Renaissance Faires, most music fests are awful, right? No? Jesus, why the fuck do I ever write at a Starbucks?! Let me go out and get some fresh air and continue . . . Now that I’m out among the people, I can testify that there is one music festival that is maybe not just the exception but hopefully a harbinger (“harbinger?”—sorry, I had to run back into the Starbucks for a lemon bar) of all music festivals to come: Bitchpork. I’ve gone every year, and after this year’s, I had the same feeling as after the other two, which is: Why the fuck didn’t I spend more time at Bitchpork? The people who make this happen put an amazing amount of thought and work into curating the music and setting it all up, and every year it’s a total home run. It’s like the concert equivalent of Keats Rides a Harley or something, where you know that literally anywhere you drop the needle, you are going to hear something completely interesting at worst, life-rethinkingly amazing at best. And they only have two rules: 1. No jerks, and 2. Bring water—which I believe are the exact opposite of the rules at this year’s Lollapalooza.
We music listeners have somehow let ourselves be convinced to take the air out of our music and the music out of our air. The majority of people experience recorded music through the earbuds that came with their iPod. Maybe they might let the music play through their computer’s built-in speakers, or through external speakers, or maybe even through a car stereo or “dock” at home. Music is music, and however you can hear it, your life is better for it and more power to you. Unless we’re talking about Foo Fighters or something. But many lack the hardware—and, ultimately, desire—to fill their air with music, played through speakers capable of volume and dynamic range. Still awake? Don’t answer that. Anyway, for a recent backyard barbecue I purchased an all-weather outdoor speaker that looks like an 80’s version of an old-timey lantern. Only after I got it did I realize it was in mono, and a second speaker was needed for true stereo—HEY, WAKE THE FUCK UP!—but that didn’t really matter. What mattered was the joy it brought to everyone at the party, just to have the option of jamming out to Moby Grape while watching me parade this thing around and getting embarrassed for me like I’m their dad or something. Now that’s letting the music speak!
Ottawa/Jihad split 12-inch on Council Records circa 1994
The late 90s were an exciting time for underground music. Especially because music was truly underground. There was no place to “download” cool. You had to work at it and really be dedicated to the pursuit of collecting records and finding new music. You had to get subscriptions to the right zines. You had to mail away for the right 7-inch and 12-inch vinyl records. You had to really get actively involved. There weren’t taste-making blogs and websites serving you up fresh new music hourly. But back to the lecture: During my teenage years I was deeply entrenched in the hardcore punk scene in Chicago. And even within the larger umbrella of hardcore punk existed smaller subgroups and different factions based on certain aesthetics or politics a person identified with. I was in a part of the scene that was noisier musically, very politically correct but anti-government, anti-war, etc. Much time has passed since those days, and I can’t relate to all the music of that era; I can’t even handle listening to it (in the it’s-too-loud-and-I’m-too-old kind of way). But there are some records I bought from that scene that I still love to this day. Some were rare and hard to come by, even when they were newly released, due to the fact that the “record label” was basically just another teenager running a small boutique label out of his or her parents’ basement. One of those sought-after LPs (at least amongst my friends in the Chicago hardcore scene) was the Ottawa/Jihad split 12-inch. I remember mailing away for my copy and waiting months and months for it to finally arrive. It was definitely worth the wait and in my opinion is one of the best albums to come out of that era. Small disclaimer: No offense to the band Jihad who is on the B side, but the awesomeness of this LP is all on Ottawa’s side. Ottawa was a short-lived side project of the band Current from Michigan, and rumors swirled that Ottawa wasn’t even a serious band and was potentially a parody of hardcore. I can’t say one way or another if those rumors are true, but what is true is that the brutal hardcore songs contained on this LP are amazing and truly capture all the energy and passion of that genre. So even if it was a joke it was a really good one. If you are a fan of screamy brutal music I highly recommend that you try to track down this release.
Geto Boys’ “Mind Is Playing Tricks on Me”
In grade school I was listening almost exclusively to hip-hop. My cousin was a six-foot-five, slim redhead who, due to his build and athletic ability, was heavily involved in the “street ball” basketball scene of Chicagoland, even though he was a white man who, to reference the Woody Harrelson movie, definitely could jump—and dunk and hang with the best of the guys playing in urban basketball courts with chainlink nets. He was several years older than me and introduced me to tons of hip-hop and rap. My favorite group in grade school was Public Enemy, and I would proudly wear my XXL Public Enemy T-shirt with the target sights logo to class. I still have old Trapper Keeper™ folders at my parents’ house that I had drawn P.E.’s logo on. So yes, I was a little suburban half-Mexican/half-white kid living on a cul-de-sac rapping along to stuff like Public Enemy. But I listened to many other rap groups of that era as well, including Houston’s 5th Ward thug rappers Geto Boys—who were raw enough to spell “ghetto” incorrectly. Honestly, their 1991 album We Can’t Be Stopped isn’t that great overall, but within the album (which also boasts an amazing cover photo of Bushwick Bill—the vertically challenged member of the crew—being wheeled on a hospital bed to get treated for a gunshot wound to the eye) exists one gem of a track called “Mind Is Playing Tricks on Me.” This song (which in my opinion is the best gangsta-rap song ever written) is a brilliant analysis of the urban paranoia that exists when living a criminal or “geto” lifestyle. It takes you on journey into Houston thug life, narrated by different characters from the hood—one who’s paranoid that his woman is stealing from him and thinks he’s being followed by a mysterious figure who he believes is out to kill him. I personally can’t relate to what it’s like to grow up in a neighborhood like the one the Geto Boys did, but this song is brilliant. If you’re looking to catch a glimpse of the stress and paranoia of a gangster’s lifestyle, I suggest jamming out to this track ASAP.
For those of you unfamiliar with the world of music blogs, there are a million of them—to the point where they probably outnumber the bands they blog about. Amidst this sea of blogs and bloggers exists a personal favorite of mine, the Needle Drop, which is run by the self-proclaimed “internet’s busiest music nerd,” Anthony Fantano from Connecticut. Anthony is a gifted music writer, and his blog has turned me on to some great bands. But where he really shines is his YouTube channel where he does verbal music-review videos that he records in his bedroom in his mother’s house. There was even a time when he was doing a special BlogTV.com live-streaming show and his mom walked in and he said something to the effect of, “Mom, I’m doing a live show on BlogTV right now! Get out of my room!” Although I don’t always agree with everything Anthony Fantano (or AntFan as he is sometimes called by hardcore Needle Drop viewers) says, I enjoy his reviews. He often adds a cameo by his alter ego, a fictional, mustached roommate Cal Chuchesta. Honestly, I rarely have time to read a full Pitchfork album review and usually skim the words and look at the score, but with the Needle Drop’s YouTube videos I can sit and listen as he reviews the album. Being able to listen to a music review is more my speed anyway. The other great thing the Needle Drop blog has is a great music discussion board/forum. There are other music message boards out there, like /mu/ from the infamous website 4chan. But I enjoy the Needle Drop’s forum more than any other I’ve found online. It’s dominated by people who are obsessed with music and are always wanting to discover new bands. Plus the forum is somewhat mature, and you can really talk about music without everyone using homophobic slurs and acting mean to one another like the people who post on /mu/. Anthony and the Needle drop are on the rise, so check them out now before he gets too big to respond to your e-mails.