What I’m listening to

July 16, 2010

Divided into groups so you can skip the parts you don’t care about:

ROCK and/or ROLL

Jamie Lidell – Compass

Technically Lidell is a former electronica square-pusher who is now doing R&B and funk.  But he has time for other genres too, including this folky title track from his third album.  Here it is paired with visuals from the game “Red Dead Redemption,” which it played a key role in.

Jose Gonzalez – Veneer

Speaking of “Red Dead,” this summarizes why the game was so absorbing to me, and why my girlfriend probably considered hiding my copy.  This is what happens in the game when you first enter Mexico.  (This song isn’t on “Veneer” but it gives you a taste of the beauty of Gonzalez’s music.)

Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record

For indie rock this is pretty high-profile.  I beg your forgiveness, but frankly I don’t have the energy to read the reviews in Alternative Press every month any more.  But here’s what matters: it’s a damn good album.

HIP HOP

Big Boi – Sir Lucious Leftfoot… The Son of Chico Dusty

OutKast fans can rejoice because half of that classic group finally released something, after several years of label drama and non-music-related BS.  Hip hop fans can rejoice because this right here is the best rap album of the year… and it’s only July.

Homeboy Sandman – The Good Sun

This cat is just weird.  Video below isn’t from this album, but from his previous one – however, I find the video so low-rent charming and his flow so bizarre in this song that I just had to throw this up.

Roc Marciano – Marcberg and AG – Everything’s Berri

No video here, but let me just say this: if you miss old school boom bap with grimy production and sedate flows, and above all that immersive, cinematic quality that made “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx” a classic, check out both of these.  I especially dig “Snow” off of “Marcberg” and that very-70s cover art for “Berri.”  Both albums are nice.

DANCEHALL and REGGAE

Busy Signal – D.O.B.

Excellent album in general (though his debut “Step Out” remains his best), but this dark, poverty-focused track with Bounty Killer is the high point for me.

There’s also, rather weirdly, a few semi-covers of popular hit songs.  This one really works for me and I couldn’t even explain why.  I only wish Busy would get past the autotune trend – his voice is so effective without it.

Black Dillinger – Love Life

This track is so huge, reminding me of old Sizzla cuts such as “Like Mountain.” The digital version of “Love Life” has been out for a spell (since January or so) but the CD still doesn’t exist, which is a shame.  Anyway, give this a listen.

METAL and RELATED CRAP

Hooded Menace – Never Cross the Dead

Death metal mired in sludge, taking one horrible crawling step at a time in your direction.  Hooded Menace’s concept is based on the sleazy, cheesy Eurohorror “Blind Dead” series of movies:

…and the music is SO fitting to that premise.  Also: best metal cover art of 2010, without question.

Sabbath Assembly – Restored to One

Sabbath Assembly is Jex of Jex Thoth – a sonorous-voiced woman who sounds imported from both the 70s and a Frank Frazetta painting – along with Dave Nuss of the No Neck Blues Band and a guy who produced Sunn O))).  The concept behind the album is to take a bunch of hymns of the Process Church of the Final Judgment (key excerpt: “They were often viewed as Satanic on the grounds that they worshipped both Christ and Satan. Their belief is that Satan will become reconciled to Christ, and together will come at the end of the world to judge humanity, Christ to judge and Satan to execute judgment”) and realize them with fleshed-out arrangements and a serious evil hippie, Manson cult vibe.  It’s 60s flower rock meets 70s doom metal meets seriously weird religious fanaticism, and if I thought they believed in what they’re singing, I’d be a little concerned.  But as is, it makes for really interesting listening, almost like an alternative reality soundtrack to “The Wicker Man.”


Here there be downloads

May 16, 2009

Various albums of mine have finally made it online in digital download format.  You can find them at the links below.  Brazen plea for your assistance: if you contribute any user reviews or include these albums in content lists on any of these sites, I’ll be forever in your debt.*  That kind of thing is what may push this endeavor from pure loss to only marginal loss for me.

* Actual time I will be in your debt: seventy minutes.

1.99 Millers: Drink Your Way Out of This One (vol. 1)

millers remix 300

Download from

emusic

amazon

rhapsody

itunes

napster

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1.99 Millers: Drink Your Way Out of This One (vol. 2)

Download from

emusic

amazon

rhapsody

itunes

napster

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The Insaniacs: 29 Goddamn Phat Tracks

insaniacs fiver 300

Download from

emusic

amazon

rhapsody

itunes

napster
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Breakfast Jones: Consolidation

consolidation 300

Download from

emusic

amazon

rhapsody

itunes

napster


Coming soon

April 7, 2009

1.99 Millers, “Drink Your Way out of This One” – refurbished. (For the six readers of my blog who weren’t actually in the band or sexing up a band member, the Millers were my alt-country/Americana/rock band that put out just one album. But it’s a really, really LONG album.)

Drummer Richard, who didn’t have the benefit of playing on the original recording, is tracking all new drum parts for me – we are six songs in and it’s going surprisingly fast. So no more mechanical-sounding fake-ass sampled drums; now there’ll be the real deal. I’m also remixing everything – removing some noise, making greater use of the stereo channels, and correcting some mixdown errors my then-young-and-naive ears let slide. And I’m remastering as well.  Well, you kinda need to when you remix, I guess, but this time I will be mastering with the fancy software I used on the dancehall remix project; the finished sound should have a lot more life than the original SoundForge Studio hack job I did.

I’m not making new CDs, this will be a digital release only.  And there will be at least one bonus track, which is totally what an album 38 songs deep needs.

Watch here for a download link – it’ll probably be in May.


One of my best songs, part 5

January 27, 2009

Diane,

I met Mike when I was in middle school.  He was a weird and sometimes mouthy bastard cockmaster of the first rank.  I immediately hated him, and shortly after that we were best friends forever.

That right there is what we call an archetypal story.

It was because of Mike that I started playing guitar.  He was doing it so I wanted to, too.  I bummed a low-rent classical guitar (one of those fat-necked, nylon string jobs) from my dad and started making things up.  In Mike’s family’s finished basement, and subsequently at my grandma’s house, in the local parks and cemeteries, and all across this great land wherever noise ordinances were lax and ears were tolerant, we made a goddamn boisterous racket together.  I do not exaggerate when I say that this was perhaps THE defining element of my teenage years, and by extension, my whole life.  It made me a person who values creation, and who wants to create.  Many people don’t quite get Mike – the self-elected president and house cheerleader for that organization has long been my own dear, sweet mother – but he has a lifetime pass with me.

Mike and I have been in a hundred bands together that were all the same band, except in name and the horrifyingness of our musical output.  The first band both of us were in was The Septic Bobs, who I’ve talked about in this space already, and whose necessary third strut was one Sweaty “Murderface” B.  We also founded and later folded Deathfork (parody death and thrash metal); The Warm Pool (really crummy industrial); Barber Groves (home taping experiments and avant garde nightmares); and – swear to jebus – Victory Chicken.  Which is still the best band name I hope to one day record an album under.*  Here’s the cover from Deathfork’s best-of compilation:

skull3

Mmm-hmmmm.  Oh yes.

When college happened, Mike and I were temporarily rent asunder.  It took a few years in the wilderness for us to realize that we were both still seeking the wet nourishment of each others’ oases.  (Yes, it required a full minute to craft a metaphor that homoerotic.  I hope you enjoyed it.)  We reunited over a long weekend before I graduated – by then, Mike was out of college and living as a semi- and elective-homeless person in Lafayette – at which point we cranked out five meandering songs for a new tape.  That stuff was highly influenced by the alt-rock we were listening to then, the likes of Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, and Failure, so there was quite a bit of soft-loud-soft-again and seven-minutes-when-five-would-do.  Nonetheless it came out pretty well – really, one of the most enduring things I recorded in college – and so we slapped on an indifferent picture of Mike reclining in a chair and called it Kramer (which was both the band and album title).  And then we went our separate ways again.

Got married.  Moved to North Carolina.  Moved to Chicago.  Moved to Indianapolis (alone).  Got divorced.  Lived with Sweaty B for a while.  Found someone new.  Moved in with her.  <– That was about five years.

At the end of it, Mike was waiting on me again.  We met in my too-expensive apartment with the vaulted ceilings and the sun room in front, and decided to expand on and evolve from whatever we’d been doing last.  Time for Kramer to become something else.  What had been happening musically for the last half a decade?  Well, the old grunge and alternative stuff had gotten stale.  Electronica had become far more popular and its tendrils were entwining around the roots and branches of non-mainstream rock.  Lou Barlow, whose Sebadoh I had listened to through college, had a minor hit with Folk Implosion’s “Natural One,” a sinuous and kind of dangerous/sexy (really?  Lou BARLOW?  are you sure?) little number that proved that indie rockers had maybe a touch of funk in ’em after all.  (Just a wee touch, though.  Let’s not exaggerate things.)

Volkswagen started running commercials with fairly hip folky and electronicky songs in them, and other advertisers followed in their wake.  Bands like Eels were starting their tiny ascent, though of those Eels in particular I was unaware – I only mention it to give a taste of what was in the atmosphere that year.  And Aphex Twin had become one of the media’s favorite underground superheroes. Mike and I were both hearing all of this, and it was a natural next step for us anyway, having listened to some hip hop and dance music as far back as high school.  We started playing nascent recordings for each other, and it was clear that we were already on the same page.  So Breakfast Jones was born.**

Part of the idea of Breakfast Jones was to bring whatever to the table and cram it in there.  Which is how we ended up with a sorta-punk song from my 4-track called “Damn Hell Ass Kings” (title from a “Simpsons” quote), and also a Casio-reggae/rock hybrid called “Zihuatenejo,” with some lyrics about traveling south of the border, and others swiped from Wall of Voodoo.  But the predominant flavor of our first album was definitely electronic and dance mixed with indie rock.  It was invigorating – felt like all the walls had been knocked down.

Pity, then, that almost everything on that CD was under-realized or out-and-out crap.

Our second CD (“Second”) was knocked out a year later, and was improved in every detail from its predecessor.  Where before we had song ideas, this time we had songs.  Where before we had three minute noise interludes, this time we had one minute noise interludes.  Where before we had a song about going to Mexico, this time we had a song about already BEING in Mexico.  Yes, Breakfast Jones’s second stab at indie-pop glory was, if still wide of the mark, at least done with a knife instead of a soiled Q-tip.

bjsec

But I bore you, Diane; I do go on.  Here is “Wishful Thinking.”  It was written around a bassline, and has a dark feeling that we were going for most of the time with this project (which still exists in theory today, even if it has produced no music the last couple of years).  The lyrics are intentionally abstract, but I still feel like one of my finest lyrical ideas was this one, from near the end of the song: “I like the way you laugh, ha ha ha.”  …Well, it makes more sense when you hear it.  This song was also part of a long-developing pattern of songwriting experimentation for me – including things like having “choruses” with no words, abruptly changing from one mood or style to another mid-song, finishing on a prolonged instrumental coda.  Yet it is still recognizably, kind of, more or less – a pop song.  Hope you like.

Wishful Thinking

* Victory Chicken originally played awful, tongue-in-cheek blues rock; but if reincarnated today, it would play patriotic country music or Christian black metal.  Or bluegrass songs about superheroes.

** The source of that name is too miniscule and unfunny to explain.


One of my best songs, part 3

January 16, 2009

Diane,

I’d like to close out the punk run of this series of posts with an appropriately short, nasty, and abrasive little entry.

When The Septic Bobs keeled over, it was only after crapping in the pumpkin-orange punchbowl with “Halloween 666.”  That album was the sixth (not the six hundred sixty-sixth) in a series of Frankenstein-and-Wolfman-celebrating albums, that came out almost every year between 1995 and 200x.*  This final emission was the top of the heap in every sense – which is not to say that it was particularly great.  But I had finely honed all the things I liked about the previous Halloween albums, and used them to do some stabbin’.  In your EAR.  Which is quite painful.

One thing I always enjoyed about writing a Halloween song was using a traditional theme as a metaphor for something else.  Hence “Frankenstein” from the first album was a metaphor for transforming the self through rebuilding; five albums later, with “Halloween 666,” I had a songs about wearing masks and haunted houses that were really about self-loathing and failed marriages.  (God, I suck.)  Writing songs like this is what we call being a mature artist.  But then again, I also had wading pool-deep tunes like the one about Johnny Unitas returning as a zombie to win a playoff game, even though that would most assuredly violate one or another NFL rule.  Probably something from this section.  That song was called “Zombie Unitas,” in case you were wondering, and the obvious had escaped you thanks to your stupid, stupid mind.

(Oh, you insulting alien bastards!  We will defeat your Plan 9 yet!)

Also in the wading pool part of the complex was this song, which played a big role in why I “disbanded” the Bobs.  This really is everything I wanted to say and do, boiled down to one minute and three seconds of pseudo-tuneful hollering and sneering.  Others might expect the “ultimate” Septic Bobs song to accomplish more – to be AMBITIOUS in some way, to have a chorus or a guitar solo or some kind of emotional resonance or thematic depth.  But no – in fact, fuck no – it’s really quite the opposite.  It was only by stripping away all those things that I could really get to the core (“heart” is too nice of a word) of what punk rock meant to me.  No choruses, no guitar solos, no resonance and no depth; instead, a slightly heaping minute of screaming about torturing a girlfriend to death.**  But in a catchy way.

Before we get to the song, I want to present the context.  This is “Re-animator,” my favorite horror movie.  It’s based on a series of Lovecraft stories, and I should mention that “Halloween 666” opens with two songs in a row about Lovecraftian subjects.

(By the way, I LOVE the narrator for this trailer.  I wonder if he cried himself to sleep while clutching his trailer narration cash the night after recording this?  He sounds mostly unengaged, with subdued shades of morally offended.)

Not only that, the cover art (crappily and hastily drawn by yours truly) renders a scene from “Re-animator” in cartoon monster form.  Here’s my “art” – enjoy the crapulence:

reanimatorbobAnd to provide the musical context (we were talking about music, weren’t we? I kinda forgot), here’s NOFX playing a very energetic and snotty version of “Linoleum” live:

So – punk [NOFX] + horror movies [Re-animator] =

S 2 Yr M

And here, for your moral edification, are the lyrics:

Beat your head in with a bat, I will
I wanna be that kind of guy,
the kind of guy you can rely upon
Just ask me what you want
Now ram it up your cunt?  Oh god
that’s fuckin gross, but if you say to
I’ll do anything but enslave you
unless you really insist
Maybe it’s time that I…

pistol-whipped your precious skull
into oblivion, and all
your screamin won’t mean shit to me
Spontaneous hysterectomy+
with tweezers, and pliers
Oh my love, it’s so divine
I’m glad you’re mine

For our next entry, Diane, we’ll be moving past punk rock and torture, and onward to the greener and mellower pastures of adulthood.  In other words, we’ll be leaving behind the youth music and getting into adult contempo crap.  Thanks for bearing with me thus far, old-timer.

* Brutal honesty time: all the years that have happened since I graduated from college are a total blur.  “Halloween 666” was recorded in either 2001 or 2002… I think.

** Looking back at it now, this could easily be perceived as a horribly misogynistic song.  All I can say is this: if you don’t see the irony and think I meant any of this seriously, you’re probably not my target demographic anyway.  So… shrug.

+ Hysterectomy, Wikipedia tells us, means “surgical removal of the uterus.”  In this context, we’re doing it with tweezers and pliers.  I like to think about that; it’s neat.


One of my best songs, part 2

January 16, 2009

Diane,

I decided I was mostly going to write punk rock songs in 1992.

I decided I was mostly done writing punk rock songs in 2007.  That means the amount of time I spent seriously engaged with punk (because for a musician, writing songs in a genre is as seriously engaged as it gets, and everything else is just dabbling) was about five times as long as the Sex Pistols were together*; about twice as long as the first incarnation of Bad Brains lasted; probably three times as long as it took Greg Graffin to earn his Ph.D.; and roughly one and a half times as long as “Sandanista!” (zing!).

In that time frame punk went from a gentrified, specialist’s genre to a compromised alternative radio and MTV force, and back again.  It saw the tail-end of the ascendancy of pop-punk labels like Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords, who waxed with the success of Green Day and quickly waned again after (though they still plug along today).  It saw Rancid revitalize the sound of The Clash to mostly positive notices, but some vitriolic negative ones as well.  It saw the deaths of two Ramones and Joe Strummer.  And it saw me, some random home-taping idiot, pumping out a couple hundred two minute 4-track anthems.

Sadly, most of those anthems have no staying power for me, for several different reasons.  My early musical experiences were pop-heavy and highly melodic, so I gravitated towards the harmony-laden, poppy stuff when I first got into punk: Bad Religion, NOFX, Lagwagon, etc.  I still like the best work of those bands, but as a musical direction for myself I wouldn’t choose it – it tends to be shallow and repetitive stuff, while not as immediate and brash as the earlier, less melodic punk it evolved from.  Besides that, I was a mediocre songwriter and had a tin ear for recording and mixing music back then, so many of the songs I wrote consisted of a blandly pretty melody over a generic chord progression buried under a wall of BLLLLAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR – “blllarrrrr” being the sound my purple B.C. Rich with the Floyd Rose tremelo made when I played it through my shitty amp with the distortion maxed the fuck out.  That guitar was made for better amps and douches like Yngwie Malmsteen, not some wannabe punk kid with his shitty tape recorder.  Basically I was a sub-garage sub-Paul Simon/sub-Bad Religion hybrid.  If I made anything listenable in those first few years, it was a complete damn accident.

The early two-thirds of my punk period (makes me sound more Picasso-like, doesn’t it?) were spent recording under the silly moniker The Septic Bobs.  The name dates back to high school, when my friends and I had little better to do than fill up tapes with bad songs and think of ridiculous band names.  (Early examples: Reubens Exposure [Pee Wee Herman historians will chuckle], Vicious Upholstery, The Giving Tree [no one will chuckle, though many may rasp the mirthless laughter of embarrassment].)  I stuck with it because why not, it was a sort of brand name – known and tolerated by my close friends, who were the only people hearing any of the music I was making.  I also had developed a sideline of drawing Septic Bobs, which (it turned out) were little cartoon monsters that liked to eat things:

lilcheesebobNaturally, the Bobs adorned all the album covers for their namesake band, like so:

ethelineThis got to be such a meme (can a meme be a thing that you’re mostly sharing with yourself?  I dunno, who cares) that I was powerless against it.  The Septic Bobs continued as a mostly one-man band for years after I was basically sick of my “style.”  The increasingly intermittent tapes I put together came to be all over the place in terms of genre and tone, and I started incorporating lots of other influences – classic Brit punk, Cars and Blondie-style new wave, folk, pop, goth rock (of the tongue-in-cheek variety), and avant garde noise bullshit.  I think ultimately I was just sick of myself (a la Matthew Sweet) and was trying to become somebody else – maybe everybody else, and all at once, if necessary.  Finally, it was time for one last hurrah.  I did “Halloween 666,” the sixth installment in a long-running and kind-of-annual tradition of horror-themed punk albums; then I put the Bobs to rest.

But that was well before 2007.  And we’re not doing that story today, anyway – we’re just getting through some history.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I had a habit of listing terrible band names that no one would want to use, just things that made me laugh.  One of those names was The Insaniacs.  For some reason this third grade-level play on words was giggle-inducing for me.  What kind of stupid band would call themselves that?

Turns out, it was me.

My return to punk, post-Bobs, in the summer of 2004, was as The Insaniacs.  For whatever reason, the name had grown on me to the point that I thought it was fitting for what I wanted to record next.  That thing was ultra-short, ultra-ultra-minimal punk rock missiles aimed at the gut and the crotch.  My aim for “All the Different Kinds of Nuts” was to cram 10 songs into 10 minutes of CD (yeah, I had moved on to digital recording by then).  I managed it in fifteen, anyway.  The songs were much harsher than before, without quite verging on hardcore, and there was a distinct and new influence from The Clash, who had slowly become my favorite punk band.

The follow-up to “Nuts” was intentionally set up as a test of my own willpower.  I was going to call it “150 Goddamn Phat Tracks,” which would sprawl over probably four CDs, and force myself to write and record the whole thing in a year.  The pace was beyond ridiculous, and as I passed the 20-song mark I knew I was never going to make it; I was already tired of the conceit and ready to take a break.  So I wrapped it up at just 29 goddamn tracks (maybe half of which were phat – the other half were mere fat) which at least squeezed on to a more manageable single disc.

“Phat Tracks” looks like this:

insaniacssmall

I think we can all agree, if nothing else, that that dog is cute and kind of scary.  That’s what I was going for.

The album had an even bigger Clash influence than before, which was fitting, since Joe Strummer was two years past being able to sue me.  I was working in a lot of ska, reggae, and new wave influence – which was both very “London Calling” of me, and also a logical next step, seeing as how I was getting seriously into roots reggae and dub, and had always loved the hell out of The Cars and Talking Heads and all their skinny-tie, big-suit brethren and sistren.  That year my mailbox was always stuffed full of the fresh-ordered likes of “Remain in Light” and Buju Banton’s opus, “Til Shiloh.”  (Between then and now I’ve consumed a whole world of both genres – Adam and the Ants, Wailing Souls, Bounty Killer, The Jam and Joe Jackson, Scientist and Lee “Scratch” Perry and King Tubby; I could go on and on and on.)  Between these various influences, The Clash largest among them, the album came out sounding like “London Calling”‘s snotty kid brother.  Only not nearly as good.  But hey, nobody has THOSE kind of aspirations.

This, to me, is the best one track from this album – the one I’d play for almost anybody to give them an idea what it KIND OF sounds like, MOST OF the time.  It owes a clear debt to Mick and Joe, and also to Talking Heads and Bow Wow Wow (they of “I Want Candy” fame).  It’s got a backbone of semi-tribal drum rhythm, something Bow Wow Wow and Adam and the Ants were playing with most, but many others also danced around in the early 80s.  On top of that is big guitar chords and a raucous tune of the variety I’d describe as “Clampdown”-meets-“Rudy Can’t Fail”-with-a-splash-of-Buzzcocks.

Here’s a few of the things I’m talking about – in order, Adam and the Ants (with the title track from “Kings of the Wild Frontier”); The Clash doing “Clampdown” live; and purely for the fuck of it, Buju Banton on a super-G-funked remix of “Champion”:

And if you’re feeling a little too inside my head at this point, I’d advise you to shake it off and just listen to the damn thing, already.

Libby O

By the way, my good friend Sweaty B (an original Septic Bob, though never much of a punk appreciator) played the sweet bass notes on this song, and several others on the album.  He’s a true pro, that guy… except in the sense that I totally didn’t pay him a dime for his work.

* Pre-cash-in reunion, of course.  We’re pretending that didn’t happen.


One of my best songs, part 1

January 15, 2009

Diane,

I don’t usually get autobiographical ’round these parts.  In fact, it’s one of this blog’s invisible and unspoken mission statements to remain steadfastly outward-aimed.  Probably this is because I usually write these things in the morning, and Diane – I am NOT a looker in the morning.  Heavens no.  Hair all akimbo, shirt half tucked-in, magically ten pounds heavier… I’ve got problems.  It’s usually about four p.m before I start looking like a normal human being that you’d feel comfortable asking for directions, or bumming a quarter from.

Regardless, for a short stretch we are going to GET autobiographical.  I want to post a series of essays about songs I wrote, that I like.  But in a sneaky fashion, I think these navel-gazes will still reflect more light on the world outside of me than on me, myself.  (And I.)  I hope they’ll retroactively guide people to some interesting stuff that influenced me along the way.  And I hope it will also give some insight into the general creative process; which, no matter what anyone says, is largely about homage, imitation, plagiarism, theft… and MURDER.  Mwahahahaha!

Now let’s get on with the first entry.

My musical education was, I guess, like most anybody else’s: you hear some things, you like some things, you start digging.  And like a miner in a gold vein, you dig what’s in front of you – what’s connected to the gold you already found.  You don’t abandon the vein and start looking for gold five hundred miles away, in another state.  That would be pretty stupid of you.  Er, me.  It’s only when you’re filthy rich and you’ve exhausted all the readily available gold that you go looking elsewhere.

I started with the crap my parents liked (Neil Diamond, John Denver, other folky 70s stuff, and lite rock radio) and moved on to the pop music of my middle teenagehood (Phil Collins and Genesis loomed over the landscape that year, it feels like).  When I started getting into the hard stuff, it was hair metal first (pop with guitar solos) and then alternative rock, or what is now being called alternative metal – though that label wasn’t used much back then, perhaps because the whole idea of “alternative” music was making the idea of “metal” very unfashionable.  Though in retrospect, Soundgarden and Jane’s Addiction sure seem harder and more metally than Poison and Warrant, who were clearly gay music for gaywads on a gaycation in Gayworld.*  From there it was a short hop to punk rock (especially of the melodic and soaring-harmonies variety) and punk-informed alt rock, which gradually became something called post-punk that nobody really understands outside the borders of Washington, D.C.

Years later, it was 1994.  I had moved to Chicago, and it was miserable fuckin’ cold most of the time I lived there.  Beneath the many feet of snow and icy arctic winds blowing off of Lake Windmaker, in my igloo wrapped in a bearskin parka in front of a frost-caked 4-track tape recorder, I was trying to keep myself warm by whipping up a miniature punk frenzy.  It wasn’t working.  But I still have the tapes for posterity.

This is the second tape I made under the name Electrotone, which I think I stole from a line of guitars or effects pedals or something (I broke my Googling finger earlier today, sorry!).  The core idea is one I would revisit repeatedly later on: it’s essentially alt or indie rock, but with influences from both punk and electronic music.  “Electrotone” only managed two releases, and this one was a scant five songs, but at least the cover was horrifying:

elec1

Oh yeah, Diane: I drew that.  Who wants to fuckin’ touch me?!?

Of the five songs on “Extra Flesh,” two were well-meaning pieces of shit, one was a boring instrumental, one was pretty good, and then there was this one.

The song is called “Klepto.”  The lyrics are simple – a girlfriend stole from the narrator, who is now kicking her to the proverbial curb, where hopefully she will get hit by a non-proverbial bus or something.  Why was it about stealing and breaking up?  Well, to tackle the second part first, I had a strong belief for a very long time that all rock and pop music was better when it was about failing relationships.  This eventually culminated in the 1.99 Millers album “Drink Your Way Out of This One,” in which 98% of the 38 tracks were about this very subject.  After that, I felt like maybe I had emptied the well.  But years before, Electrotone was still doggedly propping up that model.  Getting back to the stealing, I totally loved the Superchunk semi-hit, “Package Thief.”  Superchunk was one of those very tuneful punk/alt rock outfits that I couldn’t get enough of in the 90s, and “Package Thief” was this invigorating blast of energy and melody, with a kickass video involving puppets:

So two different times I had an appealing song idea with no lyrics, and both times I stole (yeah yeah) from the ‘Chunk, by writing some nonsense about thievery.  The first time it didn’t work out.  The second, which was this time, it kinda did.

Musically, “Klepto” is a bit like a Superchunk number, but really it came from a different place than that.  This was written not long after “Rushmore” and its trailer introduced the world to a song called “Making Time,” by The Creation.  “Making Time” is very Kinks-ish and Who-riffic – it’s a psychedelic pop/punk song from before punk even existed.  It’s simple and beyond catchy.  When I heard it, I instantly loved it – it was like all the music I already loved, only old and British:

(“Making Time” starts at about the 45 second mark in that clip.)

When you combine “Making Time” and the classic Kinks songs I knew with the punk and alt rock stuff I was listening to (especially the band Wire, whose early work made much delicious hay out of this kind of minimalism), you get “Klepto.”  I wrote a hypnotic and barbarically retarded little riff, the one that opens the song; then I came up with another, chunkier riff worthy of the Kinks or AC/DC; then I start singing some frantically-paced lyrics about stealing and breaking up; and voila, a song was born.  In final analysis, the drums aren’t good (I was still using a mediocre Boss drum machine) and the mix is too fuzzy and distorted, and because of my pre-digital, pre-having money limitations the whole thing sounds kind of crappy – but something almost like listenability still floats through the din.

Klepto

For those of you for whom this song is too rough around the edges, Part 2 will feature a more recent and much more tolerable recording.  I’ll get to that in the next day or two.

* I’d love to remove this somewhat offensive joke, but I can’t.  My inner nine year old loves it too much.