art by nacrowe
check out this live performance by BROOKLYN indie rock artist BUNI HATE MAIL filmed and recorded recently at TRANS-PECOS as part of our ongoing OFF THE M series. all OFF THE M performances are recorded live in concert at either MARKET HOTEL and TRANS PECOS in NYC.
definitely seek out their 2018 A EP. they are currently recording their follow-up. can't wait.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
growing up in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA in the mid-90s means i was very much aware of local legendary LOS ANGELES rock station KROQ 106.7FM. it is almost absurd to consider the amount of bands that have broke big internationally due to exposure at this single radio station. i still think its incredible that such a corporate entity still had room for the esoteric pursuits of legendary resident taste-makers like RODNEY BINGENHEIMER.
my problem was that in this pre-internet age (yep i am that old) i oftentimes didn't know who the bands were since the rotation of songs weren't often tagged by the DJs, which makes sense given how ubiquitous these songs must have been to their regular audience. as a child and later a preteen, i was definitely not that clued in unfortunately.
it wasn't until years later in middle school abroad in NIGERIA that i realized songs i was familiar with were by bands like ALICE IN CHAINS ("MAN IN THE BOX"), NIRVANA (obscure b-side "SAPPY"), SPACEHOG ("IN THE MEANTIME") and THE BREEDERS ("CANNONBALL").
one of these bands was ELASTICA and the song was "CONNECTION." i distinctly remember hearing that song while waiting in line for SPACE MOUNTAIN at DISNEYLAND in elementary school. sadly, i didn't rediscover this band until high school in the early 2000s after relocating to SACRAMENTO from KUWAIT during my senior year. to me their debut album ELASTICA (GEFFEN, 1992) is a perfect album, easily the best thing to come out of the whole 90s BRITPOP movement (check out this BOOK REVIEW i did if you are unfamiliar with that scene). what i loved about it aside from JUSTINE FRISCHMANN's snarky, seductive crooning was angular guitar work which after further investigation introduced met to POST-PUNK bands that influenced them like WIRE and GANG OF FOUR. the inter-textual nature of art where different scenes, eras and modes are referenced and re-appropriated is something i've always appreciated. ELASTICA to me is an example of a stellar band that encourages me to stay curious, dig further and expand my ears to different sounds. i don't tend to fixate, if anything each new great band i learn about only serves as a new nexus point for other new discoveries.
if you aren't familiar with ELASTICA, check out either of their two releases. along with THE SMITHS, they are on my bucket-list of bands i hope and pray to see play live on day. nobody is cooler than JUSTINE FRISCHMANN. no one.
i just want to get it out of the way that i found SLEATER-KINNEY guitartist/co-vocalist CARRIE BROWNSTEIN's memoir HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL (RIVERHEAD BOOKS, 2016) jarring and difficult to follow. as a former english teacher im pretty accustomed to student writing that attempts to cover up a lack ideas with cumbersome structures and awkward word choices. this memoir is full of them and i can't figure out why?
it was meandering to the point of confusion. my feeling is that a reader of an book dedicated to an artist is hoping to appreciate any number of aspects, any of which are good fodder for a memoir. these could include insights on the artist's biography, creative process, context(s), breakthroughs, downfalls, influences, etc. BROWNSTEIN seemed determined to not placate to any of these tropes of the memoir format. she would seemingly take you on a long aside that dithered and wandered nowhere.
it was very frustrating as i was constantly questioning what her point was and why i was reading this. and then there was her writing style which was overly and ornamental to the point of being annoying. if she was attempting to show-off her cleverness, she failed miserably.
i was able to gleen some information about the formation of SLEATER-KINNEY and how BROWNSTEIN's complicated upbringing informed her relationships with peers and collaborators, but ultimately BROWNSTEIN puts herself center stage which is an odd choice in a memoir. my understanding is that what makes portrait photography and memoirs compelling is not the subject necessarily, but rather the context surrounding the subject. how have outside forces affected an artist's process? what are the internal/external dynamics that contributed to the making of a piece of art? in this memoir things just happen and seemingly she brought it about. came off a bit narcisstic, almost like reading THE DIRT (HARPERCOLLINS, 2001) by MÖTLEY CRÜE, where each of them fight over narritive control by asserting their greatness at the expense of all other band members. same thing with BROWNSTEIN.
i was really interested in knowing about their politics which never really came up. for me personally this is odd because i saw them play ROSELAND BALLROOM on February 15, 2003 right after participating in the anti-war protests that day in manhattan. they seemed very much enthused by that palpable energy and voiced their displeasure in GEORGE W BUSH's policies and proceeded to play a killer set. maybe my perception of them was off, given that so few pages addressed any political concerns. instead all of her concerns are rather insular tropes of the misunderstood traveling musician, which is beyond boring to read.
a very frustrating read. i love the band and i highly recommend listening to their records. i'd just say wait until CORIN TUCKER decides to get around to writing her story. this book is a hard pass.
JOHNNY MARR is a singular talent whose legendary partnership with MORRISSEY in THE SMITHS puts him, in my mind, in the highest echelon of songwriting talents that rock music has ever produced. his story could've ended there but he went on to expand his musical vocabulary by pursuing an expansive carrer that includes collaborative efforts with the likes of TALKING HEADS, PET SHOP BOYS, BRIAN FERRY, THE PRETENDERS, THE THE, ELECTRONIC (with BERNARD SUMNER of NEW ORDER), BILLY BRAGG, KIRSTY MACCOLL, OASIS, BLACK GRAPE, MODEST MOUSE, THE CRIBS as well as a stellar string of successful of recent solo releases.
all that being said, what struck me most from reading his autobiography SET THE BOY FREE (DEY STREET BOOKS, 2016), which deals with him recounting his extraordinary career was his ability to be in the moment. this moment. i cant imagine what it must be like being defined work (however transcendentally awesome) you did as a teenager. for him it was a determined focus and drive, perhaps rooted in his struggling irish-immigrant MANCUNIAN working-class upbringing, that allowed him to not get caught up in the hype and hysteria of riding such a phenomenal critical and artistic wave so early.
as a fan, i'm always struck by his career choices which always appeared to be labours of love and over time he cultivated a following that came with him, which is incredible given that most successful artists are mindful of no alienating their audience. if anything MARR is taking them on the journey with him.
i want to add that MARR's voice as a writer is very direct and deliberate and this has to be one of the better written autobiographies i have read in recent years. perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise given the literary aspirations of his work over the years and the quality of project collaborators he has sought out. i wouldn't expect anything else but quality in his writing.
as NOEL GALLAGHER is apt to saying with regards to MARR, "dude is a fucking wizard." by all means, check out his work if you haven't and down the road after a lifetime of enjoying his music, consider reading his excellent autobiography.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
THE COATHANGERS are a fiercely political garage/punk trio out of ATLANTA that have released a prolific six albums since 2007, all on SEATTLE-based indie label SUICIDE SQUEEZE. like many other metal knuckleheads, my introduction to them was their inventive video for "Follow Me" which had members of MASTODON (and fellow atlanta-ites) performing their song in drag.
what sets this band apart for me is their stellar songwriting and dual vocalists. both guitarist julia (a.k.a. CROOK KID COATHANGER) and drummer stephanie (a.k.a. RUSTY COATHANGER) have very distinct vocals that ultimately change the feel and aggression in their music, CROOK KID having a very pitchy, almost child-like voice that denotes innocence while RUSTY has a gnarly voice that sounds like she gargled razor-blades pre-performance. it really makes for a viscerally jarring listen, which coupled with their strident politics and fun sing-song melodies equates to a very unique sound.
whats also cool about them is that they often switch instruments mid-set, which just further illustrates their range and dexterity as musicians. could not recommend this band any more strongly. definitely check them out.
collage by nacrowe
earlier this summer i did a DEER GOD RADIO show on a topic i am particularly passionate about, INDIE ROCK.
i've spotlighted several bands in this genre (LA LUZ, JAPANESE BREAKFAST, EL GUINCHO, GIRL IN A COMA, DRAB MAJESTY, GRAHAM COXON) with several more planned in the coming weeks (WARPAINT, LA VIDA BOHÈME, THE COATHANGERS, IRON REAGAN, ANA TIJOUX, BATTLES, LE BUTCHERETTES). i've also written several book reviews on this topic (GIRL IN A BAND, LOVE ROCK REVOLUTION, MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM) with have several more lined up (SET THE BOY FREE, THIS BAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE, CLOSER YOU ARE, HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL). all due to the fact that this is arguably my favorite genre. for me what edges it above METAL and HARDCORE is the experimental aspect of it, the fact that like HIP HOP, it is a form that at its core challenges the musician and listener alike to seek new sounds. this fact makes it infinitely intriguing to read about and explore as people came to it from different viewpoints along gender, class, geographic, political lines that ultimately complicated and strengthened the fabric of the by definition open community.
looking back, this was one of my favorite playlists yet. i see this specific show as being a sister piece to a previous episode dedicated to 1980s HARDCORE, since both were concurrent scenes that supported and in many cases had a similar DIY ETHIC surrounding it. if anything, i see MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC as a community built on that same ethos of independence, integrity and passion.
if the artwork didn't clue you into the playlist, you can always catch that at the episode's page HERE. take it all in and enjoy this show. i definitely had fun with it.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
because of my father's job, my family spent part of the 90s living overseas in NIGERIA. during the summers stretching from 1996-98 we spent time with a british relative in a northern LONDON suburb of HATFIELD. that community was home to the DE HAVILLAND AEROSPACE COMPANY that during WWII produced the MOSQUITO fighter jet, of which my relative was a part engineer. dude was one of the coolest guys i've ever met, but that's for a later post.
it just so happened that those years were at the tail end of the BRITPOP explosion which exposed me to all sorts of bands from OASIS and BLUR to ELASTICA, PULP, SLEEPER, LUSH, SUPER FURRY ANIMALS, SUEDE, THE PRODIGY and beyond.
one of my favorite groups from that era is BLUR, probably because aesthetically they were very much informed by the narrative songwriting of BRITISH INVASION bands like THE KINKS and THE WHO while also embracing the discordantly melodic and expressive qualities of more sonically experimental american INDIE ROCK music like PAVEMENT and DINOSAUR DJ.
those two tendencies in BLUR's music undoubtedly is rooted in the tastes of their two main songwriters, DAMON ALBARN and GRAHAM COXON. ALBARN is widely celebrated, for good reason, as one of the great songwriters of his era, having genre-skipped with delight throughout his numerous solo and side endeavors including GORILLAZ, THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE QUEEN and ROCKET JUICE & THE MOON, not to mention his production work with BOBBY WOMACK, AMADOU & MARIAM, THE STROKES, DE LA SOUL and numerous collaborations and film work. the vein through his work is his mercurial sense of songwriting brilliance that can navigate through seemingly any sonic texture or genre aesthetic.
but i feel that the work of COXON is equally as compelling, only the palette much more limited and the scope of his music more controlled, confined and determined. his songwriting is more along the lines of SYD BARRETT or NICK DRAKE in that he uses sound and lyrics to give off a vibe rather than a clear perspective. it is at once deliberate yet paradoxically opaque. whereas ALBARN tends to use music and lyrics as a way to draw the listener into a particular character or worldview, COXON invites the listener to enjoy the visceral ride and not get caught up in red herrings like meaning and interpretation.
i enjoy both songwriting traditions that each encompasses, but i just wanted to shed light on what a brilliant songwriter COXON has always been. if anything that push and pull of these two styles was a key element into what made BLUR such a creative and artistic force.
when the british concocted their COTSWOLD GAMES in the 17th century, a forerunner to the modern olympic games, they touted "amateurism" as a way of assuring that the sporting event was kept pure from debased notions of professionalism. after all, they wanted to showcase their self-assured physical superiority over the constituents of their imperialistic holdings without looking as if they actually tried.
this was the prism i viewed CALVIN JOHNSON and the cult surrounding his legendary indie label K RECORDS and the whole 1980s INDIE music scene of OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON through in general. primarily known for his decidedly non-professional musicianship in his notable group BEAT HAPPENING, as well as late projects including THE HALO BENDERS, DUB NARCOTIC SOUND SYSTEM, and THE HIVE DWELLERS, JOHNSON has been renowned for popularizing what has since to become known as TWEE POP. this genre usually denotes music by amateur or non-technical musicians.
before reading MIKE BAUMGARTEN's "LOVE ROCK REVOLUTION" (SASQUATCH BOOKS, 2012), i mistook JOHNSON and his ilk as being inept, arts-fartsy elitists that look down upon musicians with actual talent, like say the concurrent GRUNGE scene that blew in neighboring SEATTLE. perhaps that notion came from reading books about NIRVANA and PEARL JAM and SOUNDGARDEN and how acolytes of the underground made them question the purity of their careerist motives in making music.
BAUMGARTEN's portrayal of JOHNSON in essence is that of a curious music fan that sought out an artistic community that didn't exist in his youth. the narrative of K RECORDS is the story of his efforts to nurture that community, employing a strong DIY ETHIC that put artistry above profit margin. this mindset comes directly out of his involvement with various INDIE and HARDCORE scenes in the early 80s and his connections to institutions like DISCHORD RECORDS and arguably most importantly, EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE's unconventional KAOS 89.3FM college radio station. if anything, the story of the label is an outgrowth of the community surrounding the radio station, university and the underground independent tape-trading communities across the nation.
i can understand how successful GRUNGE musicians felt pigeonholed by "Calvinist" acolytes from OLYMPIA and the burgeoning scene including fiercely strident labels like KILL ROCK STARS. by making their bed with the "corporate ogre," they were essentially a part of the machine, a by-line on a quarterly report, a commodity and they knew it. yes, the music produced by K RECORDS was decidedly unsophisticated and had what FRANK ZAPPA famously coined in another era as "zero commercial potential," but their motivation was to sell records but to showcase artistic freedom.
and on that scale he flourished having collaborated with/and or helped promote a fertile cultural scene that gave the world HEAVENLY, BIKINI KILL, MECCA NORMAL, BRATMOBILE, HEAVENS TO BETSY / SLEATER-KINNEY, UNWOUND, HEAVENLY, MAKE-UP, THEE HEADCOATS, KICKING GIANT, THE GO TEAM, D+, THE MICROPHONES, BECK, MUDHONEY, TIGER TRAP, THE MELVINS, and even NIRVANA.
so there you go. K RECORDS is almost a modern VELVET UNDERGROUND-like phenomena in their cultural relevance wasn't rooted in the records they sold, but in the bands they influenced. and their influence according to the book was their DIY ETHIC, GRUNGE bands be damned.