The Gun Club took a punk attitude to roots rock, rising from the same scene as X and The Blasters. With a name that sounds like he came right out of Faulkner, leader Jeffrey Lee Pierce began as a music writer enamored with glam and reggae. He also was the President of the Blondie fan club, and with his bleached hair, damn if he didn’t look like Debby Harry.
Whenever I listen to Dungen, I get caught up in a heady swirl of the senses. To listen to this Swedish band is to encounter and conjure dozens of reference points at once, and I find myself calling forth descriptors.
The ’60s prog-psychedelia awash here is an experience not unlike wine tasting, and all the pretentious verbosity that goes into indentifying aromas and flavors.
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/1-11-Om-Du-Vore-En-Vakthund.mp3|titles=Dungen: Om Du Vore En Vakthund]
For instance, with their Ta Det Lugnt: Opulent Kieth Moon drums combine with rich, almost Japanese-flavored vocals, presenting forward Band On The Run-era Wings, and finishing with hints of Coltrane and Brubeck.
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/1-06-Det-Du-T%C3%A4nker-Idag-%C3%84r-Du-I-Morgon.mp3|titles=Dungen: Det Du Tänker Idag Är Du I Morgon]
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/07-Så-Blev-Det-Bestämt.mp3|titles=Dungen: Så Blev Det Bestämt]
Another one of their pieces opens with a bouquet of patchouli-scented guitar, Bill Evans piano, Mike Oldfield and hints of Metallica and notes of David Gilmour.
Whether your idea of a great guitarist is Jimi Hendrix, John Fahey, Wes Montgomery, Link Wray, John McLaughlin, or Ry Cooder, you’re bound to like something of Bill Frisell. The man is a modest and unassuming musician who is in perpetual motion, playing ragtime, jazz, ambient, rock, bluegrass, and experimental noise.
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/17-Have-A-Little-Faith-In-Me.mp3|titles=Bill Frissell:Have a Little Faith in Me]
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/07-In-Line.mp3|titles=Bill Frissell:In Line]
Frisell always seems to have been around, collaborating with Elvis Costello, John Zorn, Ginger Baker, David Sylvian, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Arto Lindsay, Suzanne Vega, Paul Simon, Vic Chestnutt, David Sanborn, Brian Eno, Bono, Jon Hassell, Daniel Lanois, Rickie Lee Jones, Vernon Reid, Elliot Sharp, Van Dyke Parks, Loudon Wainwright, and Earth.
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/07-Im-So-Lonesome-I-Could-Cry.mp3|titles=Bill Frissell:I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry]
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/1-06-A-Hard-Rains-A-Gonna-Fall.mp3|titles=Bill Frissell: A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall]
My first recognition of his solo work was with his gorgeous instrumental covers of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman” and John Hiatt’s “Have A Little Faith In Me.” The height of my fandom came when I saw him perform a live soundtrack to films of Buster Keaton (I am in fact a card-carrying member of the International Buster Keaton Society) in Brooklyn.
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/1-01-I-Heard-It-Through-the-Grapevine.mp3|titles=Bill Frissell: I Heard it Through the Grapevine]
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Blues-For-Los-Angeles.mp3|titles=Bill Frissell: Blues for Los Angeles]
There is something about Frisell’s Americana, something that carries a sense of appreciation of quality, style, wit, and gumption. His Fender Telecaster has provenance, proudly yet quietly displaying its roots. We sense a cultural heritage, listening to his covers and originals, downtown jazz, dive-bomber blues, nostalgic pastiche, country twang, digital loops, or any other genre he sits down to play.
I’ve always been on the fence concerning the Mod or Rocker schism. I do love my Eddie Cochran and Link Wray, but I also love my natty attire, Small Faces, The Creation, and The Action.
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/07-Brain-1.mp3|titles=The Action: Brain]
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/01-Come-Around-1.mp3|titles=The Action: Come Around]
So, I’m not going to give a Wikipedia-style account of The Action here. Let’s just let them be the soundtrack for an inquiry.
Certainly, the Mods vs. Rockers clashes of the ’60s were overemphasized, and it’s not like they even mattered over here. Is it even a valid argument anymore, or did Ringo do away with the question in his famous Hard Day’s Night quip?
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/02-Something-To-Say.mp3|titles=The Action: Something to Say]
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/02-In-My-Lonely-Room.mp3|titles=The Action: In My Lonely Room]
It comes down to a question of the importance of subculture and semiotics: the expressive forms and rituals of our groupings, be they mods, rockers, punks, skinheads, Portland-types, or Brooklyn-types.
This is superficial stuff, to be sure. We become intrigued by the mundane objects—an R.A.F. roundel, motorcycle boots, a safety pin, a flannel shirt—which nonetheless take on a symbolic dimension, and also grant us something of a self-imposed exile.
I don’t give a fuck so much, but there was a time when it was a serious rock-existential dilemma for me: “Wait, can I have a mod target, and love Gene Vincent? Can you do that?” Can I, to bring it up to the present day, dress like Jimmy in Quadrophenia and still be caught dead at Rock of Ages?
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/07-Just-Once-In-My-Life.mp3|titles=The Action: Just Once in My Life]
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/10-Since-I-Lost-My-Baby.mp3|titles=The Action: Since I Lost My Baby]
In this context, the music we listen to serves as entertainment, diversion, and relevance, yes, but we also identify, adopting the sounds and their singers as signifiers to help us discover “where do I fit in?”
I can barely think of a more Zelig-like character in contemporary rock, swiftly changing identities as he works his way through so much of what we listen to.
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/13-Good-Morning-Captain-1.mp3|titles=Slint: Good Morning Captain]
Pajo played multiple instruments in various hardcore outfits in his native Louisville, rising to prominence as a founder of the dynamic Slint. He is a restless musician, consistently in the habit of packing his guitar case, and making stops with the likes of Tortoise,Stereolab,Will Oldham, Royal Trux, The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Interpol, Mogwai (aka the Scottish Slint Fan Club), and in the ill-advised Zwan.
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/12-Wedding-Song-No.3.mp3|titles=Papa M: Wedding Song No. 3]
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/13-Krusty.mp3|titles=Papa M: Krusty]
He is no less chameleonic with his solo peregrinations, recording under the monikers Pajo, Evila, Dead Child, Aerial M, Papa M, and simply M. Depends on the day of the week, and his music can range from lonely corn-cob pipe musings to Math-rock instrumentals to whispered Eliot Smith-style vocals to living-room black metal to acoustic Misfits covers that make you do a double-take with the liner notes.
I admire and enjoy the guts in Pajo’s music, and that it is somewhat unclassifiable. There’s a certain kind of hard to pin down nomadic Americana to his sounds. Regardless of the setting he’s playing in, it’s music that has a vibrant force, speaking from an emotional and experiential basis.
One of the bittersweet delights of being a music fanatic is to be sitting on a band that history has passed over: to listen, investigate, enthuse, and have lived through the creativity of that which has been ignored by the many. It is a special and intangible intimacy.
I’ll make such a case for Felt.
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/17-Something-Sends-Me-To-Sleep.mp3|titles=Felt: Something Sends Me to Sleep]
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/15-Evergreen-Dazed.mp3|titles=Felt: Evergreen Dazed]
Led by the eccentric and singularly named Lawrence, they are one of those groups who, despite musical talent, indie looks, and influence on others, never quite managed to garner the success they deserved. They remain fairly underestimated.
Now, your average RTH reader may find Felt an acquired taste. Clear and jangly ’80s guitars wedded with swirly organ (from future Primal Scream-er Martin Duffy), and Lawrence’s relish of failure expressed through vocals which recall The Fall, Dylan, or Tom Verlaine of Television.
This is my inaugural essay post under this auspice, and an extension of what I was trying to do with a blog I was running for 2 years. (R.I.P. “What Do We Have For Entertainment?”)
My wish, is to come crashing into RTH’s bedroom, shouting “You have to listen to this!”
I’d like to introduce drummer Jonathan Kane by way of 3 interwoven genres that appear in his music. I’ve laid out some notes on paper, in which drone, the blues, and New York No Wave funnel into each other, kinda like an upside down delta, in fact.
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/02-I-Looked-At-The-Sun.mp3|titles=Jonathan Kane: I Looked At The Sun]
Which is appropriate, since Kane’s music (and I prefer to think of him as a bandleader, rather than the mere and often derogatory the drummer. Same way I think of Charles Mingus) draws so much from the delta blues perpetual motion boogie of John Lee Hooker, and the minimal chord structures and hypnotic vamp of Mississippi Fred McDowell. The latter’s blues, from the north hill country of his name-state, is marked particularly for sticking to the I chord rather than making the change to the IV or the V. Sometimes this blues will stick to dwelling on the IV chord. The harmonic shift gives a suspended sound, a minimalist drone.
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/1-09-Wandering-Blues.mp3|titles=John Lee Hooker: Wandering Blues]
[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/15-I-Looked-At-the-Sun.mp3|titles=Mississippi Fred McDowell: I Looked At the Sun]
Perhaps the blues could be considered a minimalist form. Regional, rustic, but with close ties to the minimalist compositions of the downtown New York scene of the ’60s: La Monte Young, Tony Conrad, Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich (see also: John Cale). The constant harmonies, steady drone, lock-groove, and gradual transformation are not a million miles away from the boogie of ZZ Top’s La Grange.Continue reading »