Carol Young of The Greencards recommends Gerry Rafferty

Carol Young of The Greencards and Gerry Rafferty

Carol Young’s recommendation: “I can remember growing up in Australia hearing Gerry Rafferty’s mega-hit Baker Street on the radio – the song where the saxophone solos as much as Gerry sings. I didn’t fall in love with that song as much as I did his other commercially successful song, Right Down The Line. Then there was Gerry’s obsession with Bob Dylan which lead to the formation of Stealers Wheel – you can still hear their monster 1972 single release, Stuck In The Middle With You daily on the radio. His voice can often be heard with doubled vocals which I don’t normally like, but it suits his singing. It’s been said “his voice is reminiscent of the dim dawn after a dark night of the soul.” I connect with his lyrics but I think it’s more about the way he delivers the song that means so much to me. Gerry’s got this Irish/Scottish folk influence in his music and the production is normally low-fi. I was in Nashville, TN in 2011 when I heard of his death which resulted from years of alcohol abuse. That was a sad day, indeed. My favorite Gerry Rafferty album is City to City. Listen to Whatever’s Written In Your Heart for killer lyrics and vocal performance. This album never makes the Rolling Stone’s “Best Of” lists but in my humble opinion, it should.”

Carol Young About our guest author, Carol Young: Carol met Kym Warner when they were both members of Kasey Chamber’s backing band. Originally from Australia, the duo packed up their love for George Jones and Merle Haggard and headed to America where they formed The Greencards in 2002 and released their first album, Movin’ On in 2003. The band’s fresh take on bluegrass, affectionately labeled as ‘newgrass,’ won over spectators at their early Austin, TX shows and they soon found themselves opening for the likes of Robert Earl Keen and landing a record deal with Nashville’s Dualtone Records. Accolades washed over the band in 2004 as they were named in a list of top five nights of live music for the year in 2004 in the Houston Chronicle and they were named “Best New Band” at the Austin Music Awards. Grammy nominations and the honor of serving as the opening act for Bob Dylan (Wikipedia tells us that Warner was hoping to get some fatherly advice from Bob about music and performing…no dice) and Willie Nelson followed. The band most recently released Sweetheart of the Sun, which was produced by Gary Paczosa (Alison Krauss and John Prine) and is grounded in Americana instrumentation, complete with mandolin and fiddle. But the music is moodier and the arrangements are far from run of the mill. Reaction to the album has been stellar as Buddy Miller has called it “simply stunning” and Rolling Stone says that the band is creating some of the finest Americana around.” Still not convinced? Well, the record just got a Grammy nomination for Best Folk Album. Be sure to keep up with the band’s tour dates and join The Greencards’ social pages for the latest info.

(We think) Nic Offer from !!! recommends Brother in Arms by Dire Straits. He also likes Lou Reed.

Nic Offer of !!! (l) and Dire Straits (r)

Nic Offer of !!! (l) and Dire Straits (r)

Nic Offer’s artist/album recommendation: I’ve never listened Brother in Arms by Dire Straits, but it’s probably alright. We’re in Spain right now and a certain member of this band hooked up with 2 girls this week who both liked Dire Straits. The Spanish have good taste, I mean they like us, sooooo. I always really liked Sultans Of Swing, but that’s not even on this record. It has Walk Of Life which would probably be good if somebody covered it, maybe roughed it up a bit or something. Money For Nothing is the big hit which is hard to understand just why it was but whatever, they bought houses and I still rent. But the reason u know this is probably a good record is cuz some archaeologists listened to it a lot when they were on a dig and decided to name the dinosaur they discovered Masiakasaurus Knopfleri. And that’s true. U can google that. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Lou Reed lately.

Nic OfferAbout our guest author, Nic Offer: When Nic isn’t busy authoring one of the more interesting-slash-confusing-slash-interesting again posts on Rock Torch, he serves as the front man for !!! (pronounced “chk chk chk”), which he formed in Sacremento, CA in 1996. In 1997, the band got wide exposure when they opened for The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The group, which is made up of former members of The Yah Mos, Black Liquorice and Popesmashers, make dance music for rock fans – there’s no ‘baby, baby, baby’ here. Instead, the records are full of throbbing beats and bass, snarling guitar and Offer’s dynamic vocals. The band is touring now behind their 2013 release, Thr!!!er and a new remix album. The live shows are some of the most energetic you’ll see, with Offer teetering between full out dance and recklessness. After all, this is a guy who pushed a piano into New York’s East River in return for cash to pay for a rave up outside an deserted warehouse. Of course, we’re still trying to figure out if Offer digs Dire Straits or not, but we’re guessing that he kinda likes ‘em. If he didn’t, the dude would be pretty direct, as he was in this must-be-read analysis of The Animals’ House of the Rising Son where he wrote, “When you hear the opening arpeggio chords, it’s like, “Are we done yet? Are we there?” Instantly, I’m ready for it to be over. I don’t know what it is that I hate about it; it’s just exhausting.” Mark Knopfler, you got off easy, my man.

Meredith Sheldon recommends Electrelane

Meredith Sheldon (photo by Angie Marr) and Electrelane

Meredith Sheldon (photo by Angie Marr) and Electrelane

Meredith Sheldon’s artist recommendation: Electrelane is one of my favorite bands. They’re an all girl band from Brighton, England that have been going for a while but it’s rare for me to run into other people that know of them, at least here in the States. I think they meld a pensive, thoughtful vibe with a raw, rocking edge in a really beautiful way. When I listen to them, especially walking around or in the car, I get that wonderful thing where the soundtrack makes you feel like you’re watching your own life happen — I feel the emotion of the music washes over everything, suffuses the goings on with a true feminine tenderness, while this undercurrent of crunchy, masculine grunge keeps pushing things along…it is in that dichotomy, that contrast, the tension and balancing of the two that I feel the most joy. I like when everything, all emotions feel just on the verge of spilling over in a massive great flood.”

New to Electralane? Meredith Sheldon suggests you start here: “I think No Shouts, No Calls is a good place to start. It’s a great album, their fourth I believe, and the first track is the first track for a good reason…it’s called The Greater Times. I feel like they really came together on this album, bringing forward strong melodies and interesting dynamics. Theres a nice flow to the whole record and quite a lot of space, instrumental sections and whole instrumental tracks. Lyrically it sounds to me like an album of found perspective, like a coming out the other side and reflecting back. It feels really honest. Saturday is another track dear to my heart.”

Meredith Sheldon About our guest author, Meredith Sheldon: Massachusetts based Merideth Sheldon started playing guitar when she was six and went on to play in The Ben Taylor Band and Family of the Year. But the gods that write the ‘this is what dreams are made of’ scripts had other plans for Meredith. Evan Dando of The Lemonheads caught wind of her solo demo material and quickly invited her to open shows for him in the UK. (Ben Kweller has told a similar story where Dando heard his stuff and whisked him off on tour with him. Gotta love Dando!). She didn’t have a band, nor had she performed solo before, but she impressed enough to catch the attention of the legendary Johnny Marr (of Smiths fame). Marr snagged Meredith as his opening act on the current tour of North America and Sheldon continues to hone her sound a series of EPs that she is releasing on Bandcamp. We’re especially loving Saddle Up (hear it below), which she co-wrote and performed with Martha’s Vinyard’s own, Willy Mason. Be sure to keep an eye on Meredith’s web site for the latest info on more EP releases.

Meredith Graves from Perfect Pussy recommends Kool Keith

Meredith Graves of Perfect Pussy (Photo by Samantha Marble) and Kool Keith

Meredith Graves of Perfect Pussy (Photo by Samantha Marble) and Kool Keith

Meredith Graves’ artist recommendation: “Kool Keith’s Black Elvis / Lost in Space came out in 1999, but I didn’t hear it until my junior year of college, almost a decade later. I had been studying English with fierce dedication for two years, and had just spent the summer away on my first US tour. I saw the West Coast for the first time. While in Portland, I met a friend of our singer, a commanding, elegant and funny financial dominatrix who couldn’t wait to tell us all about how she had recently been bumped into the ‘Top 8′ on Kool Keith’s Myspace. I recognized him from Ultramagnetic MCs and vowed I’d study his back catalog when I got home.

I returned to a semester that was heavy on James Joyce, Bataille and the Beats. Everything was semen and fireworks. And I keep my promises, so Kool Keith became the soundtrack to my academic exploration of texts that, while startlingly similar, paled in comparison to what he was doing on record. Black Elvis / Lost in Space was an elaborate, consumptive dream the likes of which could never have been conceived by the Beats of fifty years prior who, despite attempts to live fully in their own highly accessible fantasies of poverty and debauchery, couldn’t escape the limits of that line of sight, the open road that only went straight ahead of them. I was buried up to my neck in works written by men basking in the glory of their own supposed outsider status, their inversion of cultural norms. But nothing about these men or their work seemed to touch the heavens from which they supposedly sprang forth.

The themes presented by Keith, in contrast, began outside the limits of gravity and atmosphere. I understood that his rumored stay in the Bellevue asylum branded him not as crazy but as vulnerable, that his having been through the fire would have left him with less impetus to care how he was perceived. His self-imposed alienation from an unfair scene spoke, in otherworldly ways, to my experience at the time. He was fully free, and that combined with his disorienting, scansion-and-internal-rhyme-driven pacing placed him in my mind as an historical precursor to my only other reference points for the intelligent, mouthy, sign-driven rap I’d come to love — MF Doom and Busdriver, constituents of a great constellation with Black Elvis acting as polaris.

Keith, performing here as The Original Black Elvis and other notable alter-egos, was gone, lost in space even before the record begins: an introduction has him calling out the rappers of 1990s earth and their apparently confusing adherence to the conglomerate of social and capitalist practices that had piled up at the door of their genre over the previous decade. -Why?, he questions over and over and over, as if he can see them lined up in front of him, -Who are you?, as they stammer for answers that will never suit Black Elvis, who decides somewhere near the middle of the track to write them off as “the monsters of the original Mister Softee Ice Cream trucks,” at which point I really can see him turning on his heels like Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element and marching back to his cockpit, dignified and stubbornly strange. The open road and all its domestic mysteries had served only as a tarmac for his shuttle.

From then on, his eyes stay fixated on the stars. The dominant themes of science fiction, creative and intellectual superiority, and fucking that predated ‘Black Elvis’ on earlier records like Dr. Octagonecologyst come to full flower in songs like Livin’ Astro. The video for this (below), in typical Keith fashion, functions almost as a challenge to the music: what would be the adequate visual to accompany a song that covers so much ground, from Detroit to San Antonio all the way to Tokyo through ‘time and potential through instrumentals,’ a trip so fast it could only be made in some sort of extraterrestrial craft? Instead, his video is almost like an alien’s reinterpretation of the visual candy preferred by other rappers of the 1990s — various bright-colored characters dancing against an array of equally bright backgrounds, Black Elvis appearing in a plastic wig against a shifting green-screen grid, a moving version of the album art. It’s uncomfortable, as if made by someone from another planet, with no prior knowledge of music video as a genre. He appears as other aliases too — though silently, letting Black Elvis declare himself and act as narrator — including the fucking mind-blowingly incredible image of Light Blue Cop, a policeman wearing light blue from head to toe, with light-blue painted skin and a light blue flashlight. This iteration seems almost like a childhood imaginary friend — like, if you say anything bad to me, I’m going to call my friend Light Blue Cop.

The rest of the record is an outstanding achievement in terms of production, with interstellar beep-boop beats that barely contain Keith’s surreal, disjointed wordplay. Girls Don’t Like The Job is a highlight, a relatively slow jam painting a picture of Black Elvis as the handsome manager of what might be a bank, hiring and firing a rotating cast of secretaries, too busy having fun to take care of himself. We move through the intergalactic banking system to the cell phone store at the (sky?) mall on Clifton, where we meet the minimum wage pimp Cadillac Clifton Santiago. By the time we reach the relatively conservative, beat-adherent I Don’t Play, we’ve become accustomed to the overarching idea of Black Elvis, no longer requiring constant references to galaxies and robots to envision the world that surrounds the voice.

And like space itself, this record is truly bigger than what can be dreamed by the average human brain. At some point in his career, Carl Sagan asserted that “it is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” Keith’s lyrics, however delusional they may seem at first listen, hold true to the idea that in order to play with a subject or practice, you must first have a comprehensive understanding of it. His complete disregard for the conventions of language on this record, from beginning to end, is completely confident. And no matter how far out the subject matter becomes, he instills that quality of confidence in his listeners; we’re along for the ride, we believe his depiction of the universe, even as he steers the ship inward into an unending, indefatigable darkness. He is committed to the universe being exactly as he sees and feels: “Every morning I wake up looking in the mirror. I am the original Black Elvis … I’m livin’ that life. I’m for real with this. That’s what I think about.”‘

Meredith Graves from Perfect Pussy About our guest author, Meredith Graves: To understand the genius of Meredith Graves and the sound coming from the band that she fronts, Perfect Pussy, all you need to hear is a few random moments of the mix from their debut EP,
I have lost all desire for feeling
(below and on Bandcamp). Graves’ lyrics are buried and muffled, sounding like something between mocking jabs from underwater in your local YMCA swimming pool and cries for help emitting from a broken intercom at your local White Castle. Coupling obscured vocals with noisy guitars and drums is a dangerous dance, but Perfect Pussy pulls it off beautifully. The mix forces the listener to really listen. This isn’t music to cook by, to shop by, fold laundry by. This is get-yet–best-headphones-and-sit music (or, print out the lyrics to the EP here, and you’re free to mosh, but the headphones need to stay on). In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Graves credits Perfect Pussy for being “the nicest fucking band in punk,” but they also may be the smartest. From her recommendation of Kool Keith above, she mentions that she’s well read on the Beat poets, but lyrics like “I’m awake and awakening. I’m awake and I have died. I killed the parts of me that said that I know. I killed off all the parts that keep me awake,” prove that she’s is an accomplished poet in her own right. Perfect Pussy (which, by the way is made up of Ray McAndrew (guitar), Garrett Koloski (drums) and Greg Ambler (bass), outside of Graves on vocals) is gaining fans daily (thanks in part to the Pitchfork feature above and them making the 10 Best New Discoveries of CMJ List over at Rolling Stone). Now’s the perfect time to see them live and buy the debut EP. The collision of poetry and punk may never sound better.