Thursday, February 24, 2005
What fresh hell is this?
Home with the flu, and the pulmonologist is taking a longshot flyer on a rare fungus that lives in the Ohio River Valley. And a couple other things.
The flu? F*$#!
On the bright side, at least I can catch up on my reading.
[wik] Oh bitch, bitch, bitch.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Bring Home Our Troop!
The French have committed to providing exactly 1 (one) officer to the NATO effort to train Iraqi soldiers and law enforcement personnel. In a measuer of France’s deep interest in supporting democracy in Iraq, this officer will travel to the wilds of southern Belgium to participate in the training.
French protestors uncomfortable with even this tepid support for US policy can be expected to be waving signs demanding, “Bring home our troop!” any time now.
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
If they can name a battle sub after Jimmy Carter
then this is in fact the greatest essay ever written. (Warning: site and essay contain some moderately porny content that may not be worksafe if you work for a pack of bluenoses.)
In our intrepid pursuit of erudition, we can do worse than to take the example of the linked anonymous essayist and give shout outs to olives, Lenny Kravitz, and anal sex by way of explicating Oedipus Rex.
Via bookslut, whom I am blogrolling..... nnnnnow.
40 boys in 40 nights
Wait… I f*cked that one up. That’s the title of a Donnas song.
Via Bookslut, I am reminded of the bloggers’ 50 book challenge wherein one promises to read 50 books in 2005. Some people have gone so far as to get sponsors for their logomania, but I, I! do it all for the love of the word.
China Mieville, Perdido Street Station China Mieville, The Scar
Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver (again)
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
George Plimpton, Open Net
Charles Dickinson, Great Expectations
Kevin Boyle, Arc of Justice (which, by the way, is the best work of modern-era social history I have ever read. He is a monster. A beast. The king. This is the way it is done.)
Joseph Conrad, The Secret Sharer/Heart of Darkness (two novellas, count as one in my world!)
Man… I better get cracking. Moreover, the 50 books challenge requires that one blog about the books they read… man.... better get cracking…
A Fine Case of BOHICA
Thanks to Geeklethal for his apt dubbing of my ongoing and frustrating illness as “Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis.” I would however quibble with his characterization of my malady as Dickensian. “Dickensian” implies a certain grimy romanticism (or anti-romanticism) as well as a finite endpoint when the ill person keels over in a poignant and oddly wordy episode. “Dickensian” illnesses tended to be of the tubercular variety, and what I gots is not that. Sure I have been subject to an endless parade of coughs, catarrahs, chest infections, head colds, and bizarre symptoms nearly never seen in a male of my age and general health. But that’s not “Dickensian.”
I prefer to think of my illness as “Eggersian” after postmodernist novelist David Eggers, whose “A Hearbreaking Work of Staggering Genuis” is the only library book I have ever thrown across a room in disgust. “Wallacian” is also in the running, as in David Foster Wallace’s interminable cocktease of a novel, “Infinite Jest,” in which the joke was on the reader for sticking with Wallace through 1200 pages of densely footnoted disquisition on tennis, homelessness, and handicapped Quebecois separatists. But, since Eggers is more or less the father of that foul genre, “Eggersian” it is. Like his books, my ongoing sickness is endless, indeterminate, undiagnosable, enervating, incredibly frustrating, and ultimately halfway debilitating. Halfway? Yes, halfway. It’s difficult for me to say whether walking a couple miles on any given day will leave me feeling invigorated or like I’ve just been tied in a bag and beaten with saps.
But all that is just so much pointyheaded wankery. Since the doctors seem to be at a loss as to what’s wrong with me (the current wisdom is to give it a month to see if things clear up or if a tumor et. al. grows to diagnosable size), owing to the “goddamnit, what-now” factor currently in play regarding my health (this week: pneumonia! next week: sinus infection! every week: mystery fluids emanating from parts inside whence they oughtn’t!), I suggest that the proper name of my at this point ten week old illness is “Bohica.” As in “Bend Over, Here It Comes Again.” A beeg thanks to my father, Chainsaw Mick for the coinage. He’s a quality chap even if he fails to see the malicious genius of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s driving style in favor of Jeff Gordon’s clean-race skills.
Anyway, just so you know. Not that you wanted to know, but I figured I had to explain my very light posting somehow. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
[wik] GeekLethal is on to something with his random-media-player blogging. For some reason, my 111 CD changer fixates on two songs on Josh Rouse’s album “Dressed Up Like Nebraska” even when I move the disc to a new location. Ditto track one of Iqbal Jogi & Company’s “The Passion of Pakistan,” a caterwauly festival of unearthly Dervish sounds that in small amounts add spice to a music mix but if heard too frequently grow, shall we say, extraordinarily tiresome. What the fuck?
[also wik] Bitch, bitch, bitch. How does Gary Farber keep it together?
Monday, February 21, 2005
He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man
DATELINE: WOODY CREEK, CO., 20 FEB 05
Surrounded by a retinue of giant lizards, fever-dreams, and hulking relics from his checkered past, Hunter S. Thompson, writer and professional drug voyager, revealed today his latest work of what he long ago dubbed “shotgun art.”. His latest piece consists of his dead body, decorated by a single bullet hole to the head and whatever parts of his insides were carried with the bullet to the outside. It is currently believed that this art was self-inflicted.
He will be missed.
[wik] Depending on how you look at it, Hunter Thompson descended into schtick about the time Reagan re-upped for his second tour of duty, or he never transcended it in the first place. If there is anybody in the world who did not see this coming - at least in retrospect - then that person has rocks for brains. Thompson was one of the few artists who successfully parlayed their own self-destruction into a vital part of their own output. Rimbaud, Wilde, and Burroughs spring to mind, and even if you throw in the half-competent drug addled “transgressions” of Jim Morrison, all the names I just mentioned are all classifiable as poets (Morrison technically so, I guess). Thompson is one of the few “straight” writers - in the sense that he was considered a reporter and a writer of non- (or at least quasi-non-) fiction - to equal these exponents of the Grand Romantic Poetic Tradition (what with the drugs, garretts, starvation, ridiculous situations &c &c &c) in the quality of both his art and life. That he lived so long is fairly surprising.
His best work, like Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail manage through their wildness to scrape away at inner truths that more sobersided analyses could not possibly hope to touch. But the same distance that separates the Fear and Loathing books from later hackery like The Great Shark Hunt or Better Than Sex is the same distance that separates Beggar’s Banquet from Black and Blue. The most dangerous thing in the world for an artist who relies on actual personal peril and chaos to fuel their creative process is to figure out how to bottle it without the hangover. Thompson certainly did this. Rather than doing as Christopher Lemann-Haupt feared and “laps[ing] into good taste,” he lapsed into routine: drink Wild Turkey => take some pills => stay up late => wait for THE FEAR to come => shoot something with a high powered rifle, narrowly missing friend/spouse/dog => pass out at typewriter and wait for dawn. Once you can put this routine on your dayrunner, it’s no longer creation. It’s wanton self-destruction.
Moreover… suicide? Although my first instinct is to excoriate him for the cravenness that suicide usually suggets, I’m not so sure that’s the right thing to do here. By rights, Thompson should have been dead a hundred thousand times over already if even a tiny fraction of his self-described exploits are true. If he hadn’t already ended up as a long red streak on a highway somewhere intermingled with broken pieces of a Vincent Black Shadow and reeking of whiskey, then nothing was going to kill him. Thompson’s way was to paint himself into a corner then bolt like a rabid wolverine. I guess this time his own indestructibility offered him only one way out.
Hunter S. Thomson was 67 years old. Now he is just a sack of meat.
Gonzo Journalism and Shotgun Golf are dead
Hunter S. Thompson died yesterday of a bullet through the head. Gonzo journalism is dead, because nobody, nobody did it like Hunter. It’s a damn shame, if for no other reason than that I would have loved to play shotgun golf.
Friday, February 18, 2005
We at the ministry spend an untowardly generous portion of our valuable time monitoring the endless schemes launched by our would-be robot overlords against all the members of humankind. This task requires a steely determination and a relentlessly skeptical eye for deception, though for all that we are still way more centered and mellow than the folks at LGF.
Nevertheless, once in a great while a robot story emanates from our LED panels which catches us off guard. Such is the case with this otherwise terrifying story in the Boston Phoenix on the Burlington, Vermont company iRobot. iRobot are among the few at the very vanguard of the robot wars - albeit on the other side - but evidence is mounting that their treason against mankind is unwitting, even well-intended.
Apart from horrifying information about the first stages in mankind’s eventual subjugation to machine, the story contains one unexpectedly touching moment. In addition to the Roomba maid-robots which will surely some day rise against us, iRobot also make robots which are used by the military for the task of defusing explosive devices. 129 such robots have come back from Iraq in tiny blackened pieces. Says iRobot CEO Colin Angle,
“Getting a robot back, blown up, is one of the more powerful experiences I’ve lived through. . . . Nothing could make it so clear that we have just saved lives. Somebody’s son is still alive. Some parent didn’t just get a call.”
Hats off to iRobot.
Carnival of the Recipes #27
The most delicious carnival on the web (however misnamed, and ironically so for our Christian readers, this being Lent and such), is back, this week hosted by Inside Allan’s Mind. Mmmmm! Frito Pie!
Thursday, February 17, 2005
The Reverend gets religion
The Reverend Horton Heat - Revival (Yep Roc, 2004)
Over the course of fifteen years, the Reverend Horton Heat has explored every possible variation on rockabilly punk. This means that, like the Ramones, when you buy one of his records you pretty much know what you’re going to get - a dozen or so loud songs about cars, drinking, women, and kicking ass. When you do one thing for so long, the only way to remain vital is to begin digging deeper. For The Reverend Horton Heat, this means drawing on his new found maturity: in the last few years, he has lost his mother, lost a friend to heroin, and had a new baby. For the first time his life experiences inform his music.
Although his new album Revival, (2004, Yep Roc Records) kicks off with the now-obligatory fast guitar instrumental that starts most of his records (this one called “The Happy Camper"), the very next song is a bewildered and heartsick lament that he’s still alive but not happier (“I’ve done my share of stupid things, I regret to say / And whatever I may do now, time may not repay / I’m just looking for revival, today may be the day”). Unlike in the past, where his “tragedy” songs were done with tongue firmly in cheek, now Heath is delivering the goods for real. It is a matter of degree, but for the first time a Reverend Horton Heat song hits close to home. However, lest you think the good Reverend has gone all emo on us, he follows right up with “Calling In Twisted,” a little ditty about using “the fake cough” when calling off work.
For those among you who have not been initiated into the secrets of the Heat, The Reverend Horton Heat is James Heath of Texas, the tattoed guitar slinger at the vanguard of the punkabilly movement since 1991. Author of classic songs like “I Like Steak,” “Bales of Cocaine,” “Livin’ on the Edge (of Houston),” “Nurture My Pig,” “It’s Martini Time” and “Big Sky,” Heath has been touring constantly for years, bringing his mix of hepped up rockabilly, punk, and sleazy greaser attitude to audiences around the world.
In his early days he was taken under the wing of heavies like Gibby Haynes (who produced 1993’s The Full Custom Gospel Sounds of the Reverend Horton Heat) and Al Jourgenson (who produced 1994’s Liquor in the Front). He has sinced moved on to an ongoing relationship with veteran producer Ed Stasium. Although albums helmed by Stasium typically sound like they were recorded on one microphone in a parking garage, in the case of the Reverend this actually works, since Stasium’s simple bass-drums-guitar-plenty o’ reverb setup gives added dimension to the band’s attack.
Despite the discovery of these heretofore unsuspected depths to Jim Heath’s psyche, Revival is still vintage Heat. He still plays guitar like a demon, spraying notes like a firehose over top of Jimbo Jones’ slap bass and Scott Churilla’s metalbilly drumming. As usual the Reverend raises a respectable ruckus, and as usual by song number fifteen the well has run a little dry. The newfound depths suit him well, but for all its strengths, Revival is less consistent than some of his older albums. If you’re a fan, it’s worth having, but if you are new to the Rev, there is no beating the manic punch of The Full Custom Gospel Sounds of the Reverend Horton Heat. Kudos to Yep Roc for landing the Reverend, but if they have another record in the contract, next time their A&R department should hold the Rev to a dozen great songs total.
Round one, fight!!!
Herbie Hancock - VSOP: Live Under The Sky (Columbia Legacy, 2004)
The 1970s were a funny time for jazz. Even as jazz musicians broke new ground and some rock audiences embraced jazz fusion, the market for straight acoustic jazz was withering away to nothing. In a way it makes perfect sense. The best jazz fusion-- Weather Report, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, even Miles Davis’ cocaine-fueled funk-rock tirades-- were aimed explicitly at a consumer audience with ears for electronic sounds and straight 4x4 rhythms. On the other hand, acoustic jazz in the 1970s was in general a distinctly post-everything affair. All the old movements had run their course or had gone back underground, and there wasn’t much development going on to keep casual jazz fans from putting on a Sly Stone record instead.
Naturally, this state of affairs led to some very fine music being made and immediately filed away without release. Columbia Legacy (an appendage of Sony) has begun pulling out some of these old never-weres and finally giving them a US release. Even if the jazz audience in 2005 is just as small and far more fickle than in 1977, Columbia/Legacy’s new-old releases show us that looking backward sometimes means finding out just how much we missed the first time around.
VSOP was an on-again off-again supergroup consisting of the four backing members of Miles Davis’ second quintet. Without Davis to guide (dominate) them, Herbie Hancock became the de facto leader of a quartet that also included Wayne Shorter on saxophone, Tony Williams on drums, and the ubiquitous Ron Carter on bass. The group toured and recorded in 1977, then reconvened every so often through the early 1980s. They were big in Japan, their domestic popularity crippled by accusations from the jazz establishment that their fusion experiments had desecrated the hallowed legacy of jazz itself.
VSOP recorded the double live album VSOP: Live Under The Sky direct to digital tape over two nights in Japan in 1979 in front of an enthusiastic audience, with each night’s (identical) set included in full. Living up to the great 70s tradition of killer double live records (see: Frampton, KISS, Queen, Zappa), Live Under the Sky is a world-beater, a stunning, white hot, smack-your-mother tour de force of post-everything acoustic jazz.
A clue to how the album is going to unfold comes when the band bites into the opening “Eye of the Hurricane” at about 260 beats per minute. Within 90 seconds drummer Tony Williams is beating the brains out of young Freddie Hubbard. I mean, beating the brains out of him. Leaving Ron Carter to provide the bedrock rhythm, Williams breaks into a dizzying array of pounding fills, kicks, cross-rhythms and subthemes beneath (and over top of) Hubbard’s solo, putting the young trumpet player on notice that he better bring it and good. Hubbard responds with a solo of dizzying virtuosity, repaying Williams in kind. Throughout the number Williams spars with his bandmates, completely abandoning the beat under Hancock’s solo in favor of a barrage of rhythmic commentary on Hancock’s playing. The resulting musical dogfight finally resolves with both Hancock and Willams dropping out to let Carter walk the bass for a minute before the whole band comes back to the head, finally laying out into the serene and beautiful next selection, “Tear Drop.” For the next hour, the entire band tear into song after song with boundless creativity and power.
Lest I give you the impression that the entire record consists of two discs of musical ultimate fighting deathmatches, I must hasten to mention that about half the selections are cool downtempo meditations. More than just breaks to allow us and the musicians to catch their breaths, beautifully rendered performances of “Tear Drop,” “Para Oriente” and others find the group exploring textures, harmonies and intensities of emotion in ways that frantic workouts just won’t allow.
There is something mind-boggling about listening to four (five) players among the greatest of all time leaving behind all the rules and just playing whatever feels right in the moment. With nods to everything - bop, modal jazz, cool jazz, Mingus-style third stream suites, free blowing a la Ornette Coleman, the group move in and out of song structures, extending, reiterating, and demolishing at will. Interestingly, the extended post-bop VSOP are doing here is the stylistic exact opposite of what most of its members were pursuing in their day jobs. The Headhunters (Hancock) and Weather Report (Shorter) were exploring space, extended funk jams and newfangled electronics, and Williams was recording noisy jazz-punk with Ronnie Montrose. By way of contrast, VSOP relied on the tried and true devices of acoustic instruments and bop harmonies. Live Under The Sky comes on like a Cassius Clay uppercut. A thrilling, breathtaking, incredible live set from five players in perfect tune.
Herbie Hancock’s recorded output is both extensive and spotty, and it can be difficult for someone just getting acquainted with his work to know quite where to begin. Both VSOP: Live Under The Sky and its Columbia/Legacy partner release The Piano deserve a place on every jazz fan’s shelf as major contributions not only to the work of one the greatest living keyboardists but to the state of the art of jazz.
This post also appears at blogcritics.org. Blogcritics.org is clinically proven to prevent heart disease, the staggers, dropsy, and aftosa.*
The Ministry of Minor Perfidy is not clinically proven to prevent heart disease, the staggers, dropsy, or aftosa.Too Goddamn Much Perfidy...
The pugilist at rest
Herbie Hancock - The Piano (Columbia/Legacy, 2004)
Herbie Hancock was a very busy man in the late 1970s, and he was doing it all for the love of the music. Although his flagship project, the Headhunters, were meeting with worldwide success, his other projects were less well received. His work with the VSOP quartet was released mainly in Japan, as was his 1977 solo piano recording The Piano. Thanks to a renewed interest in quality jazz music regardless of when it was recorded, Columbia Legacy (an appendage of Sony) is now giving a number of excellent lost albums their first US release.
Originally intended for release only in Japan thanks to limited interest in acoustic jazz at home, 1977’s The Piano is a sort of counterpart to Hancock’s turbulent post-bop work with VSOP and the electronic funk of the Headhunters. One of the first albums to be recorded digitally, Hancock intended The Piano as a sort of homage to the way records were made in the early days of jazz. For this album, he used a technique called direct-to-disc, in which the player or players choose three or four songs totalling the length of an LP side (in this case 16 minutes) and then play them live consecutively, leaving enough space between each selection to allow for a good spiral groove to separate them.
In this case, Hancock selected for side one three songs closely associated with Miles Davis; “My Funny Valentine,” “On Green Dolphin Street,” and “Someday My Prince Will Come,” and for side two four original compositions. Playing alone, Hancock ran through each of the seven songs in sequence three times and made an album out of the best overall take. Although reminiscent in a way of Bill Evans’ landmark triple-overdubbed solo piano album Conversations With Myself, Hancock’s aim is very different – here the conversations are monologues and silence is an instrument.
Displaying the sensitive touch and harmonic ear he is known for, Hancock deconstructs his selections and pensively turns them inside out, searching for their emotional core. Moving far beyond jazz and the lounge-piano cliches that come so easily on the standards chosen, Hancock turns “My Funny Valentine” into a study in Romantic-era harmony, sounding more like French composers Erik Satie or Maurice Ravel than Miles Davis or Bill Evans. Part of this is due to the extended chords Hancock chooses, painting sheets of suspended notes over chords and decorating his melody with sotto voce runs and fills.
Hancock give each selection a similar treatment, turning each one into a perfect little jewelbox of gorgeous and brilliant playing. Like a Japanese painting done on the thinnest of papers with the fewest possible strokes of a brush, The Piano is an expressively minimalist exercise in taste and restraint. Moreover, that it comes from the same man who was in the same period wrangling a synthesizer in the Headhunters and sparring with VSOP is positively stunning and a little unbelievable.
Herbie Hancock’s recorded output is both extensive and spotty, and it can be difficult for someone just getting acquainted with his work to know quite where to begin. Both The Piano and its Columbia/Legacy partner release VSOP: Live Under The Sky deserve a place on every jazz fan’s shelf as major contributions not only to the work of one the greatest living keyboardists but to the state of the art of jazz.
This post also appears at blogcritics.org. Blogcritics.org: providing you with the best in bloviation and media punditry since 1323.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Random Post About Random Play
I have been enjoying the Ministry’s winter hiatus, what with its replacement by all-new episodes of The Johno Experience. But with Johno still grappling with his Dickensian illness, I can’t expect him to carry the whole weight of perfidy.org by himself. So here’s a lame post, just for the sake of Johno getting a nap.
First of all, being the real supabad cat he is, I can’t accept Johno’s illness with its current 19th century flava; might as well go to the corner barber for a shave and a leech treatment with a condition that sounds like that. I recommend rebranding his illness to better reflect the look and feel of his trademarks. Go with “Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis” for now; if Clinton raises a stink, pacify him with crack.
Second, the thrust of my post.
I’ve had this job for over four years now, most of it with the same computer. And my iTunes library is starting to show it. Now, up until about two weeks ago I just played whole albums, typically one or two per day. Then I hit “random” accidentally. Every stereo I’ve owned in the past exhibited some sort of preference, whether for a certain song or, in the case of multi-disc changers, certain records. Seemingly, Macs are no different in this regard. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
In any given work period, I WILL hear “Shakin’ Street” by the MC5.
This machine really digs the Minutemen. Way more than I do, actually, and has a penchant for “Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs”.
There is alot of Metallica here. All of it, in fact, except for “Kill ‘Em All”. There is enough selected at random to make sense but, what are selected, by a ratio of roughly 3:1, are covers by Metallica, not originals.
Since I began paying attention to this random play I have not heard a Stooges song, but have “Fun House”, “The Stooges”, and “Raw Power” all in there. Nor is it a fan of Black Sabbath or Art Blakey.
About once every two days I’ll hear Mahavishnu Orchestra, but ONLY a selection from the first half of “Birds of Fire”, and only once.
I have about 60 Otis Redding tracks and maybe 50 Rage Against the Machine tracks, but any of the 12 Count Basie/Joe Williams numbers outplays the others by at least 3:1.
If it’s going to play either Lou Reed OR David Bowie, it’s never before 12 and solely live material.
This computer doesn’t mind metal, and will take Slayer over any other fucking metal in the library. Metal!
This study will continue indefinitely; further updates as events warrant.
Monday, February 14, 2005
Your name is…. Number 9
Leave it to the Brits. Although us Amurricans sprung from them like grey-eyed Athena from the forehead of Zeus (unlike the Australians, who are more like King Erechthetus, springing from the seed spilled when Hephaestus humped Athena’s leg), they are not like us. Separated by more than a common language, we are now two peoples of very different sensibilities.
This fact was hammered home to me once while reading Jon Savage’s history of the Sex Pistols, England’s Dreaming. In the book, Savage quoted an MP who was trying to get a bill through Parliament banning the Pistols outright, arguing (I paraphrase) “It is their right to do what they want, and it is our right to try and stop them.” If there is any quote that sums up better the fundamental difference between the United States’ and Britain’s social compacts, I don’t know about it.
Anyway. I bring all this up by way of mentioning an amusing and deeply disturbing development in British crimefighting that further underlines the differences between American and British mentalities. As you know, English police patrol the streets armed only with truncheons and a stern pointy-finger, though of course armed response waits in abeyance to spring to aid if needed. Since England banned private ownership of guns outright a couple years ago, there is every indication that they as a society are genuinely dedicated to exploring more nonlethal, less conventional means for catching criminals.
Whether or not this is a good idea is up to you. Opinions are opinions. However, it is impossible to deny that the English have grown creative in seeking out new nonlethal crimefighting technologies to help them in this task. The same culture that gave us the bizarre and psychedelic series “The Prisoner” has now made good on that show’s bizarre promise. Witness: a roving black robotic ball that, once it detects a target via infrared, can chase intruders through snow, mud, or water at up to 20 mph, all the while snapping photos and summoning backup, making the device ideal for unmanned perimeter and zone patrols. The article notes that “[w]hile the current version can only raise the alarm, it could be adapted to corner an intruder if the customer wanted,” and hold them until the men in the funny suits come and return them to the island.
Saturday, February 12, 2005
Fried Chicken and Corn Liquor
Southern Culture on the Skids are one of those bands who always seem to be punching above their weight. Certain groups’ stardom, in retrospect, has an air of inevitability about it. U2 are the biggest band in the world, and it’s practically impossible to imagine that under different circumstances of taste and timing, The Joshua Tree and War could be practically unknown masterpieces, circulating quietly among music collectors with a quiet fervor today reserved for test pressings of legendary Sun Ra sides and the like. Elvis Presley is so encoded in the DNA of pop music that his obscurity is literally impossible to imagine.
Not so with North Carolina stalwarts Southern Culture on the Skids. First of all, their goals are more modest. They don’t do pop anthems or minutely crafted gems of timeless style. They are a party band who have survived through twenty years, eight albums plus an EP, and a couple label shifts, all the while sticking true to a fairly limited set of dependable tricks. These days, SCOTS sound a bit like the B-52s with less camp and more competence (and if you happen to think that this means they’re missing all of what made the B-52s great, well then that’s your own opinion), or like the Cramps’ college-bound younger sibling. Last year they released their eighth LP, Mojo Box, on Yep-Roc Records. I will say this: fans of surf-rock, Southern college town party music, psychobilly, or twisted garage country owe it to themselves to own one Southern Culture on the Skids record. But is this the one?
My personal favorite high point in SCOTS’ career came on 1996’s Dirt Track Date (DGC). It was the left-field radio single “Camel Walk,” in which lead singer Rick Miller exhorted us in a laconic twang to “walk… like a camel” that got me. “Camel Walk” was a loopy slice of off-kilter rockabilly that lurched and heaved along with a sideways smile, achieving in the process half-accidental greatness. Although it is unfair to measure a group against one three-minute thing they did ten years ago, I can’t help it. Either SCOTS have another “Camel Walk” in them or they don’t.
All of the foregoing certainly reads as though I were winding up to chuck Mojo Box into the nearest river and to trash Southern Culture on the Skids as pale imitations of imitations, ten years past their sell-by date. The funny thing is, I’m not. In spite of their fixation on songs about trailer parks and country livin’, in spite of the jokey/hokey aspects of their two-chord surfabilly sound, in spite of the fact that my CD collection has literally dozens of golden-age rockabilly selections that sound a lot like what Southern Culture on the Skids are doing in a more mannered and therefore less inherently fascinating way-- in spite of all this, Mojo Box is a truckload of fun. On their last few albums the band seemed to have lost focus, relying on gimmicky novelty songs to carry them through. By way of contrast, Mojo Box represents a return to form: a lean, dandy album of greasy stomps, twangy guitars, and good songs. That they have figured out how to do this again after ten years in the (more or less) wilderness is only a plus, as they are older, smarter, and better at what they do.
There’s something to be said for a band who know what they want and how to get it, even when that something is to make har-har party records to drink beer, eat fried chicken, and drive fast to. Even if Mojo Box lacks anything quite as perfectly nutty as “Camel Walk,” the happytime twang of “Smiley Yeah Yeah Yeah,” the greasy, slinking “’69 El Camino,” the plaintive balladry of “Where Is The Moon,” and bassist Mary Huff’s lead vocals on “Soulful Garage” make it all up. They can play, they can sing, they can write, and they can raise a Friday-night ruckus. Although hemmed in by their down-home conceits and the inherent limitations of the college town surf-rockabilly genre they inhabit, SCOTS manage to turn in thirteen entertaining, energetic performances that never resort to cliche for simple lack of good ideas.
So is this the one to get? Well… sure. It’s better than their last couple of records and has held up through more than a dozen runs through my auto-repeater, so I know Southern Culture on the Skids built Mojo Box to last. I have to put in a strong word for Dirt Track Date as well, partly because it contains all their early favorites in rerecorded form, making it a sort of midcareer greatest hits, but Mojo Box stacks up favorably, making a case that another time and place, Southern Culture on the Skids could have been as beloved as the King himself (or at least the B-52s, or Sleepy LaBeef, or Carl Perkins).
This post also appears at blogcritics.org. Blogcritics.org is clinically proven to build healthy teeth and bones.*
*Blogcritics.org is not clinically proven to build healthy teeth and bones.Too Goddamn Much Perfidy...