This week’s band of the week is one of the most underappreciated psychobilly punk bands ever. Or fuck that, they’re one of the most underappreciated bands ever, period. They had a badass frontman who persevered with his vision, despite constant, numerous setbacks. Today, they may not command an incredibly large cult following – not even Big Star or MC5 calliber – but those who know them know where it’s at. The band of the week is…
I first heard about Gun Club via Jack White, who is apparently a huge fan and covered songs of theirs like “She’s Like Heroin To Me” in concert with The White Stripes. Being a huge White Stripes fan, I instantly needed to know what the deal was with this band Gun Club as soon as I heard that Jack White was influenced by them.
The deal with Gun Club is they were based in L.A. and they were basically the vehicle for frontman Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Their first album Fire Of Love is a punk classic, and has what are probably their best known songs on it, such as “She’s Like Heroin To Me” and “For The Love Of Ivy”. Their second, the Chris Stein (of Blondie fame)-produced Miami is alright if you put aside the botched mix. The Las Vegas Story is pretty good but their fourth album, Mother Juno (produced by Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins), is the other classic in their discography.
Though it’s an effects-loaded and somewhat dreamy sounding album (as you would expect with a Cocteau Twin at the helm), Guthrie doesn’t rob the band of it’s power to rock and tracks like “Bill Bailey” and “Yellow Eyes” end up standing out as among the best in the band’s canon.
In 1996 frontman Pierce died at the age of 37 of a brain haemorrhage. Photos from later in Pierce‘s life as kind of sad, as the guy who once looked the epitome of rock star cool had devolved into a bloated, drugged out old bugger. To add to that, Gun Club‘s post Mother Juno albums have little to recommend. Even so, any band that could release such wild, possessed music as is contained on Gun Club‘s first four album’s is deserving of legendary status.
This San Fran band sounds like it should be from Sweden. In the track below pretty melodies mingle above a bongo beat and for some reason I now feel the urge to hippie-dance around a campfire. Considering the song is called “Clawing Out At The Walls”, you wouldn’t think it would sound so incredibly pleasant.
I’ve known Rich Aucoin for years now after hearing his stuff on afriend’s blogand meeting him at Over the Top Fest in 2007. Not only is the Halifax maestro super friendly, but he’s super awesome and getting pretty popular these days. At a packed Tiger Bar show this week I finally got a chance to see (and witness!) some of his new material in action and it is amazing. You can stream his recently-released Public Publication EP below. Also check out some footage of the man in action cuz he’s got one of the best live shows anyone anywhere’s ever seen.
New Zealand dance-rockers Kids Of 88 bring it big time on their album Sugarpills. It’s way better as a whole than what’s on their myspace, and sure, the singles are solid, but the album tracks are better. Check out this bangin’ cut.
A buddy of mine from poetry class turned me onto his friend, Philip James, who happens to be a kick-ass Toronto sample-gazer. James passed me his little Nights CD-R EP the other day and it was awesome. Check out this cut from it.
This week’s band of the week was the most commercially successful group of the 70s. Unlike most commercial pop groups though, they were often critically revered in their time, and their music’s popularity hasn’t diminished, but perhaps even grown, in the years since their dissolution. Hailing from Sweden, the group comprised of two couples who would later both divorce before the band broke up entirely. The band of the week is of course…
So, everybody knows ABBA. “Dancing Queen” and “Mamma Mia” are classics that you can’t not have heard. Personally, I always thought of ABBA as this kind of weird, european group that wrote sort of lame-ish music. I always thought of it as just so friendly, super clean and totally safe. Basically not what I was ever really into except maybe when I was like 10 and listened to the Backstreet Boys and stuff because I didn’t know that good music existed (and in the late 90s, it barely did).
Last year, my mom got me this book called Rock and Roll Cage Matchand there was a chapter in it that was ABBA vs. The Bee Gees. It was written as a fictional story in which the two groups were always competing with eachother, copying and trying to outdo eachother for the love of one of the chicks in ABBA (I forget which one, but probably the blonde one, who’s the hotter of the two).
The piece actually aroused my interest in both ABBA and The Bee Gees and I downloaded big best-ofs by both bands. Once I actually started listening attentively to both, I realized that both of these bands were (or contained one) absolute genius. Their songs are brilliantly composed, lyrically complex, melodically explosive; the technical proficiency on display is absolute incredible, but not without soul; the production inventive and inspired. Sure, they were both crazy commercial, and these days that almost automatically means bland, manufactured, soulless, and dumbed down for the masses, but apparently in the 70s they hadn’t realized that commercial music had to be shitty yet.
This last week I’ve been OBSESSED with ABBA. I couldn’t give you a solid reason why exactly, but I’ve been listening to it almost exclusively. Now I think I’m starting to come down and get a little tired of it, but I had to write about what I found after I dived into their music.
I want to focus on two amazing aspects of ABBA‘s music: the lyrics and the production.
Lyrics: yesterday at work, they were playing Rihanna over the P.A. and I couldn’t help but listen to the lyrics. I can’t remember what song it was or exactly what she was singing, but it was just the same old shit: “I love you, you make me feel so good, blah blah blah.” PUKE!
Not the case with ABBA.
Have you ever actually listened to the lyrics of “Dancing Queen”? It’s not just about a chick who likes to dance, but rather it’s a paean to youth and the power of imagination.
“Friday night and the lights are low
Looking out for a place to go
Where they play the right music, getting in the swing
You come in to look for a king
Anybody could be that guy
Night is young and the music’s high”
Though these lyrics seem straightforward, they’re not exactly by commercial music standards. In a Britney Spears song or whatever, the girl would come in and see a hot guy she likes and then grind with him and fall in love or some bullshit. In “Dancing Queen”, the guy doesn’t really matter, what matters is what the protagonist imagines.
Check it out.
The song starts with her going out dancing, looking for “a king” and “anybody could be that guy.” The mystery is what’s exciting, not the guy himself. She’s not concerned with talking or getting with any of them, she just likes imagining what the guy she’s with is like, but she doesn’t actually care what he’s really like.
“You’re a teaser, you turn ‘em on
Leave ‘em burning and then you’re gone
Looking out for another, any one will do.”
It doesn’t matter who these guys actually are, she just needs them there to be objects upon which she will project her idea of her ideal guy, her “king”. She’s creating this fantasy for herself in which she is a dancing queen and the guy she’s going to dance with is her king. She’s reaching back into her childhood for images and notions of romance and the beauty of the song is that she’s still young enough (“only 17″) to still have these notions, reality hasn’t stomped in and crushed them yet.
Another way I like to interpret the song is as a kind of dream or fantasy. Here’s the giveaway: if you’re out at a club, even in the 70s, would the beat be coming from the tambourine? Wouldn’t the beat be coming from the bass speakers? Or if there’s a band playing, the drums? However, a tambouring is something you can beat by yourself at home…Thus, it’s possible that the entire thing is the fantasy of an older woman stuck in a rut, as she fantasizes about being young again and going out dancing. All the guys want her, but being older and embittered by the male race, all she’s going to do is tease them and “leave ‘em burning”. The reality though, is that she’s just at home, shaking an old tambourine…
Pretty crazy, eh?
Another great song is the song, “Dum Dum Diddle”.
“I can hear how you work, practicing hard
Playing night and day, woah-oh
And you sound better now
Yes, you improve every time you play, woah-wo
But it’s bad
You’re so sad
And you’re only smiling
When you play your violin
Dum dum diddle, to be your fiddle
To be so near you and not just hear you
Dum dum diddle, to be your fiddle
I think then maybe you’d see me, baby”
The story is great in so many ways. The girl falls in love with this violinist, it seems, more because she admires how relentlessly he practices than because of the music he makes, though she does admit that he sounds pretty good. But she also seems to be drawn in by this desire to make him happy, as she describes him as always being so sad except for when he plays violin.
Again, the fantasy ABBA construct is a really poignant one, with the girl dreaming of being his fiddle, “to be so near you and not just hear you.” It can also be kind of sexual, if you think about how she wants him to play her like an instrument…with his hands…
So yeah, I just loved that little story in there, another example of why ABBA lyrics are great.
Production: ABBA is famous for their massive overdubbing work, which is how they achieved their own version of the wall-of-sound. However, people don’t often talk about how inventive the production of ABBA is. For example, let’s look at “Mamma Mia”, which is not only one of their biggest hits, but a great example of ABBA‘s production genius.
The two defining sounds on “Mamma Mia” are its xylophone and its harmonic electric guitars. These are also the first two sounds you hear in the song. The xylophone plays that kind of minor chord (it’s not actually a chord since the notes aren’t hit at the same time) and it creates this great suspense, it’s almost like some kind of horror movie thing for a second. Then those harmonic guitars come in and kind of release the tension with a sugary, but still kind of dark, melody. Once the verse kicks in though, everything alright again…
Or is it?
Two lines later, we’re back in a minor chord and the xylophone tic-toc is back to suggest not all is well. But then they resolve it again, only to shock the listener with these two big banging chords after which everything but piano, xylophone and string section drops out for that great chorus. Then there’s like a happy, fully-charged chorus (this is songwriting perfection here, btw) and the opening xylophone/harmonic guitars come back to separate the first half of the song from the second.
The alternation between sections and the sounds of xylophone, harmonic electric guitars, piano and strings is absolutely brilliant, and they help divide song between its polar emotions: one second everything seems really happy, the next everything is really dark, then happy, then dark and sad again, etc. People say that arousing emotional polarities in another person is what creates attraction: it’s not absurd to think that in music it creates similar feelings of adoration, which is perhaps why rock stars are so sexually desirable.
ABBA is also great at using counter-melodies, of which the chorus of “Dum Dum Diddle” is also a great example, as what I think is a synth line runs concurrent with the vocals and supercharges the entire thing.
Anyone still reading? No? Well, if you’ve made it down here, good for you. Hopefully you’ll give ABBA a closer listen from now on. Just download everything they’ve ever done, most of it’s pretty great. “The Visitors” in particular is an interesting album, being ABBA‘s final effort together and kind of their divorce album. There are almost no hits (“One Of Us” is on there, but just one hit on an ABBA album is actually really rare) and it sounds very dark and classically influenced.
Pitchfork caught this cool California chick first but I just wanted to spread the word. Colleen Green is a fuzz rocker and she’s awesome. Check out the song “Worship You” below. It’s off an 8-song cassette called Milo Goes to Compton. I wanted to buy one but they sold out…making me very sad…
Imagine you were swimming, and at some point you duck your head underwater, and when you stick it back out of the water, what do you see but a HUGE FUCKING TIDAL WAVE ABOUT TO HIT YOU SMACK IN THE FACE! Oh, and there’s a band playing instruments on surfboards on that tidal wave. And then you notice that the wave isn’t made of water, but VHS fuzz, cool colours, and noise made manifest as physical matter.
That’s what The Band In Heaven sound like. And they’ve got a kick-ass split cassette with Weird Wives coming out soon, but you can dl it nowhere.