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Can you pass the Acid Test?
03.03.2010
07:05 pm
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Last week at the awesome Wolfgang’s Vault website, they posted a particularly interesting historical cultural document: a recording of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and the young Grateful Dead at one of the infamous Acid Test raves. From the concert summary on the website:

“As 1966 began, San Francisco was rapidly becoming the epicenter of a cultural and musical shift that would impact the world. Dance hall promoters like Bill Graham and Chet Helms were in the early stages of opening venues where local bands could perform for the throngs of young people looking to dance socialize and listen to live music. Local writer Ken Kesey and his friends (known as The Merry Pranksters) were doing the same on a smaller scale, but adding high quality LSD to the mix, which was then still legal and readily available. As Kesey’s parties, or “Acid Tests” as they were called, began attracting more and more adventurous people, it was inevitable that The Merry Pranksters parties would merge with local dance hall venues, which is exactly what happened on January 8, 1966.

On that night The Pranksters and their Acid Test house band, The Grateful Dead, descended on Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium, loading in piles of sound equipment, projectors and strobe lights and ready to turn attendees on to LSD while subjecting them to sensory bombardment. The band had literally just become The Grateful Dead, having recently changed their name from The Warlocks, and was just one component of the overall experience. Ken Kesey, strategically overseeing everything, was also plugged in to the P.A. system and could ramble stream-of-consciousness commentary over the proceedings. Various Pranksters were also equipped with roving microphones, which could be fed in and out at any time. Mass free-form creativity while under the influence was the goal. Often it was utter chaos, sometimes it was divinely inspired and for the vast majority of attendees, it was incredibly liberating to “freak freely” with others who felt the same.

While no mere audio recording could ever capture an Acid Test experience, this one does manage to capture some of the spontaneous free-formlessness and remains one of the earliest (if not the earliest) examples of a live Grateful Dead recording, when they were essentially still a cover band playing for dancers.

The recording begins with the proceedings just getting underway and not surprisingly, plenty of chaos onstage. As The Grateful Dead attempt to get the stage powered up, Captain Ken Kesey is rambling away, welcoming attendees to tonight’s journey. After several minutes of embracing absurdity, The Grateful Dead begin the slow blues of “I’m A King Bee,” sounding not too different from the early Rolling Stones, but more hypnotic. Although primitive, many of the elements of the prototype San Francisco sound are in place, from Garcia’s banjo style electric guitar picking and his use of twang bar to end his riff lines to Pigpen’s largely improvised vocal style. Garcia and Pigpen team up on lead vocals for the next number, a bouncy cover of “I’m A Hog For You Baby,” which also includes Kesey interjecting Prankster style public service announcements over the band. Although occasionally tempo-challenged, up to this point drummer Bill Kruetzman comes across as the most accomplished musician here and when others drift off, he and Phil Lesh help keep things somewhat anchored.

The musical highlight of this recording follows as The Grateful Dead play a solid 17-minute sequence consisting of Pigpen’s “Caution” segueing directly into “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” Here one can hear the promise of this band and everyone turns in a respectable performance, particularly Pigpen and Garcia, who were clearly leading the way. “Caution” soon becomes a driving hyper-jam, featuring a great early example of Garcia’s shredding technique. The “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” that follows is downright spooky, thanks in no small part to Pigpen’s organ work, which rarely gets much mention. With the band cranking away about nine minutes in, suddenly the police pull the plug!

Kesey, not one to miss an opportunity for increasing the absurdity, announces “The chief security agent has taken over and has pulled the plug on the band! Completely nullifying the engines!” Several other roving microphones are also heard, including what sounds like an instantaneous tape loop of a police officer saying “Clear the house! The dance is over!” Many humorous and sarcastic comments are heard eminating from the stage as well as the room, while Bob Weir begins baiting the cops with a spontaneous monologue. As the police converge on the stage, several people begin belting out a hideously off-key rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” just to needle the police a little more. Amidst grumbling and noise, the tape runs out with a commentary from Jerry Garcia, who exclaims, “In the end, its nothing but mindless chaos. Good old mindless chaos, hassling, ever hassling…”

 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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03.03.2010
07:05 pm
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Mason Williams: Classical Gas
03.03.2010
06:11 pm
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One of the nice things about the era we live in—sometimes I call it the YouTube era, other times “The Age of Consumer Enlightenment,” it varies—is that this is a time when any piece of music or video is almost instantly consumable just for the asking, and as a result the “walls” between the various genres of music have fallen by the wayside. If it’s good, it’s good.

For the past week, I’ve been obsessively listening to two mixed CDs given to me by DJ Nobody (he of Low End Theory fame) that skip wonderfully between musical genres and the cracks between them. They might be the best mixed CDs I’ve ever heard. From pastoral folk to glammy heavy metal to insane psych to easy listening, love songs and thick, thick FUNK, these mixes work, and work great You can buy them from his MySpace page. If you trust my tastes at all, these CDs are the shit, believe you me. I’ve probably listened to them 30 times each.

So this got me thinking that I needed to make a CD back for him, you know, to show him how it’s done—the young whippersnapper!—and this is one of the tracks I set aside. In the punk era it would have been heresy to say you liked prog rock, but how naff would you feel about boosting a song like Mason William’s Classical Gas to all of your bemohawked friends? That’s what I thought, but seen in the light of day in the year of our Lord 2010, this song is fucking rad, isn’t it? Enjoy!
 
Bonus: Joy by Apollo 100!
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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03.03.2010
06:11 pm
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The Internal Tulips: Mislead Into A Field By A Deformed Deer
03.03.2010
05:05 pm
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Self-promotion wank-fest alert !  My duo project with composer/wunderkind Alex Graham dba The Internal Tulips has just had our first LP released on esteemed UK electronic music label Planet Mu. It was about 5 years in the making and we are proud parents indeed. The occasional critic has agreed !  Sez Fact Magazine : “Strewn with feeling, wonderfully imagined and beautiful conceived, you couldn’t ask for an LP with more personality, emotion, guts and soul.” Thanks very much, check’s in the mail. There are excerpts up on the label site and below is a spooky video by my bro, Josh Laner for one of the tunes. It’s nearly as good as Final Placement.

Posted by Brad Laner
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03.03.2010
05:05 pm
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Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard: Silent Sound
03.02.2010
11:50 pm
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On Sunday 7th March 2010, British artistic duo Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard will present their elaborate performance piece, Silent Sound, live at Middlesbrough Town Hall. From the artists’ statement:

“In 2006 we conceived and presented a project called Silent Sound. It was commissioned by A Foundation and was presented as a live performance in St. George’s Hall during the Liverpool Biennial and a 3 month long exhibition at Greenland Street. The work features an original score by J. Spaceman (from the band Spiritualized) and was introduced on the night by Dr. Ciaran O’Keeffe from Living TV’s ‘Most Haunted’
 
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Silent Sound is conceived as an otherworldly experiment using controversial mind control technology to transmit a subliminal message during a live music performance. The new composition for the project by J. Spaceman is designed to carry the subliminal message. Silent Sound sets out to warp your perception and stage a remarkable experience loaded with potential which intensifies your experience of being in the here-and-now. Drawing on the powerful psychological set-up of 19th century Spiritualist public performances and inspired by Victorian entertainers The Davenport Brothers who were famed for attempting to contact the souls of the dead using their ‘spirit cabinet’, we will perform inside our own specially created soundproof cabinet. From the stage inside this cabinet we will repeatedly broadcast a spoken ‘message’, this signal is fed into our custom-made Silent Sound machine, which subliminally embeds the message within the music and transmits it throughout the entire duration of the performance.”

“Part classical concert and part public séance” as the AV Festival website says, the score for this, as you can tell from the video below, is absolutely gorgeous. Jason Pierce from Spiritualized will be playing live with the orchestra at the event.

Kenneth Anger will also be appearing at the AV Festival.
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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03.02.2010
11:50 pm
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Top THIS! OK Go returns with a viral video to trump all other viral videos
03.02.2010
06:37 pm
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Let’s face it, with all of the many, many entertainment choices we have facing us, every minute of every single day, when it comes to the matter of what we choose to give our precious attention to, music videos tend to rank pretty low on the totem pole. There’s probably a pretty compelling reason MTV is no longer calling itself a “music” channel. So ‘80s, isn’t it? A three-minute music video? Who has the time?

So when you hear about some “cool” new music video — maybe your tweeps told you about it — it had, well, better be good. Chicago-based indie rockers OK Go know this. Their 2006 video, Here It Goes Again, featuring the group doing a synchronized dance routine on treadmills, has been viewed by about 50 million people, so the follow-up had, well, better be good too.

Trust me, it’s great. I could describe for you the Rube Goldberg-inspired centerpiece of the new This Too Shall Pass video, but since their record company finally relented and allowed the piece to be embedded (I mean, what was that all about?), you can simply press play and see for yourself.

Engineered with help from CalTech and MIT, and built by Syyn Labs, the video — and its kinetic sculpture centerpiece — is nothing short of astonishing. Like its predecessor, it’s bound to snag all kinds of kudos and awards. This Friday, March 5, in LACMA’s West Penthouse, OK Go will be having a video release party, where I’m sure they’ll spill some of the secrets of how this mini-masterpiece came to be. If you can’t make the LACMA party, there are some videos on the OK Go website that will enlighten you.

Posted by Richard Metzger
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03.02.2010
06:37 pm
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New Autechre LP: Oversteps
03.02.2010
03:22 pm
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Autechre are one of the most consistently interesting and uncompromising electronic music outfits around and new output from them is always an event. At the moment they’re doing a 12 hour live broadcast from their site, so hop on over ! Oversteps is available in late March.
 

 
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Posted by Brad Laner
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03.02.2010
03:22 pm
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Higher: Sly Stone Documentary
03.02.2010
01:40 am
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Incoming imminently: A documentary about Sly Stone, one of the great unsung music geniuses of all unsung music geniuses. Via Arthur, who I link to too much, and who are the great unsung heroes of Our Age.

(Arthur: Higher)

(Read Greil Marcus on Sly Stone: Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music: Fifth Edition)

Posted by Jason Louv
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03.02.2010
01:40 am
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Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me
03.01.2010
08:09 pm
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Last week saw the release of Joanna Newsom’s new album, a 3 CD set called Have One on Me. You have to admire the nerve of an artist putting out an album in 2010 that clocks in a little less than Sandinista! Hasn’t she heard that the entire world has a 30 second attention span? Evidentially Newson, who includes a 25 page libretto in the set, didn’t get the memo.

Jonah Weiner, writing on Slate:

As demanding albums go, Joanna Newsom’s Have One on Me is pretty smooth going. Songs amble along leisurely, heavy on warm, plucked strings, stately piano, and bright horns, as Newsom sings in a voice that’s both resolute and vaporous: an amplified sigh. Some agitations and eruptions breach the surface here and there, but mostly the pond just shimmers. And yet the album is demanding because it wants us to do something that we’ve grown largely unaccustomed to doing in the digital-music era: namely, to stop what we’re doing—close all the tabs in our browsers—and give it our undivided attention.

Have One on Me, released last week, mounts a three-disc, 18-song protest against distraction, against rushing, against gulping. Newsom, an audacious 27-year-old songwriter from northern California, tells complicated stories that don’t invite parsing so much as necessitate it, and the album forms a panorama so sprawling that the mind’s eye struggles to survey it in full. Here she is in one song, stealing a horse and hanging for the crime; here she is in another, pondering the life of Lola Montez, 19th-century bohemian scenester and mistress of the Bavarian King Ludwig I; here she is fallen in with ash-masked volcano worshippers.

The album—a patchwork of American and Celtic folk, medieval music, gospel, classical, country, and piano-pop—lasts two hours and four minutes. That’s two minutes more than Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 12 more than Wu-Tang Forever, and 20 less than Sandinista! But it takes at least three plays to begin to feel you’ve really heard it. One listen is necessary to collect first impressions and sketch a rough road map; a second to read along with the precisely transcribed paragraphs, parentheticals, puns, and mellifluous A.P. English stumpers—etiolated, palanquin, gormless—that take up a full 25 pages of liner notes; and a third listen to put down the liner notes and let the words settle back into partnership with Newsom’s music and phrasing, which emphasize lines that may have seemed throwaway on the page while underselling other, would-be zingers.

This takes some effort, but mostly it just takes time. Have One on Me is worth the cost, though, and worth the actual price tag retailers put on it, too, because it is exactly what it purports to be: a major work, moving, mystifying, transporting. You emerge from it with your bearings knocked askew.

The great arranger arranger Van Dyke Parks, who has worked with Brian Wilson, Carly Simon and other notables, told the London Times about hearing Joanna Newsom sing her song Emily the first time they met. Parks said: “In my mind were the images of the bards, the troubadours, the poets. And the very druid marrow of my bones started to shout at me, ‘You should serve this person!’” High praise indeed.

This sounds epic. I can’t wait to get my hands on this!
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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03.01.2010
08:09 pm
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Bad Brains: A Band in D.C.
03.01.2010
12:44 am
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I’m really looking forward to seeing this! According to their Facebook and Myspace page it appears as if the documentary is still in post-production and they’re currently searching for a distributor. From directors Mandy Stein and Ben Logan, “The film follows the music and the life of the Bad Brains from 1979 to present day.”
 

“BAD BRAINS has announced that it is in the final stages of production for its acclaimed documentary. No release date has been set yet.

The yet-untitled film was directed by Mandy Stein and Ben Logan and traces the history of the band from their formation in Washington, D.C. in 1979 to the present day. In addition to tons of footage from the band’s vault, the movie includes interviews with all four members (vocalist HR, guitarist Dr. Know, bassist Darryl Jenifer and drummer Earl Hudson) and their manager Anthony Countey, as well as testimonials from Henry Rollins, ex-Minor Threat and Fugazi vocalist Ian MacKaye, ex-Minor Threat guitarist Lyle Preslar, ex-Cro Mags vocalist Jon Joseph and guitarist Harley Flanagan, Murphys Law guitarist Jimmy Gestapo and Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch, who produced Bad Brains 2007 album Build a Nation.

In addition to giving birth to the hardcore movement with their song “Pay to Cum” and inspiring all of the aforementioned musicians in the process, the Bad Brains had a huge influence on a new breed of late ‘80 and early ’90s metal bands, including Living Colour, Faith No More, 24-7 Spyz and Fishbone. While the Bad Brains flick is currently in post-production, it will be ready for release in a Jamaican minute.”

Read more over at Metal Underground
 

Posted by Tara McGinley
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03.01.2010
12:44 am
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Kraftwerk: Der Katalog, an appraisal
02.28.2010
09:31 pm
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So I’ve listened to the entire collection of the newly refurbished and reissued Kraftwerk catalog. Verdict? Well, when you compare it to previous versions, it certainly sounds better. In prior iterations, the CDs from Capital and Cleopatra always sounded kind of hissy and lacked a little clarity for my tastes. But do they sound tons better? Blow your socks off better? Well, not really, no.

Don’t get me wrong, they are certainly the best versions we’ve ever had, but why oh why were these albums not remixed for surround sound? They’re practically crying out for it! Autobahn was issued as a Quad 8-track in 1975. Could that not have been exploited here? It would have been so easy! And there would have been a real reason for fans—hint: it’s called a good value—to repurchase them in the multi-channel format. Man, I’d love to hear Computer World in 5:1 surround. Can you imagine how trippy that would sound? It just seems like a waste to me that they didn’t go the extra mile for one of the most seminal catalogs of 20th century pop music.

At least someone should consider putting out the quad version of Autobahn as a limited edition or something! The Kraftwerk remasters sound great, they really do, but I can’t help thinking that this was a real missed opportunity here.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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02.28.2010
09:31 pm
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