Wukong the Monkey King: For Fans of King Lizard & The Gizzard Lizzard
Wukong the Monkey King is a five-piece fusion band based in Auckland, New Zealand that could be the more mellow spiritual sibling to Australia’s King Lizard & The Gizzard Lizzard. The music is all over the place, in the best way possible; jazzy freakouts, spoken word interludes, actual bass playing, those drums – all excellent. “Ode to Keen” is the most fun and “Blue Ball” is my favorite for being straight up soul. Check out more via their website.
“Sick of being tied to you / and I don’t even talk to you” is such a killer line. This and the rest of Mariam Sawires‘ beautiful singing elevates to something special when she switches from jazz lounge to Roots-like R&B that gradually crescendos into a climax colorful like the album cover. And this is just on one song – the rest of the album travels through different peaks and valleys of moods, all done well and all making me very excited for what Sawires has in store for us in the future.
“Egyptian, born in Australia into a worldly, nomadic family of musicians artists originating in desert sands to urban landscapes worldwide. Mariam’s youth was inspired by the sweet lyrical high-pitched melodies of traditional Arabic songs, the rhythms created from the clay Darbuka of her father. Bringing her flavor of Arabic/Northern African infused Jazz/ NuSoul to Europe, Africa, USA, and Asia.”
Phil From Accounting: a special project from yours truly
If it seems like my recent posts have been getting shorter, there’s a reason: I’ve been busying recording music with my band! I play guitar in Phil From Accounting. We’re a punk-rock trio where we all sing and write songs together. We just released our first single, “Carrie,” last week, which you can listen to below.
Our debut EP will be out next month. Stay tuned!
From our Bandcamp:
“‘Carrie’ from ‘If You’re Reading This, Please Call Mom,’ out September 2017. Released August 18, 2017. Written by PFA. Brady Gerber: guitar, vocals. Amanda Webster: bass, vocals. Jamie Williams: drums, vocals. Produced, mixed, and mastered by Oliver Ignatius at Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen in Brooklyn, NY. Logo by Scott Carr.”
Here’s something I thought I’d never say in 2016: First Impressions Of Earth is a good record.
When it was released 10 years ago, the record, along with everything else the Strokes has ever done, was chastised for failing to live up to the hype of Is This It. The record’s two major sins were 1) it didn’t sound like Is This It and 2) it didn’t save rock ‘n’ roll like Is This It did in 2001. It was considered a complete and uttermost failure. There were riots in the streets. Devoted Strokes fans, ripping off their leather jackets in despair, cried out to the heavens from their Lower East Side apartment rooftops. What is this shit?! “Juicebox”?! “15 Minutes Of Pain”?! Why oh Lord Why?!
Critics, once the champions of everything the Strokes did, immediately panned the record for its production and lack of sounding like Is This It. The overall mood was clear; they should have quit after Room On Fire, which wasn’t considered a complete failure because it sounded just like Is This It. The Great American Rock Revival Experiment was over. Let’s trade in our guitars for turntables. This was the end of rock ‘n’ roll.
10 years later, music critics still can’t come to terms that First Impressions Of Earth isn’t Is This It. Michael Nelson wrote 7,000 words on Stereogum and still couldn’t justify its existence. There was no reissue or planned acknowledgment by the band that this record even existed. The band, still criticized for not releasing something as good as Is This It every two years, was no longer considered An Important Rock Band, and you could argue that the unraveling began with the backlash of First Impressions Of Earth. No new records, no matter how good they were (Angles and Comedown Machine are both excellent) could undue the story taking shape. This was it.
For the past 23 years, I have been on the side of the critics, but then I actually listened to the record. Front to back. No interruptions. And it’s not bad. In fact, it’s actually pretty great! Seriously – go listen to “Ask Me Anything,” the band’s first and best attempt and ballad. Revisit that really weird bass sound from “Juicebox.” “You Only Live Once” is still their best album opener. “Razorblade” is a top five Strokes song for me. Listen. To. The. Whole. Record. Again. Will. Ya?
Will First Impressions Of Earth ever gain respect in our society? Recently I’ve become more hopeful. Last week, the band released a new four-track EP called Future Present Past. It’s full of good songs that reminded me of First Impressions Of Earth, and I was pumped. This was the most excited I’ve been about new Strokes in a long time. The EP title is the most telling part for me; Have the Strokes finally made peace with its past in order to move on? If so, then we all should do the same for First Impressions Of Earth.
“Stardust” is another masterpiece written by the famous Hoosier Hoagy Carmichael, who also wrote one of my favorite Chet Baker recordings. Among the 2,000+ recordings of Carmichael’s song, the piece is often associated with clarinetist and bandleader Artie Shaw, who uses his beloved instrument to inspire a sort of twilight gleam that is both beautiful and lonesome, and it’s in line with the song’s theme of “a song about a song about love.” The piece begins with a solo Billy Butterfield playing an unaccompanied trumpet line that is soon joined by more horns and a string section. Then Shaw comes in with his Clarinet and steals the show with a somewhat formless melody. It’s not easy to whistle to or to play back from memory. That’s part of the song’s magic; it floats around, unreachable by reason but always resounding with the listener.
There’s no actual Einstein in Philip Glass’ groundbreaking and plotless opera, but you can picture Einstein sitting on the beach contemplating the meaning of life or working on a new mathematical theory to the sound of counting numbers and random whispers. This could be the sound of his mind trying to think, or trying not to think. As a man of science, I image his mind was never quiet. Then again, when are our own minds ever completely silent? We have to train ourselves to become still in mind and body, which is hard and does not come naturally to us. In that sense, you and I are not so different from Einstein.
The counting and whispers are juxtaposed with a choir singing a hymn as simple as staring off into the ocean. There is comfort in the beach. This is the peace of mind that Einstein is trying to achieve, but even when he finds it, there’s still some sort of distraction. Yet somehow, there’s peace in the noise.
And then things get weird.
With Einstein on the Beach, Glass wanted to change your mind of operas. Operas shouldn’t just be associated with rich Italians; they can be relatable to modern times, or whatever you wanted it to be. “It’s a story that you have to create for yourself,” said Glass. “We don’t give you a plot; we give you a theme. And the audience completes the story.”
In this sense, Glass mostly succeeded. This is an opera in four acts and, with an almost five-hour run time, is an ambitious piece to take in all at once.
“I have rarely heard a first-night audience respond so vociferously at the Metropolitan Opera House as for this bizarre, occasionally boring, yet always intermittently beautiful theater piece.” – New York Times critic Clive Barnes said in 1976.
Forty years later, Glass’ opera has only gained in stature while still retaining its curious inaccessibility. What makes this opera work is that it jumps styles often and when you least expect it. Once you believe the piece has gone stuck up its own ass, a drastic change transforms your mood and attention. It’s hard work, but committed and full listenings are rewarded.
Glass has insisted that you cannot just listen to Einstein on the Beach. You have to watch it too. Glass worked on the production with director and playwright Robert Wilson, who added the set design and production value that Glass insisted, along with Lucinda Childs’ choreography, was essential to the piece. When you watch the performance, you can pick out the violinist who kind of resembles Einstein, and there are references to beaches and a trail. But that’s all you get in concrete details.
Does it sound offputting? Absolutely. Yet I encourage a full listen to discover what this piece means to you. You might be surprised by what you hear.
The Seeds’ enjoyable and influential self-titled debut is one of the cornerstones of American garage rock. Like the best American garage rock from the ’60s, The Seeds tried and mostly succeeded in ripping off The Rolling Stones’ sleaze and Buddy Holly’s charm. Add some sunny psychedelic guitar and some piano and you got The Seeds.
“Can’t Seem To Make You Mine,” written by the band’s vocalist Sky Saxon, appears on the also influential 1998 box set Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968, which is where I first heard this song. The Ramones, Alex Chilton, Johnny Thunders, Yo La Tengo, and Garbage have all covered the song.
You should start a band and cover this song. It’s not hard to play. We should all start bands and cover this song. Let’s do that.
Drummer Max Roach and multireedist Anthony Braxton recorded themselves jamming together in 1978 and released it as an album. They would do it again in the same year with One in Two – Two in One, but Birth and Rebirth is my favorite of the two recordings. It’s avant-garde using not so avant-garde instruments. It’s all in the presentation and performance. It’s freewheelin’ but economical; Both musicians are mindful that most jamming is indulgent and boring to the listener. Roach channels Ghanaian drumming in accordance to Braxton’s timid reed playing and both are good enough musicians to turn any sort of indulgence into engaging recording art.
A reggae remix of Richard Berry’s classic frat standard made famous by The Kingsmen and stolen from inspired by René Touzet’s “El Loco Cha Cha Cha”. Funky Kingston is also an essential reggae record for those who want to move beyond Bob Marley.
Glen Campbell’s cover of “Sadly Beautiful,” one of the great late-career Replacements tracks, will break your heart when you hear it transformed into a country ballad with a lot more strings. This is also a reminder that Paul Westerberg is one of the great ballad songwriters of any genre (see also his unreleased demo for “You’re Getting Married”).