Categories
Music Reviews

Lords of Acid

Lords of Acid

Deep Chills

Metropolis Records

Some people think rock and roll is just code talk for sex and drugs, and if all they ever heard was Lords of Acid, how could you blame them? In the heyday of raves (say, 1991) The Lords splashed big with “I Sit on Acid,” whose hook is best printed here with excessive punctuations: “Come on dear, **** me in the ****.” I’m sure you can Google the rest. Well, lead singer and sex toy collector Praga Khan has returned with her first album since 2000’s Farstucker and while it plows no new fields, it’s a solid add-on to her oeuvre of oversexed dance music.

Opener “Little Mighty Rabbit” isn’t subtle; it’s more an infomercial for a personal massage device and not likely to get airplay on Clear Channel. The 14 tracks here thump thump through the Kama Sutra and the Fetish Map: “Long John” explores bikers cross dressing, “Sole Sucker” shows the erotic potential of Designer Shoe Warehouse, “Pop That Tooshie (featuring Alana Evans)” revisits the focus of most rap videos, and I’m sure there’s something here that will excite that little sliver of your brain you never told mama about.

Musically, the sound maps closely to what you would expect — throbbing beats, strong hooks and chorus power pop structures, and reasonably clear vocals. I love the cover; it features a little cartoon for each song from Karl Kotas and recalls Janis Joplin’s Cheap Thrills cover by Robert Crumb.

If Deep Chills departs from Khan’s earlier styles, I’d say her drift is toward The B52’s or The Bangles. This is Riot grrrl power pop, danceable and fun and you can sing along just so long as the kiddies can’t hear you.

Lords of Acid: www.metropolis-records.comwww.lordsofacid.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Southern Culture On The Skids

Southern Culture on the Skids

The Kudzu Ranch

Y’all make fun of Southerners, but that’s where you head for your boisterous moonshine-at-the-drive-in rollin’-in-the-dirt fun after too much cool jazz and over-permed synth boys dry out your rockin’ bone. SCOTS cranks out album number 14 with the same outrageous humor and rockabilly licks you’ve loved since that college dive bar in Chapel Hill. The hits are all there, beginning with “Bone Dry Dirt.” At first, it sounds like a bad farm report, but after your second spin the real story pops up — this singer ain’t getting no poontang and it’s becoming “right” stressful. What’s setting him back? We see soon enough on the next track when singer Marry Huff announces, “It’s the music that makes me.” Her voice sounds a bit like Belinda Carlisle roasting over a swamp smoky bass line, but there’s no question she’s not falling for the first bib overall toting a Miller light. Southerners can be very polite, but very direct.

The sex might be spotty, but life under the Mason Dixon line has its neighborly elements and nothing brings neighbors together like a plastic bottle and gasoline bonfire. “My Neighbor Burns Trash” is why country living is so relaxing — no HOA to prevent you from releasing a little carbon dioxide and polycyclic arimides into the ozone. On “High Life,” Ms. Huff returns with a Jimmy Buffet twang backing her haunting reverb-powered vocals, and “Montague’s Mystery Theme” applies surf guitar and Arthur Lyman rice-on-a-drumhead effects to make a moody yet danceable number with minimal vocals. Heck, there’s something for everyone on the Kudzu Ranch. SCOTS keep chugging out fun danceable music that preserves the joy and relative innocence of the early days of the LA punk scene. These guys would fit right onto a bill with The B-52’s, The Go-Go’s and The Bangles. The great thing is these guys are solidly in business today, touring and making us happy the Union stayed intact.

Southern Culture on the Skids: www.scots.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Polysics

Polysics

with Evil Beaver

Chicago, IL • 2/10/10

Japanese new-wave quartet Polysics is clearly powered by a mad love for Devo. But their surges of thousand-gigawatt melodies and onslaught of sequenced vibrations jolts and re-calibrates my synapses in ways that Devo never has.

Polysics

Colleen Catania
Polysics

In 1998, front man Hiro Hayashi (voice/ guitar/ programming), 30, formed Polysics. After constant lineup changes and nonstop touring for nearly a decade, the band caught the eye of Tom Anderson, who signed them to MySpace Records after seeing them at a U.S. show. Since then, the band has issued a state-side compilation of its previous foreign-release album, Polysics or Die!, and embarked on the first-ever MySpace tour in 2008.

Now, in 2010, Polysics are again making their way across the U.S., touring in support of their ninth album, Absolute Polysics. For the most part, the new tracks stick to what’s worked over the last ten years and pull few surprises. It’s not the same Polysics necessarily, but more of a refined version of an already sleek and super-frenetic new-wave formula. But as the title suggests, Absolute is vintage Polysics: ultra-fast electronic tempos and mind-numbing chord changes and 2 to 3-minute songs packed with Japanese pop, metal, rock, and punk. If anything is “new,” it’s that there are a few more accessible pop melodies and hooks thrown in.

Polysics

Colleen Catania
Polysics

Listening to Polysics feels like you’re strapped to the hood of Speed Racer’s car while he blazes along at top speed. It’s a fun and crazy ride that only gets better when the band is raging, pulsing, and exploding in front of you during a live show.

First, the L.A. rock duo Evil Beaver primed the night by ripping its way through a raucous set of snarling punk, garage, metal, and blistering hard rock. Squeezing growls, squeals, and sneers from her guitar and foot pedals, Chicago-native Evie Evil — who had the set list scrawled on her forearms — mashed melody with virtuosity making her axe sound like three guitars instead of one, while drummer Johnny Beaver thumped out a river of bashing and clashing rhythms and beats.

Evil Beaver

Colleen Catania
Evil Beaver

Then, in-between sets, the crowd got its new-wave pop pre-show fix, singing in harmony to A-Ha’s “Take on Me” and B-52’s “Rock Lobster” playing on the PA. The switched was flipped and the intensity in the Double Door climaxed as Polysics’s tour manager introduced the band, exclaiming into a stage-side mic that Polysics is the “only band to take on Godzilla and win!” At that point the crowd roared, boiled over, and began to rumble and rock.

Clad in bright orange jumpsuits with shiny silver P’s pinned to their chests and sporting black long bar sunglasses, Polysics assumed their spots on stage and took us on a wild ride, soaring high on the crest of a sonic tsunami of punk rock, pop, techno new-wave.

Wasting not even a second, Hiro blew hard into a whistle and quickly clamped on the jumper cables to our brains firing up the percolating electronic beats of “P!,” the lead track on Absolute Polysics. From there he led the charge through more new numbers and others from 2008’s We Ate the Machine and past albums.

Polysics

Colleen Catania
Polysics

As I remember it, the show felt like an electro-blur with all the songs merging into one frenetic anthem. But then again all the sequenced speed and riotous guitar rhythms and drum beats stood apart and alone, as if each beat and note was a unique micro-moment of pleasure feeding the one-on-one connection frenzy between my brain’s neurons and synapses. At one moment during the show, everything slowed down in my mind as I figured out what it is about Polysics that moves my body and pulls my mind in. I closed my eyes and felt the intense and beautiful union with the crowd that was bursting with hand claps, yelps, shouts, and head-bobbing. This was a complete surprise because I’ve always felt that Polysics is a secretly cerebral band that knows how to get people dancing outwardly or internally. But after seeing them live, it was clear that they are pros at kick-starting and stimulating our brains without us even knowing it — thus completing their mission and giving our bodies no choice but to obey and instantly go goofy.

Polysics

Colleen Catania
Polysics

As powerful and exhilarating as it was (as most Polysics show are), I assumed the reason for the extra bursts of encore-power they exuded was because long-time member Kayo (keyboard/voice/guitar/vocoder) will be leaving the band after the final show in March in Budokan. That considered, you would have never guessed that this Chicago show had a bittersweet undertone.

I stood tired and in awe at Polysics’s endless energy and ability to play with such intensity for over an hour. I didn’t always completely understand Hiro as he flew through his self-professed “space-language” lyrics that are a playful, mystical mix of Japanese and English. But it was his triumphant battle calls and the feeling Polysics injected into my heart that obliterated the language barrier. If Polysics has really taken on Godzilla and won, like their manager insists, I feel sorry for the other ancient sea monsters because they’re going to get crushed.

Polysics: www.polysics.com/en

Categories
Interviews

ZE Records

Tête à Tête with Michel Esteban

ZE Records

Labels We Love

Early ZE’s music was visceral at the same time that it was manufactured. That’s not to say the music wasn’t genuine. It was the primal scream of artifice. Acts like Suicide were the decrepit corpse ghost of Elvis playing over a desolate, Motor City version of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn — haunting, otherworldly inversions of pop. Kid Creole and the Coconuts, on the other hand, were bright colors and island flavors, but they also dabbled in cheeky lyrics that reflected right side vs. wrong side of the track politics and realities. At that time, there was such a NY. It’s easy to glamorize the rot, decay, and waste of the Lower East Side, reducing the squalor to an aesthetic. However, the decay meant chemical reactions were happening, unexpected life — a vibrant society was creeping up from the filth. While punk was a full-fledged rejection of the bourgeoisie, the ZE artists were class mulattoes with one foot on each side of the divide.

When it was founded in 1978, ZE Records was a place for co-conspirators Michel Esteban and Michael Zilkha to express their love of all kinds of music. Esteban was friends with Patti Smith and Richard Hell, but had a love for disco and the club music that fired up the Danceteria and Studio 54. Punk’s nihilism and disco’s hedonism were twin voids pulling at the same string from opposite sides. Uniting the two was not entirely unique, but it was still uncommon at the time. ZE was a forerunner in what would later be called dance-punk, and served as a precursor to labels like DFA and artists like the Rapture and LCD Soundsystem.

As the inaugural feature in Ink 19‘s Labels We Love series, S D Green talks to founder Michel Esteban just after the release of ZE 30, a compilation of classic era ZE records celebrating 30 years of ZE, and discusses the magical era of 1970s New York and the evolution of ZE records then to now.

You were about 27 at the time you started ZE Records with Michael Zilkha in New York City. New York is a vibrant subject in many artists’ music and is a muse for a lot of musicians, especially NY in the 1970s. Can you describe what it was like living in New York at that time?

In fact all became with the Velvet Underground which was my favorite band in the early ’70s. New York at that time was “ZE” place to be. I was 23 when I first came to NY in 1974; I was living at the Chelsea Hotel. I became friends with Patti Smith and Richard Hell, Andy Warhol was hanging out with his gang at Max’s, Lou Reed and William Burroughs at CBGB’s. I started a magazine called Rock News in 1975, which ran until the end of ’76. In 1977 I produced my first single with John Cale (“Marie & les Garçons”). I was sharing a loft in Soho with Patti Smith!

NY at that time was not the Disneyland for Yuppies it became in the ’90s, but the film set of Martin Scorsese films, Mean Street or Taxi Driver….

I mean, for me it was a dream come true!

What was the impetus for starting ZE?

Just a big fan of music. I was an art student, but most of the musicians are, too.

You were responsible for the art direction at ZE, and the iconic checker cab logo. What role do you think art plays in music? What do visuals add to the sonic experience that is music?

To me, music, graphic art, movies, and to a certain extent literature or even painting are the same. My English is not good enough to explain exactly what I am trying to say but, to me, a record of Miles Davis, a painting by Jean Michel Basquiat, a film by Martin Scorsese, or a book by Nick Toshes are talking about the same thing.

As an art student I was of course very interested and concerned in the graphic image of the label. But graphic with an attitude!

What was your role as co-founder of ZE? Did you seek out talent? Any artists you had a challenging time signing? Any interesting stories to tell regarding artists who got away?

I equally shared responsibility with Michael, seeking and choosing artists or producing them, except for the visual which was more my department.

I personally wanted to sign the B-52s and Devo when I saw them playing at CBGB’s or Max’s. They both ended up with Island Records which was obviously a bigger label than us.

What was your primary responsibility at ZE back then? How is it different now?

We were very naïve and very fortunate, we had total freedom about what we wanted to produce, no strategy except having a good time.

The difference between back then and now was like we were writing books with a goose feather, then a guy named Gutenberg came and invent printing… if you see what I mean.

What was your relationship to the artists? Was it a familial one or was the relationship more business?

Not familial, neither business, I guess respectful. We tried to give them freedom to do what they wanted to do, as long we had chosen them it was trust! Some of them were friends.

A lot is made of how much New York has changed since the ’70s. Many artists don’t believe it was for the better. What, if anything, do you think was lost that has changed art in the city?

I am not a nostalgic person, but of course NY was a very creative environment at that period. I believe art movements work by cycles, anyway.

Can you define what ZE stands for (and stood for in the ’70s and ’80s) as a label? What would you say were your goals, musically, for the label?

Total freedom and the personality of two foreigners with a certain vision of what music should have been at that time in that city we loved. Right time, right place! We were lucky enough to have the money to produce music we wanted to hear. We did not care about what people said and tried to enjoy ourselves.

The ZE 30 disc includes many of your classic artists: James White & the Blacks, Suicide, Lydia Lunch, and Kid Creole & the Coconuts (to name a few). Thirty years on, are there any songs that have surprised you in their ability to stand the test of time? Any missteps — material you thought was great at the time that just doesn’t stand up?

Of course there are some production or songs that aged differently, you cannot be 100% right. But I am amazed that most of our productions are considered today as classic. And I think if we had to produce them today we will not change anything. So I guess we must have done the right thing back then!

ZE has gone from being a label on the cutting edge of New York’s No Wave and post-punk scene to being a boutique re-issue label. No doubt, ZE was far ahead of its time, and much of the music is still being copied today. What was your motivation to sign Michael Dracula and start releasing new material again?

I like to quote Edgard Varèse’s words: “An artist is never ahead of his time, but most people are far behind theirs.” I met Emily McLaren, the girl behind Michael Dracula, through the guys of OPTIMO. She was a big fan of ZE, and she is a brilliant songwriter, she sings, plays almost every instrument on the album, wrote the music and lyrics. I could have produced this album a little bit better but I always tried to please the artist first…

What is your relationship with the original ZE artists today? Do you still keep in touch with them?

With some yes, I have a couple of projects with some of them but as I said before I am not nostalgic and I don’t like revival.

What is the most difficult challenge in running a record label?

Find the money to make your dream possible.

What do you think an anthology of ZE’s groundbreaking catalog means to music in 2009?

I hope the same thing the first album of the Velvet Underground did in 1967. Like Brian Eno said, maybe not so much people bought it but most of them who did, started a band. And I could add, or started a records label.

Are there any artists of the last ten or so years who you would have signed to ZE back in 1978? Why or why not?

Bjork: because she is Bjork!

Why did the label close down in 1986?

I personally left ZE and NY in ’81/’82, mainly ’cause I had a strategical difference of view with Michael Zilkha, specially around the delicate subject of his then wife Cristina. Not that I did not like her or her albums. She was/is a brilliant girl but as far I was concerned they had a sick relationship which interfered with the image of the label. In terms of business, Michael had Daddy’s money to spend. For me it was my money, obviously not the same income.

Also I thought that by 1982 the golden years of NY creativity were fading and I wanted to travel more. That is what I did by producing Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s next two albums in south Africa and Brasil. I also produced French artists during the ’80s, like French pop icon LIO, with whom I had my first gold records.

When I left ZE, Michael continued for a couple of years, lost interest in music business, divorced Cristina, left NY to move to Texas and went into the oil business with his father…

Now I live in Salvador de Bahia, Brasil since three years, and I have been developing a project of a Cultural Art Center, called A FABRICA, sort of the Sundance film institute, but for all arts.

ZE had a distribution relationship with Island Records. During the original run of ZE (1978-1986) Island was an independent record label. That changed in 1989 when Chris Blackwell sold Island to Polygram. How do you view the decline of the traditional record label (Sony BMG, Virgin, etc.)? Is this a case of “good riddance to old rubbish,” or is this a frightening trend in music that will lead to a drop-off in quality of recorded music in the future? What impact will the fracturing of the market and the rise of self-produced music have on independent labels?

Island was one of the best indie labels of the ’70s and Chris Blackwell a great producer. The decline of the record label came when the heads of these labels or majors came from business school and not from the music world (including fans). Then some guys invented the mp3 and digital music and it was the same like when Gutenberg invented printing. Books were never the same again…

In an interesting role reversal, U2 loaned money to Island when they were in financial trouble. As pay back, Chris Blackwell gave them control of their masters. Several artists are taking a more active role in generating financing for their albums (Patrick Wolf is selling shares in his latest album). What are some viable models for “record labels” in the future?

Knowing Chris Blackwell, I am not worried about his finances; in stories there are always three versions: mine, yours and the real one!

Talking about viable economic models for record labels, if anybody has a brilliant idea I am interested in (smiles).

More seriously I am very optimistic for the music because people “use” more music than ever, but since a couple of years kids think that music is free. We are in the middle of a revolution. But one thing is sure, that you need talented people to write, play, and produce music, and that no machine or industrial revolution like the digitization of music, film, or books can replace.

ZE Records: www.zerecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Love Rocks

Love Rocks

Various Artists

Centaur

“Just roll it from the top.”– KLF

Here, watch the critic walk bravely down the middle of the road. This two-CD set is in benefit of the Human Rights Campaign, “the largest national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender political organization with members throughout the country.” This is, naturally, noble.

But to my tastes, in the hopes of throwing out a wide net to potential buyers, it sacrifices flow. Not that there’s anything wrong with an eclectic selection of artists and types of music from a fundraising perspective, it’s just as a listener it’s a little bit frustrating. Like at least 99% of all the two-record albums ever made, this could have been a great single disc rather than a nice double one. But, the tracks you would chose for the great single disc would not be the same as I would, and the cause is just. So paying your money and making your choices is recommended. Here are mine.

Inasmuch as the music “rocks,” as per the title, it’s a gentle kind of rocking, with a handful of exceptions. For all that she’s important symbolically and historically, Melissa Etheridge’s music, represented by “Giant,” has never done much for me. But then, I feel the same way about Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” (although it’s an interesting song), also included here. And I know women for whom that’s very meaningful.

It’s also worth mentioning that while Etheridge’s participation in this CD didn’t take a genius to predict, Aguilera is, arguably, taking more of a risk here in “defense of marriage” America. Same goes for Mandy Moore. Indeed, the ever-sickening “Focus on the Family” is already going after Moore and the other contributing artists.

By the way, though I wouldn’t have thought so on paper, Moore’s cover of “I Feel The Earth Move,” adding DJ breaks and other dance music effects, is surprisingly fun. Albums like this should always have a few surprises. Another particularly pleasant discovery was “She” by Jen Foster, an artist whose name is new to me. It’s what you call your basic delightful pop ditty that just happens to be by a woman singing about another woman.

On the other hand, I also liked “8th World Wonder” by Kimberley Locke, who turns out to have been an American Idol finalist (I had no idea — I don’t watch the show). That’s the kind of thing for which they can fire me from an alternative music mag like Ink 19.

Dolly Parton’s “Sugar Hill” is nicely evocative but feels out of place between Dave Koz’s so-smooth-it-slips-away “Just To Be Next To You” and Emmylou Harris’s chicken-funky “Jupiter Rising.” Speaking of which, Yoko Ono, sad to say, always sounds out of place, even on her own records. Remaking her 1980 song “Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him” as “Every Man Has A Man…” is a nice idea, and the remix and production does what it can with her voice, but still…it’s Yoko Ono, dude.

Jason & deMarco are seemingly counter-intuitively both gay and Christian, but I must say their melodic “All I Long For” has grown on me. Randi Driscoll uses a version of “Amazing Grace” to introduce her own poignant “What Matters.” It’s a tribute to Matthew Shepard, but knowing that should not lessen the songs universality.

Dido’s “Thank You” returns from its sampling by Eminem. Whether any message is intended by its inclusion here I leave up to the reader. I can’t forget The Dixie Chicks, with their nearly-perfect “I Believe In Love.”

And, of course, for a ’80s guy like me, you can’t go wrong with “Time After Time” or the B-52’s “Summer Of Love” (even if I prefer the album version).

Orange popsicles and lemonade…

Centaur: www.centaurmusic.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Sparkle*Jets U.K.

Sparkle*Jets U.K.

Bamboo Lounge

Smile

If there were awards for most creative jacket theme, Sparkle*Jets U.K. would cream any competition. With the names of the people who contributed what to each song laid out like recipes, the song titles names of drinks and the length of the songs with dollar signs acting as prices, this group is muy creativo from the get-go. As far as the music goes, “Monster” is a girl anthem with a twist of mint ($3.14), the song we could all use is “Sorry” (a pricey $4.00), the swingy “Consult You Physician” ($3.03), a yummy “Beautiful Girl” ($3.14), the rhythmic and sad “Nobody’s Girl” (“She says she’s nobody’s girl…/wish I was nobody” — $3.41), the retro “They Shoot Square Dancers, Don’t They?” ($3.06), and the best deal around, “Bamboo Lounge” at a mere $1.32. Don’t leave without taking up the great shooter special — “Hate Your Hair,” only $.42 each! Wow, what a great lounge, they even serve drink umbrellas. For the new generation of B-52’s fans, your savior has arrived. Double your pleasure with the Sparkle*Jets tribute album, I Love Sparkle*Jets U.K. Have some Island Records “power pop” for an appetizer and all the drinks on the menu will go excellent with some “Rock Lobster.”

Sparkle*Jets U.K.: http://www.gosjuk.htm