Saturday, August 29, 2009


Was there ever a more bizarre musical moment then Bob Dylan's appearance - rapping - on hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow's 1986 album "Kingdom Blow"? I can't think of a more unlikely cameo off the top of my head, especially since Dylan rarely collaborates. True, hard-core punks The Circle Jerks did a tune with Debbie Gibson, but that was a bit of a joke, obviously.

Kurtis Blow:
"Street Rock"
All weirdness aside, "
Street Rock" is good bit of Run-DMC-esque crunchy guitar/beatbox rap.

Wouldn't it have been amazing if Dylan had appeared on these goofy, '80s pre-gangsta jams:

Kurtis Blow: Super Sperm
Kurtis Blow: Magilla The Gorilla

Look at that picture. No, it's not a war zone. It's part of New York City, one of the richest areas in the world, in the 1970s. The fact that such unwanted, ignored human beings were not only able to live in such wretched conditions, but were able to create a culture that took over the world - hip-hop - was one of the great inspirational moments of the '80s. Watching new forms of dance, music, and visual art arise from this rubble certainly thrilled me.

So I'm pretty psyched about the upcoming Old School Jams Live show at the Greek Theatre in here in LA this Sept. 13. I mean, peep this lineup: Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five, Egyptian Lover, Afrika Bambatta's SoulSonic Force. Vocoders! Tracksuits! Jehri Curls! (Lisa Lisa, Ready For The World, and Klymaxx's r'n'b, and Peanut Butter Wolf showing back-in-the-day videos are also on the bill.)

There's been a lot of remixes and mashups of Grandmaster Flash's "The Message," but I love this mixture with a Medeski, Martin and Wood instrumental that sloooows down, then speedsuprealfast, the vocals always on time. Amazing.

Gordyboy: "Bubblehouse Message"

I recently wrote about Uncle Jamm's Army, LA's first hip-hop crew on record, and since I see that Egyptian Lover will be in the house, that gives me an excuse to post one of my all-time fave old-school joints since he was associated with the Army. This 12" single has one of the most greatest window-rattling, knock-plaster-from-the-ceiling beatz ever, coupled with funny kitschy vocoder vocals. Recorded off my vinyl; can't believe these guys have never appeared on CD.

Uncle Jamm's Army "What's Your Sign (Of The Zodiac Baby Doll)?"

Yes yes, y'all, it's like that, y'all...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Boston Typewriter Orchestra

Does what it says on the tin: polyrhythmic percussion music with no other instruments, almost no singing, music tracks interspersed with intentionally banal office chatter ("How was your weekend?") for "Office Space"-like satirical effect. They even redact the Surfari's "Wipe Out" into "Whiteout." Funny, but with compelling rhythms.

Non-musical objects turned into musical instruments is a fascinating phenomenon. This got me thinking: when was the last time I used a typewriter? Does anyone (besides 80-year-olds?) Which makes this another fine example of artists recycling industrial society's waste.

Boston Typewriter Orchestra - "Pyramid Scheme"

Monday, August 24, 2009


Amidst all the hubbub over the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis' jazz classic "Kind of Blue" comes "Kind of Bloop," a brand new (just dropped last week) utterly unlikely song-for-song tribute performed only on primitive video game technology - Gameboys, Nintendos and the like. I've always enjoyed 8-bit music's rinky-dink charms, but as funny as this album can be (if you're familiar with the original), it's also amazing. These cats are blowin' mad jazz. The shimmering "Blue in Green," in particular, is a kind of dreamy '50s Space Age ballad, like what the wedding chapel on Forbidden Planet would be playing. 8-bit is, finally, real music, folks. Maybe it always was.

Ast0r - So What

This comes on the heels of an 8-bit tribute to Weezer, a band I know little about. The only song I recognized was "Buddy Holly," and I think that's probably because of the Moog Cookbooks' cover of it. Regardless, it's great stuff. Warning: 8-bit purists may be put off by vocals on some songs, and at least one track has a hard rock band arrangement that isn't cheesy at all.

Pterodactyl Squad: You Won't Get With Me Tonight

thanks to solcofn!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I didn't invent the term "antique-garde," but I sure use it a lot lately to describe some of the best new experimental sounds out there. And by "new" I mean "old": inspired by obsolete, forgotten styles and instruments. Case in point: a combo led by veteran Detroit oddball Frank Pahl called the Scavenger Quartet. Pahl plays on such junkshop refugees as the Farfisa organ, banjo, ukulele, euphonium, zither, toys (piano, popcorn maker), and occasionally resorts to digital technology so that he can sample that old circus music maker, the calliope. And doorbells. Yes, doorbells. They're honestly quite mellifluous in Pahl's hands. His fellow band members add horns, reeds, guitar, and all manner of percussion. A high school marching band appears on one song. Not only that, but some of Pahl's mechanical musical automatons are featured here as well.

Which is all well and good, but this would be mere
gimmickry without quality songwriting. Fortunately, the Quartet's got such grand tunesmithery that their addictive second album, "We Who Live On Land," has not left my CD player in weeks. The unusual sounds suggest Harry Partch or Tom Waits, but with an identity all their own, sometimes sweetly nostalgic, sometimes cartoonishly crazy.

Scavenger Quartet: "We Who Live On Land"

The album's artwork and song titles were inspired by another antiquity: a century-old book about sea life.

1. Marvelous Argonaut
2. Crimson Jellyfish
3. Wonderful Nautilus
4. Elegant Mermaiden
5. Fine-Haired Medusae
6. Excitable Sea Porcupine
7. Shy Polyps
8. Savage Sawfish
9. Sea Mirage
10. Gummy Stickleback
11. 6,000 Mureys of Julius Caesar
12. Dreaded Cuttlefish
13. Curious Barnacles
14. Brittle Starfish

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


British mad hatter Ergo Phizmiz has a FREE! new on-line 7-song EP of hilarious demolitions of '90s techno club hits. "Now That's What We Pump At The Party" sounds more like wheezing, shambolic circus music then house. His new band The Midnight Florists cover C & C Music Factory, Dee-Lite, and other half-forgotten (if not totally forgotten) one-shit blunders "...arranged for acoustic, electronic, homemade, and toy instruments." Everyone sounds like they're having a blast.

Never even heard of Eiffel 65 before, but the haunting waltz version of their song "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" led me to check out the original. BIG mistake. Needless to say, Sir Phizmiz & Co. have improved upon these songs by several orders of magnitude.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


Exactly 25 years ago, Los Angeles was playing host to the Olympics, and both parties never had it better. Terrorism, boycotts and financial disasters had the International Games on the ropes, ready to throw in the towel. L.A. practically saved 'em with what is still the most successful Olympics ever. And the city never ran better. Tom Bradley was then in the middle of his almost 20-year run as mayor, overseeing the transformation of second-rate cowtown into a world-class city. So what's the big deal about a black president? We had a black mayor who kicked butt decades ago.

It was summer vacation. Back East relatives were staying with us cuz they wanted to see the Games. As a basketball-loving kid, I was in heaven. My friends & I got to see Team USA, featuring future pro legends Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, stomp all over the hapless French team. And I was glued to the radio, buying more records then ever...and taping records from friends. (Hey, I was young - that allowance only went so far.)

It was
a great year, maybe the greatest year, for the punk-spawned independent rock scene, and L.A. was in the thick of it. SST Records was ruling college radio with landmark releases by Husker Du (from Minneapolis, not L.A.) and The Minutemen - their 2-record set masterpieces "Zen Arcade" and "Double Nickels On The Dime" came out the same month. And Arizonans The Meat Puppets, who spent so much time here early in their career that they could practically be called locals, released "II," yet another classic that I never seem to tire of, immortalized years later when Nirvana performed not one, not two, but three songs off it on their "MTV Unplugged" appearance. Though, of course, the Pups versions were superior. Here's an exclusive mashup from RIAA, pairing a "II" tune with a British hit from around the same time, Yaz's "Don't Go":

RIAA "Split Yourself And Go"

The Bangles and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, years away from their enormous commercial successes were, at the time, scrappy local club bands. The Bangles were never better then their '84 release "All Over The Place." Early on, they honestly really didn't suck. Suspend your disbelief! I mean, check this tune. It's a great bit of pop-punk that the Buzzcocks would have been proud to do, and should hopefully rinse "Eternal Flame" from your mind:

The Bangles: Silent Treatment (Even after all these years, I can never remember t
hat title; I always called it the "she said nothing" song)

The Chili Peppers had such an insane live show (did I really see them toss vats of yogurt at each other?) that their slickly-produced album debut was a disappointment (apart from the album cover by the great cartoonist Gary Panter). But this demo of one of those early songs is a totally killer one-minute blast of punk/funk that actually sounds like The Minutemen, and hints at what a great album it could have been:

The Red Hot Chili Peppers "Police Helicopter" - a very LA kinda tune; do other big cities have cop 'copters ("ghetto birds" as Ice Cube calls 'em) buzzing overhead so frequently?

America's first goth scene was forming here. This might seem unlikely, but I think the relentless heat and sunshine makes a little cool darkness refreshing. Some of the "death rock" (wasn't called 'goth' yet) bands like 45 Grave owed more to the 'Monster Mash' then anything else, but before Jane's Addiction, Perry Ferrell's group Psi-Com had a pronounced British post-punk* influence. No-one remembers these guys, but I dug this one:

Psi-Com "Hopeful"

Philip Glass, a New Yorker, recorded a stirring piece for the Games that sounds a bit overly-familiar now, but his brand of Minimalism was quite a welcome shock at the time. Don't think this is in print.

Philip Glass "Olympiad - Lighting of the Torch"

Back to the locals: Redd Kross provided a lot of the music for a crazed Super-8 film called "Desperate Teenage Lovedolls," along with Black Flag (moving into their post-hardcore avant-jazz phase) and Bad Religion. Swell power-pop; they should have been as big as The Bangles.

Redd Kross: "Ballad of a Lovedoll"

1984: Compton's
KDAY ("AM stereo!"), America's first hip-hop station, goes on the air. I read somewhere that this was when Uncle Jamm's Army released LA's first hiphop record. This enormous crew was a virtual who's-who of early West Coast rap, including future legends like Egyptian Lover and Ice-T. This tune's off my 12". Don't think their stuff ever appeared on CD. Though not the classic that '85's "What's Your Sign" is, it's still a pretty fun bit of fast-paced electro nonsense, and certainly nothing like the kind of thing that LA rap would be famous for a few years later.

Uncle Jamm's Army - Dial-A-Freak

Ah, what the heck - it's Saturday, don't have much to do today. Let's mp3-isi
ze a cassette of a 40-minute radio concert I taped off the air way back when. Background hiss! In mono! But who cares. A godhead band. Don't know the exact date, but it's at least '84 judging by the tunes. As critic Robert Lloyd wrote at the time regarding "Double Nickels," The Minutement go "from funk to punk, from folk to polka."

The Minutemen live on KPFK - Corona/Fake Contest/The Only Minority
/Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want The Truth?/King of the Hill/Hey Lawdy Mama/Cheerleaders/Maybe Partying WIll Help/Time/AckAckAck/Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love/This AIn't No Picnic/History Lesson pt2/Little Man With A Gun In His Hand/Green River/Red & The Black/Themselves/Tony Gets Wasted In Pedro/Anxious Mofo/Toadies/The Big Foist

The early '90s saw dark days for LA (earthquake, riots) but things have been great lately - Lakers won the title, lowest murder rate since the '60s, subway, etc. Culturally, we're still the 800 pound gorilla. So I'm not being overly sentimentally nostalgic here. (Am I?)

*a phrase NO-ONE besides music journalists used at the time

Friday, August 07, 2009


I was listening to an album of 1920s music that I found in a thrift store recently, and a song called "I'm Just Wild About Animal Crackers" jumped out at me. It was like something the Bonzo Dog Band would have recorded - a hilarious, high energy, completely wacked-out jazz novelty of absurd lyrics and ludicrous sound effects. Who was this guy?

His name was Irving Aaronson. A New Yorker, he was quite popular for a while in the '20s and 30s, nailing the zeitgeist on the head with a song called "Crazy Words, Crazy Tunes" that introduced the once-ubiquitous phrase "vo-do-de-o." I never knew that phrase actually came from somewhere. I thought it was just something people said at the time, like "yo, whassup?"

Even though heavyweights like Artie Shaw and Gene Krupa played in his band, jazz snobs tend to dismiss him for the same reasons that I like him. Early jazz is full of, to quote Aaronson, crazy words and crazy tunes. When (and why) did jazz lose it's sense of humor?

Unfortunately, Aaronson's music has apparently never been compiled. One or two songs here and there are in print, including, perhaps inevitably, on Woody Allen soundtracks. It's tragic that he's dropped off the planet, not as well-remembered/re-discovered as Spike Jones or Raymond Scott are. Fortunately, nice people in internet land have collected many of his 78s.

Irving Aaronson & His Commanders: "I'm Just Wild About Animal Crackers"

Plenty of his other songs are almost as cracked. I just love that he has a song called "Waffles." "Waffles" is a funny-sounding word, isn't it? The tune lives up to the title.

Irving Aaronson & His Commanders: "Waffles"

As much as I appreciate collectors posting these records on-line, I do think they sometimes go a little overboard with the noise-reduction. A little surface noise is fine by me, especially when the alternative is an un-natural warped sound. These Irving Aaronson collections are generally (though not totally) well-recorded, but I'm still hoping for a proper collection with an info booklet, etc.

Monday, August 03, 2009


Two reissues in Amoeba's "Unusual/ Experimental" section recently caught my eye, tho the original recordings were so obscure that these are virtually new releases.

Ursula Bogner was "a pharmacist, wife and mother, and she was obsessed with electronic music -- an obsession that drove her to build her own studio for extensive recording and experimentation." This started in the '60s, making her yet another female electronic music explorer (see also: Delia Derbyshire, Bebe Barron, Pauline Oliveros, etc.) Her music is not as pop as the Moog stuff going on at the time, but neither is it as abstract as the atonalities then dominating academia.

I got the album out of curiosity (a German female Bruce Haack?!) but ended up really liking it on it's own terms. Some is proto-industrial (I await the inevitable remixes), some BBC Radiophonic Workshop-esque sci-fi soundscapes, and some almost pop, like this delightful opener:

Ursula Bogner: Begleitung für Tuba

Her eccentricities went beyond music, e.g.: "...a strong fascination for mysticism, esotericism, and Wilhelm Reich's "orgonomy," the psychoanalyst's bizarre late work on his discovery of "orgonenergy" or life-force."

Dennis Duck is best known for his alt-rock drumming duties. In fact, he played on the Dream Syndicate's classic "Days of Wine and Roses" album, one of my favorite '80s rockers. But history may remember him as the first recorded turntablist. A short-run cassette called "Dennis Duck Goes Disco" featuring Duck playing nothing more then records was first released courtesy of the legendary Los Angeles Free Music Society , and is finally available on cd.

A whole album of nothing but skipping records! From 1977, no less. How great is that? Though few heard it at the time, he did beat Grandmaster Flash, Christian Marclay, etc. to the punch, as those New Yorkers didn't make recordings 'til almost the '80s (tho supposedly DJ Kool Herc was cuttin' wax as far back as '73.)

There's no fancy wicka-wicka scratching that we're now used to hearing, so it's fascinating to encounter turntablism from the perspective of almost no history. True, avant-gardists like Cage had used turntables before, but usually using their own prepared recordings. Duck, however, went to the thrift-stores and used record shops and bought kiddie records, religious sermons, musical kitch, etc., prefiguring everything from hip-hop, to Negativland-like sound collages, to mashups. Again, this isn't just of historical interest - it's a lot of loopy fun.

A jazz records skips to a crazy swingin' beat:

Dennis Duck: One O'Clock Jump