21 December 2010

Holiday Medley

My oh my, where has the year gotten us? Well, let me just say that I'm in Seattle, happy to be taking a break from snowy Buffalo and spending time with family. My folks are big fans of holiday music. They keep it on as much as they can throughout the season, but they're still listening to the same CDs they bought in 1994. My mother just bought Annie Lennox's new Christmas album, actually, but her celebration of the "universal child" is hardly the sort of transcendent listening experience I've been itching for.

So, motivated by monotony and a friend's request, I pulled out a Christmas mix I made a few years ago. I'm a little embarrassed by it now, frankly. I took about half the tracks from The Hound's back files. A bunch more came from Joan Selects. And the rest I compiled from my other favorite blogs (see side panel for details). Oh well. It's a mixed bag you won't find elsewhere. And despite the low-quality MP3s, it beats choking down Kenny G's holiday recordings again.

If you're looking for more holiday (audio) cheer, check out the X-mas Dump. They're sharing some quality material.

1. Santa Claus is Coming to Town -- Bob Purse's Family Tapes
2. Child's Christmas in Wales -- John Cale
3. Christmas in Viet Nam -- Pvt. Charles Bowen
4. Christmas in Viet Nam -- Johnny & Jon
5. Miserable Christmas -- Charles Brown
6. Santa Claus Go Strait to the Ghetto -- James Brown
7. 4-Star Fall Christmas 1960 I -- Crosby Brothers
8. Frosty's Beach Party -- Barbary Coasters
9. Don't Believe in Christmas -- The Sonics
10. Beatnik's Wish -- Patsy Raye & the Beatniks
11. Mambo, Santa, Mambo -- The Enchanters
12. Christmas in the Congo -- Marquees
13. Bebop Santa -- Babs Gonzalez
14. 4-Star Fall Christmas 1960 II -- Crosby Brothers
15. Santa's Comin' in a Big Ol' Truck -- Red Simpson
16. Santa to the Moon -- Sonny Cole
17. Is Santa Claus a Hippy? -- Linda Cassady
18. Daddy's Drinking Up Our Christmas -- Commander Cody
19. Santa Came Home Drunk -- Clyde Lasley & the Cadillac Baby Specials
20. 4-Star Fall Christmas 1960 III -- Crosby Brothers
21. Trim Your Tree -- Jimmy Butler
22. Happy Holiday -- The Shells
23. (It's Gonna Be A) Lonely Christmas -- The Orioles
24. I Wrote to Santa Claus -- Huey "Piano" Smith
25. 4-Star Fall Christmas 1960 IV -- Crosby Brothers
26. Auld Lang Syne -- Wooden Shjips
27. Snow Is Falling All The Time -- Yoko Ono

03 October 2010

North Carolina No Wave

So that I can continue my inconsistent and unreliable use of generic labels, I present Dig Shovel Dig's self-released CDR. They're not really No Wave, but they're not really anything else either.

I used to see Ted Robinson and Mark Williams (better known as Ted & Mark) play around Asheville, where they were both living at the time. They made a lot of noise for a two-piece band held together by just drums (Mark) and bass (Ted). Goofy looking and goofy sounding, I thought they were a novelty act the first time I saw them play. The show was in an old factory rented out as art studios, some of which served as illicit living spaces. Before playing Ted rolled out a blanket, set up some metal mixing bowls and a couple of keyboards, then took off his shoes. He played barefoot so he could use his toes on the keyboards. I don't remember what he did with the mixing bowls.

If Ted's comments in an interview from earlier this year with Puddle of Myself are to be believed, they sort of were a novelty act (more specifically, he says it was a "stupid band"). Novelty or not, they were the first band that made me think seriously about texture and dissonance in music. Ted wrote some catchy melodies, Mark played some infectious beats. But their fast-paced distorted grooves and percussive bursts took them beyond the bounds of rock into sonically rich territory that, I think, made them more than a stupid band.

I stopped going to their shows after Ted, all caught up in a musical freak out, kicked me in the chest. Mark almost made up for it, though, when he handed me his drumsticks in the middle of a song so he could go to the bathroom. My minute and a half as a pinch hitter for Dig Shovel Dig made me realize that they weren't just a joke band fucking around, making noise. In fact, they were well practiced and precise.

If I remember correctly, they were into bands like Lighting Bolt and Mr. Bungle. At its best, however, their avant-garage sound reminds me of Pere Ubu.

14 September 2010

North Carolina New Wave II

Just down the mountain from Asheville, a different new wave scene gripped the piedmont area for which Piedmont Charisma was named. I think both Cold Sides and The Nein were from the triangle, but I first saw them play at some pizza place in Greensboro (with Piedmont Charisma). Saw both bands at other times, but I can't remember where. Anyway, I helped carry an amp out after the show and Robert Biggers, who played with both, gave me the two EPs I'm sharing here.

I didn't know these boys, so I can't say much about their interests or aspirations. The bands sound pretty similar, but The Nein had a better knack for song-writing. It figures, I guess, that they're still together, playing now with Piedmont Charisma's former drummer Josh Carpenter. Cold Sides is long gone from what I can tell by internet searching.

I'm calling them new wave (just to have a follow up post?), but they don't sound like the synth-heavy, glam-influenced pop music a strict definition of that genre would denote. They take their influences more heavily from Gang of Four and post punk sounds. Or anyway, that's my best guess. I remember being impressed by their playing when I saw them live, but now my favorite thing about both EPs is that they're handmade. The Nein put a lot of love into hand-pressing those little cases!

23 August 2010

North Carolina New Wave

Everyone knows that the 1980s got to be cool again in a kitsch sort of way right around the turn of the millennium. (Take that, fin de siècle scholars!) I've always assumed it was part of the twenty-year cycle of coolness: the thin lapels and skinny ties popular during the 1960s came back to haunt the 1980s; second wave feminism and bellbottoms, new in the 70s, were thoroughly distorted but nonetheless revitalized in the 90s; and wait, what's that? The 90s have hit the runway?

Candace Lazarou

If it looks silly to begin with, it always looks at a little sillier the second time around. The 80s comeback exemplified that rule, I think. And yet, as the trend starts to fade, I feel compelled to admit that many of us who thought 80s chic was pitiable at its peak couldn't help falling under its influence. The vintage 80s arrived in the small North Carolina mountain town where I was living from 2002-2006, just about the time it arrived everywhere else, which meant I was right on time for the NORTH CAROLINA NEW WAVE REVIVAL.

Emily Staton

In conjunction with the world of fashion, the 20-year itch of nostalgia left an indelible mark on the music scene in Asheville, NC. Okay, admittedly, it wasn't so central as all that to the music scene. Asheville's best band certainly didn't lose its way. But my favorite band at the time could be described fairly as retrograde 80s new wave. The members of that band wouldn't appreciate the description, I'm sure, so let me add a caveat. Among the mad wash of neon leggings and blipping synths, they harvested the most interesting ideas and plenty from beyond that limited sphere of influence. That's what makes them worth sharing here.

Charles Corriher

Piedmont Charisma was a five-piece band featuring Josh Carpenter (drums), Chad Pry (bass), Ben Ridings (guitar), Emily Staton who was later replaced by Erin Sale, and Charles Corriher (vocals) who seems to have had a falling out with most everyone in Asheville. I lived with Charles for a time while he was dating my friend and then roommate Candace Lazarou. He gave me fodder for one hundred good stories, none of which I remember anymore. But, while living with Candace (and sometimes Charles) I played in her band, which sounded a lot like his.

Piedmont Charisma (2002)

Some people called the band "Candace Charisma" instead of its proper name, Congratulations, which she hated because it came a little too close to the truth. She also hated her music being described as New Wave, 80s Dance or Synth Pop, but I suppose none of those labels tell a lie. We described it otherwise, of course, but our disavowal didn't save us from sounding like part of a trend. I guess time leaves its mark on shitty art. I can still hear a sincere grasp for something better in those songs, though, so I'm sharing them with the world for the first time. They deserve that.

Josh Carpenter

Perhaps my former band mates would disagree. Two of the four of us have gone on to record better things. Jascha Ephraim (drums and professionalization) moved to California to make it big and, whatever success is, he certainly made it bigger. Evan Hill (guitar, song smithing) now fronts his own band, Wilson the Rocker. Last I heard Candace (guitar, keys, vocals, vision) was driving around the Continental United States in a Kia Sephia, but even she's still making music. I, on the other hand, put my bass away and am now writing stuff so boring that not even my family will read it (this blog included).

Evan Hill

Whatever. Have a listen to Congratulations' only demo. We recorded it in the fall of 2003, if I remember correctly. It's not a great mix, but the guy who did all the work did it for free and did it in a hurry. I hear there's a better mix and another song floating around somewhere, but I don't have either. I do, however, have a copy of Piedmont Charisma's only album, released in 2002, which I'm including alongside the Congratulations demo for an honest comparison. Apparently Piedmont Charisma almost finished a second album before learning to hate Charles Corriher's guts, but it's never been released. Their best recordings are from an early single, which has been posted at Willfully Obscure.

Nearly ten years later, it all sounds oddly dated and post-dated. Who knows, maybe it'll be cool again ten years hence.

16 August 2010

We Insist! Freedom Now Suite

I didn't want to post this one on account of the lead vocalist's death, but here's the occasion. Abbey Lincoln died Saturday, August 14, 2010. She provided the vocals for one of the most impressive and important recordings of the 20th Century, Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite. Please have a listen.

10 August 2010

Things I ate this summer

Summer's not quite over, but all my travels have ended for the season. I saw a lot of friends and ate a lot of good food. Of course, I didn't take pictures of any of the friends and only took pictures of the food if I happened to think of it. Nonetheless, this series of images recounts some of the fond memories along the way.

To start the summer off, one of HRH's old friends came to Buffalo. We saw a lot of Rust Belt points of interest here, but I felt quite lucky to find a Southern staple being served up at my favorite local out-of-place restaurant, Lagniappe's. Displaced as it was, the crawfish boil provided a fitting start to my summer adventures.

On our way to Richmond, VA, HRH and I stopped in Ridgeway, PA to have lunch. We almost ended up at some nondescript pizza joint, but happened upon the handsomely named Pennsy's Cafe instead. I ordered the best club sandwich I've ever had. They make it with their own wheat bread, thick slices of baked ham, locally cured bacon and just the right dab of mayonnaise. Yum.

In Richmond, we had our best meal at The Black Sheep. Of course I forgot to document the experience. However, we also had a good meal at Millie's (rather fancy) Dinner. Above is one of their egg "messes," which is basically an omelet. But a good one!

On our way to Atlanta, HRH and I stopped in Lexington, NC to eat Western Carolina-style barbecue at the appropriately named Lexington Barbecue. HRH had her first pulled pork sandwich there, but I ordered the plate.

Following one good tradition with another, I ate the above banana pudding at a friend's wedding in Hunstville, AL. It wasn't as good as my favorite banana pudding (made by the groom's grandmother), but it wasn't bad. I also had some good barbecue at a wedding in Atlanta. I forgot to take pictures, although that pig was raised by the bride's mother. Southern weddings, bless 'em!

I ate my first bite of Spam while visiting family in Austin, TX. My dear Auntie took me to a going away party for some band from Okinawa. They wanted to cook everyone a real Okinawan meal, so we all indulged in fried Spam with scrambled eggs smothered in ketchup. It wasn't as bad as one might expect, really.

I had one of my tastiest meals of the summer in Chicago at Pozoleria San Juan. I've been eating posole since I was a kid, but that was the first time I'd ever eaten it outside my home. It was great. HRH ordered the green posole, I ordered the red, and we split a torta de chile relleno. I'm not proud, but very satisfied, to say that we cleaned our plates.

The next evening we ate duck, fried scallops and Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce at Sun Wah Bar BQ. I'd skip the scallops in the future and save more room for the duck.

Lastly, I share a photo of something I actually made myself. Still, though, I have to thank a friend for introducing me to shakshuka. It's a great thing to do with the plentiful tomato harvest this time of year, and the ease-to-deliciousness ratio is high.

Next up, music. I swear. I'm here to share more than my own dietary habits.

28 July 2010

Ida B. Wells

I'm in Chicago for two weeks to read Ida B. Wells's papers at the University of Chicago. Aside from arriving in town yesterday to find out that the student I'm subletting a room from decided to sublet it to someone else in addition to me, everything's been pretty great. U. Chicago has a very fancy library and Hyde Park is a nice neighborhood in the summertime--lots of tomato plants and pedestrians.

The lovely scenery aside, I'm excited to be going through Well's remaining papers. Much of what she'd accumulated over the years burned in two separate house fires. Even so, the surviving materials illuminate aspects of her career that still need wider appreciation. Wells explained the phenomenon of lynching more convincingly than anyone before or since and, in the process, developed a whole set of provocative theories about gender, race, rhetoric, law, economics and sexuality. More importantly, her theories found basis in the facts of the cases she relentlessly documented. Making those facts public helped damper the swell of lynch-mob activity that peaked in the 1890s.

Not enough people know about Wells, it's true. But information is available. If you haven't heard her name, go look it up. I first came across it while living in Memphis, TN. She moved there in 1883 to teach, but ended up writing and editing for the weekly newspaper Free Speech. In 1892 she wrote and printed the following editorial:

Eight Negroes lynched since last issue of the Free Speech, one at Little Rock, Ark., last Saturday morning where the citizens broke (?) into the penitentiary and got their man; three near Anniston, Ala., one near New Orleans; and three at Clarksville, Ga., the last three for killing a white man , and five on the same old racket--the new alarm about raping white women. The same programme of hanging, then shooting bullets into the lifeless bodies was carried out to the letter. If Southern white men are not careful, they will overreach themselves and public sentiment will have a reaction; a conclusion will then be reached which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women.

For suggesting that white women might have consensual sex with black men, a Memphis mob destroyed the Free Speech building and threatened to lynch her if she ever returned to town. She did not. Instead she started a public speaking tour around the Northeast that eventually took her abroad on two separate occasions and sent her to the World's Fair in Chicago to protest the absence of African Americans in that historically progressive representation of global culture. She decided to settle in Chicago and eventually met a man worth her hand in marriage. At the age of 24, she insisted: "I will not begin at this late day by doing what my soul abhors; sugaring men, weak deceitful creatures, with flattery to retain them as escorts or to gratify a revenge." At 34, she must have found a love that didn't require spoonfuls of sugar to go down.

She and Mr. Barnett lived at 3624 Grand Boulevard in South Chicago from 1919 to 1929 or 1930, depending on who you ask. She died in 1931, leaving an impressive legacy of social activism that influenced the Civil Rights Movement and contemporary political theorists more than anyone seems to have acknowledged. Hopefully I'll be able to make that point in a convincing way after some more time in the archives.

I went by Ida B. Well's former home (now on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, if anyone's looking for the striking outcome of her influence) earlier this evening. According to internet sources, it's a private residence these days. It didn't look to me like anyone was living there, but someone has been taking care of the yard and doing some maintenance, as evidenced by the scaffolding. The second image is from Wikipedia, but it's a lot better than the one I took, eh?

Even though I can't tour it, see the desk where she wrote her memoirs, or experience the satisfaction of seeing a small museum dedicated to her life, I nonetheless enjoyed seeing her home standing along side the homes of Wells's former neighbors. There's something magical about her home standing even now as a house. Seriously, though, we need an Ida B. Wells museum.*

I'm including three versions of "Strange Fruit" here. Two of them are well known, while the third is still waiting to break. This grouping is hardly comprehensive; a lot of people have covered it, including a few people I wouldn't expect to see on the list. Tori Amos? Cocteau Twins? This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb? Somebody please compile a more thorough set of covers.

*Update: Okay, y'all, another couple days of research and what did I learn? There is in fact an Ida B. Wells museum. It's in her hometown of Holly Springs, Mississippi, a town I've visited several times--but always to visit Graceland Too. It's moments of realization like this that I really begin to doubt myself.

22 June 2010

Sabor a Papayera

Back in 2008 I visited Barranquilla, Colombia with G-D. It turned out to be one of the best trips I've ever made, not just because I left 12-inches of snow in Buffalo and landed in the warm Caribbean where G-D's family served us sancocho, took us to bull fights in Cartagena, drove us around to Gabriel García Márquez's old haunt, drank beer with us at the beach. In addition to all that, her cousin Quique, himself a masterful accordion player, introduced me to the wonderful sound of Papayera.

What is Papayera? It's a bit unjust to treat this powerfully informal music schematically, but oh well: Papayera is a folk music from the northern coast of Colombia that combines polyrhythmic percussion with horns, vocals, accordion and any other instrument on hand. Apparently the name comes from a tradition of using hollowed-out papayas for percussion. The music is often associated with the colorful public buses called Chivas. Despite all typical characteristics, however, Papayera takes many forms because it doesn't adhere to any formal guidelines of genre. Papayera bands form on the street corner, incorporate anyone playing, interpret everything from cumbias to vallenatos to god knows what else.

All that may seem like a set of familiar enough ingredients for folk music, but the first time I heard Papayera it struck me as unlike anything I'd ever heard before--something like New Orleans jazz washed ashore on the beaches of South America and broadcast back to my North American ears through a chain of Caribbean transmitters. It smacked a smile on my face before my grumpy little rust-belt heart could protest.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to make a copy of that disc Quique played for me. When I got back to wintery Buffalo, though, I started searching the internet to find some recorded trace of Papayera. I didn't find much, perhaps because not much has been committed to tape or perhaps because not much has circulated this far. I did turn up one cheesy looking release by Banda 11 de Enero and, empty-handed otherwise, placed my order. It turned out to be as exciting as whatever it was I heard in Barranquilla. If you need to get a party started this summer, or stay awake while on the road, this should do the trick.

I don't know much about the release, but there are a few copies available on ebay if you've got the money. (I'm not saying it's not worth it!) The package doesn't clear up any mysteries, though, doesn't even name the musicians. I've seen a few references to Banda 11 de Enero around; nothing really adds to the back ground. Fortunately, the music speaks for itself. Have a listen. It'll make you happier than a little girl serving Aguila in her mother's pumps.

15 May 2010

Round Food

Summer wants to be here for me so bad right now. Unfortunately, I'm still reading and writing when I'd prefer to be eating, drinking and listening to music all night long. School learning's great for most the year, but come May I want to learn about things to eat, sounds to hear. Oh well. Summer never really commences for me anyway until I get on the road traveling southward. That won't be for another six weeks, which means I've got a difficult period of craving humid heat and Southern cuisine ahead of me.

That doesn't mean I haven't made the best of my situation, though, and two round meals are the proof of my efforts. I made fish tostadas for the first time and they turned out much better than I expected. Tilapia fried in a light egg-flour-cornmeal batter really is perfect for warm weather. Put it on top of a crispy corn tortilla slathered with refried beans, then add avocado, vinegar slaw, and pico de galloit makes a lovely summer meal reminiscent of someplace far south of Buffalo, NY.

A couple days latter HRH made something that I'd never fathomed, although it seems to be fairly well known if Google search results are to be trusted: Polenta-crust pizza. It was easy to prepare in advance and then slip into the oven a few minutes before we were ready to eat. And it was delicious!

I'm not sure I'm ready to abandon more traditional crusts, but for an easier homemade option, polenta works great. I don't want to suggest that making pizza dough is too hard to do at home (Michael Ruhlman would have a fit!), but working with any dough is always sort of a pain in my ass. It might be worth it if I ever had any success, but alas! I never do.

Anyway, the polenta crust was a success and everything on top was lovely. I'm sure to miss something, but I think HRH included: tomato sauce, mozzarella, black olives, onions, basil and artichoke hearts. She roasted the artichokes (and leeks? Are those leeks?) first and they were my favorite part. The unused hearts made an excellent snack the next day.

Dough difficulties be damned, I want to make a peach pie this summer, whenever it comes on full force. In the meantime, I need to get back to book learning. And to prove my efforts on that front, here's a bit of trivia I learned from my (admittedly not so academic) research. Apparently the term "square meal" came into use in the mid-19th Century. Contrary to the subject of this post, it has nothing to do with shape, and everything to do with honesty. As in this example from a restaurant advertisement (1856): "We can promise all who patronize us that they can always get a hearty welcome and 'square meal' at the Hope and Neptune. Oyster, chicken and game suppers prepared at short notice." According to the same source, the words avocado and cupcake came into existence slightly earlier in the 19th Century. What the hell did they call those things in the 18th Century?

17 April 2010

causal theory barbecue

that designate an underwater shadow
named querelle and in my tongue urban.

curved and flew out an old baptism
turned to compose the original dub

brushed up screaming on my witness.

god shammgod shammond mcgriff mccracklin
stuttin mcintyre sitkovetsky bettye
lavette the onions and the beautiful texas

lemons boudin the other devilish sausages
msg and cripke down on slauson

lemon texas minnie sliver nine.
that metallic fade no blues all blues aw

the syntactical law within fills me with law
then gasp at the flavor and run on again.

-Fred Moten, from hughson's tavern