Musical musings, opinionations, and entertainment reviews for American Bear magazine (1996-2000). Measure once, cut twice.
American Bear #37, June / July 2000
Music: Something's gone wrong again / and again / and again... Mishap and error seem the blueprint for France's dat politics. Still, their malfunctioning computer-generated music and mismatched audio appropriations, false starts and disjointed Casio serenades all seem to be following a natural process. There is indeed method to the madness. Snippets of Euro-electronic Pop, dance rhythms, quirky Jazz signatures and simplistic melodies shift, blend, collide and collapse into industrial noise then U-turn into ambient lullabies, all within the framework of a single song. The history of electronic music deconstructed with a grand intelligence and engaging cool; the sounds are always familiar to the ear but presented in a disturbingly new and awkwardly engaging fashion. Something's gone awry with the CD shuffle program and we fast-forward and skip through a randomized selection of Markus Popp's Oval, Kraftwerk, Flip Hop primers, and synth-lounge obsessive Air, to count a few of the jump-start audio guideposts. The group has released a split 12-inch on Britain's Fat Cat label and the full-length Villager (a-musik, German import). Their debut release Tracto Flirt - self-released of their own Skipp label as a limited edition vinyl album - is now due for a USA domestic CD release (Kid606's Tigerbeat6 label); a new 7-inch single is forthcoming on Bottrop Boy (German import). Clever and creative; at turns, disruptive and delightful, always spot-on and sensational. Something's gone right...
On-Line: German artisan Hans Reichel crafts amazing, visionary guitars and then creates mystical music on same-said guitars. (Imagine a harmonic chorus of notes from a single guitar without aid of effect boxes or over-dubbing.) Furthermore, Reichel designs text fonts and has also invented his own unique instrument, the Daxophone, best described as shaped wood planks, whose natural resonance is amplified when 'played' by bowing. Reichel now turns his hand to an interactive, personal website utilizing Flash 4 technology. One gets a personal tour of the creative mind of Hans Reichel: fonts (pages 2 and 6), Daxophones (page 3 and page 10), guitars (page 9) along with movies, and chances to 'play' alongside Reichel. Whimsical, informative and a pleasure to explore. [NOTE: Additional info on Flash Player is available from Macromedia. Director David Lynch just signed on to create exclusive animated shorts, titled Dumbland, utilizing the firm's Shockwave technology. Lynch follows Spiderman creator Stan Lee, Simpsons producer James L. Brooks, and director Tim Burton to create Shockwave.com exclusives.]
Talking 'bout my gen...gen...generator. Mindless Internet fun. Entertain the whole family; dazzle co-workers and wither the workday away at your employer's expense. Spurred on by the street-smart aliases of Hip Hop's Wu Tang Clan, enter your name or even your ex-lover's pet name into the Wu Clan Name generator. Gorky`s Zygotic Glove Puppet? Kewl! For an individualized and totally daft reading in the name of art, search out the nonsensical DADA Server; "The snows of yesteryear collect in the furnace of your hat." Innumerable college students, with waaaay too much lab time on their hands, also hoist countless Anagram Generators onto the Net for your pleasantly numb enjoyment. A jumbled American Bear comes out as "Arab Mica Rene" … sounds like a drag act waiting to happen or perhaps a Parisian cabaret singer. Matrice de l'espoir I avant que je vieillisse. (With a tip o' the fedora to AltaVista's Babel Fish.)
American Bear #36, April / May 2000
Music: Blissful things... Boston songwriter Ernest David Lijoi's second CD is not as emotionally linear as its title might immediately imply. Deep in the pop and Broadway heart of Bliss (Hamlet Records) lies an aching loss within the moving "Turning to Stone" - "I buried my fears / I buried my tears / When I buried 10 years late last fall / Now the wound doesn't heal / It refuses to seal / So I choose to feel nothing at all" - and the self-effacing lyricism of "Maybe I Deserve This." Wonderfully penned tunes from and for the universal heart. Billboard columnist Larry Flick has also honored the disc as his "Unsigned Artist Album of the Year." Stop by Ernie's website for ordering info on the rewarding Bliss and its worthy predecessor, Parody Romantic. Anticipated endeavors for Ernie include possible theatrical and choral collaborations, touring outside Boston, and a future release of his songs as performed by local cabaret artists. "One great song / Passionate and bold and strong / Can carry all my dreams along forever."
The passionate, fiery dual guitars of Brazilian brothers Sérgio and Odair Assad fuel classical virtuoso Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's violin playing to enflame the trio's first collaborative outing on Nonesuch Records. The CD offers an emotional collection of both classical interpretations of traditional folk melodies from the Balkans, Russia, Belgium, France, and Spain as well as new compositions in the Gypsy style composed and arranged by Sérgio Assad. The album also features percussion from Jamey Haddad and a mesmerizing and sultry performance of "Nuages" composed by the late great Django Reinhardt.
Walk on the Bile side... Bile (Krztoff, Dave Sussman, and R.H. Bear - who posed for American Bear) return with another boot-to-the-groin, kick-in-the-ass, and ear-to-the-dancefloor effort, Sex Reflex, on their own Bile Style Records. Welcome to rock 'n' roll Armageddon wherein grinding guitars and churning electronics knock you for a power punch and kick you while you're down. You are a fuckin' loser! Sex Reflex is available from the band's website and at select outlets. Fresh from appearing in the movie Strangelands (due on DVD this year in an unrated version that also includes a French dub…talk about strange!), Bile has also recorded "Tourniquet" for a Marilyn Manson tribute disc forthcoming from Dwell/Vitamin Records.
Art and Architecture: Way cool, Junior! Click. The newest 3-D marvels captured for the View Master set are something thoroughly modern and quite grown up. Click. View*Productions (423-531-2927 or firstname.lastname@example.org) has issued two reel sets of classic modern architecture: Fallingwater: Wright and the 3rd Dimension and Bruce Goff: 3 Houses. Click. The reels capture Frank Lloyd Wright's famous Bear Run, Pennsylvania residence and introduces us to the work of Bruce Goff, a mid-century modernist. Click. Forthcoming reel sets are planned on Wright's Johnson Wax Building (Racine, Wisconsin) and on Columbus, Indiana, where forward-thinking commissions provided impetus for buildings by Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Richard Meier and other modern masters amidst the Hoosier cornfields. Click. The reel sets - with or without viewers - are available at architectural bookstores, Amazon.com, or directly from View*Productions themselves. Click.
Print: I readily admit to being someone who rarely buys books outside of art monographs or some oblique overview of Futurist cinema. My, let's put it politely, unique focus shouldn't be your literary loss... so I approached trusted friends with a "Read any good books lately?" query. Recommendations included: Blindness by Portuguese author and 1998 Nobel Laureate in Literature Jose Saramago (Harvest Books); and Andrew Sullivan's thought-provoking Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival (Vintage Books). Another 'good read' is Jane Smiley The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton (Fawcett Books) set in pre-Civil War Kansas and featuring the Missouri travels of a cross-dressing heroine. And, finally, Linden Hills by Gloria Naylor (Viking) with its depiction of class divisions within the African American community and story based on Dante's Inferno. (Thanks and a tip o' the fedora to Erica and Peter!)
American Bear #35, February / March 2000
Theatre: Don't fidget at the dinner table. Don't play with matches. Many hold those foreboding warnings from well-meaning guardians deep in their psyche. Shockheaded Peter takes those very same warnings from Heinrich Hoffmann - a German 'medical man of the lunatic asylum' who set about telling the woeful outcomes of misbehaving children as an 1844 Christmas gift for his son (Gee, thanks dad.) - and stages a deliciously macabre and sinister cabaret production. Disobedient children are swept away on windy days, incinerated, shoved under the floorboards, and impaled with malevolent flatware, but mind you, in a fully entertaining and engaging manner. You strangely appreciate any company that can employ an audience sing-along into chanting "DEAD!" all the louder. Creative staging, costuming, props and puppetry, self-effacing wit, and a wicked musical score from The Tiger Lillies (falsetto voice, stand-up bass, accordion, and percussion) lessen the guilty giggles in enjoying the player's make-believe mishaps and maladies. The top-notch production is more musical "Yes, I like children…with a little salt and pepper" theater than, say, a current barbercide staging of Sweeney Todd. Last year saw performances in New York, Houston, Washington DC, and Columbus, Ohio; Shockheaded Peter will return for additional North American performances (Canada and Minneapolis, MN) in April 2000. A final warning: Don't miss Shockheaded Peter!
Television / Cable: Saving the world before bedtime... Hanna Barbera's Powerpuff Girls offering on cable's Cartoon Network serves up a kitsch, tongue-in-cheek spin on pop culture with a trio of kindergarten superheroes: Blossom, Buttercup, and Bubbles. The titan tots battle baddies such as Fuzzy Lumpkins (who turns hometown Townsville into USDA prime cutlets of meat), Mojo Jojo (a super-evolved ape), and the de-evolved Amoeba Boys. Episodes included the wry "Mommy Fearest," "Boogie Frights," "Monkey See, Doggy Do," and, ouch, "Just Another Manic Mojo." Check out the unofficial fan website for the cartoon's FAQ, multimedia files, desktop wallpaper, and even a Powerpuff screensaver. (Hey, that Sanrio 'Hello Kitty' desktop was sooo last year!) Where else are you going to find a five-year-old cartoon character running for president? Blossom 2000 pledges, "I can't promise you the moon and stars, but I will try my best to make hopscotch the new national past time." A refreshing breath of air for stoic Washington, DC. Buttercup as vice president? Who can slight the political insight on nominating Bubbles - for her love of "squirrels, puppies and sand castles as well as her participation in public art programs" - as Secretary of the Interior? All this and a whomp-ass, closing-credits theme song by Glasgow's nouveau pop trio, Bis (EMD/Capitol).
Entertainment Side Baer: Sam Schwartz, Jr. - named Mr. Bear Invader 1999 during DCBC's Bear Invasion run this past November - is a Washington, DC playwright, script-, and screenwriter. Sam holds a Graduate Dramatic Writing degree from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. His work has been published in Telling Tales: New One-Act Plays (Penguin Books); and seen in Lives in the Balance: The March on Washington (PBS), the Very Special Arts Special hosted by Ted Kennedy, Jr., and Gay Pride/Great Performance, hosted by Lea Delaria. His most recent play, Courting Chris, had a successful and acclaimed 10-week run at Washington's Church Street Theater.
Courting Chris - a deceptively witty and engaging romantic farce - seamlessly reveals both Schwartz's comic insight and deft inspection of relationships. Well-intentioned principles unravel into slapstick mayhem when the characters deceptively cloak their true identities.
Identity issues have proven an important subject for Sam Schwartz since his first attempts at writing; Sam recalled his earliest work was a play called Blue and Yellow, written at age six. Two characters - one blue and one yellow - are unhappy with themselves, finally find each other, and become green. No where near Tony-award material, but the first inklings of a budding writer.
Nowadays those characters might be more readily named "Pink" or "Lavender." Quite often Sam writes about gay identity and what that means up-and-above making love to people of the same sex. Sam wanted to "present gay people in a play where they were just themselves - not victims, not sick, not depressed, but out, functioning human beings engaged in daily rituals just like everyone else."
Well, maybe not quite everyone else... Sam has discovered something special within the bear scene and welcomes his new role within an accepting and healing community. Those of us who applaud his plays, who cheered and hollered for him during the Mr. Bear Invader contest think we've found something special too.
American Bear #34, December 1999 / January 2000 Holiday Picks...
An on-time and on-budget completion for architect Frank Gehry's visionary addition to The Corcoran Gallery of Art; continued success and notice for the UK's instrumental, all-bass trio Rothko whose stunning 1999 debut album with A Negative for Francis (Lo Recordings) and my year's choice pick for their 12-inch remix-battle with Four Tet "Rivers Become Oceans" b/w "Rivers Become Oceans (colour defines the cityscape)" which entertained and enlightened me throughout the year; another chance to view the adaptation of Ursula LeGuin's sci-fi parable Lathe of Heaven, broadcast on PBS in 1979 but which has yet to surface on video or be rebroadcast; a Fluxus revival; and wishes to catch live performances by guitarist John Fahey and classic experimentalists Faust whose Ravvivando (Klangbad) is a power haus return to form.
American Bear #33, October / November 1999 Turkeys, Treats, and Terrors...
Music: Millennium Dance Fever. 2K "Fuck the Millennium" (Blast First / Mute) finds the resurrected persona of KLF, the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, back in full piss-and-vinegar form and cash-cowing in on the Y2K craze. (Always at the vanguard, "Fuck the Millennium" was released in 1997.) After dabbling as the K Foundation art saboteurs, 2K return to the scene of the crime and deconstruct their famous dance-trance rhythms into a scathing anthem for the new millennium. But if you've resolved yourself that it's two-thousand-zero-zero-party-over, check out the Why? 2K Anti-Millennium Party (Uni) collection, featuring such wide-ranging Armageddon end-it-all ditties such as The Gap Band "You Dropped a Bomb on Me," Oingo Boingo "Dead Man's Party" to Maureen McGovern "The Morning After" and R.E.M. "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)."
On-Line: What's more fun than a barrel of ceramic "sproing" monkeys? A boxing rabbi puppet perhaps? Most likely, a side-splitting read of the hilarious copy accompanying such wacky items at Seattle's Archie McPhee on-line store. Entertaining without even nudging your credit card balance dangerously forward...although you'll probably be tempted throughout. What respectable bruin wardrobe is complete without a sumo wrestler T-shirt? For the cowpokin' lifestyle, check out the equally oddball Ruby Montana's Pinto Pony with it's channeling Chihuahua (Louie L'Amour) and purchase a kitsch talking steer head for your dashboard. Mooooo...
Television: HBO's cutting-edge drama, Oz, portrays an in-your-face and knife-to-the-throat life inside the gritty Oswald penitentiary. Abusing drugs, sex, power and privilege, the series present a no-holds-barred life-out-of-control for Oswald's guards, prisoners, families, and administrators. Each adheres to their own rules, albeit the law, tradition, brotherhood, faith, or an gut sense of "right" and each, in turn, is held captive to the demons and dreams such commitment demands. Although the show's erotic factor first grabs many a bruin fan by the testicles - Oz graphically portrays male nudity and man-to-man sex - queer sex is mostly used as a weapon of non-consensual degradation, manipulation, and violence. Rather than a John Gage fantasy on cable television, HBO's powerhouse prison drama is more so Scared Straight. There are no safe words; no safe sex. Consistently captivating stories, top-notch acting, and quality production worthy of your attention.
American Bear #32, August / September 1999
Fine Arts: Eventually everything connects... The innovative furniture design of husband-and-wife team, Charles and Ray Eames, continues to invoke the renegade spirit of mid-century American design. Their countered, bent wood and leather lounge chair and ottoman (1956) still grace the coolest of space age bachelor pads. Uber hip furniture manufacturers Herman Miller mass-produced the duo's high-laundromat-chic molded, single-sheet fiberglass-reinforced plastic chairs for the new American household. Affordable good design for the masses. A new retrospective of the Eames genius, The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention, has been organized by the Library of Congress - recipient of the Charles and Ray's personal papers and premier site for the exhibition - and the Virta Design Museum (Weil am Rhein, Germany). Beyond the chairs that bear the Eames name, the prolific team also produced Worlds Fair multimedia environments, exhibitions, and films. Their often reproduced, but never equaled eight-minute film, Powers of Ten (1978), shoots the viewer off into space then slingshots them back to the microscopic and atomic particles by powers of ten, every ten seconds. Films by the pair will compliment the exhibit at each site. A Legacy of Invention will be on display at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, October 12 through January 09, 2000. The exhibit then travels to St. Louis and finally Los Angeles, CA.
Spoken Word: EMI UK delivers two new efforts in the label's Songbooks series, wherein wordsmiths present handsomely appointed CD-format books and compile their personal musical accompaniments. Scribe Savage Pencil presents The Antiquack Dead Duck, a tale of travesty involving his legendary comic figure, Dead Duck, in collaboration with the rotted spirit of Jim Morrison. Antiquack is feathered with eclectic tracks from Duke Ellington, Sun Ra, John Fahey, Bonzo Dog Band, The Beach Boys, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Faust, and Captain Beefheart. The irascible Ivor Cutler ("Once one has heard him, one tends to be charmed for life," says progressive music distributor Wayside Music) presents Cute, (H)ey? as his offering to the series. Cutler's introduction to the greater masses came with his appearance in The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour feature (which also offered early exposure to a nascent Bonzo Dog Doh Dah Band). Above his own harmonium and hilarious spoken word offerings, Cutler's picks include 20th Century classical music and classic Black singers - Nina Simone, Béla Bartók, Arvo Pärt, Miriam Makeba, and Mahalia Jackson - amongst his selections. Other writers/cartoonists in the Songbooks series include gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Ralph Steadman, horror-meister Clive Barker, and Robert (keep on truckin') Crumb.
The historical compendium, Luna Park (Sub Rosa import), is an audio gem; collecting readings from as early as 1913 to the mid-80's. The disc features Dada sound poets Ray Huelsenbeck, Kurt Schwitters, and Tristan Tzara, along with a lecturing Marcel Duchamp, James Joyce reading from Finnegan's Wake, Gertrude Stein, Apollinaire, Artaud, e.e. cummings, and Brion Gysin's ricocheting sound piece, "Pistol Poem"(1960), with its echoing Beat rhythm of gun fire and cut-up countdowns. Many selections are featured in their author's native French or German so have your babblefish ready. God deliver any translations for the frantic, purely phonetic sound of the Dada word-benders.
American Bear #31, June / July 1999
Music: Since our January 1998 column, Bryin Dall and his Loretta's Doll cohorts have been wonderfully productive: their Nocturnal Arcade album was released; Dall's alias 4th Sign of the Apocalypse and Thee Majesty project with Genesis P'Orridge (ex-Psychic TV and ex- Industrial music icons,Throbbing Gristle); Kevin J. Dunn's Middle Pillar mail-order site has issued its first CD, What is Eternal; plus new Loretta's Doll member, Derek Rush, with his band, Dream Into Dust released No Man's Land (Chthonic Streams), and a Dall/Rush collaboration, Of Unknown Origin Seven Ovens of the Soul (on Dall's Suffering Clown label). Dall took a moment from a busy production schedule to discuss his music and forthcoming releases of post-Gothic, dark and introspective sound...
American Bear: For newcomers to your music - and the whole dark music scene - what are some introductory CD's that you'd suggest?
Bryin Dall: The Middle Pillar release What is Eternal, is a good starting point. Also, an Italian compilation based on the Major Arcana of the Tarot, Palace of Worms, released in cooperation with Black magazine (Germany). The two-disc set will come with a deck specifically designed for the release, and will be available from Middle Pillar distribution.
AB: Being vocalist-lyricist for Lorretta's Doll, what's it like touring solely as a guitarist behind Genesis's spoken word with Thee Majesty?
BD: Genesis gives me free reign to express myself; being the only instrumentalist on-stage and on the album allows total freedom of expression.
AB: Ever spot that odd-bear-out or inquisitive bruin in the audience?
BD: Funny, actually, I meet a bear at a Death in June concert who later alerted me that Lorretta's Doll was reviewed in the American Bear music column. It surprised him that I was a subscriber and already knew about the write-up. He's now signed to my label as Sword Volcano Complex, with a disc out soon.
Bryin promises a wealth of new music coming from his Suffering Clown label: After their North American tour with Pigface, Thee Majesty played the Royal Academy of Music, London, in May; their premier release, Time's Up, debuted at the concert and is now available from Middle Pillar. Bryin as 4th Sign of the Apocalypse has a limited two-CD set, A Box Full of Demons - encompassing Frolic of the Demons and Leftover Demons - forthcoming, with Frolic issued as a single non-editioned issue soon after. Also, a new Lorretta's Doll album is due by year's end. But most interesting, a Bryin Dall solo outing of straight-forward county; stripped-down and sullen renditions of classic Hank Williams, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings songs! Never a dull moment...
Addendum: BTW, Bryin is single and looking; drop him an e-mail.
World Wide Web: A bit late for Easter, but check out the Peeps Research Center. Side-splitting fun all year round. Pseudo-science and health-quackery meet marshmallow confections. Tasteless and hilarious...and the website is a worthy treat, too! And, what the heck, makes a guy sore! So, here's a big slurp from Cecil, The Seasick Sea Serpent, thrown in for good measure...in a Bob Clampett cartoooon.
Visual Arts: Bear History Project coordinator and author, Les Wright has curated the Bear Icons exhibit. Bear Icons: Collective Artists' Work: 1984-1999 / Gay Male Masculinity in Two-dimensional Art Forms is the first-ever collective showing of bear-oriented photography, multimedia, pencil, pen, and oil artworks, ranging from fine arts to documentary to erotica, by artists from across the states, Canada, and Great Britain. The exhibit premiered at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, New York, this past spring and features artists including Mark I. Chester, TJ Norris, John Rand, Lynn Ludwig, and Wright. Originally conceived as a visual supplement to Wright's Bear Book compendiums, Bear Icons is available as a touring exhibit by contacting Les Wright.
Queer Arts Resources is a not-for-profit educational forum for the display and discussion of queer art and culture. Their homepage features the SiteWorks gallery, a bookshop, opportunities for on-line discussion, and more. The Washington DC-based Triangle Artists Group (TAG) site features area artists in two virtual galleries at; the group's literary and arts publication, Spoonfed, is also on-line.
Performing Arts: After a record win at the 1999 Grammy Awards for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Sony Music), it seems as though Hip-Hop culture is moving into the public consciousness. While taking strides toward a greater artistic acceptance, mainstream America sadly white-bread sidesteps Hip Hop when it comes to other artistic expressions. Witness same-said miseducation of b-boy as mere cultural novelty and mislabeled "break dancing" - instead of its recognition as a valid concert dance expression. Welcome Philadelphia-based Rennie Harris Puremovement to break those misconceptions and to educate the masses in the sheer celebration of Hip-Hop movement. Harris and company have toured to rave reviews across America, presenting their audiences with "a sincere view of the essence and spirit of Hip Hop, rather than the commercially exploited stereotype most often presented by the media." The company integrates street smart poetry, social theater, step, lock and pure movement from the African-American and Latino communities into their performances. Harris' autobiographical "Endangered Species" decries the staggering death rate of young black men to violence, while his hallmark work "Urban Asphalt" is a celebratory paean to the endurance and sheer emotion expressed in the dance of inner-city streets. Search Rennie Harris Puremovement out when the tour or check out the company's website.
Television and Cable: If you've grown bored of so-called "must see" TV and there's no new Powerpuff Girls episode, switch channels and blissfully zone out to the mindlessly terrifying, nihilistic and utter goofitude of MTV's Sifl & Olly - the tongue-in-cheek programming of Cartoon Network's Space Ghost: Coast to Coast taken to a hilarious conclusion. Sifl and Olly are "two gifted, hilarious, musical, opinionated characters, who also happen to be sock puppets." You heard right...sock puppets. The rampant oddness doesn't stop there - the show chides and lampoons music videos, home shopping (Sifl and Olly pose as spokes-puppets of the imaginary Precious Roy Home Shopping Network), and Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, all the while "engag[ing] in riveting, random discussions." Side-splitting stream of consciousness for the argyle generation. Archive adventures of their darn(ed) malarkey are available on MTV's homepage. Sock puppets! Who'd a-thunk?
Okay! So I sat through Kevin Costner's numbing The Postman on cable, but mind you, it was solely for the abundant bearded and burly actors. Wait...The Postman and "acting" in the same sentence...nope, just can't do it. Costner has an uncanny knack for surrounding his limited talents with quality art direction, cinematography, and musical score. Case in point: Dances With Wolves composer Peter Buffett presents the wholly more engaging Spirit - A Journey in Dance, Drums and Song, a contemporary weaving of Native American artists, sonic spirituality, and modern dance. The performance video is making the rounds of public television stations, so check your local listings. Fans of Enigma, Mike Oldfield, and Deep Forest will find kindred spirit in Buffett's music and staging with none of Costner's aesthetic disconnect and lumbering self-importance.
American Bear #30, April / May 1999
Music: Flare's LD Beghtol and Musical Bearings alumni Chris Xefos have teamed up to form moth wranglers. The collaboration's first release will be a 7-inch single to be released on Mother West this spring - a country swingesque love song about Dennis Nielson (the British serial killer/cannibal) - with a full length album in the making. The recordings feature guest musicians from The Magnetic Fields, The Geraldine Fibbers, Loud Family, Sparklehorse, Klezmatics, Science Park, Future Bible Heroes, and Weycross among them. Beghtol says moth wranglers will utilize a variety of non-rock instruments and musical toys - autoharp, ukulele, melodica, analogue drum machines and vintage keyboards/synths, xylophone, and bells - in odd combinations and lots of strings to augment the basic guitars and keyboards sound. "Sort of an alt-pop cabaret backed by a house band that's conceptually somewhere between the Swans and the Carter Family...by way of de Sade and Will Self," says Beghtol. "It's also very literary, arty and staunchly non-ironic...somehow."
MusicBear Music by a "Bear" for the "Bear Community" (Ski Hill Records) finds a journeyman singer/songwriter premiering his folksy and friendly tunes. His bluesy acoustic guitar is sparingly accompanied on a handful of songs by violin, bass, background vocals or drum brush work. Sound clips from the disc are available at MusicBear's website. There, he also explains that his music is indirectly "Bear" related, in that he writes about his own experiences, which makes his music the titled "Bear" music for the "Bear" Community. He also expresses his enjoyment at being a "Bear" and spending time with and among other like-minded ursine. If the camaraderie of sharing an evening of songs and stories with your bruin buddies is your favored pastime, this disc extends the warmest of welcomes. Music by a "Bear" for the "Bear Community" is available for $12.00 (cash or cheque/money order payable to: Ski Hill Records, Box 333 Ogden Dunes, Portage IN 46368-8719).
Television and Cable: According to creators Aardman Animation (home to Wallace and Gromit), Rex the Runt, Wendy, Bad Bob and Vince are a canine clan who "share a suburban semi and dream of stardom, adventure and excitement," but much more prefer "watching TV, eating and clearing out the shed." Rex was launched by two oblique Aardman shorts: "How Dinosaurs Became Extinct" - a bullet passes unhampered through Vince's cranium and whips out their reptilian guest star - and "Dreams," wherein our wobbly, bobbly, dribbly, squiggly hero is cast as David Lynch's hapless lead and thrust Eraserhead-first into a Brothers Quay-scripted claymation hallucination. The BBC now offers thirteen new 10-minute episodes! We await them patiently on this side of the pond...It's time for a doggy dialogue!
Performing Arts: Vancouver's The Holy Body Tattoo deliver an assertive, thrash-and-bruise choreography. In the touring Our Brief Eternity (1996), the trio of Canadian dancers - spiritually tethered full-body to the dance floor - continually push-me/pull-you in clipped interactions. Racked by gravity's pull, they strive to exert themselves upwards in mechanical, scissoring jabs, only to collapse back to the stage. Meanwhile, their horizontal repetitions are mimicked vertically behind them - like a surreal hangman's dance - projected in large black-and-white films. Their jerky Robert Longo "Men in the City" contortions are further syncopated with video-text projections, all set to a throbbing punk and electronic soundtrack. A cattle-prod, kick-start to the stomach of modern dance. Holy Body Tattoo posses a powerful vocabulary; physical language and unabashed energy worth searching out.
Visual Arts: Starting in 1942, Phillippe Halsman went on to photograph over one hundred covers for Life before the magazine ceased production in 1972. Halsman captured insightful portraits of mid-century celebrities, thinkers, artists and politicians. His whimsical "Jump" series literally caught his subjects mid-air; featured "jumpers" included: Vice President Richard Nixon, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and even J. Robert (Father of the Atomic Bomb) Oppenheimer, all heading skyward. (Herbert Hoover declined.) The infamous Dali Atomicus (1948) features the catapulting Salvador Dali amidst floating easels, arcs of water, and several terrified "flying," very wet, and wholly not-amused cats. (Contact the ASPCA!) But Halsman's lens could as easily capture the sensuality of Marilyn Monroe, the seriousness of Joan Baez, or the timeless grace and style of Audrey Hepburn. Organized by the Smithsonian Institution, Philippe Halsman: A Retrospective can now be seen at the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, through May 1999; then on to the Grand Rapids Art Museum, MI; Toledo, OH; and finally Manchester, NH.
American Bear #29, February / March 1999 Wherein we stretch out to cover more media...
Music: Don't let rotation impede your education: I swear one rhythm track from Stock, Hausen & Walkman Oh My Bag! (Hot Air, UK import) is actually a pair of malfunctioning electric hedge-trimmers. These off-the-wall sampler-artists - their own name a silly amalgamation of eminent electronic composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, pop producers Stock, Aiken and Waterman (think Rick Ashtley), and Sony's Walkman - shamelessly pillage and plunder samples from cheesy bongo records, 50s easy listening music, game shows and consumer Pop culture. Potentially too intelligent for their own good, SH&W subvert any high culture snobbery with elbow-to-the-ribs, tongue-in-cheek mastery and self-effacing dancehall beats: Trip-Hop, Trance and Molotov Cocktail lounge to manic Drum 'n' Bass and breakneck Veg-o-Matic audio cut-ups. Uncanny self-restraint, devilish insight, and you can dance to it! Check out their maddening, minimalist deconstruction of the Beach Boy's "Good Vibrations" (Capito? 7-inch, import) - the vanguard pop single slowed down to a solitary one revolution-per-minute on a specially constructed turntable - or the group's 1996 EMMA award-winning CD-ROM Venitian Deer with collaborators Die Veteranen. "Welcome. You have no individual mind - you're an amoebae." (Intro to SH&W's Hairballs album.) Singularly, single-cell enjoyment!
Machine Code collaborators Mike Dred and Peter Green Virtual Farmer (Rephlex, UK import) is a successful experimentation in audio cross-pollination: modern classical orchestrations beget electro-acoustic noise and break-beat thump; Autechre "Second Bad Vibel" with hybrid, high-brow cultivation; classical sound experimentalist Iannis Xennakis fuels Techno thrashers and spins Trance Europe Express combines. The CD issue also includes an IBM/PC-readable video for the opener, "Cornucopian 105." Now that we've got green fingers, some gardening needs to be done. Plow my fertile fields...
Film and Video: Take this job and... Art photographer Cindy Sherman takes her B-movie styling to the big screen in quirky horror paean, Office Killer (1997). After Constant Consumer magazine is downsized, dowdy copy editor Dorine Douglas (Carol Kane) decides to, ahem, bring the magazine's embattled co-workers to her basement "home office." Although singularly campy and macabre at sharp right turns, Sherman's directorial debut, doesn't quite get up to - pardon the expression - snuff as her lauded film favorite, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; nevertheless, Kane certainly excels as the disgruntled telecommuter driven over the edge in a worthwhile art house gore-fest.
Home and Video Garden...Stumped at the video store? Check out the Mobius striptease of Alex Proyas' enigmatic film noir feature, Dark City (1998)...The Deer Hunter (1978) with Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep...and, wrongfully lost in the Titanic rush for 1997's Best Picture Oscar, rent L.A. Confidential. Cable: Enough with Richard Karn, already! HGTV's Gardening by the Yard features silver-haired and broad mustachioed host Paul James. Woof-dah! Plow my fertile fields... Museums: Video artist Nam June Paik, whose installations include Video Garden (neat segue, eh?), has created the ambitious, billboard-sized Megatron/Matrix, a skittering wall of 215 monitors, audio cut-ups, video loops and seamless computer animation; at turns, mesmerizing and meditative, syncopated and stimulating. Technologically challenging, aesthetically rewarding. This is not your father's television...
World Wide Web: Good reason to run away and join the Circus...an absolutely transforming experience, catch Cirque du Soleil live; keep an eye out for the 1999 USA tour of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's 3D extravaganza Monsters of Grace, hypnotic, high-tech opera for the MTV generation; discover guilty pleasure within the warped contestants of the Cat Scan Contest;and challenge consumer culture at Ad Busters - Culture Jammers Headquarters.
American Bear #28, December 1998 / January 1999
Get those credit cards ready! Here are some musical wish lists from a virtual sloth of hirsute musicians, reviewers - including our new woofer, Charlie Myers - and American Bear fans who surely would love to have a certain plump, white-bearded bruin stuff his hot goodies deep into their stockings this holiday season! Operators are standing by...
R.H. Bear, Bile
A new record label that doesn't fuck us the bad way; a video of Jim and Joseph in their "Funk Aerobics" class; an unlimited supply of hot men's underwear...preferably used (But no skid marks, please!); a new bass guitar (I'm cheap, I'll take anything!); a box set of unreleased Queen material; as many homemade porno tapes as people care to send me...I'm a pig, I love to watch!
Patrick Goodwin, Pansy Division
All I want for Christmas is...front row seats to KISS at Pontiac Silverdome for New Year's Eve...but front row San Francisco will do just fine; a really nice, mind-numbing, full-body, deep-tissue massage...I want to be drooling on myself for three days afterward; and Bill Goldberg!
Pete Moffett, Burning Airlines
Hey Bearzes, my Christmas wishes this year are: I'd like to have a real long intense jam session with Cheap Trick's woofy drummer, the fantastic Bun E. Carlos. It'd be great to see us two drummers hammer it out in a closed room for an hour or so. Oh yeah, eventually we'd get around to playing drums! Wish number two is that you all buy the Burning Airlines album, due after the new year with the working title The Deluxe War Baby and come see us when we tour your town this winter/spring. (Shameless plug, huh?) It's a cool record I swear! Happy Holidays!
LD Beghtol, Flare
A drum 'n' bass album featuring the voices of Johnny Cash and Judy Garland, created by The Chemical Brothers...imagine the plunderphonic hoe-down possibilities of mixing these two speed freaks at their most tweaked with some hi-velocity; a Virgin Prunes tribute album featuring: Low, The Gothic Archies, Belle & Sebastian, The Indigo Girls, Gary Numan, Trembling Blue Stars, Suede, Billy Corgan and Courtney Love...and Flare, of course; and the new album, 69 Love Songs, by The Magnetic Fields - delivered on time (it's rumored to be in stores by Valentine's Day).
JS (Jim) Adams, Musical Bearings
It's the little things that mean a lot...some 7-inch wants: The trip-hop grindings of Slack Dog Ensemble (Flowershop UK); the clear vinyl Main "Coderays" on Syntactic Records UK; and Japanese audio-bombardiers Ground-Zero "Live Mao 99" (Panemonium Rdz Japan). For the man who has everything...12-inches! Seefeel "More Like Space" and "Plainsong" on limited-edition colored vinyl. 20-inches? Woofda?!?! The delivery of the promised double 10-inch release from M.A.S.S. (Main Activated Sound System) - CD-R drone 'n' bass; and fingers crossed that the reformed downtown power trio, Massacre (Fred Frith, Bill Laswell, and now with drummer Charles Hayward), tours the States.
Want to support more gay musicians with your gift-giving this holiday season? Boston bruin Ernest David Lijoi presents songs of detailed craftsmanship and heart-felt delivery on his debut release, Parody Romantic ($16.00US from Hamlet Records, PO Box 2335, Ogunquit ME 03907). His singer-songwriter talents are at turns rewardingly introspective or passionately forward in tone, full of a storyteller's lyricism - from the melancholy and fragile realizations dedicated to a friend lost in the Pan Am air disaster over Lockerbie, Scotland ("How Was England?") or introducing us to the familiar warmth and whimsy of life on "Chandler Street," having brunch with downstairs neighbors Steven and his lover Joe, where "Steven dresses like Jackie O." Lijoi's voice, guitar and compositions are comfortably at home with the emotional "No Pain," the country swagger and detailed lyricism of "Pride" (She saw her face in her breakfast spoon...her reflection was upside down, it had been years since she'd seen herself smile...), or the Flamenco flare and guitar wallop-and-punch of the progressive rocker "A Better Way." Parody Romantic is a passionate debut that delivers a multiple of goods.
Ernest David Lijoi
John Lennon rises from beyond and The Beatles do a reunion tour; ditto for John Bonham and Led Zeppelin...with the addition of Jimmy Page suddenly remembering how to play guitar; and Stephen Sondheim writes a musical version of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake.
American Bear #27, October / November 1998
"Dude, this is pretty fucked up..." - South Park resident Stan Marsh, The Spirit of Christmas. Twisted Science The Sharpest Tool in the Box (Lo Recordings, import) gives me a headache. If this were on vinyl, you'd swear it was playing off-center, was horridly scratched or warped; nightmare visions of St. Vitus dance floor victims given over to ravishing sonic attack: "There will be bleeding from orifices." But I mean all this in the kindest sense of the words - Tool is a powerful workbench of new ideas and directions for electronic music. Gouges and awls are driven through the deep vinyl groove, distortion boxes retch guitar melodies from thick electronic goo. Like being drawn toward the scene of some horrible accident, you can't avert your eyes or ears. Chief scientist Jon Tye manipulates concussion-inducing rhythms and impenetrable textures into brilliant, attention-grabbing head(phones)-on collisions.
The bear-factor within the 165 member choruses of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses finds concert events often rivaling bear gatherings for woofy scenery. The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington proudly presents the gay and lesbian instrumental talents behind those woofers and tweeters. Proud & Peaceful highlights both original piano compositions and classics from Debussy, Gershwin, Rachmaninoff, and Mendelssohn-Hensel by performers representing the Rainbow Chorus of Fort Collins, Colorado; GMCW; Boston; the Portland Lesbian Chorus; MUSE - Cincinnati's Women's Choir; Dallas' Turtle Creek Chorale; Minneapolis; and the Denver Women's Choir. Proud & Peaceful is available from the GMCW website; portions of each sale are tagged to benefit GALA Choruses, Inc. Music to soothe the savage bruin.
Hidden within its austere, minimalist packaging, Autechre (Warp, import) offers a human pulse and more heartbeats-per-minute than previous clinical electronic outings from the British duo. Sean Booth and Rob Brown's untitled fifth album weaves dark, experimental broodings with highlights of a human pulse and great intellect. Autechre compositions simultaneously grow and decay. Handfuls of mercurial music, momentarily refresh and invigorate before slipping beyond your ears, returning to their skeletal origins as new, slippery rhythms and sequenced patterns captivate you. Musical chairs between left and right brainwaves. (Trent Reznor's Nothing label plans an upcoming domestic release of the disc with a rumored US tour forthcoming with drum 'n' bass kingpin Squarepusher.)
The Lyricist (Queercorps) is the debut solo release by emcee Cyryus, part of the out hip-hop duo One in Ten. "Fifteen cuts of raw underground beats - all original, no filler..." For more information on Cyryus (pronounced "serious") and other queer music, contact Queercorps - the final issue of Outpunk posted there has a good article on "Queers 'n' Hip-Hop" which includes a candid Cyryus interview. The Lyricist is available through Chainsaw mail order.
Womblife (Table of Elements) kicks the master folk guitarist John Fahey into the post-rock decade. Producer Jim O'Rourke (ex-Gastr del Sol, The Deacons with Tortoise's John McEntire) has always been a fan of Fahey's rich guitar fingerings and heart-tugging litanies; his America and Voice of the Turtles (Fantasy/Takoma) are endearing cultural blueprints to many fans. The collaboration finds Fahey's dissonant, metallic picking and blues slide drones filtered through O'Rourke's tonal waves, complimentary Gamelan percussion and the buzzes, hums and clicking "evidence of process" of microphone wirings. Womblife closes with classic Fahey, the twelve-minute "Juana," lush with melody and distinctive American flare. The field laborers and rail workers of Delta blues infamy are now fractured memories, but ably replaced with sampled train whistles and the digital grit and gravel of 21st Century blues; field recordings for the new millennium.
Bears Repeated Listening: A reformed Slapp Happy present Ça Va (V2, import), a wonderful up-date to their avant-pop-cabaret style; Dagmar Krause, Anthony Moore and Peter Blegvad return in top form ... wit, intelligence, strangeness and charm.
American Bear #25, June / July 1998
"I only speak English. I'm sorry," apologizes Jim O'Rourke at the end of "The Seasons Reverse." O'Rourke, making a field recording of a French child shooting off firecrackers, could not answer the child's inquires in his native tongue. No apologies necessary as Gastr del Sol Camoufleur (Drag City) speaks volumes in an expanded, eloquent vocabulary for the duo of David Grubbs and O'Rourke, with assist from Markus Popp (Oval) and John McEntire (Tortoise). A fitting requiem as Grubbs and O'Rourke have now parted ways. Camoufleur hits the grand-pop melancholy of Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom and ricochets into a wondrous territory of jigs, jabs and skittering soliloquies. Decay begets beauty.
Ubu Roi David Thomas plants a proverbial foot squarely into his mouthpiece, Pere Ubu, on their new release Pennsylvania (Tim/Kerr). This is a good thing. Ubu never takes itself too seriously and we reap the rewards. Pennsylvania keenly reinvents the Dub Housing legacy by opening and closing many car doors during its long, strange trip: guitar-driven rock, all wiry, beatnik and break neck. Twang. Dark explorations written with Morse code keyboards and slide-guitar. The disc drives off the tried-and-true road; Thomas welcomes us to Pennsylvania waving and warning: History is rewritten faster than it can happen. Culture is a weapon that's used against us. Nah, culture is a swampland of superstition, ignorance & abuse. Geography is a language they can't screw up. This is a good thing. Pennsylvania provides a detailed roadmap of the must-hear roadside attractions.
Always good to get some new music done by American Bear readers and music makers:
More songs about building relationships and feuds: Dedicated to those who took our love and failed to return it. Flare -- LD Beghtol, Damian Costilla, Ernest Adzentoivich -- present introspective, yet rich, novellas of stripped-down emotion and sparse instrumentation in their debut release, Bottom (Tamper, $15US from Tamper c/o Paul Collegio, Box 1343 Framingham MA 01701 / contact: Flare). Melancholy-intoned voice, classical guitar, string bass complemented with occasional violin, keyboard and percussion, whisper knowingly: Celebrate the misery...
Richard Chartier Direct.Incidental.Consequential (Intransitive, $10US from or PO Box 12254 Gainesville FL 32604) is new electronic music "intended for headphone use." Stark, ominous sonic dislocations; low frequency rattle and hum for the 21st Century. Concentrated listening worth the effort.
Your flight crew are two ex-Jawbox guitarists and a bruin powerhaus of a drummer; Burning Airlines "Carnival" b/w "Scissoring" (DeSoto Records 7-inch / $3.50US from or PO Box 60335 Washington DC 20039; contact their woofy drummer Pete Moffett) delivers aggressive, intelligent tunes and discordant power pop. Alternative Press gave this single their April pick of the month and for good reason: Burning Airlines give you so much more…
Bears Repeated Listening: Philip Glass and Natalie Merchant team up for the chilling "Planctus" broadcast on PBS' Sessions at West 54th; vital viewing ... Tone Rec Pholcus and Thugny-Trugny (Sub Rosa, imports) thump, thump drill team percussion and ecstatic electric discharges; insidious rhythms and sonar ambience; the sound of electricity traveling though a glass of water ... Holger Czukay vs. Dr. Walker Crash (Tone Casualties) finds the ex-Can and Air Liquide audio-auteurs in Cabaret Voltaire conversations and loopy dissonant discourse ... Tammy Wynette and her contribution to The KLF "Justified and Ancient" (TVT/Wax Trax) ... and am continually amazed by cellist Yo Yo Ma "Libertango (reprise)" from The Tango Lesson (Sony Classical).
American Bear #24, April / May 1998
"Sugar Sugar" and Spice and Soundtracks So Nice; Nine Inch Nails and Parking Lot Tales ...
Many unique and visionary music-themed videos never make it to festival features nor become available for rental; instead these cult classics are copied and traded among audience, bands and roadcrews. Jeff Krulik and John Heyn's twisted paean, Heavy Metal Parking Lot (1986), filmed Judas Priest fans outside the Capital Centre in Landover MD. The idea of a follow-up with Barbra Steisand fans was scrubbed as the idea came to the duo just as Babs took to the stage of the renamed USAir Arena; the team then returned to the asphalt insights for Neil Diamond Parking Lot (1996). Both features are honest, albeit humorous, snapshots of metal and pop fandom and well worth scouting out.
Other delicious evils making the rounds of the tour bus-circuit are: The Archies cartoon-miming the Sex Pistols "God Save the Queen" ... Apocalypse Pooh, Winnie the Pooh cartoons grafted to the Apocalypse Now soundtrack. "It's a tiger! It's a fucking tiger," screams Dennis Hopper as Tigger bounds through Pooh's front door ... the Emmy Award-winning Dancing Outlaw has Appalachian step-dancing, gas huffing and Elvis impersonations. Wot more would you ever need in family entertainment? ... and the Peanuts gang eeriely re-edited to David Lynch's Blue Velvet; creepy and ultimately disturbing. Blue Peanuts features Snoopy blowing foam off his root beer, "Heinken? Fuck that shit!" Lucy Van Pelt mouthing Isabella Rossellini's lines sure scares the bejeezus outta me! Even more so than the idea of a Spice Girls' movie ... although bruin buddies were pleasantly surprised by Spiceworld, its tongue-in-cheek camp, and its host of cameos (Dame Edna Everage, Elvis Costello, Roger Moore and others). While I also admit being enthralled by the equally-manufactured FGTH pop commodification and sloganerism; I somehow doubt the girls' recording output to ever include a love song to a sphincter.
Video Rental: The Beatles Hard Day's Night ... guitar-busting Yardbirds ("Stroll On" with both Page and Beck) in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up and his later, unfortunately difficult Zabriskie Point which muddies a great soundtrack (Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, John Fahey, and Patti Page), now reissued as a 2-CD set with previous unreleased takes from Floyd and Jerry Garcia ... Sally Potter Orlando and Tango Lesson, both superb soundtracks and vision ... the celebrated free-jazz soundtrack to Michael Snow's New York Eye and Ear Control featuring Albert Ayler, Don Cherry and others ... Marlene Deitrich and Gary Cooper Morocco ... Liv Tyler, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Deborah Harry, Shelly Winters and Evan Dando in Heavy, with music including Dando, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, The Connells and more ... Mozart The Magic Flute, Ingmar Bergman, director (1975) ... The Hard Nut, The Mark Morris Dance Group's punk interpretation of The Nutcracker ... Richard Strauss Elektra, Goetz Friedrich, director (1982) ... Mahler Symphony No. 8 "Symphony of a Thousand," Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic (1989) ... John Mellencamp Falling from Grace with Nanci Griffith, John Prine, Janis Ian, Dwight Yoakam and others ... Wild Style and Style Wars, two important documents of early hip-hop culture ... and Urban Cowboy (Bob Seegar, Charlie Daniels, Bonnie Raitt, Mickey Gilley, etal), its soundtrack only recently available on CD. (Thanks and a tip o' the fedora to good buddies Wayne for the country suggestions; Willie; Dan for jazz and hip-hop; Jim for catching blue angels; and Bill for culture.)
Short Features and Coming Attractions: Austere and decidedly chilly, Dutch Harbor: Where The Sea Breaks Its Back (Atavistic) with its compatible soundtrack by The Boxhead Ensemble (a meeting of Chicago's post rock / new music camp including members of Gastr del Sol, Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day) with the added "Ebb's Folly" written by Will (Palace) Oldham and performed by Jim O'Rourke and Oldham; forbidding, stark black and white tone poems ... Vancouver's Perfume Tree Feeler (World Domination) plants sequencers and Sandoz seances amidst dreamy pop, all buoyed by brilliant dub beats, mantra guitar delays and Jane Tilley's ethereal vocals; IDM as Intelligent Dream Merchants ... Uilab (Ui and Stereolab) Fires 10-inch and CDsingle (Bingo, import) ... Trent and David playing nice together on "I'm Afraid of Americans" (EMD/Virgin) ... September Band's (Hans Reichel, guitar and daxophone; Shelly Hirsch, voice; Rüdiger Carl, accordion and clarinet; Paul Lovens, percussion) showpiece of vaudevillian and heroes, The Vandoeuvre Concert (FMP, import); twisted and shouted cabaret, Pale Nudes descending staircases, Art Bears and Hat Shoes ... word of the reformed Slapp Happy and new disc ... and so nice to hear the hoarse dirge of Marianne Faithfull tugging apart "The Memory Remains" from Metallica Reload (Elektra).
American Bear #23, February / March 1998
Imagine songs so 'evil' that a government would work to suppress and censor then from existence. Ute Lemper Berlin Cabaret Songs (London) is an enlightening collection of "Entartete Musik" or "degenerate music" -- music suppressed or 'displaced' during the political turmoil and artistic-whitewash of Third Reich Germany. Cabaret during the pre-war Weimar Republic was decidedly modern, saucy, in-your-face social commentary, sexy and unabashedly pro-gay (as shown in "Das lila Lied" - "The Lavender Song"). This cabaret collection is available sung in either German or English translation true to the irony and sauciness of the original text; London Records has issued two operas in the series and plans additional "Entartete Musik" discs. Blue angels in the architecture.
"Post, Rock, Intuitive, Math, Electronic - Call It What You Like - This Is Now!" intones Slow Death in the Metronome Factory (World Domination). While Details magazine declared 1998 the year for Garbage and frontperson Shirley Manson, Metronome Factory offers it's own selections, much proudly wearing its Krautrock roots on their (record) sleeves: Pram's Ege Bamyasi-meets-Blondie "Carnival of Souls"; the Neu! York drones of Germany's Rossburger Report; Ui's drum (machine) 'n' (two) bass ethnological forgery; and the short wave dub vs. short circuit Malcolm Mooney space rant of Critters Buggin. Given Details' criteria, the vitriolic "Vitamin X" by Scala should be huge given they out-perform Garbage at their own metal-cum-electronic, castigating game. (A new album from Scala should be out when you read this.) Along with dream pop, electro-dub, Tuetonic tabla tomes, Silver Apples vs. breakbeat and post-guitar offerings from Sweden, Vancouver, Japan, Los Angeles, Scenic (led by ex-Savage Republic Bruce Licher) and Swim labelmates Wallstar and Colin Newman, Metronome Factory presents a lively flavor of tunes that should be gracing your ears. (Further reward yourself by picking up Swim's worthy two-disc Water Communications sampler also distributed domestically by World Domination.)
Fans enjoying Rossburger Report's detuned guitar-orchestrations should also check out Glenn Branca and Washington DC's Tone.
It's been a long time; I almost forgot where we buried the hatchet... The welcome return of an old friend, Robert Wyatt Shleep (Hannibal, import) is Wyatt's first full album since 1991. Wyatt's trademark keyboards, percussion and melancholy alto voice are given able assistance from Brian Eno (synth), Evan Parker (sax), Phil Manzanera, Philip Catherine and Paul Weller on guitars, and Chikako Sato (violin) among other compliments. The Wyatt vocabulary reads strong throughout: somber, whimsical, British eccentricity, pop and jazz explorations, deceptively simple musical charades and eloquent sleight of hand...less is rewardingly more. Shleep ("fat chance to dream") may well be Wyatt's most accomplished work since his classic Rock Bottom and as singularly determined in vision as his 1974 Top of the Pops appearance, wheelchair-bound and bearded, crooning Neil Diamond's "I'm a Believer." Music that feeds your head, soul and spirit.
For additional fuzzy logic with an acerbic folk twist, check out Ani DeFranco / Utah Phillips The Past Didn't Go Anywhere (Righteous Babe Records); Phillips' woodsy tales wrapped snuggly in DeFranco's atmospheric smoke and mirrors.
Japan's Ground-Zero Plays Standards (Nani, import) plays full-frontal sonic deconstruction with John Phillip Souza, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Japanese TV and "Those Were the Days" beseiged by tone-arm and scapel...big band, big bang; then turns (turn)tables on it's own Consume Red project with remixes by Gastr del Sol, Violent Onsen Geisha and audio-saboteurs Stock, Hausen and Walkman on Conflagration (Sank-Ohso, import); breathtaking audio tours of the Tower of Babel in full collapse; downtown and beat up.
BubbleCore's The Corners of the Mouth, a benefit compilation for The School of Sound (part of The Sound Healers Association, a non-profit dedicated to teaching the healing powers of music and sound), offers previously unreleased tracks, remixes and rarities from international artists exploring the electronic landscape. Moby's Voodoo Child compliment, Oval ("Polygon Med Pak"), a cinemagraphically lush offering from Scanner, Mouse on Mars ("Funkytiste") and AUBE's minimalist pulsings, plus wonderful discoveries from BubbleCore's own The Dylan Group and The Philistines Jr. are among the rewards, benefiting listener and The School of Sound alike.
American Bear #22, December 1997 /
A small package of value will be coming to you shortly. Online music shopping and independent releases; Hey..this is more fun than ordering from the Neiman-Marcus holiday catalogue!
One of the joys of co-writing this column comes with mutual acquaintances of bearish pleasures in challenging music. Denver bruins Ben Hackworth and Rick Polley at Synaptic Records specialize in electronic and experimental music from IDM to ambient, breakbeat to Goa/Trance, trip-hop and back. Synaptic originated as a webstore in July 1996, opening a storefront on National Coming Out Day (October 11) later that same year. Whereas the overall gay community used to push the music and arts scene further, it now sadly seems to settle these days for mainstream mass media; Ben and Rick would like to see the Bear community champion the cause celebre again, "Bears have always ignored the standards of the gay community and forged ahead -- we'd like to see that happen in the music scene as well." So, if you find yourself out prowling Front Range Bear territory, stop by their shop (608 S. Broadway, Denver CO) and forage through the newest electronic and experimental nuts and berries.
CRI (Composers Recordings, Inc.) offerings two rewarding discs of contemporary classical performances under the Gay American Composers banner; volume one features Robert Maggio, whose own Seven Mad Gods has also been issued by the label, dropped us an e-mail alert about the releases. CRI offers a catalogue chock-a-block full of innovative 20th Century music: Milton Babbitt, Harry Partch, Pauline Oliveros, Morton Fledman, and Lou Harrison (also represented on Gay American Composers), as well as many newfound voices. A cornucopia of contemporary composition: Romantic, lyrical and lush to challenging, dissonant and computer-driven. Historic electronic music recordings include choreographer Alwin Nikolais' early Moog compositions for his dance company and vanguard 1952 performances from the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. Wonderfully adventuresome stuff for its time. Portions of CRI's inventive catalogue are available online at the Electronic Music Frontier's CDeMusic website.
Bryin Dall (Loretta’s Doll) started Suffering Clown in 1989 as an avenue for independent music focusing on the darker end of the musical spectrum: Goth, dark ambient, magick, trance, ritual and Industrial. If your secret desires for alternative entertainment include "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy" rendered by a 6-foot, blue-skinned, black-suited clown (Blue Cee of Turning Wheels), this is the place of dreams and perfected nightmares. Acts on the label and its subsidiaries include goths Mrs. Trumbull, Coin of the Realm, august committee, Golden Dawn, the industrial dance of My Mother's Dream and the recently signed 4th Sign of the Apocalypse. Purchase Suffering Clown cassettes and compact discs through Middle Pillar; compilation tapes are also available for your first samplings of Suffering pleasure.
Stumped on the perfect holiday gift for that special someone? Looking for the winners of the world’s worst rap competition on 7-inch? The sounds of San Francisco fast food restaurants on 'French fried' golden vinyl? Consumer paeans such as "Hooray for Human Engineering" and "The Eight Seasons of Chromalox" or maybe folk icon Phil Ochs singing in Swahili and Lingala? Search out Amarillo Records. You’ll find these and other unique gems of modern music amidst Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey crooning "Hello Central, Give Me No Man’s Land" and a campy compilation of Chuck Barris' TV game show themes (none sung in Lingala).
CDNow -- self-proclaimed "world’s largest music store" -- offers a vast online catalogue of music and videos and features a personalized e-mail update for new and forthcoming releases tailored to your tastes, albeit country, jazz, pop or alternative rock. A great way to avoid the long lines at the local K-Mart and a ready resource for readers who may live out-of-the-way from worthwhile music retailers. Happy shopping!
American Bear #21, October / November 1997 Scary Monsters: tributes, requiems and soliloquies; things that go thump, bump, bang and twang in the night...
Zombies walk among us, mindless shells of former musical selves. Foregoing cautious tales to not disturb the dead, well-intentioned souls scheme to resurrect life. Driven by forlorn passion or noble memories of past glories, tribute and theme albums attempt to pay homage to vanguard talents. There exists an uneven history of these maddened attempts to breathe life into expired catalogues and revitalize history ...
The musical undead abound on Whore: Various Artists Play Wire (WMO). Reinterpreted cuts by Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo and ex-Minutemen Mike Watt have the mechanics down-pat but lack the original's passion and intellect. Overall Whore gets its hefty 21 re-wirings crossed in scrambled art school indifference; musical chairs missing. More alive and ahead are aMinature, Wire-copyists The Ex-Lion Tamers, Resolution "It's a Boy," Laika, The Petty Tyrants (Ogre and Ministry's William Rieflin), Band of Susans and My Bloody Valentine. Grave robbing proves more aesthetically pleasing than whorish tributes: Coatings (WMO's Wire B-sides collection) and Wir Wirwien (Touch, import), an archive CD-single, are due soon. [Search out The Hafler Trio "The First Last Number" import Touch 12-inch for a monstrous Wir re-animation.]
Sacrilege (Mute) remixes the wholly innovative Can beyond mere mimicry. Resuscitated 'monster movies' include: Francois Kervorkian/Rob Rives turning "Blue Bag (Inside Paper)" inside-out; a half-speed "Spoon" bending by Sonic Youth and Wharton Tiers; an eerie, familiar remodeling of "Vitamin C" by U.N.K.L.E.; "Unfinished" by Hiller/Kaiser/Leda; Pete Shelley/Hoodlum Priest "Father Cannot Yell"; and an disorienting, lush "Yoo Doo Right" by Pascal Gabriel/Paul Steatham of Peach. The creative masters get an innovative spin; far from blasphemy, Sacrilege proves a moving soliloquy that enlivens the spirit and more ... and more ... and more.
Whereas Whore and Sacrilege contributors skipped often maligned, less-realized outings -- Wire's Manscape and Can's Out of Reach -- Laibach Let It Be (Mute) is pure demonic possession. The lovable moptops' slightest release is eviscerated; the fragmentation that would ultimately pull The Beatles apart is musically laid bare; re-clothed in dark Wagnerian opera, military marches, hard rock goose-steps and haunting orchestration. "I Me Mine" spits bile and greed, snorting out souls. "Dig It" six feet under. Pop concerts at Nuremberg. Yet, however interesting Laibach's cultural scavenging proves in the long run (and the recent metal-tinged Jesus Christ Superstars wears painfully thin), their greatest reward comes in the earlier Krst pod Triglavom-Baptism (Sub Rosa, import), a theatrical ritual of horror and fear.
American Bear #19, June / July 1997 ...featuring British music-makers in theme with the magazine's "American Bear 'Woofs' in London" pictoral...
A tenuous line exits between genius and madness; soup in closeted homosexuality, infatuation with the occult, interplanetary travel and a mysterious dismembered boy in a suitcase...its enough to upturn the proverbial mental apple cart. You murder your landlady and empty a shotgun into your own troubled brain. Britain's first independent pop producer Joe Meek pushed the limits of that fine line until the eighth year anniversary of his idol Buddy Holly's own death, as he also pushed, tweaked and twisted studio technique in then-unheard-of ways in pre-Fab Four Britain. Known primarily to Americans for The Tornadoes' space-aged "Telstar" and table-banging rhythms of The Honeycombs' "Have I the Right," Meek pushed the reverb pedal to the metal with an immediacy to the recording process of a man, well, a man possessed. Let's Go! Joe Meek's Girls and the archival Work In Progress (RPM, imports) along with the domestic It's Hard To Believe It: The Amazing World Of Joe Meek (Razor & Tie) capture his then-thought irrational production techniques and double entendres teen paeans. The "outer space music fantasy" I Hear a New World (RPM, import) documents Meek's own incredibly strange music.
Bears repeated listening: Joy Division "Glass" and "Digital"...Cocteau Twins Otherness EP (Capitol) with Mark Clifford remixing Elizabeth Fraser's haunting vocals further into the looping ether of milk and kisses...The Yardbirds "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago"...The Beatles "I'm Only Sleeping" and "Rain"...Wire "Two People in a Room"...Ash International's Antiphony sampler of distant murmurs and terra-magnetic rumblings...and Touch Sampler 2's answering machine cut-ups, The Hafler Trio, rituals, vintage New Order and the panicked radio transmissions from a runaway train.
American Bear #18, April / May 1997
Dub music -- grounded in early '70s reggae when producers like Lee "Scratch" Perry and King Tubby reworked existing studio tracks into new rhythm and bass-heavy creations, original vocal/instrumental cut-ups echoing, reverbing through the beat -- is enjoying a hybrid highlife, mixing those roots around hip-hop and techno. The Macro Dub Infection 2-CD sets are overall good introductions to this newfound popularity. Volume One (Caroline) includes Coil, The Golden Palominos, Tricky and Tortoise; its Gyroscope sibling offers up Alec Empire, Mouse On Mars and more. Dub enthusiast and pal Dan Bidwa further suggested electro-dub compilations Planet Dub (Planet Dog/Mammoth) and Axiom Dub: Mysteries of Creation (Axiom). For a more classic approach, Dan tagged the Blood and Fire label reissues (Dub Gone Crazy, King Tubby's Prophesy of Dub and Heavyweight Sound: A Blood and Fire Sampler) plus Dub Syndicate's catalogue and Adrian Sherwood's On-U issues. On-line? Check out the Dub Page.
Much of Scala Beauty Nowhere (Touch, import) fits nicely inside the current 'post-rock' vision...trippy and an obedient slave to the rhythm. Yet, in sharp contrast to the ethereal, "Happy in Her Skin" (a stripped, decaying version of their "VDT" single) finds Sarah Peacock crooning "...fill me with your poison waste / feel me dissolve from inside..." as remnants of flesh and melody painfully expire unto the Beat. The mini-album ends with a visceral deconstruction of Blondie's "Heart of Glass." The inability to turn away from an Auto America accident. Powerful pop-tones.
Remakes, retakes, remodeled and recommended: the skittering CD-samples of Oval 94diskont (Thrill Jockey, double vinyl edition); post-Post-scrambled Björk Telegram (Elektra); The Orb two-part "Toxygene" introduction unto Orblivion (Island) (NOTE: on 01 June 1997, the Orblivian website will feature four new previously-unreleased Orb cuts for download! Check out the "event" link.); the Captain Beefheart Pearls before swine... (Sonic Books, import) monograph includes a 7-minute poetry reading by Don Van Vliet encompassing post-Magic Band works ... hearing his graveled voice and Dadaist wordplay again pointedly displays how much music lost when he turned exclusively to painting; Autechre Envane EP and full blown Chiastic Slide effort (Warp, import); and catalogue remixes Blech and Blechsdöttir: The Nexus Phase (Warp, import) with Aphex Twin, Squarepusher and the Warp roster run through the blender.
American Bear #17, February / March 1997 ...a little bit avant ambient, post-industrial, bass and drum, nouveau chamber, trance electronica...
For all you American (Gothic) Bears out there: Loretta's Doll World of Tiers (World Serpent, import), finds the Americans of King Arthur's Court -- New York’s Loretta’s Doll are World Serpent’s sole American signing -- elbowed-in and established quite admirably in a Euro-dominated musical style; introspective, properly dark spaced, invocation and sampled. “Hamlet - Now I am Alone” soundtracks about the emotional soliloquy of Orson Welles; the Brothers Grimm get a more adroit adrenaline treatment -- with hallowing live narration in place of tapes -- on a limited-edition orange-vinyl single distributed at Current-93/Loretta’s Doll shows this past October in NYC. Did that monkey grow any in size? Chilling and thrilling.
Collaborations often provide launch pads for new discoveries...the live Shea> Rimbaud> Hampson (Sub Rosa, import) proved such a reward. The companion ‘live in Paris’ Scanner> Shea> Main (Sub Rosa, import) was a second step and proved as rewarding as its London counterpart. Familiar with NYC downtowner David Shea’s sampler work -- The Tower of Mirrors (Sub Rosa, import) is a good starting point for his hipster/bongo fury/Beat mix-ups -- sought out works by Scanner (Robin Rimbaud) and Main (Robert Hampson and the recently-departed Scott Dawson). Rimbaud slaps captured cell-phone scans and rhythms into rough hewn collages through Scope (New Electronica, import), the live Sulphur (Sub Rosa, import) and two wonderfully devilish singles on Soul Static Sound (“Tape Junk” is destined to be a warped classic), with additional work available on the Ash International label still to discover. Audio voyeurism at times danceable, at like times guilty pleasures overheard in conversations between sleep and waking. Main journey a complimentary, yet different path through sensual textured, minimalist environs of layered guitars and electronic cascades; recent releases Firmament II, Motion Pool and Hz (Beggars Banquet, import and domestic) trace audio decay and the receding traces of sound not unlike the timbre and scope of Tibetan ritual music. The more song-oriented pieces of Motion Pool recall the delay/rhythm experiments of Wir(e) and both bands shared a common resource in producer/engineer Paul (Piquet) Kendall. Both Scanner and Main prove an interesting journey for folks mapping out the New Electronics vanguard.
Perhaps the most determinedly ‘industrial’ site recording since File Under Pop recorded at Heathrow Airport for a prescient Rough Trade Records (1978), K Composite presents Sounds of the Xerox 5090 (K Composite 7”) documents “84 double-sided copies from 28 single-sided originals”...you get the picture, er, photocopy. Tongue-in-punk recordings by Scott Ritcher, author of the Louisville scene's Slamdek A to Z tome. Order up!
Bears repeated listening: FSOL Dead Cities (Astralwerks) simultaneously retro and adventuresome, hip-hopping across Techno, industrial and ambient in some crazed video game melange; Ch-Vox (Rephlex, import), a historical chestnut of low-timbre atmosphere from Seefeel; the elegant melancholy of nouveau chamber Rachel's The Sea and The Bells (Quarterstick); the primitive electro of Finland'’s Panasonic; the Brise-Glace chopblock of rhythm and concrete texture along with a great Shellac...kinda Mark Stewart frothing Gang of Four...contributions to the AC/DC tribute Sides 1-4 (Skin Graft double 7”); and the energetic System 7 Power of Seven (Hypnotic) with able assist from Techno-forefather Derrick May, the Orb’s Alex Patterson and mix master Carl Craig.
American Bear #16, December 1996 / January 1997 wherein we revisted our Christmas 1994 musical wish lists....
Deliveries and misses formed my 1994 list ... Henry Cow Concerts arrived on CD, including their sessions from Greasy Truckers Live at Dingwells, but sadly issued with clipped, out-of-date liner notes and no previously unreleased material; the search for the Japanese Ruins two-disc live set continues. NEU! fans got both the hauntingly familiar NEU! 4 and '72 Live - Dusseldorf 06 May (Captain Trips, imports) to tread water until official reissue of the groundbreaking first three discs occurs. This Heat "Health & Efficiency" remains missing on CD and the Japanese Scala: Live in London remains MIA, but the ultra rare Peel Sessions have been Made Available (These, import). Ex-member Charles Haywards' presence alerted me to purchase and now cherish The Hat Shoes Differently Desperate (RecRec, import) and The Raincoats Odyshape (DGC/Geffen). No Coil International Dark Skies materialized, in place, alter-egos Black Light District presented A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room (Eskaton, import). Pure Coil and chaos ... there'll be blue rats over the white glyphs of Dover. The dear Captain, Don Van Vliet, didn't set aside his paintbrushes to return to music; the call for a Journey reunion was a joke, man! Just a joke, man! Most surprising were those discoveries that came out of nowhere and remain unexpected pleasures: Seefeel Quique (Astralwerks/Too Pure), the scary monstered H.A.L.O. Immanent (MNW Zone, import), the stereo-twisting second disc of Meat Beat Manifesto's Subliminal Sandwich (Nothing/Interscope) and the live soundscape Shea>Rimbaud>Hampson (Sub Rosa, import). Yipes! Several new discs are due from Teutonic noisemeisters Faust before year's end ... time to start that wish list again!
American Bear #15, October / November 1996 for which each of us selected six tracks for a road-trip tape....
Currently reformed and basking in overdue recognition, The Raincoats "Shouting Out Loud" -- taken from 1981's Odyshape -- displays outrageous enthusiasm unhampered by standardized composition and technical restraints ... a nice way of saying they couldn't play their instruments. The whole idea of 'anti-musicians' and do-it-yourself that arose from the art/punk scenes was welcome assault against corporate rock's sterilization. Time may not have been kind to much of the movements' self-expressions but this gem still shines.
With its strangely singular-note guitar 'solo' and whorling keyboards, "Interstellar Overdrive" by Pink Floyd defined British psychedelia solely apart from most of its American-grown counterpoints; avant guarde and euro-jazz tinged against the Yank's blues and folk fascinations. The import mini-CD London '66-'67 features an unabashed 16-minute live version, spiraling and mutating in madcap laughter.
Lately I've been filling in musical blanks on bands who sparked interest in my past. The Wake Up! EP by Essential Logic has been a consistent favorite, sending me in search of more 'essential' vinyl. Lodged between warbler/sax player Lora Logic's X-ray Spex and Red Krayola work, "Wake Up" brings to mind the similar-voiced Lene Lovich and avant-sax player Lol Coxhill fronting a delightfully demented, Beefhartian pop outfit. "Music is a Better Noise."
The Hat Shoes "The Woman of Chemovitzy" (from Differently Desperate) twists Catherine Jauniaux's vocals into some insanely autistic, rock interpretation of Stravinsky's "Les Noces." Clipped, shout and barking against the syncopated backdrop of Bill Gilonis (guitars, bass), cellist Tom Cora and percussionist Charles Hayward. Driven, demonized, downtown and demanding.
"You'll never hear surf music again..." at least not in the same light. Taken from the all-instrumentals collection Das Love Boat, MX-80's "Rock Rock Rock"...well, er...rocks! Part metal, part jazz, part surf, part art...awash and a' go-go with duel-guitar stomp and wailing sax. Tidal wave!
Gilbert / Hampson / Kendall's Orr is the first issue from the new Mute/Parallel Series designed to mine a gray area between 'serious' classical electronics and pop music. While much of Orr graciously recalls its players' history -- Wire, Piquet, Main -- and their respective remix experiments, "Us" wonderfully captures the timbre of the first This Heat album.
American Bear #13, June / July 1996
Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger left an early Kraftwerk to create NEU! in 1971. The duo embraced a teetering schizophrenia of lush guitar atmospheres and thrashing rock and roll, a neurotic beauty that was lost when the duo split in 1975. Their three albums remain cherished collector finds and fodder for bootlegged CD-issues. Rother and Dinger returned to the studio in 1985 for recordings that, after an additional decade, finally surface as NEU! 4 (import). The 'new' album readily displays the originality that merits their influence on contemporaries Stereolab and Mouse on Mars: droning guitar sonics, frenzied rockers ("Crazy") and studio high-jinx such as slowing "Deustchland über Alles" down to an ambient lullaby ("National"). Everything old is NEU! again.
Released after our last deadline, the seventh Red Hot Organization disc, Offbeat: A Red Hot Sound Trip (TVT/Wax Trax), explores the legacy of the 1950's Beat Movement of poets, players and painters. Sound Trip seeks to highlight their influential use of collage, but focuses more on 'trip hop' and ambient than bohemian beat, missing the antagonistic antics and cynical flair of many original hipsters. Highlights do include Soul Coughing linguistic-twisting "Murder of Lawyers" ("The music has stolen my language!"), Amiri Baraka "Black Dada Nihilismus" and the Meat Beat Manifesto cut-up "I Control," slamming samples of "radar and radio cease to function" against "chewing on plastic flashcubes." Offerings from normally inventive My Bloody Valentine, Tortoise and Moby go wanting. Not a wholly unlikable 'trip hop' / ambient collection, but it sure missed the Beat.
European avant-guardians Faust speak a language uniquely their own; burning, tearing and slashing preconceptions on recording technique and composition, advancing the concept of 'studio-as-instrument' in a singular pastiche. An audio cement mixer, twisting shards of jazz, musique concret, rock, Dada and folk into a furious re-assemblage and rediscovery. Limits are non-existent, the band constantly probing the edges of sound: string quartet broadcasts met air-hammer interference; folk melodies are truncated by electronic bursts; questions in French are answered in German. On their first studio effort in over 20 year, Rien (Table of Elements), composer/studio-whiz Jim O'Rourke chores the production tasks. The result is a strangely familiar, yet continued challenging, construction; the welcome return of Faust's personal vocabulary. If your tastes include Einstürzende Neubauten, check out these seminal innovators.