Saturday, April 17, 2010

Coachella 2010

LCD Soundsystem and Flame Vortex

Photos by Sam Julius

The Windmills

Photo by Phil Julius

Here we are at Coachella 2010, current center of the musical universe. Indio is ablaze with awesome music and scorching sunlight, and some great acts graced the stages last night. Arriving at the event was troublesome, however. Once on Jefferson, a mainline street into Indio coming off the interstate 5, traffic was so jammed we waited in snail pace traffic for 3 hours. We eventually found another route in and got a parking space. The lines to get a wristband were out of control and security was inefficient and scatterbrained to say the least. We had left at 12pm, and we were inside the grounds at 6:30. Time is scarce, so here is a brief rundown of some cool stuff:

Them Crooked Vultures
Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones are all amazing artists and were definitely a successful recipe for a great live show. The main draw for me was Grohl, as this is what is becoming a rare chance to see him abuse a drum kit. He did not disappoint, with the machine of god fills and kick punching you in the face. Jones was locked in tight, filling out the low end, and Homme brought his blues and garage infested pop sensibilities to the mix (I'm a big fan of Queens of the Stone Age).

LCD Soundsystem
I've seen them before, and it seems they are consistently and awesome live band. I didn't see the whole show, but what I did see was great, them opening with Us v. Them, going into Drunk Girls, and closing with New York, I Love You. A giant disco ball hung above the stage. The energy of coming electronic dance with live instruments is great.

I saw just a couple songs, including Brush ya shoulders off, a short part of Diamonds are forever, and Forever Young, that 80s song from Napoleon Dynamite which was sung by Beyonce. He had a great band behind him, and a really good visual set up.

Public Image Limited
This was a weird show. PiL is abrasive, atonal music to begin with, with little more and funky vamping bass and drums to hold it together. Johnny Rotten is still a psycho, singing with strange vibrato and snarl. This music seems to run from deep trenches of British disgust and impotency, so its not exactly good vibes music. Most people seemed to be locked in an apathetic stare while watching.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Record Stores and Perdedores

Making Records
Record stores are a funny thing. Major chains like Tower and Virgin are now gone, toppled by iTunes and illegal downloading, while indie stores stay alive by offering vinyl and weird stuff that the major stores never could. In the Pasadena area there are a couple indie record stores, but one of the most interesting is Poo-Bah, near the Guitar Center on Colorado Blvd. Usually I go to Penny Lane, also on Colorado across the street from Pasadena City College, but they are, in their own indie way, predictable. They have a pretty well stocked selection of vinyl, and lots of CDs, yet its that very abundance that leads browsing to quickly become monotonous. PooBah, on the other hand, has their vinyl mostly divided by first letter, so their aren't artist sections, so you have to look through everything to find something you might want. And when they do have what you want, its usually something you've never seen before on vinyl, and you probably won't again, making it more likely you will purchase it then and there. Even in their CD sections, the albums by artist tend to be weird, off-center selections that you aren't gonna find at Best Buy. In the age where you can buy anything at anytime from iTunes, this seems like the only way to shop for physical recordings of music.

The whole vibe of PooBah lends itself to adventuristic perusing of the shelves. I went in there today to purchase a record for my brother's birthday, not knowing what I wanted, just knowing that if I found something, it would probably be awesome. There's some old, kinda bookish guy behind the cash machine, with the rows of records and CDs at a little above hip level, and an overlook mezzanine as well as a side walkway that is like where a department stores would put up stuff for sale that bypassers could see but instead you can walk into it and it has two CD listening stations and music, tattoo and weed magazines. Sprinkled throughout the store are super-indie like pressed in your basement type records, with WordPerfect typed info inserts and stuff. When I was in there I saw this bizarre couple looking for weird old records, like the woman had a used copy of the Paul Stanley solo KISS record in her hand. I found a new copy of Neil Young's After the Gold Rush, which I definitely had never seen before. The first time I went there I found a new vinyl copy of PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love, and yeah I've never seen that anywhere else. One time there was a guy up on the mezzanine make weird noise with pedals. And it was like noon on a weekday! So if you are in the Pasadena area this is definitely a place worth checking out.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Top 5 Videogames of all time

"Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots" Game Lauch
Watching Bytejacker, this online show about indie games, has compelled me to finally put out my top 5 video games of all time list. Of course this list only applies to my favorite games like, right now, so this could change tomorrow, but I'll try to make the list as sturdy as possible. So here it is:

My Top 5 Video Games of All Time (in alphabetical order):

Bioshock (PS3)
Final Fantasy VII (PS1)
Metal Gear Solid (PS1)
Resident Evil (Gamecube Remake)
Super Mario RPG (SNES)

Other really strong contenders for this list would be Super Mario All-Stars, Metal Gear Solid 2 and maybe even Final Fantasy VIII (well, not really but that is an awesome game). Bioshock is definitely the best next-gen game I've played, and really needs no explanation. FFVII is a super-classic, of course, and I love the gritty and story of MGS1. The Gamecube RE1 is way underplayed, and it seems like nobody knows about it but I am a huge RE fan and this is definitely the best RE game ever (I'm not into the new ones like 4, and I don't really condsider that a true RE game). Super Mario RPG is such a great game, but I'm super into for All-Stars and Super Mario World as well.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mixtape Monday #2: Baroque & British

2009 All Points West Music & Arts Festival - Day 2 - Show
Okay, so its Tuesday, but I've been busy so here's this week's mixtape. This is the Baroque and British tape, which is like lush British stuff, basically stuff that I see has a connection or is influenced by Scott Walker. And he's not even British!

Baroque and British Mixtape
1. It's Raining Today- Scott Walker
2. The Universal- Blur
3. Dissolved Girl- Massive Attack
4. Lose My Breath- My Bloody Valentine
5. Stay With Me- Spiritualized
6. Quicksand- David Bowie
7. Radian- Air
8. Fake Plastic Trees- Radiohead
9. Paper Tiger- Beck

So obviously these are not all British groups, both Walker and Beck being American, MBV being Irish and Air being French. Fake plastic trees is kind of a shoo in for something like this, but I guess I didn't have a choice. Radian is a great lesser know Air song, kind of a Mike Mills-esque center piece for 10,000 hz Legend. These songs have a great kind of thematic blend. Enjoy!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Concert Review: Brains of an Alien

I just got back from a recording gig in Tujunga, a strange methed-out corner of California 20 minutes outside Los Angeles. Me and my cohort arrived at the bombed-out town, a Barstow-esque setting of old muscle cars and rotting storefronts. The venue the concert was to happen at didn't even have a sign, instead the empty metal shell of a an neon billboard. Most of the shops on the street looked like they housed medical marijuana clinics, but without the class one would have on, say, Santa Monica Blvd. Inside was a black-and-white tiled waiting room with blue couches and a cheesy wooden sign that read "FAMILY". The actual venue was a large square room with ugly brown carpet, bass traps nailed to the back wall (which means they don't work) and the main stage flanked by two wide screen TVs. As we entered, the obvious I-run-this-thing-and-I'm-a-jerk type guy walks up: "Hi, who are we?" We tell him that we're there to record Brains of an Alien, and then he goes back to talking with these rock n' roll types who look about as authentic as a piece of tattoo parlor flash. "Yeah, we didn't play places like the Whiskey or the Roxy 'cause they didn't want the punk and hardcore bands back in the day" he muses. Immediately following the rockers departure, he turns to the sound guy and says, "Man, I am full of shit. I sound like I know what I'm talking about, but I don't know shit. I don't know the hell's going on. Do I sound indignant?" "No man, you sound fine". I couldn't believe this, it was something out of a Judd Apatow movie.

We started setting up the mic stands, and chatted a bit with the sound guy: "Yeah, Pastor Bob got the idea that we should have this place for shows, you know, to keeps kids off the street and smoking pot and stuff... Not that that's a bad thing." Oh, ok. To be fair, this guy really did help us out. When the jerk guy would tell us to get out of the way for one reason or another, the sound guy would lead us back in and watch our back. People started milling around outside, and the tweaker vibe was soundly established. Like, the Jesus-freak-meth-head-trailer-trash vibe. One guy was wearing a shirt that was like the Reese's Cups logo, but with "Jesus Cups" or something. One guy was wearing a homemade "Be Kind Rewind" T-shirt like the movie! (Super awesome or lame, I can't decide). So half our stuff is set up, and I'm really hunger. We saw a deli across the turn, so I run over there. Turns out its a Persian Kabob place, and as I'm looking at the menu a guy walks in and starts yelling at the guy behind the counter in Persian, and they're both yelling at each other for 10 seconds, and then the first guy walks out and the guy behind the counter mutters in English, "Fucking (mutter mutter)" then turns to me and says: "I bought $300 worth of spices, I do not need any more spice!" but in a pleasant and enthusiastic manner, and of course I had to agree with him. Seriously, a situation requiring more than $300 worth of spice in an unimaginable one. So I order two cheeseburgers, and as he's making them he painstakingly list for me the ingredients that will be included on the burgers, because he says: "That the way I make them so I need to know if that's what you will like". Once I assure him the listed ingredients will be fine, he asks if I want spice on them, because "that is what I like so I need to know that you will like it!" This guy had to be one of the most enthusiastic people I've ever met, super invested in the food he was preparing for me. He gave me back a full $8 in change even though its was supposed to be $7.95, while saying how much he cares.

Now nourished by the best prepared cheeseburgers in the world, we finally set up all our gear. We were running a Pro Tools rig off of a laptop and an MBox, making a stereo recording with two condenser mics setup at the back of the room. Now for the music. Brains of an Alien was a sort of punk/metal band, with a lot of screaming and not a lot of melody. The first two songs were scream fests, but some songs came off like sloppy Ramones covers, and they covered a Megadeth song. It was a standard 4-piece of drums/guitar/guitar/bass, with the drummer and guitar holding down vocal/screaming duty. Pretty much all the songs consisted of minor-third metaly stuff or poppy 3-chord punk progressions with fast Metallica riffs thrown in. When the drummer said: "This song is about Tujunga and all the tweaker that live here" it cemented any previous notions I had been nursing about the place. The Persian guy from the kabob place even show up and handed someone what looked like a piece of bread, spoke enthusiastically to them, and then left. We successful laid the entire set to disk, the only snafu being someone kicking one of the condenser mic stands during the first song.

The song about Tujunga was like "Welcome to the Jungle" with a location change and basterdized with a Nightmare before Christmas song and the warm, acidy desert vibe of Queens of the Stone Age replaced with the bad-coming-down-off-meth vibe of Tujunga. The "special guest" of the night was a piece of cantaloupe the band had turned into an alien brain, which got its own mic. They also had a banner with their name done up to look like the title of Back to the Future. It seemed like a good time was had by all. Tujunga wants you to pay a visit!

Guitars for Weirdos

I spotted this today in a music catalogue and it just killed me. This is an awesome looking instrument! With the sleek white finish and two yin and yang-esque dots, this is a seriously badass guitar. Then I saw it was Buckethead's signature Les Paul. Now, I don't have anything against Buckethead, but he is this kind of weird fringe artist that only super-guitar-nerds are into. I know he played on Chinese Democracy, and that Axl Rose had to take him to Disneyland and build a chicken coop in the studio for Bucket to lay down his tracks, but other than that I don't know anything about him (although just that info tickles me to no end). But objectively this guitar does look awesome, and Buckethead should be pleased. For him, it is fitting.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Metal Machine Music

The Persol "Incognito Design Exhibition" Opens At The Whitney Museum
Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music set the precedent for unformed, harrowing distortion. At the time of its release in the mid-70s, the album was considered an act of career suicide, yet its philosophy has been sung by many successful acts since. The two most apparent of these acts are My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth. By draping their songs in mind-bending distortion, it elevated the sonic ambiance to that of something akin to a natural force, like a tornado. Yet even Machine Music's screech is strongly felt in the Beach Boyish pop tunes of the Jesus and Mary Chain, stabbing out amongst the hummable melodies. How MBV and SY are different are that they made the noise an integral and cohesive part of their sound, so that if you stripped away the chords and melody you would have Metal Machine Music, the raw genetic material of such noisy records.

This is not to in any way undermine to fantastic songwriting chops of both MBV and Sonic Youth. Its just so ironic that MMM was deemed such a failure, or at possibly some sort of stunt. Lou Reed recently talked about the earnestness in which this record was produced, how he could only have made such a piece of art only if it really moved him. This seemed to come as a shock to some, yet it never seemed like people were questioning whether or not MBV or Sonic Youth were pulling any stunts. Yet MBV plays shows that end in 20 minutes of shattering noise, and on Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, considered by many to be their most popular and accessible album, a majority of the tunes devolve into pure noise at some point or another. At that point MMM is being reiterated straight up.

That's not to suggest that having song structures doesn't help the noise go down easier. It's just that while MMM isn't the most listenable album, its "difficulties" have been reused in different contexts much to the gain of those who reused them. Pure noise isn't really something to be judged, anyway. Its ever present, like adding gain to the buzz of your fridge. And it can make for some great music.