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.

The Silks Takeover: Jonas Parmelee recommends The Adverts

Jonas Parmelee of The Silks and The Adverts

Jonas Parmelee of The Silks (l) and The Adverts (r)

Jonas Parmelee’s artist recommendation: “Most of my earliest childhood memories revolve around music. Be it the classic rock radio station we listened to in the car, to the early Madonna records my older sisters would spin, or the Stand By Me Soundtrack that was my fist cassette tape, music was always there providing much needed escape for a kid growing up in a family falling apart. Songs always seemed to define and help me cope with the issues of the day. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors somehow came to represent my mother’s affair and my parents’ subsequent divorce. The Who’s Behind Blue Eyes let me make sense of my first cousin suddenly becoming my new “older brother” after witnessing his parents’ murder/suicide. He’d beat the shit out of me on an all too regular basis. I may or may not have deserved some of it. But, as much shelter it would give me throughout those years, music had remained a spectator sport.

Fast forward to my teenage years. The 60s, 70s and 80s rock of my childhood was replaced with hip hop and a desperate attempt to just fit in by junior high. But like The Kinks said, I’m not like everybody else and so I soon stopped trying to be. By this time, I had turned to the defiance of punk rock, especially of the late 70s variety. Cheap beer, pot and acid were the vices of choice among my friends and I. Black Flag kept all the trips bad. Looking back, I wonder why we kept trying.

Discovering the late 70s British punk band, The Adverts, was THEE a-ha, lightbulb moment for me. It may not have been my generation’s music, but it definitely chewed up and spit out the shit all the kids at school were listening to. At least it was real. The first time I heard One Chord Wonders was the moment it first occurred to me that it was time to literally take matters into my own hands and start playing the bass guitar. I didn’t even have one, but that was not going to get in my way. So, with a borrowed bass, I lied my way into my first band.

Listening to those Adverts recordings, I felt I knew exactly where New Wave came from and what it was trying to rip off. The melodic yet cold and chilling vocal delivery of TV Smith, painting pictures of dissent and disapproval, made almost too much sense to my teenage mind. The reverb on the guitar, creating a sense of massive space, and by extension isolation and stark loneliness, underscored the lyrics perfectly. It sounded as if it was being beamed in to planet Earth from outer space. Beamed directly to me. The shaky rhythm section plods along like it was about to fall apart at any moment, desperately chugging toward the finish line before the wheels fall off. It reinforced the notion that rock and roll is not rocket science. This here was life and death.

Fast forward again to my early 20s. My band at the time was hanging out at CBGBs before our gig there later that night. Who happens to walk in the door? None other than TV Smith himself. Amazing. Conversation was struck and the beginnings of a relationship was formed between he and us. It led to one US tour and several UK tours playing in his backing band. How cool and unlikely is that? Things don’t get much more surreal than chugging through the bass “solo” in No Time To Be 21, in London, with Gaye Advert herself looking right at you from the audience.”

New to The Adverts? Jonas suggests you start here:: “For a new listener, I would recommend the album Crossing the Red Sea, particularly the expanded “Ultimate Collection” because it includes the 45 rpm single versions of the songs as bonus tracks. (I prefer the singles to the album versions, but this reissue version gives you both.) This album includes all their “hits”, such as the aforementioned One Chord Wonders, No Time To Be 21, and Gary Gilmore’s Eyes. It’s the perfect soundtrack for the anxious and paranoid, like I was as a kid. Though not exactly household names like the Sex Pistols or The Clash, The Adverts created some of my favorite music to come out of the era.”

Favorite tracks:
* One Chord Wonders
* Gary Gilmore’s Eyes

TV Appearances:
* No Time To Be 21 live
* Sussex University, 1977

Jonas ParmeleeAbout our guest author, Jonas Parmelee: Prior to joining The Silks, Jonas was all punk, all the time. He was the bass player in Midnight Creeps, a group that, as mentioned above, toured as TV Smith’s backing band. But Parmelee’s run at collaborating with rock royalty didn’t end with TV Smith. Parmelee continued to mix it up with music’s masters when he joined The Silks, a trio based out of Rhode Island that is rounded out with Tyler-James Kelly on guitar/vocals and Matthew Donnelly on drums. From what Parmelee told Providence Monthly, some rough mixes that The Silks were working on got passed on to the legendary front man of The Replacements, Paul Westerberg. Westerberg loved what he heard and passed along one of his originals called Colleen for The Silks to record. The Silks did some reworking that Westerberg didn’t like and from there he summoned the group to Minneapolis to, according to Jonas, “…re-do the whole damn album with him.” The result is the band’s debut album, Last American Band (available on on their web site and on Bandcamp), a record that sounds like a treasure trove of unearthed bluesy gems from Clapton, The Stones and Faces. Westerberg says of the record, “We have a hit record here. It really stands up to all of the other mess in a big way.” It sure does. And for Parmelee, joining The Silks appears to be a perfect fit. “Every moment with The Silks is the best moment,” Parmelee recently said of being in the group. “It’s the type of band I’ve been dreaming of playing in as far as work ethic and approach to music.” Be sure to check the official Silks web site for tour dates and follow ‘em on Facebook for the latest info about this stellar band.

* Be sure to check out music recommendations from all of the members of The Silks in Rock Torch Silks Takeover special package!

Mars Ganito of Aye Nako recommends Death

Mars Ganito of Aye Nako and the band called Death

Mars Ganito (l) of Aye Nako and Death (r)

Mars Ganito’s artist recommendation: “There are countless artists and bands that I’ve been inspired by since I was a kid, musicians who are the reason I ever picked up a guitar at 13 years old. At first, I wanted to recommend one of those that I grew up listening to, but I feel quite strongly that I must recommend Death (especially after seeing their documentary this summer). Not the metal band, but the proto-punk band of three black brothers formed in 70’s Detroit: Bobby (bass, vocals), David (guitar), and Dannis (drums) Hackney. I don’t think right now that I can recall a more compelling story about a band than theirs — speaking as another dark-skinned person who plays “rock music,” which is still an agonizingly uncommon sight these days, though, the Afropunk movement is growing all the time. In the documentary, A Band Called Death, one will see how they were just three brothers who really loved each other and loved rock despite the opinions of the community and record studios. Basically, Motor City was not ready for them. They fought to maintain their identity, which meant making sacrifices like not accepting a record deal that was only offered if they would change the name to something easier to swallow. After years of struggling, they gave up on Death, the master tapes sat in an attic, they worked on different musical projects and started families. David grew ill from lung cancer and passed away. My retelling of their story is insufficient. You outght to check out the doc!”

Not familiar with Death? Mars suggests you start here: “A few decades after Death had disbanded, Drag City rereleased For the Whole World to See. It was released as sort of a tribute to David and then people came knocking for the master tapes. The band reformed and added a new guitarist and have been playing shows again. It’s mentioned in the documentary that they truly wrote each song in a way that would showcase how far their talent could go. I have a particular love for Let The World Turn (haunting vocals and guitar in the beginning that send chills up my backbone and a drum solo!). Death might not be the reason why I first picked up guitar, but they are one of the reasons why I continue to.”

Mars GanitoAbout our guest author, Mars Ganito: Mars is the lead singer and guitarist for Aye Nako, a band whose Facebook ‘about’ bio reads, “four weirdos trying to find their confidence/sexuality/harmony/pay day.” The Brooklyn based band is the current poster child for LGBTQ-friendly acts and their reason for being is clearly stated by Mars in this quote from Posture Magazine, “…one of the reasons I play music is to play the songs I wanted to hear as a queer teenager, as someone who is 13 or 14. I wish I had had those songs.” Spin compared them to Superchunk (not bad company to be in, if you ask us) and Mars responded by wishing Spin would have called them the “queer Superchunk.” Sexuality and comparisons aside, the band’s self released debut, Unleash Yourself is one hell of a first album. The collection has already been hailed on Pitchfork and the band has been hand picked by Brooklyn Vegan and Brian Fallon of Gaslight Anthem to play their upcoming upcoming Redbull Sound Selects show in Brooklyn. The band is breaking down doors with their finely tuned power pop and breaking down walls with their gender twisting lyrics. Be sure to snag the debut album and catch one of their upcoming live shows.

Alex Levine of the So So Glos recommends Operation Ivy

The So So Glos and Operation Ivy

Alex Levine (left) of The So So Glos and Operation Ivy

Alex Levine’s recommendation: “Some bands you don’t simply listen to. There are bands that upon hearing, seep deep down into the depths of your sweat glands, melting into your pores where they penetrate your soul and infiltrate your mind. These are the artists that become woven into the very fabric that is you. You don’t just get into them for a brief period of time and forget about them, you wear them.

Operation Ivy did exactly this for me. They jumped right into my confusion of growing up and commanded awareness. They did a two step, cutting in, wearing Superman uniforms and howling at my soul about what the world should look like. They said, “to resist despair in this world is what it is to be free.” It was a self aware, new attitude towards liberation. They weren’t hippies or punks , they had a new perspective on it all. By reinventing their worlds, they showed you how to inhabit your own.

Operation Ivy fall into the rare category of bands whose music is to be taken as a lesson plan. Each song a different class called Antibullshit 101. Led by the lyrical force of Jesse Michaels with the driving Rock n Roll rocksteady of Lint, along with Matt Freedman and Dave Mello who were a living, breathing human rhythm machine. These guys had what it takes.

They took me, a nervous, out of place and frustrated kid who couldn’t concentrate on anything at school and was forever worried about the future…and they taught me everything I needed to know. There you were, insecure, confused and dissatisfied with the status quo, and there Op Ivy was, so clear, and so perfect. Jesse’s lyrics were instructions on how to deal with the way things were and anthems on what they could be. They spoke my language. Each song was instilled with righteous morals to live by, anti-racism, anti-sexism, pro-movement, pro-energy and always reminded us to question authority. The songs pulsed and pushed you to look for something more.

They were a band that had the energy to move your mind, body and soul. You could sit down and read along to the lyrics and write scholarly essay on each line, or you could stand up and shout, “All I know is that I don’t know nothing!, All I know is that I don’t know nothing!” You can shout their choruses over and over, dancing, sweating, panting, blood soaked and exploding from your gut to the skin of your fists. Any time they jump onto the sound system now, I still get that same feeling. Yes, you wear them.”

Not familiar with The Operation Ivy? Alex suggests you start here: “Energy, which is their only full length release as a band is the record to get. The 19 track record was released the night they broke up and from what I’ve heard, it was quite the legendary show. They were just kids at the time of the breakup/release, hanging at their local all ages venue, Gilman Street. I had a copy of Energy on vinyl that was recently destroyed during Hurricane Sandy. At first I was upset by the damaged record, but after further rumination on the subject I think it seems entirely appropriate.

Considering the groups’ influence and the extremely short career (1987 – 89), Energy is the perfect title for their only album for me to have acquired and lost. They flamed out with tremendous energy like super novas, inspiring millions, and were gone in flash, but you can still hear, see and smell the burn. They disappeared quick, but stayed forever. That’s the way it is for bands you don’t simply hear…these bands are the ones you wear.”

(Their complete discography was compiled a few years after they broke up.)

Alex LevineAbout our guest author, Alex Levine: Alex is the ball of energy that fronts the Brooklyn based So So Glos, a group that is truly carrying the torch of every one of your favorite punk bands, pick an era. The band put out their first album in 2007, but it was the Green Owl backed EP, Tourism/Terrorism that made tastemaker Robert Christgau bless the band with a A- rating. A “Best Punk Album” nod from Independent Music Awards followed. The EP bursts with passion, anger and guitar hooks that will remind you of The Clash and leave you knowing that Punk truly is alive and well. The band also walks the walk of authenticity outside the studio by organizing and embracing all ages shows, reminiscent to the gigs that the band saw when they were growing up. In 2009, they opened Shea Stadium, a combination recording studio and performance space that welcomes the young and records/archives each show on its site. The band has a new album called Blowout that arrives on April 23. After viewing the video for Diss Town (below) 500 times, we can enthusiastically claim that we simply can’t fucking wait! Check here for the band’s 2013 tour dates.