Archive for the ‘Singles Bar’ Category

Singles Bar #13: Western Steez

Friday, October 12th, 2012

optional title: Diana’s Taco nope

Taco Leg– “Raiders” (from self titled LP, due 10/23/2012)

VICE-approved best/worst band in the universe TACO LEG are putting an LP out through Fan Death on the 23rd of this month. About time. I can tell you right out of the gate that I am biased here, Jimbo; Taco Leg opened my head in a few ways when I first started seeing shows, namely: do not demur on the power of the riff– charisma is the highest law– quit practicing scales unless you have a bloody reason to. The first time I ever heard of them was when a friend of mine went to what was supposedly a No Age secret show at 208s yonks ago when, I guess, No Age were (still) a Thing; he described them as “the worst shit” ever. I was curious, and three years on, I’ll never be able to even hear the word ‘taco’ without thinking of my buddy Dan yelling the lyrics to “Raiders” at any opportunity he got over the summer of ’11/12. Any opportunity. The summer was long. Here are those lyrics in full:

saw the ball it was coming
left my whip under the door  (repeat verse)

raiders of the lost ark x4

i fell into a pit of snakes
i fell into it with my mate  (repeat verse)

raiders of the lost ark x4

There have many songs about films, and there’s the good, the bad and the ugly (UH HUH… YEEH). “Raiders” may well be the finest ever written. I remember Andrew Murray once telling me Taco Leg were a joke band, but they’re a band telling jokes. Not in this or this fashion, but using the joke as reality’s greatest source of truth/wrecking ball. I mean, after hearing a song like this, it’s impossible to take something like, say, an Indiana Jones Convention seriously, or, really, any kind of blind devotion to anything ever. See those words up there? That’s the complete reality of the film. That’s it. Stuff happens that seems kinda traumatic, but it’s just Raiders Of The Lost Ark. What happens to Indy? Who cares! “Raiders” is in and out in ninety seconds, and so is the feeling of actual thrill from the film, of whatever immediate impact all that visceral jumping and rocks and whatever had on you. It’s cool! Whatever! What’s next! This song decimates a cultural icon responsible for more hamfisted prepubscent hero-worship than a thousand Metallica albums into constituent parts as bizarre as they are enjoyable. This is what Taco Leg is telling us; under anything sacred lies a joke. Punk as fuck probably, but also Fan-Death indeed. The most crucial component of DIY is, of course, not the Do-ing or the It — it is the Yourself, and Taco Leg have Yourselfness in spades. There’s only one Taco Leg, and they are doing us a favour by being Taco Leg on wax. The best jokes aren’t only fun, but they are the ones that don’t end with the boundaries of the punchline; they unspool upon impact and leave a stain on everything else around. If Taco Leg are a ‘joke’ band, it’s only by virtue of how well they do that.

The Dianas– “Washed Up“I’ve spent about a week trying and failing to talk about what this song is, so this is me throwing in the word-towel

That soundcloud ticker isn’t lying to you; this song is nine months old, but that just makes this piece nine months overdue, I guess. The first Dianas gig (as far as I’m aware, fact-checker) was with Bermuda, who don’t appear to exist anymore and I believe ceased to be fairly sharpish after that gig. I think. If that’s true, it was an appropriate passing of the torch. Where Bermuda gambolled out garage guitar jams/gems that mashed glorious laziness with lazy glory, Dianas take the beat-pop template and layer it thick with indecision, depth and darkness (I swear I heard lyrics about stuffing someone into a car boot [but maybe not]) In any case, first off (word up) you don’t name yourself after a goddess for nothing, much less the goddess of women in general; what fascinates me about “Washed Up” (aside from the fact that it’s a great song) is that it feels like garage pop that is entirely and completely female. I feel very much like I’m in obvious but difficult territory here, though so I’ll continue

Firstly, I should frame what I mean by ‘female.’ I mean, you could throw any number of Iron Maiden/anything metal at that term ‘male’, but in terms of pop music, I’d say things can be gendered in two ways. Either explicitly, through stuff like visual and lyrical signification in which the gender of the audience is chosen (girl groups/boy groups etc.)- that is to say in a direction where gender arises from the manner in which it is responded to- or through the manner in which the music and lyrics reflect a grappling or challenge with the sexuality/gender of the musicians etc. In this sense, the first three Elvis Costello albums might be the most ‘male’ records I can think of; every song unambiguously deals with some aspect of male insecurity, with music that comments and expands upon the ideas in the lyrics — the amount of musical puns about premature ejaculation therein is pretty ridiculous. So, when I say ‘female’, I mean concerned (not exclusively, but continuously in an underpinning, cohesive way) with the perspective that arises from being a woman. Yep? Yep– and “Washed Up” exhibits this in ways I’ll come to in a moment

To just run towards the point by way of comparison w/ other female garage bands; like, say, Best Coast isn’t anything but cats and weed, but the Vivian Girls are grappling with things, and sometimes subverting things pretty niftily. But reeling off woman vs woman is lazy thinking and worse writing to start with anyway (Natasha Khan isn’t Kate Bush with a horse fetish etc.). I mean sounds are sounds, but beneath and on top of the WIPEOUT rolls and the tremolo trembling of the surf guitar and those thick harmonies, Dianas have an entirely different stance, one that isn’t filtered through the Vivs’ conceptions of 60s girl group dynamics and roles or through a thick haze of weed smoke. So, yep; Dianas have signifiers in terms of sound and structure– garage music after all is a lineage of the repetition of a single idea/motif/sneer in different iterations until it begins to take on mythical properties, at which point you hit the crash and quit the tape at about ~2:34– but there’s something distinctive about the way they go about using these elements– that’s the thing- it’s not indebted to anything, exactly– I can’t remember any other time I walked out of a gig without mentally filing a band somewhere as opposed to just wishing the thing had gone longer as I did with Dianas. Indebted to nothing but themselves, of course–

Considering I am trying to speak meaningfully about gender and guitar jams — I feel ice drift beneath me as I try to – it feels useful to me to see “Washed Up” as a counterpoint to “Wrapped Up” by Eddy Current Suppression Ring. There are some sorta-present musical and lyrical similarities (this isn’t me calling anything on that though — if you scratch the surface of anything with three instruments etc– I do not care man– play the progression from fucking La Bamba just give me something to sink my teeth into) (anyway), but they remain completely different animals. Consider first the brute, direct information that the ECSR song is, all coiled excitement and thick Asheton-on-a-practice-amp guitar slash. “I’m wrapped up/in you!” Exactly. ECSR is all wound-up energy and pursuit, springing (anxiously but springing) towards a result. “Washed Up” gives little away readily– those verses are an incomprehensible fog like the best Black Tambourine songs- except the chorus hits with
There’s a yawning gap (not an absence but a drop, a movement) at the bottom of this song. To be trite, it’s something I can’t access completely, and I think it’s because I’m a dude, the same way my mind still explodes into a million pieces of dumbfounded unknowing joy whenever I sit down and listen to any of these. It’s different, and I am not at the point of understanding why yet. Could a man have written something quite likeAll I Want” or To The Lighthouse or- naaaaaah. Craft always comes down to tools, and the tools are different (as explained in front of a live studio audience natch), so the craft must take a different shape. Heck, even consider the names of these bands; ECSR can wallow in sorta Dada sorta Ramones (Brendan Suppression) nonsense and wail directly about needs (that are probably being satisfied anyway) while stumbling into the wide, messy halls of Fun. Dianas are speaking for a feeling of loss and imbalance in a different language. Am I getting somewhere? I doubt it– Back to my comparison; even the difference in guitar solo is telling, with Mikey Young just kinda spraying some guts around for da boiz while Caitlin Moloney (I remember it being her playing the solo when I saw it live so if it wasn’t soz) plays something that peeks, trips and climbs– more an act of fathoming than an exclamation point, a series of notes that play around with the idea of giving either an easy, cadential answer or a confident grin and chooses neither. And therein. By the time that it rolls out and goes away, “Washed Up” has become uncertainly certain and holy in a way ECSR can’t be — “Wrapped Up” is too sure of itself, too here for a good time to be anything more than a good time. Duh, you say. So do I, of course. When Dianas start to holler and cymbal during that final chorus, it feels like one has traced one’s finger once round the full length of a Mobius band– at once you understand what just happened (you are where you began i.e. everything has gone quiet) but not quite sure how you landed in there or what happened in between– my advice is to play it over and over again until you come to something

Singles Bar #12: Don’t You Realise??? (Last Thoughts On Badugate)

Monday, August 27th, 2012

The Flaming Lips & Amanda Palmer– “The First Time I Saw Your Face” (Roberta Flack cover)

Alright, this has been sticking in my craw since I saw the video for this pop up on the dickfork and start to make the e-rounds a few days ago. Immediately, it seemed that the most conspicuous and commented upon thing about it seemed to be the proof that Amanda Palmer doesn’t shave her armpits. “Cool,” I thought. “Bet Neil Gaiman doesn’t either.” After all, this was a video that most of us, essentially, had already seen. Then it struck me– why am I seeing this again?

Replacing collaborators is not an easy thing to do, and often you’re better off not doing it. Would you replace Cash with Hazlewood? Maybe once for a laugh. Maybe once. If a collaborator bails, either build on what you guys did together by ya’self, or cease on it and respect what you did together as a jointly owned product. Makes sense. The Flaming Lips/Erykah Badu episode from June is a good lesson in treatin’ yo ex-allies with some respect. For those who don’t know, I’ll try and cut to the meat.

Erykah Badu was sought out by The Flaming Lips to provide vocals for a cover of the Roberta Flack number “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” for their necessarily batshit fucked up collabs record The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends. Coyne and co. decided to make a video for the song, and Erykah and her sister Nayrok agreed to be in it. It featured the Badu women nude and covered in substances that appeared to represent blood, glitter and semen. So far, so good. Problem was Coyne leaked the video to Pitchfork and posted images to his Twitter from the shoot without the permission of the Badu women, who were quite upset, claiming they’d been compromised and misrepresented as artists by the leaked footage which they had not approved.

So at this point, it’s not looking good for The Lips, who promptly produced the obligatory apology:

“The video link that was erroneously posted on Pitchfork by the Flaming Lips of the Music Video ‘The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face’, which features Erykah Badu, is unedited and unapproved. Sorry!! We, the Flaming Lips, accept full responsibility for prematurely having Pitchfork post it. It has outraged and upset a segment of fans and we apologize if we offended any viewers!!! This is a Flaming Lips video which features Erykah Badu and her sister Nayrok and is not meant to be considered an Erykah Badu or Nayrok statement, creation, or approved version.”

Badu, unsurprisingly, was still unhappy, shooting off a number of tweets and telling Coyne to kiss her glittery ass. Coyne obliged by posting a picture of himself, lips a-glitter. Smooth. She went on to call him self-serving and complained about feeling disgusted about how she and her sister had been treated. Cue Coyne’s response, a weeks later in a Rolling Stone print interview: “I knew she was an unpredictable freak.” Haaaarsh, bro. Out of context, that rings like a told-ya-sogave-her-a-go-but– admission from a guy who wanted Badu’s skill and name recognition to beef out his equal parts ambition/contrived insanity stunt record, but not her as a collaborator. Want a Roberta Flack song performed by one of the best in business? Get Badu. Want someone with enough edgy cred to justify and embolden the high-art nudity you’re hoping to pass off? Get two Badus. Want to release the video without consulting anyone? BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP bad move. It’s easy to see why Badu would feel used and disdainful.

So, putting the video aside for a moment, let’s unpick this whole situation a bit more. Wikipedia sez that the Badu/Lips collaboration came about from a process of “unsolicited calls”, whereby Badu took “a lot of convincing” from Coyne to want to participate. The process of recording itself sounds hardly less fractious, to hear Badu tell it. In the studio, Coyne told her “29 times” that she was doing it wrong, before she told him to back off so she could deliver the take her way. Compare this with his attitude towards fellow Heady Fwend Ke$ha, who Coyne described as “a f*cking freak… she is so much fun and so creative and she just goes for it.” Coyne described Badu as “crazy, beautiful, emotional” in a video promoting the album. You could say, fair cop, he had just been seeking like spirits– more fearless freaks– who could be as freewheeling and open about his ideas as he was, hence him tripping the light fantastic with Ke$ha. He didn’t get along as well with Badu, so what. But it’s not too hard to view him as having a desire to find someone permissive and willing enough to indulge his trip, as opposed to finding someone to collaborate/butt heads with. Still, not exactly a problem; Coyne is on his own trip. Going to make his albums his way. But, if you scan over the list of Heady Fwend collaborators, they are all either relatively-neophyte fans without his personality/cult of personality (Tame Impala, Neon Indian, New Fumes) or people with enough credibility and name recognition to fill a moon-sized minivan (N. Cave, Y. Ono, L. Bolt). Still, even of those ‘collaborations’ that feature these more dominant personalities, it’s hard to tell where The Flaming Lips end and if their collaborators start, let alone where– the ring-ins feel merely like window dressin’ for some ego tripping at the gates of hell as the Flaming Lips run all over them musically. Is Heady Fwends the indie-rock Shock Value? I don’t know or care, but the whole experiment paints Coyne as a control freak trading on the name recognition, goodwill and passivity of others to inflate his freak balloon. Freaks travel by balloon, right?

Coyne gets an easy ride critically (jesus At War With The Mystics was bullshit) considering he’s The Fearless Freak– the Godfather of modern psychedelia as-it-is. He’s the one who had the cojones to indulge acid-damaged Led Zep fetishism in the 80s, the cheek to be whimsical when the word was Nevermind, the balls to risk commercial failure (admittedly on a safe contract) with carpark rock, and the heart to make ELO sound soulful for the new millenium. This drive, equal parts non-threatening nice guy ambition, good timing and artistic curiosity, is why his band is important. They’ve made music that is, essentially, true to the sonic and ideological blueprint of the moment rock music became progressive (before progressive meant bassists playing off sheet music live). Playful, evolving, ready to incorporate technological advances, and, at heart, accessible. Yet, if you look back over the discography of The Flaming Lips, you can identify another clear reason they are so deeply tied to the origins and forebears of psychedelic rock muuuZAK. That is, women are always either manic pixie dream girls, acid-damaged or children. This isn’t an absolute problem, in terms of the art form; lyrically, most psychedelia tends to explore the grey areas of sensation that exist between poles of sentience, setting up strict dichotomies of good vibes/bad vibes, man/woman, knowing/feeling, real world/false world etc. and diving in to what happens to the ego when you mess its mind up and set it swimming among strictures, often to rebel, transcend or struggle. In male-led psych, women have been objects of desire, fantasy, wisdom, punishment and power. As “Convinced of the Hex” so neatly surmises, she submits and she dominates. But in these worlds, she is not permitted autonomy or agency– she is an object-figure in the world of the trip, either guiding, aiding or obstructing. Taking this tradition in hand as an intrinsic part of how th’ Lips approach their music, Heady Fwends falls in line; Badu wasn’t contributing her own lyrics, Yoko Ono got two words (more or less) and Ke$ha got to play the stargirl child and talk shit about acid. Am I splitting a hair? I dunno. I mean, it’s all fun. It’s a fun record. Everyone is having lots of loud, squelchy, fun. Fun album. Put it on in the car and drive into a playground at night. It’s not great, and much of it doesn’t last beyond novelty, but taking all of this control-freakery and woman-silencing into account, Coyne’s capping off the Heady Fwends adventure by simply replacing collaborators who he’d induced to appear naked with another famous woman feels a wee bit problematic. I’ll go on.

It would have been easy for Coyne to recognise that he’d jeopardized his concept by behaving poorly towards the Badus and put the music video on the backburner. Heck, the video wasn’t that great anyway, and he’s got plenty of other high-concept wacky shit to get on with. Sure of it. Ten hour cover of “Freebird”, played inside a whale’s vagina. Forget the video, put it on a boxset in ten years once you’ve sorted out the legal wrangling. But replacing Erykah and Nayrok with Palmer is confusing; was it just important to have this vision (naked women in bathtubs/covered in substances) out there and associated fundamentally with The Flaming Lips as dudes who are so freewheeling they have beautiful naked ladies cavorting with fluids in their videos cos they can?

There was no problem with Badu’s version of song or the video until The Lips made a hash of making it public. Suddenly, when the video– the naked, writhing video– was a problem in that it could not longer be seen by the public, they needed a ring-in not only to get naked and reshoot it almost shot for shot, but also to re-record the song. If that isn’t petty, I’m not using a computer. Such was her respect for the original song that she was interpreting, Erykah Badu said that you’d have to be “crazy” (that word again) to want to try and cover Roberta Flack. Yet, she balled herself up to the challenge of it and hit it fairly out of the park. Yet, by just roping someone in to re-execute a song because she balked at the manner in which the Lips had undertaken the marketing tactics associated with the video. One of Badu’s complaints was that she had been misled over how the video would look:

“First: You showed me a concept of beautiful tasteful imagery (by way of vid text messages). I trusted that. I was mistaken. Then u release an unedited, unapproved version within the next few days.”

If we’re taking her at her word, The Lips disrespected her musical efforts, abused her and her sister’s rights to control over her own artistic output and representation as an artist, and rejected the idea of fearless freakery for anyone but themselves; not only did she have to sing it right for Coyne, she had to get naked in the right way for his band’s public image as well. A different type of fearless nudity was not enough. Stranger still is the fact that the grotesque fluid play that the Badus worked with is gone; Palmer is just sliding nude in water the whole time. It’s hard for the Lips to play the artistic integrity card here for grounds for reshooting the video and redoing the song. If the problem was the fact they wanted to re-shoot the video, why change the music? If they wanted more naked women, why get Amanda Palmer? Was it so essential to draw the maximum amount of attention to themselves by finding A) a cult musician who was B) female and C) willing to remove her clothes for your art? Marketing 101 tells ya yes, but that’s not the issue here. Coyne excitedly talked in an interview recently about the possibilities of extra-musical marketing:

“Making a record is about look and feel too. The music is just music and then together its all the same thing. I suppose its like when you walk into a McDonald’s, every step of the way in the door is designed as an experience, was planned exactly to have an impact on you. We have the opportunity to design our own marketing and make the music into an experience.”

Badu got it right when she tweeted Coyne earlier on in the furore– “self-serving.”

If we’re going to follow the sexism line of thought here, we may as well; it’s hard to imagine Coyne & co. pulling in, I dunno, the dude from The Fray to re-sing a song and writhe around in the bathtub if Chris Martin had taken a disliking to how his artistic vision/free will/naked body was compromised. The Badu sisters were disempowered as artists and as people by having their bodies thrown out there as a publicity stunt without their permission– one can assume if they were willing to film it, they would have been okay with the video reaching the public had they been consulted about the edited form in which it was released. But, they weren’t asked, and when they withdrew that permission which had been assumed, they were written out of the story altogether and replaced by someone more willing to toe Coyne’s line. I can’t remember the last time one of those EVIL RECORD COMPANIES treated someone this shabbily, let alone the patron saints of do-it-crazy-and-colourful rock music.

I dunno. Storm in a teacup? Maybe. Calling the character of a dude I have not and will not meet into question, based on a few public actions, is hasty. I am not going to burn a flaming lip or decide that I will only use jelly from now on, no matter what. But it’s distressing that someone so often lionized for free-spiritedness and anything-goes-ivity has the hide to treat collaboration like a game of Football Manager 64– bit o’ th’ fascist in every deadhead, maaaaaan. In the process, they showed themselves up to be, at best, overly image conscious, childish and selfish, and at very worst, shy of being shown up by a “crazy, emotional” woman calling shots over what they could and could not make public. Ultimately, though, it seems like if you want to trip with Wayne Coyne, you’ve got to take exactly what he’s taking.