Friday, April 9, 2010

Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick

Martin Carthy gets tagged as the "English Bob Dylan" a lot. This comparison is not entirely unfounded, as they both worked hard to dig up their traditional folk repertoire, they both exposed folk to a broader audience, and they both shocked their fans when they went electric. Bob even thanks Martin in the liner notes on one of his early records (the Freewheelin', I think, but I might be wrong...). But Martin Carthy doesn't get due credit for all his accomplishments when this comparison is made. Carthy is a true folk scholar and archivist, who pieced together ancient material from scraps preserved both written and orally passed down. And his numerous records present this material in a largely traditional fashion - much of his music is acappella, sung in his distinctive, Anne Briggs-ish delivery; or with the spare accompaniment of Dave Swarbrick's fiddle and his own stark and reserved guitar work.
After Swarbrick (who never received equal billing as Carthy, due to contractual reasons) parted ways for a time, Carthy went on solo, as well as joining groups like Steeleye Span and the Albion Country Band; while Swarb became a long-standing member of Fairport Convention.
From 1967's Byker Hill, here are two songs representative of the finest English traditions, mainly murder and incest. Hoowee...

The Bloody Gardener

Lucy Wan

Monday, February 22, 2010

R.I.P. Def Jux

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, what with the rigamortis-like state of the record industry these days, but I just heard the other day that indie hip hop label Def Jux shut down. It's too bad - when the label started, it had one of the most promising line-ups in modern hip hop: Innovators Company Flow, rising star Aesop Rock, DJ/producer virtuoso RJD2, underground vampires Cannibal Ox, and smurfy Mr. Lif. Their early releases likewise were all heat. Mr. Lif's debut Enters the Colossus, Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein, and compilation Def Jux Presents were some of my favorite records of the era, largely due to the fact that beat maker/rapper/label head El-P produced much of the initial output. His production style is unlike any other; it's a dense, claustrophobic and cluttered hybrid of hip hop and industrial music. It sounds like where he's from (New York in the 22nd century). Other notable releases of that time included El-P's debut solo release Fantastic Damage and Aesop Rock's Labor Days.
But like so many other trends, the quality couldn't be kept up indefinitely. El-P started producing less and less, and outside talent began creeping in. I had always equated the sound of Def Jux with El's production, and the songs he didn't touch always sounded a bit lackluster. Also, Aesop Rock quit working with producer Blockhead (who fit his style like a glove), and his subsequent efforts fell short. Cannibal Ox never had a follow-up to their debut (except for a live record), and both members left the Def Jux fold to pursue other interests. RJD2 left in 2004, and changed his style.
In an attempt to expand, Def Jux enlisted outside talent to swell their ranks. The Weathermen, Atoms Fam, C-Rayz Walz, Rob Sonic, Cage and Camu Tao were all promising enlistees, but in many cases these new artists seemed like an ill fit. Yeah, I'm talking about mistakes like Murs and the Party Fun Action Committee, or whatever they were called. The Weathermen never got beyond a mix tape, Atoms Fam went their own way, Cage became an emo, and the amazing Camu Tao unfortunately passed away.
In the latter days, El-P tried his best to rally. He released his sophomore cd, which was more focused than his debut, but lacked the energy of Fantastic Damage. Def Jux also saw the release of west coast legend Del the Funkee Homosapien's latest record. But it was too little too late.
It's unclear if Def Jux is shut down for good or merely on hiatus, but the results are the same: it's another sign that the American music industry is no longer viable.
Burn a candle and think of them in this unknown country, while you listen to a few of my favorite tracks from the late label's heyday.

Iron Galaxy - Cannibal Ox

Kill 'Em All - Aesop Rock (RJD2 Remix)

El-P - Tuned Mass Damper

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Die Antwoord

South African hip hop. I think I really like it, I think. Makes me feel weird.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ellensburg just does that to people

This song by the Screaming Trees is my favorite song to sing when I don't think anyone can hear me. My singing sucks, but if I turn the song up loud enough, you can't tell.

Dying Days

Sunday, February 7, 2010


764-Hero were part of the 2nd wave of Northwest bands to make it relatively big. Along with Sleater-Kinney, Modest Mouse, Built To Spill, etc, 764-Her0 reinvented the image of Northwest music, pushing it past the long-johns-wearing, illiterate backwoods grunge stereotype into decidedly more credible indie hipsterism. For better or for worse, it can be argued that this wave has had the most enduring effect on the image and sound of this corner of the world. This song is off their 3rd album for Up Records, entitled Get Here and Stay. It's my personal favorite from this duo-turned-trio. Here's a sampling, with "Ottowa Dropout".

Ottawa Dropout

Friday, February 5, 2010

Radiohead Light

Thousands of pre-teen girls around the world ban Radiohead for hating on Hannah Montana

The above pic was from a made-for-tv Incredible Hulk movie from when I was a kid. A while back, they made a slightly better movie where they somehow convinced Jennifer Connelly to be the Hulk's girlfriend, Betty Ross. Last year or so they made another Hulk movie, this time getting Liv Tyler to play Betty. Liv Tyler used to be with this guy named Royston Langdon who I suspect was teased a lot by Liv's dad. They aren't together any more. That's really only Langdon's claim to fame, besides being in this band that put out this one song that was on MTV for a minute in the mid-nineties. The song is called "In the Meantime", but it's not the song by Helmet. It's by Spacehog. The Incredible Hulk was on at the same time as the Dukes of Hazard, which I loved, so I didn't watch the hulk that often.

In the Meantime

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Oh yeah, these guys, whatever their name is

Sponge... Temple Pilots.

Whenever I hear this song by alternative b-listers Sponge, it brings back a horrible memory of the clock radio jarring me awake in the dark, and shivering my way out of bed to get ready for high school.

Despite being so traumatized, I always thought this was a catchy tune, but I never thought it was catchy enough to fork over the dough to buy the album. And that's pretty much all I can say for this band.

Now I feel kind of bad for them.