22 May 2013

Culture Desk (Part II): Music Reviews

Although people rarely ask me about what I'm listening to lately, I do like to go on about it nonetheless.  So, on this cool winter's morn, rather than bore you with the details of my daily ablutions / herb garden / herniated disc / son’'s croquet tournament / dreams of country living, etc., here are some, uh, reviews.  Of like, music.

Impervious Leprechauns  Songs from our Summer Cottage Cheese

While for my money they are not the best Leprechaun-themed band out there – I'd put it something like Violent / Fat-free / Craptastic / Heartless Leprechauns, in that order, with a shout-out to Satan's Elves – nonetheless the Impervious Leprechauns are coming front and center to the main stage and grabbing the microphone boldly to declare to the world without reservation that they are a thing that is meant to be reckoned with, on this follow-up to their eponymous debut album Roger Whittaker: All My Best.  Shrieking like the love child of Molly Malone and Garrison Hearst, with echoes of early seventies surf-ska and a dollop of post-punk manichaenism, in the title track which is meant to evoke images of seagulls kicking it at The Hat Barn, what starts as an homage to Wilma Rudolph's post-Olympic career in program administration gradually builds to a thundering crescendo that evokes a combination of countless seven-foot-tall ants ransacking the Louvre and a feverish outtake from Bjork's latest tribute to Kristy MacNichol.  Seven and a half out of a possible nine thumbs up, with one index finger sideways and a provocatively curled pinky.

Ben “Chicken Head” Turner  Lost and Found Sessions Vol. 1

Ben "Chicken Head" (often misspelled "Chickadee," as it is heard pronounced by the recording engineer on a test recording made in the Peabody Hotel, Memphis, during the Victor Recording Company's storied 1928 race music field trip, the nickname is properly "Chickasaw," from the Indian nation to which Ben was born in the 1890's and from which the verse "I've been to the Nation, Lord but I couldn't stay there" is doubtless derived) Turner, actually a woman, seemingly materialized out of the vapors in the summer of 1928, made four undistinguished recordings (only two of them initially released, the rousing "Made It Up In Your Soup" with "Jabo" Williams purportedly pounding the ivories, and the barely passable "Milk Girl's Troubles" where Ben displays her uniquely melancholy slide technique on a "slack string" guitar. Notable primarily for its bluesy turn of phrase: "He done me wrong, but I done better," the record's rarity seems to have elevated the artist's status among the blues cognoscenti, with several verses lifted wholesale by Cream on their magnum opus, "Disraeli Gears," though it seems likely they were initially exposed to them during one of Josh White's folky London performances). Like many southern blues musicians during the Depression, Ben reportedly migrated to St. Louis and later Chicago, finding work as a washerwoman and (perhaps) finding an outlet for her singing and playing in Chicago's late, lamented open-air market on Maxwell Street, but this is unfortunately unconfirmed, and most, if not all, of her early and late history is nothing more than conjecture. (A grainy advertising photo posted by Victor in a broadside printed for independent record shops shows a handsome, long-faced woman wearing the flapper attire of the era and an incongruous pair of laced boxer's shoes.)

Bach, Johann Sebastian (1685 - 1750)  The Portable Bach

Finally a Bach you can lug around to class up your contemporary mobile lifestyle.  The Portable Bach comes with a convenient carrying case no bigger than a harpsichord, which fits easily inside a shoebox the size of Kate Smith.  It can be folded up and placed in any overhead storage bin or breezily removed from the lining of your jacket for use as barter in fish markets.  Sand does not affect The Portable Bach but it's not a total neat freak either so it can be enjoyed equally in a desert shitstorm or a class twelve clean room.  Sound does not travel in a vacuum and neither does the Portable Bach.  On melody alone this is one Portable Bach that can't be topped.  It gets two stars out of four because the curvature and lack of handle on the case made the lugging difficult, and because no one could dance to it, I mean come on Bach, next time hire a DJ to give it some bottom bro.

17 May 2013

A Public Service Announcement from The Campaign for Todd Plantane

People who think we can have infinite growth and endlessly rising standards of living for ever-increasing numbers of people on a finite planet clearly have not thought the problem through.  Those who insist on the other hand that because it is unsustainable it must all suddenly collapse into complete chaos, and any day now, are also suffering from a form of wishful thinking.  

A large chunk of the population longs to march forward into a scio-technic future of endless convenience; meanwhile a significant minority pine for the simplicity and rugged independence of living arrangements that prevailed in and before the nineteenth century.

Perhaps both will take place at the same time.  While some continue to embrace every new wave of complexity, others will follow the call back to tilling the land and manning the sewing wheel.  Some will do both and many neither but in balance things may swing in many directions simultaneously.

If "both sides" are happy, I say that's a win-win future for everyone.  And that's what I'll be fighting for if you vote for me.

I'm Todd Plantane, I have an advanced degree in Decline Management, I'm running for elective office in your district, and this is my message to you-oo-oo: Don't worry about a thing, because every little thing, is gonna be all right*.

This message was paid for by the Committee to Re-elect Todd Plantane.

*The music of Bob Marley is evoked in this post without the express written consent of anybody, but we do support paying for his music, my family had an 8-track of that Live album as a kid and it was hugely influential.

08 May 2013

Chapter Seven: Wherein I Report to the Aristocracy on the Goings-on of the Plebes

Dear Sires / Madams: 

Things be lookin bleak 'mongst the plebes, yo. 

Drinking is up, consumption of cannabis and prescription mood-enhancers is at an all-time high, simultaneously driven and constrained by the general lack of prospects for so many young minds, bright and otherwise.  So-called Frankenfood dominates the menus of the erstwhile middle classes.

Taste in entertainments has found new lows.  The most base and vulgar, vile and filthy individuals are housed together in bare cells and the resulting meltdowns broadcast nightly to give the wretched viewers something even they can look down upon.  They're not feeding people to lions yet, or vice versa, but they would in a second if they could get a sponsor, you can see it in their eyes.

Literacy?  Don't get me started.  Blogs are certainly popular, and while the writing on some is outstanding, the vast majority regress to the mean (and I mean mean).  Syrupy concoctions featuring vampires, magicians, and other superheroes are, alongside the occasional charming rom-com or taut thriller, generally sufficient to hold the popular attention.

Their cultural atrocities aside, no need is seen by this observer for major changes at this point.  A critical mass (of wealth if not of individuals) remains in support of the status quo.  While quite a few have caught on to the way things really work, the threat of outright revolt remains low, they seem to be more than sufficiently divided for now.  A great number are convinced of the existence of a 'system', as if the myriad rules and restrictions placed on modern humans were the product of intelligent design by some association of colluding oligarchs.  The System is invested with a shadowy agency, e.g. 'they' don’t want you to get your finances in order, 'they' don’t want you to lose weight, and so forth.  This is a winning meme for you and you should keep pushing it, perhaps even deliberately get caught doing so here and there to feed slash fan the flames slash fire.

The Democracy thing can stay for the time being, it seems to serve your purposes fairly well and with less bloodshed than easily available alternatives.  Letting the people feel they can 'make their voice heard' once in a while is worth its weight in gold, and some of the things they come up with in the course of the 'national political discourse': priceless.  They seem to enjoy using the internet to engage in endless, vicious arguments about things like whether voting is pointless or certain acts performed in the privacy of the boudoir should be legalized.  Better they should burn their energy in this way than in grasping, accepting, and systematically organizing to improve their actual lot.

Above all, they are heavily dependent on preserving the status quo.  The common person works computers or cash registers for his french fries and lacks even a rudimentary understanding of how to provide basic necessities should things suddenly go to the proverbial chamberpot.  You can basically continue doing whatever the hell you want at this point.  As long as enough net wealth remains convinced that fundamental change would mean bloody chaos, you're safe. I mean we of course, we're safe, m'lords m'ladies.

That said, tossing an extra pallet of Dinty's in the ol' bunker, perhaps adding to your stable of trustworthy goons – never a bad idea.

Yours Sincerely, etc. etc.