May 21, 2008

THE BALLAD OF BILBO BAGGIES - Scarlett Johansson, Anywhere I Lay My Head CD, Atco 2008

This here disc, released on the 20th I believe, will join the kind of Accidental Pantheon featuring records like Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space and Ethel Merman's disco platter. But I will say, this is ripe with far more jokes than a loungy Nimoy frolick. (Unfortunately, several of those jokes are the sad sort.) In terms of execution, this sits closer to Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue--which really means it sits close to the white & powdery. Many people of bloggy repute (though not this one!) contributed to the creation of this smug and murky goof, I'm sure with the idea that they were participating in one of "those" records, or totally ignorant and therefore as dumb as I suspected. Incidentally, some of these fools include the guitarist from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (okay, sure), one of the dudes from TV On the Radio (uh-huh), and...umm...David Bowie.
If you're wondering how this record ended up in the pile to be reviewed on Fuck You Counselor, you oughta look above the reviews to the header sometime. The new subtitle--take it as a revised Mission Statement--reads: "Unfit to be tied." Gunky, trashy, warped, absurd, artless, and downright un-fancy records are to be found in all strata of the music biz. The assertion that some bleached and Botox'd celeb doesn't have the same right to produce an embarrassing record as some dude in the basement of a record store is romantic nonsense.
I'll have no piece of that pie. Stupidity and self-indulgence are not class-specific. And, as a matter of fact, both of those embarrassing kinda records can suck in similar ways! Ms. Johansson's full-length debut is, if nothing else, a testament to that.
On the factual tip, this is 10 Tom Waits covers and one original. I'll allows that to swirl about in your head before you continue.
The production sinks Scarlett's voice somewhere in the 3rd-chair-oboe range, prolly cuz she couldna pluck a note from a knee-high bush.
There are bad synth wash-ups, unnecessary drumbs and an Aimee Mann outtake vibe that push this into absurdly Pro-Tools territory. I don't think her voice is as atrocious (assuming these weren't from multiple takes) as the arrangements; they're just amateur, which has a kinda charm at times. The versions of "Anywhere I Lay My Head," "I Wish I Was In New Orleans," and especially "Town With No Cheer" are heartbreakingly inept. Seriously. Like coming back to your hometown and discovering everyone you knew got into meth; too late to do something about it, so it just makes ya sad. Though, I found it quite shrewd that she picked all the songs about being drunk and/or sad. Oh wait; that's most of 'em anyhow!
So in the end, this shouldn't just be dismissed as some celebrity vanity record. That's as plain as day. This should be considered a humiliating slab for anyone to have produced. Except the irony of the whole affair will keep this afloat, just like all the schlocky claptards aforementioned. Who knows: maybe someday Ms. Johansson will stride to the mic at a sci-fi convention, arm-in-arm with Mr. Shatner, reveling in the glittery murk of that most American of dreams: the Cheap Laugh.

May 9, 2008

HEARTWORM HIGHWAYS, Television Ghost - Self-Titled LP, Die Stasi Records

The Midwest is Hell. But as most of us know, Hell spits out the good stuff. The first coupla flares from the Indiana-born TV Ghost firepit missed my ears. I feel like I heard'em, but I can't remember a goddamn thing about'em. Who knows what I was bent about that week to find this band ignorable, because this LP's got some muscles. Like the other peaks of the cracked-rock contingent, TV Ghost's got a lot of touchstones, but none so chunky as to tumble the whole mess into revisionism. Yes, there's some KBD, some stumbly 60's punk, and some murky 80's creepers in their collections. But so what? Who am I to drool at an imaginary shelf? This damn thing's right in fronta me and it kinda cooks. I'm still not sure they're totally ready for the big-boy format, though, cuz there's some lagging. The drunken see-saw quality to some of these songs gets my gut in a vice. That's not a bad thing in general, but when it's repeated more than a handful of times, it gets to be like dinner at the nursing home. A little further expansion for these guys and the grooves will glow. In the meantime, cuts like "The Nihilist," a maniacal basement smoker, "Lee Is Free," and the Tyvekesque (?) closer "Long Talk (King Matt's Badness Due)" should keep you musty and frightened for at least a few sessions. Ain't it funny that "sounds like it's from Ohio" is a compliment?
Go here for further details and maybe a sip or two.

May 6, 2008

GROPING AUNT MARY - Vinyl On Demand and the Reissue Saga

When I feel like touching computers, I usually end up wandering the alleys of re-ish haunts like Vinyl-On-Demand, Akarma, and, to a lesser extent, Lilith. There's often a patch of pining and sheep-counting before I finally retire and dream of the days when I'm so cashy I can drop 100 G-dubs on a 5-lp box set of unfamiliar things. But is that really what we're hoping for? What draws us to these things?
I think the tombstone on crate-digging ought to be carved and set by now. Most of these gems probably ain't finna swim up out of the darkened stacks of a thrift store in Moose Jaw or an estate sale in Plano. They're on somebody's shelf, accumulating value or in-queue to be played for honored guests. Maybe they'll find new life in 2am radio racket. Maybe someone will throw them on a tape or upload them for scouring fans to rub their mouse all over. Needless to say, most of the fun of digging has been replaced by the obligatory feeling of deliberate searching. When I walk into a record store, my mind is empty. I forget what music is or what it looks like. When I get on the Internet, my mind is flooded by the knowledge of treasures within reach.
Is my generation destined to lose that gratifying feeling of discovery? I mean, which is worse: having someone hand you an annotated, footnoted, rare photo-drenched slab of audionecrophilia, or be trapped in that nostalgic notion of the undiscovered gem, feeding on the failed dreams of bands and artists in the wrong place at the right time? Is there a difference? Is it because we need a way of making the past and the present more clear?
One of the reasons I hit so many record stores every time I drop a toe in a new town is the search for history. There are the local scenes that petered out, the remains scattered thru the A to Z. There are the almost-movements, where three or four customers made avid requests then never returned to put up the dough. There is the local lore, tacked to the wall or dusty and framed. There are the regulars, regaling you with tales of when this place was that. They're cultural documents.
The Internet, on the other hand? I can't decide. Neither fate seems comfortable. So there it is. An unresolved argument for and a little against an unresolved conflict. Go buy the Severed Heads 5-lp box set from Vinyl-On-Demand if you just can't let the dead lie. Or download as much as you can and try to ignore the feeling that you're picking the corpse's pockets. Maybe you'll find a 5-spot.