Tag Archives: Austin

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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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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The Sword makes ‘melt your face off’ metal

My relationship with heavy metal has been spotty over the years. I grew up on the stuff they started to call metal later on – Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, AC/DC and the like. Once the hair bands of the ’80s turned up I started to lose interest, getting more into grunge, postpunk and indie rock. And death metal with the cookie monster vocals has always turned me right off. But certain metal bands can still, as a friend of mine put it, melt my face off – in a good way. One of those is an Austin, Texas-based band called The Sword.

I discovered them at Fun Fun Fun Fest back in November. I saw several good bands – it was a frustrating night as several bands I really wanted to see were playing at the same time. Got to check out Peelander Z and Disappears again. Both of those rocked as expected. And I got to see Public Image Limited. That’s the legendary act that convinced me to go in the first place. Johnny Lydon (known to many as Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) is overweight, but still kicks ass. My concert buddy Chris Kinney thought they sounded dated, but I still got into it. Maybe I’m dated.

But just as he promised, the top band of the night turned out to be The Sword. They had a ton of energy and reminded me of a somewhat sped-up  Black Sabbath. I wouldn’t know it because I don’t play D n D, but I was told a lot of their lyrics are based on Dungeons and Dragons scenarios. Per Wikipedia, they also get a lot of inspiration from Norse mythology and science fiction writers like George R.R. Martin. Whatever the source, they come across as bad ass. Lots of science fictiony, Frank Frazetta-looking videos to be seen on Youtube.

Is this badass or what?

And check out this cover of ZZ Top’s Cheap Sunglasses. Wish I’d been there to see this.

The band’s official website is SwordOfDoom.com. And check them out on Facebook.

Edit: I was just informed that the band actually has its own hot sauce that can melt your tongue off while their music melts your face off. Tears of Fire, was made to the band’s specifications by Tears of Joy hot sauces “banned in most galaxies” it is apparently incredibly hot. I’m afraid and tempted at the same time. If you dare, you can get it here.

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Experimental film music from My Education, Einsturzende Neubauten member

Einsturzende Neubauten is one of those groups I always put in the category of “respect more than enjoy.” (Also, I never could and probably never will pronounce their name correctly – I finally gave up and took to calling them “Ein” for short).

They were among the pioneers of industrial music – an aesthetic that takes what used to be considered just plain noise – and incorporates it into songs. I have gotten into some of their early stuff, but honestly it comes across as abrasive and hurts my ears after a while. One exception – an old school song that I always enjoyed is “Yu Gung” – very exciting stuff and catchy in its way.

Thanks to my friend Chris Kinney, I recently discovered that there is more to Einsterzende Naubauten than I new – especially recently. The group has left much of the abrasiveness behind and taken a much more melodic approach.

“Sabrina,” from their 2001 album Silence is Sexy, is a pretty good example.

A few weeks ago, I attended a showing of Glasshouse at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, an event co-hosted by The Church of the Friendly Ghost. Glasshouse was a silent film about Danielle de Picciotto’s last night in New York City in 1987.  Accompanying the film was an ensemble that included Ein member Alexander Hacke, Danielle de Picciotto (who gave a spoken word performance about her experience) and Algis Kizys (The Swans, Foetus).

It was on a Sunday night and I was a bit drowsy – I had already had a very busy weekend – so the music and scenes drifted in and out of my consciousness, very dreamlike. Some of the sounds were darkly beautiful, others more abrasive and strange. At times it was almost catchy.  All in all a very surreal experience.

I can’t find any video of the Glasshouse performance, but here’s an interesting collaboration between Hacke and de Picciotto.

My Education

My Eduction from Psych Fest 4 (where I could’ve seen them, but for some reason didn’t)

As interesting as the main act was, I was most impressed by the live opening act, an Austin-based ensemble called My Education. Chris liked them so much, he bought several of their albums. I will probably buy a couple of them myself.

The group consisted of drums, piano, bass, guitar, slide guitar and violin. They performed a beautiful, flowing postrock that reminded me a lot of another Austin group, Explosions in the Sky.

The music really went well with the trippy video. They make excellent movie soundtrack music. In fact, they wrote a score for the 1927 German expressionist film Sunrise. You can watch the movie and hear them perform live at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar in Austin on Sunday, Sept. 9.

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Hailey Tuck and East Side Showroom – throwbacks to an older, classier era

Hailey Tuck, framed between two hipsters at East Side Showroom.

The first time I heard Austin’s Hailey Tuck, I left wondering if she really was as impressive as she seemed. I turned up late for her set at the Butterfly Bar during SXSW and only got to hear a few songs. A couple of weeks ago I finally got to hear more of her and yes, she is that good. I also got to check out the East Side Showroom, a place I’ve been curious about for a while.

Hailey is a torch singer of sorts. She’s young, beautiful, and has a gorgeous voice (If you liked Amy Winehouse, you should definitely check her out). She also genuinely loves jazz music. She performed jazz standards, as well as some songs I hadn’t heard before – and spent a little time sharing her knowledge with the audience.

Hailey was accompanied by a keyboard player and a drummer – who on this night was her father. I guess that shows where she gets her love for jazz.

The venue added quite a lot to the experience. Like Hailey, East Side Showroom was like a throwback to an older, classier era. The antique decor and lighting makes it resemble a speakeasy from the Prohibition days. The menu is unique – both the food and the cocktails have made the place popular with local hipsters. It’s also rather pricey. (It apparently costs a lot more to be a hipster than it does to be a bohemian.)

I had a tequila-based cocktail called a Devil’s Left Hand. Very tasty. I think I’ll try a Moscow Mule next time though. I hear good things about that one.

I couldn’t help but notice the silent movie playing overhead as Hailey sang. Buster Keaton was a genius. I definitely enjoyed the vibe of the place.

I went with my girlfriend and one of her friends and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Yes, the experience could be described as pretentious (the waitress tried to seat us someplace we didn’t really want to be, but it pretty much went over my head – girlfriend ensured that we got the table we wanted, with a good view of Hailey).

Speaking of my girlfriend, she blogged about her impressions of Hailey and East Side Showroom. Check it out here.

Hailey will perform at the East Side Showroom again on Aug. 14 and 28 and Sept. 11 and 25. I would highly recommend you check her out. Let me me know what you thought of Hailey and what cocktails you tried.

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Negativland: much more just merry pranksters

Sometimes a smartass is just a smartass. But sometimes that smartass has something important to say, something that will make you think if you wipe the smirk off your face and open your mind. Negativland falls into that second category.

The U2 album incident

If you know about them at all – and not enough do – you probably know them because of their “U2 album debacle.” For a long time, that’s how I knew them. I basically viewed them as smartasses and pranksters who went too far and let things get out of hand.

(In a nutshell, what happened: They put out an album called U2 with a picture of a U2 spy plane on the cover. The album contained samples from U2’s upcoming album Achtung Baby, as well as some profanity-laced tirades by American Top 40‘s Casey Kasem. Negativland released the album right before U2’s album was set to come out. That stunt got them sued by both Island Records and their own label SST; it also got their album pulled from record stores and banned – and earned them some notoriety. Expensive publicity, but it did put them on the map.  Wikipedia gives a pretty in-depth account of what happened.)

So, just pranksters? Not quite. Even the U2 incident made some pretty good points, about how how the act of sampling and collage-making IS an art form in itself, how overzealous copyright enforcement can stifle creativity, how shallow and false media can be (who would’ve thought the real Casey Kasem had such a temper and such a foul mouth? Could the friendly, avuncular Casey we all knew be nothing more than a persona?)

Perception vs. Reality

Are you conscious? Do you believe what you believe? Are your thoughts really yours or somebody else’s? Are you being controlled by governments and corporations without even realizing it? These are very important questions we rarely ask ourselves.

What Negativland does is rip away the veneer that you think is reality and show how manipulated we are by words and images. That’s not a prank, that’s a public service.

Listen to their ambush interview with U2’s The Edge for Mondo 2000 and you can get a feel for how smart they are and the amount of thought they put into what they do.

The Live Experience

I was disabused of my false opinion of Negativland by my friend Chris Kinney, who told me about the Negativland show he saw in 2000. I say show, not concert, because they are not precisely a band. They are not even especially good musicians. They are artists, however. Brilliant ones. The show he described was one of surreal beauty combined with incredibly subtle and astute social commentary, one that left the audience moved nearly to tears. I wish I had been there and I hope I one day get to see one of their multi-media spectacles myself (that was their last tour, hopefully not the final one). Meanwhile, here’s Chris’ account of what he saw and heard in Austin back in 2000:

I saw the show right after I moved here [Austin]. I dragged my girlfriend at the time out to the show. I had already been listening to them and she hadn’t. It was at the outdoor venue at Stubb’s, which was either sold out or very near capacity.

The stage was set up with 40 different screens. Anything from projections to TVs. The band members were all wearing white jump suits like hospital scrubs. Hospital masks covered their nose and mouth. A lot of projections were going on them too.

One thing I really remember was “Orange Crush.” They were playing old soda pop commercials from the ’70s. They were pure images, but with the song and the editing, the images became twisted. It somehow sexualized them in a creepy way. There were teenagers at the beach drinking soda, innocent children, then adults enjoying a beverage. It perverted the intent of the original footage.

Also, whoever was controlling the videos was masterful. There were so many images, so many screens. Sometimes different images on all screens. Sometimes just one image on one screen. Sometimes images juxtaposed with images on other screens took on new meanings.

They had anything from 12-inch TVs to 10 x 10 projection screens. It was almost telling a story. Your eyes were constantly darting around from screen to screen. It was almost disorienting at times. Film or images would shift from screen to screen. The only real stage lighting came from the projections and TV screens. It was like you were being bombarded visually and bombarded with sound and music.

They were very strange songs, talking about surreal things, using all this found footage and old advertising. It was almost anti-commercialism, or commercials for the surreal.

There was no real message, but you listened to their music and got caught up in these strange stories. It was more about the journey. None of their stuff is really linear.

At one point they turned off all the projection and there was just one 40-inch TV in the middle of the stage, with a guy who looked like Orson Welles but sounded like William Burroughs. Everything was turned off except this one black and white TV.

He was telling a story about renting a steam carpet cleaner that took you through time and space. We had been bombarded with images and noise and now everything else was silent and there was just one TV, so you got sucked into this story. And the steam cleaner takes you into another dimension. Your mind had been going crazy all this time and suddenly there was one thing to focus on. Very memorable.

The music was mostly really simple – guitar, loops, samples.

At the end of the show, there were all these beautiful images. Then it went into a nice ambient-like tune, something that almost made you want to dance. They were projecting with a couple of projectors and melting the film while it was running. Images were forming and bubbling during the song. One guy was running the film and lighting it in a little controlled fire. It was truly gorgeous. And that was the end of the show.

It was almost like being on a psychedelic drug during the whole show. Then they do this.

I felt really uplifted. I could barely speak. I felt physically and mentally changed after the show. My girlfriend was just blown away. We walked in silence back to the car till we kind of got back into the real world.

I was a fan of Negativland when I was a kid, as a teen and in my 20s. It was great to get stoned and listen to one of their albums. Just wind down and put it on in the background. I just thought it was crazy and weird. I always thought they were an interesting band, but not something I wanted to listen to all the time. They can be abrasive at times.

After seeing this show, I had a totally new respect for the band.  I know their history. I know their antics. But their show – it was art. All the projections and images… They really changed your perception of the everyday things you see.

They are a very visual band. They take things you see all the time and take for granted and turn them on their head.

I don’t know if they really have a message  as a band. If they have a message, it has to do with the way they bombard you with information and how they can mess with you just by the way they they convey that information. They just want to fuck with you. Make you think, make you conscious.

Music changes your perception of reality. If you’re driving down the road and a song comes on, the world looks different. Negativland are masters at doing that by the way they manipulate videos and images.

I have been to some great shows, but this one is really special. This was 12 years ago and it still stands out as one of most amazing experiences I ever had in my life.

As a Negativland fan, Chris recommends the following albums for adventurous people who would like to explore the band:

Escape from Noise – “I had a lot of fun with that. That one has ‘Christianity is Stupid,’ ‘Car Bomb,’ ‘Nesbitt’s Lime Soda.'”

Helter Stupid and Negativland are also good albums.”

And of course, if you want to get an idea what was on the banned U2 album that got the band in so much trouble and made them famous – and find out what Casey Kasem is like when he loses his temper – check out These Guys are From England and Who Gives a Shit.

Check out this visual and sound collage video for “Freedom’s Waiting.” Brilliant commentary about the way words are used to manipulate us – often completely without our knowledge.

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