It’s rough out there, trying to find an audience and undoubtedly getting lost in the shuffle with the approximately 10,000 other bands that release music at a steady pace every day. The internet is jammed full of mediocrity parading as proficiency via PR savvy, and giant bands that manage to focus all eyes on them whenever they so much as hint at the possibility that they are going to be doing something in the future (ie Arcade Fire’s incredibly redundant advertising campaign for their latest overhyped album).
So sometimes things that are really worthwhile are released quietly, buried under the aforementioned pile of mediocrity and lost. Thankfully some of those releases get an extra push after a while, allowing them a chance to resurface, gaining back some of the attention that they deserve.
FIM’s “Alien Beach Party” is one such release. The 12″ EP initially came out back in early June of 2013, but is available now for purchase on limited editioin vinyl (yes, it’s still available), or download (name your own price).
Even though everything that I’ve read about the band makes use of the “psychedelic” designation, I am going to have to respectfully disagree with such labeling. To me, as far as the lead track “Fast Cars” goes, there is definitely more of a pronounced new wave/dancey vibe to it. Dark synths that sound more like old Casios than analog synths, drum machine, and off-kilter vocals really make that track sound like something straight out of the early 80s.
When the bass picks up on “Shit God Dam,” throwing down some aggressive, minimalist proto-punk bass in combination with the drum machine now taking a turn toward Big Black territory we can hear the band moving away from that new wave sound a bit. Maybe it’s a little less catchy than “Fast Cars,” but it features a bit heavier on the harmonic and melodic dissonance, which is a good thing.
The remainder of the EP features similar branching out, from the bedroom production of “Believe,” that may be trippy, but “psychedelic” still does not come to mind. And closing the album, the “Flaming Lips” ala “Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon”-esque 6 minute synth jam just takes everything in a whole wonderful new , and somewhat unsuspected direction.
So, they have already proven themselves worthy by rising up through all the noise of the oversaturation running rampant in indie-music today. The good news is that you don’t have to wait, or pre-order the EP, it’s out now. Check it out in full above and then head to the bandcamp page.
FIM has a show coming up at the end of the month, if you are in or around their hometown area of L.A. then get down to The Satellite on February 24th to check them out. Many links below:
One of, if not the, most notorious band of the past few decades, the Butthole Surfer, made their name with their acid soaked albums, drugged out, strobed out, live performances and in general just acting like (or actually being) insane people.
There’s good news, in case you may have missed your opportunity the first time (or perhaps you never even knew that you had an opportunity the first time) Latino Burger Veil has re-released, on vinyl, “Psychic Powerless…Another Man’s Sac,” “Rembrandt Pussyhorse,” “Locust Abortion Technician,” and “Hairway to Steven” for your listening pleasure.
The 4 long out of print albums, originally released on the mostly defunct Touch and Go Records imprint, have been reintroduced yet again to a (slightly less) unsuspecting public on the band’s own Latino Burger Veil records.
For the completely uninitiated, here’s a brief recap. Ok, you all know The Flaming Lips, right? Well, they basically got their start by aping the Butthole Surfers. It’s complete acid freak out rock. The album titles alone should probably be enough to give a clue as to what is going on.
Personally, I have their first two albums, “Psychic….Powerless….Another Man’s Sac” and “Rembrandt Pussyhorse,” and I’m still amazed and perplexed by the music. It’s really like nothing else you’ve heard before. I think that lately I have been tossing that phrase around a lot, though it is safe to say that for something like this, it’s pretty close to the absolute truth.
If you haven’t read Michael Azerrad’s fantastic “Our Band Could Be Your Life,” which documents the American underground rock scene of the early 80s up to 1991, well first of all you need to do that right now. Seriously, as soon as you can. Read that book cover to cover. In that book Azerrad details the triumphs and struggles of, for example, The Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Big Black, Black Flag, and The Butthole Surfers, among others. One of the stories that I remember vividly from the book is about how at one point early in their career the Butthole Surfers were literally starving. Delirious and weak, band leader Gibby Haynes is crawling around on the ground for spare change not so he can buy food, but so the band can score some acid.
That’s what we are dealing with here. It’s pretty much the closest one can get to listening to controlled (barely) chaos. The songs thrash about wildly, held down by tribal pulsing and Haynes’ voice echoing ominously through the haze.
And with a name like The Butthole Surfers, one would have to suspect that this is going to be antagonizing music. That assumption would be correct. Everything from their name, to their infamous early live shows that included projections of penis reconstruction surgery behind the band that played in near total darkness, with topless dancers lit by incessantly flashing strobe lights (there’s also the story about the one dancer that came to find out she was epileptic while performing at a show. Her uncontrollable vomiting then become a bonus visual to freak people out at that show).
Their output could sway every which way from the actual honest to goodness hooks and verse-chorus-verse structure of “Negro Observer,” to the truly trippy “Waiting for Jimmy To Kick,” or their cover of “American Woman.” Errr, excuse me, “American Women.” Anyway, if you haven’t heard them before, or if you have only heard a little bit, then please check out the music. It’s interesting and unique and documents an important time in the evolution of the American underground music scene and these four albums are worthy of being brought back to the attention of music fans that may have missed them the first time around.
There’s a ton of videos of them live on Youtube that you should check out. And then you should head over to your local record store to pick them up, or they can also be ordered online. If you’d like to check out the one-sheet that the band released to announce the reissues, you can check that out here.
It has taken me this long to digest The Flaming Lips most recent album, “The Terror.” It came out 4 months ago and I have given it several listens in that time. Admittedly the first time I listened to it, maybe a week or two before release, I set it aside and said to friends that I would never listen to it again. A few months went by and in July I gave it another few more shots.
The fact that it took me so long to get around to listening to the album didn’t have so much to do with how difficult a listen it is at first (and it is, truly, like nothing else the band has done before) as much as it might have to do with Wayne Coyne’s obsession with being the center of attention at all times. A few years ago I began getting annoyed by incessant releases of super-gimmicky collectors items. I was annoyed by the mediocrity of their cover of Pink Floyd’s entire “Dark Side of the Moon.” I was annoyed with the completely lackluster EP that the band did with Lightning Bolt. Actually that one angered me more than it annoyed me.
The Flaming Lips are becoming, it seems, increasingly interested in perpetuating their schtick of being the freaks on acid that release albums in jelly skulls and boxed sets of vinyl with the blood of the artists inside the vinyl. All the publicity stunts and Wayne’s completely obnoxious twitter account were enough to make one hope that they were putting as much thought, time and energy into their actual music.
The Terror shows that the Lips definitely were thinking about their music this whole time. And when I say they were thinking about it I mean that they basically stripped it all away and started over. This album is such a hard listen at first because there really are very few places for a listen to get a foothold. There are so few points of reference, with melodies deeply woven into the overall ambient landscape that sprawls seamlessly from beginning to end.
Wayne’s voice, surprisingly lacking the rasp of the past few releases, sings mostly in a falsetto that echoes in the distance for most of the tracks. The instruments are stripped down, with electronic loops and layers of atmospheric synth patches dominating while Drozd’s guitar work is mostly absent except for occasional short chordal stabs that created a brightness that cuts through the dense haze of the synths.
I’ve always loved albums that are able to create a distinctive sound that carries from song to song, with each track having at least that one common thread between them. Perhaps when I first listened to this I was listening incorrectly. I was listening for something to hook me in, something that was repeated and would become recognizable because of the way that it stood apart from other elements. Only in the past few weeks did I come to realize that the point of this album is that it is basically one long track, and that is not a detriment. That’s the way that they have decided that they were going to tie the album together, but to that end it also forces us, in a way, to listen to the album in its entirety when we do decide to listen.
And that is the thing about this album, it requires a commitment on the part of the listener. One can’t passively listen to “The Terror,” there aren’t really any tracks to pull out. It’s the entire album. At once. Stop doing other things while you’re listening, sit down and hear what is going on because it is complex and it is demanding and it’s time for you, as a listener, to hold up your end of the bargain.
Some of this all seems pretty obvious. There is no “Race For the Prize,” there is no “Do You Realize,” but that doesn’t mean that the album should be ignored. These are all things that I am learning, obviously most every other person out there that has reviewed this album has heaped praise onto it. I don’t think that my typical analytical approach of searching track by track through every minute detail to uncover the bits that are good and the bits that are less good, works here. I think that the lesson to be learned here is that it is possible to create an album that ditches short form melodic content in order to shape a much larger picture. It feels like the entire album is building, for nearly 52 minutes, toward the guitars and cavernous drums of “Always There…In Our Hearts.” Daring move, to say the least. The song doesn’t work as well without that buildup to it, it simply doesn’t make much sense.
Like a set of variations in reverse, the main material only comes clearly into view at the very end. The layers of ambiance and atmospherics are built up and subsequently stripped away to reveal that final track. That is a journey worth taking.
I’m not going to say anything overbearing like that these are the best cover songs, or that these are my top 5 cover songs of all time. Instead I just want to share a few that I have enjoyed recently. Some of them are more familiar to me and closer to my heart than the originals, and there’s one that I didn’t even realize was a cover until not too long ago. Check them out below.
Japandroids – “Racer X”
Vancouver’s Japandroids did something interesting when they didn’t have time to get into the studio because of a relentless touring schedule. I swear that they have played 300 shows a year for the past 2 years. They are insane. Their energy comes through in their music, that much is evident. Anyway, in lieu of putting out another full length album they opted to release a series of limited edition 7″ singles. The A side would be an out-take from their “Post-Nothing” sessions and each B side would be a cover song. A great PR gambit, because the steady release of singles means that they never really go away, which will buy them some much needed time to write and record another album, and, of course, tour some more.
Their cover of Big Black’s “Racer X” captures all of the sneering aggression of the young Steve Albini. These two guys can make as much noise as any band and they really capture the energy of this track. The robotic drumming of Roland, the famous Big Black Roland 606 drum machine that was used by Albini and Co., is brought to life by David Prowse, while the brittle, ringing guitar tone faithfully reproduced by Brian King.
It’s actually kind of funny to me that I came to know Matthew Good’s version of “Moon Over Marin” before I knew the original. I was a fan of the Dead Kennedys long before I ever even heard of Good.
This track originally appeared on DK’s “Plastic Surgery Disasters” and featured their signature sound of East Bay Ray’s surf-rock inspired, yet still undoubtedly punk rock, ultra-distorted guitar and Jello Biafra’s warbly half spoken, half sung vocals. The lyrics speak very matter of factly about the pollution problem in the Marin area of California. Naturally Biafra’s lyrics go a little bit over the top, bringing attention to a problem by exaggerating, though that kind of extrapolation is what makes punk rock fun. You need to have something to fight about.
Good’s version, though leaving the original lyrics untouched, takes a different angle. The album that this track appears on, “Hospital Music”, are all very heartfelt songs written after a dark period in Good’s life following a nervous breakdown. He takes a gentle, slower approach to the song that still fits the lyrics as well as remaining true to the general spirit of the album. His rendition gives the effect of someone that is sort of detached from their surroundings, realizing that all of these terrible things are happening around him and almost willing to accept it. Though, knowing Matthew Good’s politics, I know that he is not willing to accept these things. This is an interesting look at how the world’s problems feel through someone that wants to do something, but is temporarily powerless. Sometimes taking care of yourself is more important than any problems around you.
Before they were able to fill arenas with their over the top stage show they were a really noisy psych. rock band that sounded like they took more acid than Syd Barrett on a bad day. Before they really solidified their sound with milestone albums like “The Soft Bulletin” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” they were a cult band that sounded like a 2nd rate Butthole Surfers. Freak rock for the freaks.
I realize that I am disregarding the fact that they recently released a cover album (yes, an entire album) of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. It’s an ok album. Worth a listen, for sure, but I wanted to bring to your attention something a bit more obscure. If it wasn’t for Wayne Coyne’s very recognizable voice, you probably wouldn’t realize that this is the same band. Wayne and Louis Armstrong share a certain characteristic of singing voice….that is to say Wayne has always sounded like he was on the verge of losing his voice and Louis Armstrong probably should have stuck to the trumpet. But, I realize that is really unfair of me to say. The honesty in their voices is really what makes this track work. Something is lost if someone is to sing this song with a pretty voice, polished and “nice”. This song truly speaks with an honest, untrained voice. Of course, all the noisy guitars and feedback certainly helps bring this song up to date for a much younger audience. It’s a great cover if you haven’t heard it before, take a listen.
James Husband, multi-instrumentalist for of Montreal, released his solo debut “A Parallax I” late last year and packaged with it an EP of covers, “Smothered in Covers”. He does a great job with all of the tracks, including this one originally by, obviously, The Beatles.
It is rather daring to attempt to cover The Beatles as the songs are so familiar to everyone. So much so I think that all of their songs are pretty much in our collective subconscious. I think that covering a Beatles tune is a very delicate process because of this. You need to do something original, but nothing too crazy. You need to stick to the original song, but you don’t want it to sound exactly like it, otherwise what would be the point? There is very little room for error. You don’t want to make it sound like you are trying to improve on it because Beatles songs are, quite honestly, perfection.
That being said what Jamie does here is about as good as it gets when covering The Beatles. He leaves room for little silences and lets the song breathe a little bit. What is really effective though, in my opinion, is the way that he plays with the timing of the song. There is this very subtle rubato in place that seems to keep leaning back in the beat. He relaxes the tempo quite a bit, but he doesn’t swing it. It’s really what the song needs. That is saying something, for sure. He managed to keep everything in place and create a little something new. It’s one of my favorite covers for sure, and I think that it is almost as effective as the original track. If you only listen to one of these, listen to this one.
This track is the reason that I even wanted to write this post. I was listening to my iTunes “5 star” playlist and this track came up. I then proceeded to listen to it 6 times in a row as I walked around town doing all the stuff that I needed to do. I was thinking to myself, “Wow, this track is what Soundgarden was trying to do!” This version adds some balls to the guitars, thickens up the distortion and really drives everything home. The vocals are right on, the drummer out drums Matt Cameron. Everything is just perfect here. They really don’t try to do anything new with the track, they are just covering it and happen to be able to do it better than the original. Phenomenal. I can’t really say anything else about this track. I hope that my enthusiasm gets you to give it a listen.
I see this show as a conclusion to the just about 2 weeks of insanity that I put myself through that started with Titus Andronicus in Buffalo on the 13th and continued through Pitchfork in Chicago. What a way to end a series of concerts!
Opening band, Fang Island, played a fairly lengthy set of tunes that are clearly influenced by the arena rock and prog. rock of bands like Yes and Boston. Their sound was crystal clear with guitars swirling all around, bouncing off of each other throughout extended, yet tightly controlled and segmented jams. It is kind of refreshing to see a band that consists of kids that clearly were not around for the arena rock thing at its peak, dishing out guitar solos. Fang Island doesn’t really focus on the vocals, which I see as playing to their strength. Why cloud everything up with words if what you are trying to say is completely contained within the music? They even used a MOOG for a few of the songs, which really helped to solidify that Rush prog. rock arena kind of sound. The prog elements were definitely there in the music, but the changes weren’t so lurching and pretentious. It’s not like they were up on stage playing songs that they wrote just to prove how smart they are. Think of a slightly less aggressive sounding Iron Maiden. Or better yet, Iron Maiden crossed with Explosions in the Sky.
Wayne Coyne came out onto the stage before the show started to inform us that he was a bit skeptical about coming out in the ball. The way that the space is designed there are seats all the way up to the stage and I think he was nervous about depending on so few people to hold him up. It ended up being worry for nothing because after the band emerged from the vagina of a woman dancing on the screen behind the stage he stepped into the ball and walked nearly all the way to the back of the indoor seats. Sadly I was at the front of the lawn, and there is no way that he could have made it back there.
Of course, as everyone online probably knows The Flaming Lips really know how to open a show. Within moments there was confetti everywhere, hundreds of balloons floating and bouncing over the audience, streamers, bright flashing lights and pulsating psychedelic trance rock booming from the PA. No matter how many times you experience that you can never get over the absolutely uplifting feeling of all that excitement all at once. They pull out all the stops at every single show.
The set was full of new material from “Embryonic”, which is really a return to a bit more of the abrasive side of the Lips that they seem to have been moving away from on Yoshimi and At War with the Mystics. The songs all come off great, and they really know how to fill a space. They were energetic, focused, spot on and loud. They really do have a unique sound that is sort of designed for even larger venues.
But they aren’t afraid to pull it back either. Their set list is very carefully designed it seems. Most songs have quiet introductions or quiet codas that help to bring some shape to all of the non stop excitement. The entire experience is pretty well paced. The last time I saw them was at a festival setting and I came away wanting more. It is only now that I realized that they really don’t benefit from a short time limit. The show needs time to develop, they take time to connect with the crowd, they really don’t work well if they are just cramming in song after song after song like Japandroids or Lightning Bolt. Going to a Lips show is a journey.
Great show all around. It’s good to have the boys so close to where they record their albums. Dave Fridmann was spotted at the side of the stage by one of my friends, and I believe it since he is so important to their sound. If and when the Lips come to your town, do whatever you can to go. It is an experience that you will not soon forget.