Nostalgia over music that made me want to stab myself in the face

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I recently made a station on Pandora that I call “The Worst Pandora Station Ever.” I have filled it with songs that tortured me during my teens and 20s — terrible, terrible pop music. Why did I do this to myself? I guess it’s a combination of nostalgia, humor and self-torture. I don’t exactly know why, but I get a certain perverse pleasure out of it. It puts me back in a time when I didn’t have much choice and was stuck listening to these things.

It feels really weird having to thumbs-up songs I hate and thumbs-down songs I like. Also, if I listen with half an ear while doing something else, I will sometimes catch myself grooving on it a little. I sent this to a friend whose musical taste I respect and I got back text messages like “Gah, how could you do this to me?” Then a message, “Oh no! My wife likes it!”

One of the most insidious things about this type of music is that it’s often quite catchy. You might hear one of these songs and hate it, but it will be echoing in your brain for hours.

A few days ago I went into a convenience store and heard a perfect example: “Into the Night” by one terrible hit wonder Benny Mardones. I had to look it up. I knew the song, but not the singer. It only gets worse when you see the video. That girl’s dad seriously needs to call the police.

Another one I was discussing with my brother is “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. One of the most cringeworthy songs of my youth. And what the hell is is going on in that video?

Some other examples are:

“We Built This City” by Starship (easiest call ever)

“Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Karnes

“I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight” by the Cutting Crew

“Oh Sherrie” by Steve Perry and “Open Arms” by Journey (Journey and Perry make a lot of justified appearances on this bad music station, yet Journey at one time was very good, including their album Escape that included the terrible ballad “Open Arms.”)

“I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner

“How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?” by Michael Bolton

“Don’t Speak” by No Doubt (newer than most of the others, but I hate it so much)

“All Out of Love,” “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” by Air Supply or really anything by Air Supply *shudder*

“Right Here Waiting” (or anything) by Richard Marx

“Lady in Red” by Chris DeBurgh

“Missing You” by John Waite

What makes a “bad” pop song?

Obviously it’s subjective.

For example, “These Dreams” by Heart. I should hate that song. It was co-written by Martin Page, who wrote the hideous Starship hit “We Built This City.” But I always liked it. Perhaps because the lyrics are courtesy of Bernie Taupin, who wrote the lyrics for so many of Elton John’s best songs.

I have friends who are always ragging on artists I think are solid, despite a few duds here and there. The Eagles, Phil Collins and Hall & Oates come to mind.

I also realize there’s some overlap with AM Rock Radio music, which I actually think was overall quite good. Now and then a song will pop up that KINDA fits, but I have to give it the thumbs down because it’s too good. Songs by Little River Band and Steely Dan for example. I know I’m confusing the hell out of Pandora’s algorithm.

I’m sure I’m leaving out some other bad pop. Post your own list in the comments and tell me what I forgot.

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Chubby Knuckle Choir sizzles at Reunion Grille as (temporary) trio

IMG_20130608_203847_692I saw a really good concert the other night from my favorite local discovery, The Chubby Knuckle Choir. They played in Cedar Park at a place called Reunion Grille. It was a nice, open air venue, with little kids running around. This time it was a trio, with Rory Smith on percussion and vocals, Tres Womack on guitar and vocals and Dave Gould on stand up bass. Singer/percussionist Perry Lowe and singer/stringed instruments of various kinds player Slim Bawb couldn’t make the gig, which was scheduled on short notice.

As always, they were great live, although they were performing in the trio configuration for the first time. It was good music and they kept it fun. This time they were also promoting their self-titled debut CD. Go see them live and get yours there if you get a chance. If you can’t, you can get it at CD Baby.com.

I had a nice visit with the band during the break. Interesting to hear them talk about their musical influences. Rory surprised me with his knowledge of classic rock groups — the same ones I listened to when I was a teenager. Dave Gould surprised me by saying he once saw demented carnivalesque Attic Ted perform, one of the weirdest acts in the Austin area and one of my faves.

The band has been playing a lot of gigs in New Braunfels lately, making an impression on the out-of-state tourist crowd. They’re still playing there a lot this summer, with more of a Texas crowd.

Catch the Chubby Knuckle Choir live if you can. You can hear some of their music and see their upcoming schedule on their Reverbnation page.

Upcoming shows include:

July 19 – Oma Gruene’s Secret Garden in New Braunfels at 2:30 p.m.

July 21 – Gruene Hall in New Braunfels at 5 p.m.

July 27 – Reunion Grille in Cedar Park at 8 p.m.

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Wknd to release The Venopian Solitude single June 7

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Just got an awesome update about a unique artist I wrote about a while back: The Venopian Solitude, stage name for a young woman from Malaysia with a great voice and even better tunes and lyrics.

The Wknd, a Malaysian magazine that promotes indie music, held a contest and put out a call for demos and The Venopian Solitude won. She is the first ever recipient of the Wknd Recording Fund. The fund will get her a professionally produced single, which Wknd will market and make available for sale through their website.

Wknd writer Faiz Fadzil commented in my “about” section, “We’ve finished recording her first single. It will be launched on Friday 7th June 2013. We’ll be announcing the Soundcloud links to her tracks on that day as well.”

Congratulations to a very talented and deserving musician. I’m proud to have had a chance to find her early and see her mature as an artist.

Check out my blog post about her from 2010: The Venopian Solitude – unique voice from the global village

Edit:

Here’s the link if you want to check it out http://the-wknd.com/music/new-music/the-venopian-solitude-warkah-narcissus/

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Psych Fest 2013 – another memorable festival

Psych Fest 2013 was a blast as usual. I’ll go into some detail, but, first, some memories that stick out in my mind…

Sore feet and ears ringing like the bells of Ireland, seeing Black Mountain, The Black Angels, Soft Moon, and Dead Skeletons, getting caught in a downpour, getting to see Joel Gion from the Brian Jonestown Massacre and seeing a young a woman walk through the crowd wearing nothing but a belt and some kind of fringe – no one seemed to notice. All in all, a memorable festival that introduced me to some great new bands, and gave me a fresh look at ones I’d seen before.

The Venue – Carson Creek Ranch

For the first time, the event was held at Carson Creek Ranch, near the airport. I think it will likely be held there every year. It was a pain in the ass to get to, but I think I’ll figure it out a lot easier next year.

I give it a thumbs up overall. There were big grassy expanses with a few shade trees you could sit under in between shows, lots of vendors, three stages, including the amphitheater on the bank of the Colorado River. Lots of hippies relaxing next to the water. Too bad for them I also noticed a fair amount of poison ivy growing on the river bank. Biggest hitch with the venue was the parking area. It was fine at first, but when it got wet it turned into a real mess.

Friday night – Soft Moon and Warpaint win the night
On Friday night the first band to catch my ear–and my eye was an all-girl group called Warpaint. They were hot and they rocked hard. The drummer in particular blew me away. Their music was dark, tribal and not so much catchy as hypnotic. There was one long, Joy Divisionesque jam that really got me in a trance.

The biggest band of the night for me was Soft Moon. They played intense, dark new wave, industrial-sounding music. I saw them at the power plant at Psych Fest 2011 at the small stage and they impressed me then. This time they were even better. The bassist was mechanical and expressionless, while the singer jumped around like crazy, sometimes shouting into the mike and twiddling knobs to produce a squall of distortion. They gave my earplugs a hell of a workout, but I could have listened to them all night.

The Silver Apples…. One of the shows I never thought I would see. I’ve been a fan of this seminal electronic music act for a long time. His show didn’t have the impact on me that I had been hoping for. I think listening to Silver Apples’ recorded comes across as dark and intriguing. In person, it was brighter. I could make out lyrics better and the hippie poetry made it seem a bit more mainstream psych and not as interesting. I loved how obviously joyful Simeon was though. He’s back in the career he loves and has an audience that appreciates him. The kids really seemed to love him.

Saturday – Black Mountain, Kaleidoscope and one hell of a rain storm

The biggest story on Saturday night was probably the hellacious rainstorm that hit around 10:30 p.m., but Chris Kinney and I saw some good shows before that. We started with a few mediocre bands and had a chance to eat, etc. Then we ran into a big dilemma: Black Mountain vs. Kaleidoscope. Both were killer. Both were playing around the same time — Black Mountain at the main stage, Kaleidoscope at the amphitheater. We did our best to catch some of each show.

Kaleidoscope (UK)  is another seminal psych band I was surprised to find a the festival. The UK band put on a hell of a show, very traditional ’60s psych, just like they made back in the day. The light show on the river and in the trees on the other bank really made it magical.

Black Mountain on the other hand, had an excellent old school ’70s sound, from that period when psych was mutating into hard rock. I really enjoyed their spaced-out jam version of “No Hits.”

We wandered around and saw a few different shows. Man or Astroman was enjoyable, but the Levitation tent was packed and we couldn’t get very close. They were sort of a hard surf punk version of Devo. They wore costumes and had a lot of silly banter. “You think these are costumes. They are not. They are the apparatus that allows us to exist in your atmosphere.”

Part of the reason they were so popular was the weather. It was already starting to rain off and on. Os Mutantes was just about to start playing when serious rain started to fall. Then the bottom fell out.

Chris K and I headed to his car to get an umbrella, then the bottom fell out of the clouds and it rained so hard I couldn’t even see him. The parking area was paved with caliche, a whitish clay-rich dirt that was smooth and hard as concrete until it got wet, but the hard rain turned it into horrible clinging mud that built up on my shoes and made stains in my car I still haven’t gotten out.

Chris K and I got separated and ended up bailing. Chris went back to catch some shows, but the bands were moving their equipment to get out of the wet and I was cowering in my car. We ended up back at his place, scrubbing mud off our shoes. Whether any bands played after that I couldn’t say.

Sunday night – Black Angels, Goat, Dead Skeletons and their awesome surprise guest…

As always seems to be the case, they saved some of the best stuff for Sunday night, so I had to stay up late and be worn out at work the next day. Worth it.

Roky Erickson played again this year and I’m glad. He got treated with the respect he deserves and I think he should be at every Psych Fest. We owe him a huge debt. His performance was pretty similar to the one I saw two years ago at the power plant. He seems to do better with his solo stuff than with the Elevators’ material. I listened for a while, but mainly spent that time with Chris K, wandering around the grounds, checking out other acts at the river and looking at the merch tables.

Indian Jewelry was the first band to float our boats. Their music was a mix of psych and electro-clash, dark and hypnotic. The drummer was a particularly hot chick. Really cool designs in the projections behind the band also. We were enjoying the show, but then Chris K’s spidey sense kicked in and he suggested we go down to the amphitheater stage and see if there was anyone worth hearing. There was indeed.

Dead Skeletons of Iceland turned out to be the big discovery of Psych Fest 2013 for both of us. Just as they were about to perform, a 747 roared overhead. Perfect timing. They had a lot of members. Seven, I think. They were extremely together and made me think of a heavier version of Spiritualized.

We were soon faced with another dilemma. The Black Angels were performing and I wanted to catch some of their show even though we were enjoying Dead Skeletons. We made our way to the main stage and heard some of the Black Angels and indeed they were good. For some reason though, Chris K’s spidey sense kicked in once again and we decided to go check out Dead Skeletons one more time.

They were in the middle of an awesome extended jam and Chris suddenly noticed the guest musician: tambourinist Joel Gion of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. He was with BJM at Psych Fest last year, but this is the first time I had a close look at him. He’s older than the fun-loving stoner you see in the documentary Dig, but there’s no mistaking the nonchalant manner and smirk. Seeing him made the festival for me. You gotta love how he got to be a star by playing the tambourine.

We saw another very intriguing group at the amphitheater stage called Goat. They were a Swedish band with a sound that incorporated many influences: prog, funk, psych, and Afropop. Vocals reminded me of Japanese pop. The members wore masks and tribal-looking costumes.

We finished with the Growlers, an old school garage/psych group that we had seen two years ago at the power plant. They had an entertaining show, with stage props that included rainbow penises, space aliens and cactuses. As the show went on, the music delved more into acid rock territory and some demented circus music. Very entertaining.

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Psyched out before Psych Fest – Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys, Jaggery put on awesome show at the Swan Dive

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I am about to start the last day of Austin Psych Fest 2013 and I have a lot to say about that, but I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the show I saw on April 20 at the Swan Dive by Boston bands Jaggery and Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys — one of the most psychedelic shows I’ve seen in a long time.

It was an amazing show. My only regret is that there were not more people there to see it.

I enjoyed the hell out of both bands, but the highlight for me was Walter Sickert. He was wearing a kind of feather head dress, big sunglasses, dreadlocks, and a wedding dress. Kind of like a demented Dr. John. He joked several times about being on acid.  As the night wore on, I came to the conclusion that it was somewhere between plausible and likely that he really WAS on acid. “Stop fucking with me. I’m on a lot of acid! My home town is blowing up while we’re on the road. Fucking terrorists! But it happens…”

Most surprising thing was how good the music was. Stylistically, it was mostly acoustic, reminding me a bit of the Asylum Street Spankers. It featured a drummer, melodian/accordion, bass violin and viola (played by the musician from Jaggery). There were dark cabaret influences, but at times, they rocked as hard as Jimi Hendrix. At one point the singer from Jaggery joined Walter in a song that included an excerpt from the song, “Love and Marriage.”

One song really got hold of me and brought chills — and end of the world song called “28 Seeds.” Here it is:


It was even better live.

“Devil’s in the Details was another great one”:


One of my friends exclaimed, “I’m in their fan club after that.” I felt the same way. I will definitely be purchasing some of their music online. I got a big kick of of their closing song — the Ghostbusters theme. “I went back in time to the ’80s to write this song,” Walter said. There were a few lyrics I didn’t remember from the movie. “If a ghost tries to fuck you in the eye, who ya gonna call?”

Very unique group. Visit their website and Bandcamp page. Buy some of their music and see them if you ever get a chance.

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Jaggery (appropriately named after Indian brown sugar) features Mali, a wonderful singer and pianist with incredible power and range (she kind of reminds me of a less scary Diamanda Galas), harp, viola and string bass.

Their music was powerful and dramatic. reminiscent of acts like Rasputina and the Dresden Dolls.

Some of it is incredibly beautiful.

One song which seemed to be about witchcraft, got kind of screamy (hence the nod to Galas), but it I found it really moving and chill-inducing. Mali joked that it probably scared the country bumpkins in Victoria when they gave a free show earlier. She took back the part about bumpkins, but she was probably right. I grew up in that area and kinda was a bumpkin at one time. It’s good for folks around there to experience something strange and different once in a while.

Check out Jaggery’s website and Bandcamp page. Buy some of their tunes if you feel so inclined and definitely catch them live if you can.

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Black Angels have topped themselves with Indigo Meadow

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I have seldom looked forward to a music festival as much as I am Psych Fest 2013, set for April 26-28 in Austin. As is usually the case, I will probably come back raving about some obscure bands I never heard of before. It’s a great place to discover new faves. This year, however, I’m very excited to see The Black Angels, the guys who put on the festival, even though they play Sunday and I will be so tired the next day. The reason is their latest album, Indigo Meadow. I like it much better than Phosphene Dream, the 2010 album everyone raved about.

Usually when I review an album, I try to pick out the influences. Byrds, Doors, Jefferson Airplane, 13th Floor Elevators? All those influences are there and more, I’m certain. These guys are so passionate about psychedelic music that they started a festival and a music label (Reverbation Appreciation Society) to celebrate it. I don’t much care though. This album is so good, I just don’t feel like picking it apart. I would much rather just sit back and enjoy the music. 

The tunes and propulsive rhythms make the songs irresistible. I am especially nuts about the title track and “Don’t Play With Guns,” but I enjoy the entire album immensely. It’s in constant rotation on my car stereo and on the laptop. I get the feeling that with this release, the band has become so at home in this genre that it is now just effortlessly making songs. It doesn’t sound like someone making neo-psych music, it sounds like a collection of great songs. I feel like the Black Angels capture that period where ’60s psych music quit being about peace & love and began to turn dark.

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April 19, 2013 · 10:41 pm

Sigur Ros puts on hell of a show at Cedar Park Center

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I’ve been a Sigur Ros fan for over a decade. Their 1999 album Ágætis byrjun was my introduction to postrock. They really opened my mind to what can be accomplished using the human voice as an instrument.  I find their music mesmerizing and variously melancholy or uplifting. I love getting caught up in their soundscapes. I finally got a chance to see them at the Cedar Park Center on April 10. As great as their music is, I couldn’t imagine how they would pull it off live. I’ve been told they put on a great show, but I had to see it for myself.

I was especially surprised at how much they rocked. Powerful crescendos set off by their amazing lighting and projections.

They started out playing behind something called a scrim – a screen that looked a bit like gauze to me. The lighting effects – especially in the beginning – made it resemble an aquarium, with deep shades of green, threaded with other colors and textures. You could see them playing through it, but the lighting cast huge shadows of the band on it from behind, making the band members look like giants. One image of Jónsi Birgisson bowing his guitar in silhouette was quite striking. At one point the stage went dark, except for a scattering of tiny gold stars. Beautiful. Whoever handled their lighting was brilliant.

Later on in the show, they dropped the scrim, and you could see projections on a screen above the band. Images and textures, and scenes from their music videos – underwater scenes from “Sæglópur,” gas mask scenes from  “Untitled #1″ (aka “Vaka”) and the gorgeous ballet from “Svefn-g-englar.”

Because they sing in Icelandic (or is it Hopelandic?), I don’t always remember the names of the songs, but I know them when I hear them. I recognized several from Ágætis byrjun, ( ), and other albums. Their performance of “Brennisteinn,” from their upcoming album Kveikur really blew me away.

The seating in Cedar Park Center was a bit cramped for my taste, but the music was so good I didn’t really notice. Kudos to my girlfriend Melissa for getting the tickets and snapping a few photos of the show.

If you haven’t seen any of Sigur Ros’ videos, do yourself a favor and check them out. Here are a few that really impressed me:

Oneohtrix Point Never

I have to put in a word for the opening act, Oneohtrix Point Never, aka Brooklyn-based musician Daniel Lopatin.

He plays vintage synthesizers and creates some interesting textures and soundscapes. I read something that referred to his music as “gnomecore.” No idea what that could mean, but I found myself on the verge of getting carried away in several of his pieces. Some made me think of dark ambient or glitch pop. Some made me think it was like what people in the ’80s thought the future might sound like. The kind of music you might hear in a night club scene in a 1980′s sci fi movie. I only wish I could have heard him in a more intimate setting. People were still filing in late for Sigur Ros and it was distracting.

If I get another chance to hear him, I will. Maybe he’ll turn up in another show in Austin soon. Here are a few examples:

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