Monday, July 28, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #10: Polydistortion










Ask me about GusGus!

In 1995, shortly before Easter, I moved to California for the first time. This set the stage for the last seismic shift in my development as a music appreciator. At the time, Santa Monica-based radio station KCRW was playing some of the best music I'd ever heard.

In 1997 I discover GusGus, the band that loved design.

In 1998 I discover Mrs. Word Player, the designer who loved music.

You can guess what happened next, as long as your guess involves painstakingly programmed 90-minute mixtapes lobbing in from both sides.

GusGus have a healthy self-image.

The day I first heard "Polyesterday" on KCRW's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" was a very great day. I almost had to pull the car over.

Thank you Chris Douridas. What an unbelievable track. Of all the "Bend Me, Shape Me" records, I may love this Polydistortion most of all. Well, at least I do right this second anyway.

Polly yesterday,
found another way.
synthetic one way or the other.

A biggish (twelve members at one point!), rotating Reykjavik-based collective of film, design, and music types featuring crate-digger break beats, slip-slidin' robobass and a truly odd crossroad of genre influences like disco, gospel, acid-house, hip-hop, dub, and ballad.

"Polyesterday" is, as of this writing, the definitive GusGus song. It bumps to the tightest drum loop I've ever heard. I don't want to know who they're sampling- I prefer to think they found it in a volcano.

This is the album that might pour out if you dropped the previous nine "Bend Me" records in a blender and hit liquefy.

To better understand who I am, it helps to know that I was too embarrassed to introduce myself to President Bongo (pictured) of GusGus on the dancefloor of Avalon.
Maybe it was his halo...

Track 2 acid-room fave "Believe" has its percussion lifted from the album version of Kool and the Gang's "Jungle Boogie." Hear it, and you'll believe too.

Track 10's main room peak hour "close yer eyes and gesticulate!" leftfielder "Purple" is an all-time standout in the failed genre of trance.

Since 1997, I've seen GusGus twice as often as any other musical act. Different lead singers, DJ sets, and indifferent late period albums couldn't stop MWP and I from boogieing to our pink-haired, Icelandic club purists. If anyone ever comes across the GusGus remix of Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot", pay the man and send me the bill.

Dig that gun. Blow your mind.


This was fun.

Thank you readers. I'll see you in September after a quick month off.

Cheers to those of you who do what you want to do and not only get away with it, but go to sleep feeling good about it every night.

I emulate you.

I salute you.

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found here.**

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #9: Subliminal Sandwich

Once the volume control is set, do not readjust.
Do not readjust.

As pivotal to the shaping of my taste for funk as The Sound of Funk Vol. 4 was, so the Volume series of compilations was to my taste for beats-driven electronic music.

Volumes 1 and 2 are touchstones on my way here fo' sho.

Volume One CD + bound mini-magazine came out in 1991 on U.K.-based World's End Ltd. In-the-thick-of-it acts like Consolidated and The Orb were there, as were the well-established New Order and Nitzer Ebb, but the standout track on this outstanding comp was "Love Mad" by Meat Beat Manifesto.

If you leave, take me with you.
I want you, I need you.

"They can design future worlds."

I first heard MBM in SP's room in college. He was never afraid to play risky tracks late night in a co-ed situation (rarer than thou'd think), and I always loved it when he played "Drop" from the 1992 MBM album Satyricon. It would either clear the room, or send it into a state, and either way I was there agitating for more volume.

The same is true on a much larger scale with Subliminal Sandwich from 1996, the definitive intersection of all the best parts of MBM.

Listening to Subliminal Sandwich is like tuning into a pirate radio station for a fictional universe, or at least a fictional music scene- the album is so stylistically diverse and daring it's amazing that only one band is behind it all. This is also a rare example of a double album NOT being too much of a good thing. Dancefloor-oriented Side 1 is definitely the more traditional "album side" in terms of track sequencing, but the looser, spacier, more experimental Side 2 is just as essential as the "now, let's go thataway" counterbalance: deep left-field, aggressive ambient (until you get to track 4 "United Nations E. T. C." which rounds back to an even freakier dance-floor style... this is the song that would be playing at midnight on a Saturday if I had my own club.)

Very weird, very exciting stuff. FORBIDDEN PLANET-style space effects, echo chamber dub sensations and angry but mindful lyrics.

MBM deliver unbelievable interplay between their music and visuals when they play live.

It’s a crime,
it’s so sublime.

For me the definitive track is "She’s Unreal":

Give me love,
so that I can kill.
Love me.
Love me.

The buzzing drums coming back in after the sound-collage interlude is an epic break, and the turntable solo in “What’s Your Name?” is one of the best ever. Hyperbole is warranted here, trust me. A helluvan achievement for an operation propelled for over two decades by one guy, Mr. Jack Dangers.

See I believe in the noble, aristocratic art of doing absolutely nothing
and I hope someday I’ll be in a position when I can do even less.

That sentiment, great sample though it is, has very little to do with the incredibly prolific Dangers. This is hard, circuit-driven industrial funk, there for you when yer ready and willing... if this kind of talk turns you on, that is.

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found here.**

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #8: Dummy

In the fall of 1994, I returned to UNC for a visit and caught up with my friend MS who was just as into electronic and house music as I was (and probably more). Thanks in part to the wide variety of new music she was bombarded with at her gig late-night deejaying for our college station WXYC, she'd turned me on to a lot of good stuff already.

"Feeling so unholy"

Driving around in her car one night, she said something to the effect of "Have you heard of Portishead?", then when I said I hadn't, "You are gonna love it."

I got goosebumps when I heard the first seconds of "Mysterons", the first track from Portishead's first album Dummy. European-art-film-soundtrack-y guitar layered over chunky old school scratching?

And then those jeep beats?

And then a fucking theramin?

And then, of course, that voice, Beth Gibbons, saying those things.

Inside your pretending
Crimes have been swept aside
Somewhere where they can forget

Did you really want?

So that's how you get a smoky voice

And then the torch song of our generation (am I allowed to say stuff like that?) "Sour Times":

‘Cause nobody loves me,
It's true,
Not like you do.

And it kept going, one amazing track after another that were all indeed directly up my alley. It was one of those records that I immediately had intensely personal feelings about, and yet in a remarkably short time it spread out from the beathead fringe and BOOM everyone I knew loved it too.

One of the last times I can remember feeling optimistic about the state of pop music was following Dummy as it sold millions of copies worldwide, crossing over and over.

Then, like a candle lit at both ends burning brighter, I suddenly couldn't listen to Dummy anymore. In that year or so after I first discovered it, I heard it so many times in so many places that it'd become completely burnt. I never stopped loving it, but I stopped listening to it, and somehow even new material from Portishead hardly resonated with me at all.

1994-95 also saw me fall in love with and get sick of PULP FICTION

The band took 10 years between their uninspired live album Roseland NYC Live and their third album of new material called, um, Third. I was both excited and wary when I read that Third was about to be released, but my gut said that the long hiatus would be good for both the band and my listening ears.

Well, most everything I've read about Third has been positive, and it scores an 85 at (which translates to "Universal Acclaim"), but after three listenings it just doesn't do anything for me. The weird thing is that I felt like somehow it should, that there was something wrong with me, not the record itself. But the more I think about it, the more I feel that no matter what the new record sounded like, it would fall short for me. Intense Dummy overload may have permanently crossed the wires and made enjoyment of Portishead's future output impossible, but with the passing of the years Dummy thankfully sounds immaculate and wonderfully listenable again.

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found here.**

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #7: The Sound of Funk 4

Since very few of the cassettes I purchased early on in life are still in my possession, my official career as a music collector began in 1985 when I bought my first three Compact Discs- Yes 90125, U2 The Unforgettable Fire and Van Halen 1984. Since then, an inordinate (to some) amount of my spending money has been utilized to grow that record collection... but there's still never enough.

"Doin' the moonwalk. Talkin' that moon talk"

I would probably buy a lot fewer Compilations if money was no object, but since it is I've found the Compilation (much like the Greatest Hits record, non-score Soundtrack Albums, Insert CDs in music mags like Mixmag and XLR8R, etc) to be a great friend of the music budget. For the price of one record you can often be introduced to a dozen or more new-to-you acts, and quite often a track that strikes a chord can lead you down a path of exploration you may not otherwise have discovered.

By far the best music compilation I've come across is The Sound of Funk 4 on the UK's Rare Groove and Northern Soul reissue label Goldmine Soul Supply. I can't easily find the release date, but I first discovered it in a record store in Brussels.

Royal Crescent Mob at the Cat's Cradle was always a special night

Like many people, I got deepest into exploring new-to-me music during my college years. The (for lack of a better term) white-boy funk of Royal Crescent Mob and Chapel Hill bands Johnny Quest and Sex Police led quickly to golden era funk like The Meters and James Brown.

And thus, the stage was set for that moment in June of 1994 in Brussels, Belgium when I broke off from the pack of dudes I was traveling with to spend some quality time in the local record shop. The selection process details are hazy, but for some reason I decided to spend some Belgian francs taking a chance on The Sound of Funk 4.

To me this is sweet-spot funk, the kind of funk that separates people who shake their ass from people who don't.

Of all the records on this list, The Sound of Funk 4 is the one I evangelize the most. I cannot imagine the house party, backyard barbecue or headphone session that wouldn't be better off with a few of these choice cuts comin' out the speakers.

Where else ya gonna find Bootsy Collins's first solo single "Fun in Your Thang (Part 1)"?

How could music from names like Little Oscar, Burnett Bynam and the Soul Invaders, and Little Joe Cook and the Thrillers be anything other than sublime?

THIS is where you can hear the lip-curling gauntlet-thrower "Funky Funk" by Big Al and the Star Treks!

But we got a thing called the funky funk.
You do what you wanna do!

THIS is where you can hear the all-time greatest theme music for strutting, "Bumping" by Tyrone Chestnut!

When Wee Willie and the Winners implores you to "Get some, before it's all gone", you have no choice but to nod your head in agreement.

One of my three favorite all-time funk songs is "The Funky Buzzard" by Little Oscar.

Funky Buzzard.
Funky Buzzard.
Do your thing.
Funky Buzzard.
Funky Buzzard.
Flap Your Wings.

Wiggle Your Tail Feather

This is the song you want playing in your car when you're on your way somewhere better.

In a final "this is probably only interesting to the blogger himself" note, it just dawned on me that The Sound of Funk 4 has an awesome track from Grady Tate ("Be Black Baby"), the same Grady Tate I singled out for his "opposite end of the musical spectrum" work drumming on the soundtrack to TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME in the last installment of Bend Me.


When you do it once,
You wanna do it some more

Mmm hmmm.

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found here.**

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #6: Fire Walk With Me

Do you consider yourself a good person?

I consider myself a good person, yet I know better than anyone that bad exists within me. Darkness intermingles with light. However, I don't think that good and bad, that black and white, that darkness and light mixes to create gray inside me.

I prefer to think it creates blue.

"Lights start changin', and there's wires in the air..."

The universe of Twin Peaks is much like our own; only we see things there with our own eyes that we have to imagine or assume in reality (as it's strictly defined).

The 1992 film TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME is a prequel to the 1990-91 TV show Twin Peaks.


The film deals explicitly with the last days of Laura Palmer, as she finally realizes that the evil spirit Bob that has visited her bedroom and raped her for years is actually her father Leland Palmer.

Leland has been fighting the darkness within him, but he's fought a losing battle. Leland believes that he is a good person too, which may or may not have necessitated the creation of a demon who takes over his body and mind and does unspeakable things while "good" Leland is away.

I suspect that man's creation of God and The Devil are derived from much the same impulse. It's terrifying, even crippling to realize that one is capable of great good AND great evil, so why not create a supernatural being that we can blame for the evil that men do instead of looking ourselves in the mirror and accepting that that's just the price you pay for being human?

"The man behind the mask is looking for the book with the pages torn out."

I got idea man
You take me for a walk
Under the sycamore trees
The dark trees that blow
In the dark trees that blow

And I'll see you
And you'll see me
And I'll see you in the branches that blow
In the breeze
I'll see you in the trees
Under the sycamore trees

I bought the soundtrack to TP:FWWM at the beginning of my senior year of college, and more than any album I can think of before or since it wormed its way inside my head and spoke to some part of me that I wasn't conscious of before.

This is music that transmutes melancholy into beauty. This is definitive mood music. This is the soundtrack to the unconscious wanderings of someone headed somewhere.... weird.

Was it me?
Was it you?
Questions in a world of blue

When did the day
with all its light
turn into night?

To me, this is the finest hour in the long and fruitful collaboration between David Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti. Both men produced the album, one or both arranged and orchestrated every song, and they assembled some amazing jazz talent in the studio.

Badalamenti (L) and Lynch (R) in the studio recording the LOST HIGHWAY soundtrack

Alongside standout tracks like the intense reworking of the TV show's theme in "Theme From Twin Peaks:Fire Walk With Me" and the otherworldly vocals of Jimmy Scott in "Sycamore Tree" is my personal favorite "Moving Through Time." This track is far more airy and dreamlike than the rest, anchored by the hypnotic vibes of Jay Hoggard and the violin-like guitar effects of Vinnie Bell. I only discovered today that the drummer on this and several other tracks is Grady Tate, whom readers of a certain age will know from his vocal work on Schoolhouse Rock faves "I Got Six" and "Naughty Number Nine". If you'd like to hear "Moving Through Time", click here.

I think I've mentioned before that this was the record that I listened to on my headphones as I went to sleep on hundreds of nights. There's something reassuring in its dark, and something authentic in its light. It's weird, and frightening at times, but, like Lynch's best work, it will never lie to you and tell you everything's OK when it most assuredly is not. And, just as Laura Palmer discovered at the end of her tortured life, we hear a light at the end of the tunnel even from within the shroud of darkness.

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found here.**

Monday, July 7, 2008

Dog Ears #16: 361

For a while, Dog Ears #16 was going to be H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, but I was unable to even read half of the Lovecraft collection. It seemed like a natural follow-up to Screaming Mimi, as Lovecraft was discovered in pulp horror magazines like Weird Tales and only later gained literary respect.

Ah, to be able to read with 11-year-old eyes again...

I found him painfully gothic, too overblown and repetitive and not creepy enough, although he certainly had his moments of inspired gruesomeness. Maybe his work has been plundered by later-20th century masters of the supernatural like Rod Serling and Stephen King to the point where it seems retroactively trite.

From the Introduction, p.xix

At its best Lovecraft's work becomes a kind of incantation, seducing the mind into a momentary acceptance of the fantastic incidents being related. At its worst it becomes pompous and bombastic.

Too often I sided with the latter, and the book was shelved before I could even finish the titular story Cthulhu. Maybe I need to revisit the 1985 Lovecraft adaptation RE-ANIMATOR, which I remember being disgusting in all the best ways when I saw it in high school.

Title is taken from Roget's Thesaurus's numbered entry for "Killing"

Anyway, when I ditched Cthulhu I had three newly ordered Hard Case Crime paperbacks to choose from so I picked Don Westlake's 361 and dove in. 361 really hit the spot. I can't articulate why, but sometimes there's nothing like the cathartic violence in a bleak tale of revenge to make you feel a touch more alive.

I was lucky enough to meet Don Westlake (who in addition to a celebrated career as a novelist was Oscar nominated for writing THE GRIFTERS) last December at a holiday party in Ancram, NY. I was introduced and asked him a few questions about writing, mostly about the great POINT BLANK (1967) which was based on his book The Hunter (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark). Westlake recounted how the film's star Lee Marvin was in a terrible place personally during the shoot, still apparently affected by the trauma of serving as a sniper in the Marines in WWII and fighting in the Pacific. He also remarked that, as is true with most writers being adapted, he didn't have much to do with the film's production at all. He was very gracious to me and I walked away with the buzz you feel when you meet a legend.

"I bet you're a big Lee Marvin fan, aren't ya?"

Here are some choice excerpts from 361, originally published in 1962 and re-released in 2005 after being out of print for over 40 years.

p37 hang fire phrase
delay or be delayed in taking action or progressing.

p42 "I got the eye from the dresser and went into the head. I washed my face and watched myself put the eye in."
- the protag Ray loses his eye early on and has to get used to a glass eye. I don't know if his wordplay here is deliberate or not, but I got a good chuckle.

p59 "Linda, the little girl, came over and started asking stupid questions. She was like her mother, interesting until she opened her mouth."

p129-30 "To begin with, every man has to have either a home or a purpose. Do you see that? Either a place to be or something to do. Without one or the other, a man goes nuts. Or he loses his manhood, like a hobo. Or he drinks or kills himself or something else. It doesn't matter, it's just that everybody has to have one or the other."

p140-41 "Aren't you gonna help him out of the water?"
"No, I wasn't playing. I don't play."
- I love that people were saying "I don't play" 45 years ago!

p173 "William Cheever's name was fourth of four on the frosted glass panel of the door. It wasn't a law firm, it was one of those set-ups where a number of unsuccessful professional men get together to share the rent and the receptionist and the futility."

p203 "I went into the first bar I came to on Lexington Avenue, but it was lunchtime and full of bland smooth people."

BONUS DOGEARS from The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories

p9 cenotaph |ˈsenəˌtaf|
a tomblike monument to someone buried elsewhere, esp. one commemorating people who died in a war.

p16 mésalliancemāzəˈəns; ˌmāˌzalˈ n s|
a marriage with a person thought to be unsuitable or of a lower social position.

p24 (from the story Celephaïs)
"There are not many persons who know what wonders are opened to them in the stories and visions of their youth; for when as children we listen and dream, we think but half-formed thoughts, and when as men we try and remember, we are dulled and prosaic with the poison of life."