Friday, October 23, 2009

Shotgun Shogun

Punk Frickin' Rock!
Ok, ok- more detail- This is a punk band that calls itself "Shotgun Shogun", and they're from the wilds of Laramie, Wyoming. I'm sure their influences are varied, and modern but they remind me a lot of some older bands. There's a lot of the nasal not-quite harmonies of Arcwelder, and the guitars incorporate just enough jamming and Country to remind me of a very, very punked out Thin White Rope. Nowhere near as talented as TWR, mind you, but edging in some similar directions. But, the bottom line for this or any Punk Rock is that it's catchy, fun, and obnoxious. What more do you want, really?

There is no B

I was raised on B movies. My aunt Vi loved the Drive In movies of people like Roger Corman, and, being a child, I didn’t understand that they were cheaply made, or substandard in any way. They were just what movies are. Though I have much more understanding, now, of how movies are made, I still do my best to retain that childlike, na├»ve way of seeing any given film.
Which, of course, puts me at odds with the majority of the film-going public in America. The less glitz, the less budget, the less likely a film is to be seen on its own merits, and the more likely that reviews will center on the “gimmick” of having a lower budget. This has reached the point of Irony in the films of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez ( Although they have shown love for B's as well).
But, I still do my best to view each film on its own merits. I ignore not-so-special effects, and I wade through some wooden and non-professional acting. The points are how good the story is, and how well it is told.
Take some of the films of John Carpenter, as a prime example. Escape from New York has a gripping story, with some great social commentary. They Live is still probably the best satire of consumer culture made. Prince of Darkness turns witch and Deviltry stories on their head by having the “devil” operate on a foundation of theoretical physics, and has references to the Gnostic heresy! But, taken by the mainstream standard- Escape from New York is a thin chase movie, Mad Max with the roles reversed, They Live is a low budget Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Prince of Darkness is a nearly “Made for TV” rip off of the Exorcist.
Now, this isn’t my political blog, and I’m not trying to read too deeply here, but I truly believe that the problem is the love of money. I believe that Capitalism ruins our appreciation of Art. Because if you take away the cash yardstick, I think it’s impossible to view movies like the ones John Carpenter made, filled with a love for the craft, and dedication to the story as inferior in any way to the bigger budget films.
Still not with me? What about the love George Romero puts into his films? Yes, we’re talking about the Zombie king of Pittsburgh (incidentally- another function of money- ever notice how many of the “good guys” come from the Rust belt? Guys like Corman from Detroit, Romero from Pittsburgh, and Carpenter from both New York and Kentucky- that’s not just coincidence. Ask John Sayles-From Schenectady, New York) His lowest budget “Living Dead” films inspired a whole genre of film, and a cultural phenomena. I’d call that a huge Artistic success, and the core of that comes from Romero’s fierce love for his anti-capitalist story (and can you really doubt that his stories all come from a place where the Zombies are the heroes because they represent the working man, while the villains are the leaders of industry, and the upper echelons of society?) Romero literally puts himself into his movies, and loves his story so much that he’ll retell it from any new angle he can, unlike big-budget Hollywood types who cannot wait to get to the next project.
So, when I say that I still love B movies, it’s not an Ironic thing. I’m not putting some kind of artistic distance between myself and the stories. I honestly believe I’m watching the best movies, period. Maybe I’m skewed from childhood, but, if so, so be it. I really do believe that I like the finest things- not only do I watch the best movies, and listen to the best music, and read the best books, and dress in the best clothes- tied in with that is that I believe I have the best friends, I have the best wife, the best son, and so on. So called “B” movies have taught me that it’s not about some objective standard involving yardsticks like dollars spent; the only yardstick is how much you love it- the most subjective standard there is- but also the only real measure of Art, life, and everything in between.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

As winter approaches you may need a Sunshine Factory

The Sunshine Factory is mostly one guy; Ian Taylor. His Dad helps him, as do other musicians, but it's mostly a one man affair.
Like sElf, another one man affair, there are limitations. Sometimes some editing would have been useful, and other times the music isn't as fleshed out as it could be, but by and large this is good, pleasant music. There are strong psychedelic influences, mostly from Kevin Shields/My Bloody Valentine, the Chemical Brothers and a couple of songs sound like vintage Prince. Yes, it's Swirlie, but there's a good backbeat on some tracks. A little mysticism in the lyrics, but most of it is very romantic love letters. I don't know how well this would translate live, but for an indian Summer day in the middle of October, it's like a piece of key lime pie: a little tartness, a whole lot of sweetness, with a lovely texture of froth and cream. Now doesn't that sound lovely?


I’ve been digging out some music that I think folks are sleeping on (meant in the hip hop sense of ignoring something you really shouldn’t) so I thought I’d mention some bands-
I dig the Chameleons. Virtually everybody in the “overly dramatic rock” category from Interpol to Coldplay owes the Chameleons.
I also dig the Dream Syndicate. Of all the “paisley underground” bands, they played both the loudest, and the longest, and folks still don’t give ‘em the credit they are due. Bands like Wilco and the Hold Steady really owe the Dream Syndicate for re-interpreting the Velvet Underground as a bar band. The mix of country, and psychedelic is fitting, too, in that fuzztone guitars were made for country records, too.
Of course, Pop will Eat Itself. Besides writing every decent Soundtrack of the past few years, Clint Mansell, in PWEI pretty much brought the postmodern grab everything you like and stick it together vibe into dance music- as much, if not more than the Beastie Boys. So, all these mash ups, all this Remix culture? Sounds like PWEI to me.
This is the tip of the iceberg, of course. There have been so very many records, tapes, CDs, Mp3’s you name the format that are less discovered than they should be. Again, that’s the reason for my title. You have a list, as well. TV shows, music, books, Movies, Artists- we all have our idiosyncratic favorites. We all have our individual tastes. I hope that more people remember that, because, as the Music Business dies a well-deserved death, I’d like for us to replace with the beautiful cacophony of the idiosyncratic, of the eccentric, of the just plain strange, so long as it really speaks to the individual. Replace Mass culture with the cultures of the masses…


There’s a type of music I like that I’ve heard defined so many different ways that I almost think it should be a genre. It’s heavily processed guitar music that usually employs a relatively simple song structure and lots of repetition. Now, as of late, people are describing bands like that as either Shoegazing or post rock, but that doesn’t quite fit because I can trace a fairly straight line from Krautrock, with the Motorik beat through some of the punk bands, into the New Wave, and then, into both the shoegazing scene and into the “Madchester” baggy trousered Brit Pop, and then, into the Goth Scenes, and into the Stoner Rock category. That’s the problem with such a broad category: it can apply to lots of bands, some of whom are even working at cross purposes.
Of course, I like a lot of music, and music is important to me, so I might be viewing this through a distorted lens, but I do get somewhat put off by some of the attempts to pigeonhole this stuff. At the same time, it is such a handy tool to be able to pigeonhole things a bit. That’s why I’ve adopted the “swirlie/Swirly” tag for this kind of music. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Can, or Neu! going all the way to Silence is Sexy, if I mention that something sounds like that, or if I use that term, please understand that I’m talking about vaguely psychedelic rock music, employing a simple beat, lots of processing on the guitars, and some drone, producing a hypnotic, drift-to-maelstrom “swirl”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It's the TV guy

I've heard that Online TV is over-taking broadcast TV. I'll admit that I'm not certain that's true, though. I'd like for Online TV to take over, because in my vision for the future, there is a TV station in every town, and a radio station on every block: I want a total glut, and then, our media can become truly localized, yet still global: a massive inter-connected network, instead of a fiefdom radiating out from the twin coasts of America. I think that if we were blessed with a widely distributed, yet fully local web of media, it would have the beneficial effect of making us feel part of the media, and part of society, again, instead of the isolated little atoms so many of us feel like, now. I think that Online is the easiest, most cost-effective way for this to happen.
But, unfortunately, it's not there yet. Half a million hits of some 5 minute clip of a kid riding home from the dentist is nowhere near competition for 20 million households tuning in to Two and a half men. Even 5 million hits on a 2 minute clip of a cat playing the piano is no real match for the media behemoths.
That's not to say that there is no online content worth your time. Of course there's Youtube. But, how about something a bit more in-depth content wise? Well, apart from VBS, which I still count as the gold standard, there's Crackle (I kinda like Woke Up Dead) and Blip but both have some serious flaws (Crackle is still heavily based on syndicated rebroadcast, has really short original content, and more commercials than broadcast TV. Blip is unwieldy and quality control is limited). Then, there are also-rans like Punkcast and Listen Up! and Democracy Now! and Deep Dish and Coffee House that are all very good, noble, "A+" efforts, but don't really satisfy. But, maybe if we started really supporting them, they would improve. I think they would if we were vocal about what we wanted. But, bear in mind, we're in the very early stages, here. Of course sites like Hulu and Youtube are dominating. Hulu is basically treating the Internet like syndication, and Youtube is treating it like a VFW hall, showing home movies of Ed and Martha's trip to Yellowstone. But, if we continue to support them, and all these other options, it's only a matter of time until the content will catch up to our desires. Heck, somebody chancing upon this little blog may be the next Uncle Miltie!