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October 19, 2007

End of Exile / The Best Record of 2007?

So it's been a week or two now since I've officially re-relocated back to Columbus, effectively bringing an end to five months of exile from Ohio.  Perhaps predictably, the worst part about being out of Ohio for so long was going through rock withdrawl, as there's no discernable "scene" in South-Central Pennsylvania.

I was really bored during the exile, so I may or may not have made a list of the stupidest things I've done over the past three or four years.  In the interest of cutting to the chase, I'll skip numbers one and two on that list and jump to number three:  Missing so many shows in Columbus over the past couple of years.  My main excuse for my relative hermitism (compared to my glory days as an intrepid Cleveland teen in the mid-to-late-90's) is that I spent too much time worrying about the in's and out's of things like Younger abstention, CREXAC, fee tails, and the Best Interests of Baseball rule (and, maybe more accuarately, worrying about not worrying about these things).  But no more.  Everything's in proper order now, and I'm getting back to getting my regular doses of rock.

Anyway, one of the bands I've missed all-too-much is Psychedelic Horseshit, whose new album, Magic Flowers Droned, is out this month.

Psychedelic Horseshit's Magic Flowers Droned

While I haven't been able to give the record as much attention as it deserves, I can say it's a good one.  (Maybe, just maybe, a classic, but I guess only time will tell.)  Really, it's a good, well-constructed, old-fashioned rock album (with a beginning, middle, and end!) filtered through the classic Ohio lo-fi sheen.  Based on some of the reviews I've seen, the easy way out has been to compare PH to Times New Viking, based on general personal association, proximity, career arc (DIY-CDR-Siltbreeze), and the fact that TNV members are variously listed in the record's credits.  While I'd wager it's always a good thing to be mentioned alongside TNV, PH's got their own good thing going on.

My favorite stuff is the pop tunes, like "Can't Get Enough" and "Mouth Disciples", but it's all choice.  Production-wise, it's the best of lo-fi -- the sound is unique, tailor-made, and generally incapable of duplication.  Critically, phrases like "shit-gaze" and "practice rock" are thrown around, and I guess they make sense, but I stick with my time-honored, generic "good".  Dig the transcendent organ blasts and brilliant, sloppy guitar solo on "Portals".  Check the lines "We are all rather dull / Everything that you see, rather dull / And the people that you meet, rather dull" over an Ohio Wall of Sound that forms "Rather Dull", or lyrics like "An entire generation with no one to believe . . . they namecheck folk artists and sing with a sneeze" jiving with the trashy pop of "New Wave Hippies."

At first, the noisier stuff toward the end of the record (see "Radar Fences Again" and "Mash Up") can be a bit grating (duh), but I found on my third or fourth listen that there's a lot of nice stuff in there once you get the hang of riding the waves.  And speaking of catching waves, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "Bad Vibrations", given my long-time Wilson Bros. allegiance.  While I can't think of where (or, maybe, if) I've heard the refrain's melody before (I suppose it might be Brian Wilson's seasoned with a bit of existential anguish, but, then again, maybe not), it's a great song in its own right, sorta the centerpiece to the record (a fate much more fitting and fortunate than that of its antonymous namesake on Smiley Smile).

After the afore-mentioned heavy-hitting duo of "Radar Fences Again" and "Mash Up", the record closes nicely with another great pop song (driven by a solid bass groove), "Can't Get Enough", which puts a nice bow on the proceedings.  Lyrically, the record's a reflection of the times, and with that in mind, I think it's a step in the right direction that PH's final words on Magic Flowers Droned are, "Let's turn the page, and find out what's in store," before, of course, another tasty barrage of guitar puts the proceedings to bed.

Seriously, listen to this record, and thank me -- or better yet, Psychedelic Horseshit -- later.

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October 16, 2007

Maybe the Worldwide Leader needs a copy editor

I've been having a love-hate relationship with Bill Simmons's writing lately.  Today, though, I checked espn.com a couple of times in anticipation of his promised column on the Red Sox-Indians series.  Surprise of surprises, it never appeared.

What did come up, though, was a new set of links.  One of the links wasn't actually a link, but an "interesting note" from some guy in New York -- I think his name was John F. -- justifying LeBron's choice in supporting the Yankees, despite the fact that he's from Northeastern Ohio.  The "interesting note" is gone now, but it ran something like this:

  • John F. from New York sends along an interesting note on LeBron wearing a Yankees hat which we surprisingly haven't heard before:  "Why is everyone making such a big deal out of LeBron wearing a Yankees hat?  He's from Columbus, which for decades was home to the Yankees' AAA team, so really, it's not that big of a shock that he ended up a New York fan."

Of course, this prompted me (and I'm sure 100 others) to send Simmons an e-mail explaining the fact that Akron and Columbus aren't the same thing, and that Akron is actually -- believe it or not -- 125 miles from Columbus.  Needless to say, when I just checked tonight, the "interesting note" had been removed without explanation.  It may as well have never existed.

I normally wouldn't fault a member of the national media for not knowing basic Ohio geography.  In this case, it's something that could have easily been verified.  A Google search would come up with a thousand pages noting LeBron was born and raised in Akron, not Columbus, and that Columbus, the state capital, is in the middle of the state, hours away from Akron, which for all intents and purposes is a part of Cleveland (usually all of Northeastern Ohio just gets lumped together).

In this case, though, Simmons himself should have known better.  People the world over know that LeBron went to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary high school, and that Cleveland-Akron isn't Columbus.

Of course, supreme authority Thurston Moore has made the same innocent mistake, so I'll give Simmons a pass.  This time.

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October 15, 2007

Dennis the Menace represents

A few weeks after Hillary Clinton lamely declared that she would "alternate sides" and root for both the Yankees and the Cubs if they were to face each other in the World Series, Cleveland's own Dennis Kucinich did what LeBron James (or Hillary) would never do: he wore an Indians cap during a campaign stop in Red Sox country.

I suppose I'm what you would call a political independent (maybe political orphan would be better), but I think if the Democrats want their candidate in the White House, they'd be better served having Kucinich on their ticket over Hillary Rodham.  Why?  Check it:

For more reasons on why Dennis should (and why he won't) be the Democrats' candidate, check his appearance this week on the Colbert Report (either tonight or tomorrow . . . I'm not sure).

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Arena rock on a Saturday night

Talk about your extremes.  Thursday night, I catch an up close and personal set by the Monotonix.  Two nights later, I sit in the mid-level seats for the Dylan/Elvis Costello show at OSU's Value City Arena.  Nevertheless, what Saturday evening lacked in intimacy was made up for by the fact that it was a rare opportunity for me to see Dylan with an opener other than Jimmie Vaughn.

After a typically ho-hum set by opener "Famous" Amos Lee (in fairness, though, it seemed like the crowd of mostly middle-aged Midwestern folk who would never be caught getting trash thrown at them at a Monotonix show really dug A-Lee), Elvis Costello took the stage alone as part of what is being billed as his first solo tour in 12 years.  This was the first time I'd ever seen Costello live, and while my familiarity with Costello runs just a little beyond really liking his first three records + Blood & Chocolate, I enjoyed his set.  The hits were the highlights for me, particularly the opener "Red Shoes," "Alison," "Radio Sweetheart," and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding."

Coming in, I was a little curious as to how Costello would handle the powerpop solo (if he'd even touch it at all), but he ran his acoustic through a distortion pedal and phaser, which gave him the necessary oomph, not to mention the fact that his voice is still in top form and could probably carry most of the tunes by itself.  Predictably, the Dispatch called Costello's rig "sometimes-abrasive and over-amplified," but wasn't that the point?  I mean, it wasn't billed as an "unplugged, return to 1926 evening with Elvis Costello" or anything.  But I digress.  Costello's big into the call-and-response thing, which I wasn't too into, and when he pulled out the eponymous line from John Lennon's "I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier," I would've preferred he had gone for "I don't wanna be a lawyer, momma, I don't want to lie."  But I acknowledge that I'm in the minority, and all-in-all I appreciated Elvis C.

As for Dylan's set, it was one of the better times I've seen him (keep in mind I've only seen him live over the past two years), definitely better than his set at the Coop in Columbus last year.  Seemingly going back to the vault once again, the Dispatch approached the set from the "where has the anti-war, peacenik Dylan gone?" angle, which is unfortunate since -- once again -- Dylan hasn't been the "anti-war, peacenik Dylan" since, what, 1964?  The reason Dylan is Dylan is because of his ability to reinvent his music and public persona, and it's kinda a drag to have the local media base its review on the expectation that a performer should be the same as he was 35 years ago.  This type of journalism also contributes to the seemingly increasing neo-hippie presence at Dylan shows, which I've ranted about in the past, though thankfully it wasn't that big a deal Saturday night.

But I digress again.  As always, it took Dylan a song or two to warm up vocally, so while I was glad to hear "Rainy Day Women" as the opener, it wasn't a particuarly inspiring version.  I recently heard someone say that you go to a Dylan show now for the possibility of seeing a few "moments" where things just click, and Dylan's guitar solos on the second and third tunes ("It Ain't Me Babe" and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," respectively) fit the bill.  I guess I've never really appreciated Dylan's lead guitar work (what I've even heard of it), but for whatever reason these leads were right up my alley -- melodic, unpretentious, and evocative of some kind of mood that wasn't otherwise present in the arrangement.

A little while later, Dylan & Co. went into a solid version of "Workingman's Blues #2" (one of the better songs from his most recent album), which started off a bit more forlorn than on the album version and worked upward on the foundation of a good, slow groove.  For whatever reason, the evening's version of "Highway 61 Revisited" really kicked it, and, as always, the band threw everything into a rousing version of "Summer Days" near the end of the main set, which closed with an equally strong "Ballad of a Thin Man" that provided another one of those "moments" when Dylan delivered a couple of deft harmonica solos.  Thankfully, Dylan avoided tossing in another version of "Like A Rolling Stone" (which really doesn't cut it live right now, along with stuff like "Blowin' In The Wind") and opted for the more dependable "Thunder On The Mountain" and "All Along The Watchtower" as closers.

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October 13, 2007

Monotonix!

Caught the Monotonix show Thursday night at Bourbon St.  It left me relatively speechless.  A review on their website says a Monotonix show is "performance as performance art and rock as confrontation," which I guess is fairly spot on.  Beer (both the band's and the audience's), trash, and bandmembers alike flew through the air.  The drum kit was disassembled and distributed throughout the audience at various points in the set.  The show ended with the lead singer singing from atop the bar, the drummer playing his snare atop the bar (with his head literally through the ceiling tiles), and the guitarist playing from atop a barstool.  Oh yeah, and the music was good too, a really tight, trashy, riff-rock.

The logistics: the band set up in the middle of the floor at Bourbon St., and used everything but the stage as a stage.  I had no idea how long the set was -- this wasn't a show where you dared to avert your eyes and check your watch -- but it went by in a snap.  If you get the chance to catch the Monotonix as they continue their U.S. tour (looks like they're hitting the East Coast, South, and West Coast from here), they come highly recommended.

Openers White Denim were also very solid.  I dug the other band, but never caught their name.  And I'm a sucker for the zany Tree of Fern (the remnant of Tree of Snakes, members of which I think were connected with ye ol' Sponic 'zine), who started off the festivities.

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October 08, 2007

The best news I've heard in a while

The Me of 10 years ago would be shocked.  During a week that sees the release of two new Robert Pollard records, I'm relatively unimpressed with the knowledge that new Pollard wax is imminent (though I will make the trip to the record store tomorrow to pick up both discs) and thoroughly excited by the posting of two tracks from the forthcoming album by a band that, in what may be moments of total clarity, I sometimes think might be the greatest rock outfit of all time.

You see, 10 years ago GBV was, to me, the be-all, end-all of rock.  Even following the now infamous "dumping" of the "original" lineup of GBV following the Under the Bushes Under the Stars tour and the subsequent formation of the much-maligned "Guided by Verde," in 1997 Mag Earwhig! proved GBV was still tops.  That year, a GBV concert was still an event, and few live acts connected with their audience like Pollard and the boys did back then.  If you don't believe me, you never heard the band rip through "Little Lines" or "Psychic Pilot Clocks Out" during their shows that year (or you were too drunk/not drunk enough when you did hear them).

But the years have passed, and while Alien Lanes is still one of my three favorite records and I'm fully aware of how lucky I was to live in Ohio in the mid- to late-90's and see GBV 20+ times, I now realize that GBV wasn't the only band from Ohio that seemed to distill all Rock into something wholly original, unique, and universally good.  All the while, GBV's former labelmates (and, in one sense, boss), Prisonshake were kicking it just as well.

Interesting how these things work.  I first was alerted to Scat Records because the first GBV record I bought (the "I Am A Scientist" single) was on Scat.  The discovery of Robert Griffin's then Cleveland-based label in turn introduced me to Griffin's band, Prisonshake.  And while I was around to witness and revel in most of GBV's "glory" years, I had pretty much completely missed the Prisonshake ship.  I've never seen the 'Shake live, and by the time I got into them about 12 years ago, all of their "major" releases had already hit the proverbial shelves.  Since then, we've only very occasionally been treated to the assorted single or compilation appearance.

All that's about to change, though.  Rumblings about a new Prisonshake LP have been growing more frequent and louder the past year or so, and recently Griffin announced that the new record, Dirty Moons, is completed and set for release in Spring '08 (with a single to serve as an appetizer in a few months).  Even better yet, they're streaming the first two songs from the album.  The first, "Fake Your Own Death," is reminiscent of Prisonshake's more "experimental," brilliantly-rambling stuff, sorta like a polished, "hi-fi" track off of the cassette from the I'm Really Fucked Now set.  The second, "I Will Follow" is out of the 'Shake's flat-out rock vein, complete with the trademarked Griffin/Enkler invaluable words of wisdom (e.g., "And no one here's got answers, but what did you expect?"), hot guitar leads, and sensible track phasing.

Prisonshake's always done things their own way, and you often can't pin them down (except, perhaps, by just saying they're genuinely great).  Over the years I've gradually assembled copies of almost their entire back catalog, and so I can guarantee that from the "Fairfield Avenue Serenade" single to the versions of "The Leftover Monkey" and "Crush Me" on the Scat Semi-Annual Report CD from '97, Prisonshake has been consistently mind-blowing.  So, while I'll enjoy listening to the new Pollard records over the coming months, I'll be doing it while anticipating the day I can get a copy of Dirty Moons.

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