Volume III, Issue I Spring 2004

Outsight music column for May, 2004

By Tom Shulte


Outsight brings to light non-mainstream music, film, books, art, ideas and opinions. Published, somewhere, monthly since July 1991. Feel free to reprint this article. E-mail Outsight at outsight@usa.net

Outsight Radio Hours – Internet radio Webcasts with live interviews.

Previous Outsight columns in Turbula:

March 2004
February 2004
January 2004

Punk on a plate

Two new compilations take different looks at punk. "Shite 'n' Onions, Vol. 1" (Omnium; http://www.Omnium.com) sounds right apt as I began to spin it around St. Patrick's Day. The collection is 22 tracks from 15 newcomer Celtic punk bands. This includes acts from both sides of the Atlantic, for the genre is now international. Standouts include The Mahones (Canada), The Tossers (Illinois, USA), and the dub-flavored The Spunk Lads (USA/UK). John Murphy, editor of the Boston scene mag Shite 'n' Onions, compiled this album from largely DIY projects. The compilation has more info at www.shitenonions.com ... TKO Records (http://www.tkorecords.com) continues to put great samplers out at budget prices. The latest is "Punch Drunk V" with such obvious name appeal as Slaughter & The Dogs, U.S. Bombs and Texas Terri & The Stiff Ones. While they may not be as recognizable, such bands as Broken Bottles, The Butchers and Smut Peddler (can you really get high on Rebatron?) offer really memorable punk rock tunes ...

Democracy in Action

Check out the website of Citizens Against Government Waste (http://www.cagw.org). CAGW is a private, non-partisan, non-profit organization representing more than one million members and supporters nationwide. CAGW's mission is to eliminate waste, mismanagement and inefficiency in the federal government. Founded in 1984 by the late industrialist J. Peter Grace and syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, CAGW is the legacy of the President's Private Sector Survey on Cost Control, also known as the Grace Commission. This site has, apparently, some great publications detailing government waste. However, the real power would be able to tell the Congressional rep for your own district not to bring pork back home. But the site does not offer a practical way to search for excess by state or district, although it does rate the legislators by state and district ... The Internet tax moratorium has expired; ask your rep to support the permanent ban on Internet access taxes proposed by Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), S. 150, the Internet Tax Non-discrimination Act. This legislation will improve consumer confidence by assuring that Internet access will remain tax-free, and it will prevent states or other localities from placing multiple or discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce. In the end, this will help the growth of our economy and allow Internet technology to continue to advance. The ACLU has an easy way to send a missive to the right people.

DVD reviews

(Ratings on a scale of 0-5 stars)

Symphony Nos. 8 and 10 - Live at the Kitchen* * * *
Symphony Nos. 8 and 10 – Live at the Kitchen Branca Ensemble Atavistic Video/MVD

While Branca insists on naming his opuses "symphonies," they lack the structure and episodic compartmentalization of true symphonic movements. The greatest thing symphonic here is the orchestral arrangement of the multi-guitar ensemble at this 1995 five-night engagement in New York City, In that regard, Branca may not be helping advance rock as an art form. However, few deserve the description "wall of sound" more than Branca with his cathartic, dense compositions. Wharton Tiers was on hand to capture accurately every brick-heavy moment that Branca, as conductor, elicits from the ten-member Branca Ensemble. The slowly changing but ever building intensity of the work, climaxing in a prolonged meltdown, is hard rock Philip Glass.

Note: While this is a very recent recording, Acute will reissue Glenn Branca's first solo record, "Lesson No. 1," this May. In addition to this being Glenn's first solo record, "Lesson No. 1" was also the first release on the legendary New York label 99 Records. There will be an extra composition, "Bad Smells" (originally written for the Twyla Tharp Dance Company), a live video of "Symphony No. 5" from 1984, and liner notes by New York luminary Alan Licht.

The Cry of Jazz* * * *
The Cry Of Jazz
Sun Ra & His Arkestra
Atavistic Video/MVD

The way this 35-minute film is credited to Sun Ra & His Arkestra may make it appeal to Sun Ra collectors, but know that these ultra-rare images of Sun Ra, John Gilmore and more during his Chicago period are not the main focus here. (Sun Ra does get the lead music credit as "Le Sun Ra.") Post-classical jazz composer Edward O. Bland wrote this edgy and provocative 1959 film based on his book "The Fruits of the Death of Jazz." The socio-political analysis in the film combined with a socio-historical history of jazz has made the thought-provoking film appear occasionally in the art house, but this DVD edition is the first commercial release of a work that was a labor of love for Bland and his collaborators. The low budget film was a DIY project for the filmmakers with about 65 people working on the film for free. The party-like setting of a casual jazz appreciation club meeting starts out like an episode of Hugh Hefner's first nationally televised series, "Playboy's Penthouse." It is all cigarette smoke and hip talk. However, this quickly veers into challenging discussion of race relations and how the mistreatment of blacks in America is intertwined in the very form of jazz music. Combined with the historical overview, this is interesting enough, but then Bland takes it up another notch with a Nietzschean prediction of the death of jazz and something beyond jazz in form but not spirit to arise. Passionate African-American actor George Walker excellently delivers all this to white would-be hipsters effectively nonplussed for the camera by the character's radicalism and knowledge. The Arkestra soundtrack works as an example of how early black jazz fits nicely with images of its origins: slums and seedy bars. The "white jazz" requires bright lights and a white woman grooming a poodle. The "black chauvinism" and revolutionary inclination displayed in this film presages the coming black power movement by a decade.


(Ratings on a scale of 0-5 stars)

* * * *
I, Shithead: A Life In Punk
Joey "Shithead" Keithley
Arsenal Pulp Press

Joey Keithley formed D.O.A. in 1978, giving him a founder's-eye view of the North American hardcore scene and post-punk underground rock the world over. This chronicle of his adventures shows the many sides of Shithead: musician, activist and businessman. The meticulously researched book has all the names and dates to make this detailed D.O.A. history extend from band autobiography into scene history. The naturally arranged chronological history is full of lessons for would-be independent bands and illustrative anecdotes of venues and scenes now gone. You will not find this book pandering to a morbid curiosity about rock 'n' roll excess, but you will find a triumphant and inspiring testimonial about plucky punk pioneers as loose-knit islands of affinity grow from a casual network to a global web of labels, venues and touring agencies. The book has plenty of pictures and D.O.A. lyrics from Joey's own hand.

* * *
Chord Easy, 2nd Edition
Light Living Library
POB 190-ce, Phm., OR 97370

"Chord Easy" is a small, photocopied, saddle-stitched digest. The publication comes in a full and short version. I have only seen the short version. Densely packed with type, even this short work can be an intimidating read. However, it is well worth the effort for it's straightforward explanation of music theory fundamentals for anyone striving to get a working knowledge of chord fundamentals. While the aim seems to be for guitar, of all the articles and book passages I have taken in, this is the first time I was able to grasp to the 4-3-5 and 3-4-5 rules for major chords versus minor ones.

CD reviews

(Ratings on a scale of 0-5 stars)

Almost Killed Me* * * ½
Almost Killed Me
The Hold Steady
Frenchkiss Records

The Hold Steady is a New York City quartet fronted by songwriter/vocalist Craig Finn from the Minneapolis art-punk project Lifter Puller. Also from Lifter Puller is the guitarist Tad Kubler. The band's music has a loose, wide-opened jam feel. While many indie bands are overtly post-punk, this group recalls more such power blues projects as Black Oak Arkansas and Cream, without any gratuitous leads. Overall, this makes the music simple and rugged, the sonic equivalent of a good work boot. What really makes it worthwhile is the lyrics chockfull of cultural references like decade stereotypes ("Positive Jam"), icons from Patti Smith to Nina Simone ("The Swish") and the bar band scene ("Barfruit Blues"). Someone looking at indie rock through the lens of having lived through the '80s and once been in a bar band and still collecting records will smile at all the references in songs like "Most People are DJs," "Baby take off your beret/because everyone's a critic and most people are DJs."

The Death of Simone Weil* * * *
The Death of Simone Weil
Darrell Katz / Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra

The Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra is a large ensemble based in Boston. On "The Death of Simone Weil," the group backs Rebecca Shrimpton singing a setting of the poetry of Paula Tatarunis. The group hearkens back to a Big Band sound while incorporating contemporary styles. An added track, "Like a Wind," is Shrimpton backed by the Abby And Norm Group singing passages from Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio."

Jamie Rattner* * * *
Jamie Rattner
Jamie Rattner

This album is recorded by the acoustic duo of Rattner (vocals, piano) and Anthony Calabro (guitar, vocals). Rattner has a sophisticated vocal display on this album that has won her recognition in American and Europe. While having studied under the same Berklee College of Music teachers as Aimee Mann and Paula Cole, Jamie eschews direct comparison to her pop colleagues. Instead, she calls in as inspiration poetess Anne Sexton (one of the famous examples of neurosis induced by postpartum depression) and flamenco, the Iberian art form that choreographs seductive dances and knife fights. This goes a long way to explaining the mystery and melancholy of such songs as "Wayward Song" and "Marigolds & Dandelions." Fans of Tori Amos will appreciate this new voice.

Sacumba* * * * *
Luis Garay Percussion World
Percumba Records

Luis Garay is a world percussion virtuoso who combines his talents with a playful spirit, resulting in unexpectedly joyful concoctions. For instance, take the Sino-African "Afro-Chin" with its exotic blend of tribal beats and Oriental allusions. This percussion quartet employs an entire spectrum of percussion instruments from kit drums to whistles and congas to chimes on this instrumental CD.

No Handle* * * ½
No Handle
Icewater Scandal
The Social Registry

Icewater Scandal is an indie experimental band at the intersection of Sonic Youth and God Is My Co-Pilot. The arty guitar band luxuriously spreads 50 minutes over the space of six songs on this CD. The edgy, angular riffs support the dreamy to squeaky vocals of Andrea Hansen. The trio succeeds best when it allows the most melody into these extended jams, as on the catchy and wistful "Muddy Blue" and the elongated space blues odyssey "Shiny Gold."

Blue Cotton Skin* * *
Blue Cotton Skin
Red Buttons Records

Petracovich, a.k.a. Jessica Peters, builds on her neo-folk background by adding in post-trip hop and post-electronica elements. The result is dreamy, melancholy and features Peters on piano and Nord II keyboard. Peters, with Tad Wagner (engineer/guitarist for Buellton) as co-producer and recording engineer, spent a year at Buonapasta studios crafting this album. The effort shows in delicately poised arrangements and layers of carefully applied sound. Somewhat lo-fi and delivered in a personal, ear-close breathy voice just above a whisper, this album is intimate and warm despite the reliance on electronic tone coloring. What guitar that is present is sparsely applied, just like all the instrumentation, making this nearly a vocal album. Fans of Aimee Man and Beth Orton will appreciate this nine-song debut.

Milk Man* * * *
Milk Man
Kill Rock Stars

Deerhoof excels at a balance of memorable melody and ear-catching experimentation. Part of the charm of the post-rock ensemble's sound is the child-like high-pitched falsetto vocals of vocalist/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki. Her lullaby delivery over the angular guitar sounds and electro-beats completes the picture. The amalgamation of cutesy pop and edgy crunchiness has been tried before, but few have or will reach the fine heights of this weird and wonderful ensemble. The arrangements are dramatic and open, like a chamber work, while the Japanese schoolgirl vocals fill in the spaces with islands of sweet sound for a well rounded, varied album.

Upstanding And Indigent* * * * ½
Upstanding And Indigent
Boxcar Satan
Dog Fingers Recordings

Boxcar Satan takes so much from Captain Beefheart, one almost has to look past that to realize how good the group is. Vocalist Sanford Allen is a real Beefheart soundalike and he also plays guitar in the intricate, angular style of The Magic Band's Jeff Cotton. However, Boxcar Satan is heavier and darker than the Captain, coming from the post-goth direction of bands like Scratch Acid and the early Birthday Party. The content of such damaged characters as a bandit queen ("Shoot Down the Sun") and an alcoholic who trades drink for the Lord ("Drunk on the Blood of the Lamb") owes much to Tom Waits, I would say. Boxcar Satan certainly has all the right references and mixes up the elements right for a manic, imaginative damaged blues. Many press references cite a Southern influence here, but I find that valid only when considering the gonzo early punk tradition of Texas such as Roky Erickson, Big Boys and early Butthole Surfers. The band goes from those roots to the artists already mentioned to approach near to the territory of The Jesus Lizard. Few bands run such an excellent spectrum and shine so well in its multi-hued glow.

Time is the Enemy* * * * *
Time is the Enemy
Jonas Hellborg/Shawn Lane/Apt. Q-258
Bardo Records

Time is the enemy. It caught up with guitar virtuoso Shawn Lane and he passed away in September 2003. This album is a collection of live performances from around the globe carefully selected and exquisitely produced. These adventurous post-fusion live jazz-rock albums Hellborg puts out are the You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore editions of '90s prog rock. The heavy, muscular approach recalls late-period King Crimson, but there is a full, boundless sound and delicate intricacy that is unparalleled. This is an expertly remastered reissue of what was Hellborg and Lane's fourth album together. From here, explore the beautiful, esoteric mysteries of the companion live album featuring the pair, "Temporal Analogues of Paradise."

Honey in the Lion's Head* * * *
Honey in the Lion's Head
Greg Brown
Trailer Records

There is some great talent on this album backing Greg Brown. Bo Ramsey (Lucinda Williams) plays electric and Weissenborn guitar, while Bob Black (Bill Monroe) adds some bluegrass sound with the banjo and 5-string lap guitar. There is also Al Murphy (Special Consensus, Harvest Home) on fiddle and mandolin and Rick Cicalo plays acoustic bass. Keith Dempster shows up for blow harp on the album opener "Railroad Bill." For the delicately picked crystalline melody, "Railroad Bill" recalls Elizabeth Cotton's recording "Freight Train" on "Live!" (Arhoolie). There are nine other traditionals, including "Who Killed Cock Robin" and "Green Grows the Laurel" on this album of richly delivered Americana. Greg Brown has long been in a potent force in contemporary folk, and this album further cements the position of the talented vocalist.

Istoriya: The Best of the Ukrainians* * * *
Istoriya: The Best of the Ukrainians
The Ukrainians
Omnium Recordings

The Ukrainians puts the "UK" back in "Ukrainians." The British group emerged from The Wedding Present and does a first-rate job at Ukrainian folk music. However, it cannot help with its '80s indie roots covering some stuff read from the play lists of hip college radio stations. These are the standout tracks for less Ukrainian ears and, sung in Ukrainian, this compilation includes covers of "Telstar," "Anarchy in the UK," "Venus in Furs" and The Smiths' "Bigmouth Strikes Again" and "The Queen is Dead." This enhanced CD includes much material about the band, multilingual lyrics and photos from a 2003 tour of Poland. The music is bright and upbeat from the skilled and enthusiastic ensemble.

Mercurial* * * * ½
Asylum Street Spankers

The Asylum Street Spankers combine vaudeville style, punk attitude and top-notch skill for a truly unique bawdy blues and hot jazz combination. The best way to take that in has always been live. This is due to the Spankers' stellar performance, audience interaction and guaranteed bevy of songs not found on many of their superb albums. This year, Asylum Street Spankers took a two-pincer attack on the problem that not everyone has had the pleasure of this live experience. Along with the DVD "Sideshow Fez" (See the March edition of Outsight), which gives the visual, here is an album that preserves a cornucopia of those fun and unexpected covers of songs that have been Spanker-ized for the live shows. This includes "TV Party" (Black Flag), "Dance this Mess Around" (B-52s) and "Sugar in my Bowl." "Mercurial" is an excellent party record that came out with peerless sound after carefully being recorded live to vintage analog equipment in an old church.

Perpetuum Mobile* * *
Perpetuum Mobile
Einstürzende Neubauten

For this recording, Einstürzende Neubauten embarked on a daring and experimental fan-supported recording process. After paying a fee, fans could watch the whole studio effort through Web cams and everyone in the studio had laptops to take in real-time fan feedback. Unfinished mixes accessed over the Web and discussed in forums were integral to the creative process. This made a real impact – for instance, some tracks, like "Ein Seltener Vogel," would have been abandoned had not the fans directed their completion. The result is very accessible, like Neubauten with filed edges, and may be closer to Peter Gabriel's "Ein Deutsches Album" then much of Neubauten. There is a lot of restrained emotion that lends an aloof, lonely air of mystery to the album. The album features a variety of unusual instruments, from a "turntable-powered wind instrument" to Pythagorean tubular bells. However, it must be underscored that this design by committee approach has led to very little risk-taking so that the album is solid but sorely lacking in surprises.

Ginger Baker's Air Force* * * *
Ginger Baker's Airforce
Ginger Baker's Airforce
Lemon Recordings

Ginger Baker's Airforce was a supergroup in size and talent. The ten-member ensemble produced this great live album from the notorious airplane hanger, Royal Albert Hall, in January 1970. And this was the group's second gig! The fusion of hard rock, horn section and African percussion is still without parallel. The lineup includes Steve Winwood (organ), Phil Seamen (percussion), Remi Kabaka (drums) and great guitar playing from Denny Laine, freed from the formula of the Moody Blues. The sax trio at work in "Don't Care" is worth the price of admission to relive this historical moment.

Intellectual Property* * * * ½
Intellectual Property
Mark Applebaum

Mark Applebaum presents a dizzying array of sounds on this album sub-titled "Works for Acoustic & Electronic Instruments." Applebaum performs the pieces along with The Paul Dresher Ensemble, Steven Schick/Ivan Manzanilla Percussion Duo and other musicians. The title track is a playful romp for Disklavier player grand piano and improvising pianist reacting to played-back improvisation. Note that the improvising pianist is playing on the same instrument with its keys jumping on the playback! It has a rollicking, ragtime feel and is a fun listen. "Plundergraphic", however, is sparse and mysterious. In it, piano, cello, percussion and flute/piccolo are a live acoustic section balanced by sound mixers and taped music. The short percussion piece "Ferneyhough Remix (Aphorism 1)" has an Oriental quality, while "Activity I" or "Mouseketier Praxis" are taut and suspenseful with the sounds Applebaum conjures from his odd assembly of "junk, found objects, and hardware mounted on electroacoustic soundboards." "Intellectual Property" offers a treasure trove of aural discovery.

Live at the Deaf Club* * * *
Live at the Deaf Club
Dead Kennedys
Manifesto Records

This previously unreleased live concert is from early 1979. This was the last performance of guitarist 6025 in the then five-man lineup of the band. At times the band is sloppy, as in the early version of "When You Get Drafted," here titled "Back in Rhodesia." Also, the group positively revels in the use of Echoplex, making for an incongruous but accurate look at the early sound for the group. As Jello experiments with possibilities of extending his voice cartoonishly, the group delivers "Gaslight," a song heretofore unreleased. The raucous set also includes "California Über Alles" with Jerry Brown lyrics, of course, "Holiday in Cambodia" and even a version of "Back in the USSR," all from a time when the DKs seemed to be on the same page.

Radio One* * * ½
Radio One
Radio One
Disaster Records

This group, formed from ex-members of Pushers and Bleeders, has a guitar-driven old school punk approach that recalls early GBH and The Clash. This also goes right along with the anti-establishment and direct-action message of such songs such as "New World Shakedown," which would go right along with Sham 69's "(Gonna Be A) Borstal Breakout." Great, tight arrangements accentuated with chorus vocals really give these songs punch. Rebellion with a purpose and radicalism that rocks carries over into other anthemic songs here, like "The Outlaw." Before rushing out into the street, baseball bat in hand, give a good listen to this record, so you know what you are fighting for.

2 a.m. Wakeup Call* * * * ½
2 a.m. Wakeup Call

Chris Vrenna, a.k.a. Tweaker, takes the heavy industrial sound we are familiar with in his work in Nine Inch Nails and mollifies it into accessible industrial-soul ballads. This is a new, mature and sophisticated direction for Tweaker. He has a lot of help as featured singers include Robert Smith (The Cure), Will Oldham (Palace), Jennifer Charles (Elysian Fields), David Sylvian, Mellowdrone and more. The theme is dreams, nightmares, insomnia and whatever "keeps you up at night." This is how Vrenna queried the guests in order to elicit appropriate lyrics for this eminently successful concept album. (The album was written at a time when Vrenna was helping his wife work through a bout of insomnia.) Tweaker nestles each gem of a song with its unique vocalist by setting it off with surrounding instrumental tracks that tend to be more insistent (like a 2 a.m. wakeup call) than the more melodic songs.

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