Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy Hogmanay

The Typing Monkey will bring more exciting criticism of media and culture, both popular and occult, as soon as the black bun and whiskey wear off.

In the meantime, please enjoy Aztec Camera's Scot-pop chestnut, "Oblivious." [Insert sound of party favor horn here.]


[Courtesy Stevebhoy7]


(No, hogmanay is not mentioned in this song, but in "The Boy Wonders" from the same album. What are we, stupid? That's a great song too, but more people know "Oblivious." Hooray for Roddy Frame!)

Getting Instrumental, Part I

MUSICAL COCOONS

The TMI music library has a generous portion of instrumental selections, but very few could be classified as "ambient." As a style, ambient music can be dead boring (this means you, Brian Eno's Music for Airports) or so aimless and that it should really be tagged "pink noise for pretentious people."

Some fans of the form might balk at the suggestion of similarities between indie-approved ambient music and new age music, but the line is often as vaporous as the music itself. Besides, this kind of thing is all about mood and execution.

Here are two new ambient instrumental discs that made an impression, and yes, one even drifts into new-age territory.

NORTHERN VALENTINE
The Distance Brings Us Closer
(Silber)
The sprays of fuzz, feedback and (possibly imagined) overtones created by this husband and wife duo treads territory familiar to anyone reasonably familiar with shoegaze rock, especially the stuff that eschews drums completely. Distance marks the band's fourth LP, with a few EPs and live recordings in-between. Earlier efforts, per the band's MySpace page, have tribal elements. The lack of percussion here indicates a common evolutionary process for bands that produce this sort of trance-like material. "Born Yesterday" launches the listener gently down the stream-of-consciousness with a full 15 minutes of rippling static and drone. A short series of sci-fi pulses breaks up "Dimanche" just after the six-minute mark -- but don't let that jar you. This is ideal listening for a winter commute when it's not rainy or dark enough for something more immediate.

Reference material: If Seefeel's colder, cosmic crop-dusting experiments appeal to you, Northern Valentine will satisfy. And you should probably check out Louis and Bebe Barron's way-ahead-its-time soundtrack to Forbidden Planet.

UNLEARN
Places
(Noise Order)
This Seattle trio provides a perfectly good excuse for laying on the couch, after dark, staring at the mood lighting and waiting for a nice cozy feeling to kick in. "Whiteout" sounds like a medieval madrigal for the well-tempered synthesizer, and as such stands out from the rest of this debut LP. Unlearn uses keyboards, drums and guitar to weave gauzy stretches of chords that sometimes coalesce into twinkling melodies. Yes, there's some soundtrack sounding moments, but one of these guys might own Piana's Snow Bird -- and that helps keep it interesting.

Reference material: Unlearn's press materials mention the "conversation that Sigur Ros brought to the mainstream" but that band's from Iceland and The Typing Monkey didn't understand a word they said. Check out Piana, as we mentioned earlier.


Epilogue: If the suggestion that there's a permeable membrane between ambient music and the crystal healing power of new-age music has you composing an angry letter to The Typing Monkey, please listen to The Best of Hearts of Space: First Flight before you do. Or go to the Hearts of Space Website and read both "A Brief Profile of Space and Ambient Music" and "The N Word" from the "The Music" section of their site.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Useless Insignificant Poetic"

HOLLYWOOD'S HELLFIRE CLUB
The Misadventures of John Barrymore, W.C. Fields, Errol Flynn and "The Bundy Drive Boys"
By Gregory William Mank with Charles Heard & Bill Nelson
(Feral House)
The Bundy Drive Boys drank like they meant it. And no matter how bohemian, heroic or tragic any of us have ever felt, chances are one of The Boys proved himself to be more so.

The true star of this biography is the painter John Decker. A master imitator of the great masters, he had no qualms about selling forgeries to clueless celebrities who'd suddenly decided to invest their movie money in fine art. The story of how Decker got to California deserves its own book.

And Mank makes a convincing case that Decker, not Barrymore or Fields, was the leader of The Bundy Drive Boys -- a collection of movie and media stars who found comfort and encouragement in one another's company.

They shared a love of booze, women and bawdy humor, and their meetings consisted primarily of staying up until the dawn, reciting Shakespeare and filthy jokes at Decker's Bundy Drive residence in Los Angeles.

Other Bundy Boys included newsmen-turned-screenwriters Gene Fowler and Ben Hecht as well as junior members John Carradine, Errol Flynn and Anthony Quinn. A fringe member, Sadakichi Hartmann -- equal parts crank, poser and earnestly misguided artist -- behaves almost as a subplot in the book.

Through their stories, first told in rapid, short chapters detailing the adolescence and early adulthood of each member, Mank and his co-authors not only render a vivid picture of the film industry in its infancy, but paint a sordid mural of the now rote narrative arc of American celebrity.

Hollywood's Hellfire Club reminds the reader that these are the magnificent first-generation stars of the talkies, an essential move to earn our sympathies. But it still stings when the text reveals the mania that fueled their creativity -- the women they loved and tormented (and who loved and tormented them); and the excess of vice allowed by too much money and too few boundaries.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

River's Taking Care of Me

If the encroaching darkness of winter -- and all the cold, wet bleakness it brings -- affects your mood, indulge in some movies that match the season's chilly atmosphere.

The following three films share these elements: A murdered woman, the murderer with a disturbingly slippery conscience, and a large, slow-flowing river. In each movie, the river behaves as both silent observer and participant. The icy current suggests, or openly provides, a means of escape for certain characters. But it's never that simple.


HOUSE BY THE RIVER
Dir. Fritz Lang
(Republic; 1950)
Lang lets the moonlit water and marsh of his unnamed river exude an eerie, judgmental stillness. Though the waters running through the film's Victorian-era American village linger in nearly every scene of the first two acts, the final act is confined almost entirely to the wonderfully dark interiors of the killer's gas-lit mansion.

However, the river asserts its power in the third act by depositing the corpse of a murdered maid onto the shore. No matter how hard the rich, sex-crazed husband works to pin a murder he committed on his stoic brother -- while keeping his increasingly suspicious wife in the dark -- the river brings biblical justice.

The story unfolds carefully, Lang's use of shadow and light enhances the mood, and the acting is solid all around. What could have been a melodramatic morality tale is instead a morally squishy psychological thriller.


THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER
Dir. Charles Laughton
(United Artists; 1955)
A false preacher, a stash of pilfered cash, an hysterical widow, two children left to fend for themselves, and a scripture-quoting old woman who runs an ad-hoc orphanage during the worst of the Great Depression -- what else does anyone need to know about this film that hasn't been said better elsewhere?

Robert Mitchum is terrifying, the photography and permanent-twilight lighting is a visual feast, and the kids (Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce) give a master class in child acting.

Here, the river is a shaky ally for the children as they escape Mitchum's evil preacher by letting the current pull their raft away from him, but never fast enough. Until Lillian Gish offers the kids true safety, the river proves only marginally more reliable than all the adults in their lives.


RIVER'S EDGE
Dir. Tim Hunter

(Hemdale 1986)
The river in this film remains silent throughout, never really a part of the story so much as a pastoral setting for a series of tragic and horrifying events.

A group of small-town teens from families with little money and fewer prospects have all gone to the bank of the river to see the body of their dead friend. She was murdered by her ox of a boyfriend and left there in the tall grass. Worse, none of the kids seems too eager to report the crime. After establishing that set-up the remainder of the film is a tense waiting game to see who will crack first.

Young Keanu Reeves plays the nervous moral compass, but he's overshadowed by Crispin Glover's speed-addled metal head and Dennis Hopper's paranoid dealer. Unlike the previous two films mentioned, the body of water in this film has no capacity for symbolic morality, nor does it offer a hint of safe passage.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Holding in the Spirit World

The Typing Monkey likes to pretend that there are no other media outlets, but the guys in typesetting brought an article to our attention that merits mention. (That they stopped giggling long enough to put together a complete sentence surprised us all.)

The mummified remains of a 2,700-year-old corpse were uncovered in China's Gobi desert recently. Buried along with the man was a musical instrument, a bow and arrow, some other odds and ends and a big bag of marijuana. Not hemp for rope and clothing, but good old fashioned pot -- the female buds of the plant that some folks smoke or bake into brownies for the purpose of getting high.

Now, burying your dead with items they prized while living is not unusual. And sending loved ones into the great beyond with tools they might need in the afterlife is not unheard of either. The Egyptians put wine and other gifts into tombs so that the deceased could gain entry into the next world.

What's worth noting in the article is that the scientists who examined the Gobi mummy's personal effects are puzzled by the absence of a pipe or other smoking device. Academically, they not only wonder if the cannabis was for "spiritual or medicinal" purposes, but how this man and his people enjoyed the benefits of their marijuana since it's not clear how he was supposed to torch up in the great beyond.

The Typing Monkey offers an alternate theory. Let's cast aside the idea that his rolling papers disintegrated, or that a clay or wood pipe that was interred with him decayed over the centuries. This gentlemen's stash is an offering for the inhabitants of the next world.

If you're bringing wine to Zeus and his fellow gods and goddesses, you don't bring some crummy bronze goblet you bought at the open-air market. They live on Mount Olympus -- they have quality drinking vessels. Just bring your best wine and let them serve it up. Likewise, you don't bring a stein for Odin. You bring some quality mead and hope he welcomes you and your gift.

Whoever this fellow in the Gobi believed he was going to meet once he crossed over into the great beyond, he did the right thing by brining the best his people had to offer and counted on his ancient Chinese deities to have a proper smoke-delivery system. The gods gave him the cannabis, surely they know how to indulge.

Here's the article.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Beep Beep, Yeah

We meant to post this before the big feast so that you'd have something to look at while your blood sugar righted itself. But any time is a good time for an old Disney short that employs tons of creative filmmaking and animation techniques, right?

Dad, Can I Borrow the Car? almost makes us wonder if Uncle Walt was reading John Berger and Marshall McLuhan or embracing his status as the family-entertainment version of Andy Warhol. Either way, The Factory never had Kurt Russell.

So here it is, in two parts -- twenty minutes in all, but you're not doing anything anyway:





[Courtesy of thelostdisney]

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Distraction of the Innocents

Nobody on The Typing Monkey staff keeps up with the world of comic books. There are simply too many titles on the shelves these days. When we finally got our hands on the complete Black Hole series by Charles Burns last year, The Typing Monkey realized how far things have come since that issue of The New Mutants where Nightcrawler helps Cannonball learn how to use his powers.

Now then, they'll put anything on the internets these days and some of it is actually worth looking at. While in the midst of online research recently, we discovered several comic books available for free on the Web. All the titles are of the action/superhero/sci-fi variety and are designed to lure readers into buying the actual physical product. Still, you can't beat free comics online, and there are worse ways to squander time.

Some of these titles have been around for a few years, but we already addressed that in the opening paragraph. So don't e-mail us with sarcastic indignations about how out of touch we are.

Maintenance
(Oni Press)
This absurd title depicts the mundane tasks performed by two janitors who work for a company that supplies weapons of mass destruction to super villains. The black and white art meets the cartoonish concept at its level, and the dialogue and humor pack a fair snap.

Night & Fog
(Studio 407)
An aborted military experiment strands a few humans on an island where the locals are not terribly friendly. The online teaser packs much into 10 pages. That's still too short, but the hazy coloring classes up the affair.

Proximity Effect
(Top Cow/Spacedog)
Superheroes whose powers only work when they're within 30 feet of each other -- both Marvel and DC comics have danced around that concept, but neither exploited it as well as Proximity does. The plotting doesn't go beyond standard X-Files conspiracy territory, but this is worth further reading.

***

Sibling duo Jonathan and Joshua Luna have worked on other writers' and artists' books, but really shine with their own collaborative titles. The first issue of each series they've created is free online at the Lunas' site:

Ultra
(Image)
With all the meta superhero stuff out there, Ultra can seem common at first glance. But the Lunas are a lot like Joss Whedon, in that they actually have the ability to write believable female leads in a pulp genre not known for such feats. So do give it a look, and remember it debuted in 2004.

Girls
(Image)
Girls is just plain great -- the ideal first-issue structure. With just enough back-story, mystery and sci-fi weirdness, it hooks the reader immediately, the way sci-fi subtext disguised as serialized fluff should.

The Sword
(Image)
While not a comic-book adaptation of the occult adventures of the '70s metal revivalists from Austin, The Sword is in fact another great potboiler. In it, a parapalegic woman learns the hard way that her family may have deep connections to the titular weapon -- a mystical blade with strange properties.


If these introductions don't yank your eyeballs to the remaining issues of the Lunas' work, then we can't help you.

Honorable mention:

Last Blood
A group of vampires must protect the last remaining humans on earth from a zombie horde. The vampires are not acting altruistically -- they need a fresh blood supply. This online comic is intended as public storyboards for a planned film. We encourage readers to ignore scripter Bobby Crosby's work-in-progress comments on each page, which hamper the flow of the story. Just enjoy the stoner/gore-fan concept and the artfully rough sketch-art by Owen Geini.

Links to the non-Luna titles were culled from Den of Geek's mind-numbing list of 75(!) comic book titles that are currently in line for cinematic adaptations. (Good luck, Hollywood.) And the AV Club interviewed the Luna Bros. this past summer.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Please Stand By

[Insert endless test-pattern tone here.]



The Typing Monkey loves all of you very much. Once we figure out who borrowed the pencil, we'll come back and shout into the void some more.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Doom We Can Believe In

It's a shame these third-party candidates don't get more press coverage because this guy probably has some good ideas on foreign policy.



[Yes, the election is way over. But we just discovered this. Thanks to JoeD! and his Flickr photostream, which we found via this.]

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Treat

To close out the month, here's the first Silly Symphony cartoon produced by Walt Disney in 1929. "The Skeleton Dance" was drawn by Ub Iwerks and features music by Carl Stalling.



Boo and whatnot.

Courtesy blip3452

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Good Grief

... In Which The Typing Monkey Discusses the Major Themes of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown


Forget the maudlin Christmas sentiment of A Charlie Brown Christmas. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is the greatest animated adaptation of Charles Schulz's iconic Peanuts comic strip. Great Pumpkin tackles faith versus reason, hope versus cynicism and never once talks down to the audience.

In 1966, eager to take advantge of the unexpected success of the 1965 Christmas special, director Bill Melendez quickly produced another Peanuts cartoon using Halloween as his seasonal focus.

Though most adults who grew up watching the various Charlie Brown cartoons can recall large amounts of the Christmas Peanuts cartoon, details from the Halloween outing don't always fare so well.

Most remember Charlie's refrain "I got a rock." And Linus' desire to see The Great Pumpkin usually lodges in our collective memory.

A Charlie Brown Christmas is not without its charms -- the underdog victory, unapologetic religious message rendered without holiday overkill and a perfect soundtrack from West Coast jazz man Vince Guaraldi.

But Great Pumpkin, benefiting from not having to hang its story on the obligations of Christmas, trumps its predecessor in every way.

Schulz and Melendez focus the story on Charlie Brown's sidekick Linus Van Pelt. So instead of following the constant drubbings from a world that kicks Charlie to curb so often that something as minor as an invitation to a Halloween party inspires America's favorite blockhead to dance like a lunatic, the audience watches as Linus' beliefs are tested.

In Christmas, Charlie's failures are supposed to arouse our sympathies while Linus quotes scripture and declares that a withering weed of a Christmas tree needs only "a little love" to transform it into a robust symbol of the holiday. Sentimental hogwash.

Pumpkin plays Charlie's Job-like miseries for laughs. He is accidentally invited to the party, he can't master the basics of a simple ghost costume, and the girls use his cranium as a scratch pad for Jack-o-lantern designs. The ostensible star of Peanuts becomes the comic relief.

Meanwhile, Linus dares to dream that the Halloween equivalent of Santa Claus -- the titular, grand gourd -- will deliver gifts at a nearby pumpkin patch simply because the patch is "sincere." Children and adults want to share in Linus' well-intentioned idea, but even Linus doubts his convictions. An early scene in which he's writing a letter to the Great Pumpkin has the boy writing: "If you are a fake, don't tell me. I don't want to know."

That moment offers a small taste of the crushing disappointment due to arrive by the third act. Children watching might share in the nagging feeling that perhaps not all the marvelous stories our parents tell us about the world are true, and grown-ups might recall specific moments in which life pulled the curtain back to reveal a sad truth, whether we were ready to see it or not. (The moment when Linus frets after accidentally says "if" in reference to the Great Pumpkin is key.)

As for Vince Guaraldi's part, the composer/pianist retains enough of the spritely piano, bass and drums sound that makes his theme "Linus and Lucy" a cross-generational favorite. But he lets the low moan of a flute do much of the heavy lifting in Great Pumpkin.

Like a dead leaf sawing the cool air, the flute plays during Snoopy's mood-altering reenactments of a downed pilot crossing the French countryside during WWI. It also accompanies the one tender act in the film, unexpectedly executed by Lucy, the gruff older sister of Linus.

And the final scene -- a conversation between Charlie and Linus -- reads like nothing less than the deflated regret of two adults recalling the previous night's failures. They might as well be nursing hangovers as Charlie sighs with uncertain optimism for next year, even though he knows as well as we do that life will pull the football away before he can kick it.

Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Have a Seat, Put Your Feet Up

Annual budget requests are due next month at Typing Monkey International corporate headquarters. The Typing Monkey's staff accountant is working right now to find out where we can sneak a Coffin Couch into our acquisitions expenses.

Coffin Couches. It's a couch made out of a coffin.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Graveyard Smash

Scientist's dub album ... Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires (reviewed below) is an ideal Halloween party album, and here's why: Dub, as a genre, already behaves like a grinning Frankenstein's monster.

Recording engineers stitch these creations together from parts of existing songs. A (usually lone) technological wizard, treating the recording studio as a laboratory, chops and severs a reggae tune. The reassembled bits are reanimated and often enhanced with sound effects that have little or nothing to do with the original work, yet make sense once the new construction breaks free from its restraints.

Obvious thematic elements aside, the self-consciously spooky Curse of the Vampires matches up nicely to the rest of the stuff any reasonable Halloween party playlist will include -- in fact, it's an ideal party closer.

After Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor," the Bauhuas hits, Screamings both Jay Hawkins and Lord Sutch, Birthday Party, Nick Cave, the various garage rock nuggets, Burt Bacharach's dancefloor-filling theme from The Blob and whatever else you're spinning, cool down the drunks and please the heads by dropping the needle on Curse of the Vampires.

The low beats-per-minute and soul-soothing one-drop rhythms will gently release your guests into the night without bringing them down. And they'll call you November 1st to ask you what that record was you played right before they shuffled off to the bus stop.

Or if you're staying in on Halloween to watch movies, Curse works as an alternative soundtrack to some horror films that don't require a lot of attention from the viewer in terms of dialogue.

The album is short -- nearly 38 minutes -- so it gives the viewer enough time to watch the film as intended and establish the essential conflict. Keep an eye on the time and you can watch the remainder of the average 80 to 90 minute low-grade shocker while Scientist's top-shelf second-wave dub enhances the visuals.

The Typing Monkey recommends the living-dead melodrama White Zombie, a tale of lust and Haitian voodoo starring Bela Lugosi.

It Starts With Maniacal Laughter

SCIENTIST
Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires
(Greensleeves)
Counting the number of essential dub albums doesn't require taking one's shoes and socks off. But whichever hand begins the tally, make sure it includes this 1981 LP from King Tubby's apprentice Scientist (aka Hopeton Brown).

Amidst a series of concept dub records all seemingly wrapped around some of Scientist's favorite things (... Meets the Space Invaders, ... Wins the World Cup, etc.) the young studio wizard put out this horror-themed collection.

The 10 tracks are drastically remixed from source material provided by The Roots Radics, Scientist's frequent collaborators. Like King Tubby, Scientist often strips away all other instruments save the drums and bass, letting guitar and horns slide in and out of the mix like distant orbiting bodies.

But unlike his mentor's humid, tropical dubs or Lee "Scratch" Perry's abstract psychedelic versions, Scientist's work has a cold detachment to it. So his creature-feature theme makes perfect sense.

Scientist relies on reverb as much as delay and echo, and the expected speaker-rattling bass sometimes sounds compressed ("The Voodoo Curse"). In "The Corpse Rises" the bass staggers into the song from a distance, a thrilling trick that builds anticipation for the moment when it actually takes over the mix.

The between song declarations ("I want blood!" "This is the mummy's curse") expose the glee of a student set loose in the laboratory -- Scientist cut most of his early material in Tubby's studio -- and add much to the B-movie feel of it all.

He kills the mood once at the start of "The Mummy's Shroud" by letting some bird chirps into the track, and essentially flips on the lights by the last two cuts. "Plauge of Zombies" has positive-vibe Rasta vocals and "Ghost of Frankenstein" seems to be a version of lover's rock.

Perhaps those are the happy ending to Scientist's mini monsterfest?

Reference material: Augustus Pablo's desolate, Near East-tinged collaborations with King Tubby clearly showed Scientist the potential of dub. There are even elements of garage rock twang and Velvet Underground spaciousness.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

We pause now to bring you this important message:

How to get a head. (See what we did there?)

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane (1858) by John Quidor, oil, 26 7/8 x 33 7/8 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

glopitaglopitaglopita ...

The Typing Monkey interrupts the seasonal festivities to acknowledge the passing of American composer, arranger and trumpeter Neal Hefti on Oct 11, 2008.

His two best-known compositions -- the theme to the television series Batman, and the theme to both the film and TV versions of The Odd Couple -- deserve all the praise they get. (And any kid who doesn't feel like fighting crime or busting out some go-go dance moves upon hearing the opening bars of the Batman theme should be regarded with suspicion.)

But Hefti's exit reminds us that he also wrote the original score for two of the better just-outside-the-mainstream comedies of the 1960s: How to Murder Your Wife and Lord Love a Duck.

Murder stars Jack Lemmon as the ultimate urban bachelor undone and redone by the shackles of unplanned matrimony. His scenes with co-star Terry Thomas suggest a comedy duo in waiting, and Thomas, always delightful, is nearly bulletproof here. Hefti's playful jazz-pop matches the film's tone perfectly.

Check out the opening narrative:


[Courtesy stutrix]

Duck pairs up Tuesday Weld and Roddy McDowall in an oddly philosophical and bleak comic attack on teen culture that remains evergreen. The ace performances from Ruth Gordon and Harvey Korman are nearly pushed aside by Max Showalter's queasy performance as Weld's father. Showalter -- better known to modern audiences as Molly Ringwald's giggling, inappropriate grandfather in Sixteen Candles -- runs away with a short scene in which he cranks up the ick factor while somehow remaining funny.*

Oh right, Neal Hefti ... if there is any doubt that Hefti possessed that rare gift of mid-20th century composers who grasped the basics of rock, blues, jazz and pop in a way that those on either side of the generation gap couldn't or wouldn't, his title track for the film's opening credits will convince.

Dig it:


[Courtesy SolarCoasterX]


*Showalter's scene with Weld is available on YouTube, but just see the movie. It's essential.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Ghastly Menagerie

We've been posting a lot of links lately, and for that we'd apologize, but the fact is, the Web hosts loads of excellent horror and Halloween-appropriate content. (Also, we've been gorging on Ghost Dots -- the sugar crash just kills our motivation.)

Something more substantial is on the way, but in the meantime, point your eyeballs at this nifty blog that posts image after image of art both high and low, each item depicting the terrible beasties humans have dreamt up (or witnessed) throughout the centuries: Monster Brains.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Run!

In the name of pseudo-science, fear mongering and wild speculation, The Typing Monkey would like to resuscitate the following article from Cracked.com.

Once you've read it, come back, take a deep breath and realize you can prepare yourself for the imminent zombie apocalypse.


This post was made possible in part by Dr. F. Beldinstein.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Swingin' at the Seance

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Halloween Stomp: Jazz & Big Band Music for a Haunted House Party
(Jass)
No finer collection of horror-themed novelty tunes and one-offs from Depression-era acts and giants of the big band era exists. And it's mean of us to even bring this disc up because Halloween Stomp has been out of print for years -- probably soon after the initial 1993 pressing on a rarities-and-reissue imprint from Germany.

"Mysterious Mose" by Harry Reser, and The Ray Noble Orchestra's "Haunted House" sound just like the pre-war, public-domain cartoons that local TV stations ran on weekday mornings during the '70s alongside vintage Popeye and Walter Lantz offerings -- right down to the voice work and sound effects.

The Casa Loma Orchestra offers the first of several doses of melancholy romance with "This House Is Haunted (By the Echo of Your Last Good Bye)", a pleasing break before the disc flings out more madcap numbers.

The Italian and Cockney counterparts to Louis Armstrong make good showings, respectively, with Louis Prima's "Mr. Ghost Goes to Town" and Nat Gonella's "Skeleton In the Closet."

Kay Starr shows them all up with her superior reading of "Headless Horseman." The song was sung by Bing Crosby in the 1949 animated Disney double-feature, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mister Toad, for the portion based on Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

While there's absolutely nothing wrong with Der Bingle's grandpadamous take, Starr shades her version with some hepcat speak. Besides, who would you rather hear sing about an 18th century urban legend?

The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra ends the show with "Dry Bones" -- a tepid party closer that can't match the Kay Starr track that precedes it. Drink 'em up and hit the road folks.

Since copies of Halloween Stomp are going for $40 plus change on Amazon, securing your own copy means scouring used CD racks, trying your luck at online auction sites or begging your friend for a dub. Good luck.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Pictures at an Exhibition

In 1998, Scott Skelton and Jim Benson put out a book called Rod Serling's Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour. It's a not-too academic study of Night Gallery, the horror anthology television series that has the misfortune of being the lesser sibling of Serling's greatest TV achievement, The Twilight Zone.

If by some chance the specific charms of Night Gallery passed you by the whole series is on DVD, and likely running on some cable channel. Unlike the eerie sci-fi parables and obvious fantasy-tale allegories of The Twilight Zone, the stories trotted out for Gallery were out and out horror, usually in the Victorian or morality play style. The intention was merely to titillate and scare viewers.

The hook was simple: Host Serling would point out some grim oil painting in his er, night gallery, and talk a bit about what the painting suggested. All the items in Serling's collection were at least spooky, if not outright gruesome. Once he uttered the title of the painting, the teleplay began.

Much like the covers of EC comics, and its many imitators, the paintings were often more terrifying than the guts of the actual stories. But to a horror fan, the pull of the morbid images was hard to resist, even if last week's episode failed to live up.

Serling's widow Carol endorsed Skelton and Benson's book so it must at least give the man and his also-ran show a fair shake. So while we wait for our copy of An After-Hours Tour to arrive, and before you run out and rent or purchase the Night Gallery DVDs, familiarize yourself with the show -- or get reacquainted if it's been a few years -- via Skelton and Benson's superb Night Gallery Website.

They have all the paintings from the show, screen shots, an episode guide, and even theme music and some sound clips from various episodes. There's more beyond that, but you should just stop reading this and get over there. Hurry up, we're turning out the lights.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Labyrinth13

To put us in the proper frame of mind to fully enjoy October, aka the best month that ever lived, check out the Website Labyrinth13, put together by a man named Curt Rowlett. The name of his site is also the title of his book -- a collection of the author's summaries of various supernatural events, real crimes with occult shadings, and the odd conspiracy theory.

Rowlett's the best kind of Fortean* reporter, in that he lays out the paranormal details without ever once questioning whether ghosts, psychic phenomena or visitations from extra-terrestrials are even near the borders of reality. That's for the reader to decide.

And if nothing else, even the most scientific among us should let go of preconceptions as often as possible, leaving the window of possibility open just a crack while our rational minds sleep. The fresh air is good for you.

Rowlett does reveal his leanings with his account of living in a haunted house. Aside from that, there's plenty of brain-tickling goodness within his site, such as this short piece on the use of opium during the Victorian era.

Also of interest is the true tale of the day a BBC news broadcast was interrupted by an audio broadcast from a purported space alien who warned mankind of impending doom. What's taking so long?

*We'll discuss Charles Fort and The Fortean Times soon.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

We'll be right back after these messages.

According to this commercial enterprise, October is National Donut Month. That explains why Typing Monkey publisher S.L. Kreighton had three dozen cake donuts from Mighty-O Donuts shipped to the office yesterday morning via special courier.

This information was pieced together moments before intern Francine mumbled something about how "October starts with 'o' ... like a donut" and then passed out at her desk. So far nobody has brushed off Francine's rainbow-sprinkle mustache.

The "What We Did On Our Summer Vacation" project has sputtered and died a few CDs short of us looking like total idiots. We're now free to embrace October and the full-on Halloween frenzy that it brings.

But before things get all scary, let's take pause and enjoy this live performance of "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell & The Drells:


[courtesy of Sixtiesalltheway]

Seriously, Mighty-O donuts are delicious.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Cold of the Winter Sun

KOUSHIK
Out My Window
(Stones Throw)
During the past year critic types enjoyed pointing out that the Stones Throw label was branching out. Let's be honest, the seeds of that growth have been there all along. For all the Guilty Simpson, James Pants and Baron Zen, there's always been Koushik.

The Canadian-born DJ/producer has a couple EPs, a few singles (the transcendent "None In Mind" from Chrome Children), remixes and production work under his belt. Now his debut full-length arrives just as autumn unfurls. Perfect timing.

Koushik's gauzy music swirls together the dreamier asides from '60s sunshine pop and psychedelic soul with stealthy hip-hop rhythmic elements. The vintage and modern elements don't bump up against one another for the effect of high contrast and clever juxtaposition. His collage-artist touch is so light the songs fold over onto themselves with a sort of blissed-out dream logic.

He favors birdlike woodwind warbles, tender guitar picking and watercolor washes of keyboards, but gives obvious nods to the musical era he's mining with "Lying In the Sun." The back-masked wheezes and sucked-in percussion that start the track eventually encounter Magical Mystery Tour horns. However, the horns seem to come from a brass band marching in a parade several blocks away.

"Buttaflybeat" and "Welcome" provide the most Stones Throw sounds here, and wouldn't sound out of place on a Quasimodo record. But the rest is all Koushik's world, especially when he sings. His voice, buried in the mix and smeared in echo, peeks through the instrumental clouds but never blares outright. That might ruin the daydream.

Reference materials: Tons of 1960s soft-psych (The Lovin' Spoonful, Fifth Dimension, Friends of Distinction) with Joe Meek's Bluemen style percussion ("See You") and the true sound of Nino Rota in love ("Ifoundu") -- therein lies Koushik.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

WWDOOSV (Part V)

BURNING BABYLON
Beat Beat Beat
(Sound Shack)
A fifth LP of one-man dub-reggae creations from Slade Anderson, a metal dude gone to seed. It's all solid, if unremarkable, dub and roots music in the vein of Ticklah and McPullish, two more one-man dub plate makers of the modern age. Like other musicians working in definitive genres inexorably linked to the era in which the music was first divined, Anderson's dub can't top the first and second generation dub wizards. That he's doing it well is what matters.
Standouts: "Sproing-a-Dub" and the ska outing "Manuka Skank"
Released: August
myspace.com/burningbabylon

4HERO
... mixing
(Sonar Kollektiv)
Prefab mixes from crate diggers usually offer a new discovery or three that leads to further investigation. And done well, the completed collage can surprise in terms of what a given DJ wants us to hear when their choices are documented this way. But here's something weird. This entry in the Sonar Kollektiv Mixing DJ series, from Dego of the German nu-soul duo 4Hero, bears an eerie resemblance to The Typing Monkey's own record collection. That's not a boast -- just, what are the chances? Our only regret is the promo copy is unmixed and we want to know how Dego transitions between a few of these cuts.
Standouts: Raymond Scott's "Lightworks" and the SA-RA remix of Roy Hargrove's "On the One"
Released: Aug 12
myspace.com/4hero

TITTSWORTH
Twelve Steps
(Plant Music)
A Baltimore DJ/producer who squeezes a tiny bit more from his hometown's brand of dance music, known as "gutter." Tittsworth crafts his own boozy rhythmic repetitions, ending up with an aggressive blend of techno and hip-hop that actually encourages dancing. Pity the MCs and vocalists he enlists don't do much more than the usual calls to getting drunk and copulating. (Not bad goals, mind, but there are more creative ways to state those intentions.) As a consequence, the instrumentals leave a more pleasant aftertaste, and don't remind anyone over the age of 25 that hangover and regret are the ultimate destination the rest of the album is headed toward.
Standouts: "4:21" and "Bumpin'" ... Kid Sister and Paserock do well by "WTF" too.
Released: Aug 12
myspace.com/titts

Bonus review!
TITTSWORTH
The John McCain Mix
(Self-released)
Offered as free download when Twelve Steps was released, McCain Mix won't beat Diplo or Girl Talk at their own 12-bar cut-up game. Tittsworth executes a few actual remixes, versus the common gutter practice of doubling an existing club beat with overdriven drum machines (ahem, Aaron LaCrate). A tweaking of Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go for That" gives the best evidence yet that gutter is a close relative of those high NRG mixes of '80s hits. The closing mash-up of Lil Wayne's embarrassingly unerotic "Lollipop" and the Wham! slow-dance chestnut "Careless Whisper" manages to add a tiny bit of class to the former without disgracing the latter.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

WWDOOSV (Part IV)

sub-ID
BFF
(1320)
Semi-improvised experimental electronic duo. If reading that phrase caused involuntary eye-rolling, please stop reading and scroll on to the next item, or click on one of the "Monkey Love" links and forget this ever happened.

BFF has nine tracks of stuttering drum machines with flighty programming that halts most of the fluidity of what might have been electronic funk, and tosses in some organic elements including trumpet and voice. At times it approaches cubist smooth jazz. Brad Bowden and Alana Rocklin, the people behind the name, know what they're doing, as it can't have been easy to program some of the rhythms. Then again, maybe the joke's on us.

Standouts: "Yup 1" has moments of comparative beauty.
Released: July 22
myspace.com/subid


THE TING TINGS
We Started Nothing
(Columbia)
This is the album that gave birth to what could have been the summer song of 2008 in the United States. But "That's Not My Name" didn't hit as big as it should have. What's left beyond that pristine, elementary single is a collection of forgettable-to-good tunes that lift from Blondie, The Flying Lizards and New Order but lyrically aspire only to Lily Allen in casual wear.

Standouts: "Traffic Lights" allows Katie White to stop the cheerleader shouts long enough to demonstrate that her sugar-wafer singing actually works in the right context. But they can't top "That's Not My Name."
Released: June 3
myspace.com/thetingtings

Friday, September 19, 2008

WWDOOSV (Part III)

KEAK DA SNEAK
Deified
(Koch)
[Full disclosure: The Typing Monkey's familiarity with hyphy leaves much to be desired.]
Oakland's "King of Hyphy" forces the listener to pay attention. Keak fits into that tier of rappers who have instantly recognizable voices, and who spit good, if typical, stories about the daily ins-and-outs of being a hustler (see ODB, et al.). But dang if it ain't nearly impossible to tell what the man is saying.

Between his dense regional slang and that voice -- sounding as if he spikes his blunts with Ajax and chases them with shots of Tabasco sauce -- the uninitiated have but song titles and a patient ear to rely on. Most of the 23 tracks on the MC's new LP fall in line with hyphy's rubber kick drum, floor-to-ceiling spongy bass contrasted by helium-light synth hooks that bob and weave. Reaching the end is an exhausting achievement.

Somebody loves this much Keak, but the hyphy king's unique voice is best employed as a guest rapper, such as his appearance in the genre's biggest mainstream hit, E-40's "Tell Me When to Go."

Standouts: "Stock With Game" and "Go Dumb, Go Stupid"
Released: June 10
myspace.com/keakdasneak

Monday, September 15, 2008

WWDOOSV (Part II)

THE COOL KIDS
The Bake Sale
(Chocolate Industries)
Since when are 10 songs an EP? By rap standards apparently -- which stands to reason since most rap albums have been clocking in at ~23 songs for the past 15 years. Clever lyrics and production from a Chicago/Detroit duo who accurately recall hip-hop’s golden age, even if they could lay off the vocal-samples-as-instruments trick. By declaring themselves the “new black version of the Beastie Boys” they alternately acknowledge and take a friendly jab at those who will ostensibly be their largest audience. For all the sparse 808 beats, the instrumental backing stays busy.

Standouts: “One Two” and “What It Is”
Released: June 10
myspace.com/thecoolkids

THE JEALOUS GIRLFRIENDS
The Jealous Girlfriends
(Good Fences)
A straightforward indie-rock quartet from Brooklyn that doesn't belabor its lyrics with obscure historical and literary references, or make up for a lack of songwriting skills with annoying genre stunts. The band members probably smell nice too. Holly Miranda’s the more engaging vocalist, but the male/female division of labor isn’t hurting them. Quality noise-pop songs that do what they’re supposed to do -- which could mean The Jealous Girlfriends are doomed to be The Darling Buds of the ‘00s.

Standouts: “Organs On the Kitchen Floor” and “Roboxulla”
Released: May 6
myspace.com/thejealousgirlfriends

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation (Part I)

Upon returning from his summer-long bender -- this year spent in the air conditioned luxury of a chain motel somewhere near Butte, Montana -- Typing Monkey publisher S.L. Kreighton threw a royal hissy fit about the stacks of CDs that had piled up in the office.

So we made the new intern, Francine, sort through the discs and pick a dozen or so that she thought looked interesting. These selections were based on cover art alone, so we can’t guarantee the quality of anything she chose.

The next few entries will be short reviews based on the frenzied listening party that ensued.


***

RUN CHICO RUN
Rocket Surgery
(Reluctant Recordings)
A new EP by the (mostly) vintage-keyboard and drums duo who make pop with a tissue of psychedelic spookiness draped over it. Fun while there, and probably a good live show, but not hugely memorable once the six songs are over.

Standouts: The jazzy "Huh What" is good and "Ghetto Treat.
Released: April 12
myspace.com/runchicorun


SHAWN LEE'S PING PONG ORCHESTRA
Miles of Smiles
(Ubiquity)
Twenty more imaginary soundtracks from the multi-instrumentalist. Lee’s biggest hurdle is the abundance of legitimate library music from the '60s and '70s currently reissued on CD (and probably easily downloaded if you hate America). The Moog-y spacecapade "Greekout" makes the well-executed, if pedestrian, genre exercises sound weak by comparison. Judicious editing could reduce this to a dozen winners. In the right mood (a party, iPod shuffle), this is just fine.

Standouts: "Prague Rock" and "Dinosaur Island." (Jazz flutes are go!)
Released: May 6
myspace.com/shawnleemusic

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Singularly Absurd

Remembering Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle"

The Typing Monkey picks a hit single from the past to dissect, inspect, discuss and analyze. Specifically, we will seek out the hits that sound especially odd to modern ears -- songs that are frozen in time, trapped by the eras that created them. Sometimes these songs became hits despite the standards and expectations of the time. All of them sound, to today's listener, singularly absurd.

Song: "Welcome to the Jungle"
Artist: Guns N' Roses
Released: 1987
Label: Geffen

Anyone who saw the The Dead Pool during its original theatrical run during the summer of 1988 might have noticed "Welcome to the Jungle" in the soundtrack.

In what's likely the last Dirty Harry film, a pre-fame Jim Carey plays hair-metal superstar, Johnny Squares, whose murder prompts Clint Eastwood to launch an investigation that leads to various car chases, shootings and general ass-kickery.

Given Carey's Hollywood grotesque of a rock star, viewers unaware of the existence of Guns N' Roses are forgiven for assuming the song was a studio creation -- those odd imitations of popular music that usually pollute television shows with budgets too small to acquire actual pop songs.

However, "Jungle" had already been out for a year and was building steam as the welcome return of rock & roll with a little hair on its chest. No matter how gruff sounding GNR were at the time, that song was pure, unadulterated pop-metal.

Context clues
In the late '80s, American Top 40 radio was giving up on British new wave and synth-pop, MOR American rock, and the Prince and Michael Jackson knock-offs that most of us identify the decade by.

As the Reagan era slid into the weak epilogue that was Bush I, three genres suddenly dominated pop radio: rap, mall pop, and pop metal.

Pop-metal acts such as Mötley Crüe, Poison and Cinderella dressed up simple rhythm & blues riffs with spandex, eyeliner and hairspray and rode the gimmick through the bank and into rehab.

Fans of Guns N' Roses insist the band was more meaningful, muscular and musical than its teased and lipsticked contemporaries. We'll grant them muscular, especially in contrast to the likes of say, Winger or Slaughter. But "Welcome to the Jungle" could not have been a hit if our appetites weren't already whetted by a legion of Mick Jagger caricatures.

"Jungle" may be the smartest pop-metal single ever written though. The tune snarls and buzzes loud enough to convince listeners that it's something other than a soundtrack for pounding beers and trying to get with the ladies.

The evidence
The cascading guitar that opens the track sounds more menacing than say, Crüe's "Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)." But anything less would be inappropriate for a song about evils of the Big City.

"Jungle" is the flip-side of all the high-kicks and bacchanalian delight that other pop-metal bands promised. The song is obligated to at least give the impression of seedy, back-alley muck.

The key to understanding why "Jungle" is pop/hair metal and not just plain hard rock or actual metal (or whatever genre ownership champions of Guns N' Roses insist on) lies almost entirely with the only member of the band who remains in the line-up today: W. Axl Rose.

As Slash and the gang blast away, Axl Rose tries his best to sound threatening. But try not to laugh when he wails "nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-knees" and later refers to his boy bits as his "serpentine."

Sorry Axl, but such an obvious genetalia reference outside of hip-hop or pornography means you can only be one thing: pop metal. The (unintentional?) humor doesn't even require ironic perspective or the comedy provided by distance and time.

Other pop-metal singers performed variations on, or combinations of, Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, Ziggy-era Bowie, David Johansen and David Lee Roth. Axl Rose is pure Jim Morrison, and nothing could be more silly than believing your own hype as much your fans do.

Fashion-wise, GNR's rhythm section avoided the neon-bright palette preferred by their preening counterparts, though the hairspray remained. Lead guitarist Slash drew attention to himself by swiping Marc Bolan's Slider look. (Somehow Slash looks more Muppet-like than Bolan, which is an admirable achievement.)

Then there's Rose, with his bandanas, scarves, jeans, bicycle shorts, football jerseys and flannels. Axl Rose dressed for the stage the way most pop/hair-metal fans dressed for work or school. His schtick was dressing up by dressing down. That's calculated pop-metal showmanship.

Finally, we must not forget that the band would never again hit big again with such thunderous, sleazy material. "Paradise City," "Sweet Child O'Mine" are mid-tempo rock, while "Patience" is one step away from Scorpions' "Winds of Change" and that's right next door to Mr. Big's "To Be With You."

Of course, the best evidence in this case is Axl's hair in the video for "Welcome to the Jungle."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Cross Country Drinking

Typing Monkey publisher S.L. Kreighton would prefer that we never republish content from other media outlets.

But given the bottle of rye he keeps in his desk drawer, and his Monday morning "Whudya drink this weekend?" greetings in the spot where a "good morning" would normally go, he never seems to mind when we post an article about booze.

So enjoy this piece from Time, in which a very brave man and his team of tasters sample one bottle of local wine from each of the 50 United States.

The entries from Florida, Massachusetts and Nebraska are particularly fun.

Scumps,
The Typing Monkey

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Monkey Reads: Classic Rock Radio Murders

Radio Activity
By Bill Fitzhugh
(HarperTorch)
Summer reads don't get much better (or quick) than this paperback potboiler. Radio Activity comes on like tasty junk food disguised as a reasonable meal -- just like a picnic.

Rick Shannon is a radio disc jockey who discovers that the once-legendary on-air personality he's replacing at a small Mississippi classic-rock station may've been murdered. Amateur sleuthing ensues and in the process the author laments the diluting of American identity.

Fitzhugh lovingly defines true classic rock over the course of the novel, via Rick Shannon's unexpected, if unlikely, opportunity to recast the playlist at a second-tier market station.

Thinking people everywhere share the main character's (and Fitzhugh's) anger at corporate radio's pathetic limitations for every genre. So even those unfamiliar with the deep AOR trivia in Activity can delight in Fitzhugh's fantasy of music geeks reprogramming the airwaves.

The radio biz trivia doesn't fight too much with the mystery/noir elements of the story, though dedicated Agatha Christie types would probably fidget. And some Fitzhugh fans complain on Amazon that Activity pales next to the author's earlier works. However, Fitzhugh's joyride with his two of his favorite topics comes across clearly. Perhaps low/no expectations enhanced The Typing Monkey's enjoyment?

Fitzhugh paces the clues and revelations well enough to avoid total predictability, but The Big Sleep this ain't. Like Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles, Fitzhugh tries to make rural Mississippi as much a character as the human players. He almost succeeds.

What he does nail is the creeping fear of working in an industry that will eventually kick you to the curb, and the sad resignation that the masses will stand back and watch as regional identities are crushed by the cultural hegemony of corporations that insist they know what we like.

Reference materials: Some Fitzhugh readers align him with Carl Hiaasen. They're probably right, but if you crave more substantial crime fiction, gorge on The Big Sleep and other Raymond Chandler offerings.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

New Monkey Love

Please indulge The Typing Monkey as we take a moment to point out some of the new Websites we've added to the "Monkey Love" section. [Shift your eyes a few degrees to the right and you'll see the list of links The Typing Monkey recommends.]

To the already outstanding stack of favorite destinations on the information superhighway, we've recently added the following:

Science Monster
Downloadable and streaming 16mm sci-fi and monster movies -- giant monsters, robot monsters, The Bowery Boys and yes, zombies. The man behind this site is doing the Lord's work. Just take care to download sparingly. Greed is not a good color for you.

Datajunkie
Comic-book covers galore, pulp paperbacks, magazines and even music videos -- like hanging out at your cool friend's house, if your friend had a disturbingly large collection of top-notch reading material.

Arts & Letters Daily
A service of The Chronicle of Higher Education -- because sometimes it's okay to learn stuff.

Computer Perfection
A la-la-lovely new musical quartet and offshoot of the Detroit baroque pop band, Pas/Cal. If that's not enough, understand one of them is actually named Gene Corduroy. Really, it's on his birth certificate.

Virtual Kaleidoscope
Finally, interactive media produces something worthwhile. And if you're feeling extra fancy, Zefrank.com has also provided a more complex version of the same toy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

We pause now to bring you this important message:

Happy birthday to The Typing Monkey's most favoritest person in the world, The Amazing Mrs. Kendall.



It must be love.

You Don't Have to Read This

A Pre(r)amble On Sports and Music
At first glance, house music and the Summer Olympic Games seem to have little in common. But there are some parallels that aren't too much of stretch.

1. Context
The Typing Monkey has never attended the Olympics (well, except for that awkward jaunt to Moscow in summer 1980 -- so embarrassing) but we can imagine how thrilling it must be to witness firsthand some of the world's greatest athletes in action.

Likewise, house can be genuinely exciting when the listener is there, in person, on a dancefloor, with all the appropriate sensory cues the genre was created for.

2. Expertise
A frequent complaint about house, and electronic dance music in general, involves some iteration of the "I could do that" criticism. Any dork can buy a laptop (or a sequencer, drum machine and synthesizer) and make a 4/4 beat with some bass squiggles. But those who are good at it, and have put in the time and effort to get good, are going to leave lesser musicians at the starting line.

Similarly, most of us can run, but we're not about to get up and make a showing at the 100-yard dash time trials. We sit back and marvel at the people who've found they were built to do amazing physical feats.

3. Accessibility
Even non-sports fans can find something of interest at the Olympics. And there's that whole "uniting diverse cultures" aspect to the competition that remind us that a global superpower can lose to a third world nation when we're equalized by our basic human abilities.

In the same way, electronic dance music is a sort of international unifier. Though it has the advantage of being enabled by technology, it's difficult to site another style of music that's been so quickly picked up by so many cultures.

What does all of this lead into? Nothing more than the following review of a two-disc house compilation. (Click the link, or scroll down a smidge.)

... In Order to Understand This:

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Great Summer Games Stuff: A Tribute to Human Rights
(Great Stuff)
Listening to Great Summer Games Stuff is like watching the Olympics on television. If you're a house-music glutton, this compilation mainlines the ceaseless kick drum for the duration of two globe-spanning discs. A more casual listener, like the average Olympics viewer, passively pays attention but perks up when something remarkable happens.

Disc one's first gold medal comes from Turkey's Butch. The track screws with expectations by slowing the beat down and dropping it out entirely, usually by pitch-bending the samples of locale-appropriate woodwinds as if they're melting.

A silver medal goes to Germany's Swen Weber for pushing a brisk hi-hat scuffle to the forefront and countering a buzzing bassline with some sort of marching-band anthem the fades in and out like a passing parade.

Disc two offers more to grab our interest, with an almost-ambient opener from Japan's Tokyo Black Star. [Who is actually French native Alex Prat -- ed.]

Greek techno DJ/procuder Mihalis Safras gets top honors for his contribution that combines a minimal, watery rhythm with a weird guitar break that shouldn't fit, but does -- even when it takes over and drapes cinematic shadow over the proceedings.

Romania's OK Corral do right too, with a playful 8-bit number. They get bonus points for claiming to be from Bucharest, circa the year 2259.

England, New Zealand and Australia all bring the big, dumb fun, with a blaring rave/big beat throwback from Atomic Hooligan, a glorious mess by Greg Churchill, and a track by Tommy Trash that ignores genre divisions the way a good pop construction should.

The connection to both the Olympics and human rights feels tenuous, but if any of The Typing Monkey's theory (see above) holds water, maybe a DJ really can save a life. It's no less believable than the fact that every few years we ignore continuing global strife in order to play a bunch of games.

Reference materials: Click on the artist links in the review, and see if you find something to suit your fancy. Or snoop around the Great Summer Games Stuff tack list for yourself.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Wash Me

Though the Pagan calendar indicates that autumn begins on August 6, just about every spot in the northern hemisphere can count on at least four to six more weeks of warm weather. Eight weeks if the gods think we deserve it.

And even though gas prices will soon convert North America into a horrifying wasteland with a barter-based economy ruled by ruthless thugs sporting Mohawks and leather harnesses, chances are your car needs a good washing.

Really, you don't want to make one last weekend cruise down to the beach in a vehicle encrusted with sap, bird turds and highway dust, do you?

The point is, when breaking out the bucket, mitt and hose -- or driving down to the local coin-op wash & go -- there's a certain soundtrack required. You have two choices, and The Typing Monkey recommends both: Sweet's Desolation Boulevard and Van Halen's self-titled debut.


Much has been written about both records. However, a trusted Monkey associate summed up the appeal of both choices as prime auto sanitation accompaniment with this elegant notion: "Play these and your car will practically wax itself."

You'll want the American version of Desolation, as that release not only opens with "Ballroom Blitz" but divides the songs equally. All the Nicky Chinn- and Mike Chapman-penned tunes are on side one, and the band-penned tunes on side two.

Sweet may be English, but their candy-coated machismo was destined for blue collar American pastimes. A night of drag races, demolition derby and funny car time trials requires "Fox on the Run" over the cruddy PA system at your local racetrack.

You're likely to hear Van Halen's "Runnin' With the Devil" there too. And though the release dates of Van Halen and Desolation are separated by four years (1978 and '74, respectively), the two albums temper silly rock & roll hedonism with self-awareness -- as if both bands had one foot on Led Zeppelin and the other on Queen.

David Lee Roth admits that there's nobody waiting for him at home when he returns from er, running with the Devil. And Andy Scott's ever-rising guitar solo that closes "Sweet F.A." ends with an explosion. Take that, Peter "James" Bond!

Both quartets boasted flashy lead vocals*, fantastic guitar leads, no-nonsense bass playing, drums that flirt with big band rhythms and massive harmonies that you might not notice but would miss terribly if absent.

Right. Back to this car-washing thing. The Typing Monkey will pretend you already own these records, and that even if your "car" is a Turkey Monster Bike with metal-flake vinyl on the banana seat, you now have something to do with yourself some Saturday morning in the near future.


*The Typing Monkey has nothing against Sammy Hagar or Gary Cherone, but when Diamond Dave left after 1984, we followed him.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Did Delia Take the TARDIS to a Rave?

It's old news by now, but that's never stopped The Typing Monkey before. It seems that Delia Derbyshire, one of the pillars of the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop, and the woman who turned Ron Grainer's Dr. Who score into one of the coolest TV show themes ever, made a recording in the mid to late 1960s that is essentially a blueprint for techno. Read all about it here.

Given that other electronic music pioneers have gotten or are getting the documentary treatment, it seems that films of Derbyshire and Radiophonic Workshop pioneer Daphne Oram are long overdue. Really, given Oram's fascinating life, a biopic seems like low-hanging fruit.

In the meantime, here is a too-short video of Derbyshire showing how to build an electronic beat using reel-to-reel loops:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

European Space Program

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Elaste Vol. 2: Space Disco

Tom Wieland, of digital-dub outfit 7 Samurai and techno-soul band Panoptikum, put together this worthy follow up to DJ Mooner's excellent inaugural Elaste collection.

Roaming the expanse of cosmic/space disco, Wieland concentrates on early '80s Euro soul -- a sound rooted in the brisk funk of prime '70s American disco but reaching toward futuristic grooves with the help of analog synthesizers where the horns and strings would normally be.

The mix opens strong with five solid disco workouts. But Elaste 2 gets really interesting at track six, "Sundance." The song, by Curt Cress, a German session drummer with a primarily jazz and prog-rock résumé, feels like a drum battle in which only one of the combatants is human.

Another workaday musician, English library composer Alan Hawkshaw, makes a good showing with "The Speed of Sound" -- a muscular bit of '70s cop-show funk that surges forward on the dual power of a Fender Rhodes and Clavinet.

Please note, The Typing Monkey staff put this mix to the test by setting the office CD player on random. After repeat plays, it never failed to play tracks 12 and 13 together, as they are meant to be.

Those tracks are The Vulcans' "Star Trek"-- a nifty, Moog-heavy reggae instrumental -- and Tony Allen's "NEPA Dance Dub." The latter finds the Fela Kuti drummer issuing a tense, syncopated Afro-funk heavy on the kind of simple repetition that Talking Heads employed.

Wieland manages to sneak in a couple Panoptikum cuts without breaking the mood, but that's not a big surprise given the style of music. Elaste 2 has no real party crashers, though the most dazzling moments shine much brighter than the rest. Either way, there's plenty to chew on here.

Reference materials: If you enjoy the sounds on Elaste 2, do spend some time investigating the Strut label, the efforts of the D*I*R*T*Y collective and, as if we don't hype it enough, the Smalltown Supersound label.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Powerhouse On the Big Screen

Stan Warnow, son of the musican/composer/inventor Raymond Scott, is making a documentary about his father.

The film, titled On To Something, is due to hit the festival circuit in late 2008 or early 2009. If it doesn't make it to your town, the DVD release can't be far behind.

They already gave the doc treatment to Leon Theremin, Robert Moog and Bruce Haack -- a Scott doc was long overdue.

Unfamiliar with the music of Raymond Scott? You only think you are. And yes, although the man died in 1994, he has a MySpace page. Sigh.

Bonus music-movie news: A Death in the Life of Joe Meek is making the festival rounds now.

[Raymond Scott news item courtesy of Earplug.]

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sold!

We could waste time defending the notion that DJs -- specifically those nimble-fingered men and women called "turntablists" -- can be considered musicans, and that a couple record players and a cross-fader are the instruments these people use to create new music from existing works.

It's clear where The Typing Monkey stands. Few, if any, who remain skeptical will change their minds. But perhaps DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist might convince with their third collaborative project, The Hard Sell.

Two DJs. Eight turntables. Four mixing decks. One echo box. Two looping pedals. And the source material comes entirely from 7" 45 rpm singles. No computers, digital editing, or pre-programming.

If you are reading this before July 27, 2008 and live on the West Coast, you have a few chances to catch the show.

If you've missed it, there's a DVD, a CD and for super geeks, a toy robot. Yes, a robot.

Here's the instructional video that starts off every performance of The Hard Sell. Dig it:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Now You Has Punk

If you missed this:



You can read more about it all over the interwebs, including here, here and here. [Scroll down to the 3 p.m. entry in that last link.]

The Typing Monkey's most favoritest person in the whole wide world said: "If they weren't already my favorite band, they would be now."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Llama Barn Is Empty

[Yet another full disclosure: S.L. Kreighton, publisher of The Typing Monkey, may or may not have worked as a cleaner alongside Das Llamas' drummer, Thomas Burke, when Mr. Burke possibley worked as a security operative on the property of prominent Seattle family.]

Sigh. Seattle quartet Das Llamas has disbanded. Just after the release of their second LP, Class Wars: K-12. Here's some details from the press release:

"Frontman Kerry Zettel will continue work with his band See Me River, whose new album, Time Machine, is due to drop on August 26 via Aviation Records & Don’t Stop Believin’ Records. [Zettel co-owns Aviation, which also released Das Llamas' recordings. -- ed.]

Das Llamas evolved out of singer/bassist/keyboardist Zettel’s collaboration with guitarist/keyboardist Shawn Kock, beginning in 1999. The duo teamed up with Pretty Girls Make Graves’ Nick DeWitt and Nathan Johnson to form Beehive Vault, and from that band’s quickly-produced ashes arose stabmasterarson.

Named for Chris Rock’s character in CB4, this incarnation of Zettel and Kock’s project saw the release of two EPs and, at the departure of their original drummer and the addition of Thomas Burke behind the kit, would eventually become Das Llamas. Aaron Everett joined the trio in early 2007 and the band recorded its first album."

***

Now bands break up all the time, and life goes on. But the fact that some of our readers won't have the opportunity to see Das Llamas live -- where the band's true power blossomed -- is the real loss.

Aside from Burke's visceral drumming and Everett banging away on his guitar as if he were unaware there were other musicians in the room (it worked, really), the multi-tasking of the band's two founders made Das Llamas the best kind of working band: as fun to see as they were to hear.

Zettel played bass or keyboards while he sang, and when he was too busy playing the keys, Kock would stomp on a scroll of triggers to keep bass tones moving while he played his guitar. Any audience member who was tired from dancing -- or sadly, too uptight to dance -- could at least stand back, enjoy a beverage and watch these men work.

A Das Llamas performance wasn't silly athleticism for the sake of showmanship, it was energetic playing in the service of songs that made four players sound like six. They will be missed.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

It's a Free Concert From Now On

[Full disclosure: The Typing Monkey is related to all four members of Girl Trouble, by blood and by common-law precedent set by the number of times the entire Typing Monkey staff has seen the band -- which is more than we can count.]

SubPop, the label founded on grunge and currently living well on indie-pop and indie-comedians, is celebrating 20 years in business by having a festival in Marymoor Park in Redmond, WA on July 12 and 13. Somehow, the invitation sent to Tacoma, WA band Girl Trouble -- whose Hit It or Quit was the first LP SubPop released -- got lost in the mail. [Wink-wink.]

So Girl Trouble has decided to do the only decent thing -- go to Marymoor Park and play the entirety of Hit It or Quit It acoustically, for free, outside the SubPop fooferah.

Here’s the press release:

GIRL TROUBLE PLAYS MARYMOOR PARK ANYWAY

As you may know, the first Girl Trouble album, Hit It or Quit It, was released on K/SubPop in 1988. In fact, this was the first full-length record SubPop ever released. The record matrix number was K/SP-20.

This month SubPop is hosting a huge, two-day concert of SubPop bands in Marymoor Park on July 12/13 to celebrate their 20 year anniversary. It’s billed as the SP-20 event, one letter off from the old Hit It or Quit It matrix number. Coincidence? You be the judge. Of course, Girl Trouble awaited the invitation to join their old friends and label-mates on stage for this most festive occasion.

Unfortunately. the band now suspects that a mistake has been made. They have yet to be contacted by their old label! With only weeks to spare it was obvious there was some sort of unintentional oversight by SubPop.

Girl Trouble has never been a band to let a small detail like not being invited deter them from joining in on any celebration. That’s why they have decided to bring some instruments and play the show anyway, somewhere in Marymoor Park, as close to the venue as they can legally get. This will be the first all-acoustic Girl Trouble show, playing selections from their SubPop album, Hit It or Quit It, in order.

Feel free to look for Girl Trouble somewhere in the park (possibly by some picnic tables or a tree) starting at noon, where they promise to entertain anybody who happens by. Unlike the $30 ticket price for the bands inside the Marymoor Park venue - there will be no charge for this one-day-only performance. Please join us on Saturday, July 12 for this special event. Don’t forget your picnic lunch, blanket and sun screen. Complimentary bag of chips to the first 40 K/SP-20 attendees. Hope to see you there!

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To SubPop's credit, they've posted the band's press release on their site. But, really, SubPop?