California dreamin'? Heck yes I am now that I got my paws on Mr. Bungle's newly issued third (and possibly final) LP, California, at long last! Originally released in 1999, Plain Recordings has done Mike Patton & company's stunning, genre-grinding "pop oriented" album nothin' but justice by offering this overflowing kitchen sink of experimental-rock on heavy wax for those of us who simply cannot get enough of the maelstrom of diverse influences --- ranging from swing, rockabilly, country & western, bossa nova, Hawaiian and Middle Eastern music, jazz, Zappa-esque doo wop, arty-funk, post-rock, space-age pop, spaghetti-Western music, warped circus melodies, new age, heavy metal and exotica --- that somehow manage to sound cohesive and linear against savage spates of juxtaposed music-making wizardry. Among many brilliant moments stitched into the body of this masterwork is the inclusion of stylistically head-banging kecak vocals (Indonesian "monkey chanting") on the album's final track, "Goodbye Sober Day." In this respect I reckon that Mr. Bungle's California could be reviewed as just another ripple in the weird "world beat" well, but I believe this record serves as proof that pre-Y2K global fusion, musically speaking, needn't entirely be remembered as naive Cirque du Soleil-caliber dregs of whimsical frivolity to be trampled by the likes of Michael Flatley. No, this album plays like rose-tinted muse blender on puree, partying with the lifetime achievements of Brian Wilson and Burt Bacharach like it's 1999!
This weekend I had a blast workin' it with my fellow J-Pop enthusiasts at the Amoeba Music booth during the 2nd annual J-Pop Summit street fair in San Francisco's Japantown! In terms of people watching alone this was an affair that almost eclipses the Pride parade or Halloween masquerade in that it's virtually a marriage of the two festive events announcing the birth of their fresh to death Japanese love child.
With a table overflowing with both popular and rare J-pop CDs, LPs and DVDs, we stayed busy all day mixing with the ever shuffling crowd that stopped by to pick through the goods we stood by. Chic ladies dressed and tressed in their Loli finery (pictured above) pined for idol artists like Nana Kitade, Mana's Malice Mizerand an astounding avalanche of Gackt offerings, while others plucked hard to find anime soundtracks and bargain priced boxed sets (including a boxed Pink Lady vinyl collection, the complete Zatoichi films boxed set, as well as the Ultraman television series on DVD) from the broad selection.
From all of us here at Amoeba Music: thanks to all the fans, otaku or otherwise, who stopped by our booth to chat and shop our wares, thanks to all those costumed folks who consistently made the day by merely mosying through our field of vision, and, lastly, thanks to all the other vendors (especially the purveyors of fine shaved ice delights!) for making our appearance at this years' J-Pop Summit a memorable experience! どうもありがとうございました！また来年よろしくお願いいたします！
A while ago, right here in this blogosphere, I shared a memorable, if somewhat goofy, moment I experienced in conversation with Blonde Redhead where it was determined that their signature sound is, seasonally speaking, " cold, like winter," punctuated by drummer Simone Pace's joking that they've been trying to score a "summer hit" all these years. True, there's nothing very ruddy or relaxing about the raw, malodorous roots they laid down in their hard-rocking early days, prompting fans to coin the multilingual heart-breakers as "art rock" darlings while some persnickety critics underrated them as Sonic Youth wannabes. Alas, that "certain damaged" sound that Guy Picciotto (of Fugazi and Rites of Spring fame) coaxed into the production Blonde Redhead's middle children albums (In An Expression of the Inexpressible, Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons and Misery is a Butterfly) is as gone as the no wave, DNA inspired D.I.Y. joie de vivre captured on the band's Steve Shelly (of, duh, Sonic Youth fame) produced self-titled debut as well as that of their self-produced, non-slump of a sophomore effort La Mia Vita Violenta and it's bewitching follow-up Fake Can Be Just As Good (sigh). However, I believe congratulations are in order as it seems that Blonde Redhead have, with Penny Sparkle --- their eighth full-length album in fifteen years, their third record for the 4AD label --- created the most lusciously polished, goth jewel of a make-out record since the Cure's Disintegration dropped in 1989.
In a hallmark episode of Mad Men Don Draper said, "Nostalgia -- it's delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, 'nostalgia' literally means 'the pain from an old wound.' It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved."
Of course, for all of you out there who, unlike me, don't voraciously follow the AMC series, Don was pitching an ad for a slide projector (nostalgia, indeed) to a potential client. However, I like to think that this quote speaks of yet another rotary mechanism with equal validity, both practically and emotionally speaking, though there may be some folks who'd argue the dingus as obsolete. Well, my record player is still alive and spinning, taking me to new places as often as it swings me back, right 'round, home-bound again like a flawlessly sound-tracked time machine. I can offer no better example of this cyclical sentimental journey than the summer season I spent aboard my little hi-fi this year enjoying an endless rotation summer jams beginning with the fresh sun-soaked (and smog-stained) sounds of Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti, what with the extremely timely June 7th release of Before Today on 4AD, and, now that summer is winding down, rounding out the season with a mess of Carolina beach music 7" singles culled from the belly of the 45's bargain bin at Amoeba Music in San Francisco.
There may be many preshy "dream-girl" bands performing nightly under the radar out there, but perhaps none of them so bewitchingly swoon-worthy yet so storybook-ready to bear both fang and claw as Agent Ribbons. Tonight the trio, who have rightly been equated to sounding like Girls in the Garage doing the Three Penny Opera, will be appearing at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco (along with Girl In A Coma and Gringo Star) as they tour in support of their sophomore effort entitled Chateau Crone, slated for release on Antenna Farm Records this October 12th.
Since starting out as a duo in 2007, singer and guitarist Natalie Ribbons and drummer Lauren Hess have toured the U.S. tirelessly, playing with such noteworthy acts as Camera Obscura at the Fillmore Auditorium last year as well as sharing stages with bands like Cake and the Detroit Cobras. Their debut full-length release On Time Travel and Romance first hit the shelves at Amoeba Music in the form of custom-crafted CDs housed in handmade sleeves that showcased a tangible penchant for bygone aesthetics held together by found feathers, bells, lace, ribbons, glitter, glue and more than a little bit of stitch-witchery. Said debut has since been re-released on Broken Carousel and the ladies have collaborated with visual artist Dame Darcy on their limited edition candy-apple green vinyl release for Seven Inch Project as well as delivering a second 7", Your Love Is the Smallest Doll, released on Acuarela Discos in Europe and Japan, which marked the first appearance of Naomi Cherie on violin and cello. Originally from Sacramento, Agent Ribbons uprooted to Austin, Texas, which may or may not have something to do with their being banned in the U.K. in 2008.
At first listen Chateau Crone comes across as an album spurred by a strange arrangement of influences and genres, both musical and visual, yet every minute of it sounds threaded like baroque pop gems beaded concertedly in a triumph of heirloom costume jewelry. From the opening track "I'm Alright," which plays like a sunny Breeders/Elastica-esque summer beach jam complete with three-part harmonies and hazy, post-feminist allure; to songs like "Dada Girlfriend," what conjures up heady visions of languid, balletic graces akin to women as "green fairies" in Art Nouveau absinthe advertisements; to the plaster-cracking rocker-track "Wood, Lead, Rubber," that comes very close to capturing the shock of the missus Ribbons' live performance sound, the record seems to suggest gypsies canvasing the limitless expanse of a tannin-stained teapot (see track four, "I'll Let You Be My Baby"), or getting down in the Winchester mansion via a rabbit hole guest starring the Shaggs (see track seven, "Your Hands, My Hands"), or a possibility-ridden attic of functionally aged wardrobes (see track six, "Wallpaper of Skin"), or a displaced estate where one might escape to meet the Beales of Grey Gardens (see "Grey Gardens," track two) for sweet tea with Golden Girls on their banana-leaf steeped lanai (see track eight, "Oh, La La!"). It is, frankly, all that and then some, yet, nothing quite beats seeing these girls pound out their otherworldly girl-next-door compositions in the bare-footed flesh, as they truly give 200% of themselves on stage, balancing honest minimalism with theatrical rawness given what they have previously referred to as their "limited means" of musical outfitting (of course, that was said before Miss Naomi joined the band). I would say that with the kind of gumption these girls pack into a stage show, instruments other than their very presence are almost unnecessary!