RECENT LISTENING #7

Sinead O'Connor, Robert Plant, State Champion, The World's Lousy With Ideas Vol. 8, Mutant Beat Dance, David Bowie, Miles Davis

SINEAD O’CONNOR The Lion and the Cobra (ENSIGN/CHRYSALIS) I don’t think I can truly impart to you how much I love this and the next Sinead album. They’re both so good, like if Bowie had done Man Who Sold and Hunky back to back and then basically quit. She wrote, arranged, and produced this whole debut LP, all by herself, and not only sings but plays electric rhythm guitar throughout, and though assholes will probably point out that some of it sounds ‘too ‘80s’ (it was recorded in 1987, duh), I would retort that “post-punk never ended.” Anyway, “Mandinka” is one of the greatest glam-guitar new-wave rock songs of that entire decade.

ROBERT PLANT “Ship of Fools” (ES PARANZA) The custodian where I work is always listening to 97.1 FM The Drive (WDRV Chicago) on his phone, and whenever our paths cross in the building he makes me play name-that-tune. We did this for months, and I had gotten like 382 right, and 0 wrong, until one day when the music coming from his phone was a forlorn guitar-led desert-rock outro, no vocals (which would’ve made it easier to identify), the guitarist really nailing the melancholy mood, and I knew I had heard it before, a sudden reminder of a forgotten past, right there in my conscious present… but I just couldn’t name it, especially as it was starting to fade out and go into a mind-erasing commercial, or more common classic rock staple. “I give up,” I said. “‘Ship of Fools’ by Robert Plant!,” said the custodian (also named Robert, as it happens), and 30 (!) years ago came rushing back, me living on a college campus, this song playing frequently via MTV on my roommate’s cheap-ass dorm-room television set. It was the second single/video released from Plant’s 1988 album Now and Zen, which was huge at the time, peaking at #6 on the US Billboard 200. It’s the album with “Tall Cool One,” for goodness sake, but “Ship of Fools” was also a successful single (apparently featured on an episode of Miami Vice, surely during a climactic scene where Crockett and/or Tubbs gaze forlornly at an Atlantic Ocean sunset, sky streaked with pink coral), and 30 years later, it ruled the hearts and souls of two employees at a workplace somewhere in Chicago, an extremely accomplished dark-midlife rock ballad, moody and melancholy, but still with that touch of wistful play, light and shade going strong. (Shout-outs to keyboardist/cowriter Phil Johnstone, and guitarist Doug Boyle.) Working at my desk that afternoon, I found myself playing it over and over again on YouTube. I left my office and there was Robert not-Plant in the hallway. He said “Now you got me on ‘Ship of Fools’!” as he too had been playing it over and over on his phone. POSTSCRIPT: Over a year later, Robert not-Plant has gone on to another job, but still stops by so I can help him order stuff on the internet, and this time when he walks in, his phone is playing some instrumental house music. “I can’t name that tune,” I say, jokingly, though truthfully. “Oh no, you don’t know this one,” he says. “This is HOUSE music.” “Well, I do know some house music,” I say. “You don’t know house music,” he says. “I actually do a little bit,” I say. “You don’t know house music,” he repeats. “Well, I’m kind of a student of a lot of types of music, so I know a little bit. I mean, I know Frankie Knuckles, Jamie Principle...” When I said Frankie Knuckles he didn’t even flinch, because everybody knows Frankie Knuckles, but when I said Jamie Principle he bugged out, and kept repeating “HE SAID JAMIE PRINCIPLE!,” talking about me in the third person. I said, “I know Jamie Principle! If you live in Chicago for awhile, you get to know house music, no matter what neighborhood you live in,” which is true, but what I didn’t tell him is that I’m not only a student of music, I’m an insane geek autodidact scholar of about as many types of music as I can handle, and Chicago house is like Music 301, and I’m already taking graduate classes, 501, 601, beyond. Either way, we continued talking about house music and I quickly realized something I’d never known about him, passing behind 97.1 FM The Drive: he was a true head, and when I asked him if he ever heard Ron Hardy he really lit up. “Are you kidding me? I used to go to Muzic Box every damn night! I was still in high school! My moms was all, ‘Don’t even think about going to that club!,’ but I went anyway. And I wouldn’t leave until it was daytime!”

STATE CHAMPION Send Flowers (SOPHOMORE LOUNGE) Fourth album by this act and they/he just keep getting better. State Champion is the singing and songwriting of Louisville, Kentucky resident Ryan Davis, who plays guitar (and recently went on a State Champion solo tour as such), with bassist Mikie Poland and violinist Sabrina Rush, essentially the same rootsy/punky guitar/violin/bass/drums lineup on every album, with a few different drummers. So you know the band is gonna be well-seasoned, and you know that Davis can write/play/sing, but man, he’s really kicked up his already deeply observational, widely referential, dark-humored and literary sheets-of-words style a notch from even the last album, Fantasy Error. The band knows how to stay out of the way of the words too, laying down that country/heartland/rock’n’roll choogle, intentionally/contrastingly straight-forward so as to build sturdy foundations for Davis’s words to scaffold and tessellate onto, which incidentally makes the penultimate track on the album, a slow jam called “Legends of Miami Bass,” really stand out with some plangent and piquant jazzy chords. The last song “Stonehenge Blues Band Blues” gets back to the choogle, with an opening line I (literally) lol’d at (didn’t know the title yet): “What happens at Stonehenge stays at Stonehenge.” POSTSCRIPT: Was wondering who the lady singing along sweetly throughout the LP was, only to finally read the credits and see that it was former Drag City recording artist Edith Frost herself. Her first two albums are kinda classics; I prefer the nicely sparse first one Calling Over Time but I think headz usually go for the 2nd one Telescopic (also excellent) because it has a cool title and was produced by Adam & Eve (themselves).

VARIOUS ARTISTS The World’s Lousy With Ideas Vol. 8 LP (ALMOST READY) Continuing to work towards my ultimate goal of only reviewing brand new records that came out over 10 years ago, here’s a compilation LP of weird-punk from the 2000s (remember weird-punk from the 2000s?), volume eight (!) in a series on the Almost Ready record label (though the rest are all 7” EPs, still a lot of records). Can’t help but feel a little of that distinct ‘nostalgia for the recent past’ (let me know if there’s a cool German and/or Japanese word for that) when I hear the bands on here, kicking off with the Vivian Girls. I’ve noticed a couple recent thinkpieces along the lines of, “Why did everybody hate on the Vivian Girls?,” and I wonder the same thing, as they were a superb band. This song “Lake House” is absolutely glorious. Maybe it really was just that latent Termbro misogyny, bubbling up and flooding the underground, extinction-event style. And then track two is by the Blank Dogs themselves, and it’s a cool-sounding tune, literally completely interchangeable with every single other one of their cool-sounding tunes, a 1:1:1:1:1 etc. relationship (sorry don’t know math too well). Track three is by Times New Viking, blaring away inside their prototypical power-pop garage wash, and then there’s Intelligence, and I still have no idea what they sound like, even though I just listened to ‘em for about the tenth time, and then side one closes out with a song by Guinea Worms from Columbus, Ohio which I don’t remember either (that’s three in a row — gosh, maybe the world really is lousy with ideas!) (j/k), though I do remember their still-classic diggers’ anthem “Box of Records” (now 13 years old and available on Discogs starting at $2.56, not a bad price for a still-classic anthem). Side R (the two sides of this compilation LP are marked “A” and “R,” which probably stands for the record label Almost Ready, but I like to think stands for “Artist and Repertoire,” as this compilation is indeed a label showcase for exciting new developments in both areas) kicks off with Sic Alps, a track coolly called “Strepix,” which starts out with some cool experimental noise music, and then abruptly shifts into another one of their 45-second free-glam British Invasion vocal-pop toss-offs, clearly unfinished, possibly improvised, that makes me think I would really love these guys if there was just a little more there there. Wait, the Gertrude Stein quote I’m referencing was itself a description of Oakland, California, which is where Sic Alps were from. Hmmm… even if Gertrude was right about Oakland back then (she wasn’t), she’d be wrong about Oakland now, and I’m just playing, just free-associating, as Sic Alps also does, which has indeed inspired me as a writer, as a listener, hell, as an imaginer. And up next, more there there, another Bay Area band, Thee Oh Sees, who I’ve actually barely heard despite their 39 or 40 albums, but this is an excellent garage-rocking hyper-glam track. Maybe these guys are well-known just because their music really is better. And then, one of my favorite weird-punk bands ever, Detroit’s own Tyvek, with another one of their patented shy/relentless mechano-nerd steady-mover real-person motorik tunes, and then the album closer, the real “piece of resistance,” if you will, the single (pink) reason I finally bought this LP for very cheap on Discogs, when it popped up on my iPod shuffle to devastating effect one evening not too long ago: “Going Home” by Pink Reason. At the time, I had my hands deep in the warm suds of a sink full of dishes, and no idea who this slightly extended (6-minute) downer modernized/frazzled Neil/Horse howl for the ages could be. It was definitely not Dinosaur Jr, but that’s the zone we’re talking about, done well too, and though I couldn’t identify the band, it wasn’t a surprise to find out it was Pink Reason. Yeah, they could do something like this (was my thought), and I pretty much liked every single record he put out in his 5-6 year burst, roughly 2006 to 2011, a bunch of 7-inches and a couple excellent full-lengths of dark loner weird punk/folk/rock/whatever it is he does. I recommend it all, and if you sample it for yourself, listen to a few tracks before you judge, because he changes his style in interesting ways. (This just in: a new Pink Reason album is in the works for the 2020s. I’m legitimately excited to hear it.)

MUTANT BEAT DANCE s/t (RUSH HOUR) Chicago weird-funk techno supergroup what what what? That’s right Traxx aka Melvin Oliphant, Beau Wanzer, and Steve Summers (sounds like a superhero alter ego but I’ve never heard of him, i.e. when it comes to weird underground supergroups Steve Summers:Mutant Beat Dance::Charles Ballas:Dan’l Boone) drop like a million tracks at once, and I think the only way you can get it on vinyl is in a ridiculous 4x12"+10"+7" box set, with the records apparently sleeved inside a book of some kind? Anyway it’s funky, with tons of styles and approaches thrown down in the service of danceable mutant electronic music, even one total Joy Division-style vocal rock tune called “Feed the Enemy,” complete with actual electric guitar and bass playing and… an actual drummer? But the album is mostly very electronic, lots of great tracks, check out “Revival 80s,” “Crete ft. Marianna,” “Hate Has No Home,” looooots more (25 tracks in all). If you don’t want the LP box (as of this writing Reckless still has it for, um, $102.99) (that was two years ago, they don’t have it anymore), there’s also a 2CD edition, and you can listen to and buy the whole thing digitally at http://mutantbeatdance.bandcamp.com. POSTSCRIPT: Mutant Beat Dance are playing live right now (November 29, 2018 — ed.) at legendary Gramophone Records, a mere six miles away from where I sit typing. The show listing I just saw today (again, 11/29/2018 — ed.) in the Reader said 6pm-8pm, and it’s 7:27pm right now. Exhausted after many long days of work, the listing didn’t make me want to go to the show, it made me want to go home and listen to the album instead, so I could write about it, which is exactly what I’m doing right now. Now, as all these killer tunes blast on Bandcamp, I wish I was there, of course. Grass, stop being greener.

DAVID BOWIE “Win” (RCA) Nowadays when I play the Young Americans LP, I always skip the well-worn (though still great, especially live on The Dick Cavett Show, don’t care how hoarse homie gets) title-track opener and go straight to track two “Win,” a song I might just love indescribably, which is why I’m here trying to write about it, duh. It’s kinda like “Sweet Thing, Jr.,” in which DB lets out one more masterful (albeit a little less utterly ambitious) glam/soul/Broadway/prog ballad-amalgam, on his last LP before becoming the Thin White Duke and getting into colder and more modern/technological territory (“Wild is the Wind” notwithstanding). “Win” already has a lovely chord change verse vamp on its own, but throw in that magisterial synthesizer and the gorgeous soul/gospel background vocal chorus by Ava Cherry, Robin Clark, and Luther Vandross, the man David singing atop beautifully, and you’ve got a real choice deep-cut artifact of 1975 plastic-soul pomp-rock.

MILES DAVIS Live Evil LP (COLUMBIA) Last night, my newly teenage daughter and I briefly revived a recent guilty-pleasure tradition of ours, and watched a couple episodes of Fear Factor. Yes, that show: hosted by Joe Rogan, plastic people doing crazy stunts, the whole nine. One of the episodes we watched last night was a celebrity edition, wherein joining Leif Garrett, that one Stuttering John guy (no idea), and other ‘celebrities’ I’d literally never heard of, let alone celebrated, was G. Gordon Liddy, who amazed us with his cold zen efficiency as, at age 75, he handled these stunts and challenges far better than anyone else on the show. My daughter wondered who the hell this guy was, and why he was a celebrity, so I had to describe “Watergate bad guy” to her, which I couldn’t quite do without the help of Google. I was reminded, or maybe had never bothered to learn, that he was in fact the overseer of the 1972 break-ins into the Democratic National Committee headquarters, located in the Watergate hotel complex, in order to place illegal wire-taps under orders of the President of the United States of America Richard Nixon. The next day I’m listening to Miles Davis Live Evil, a seemingly unrelated act, and since Joe Zawinul writes a couple tunes on there, and I’m gonna take notes, I go to the phone to confirm that his first name is spelled Josef. First thing I see when the screen lights up is a picture of a guy and I’m like, wait, how is Josef Zawinul already on my phone?! I haven’t searched for him yet! Oh nevermind, that’s G. Gordon Liddy, still there from last night! They really do kinda look alike, and after all they were only born 18 months apart. (Liddy’s the elder.) And of course the back cover of Live Evil is a painting of, in the words of the artist Mati Klarwein, “J. Edgar Hoover as a toad in drag,” so the stink of federal corruption really does run fast and thick around this record…