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A compendium of all my online content in one handy bloated site! You're welcome!

Lunch tonight was: Carnitas, carnne asada and pollo tacos from the place by the Harley Davidson store. Washed down with a half litre Mexican coke!

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Alex V. Cook is an author, journalist and music critic living Baton Rouge, LA. His work has appeared in The Believer, The Oxford American, DownBeat, Paste Magazine, Hails and Horns and The Wire, and his first collection of essays Darkness, Racket and Twang: Essential Listening from the Fringes of Popular and Unpopular Culture was published by Side Cartel in 2006.

He is the music editor for, editor for Sweet Tooth, and a frequent contributor to 225 Magazine, OffBeat and Country Roads.

He is a founding contributor to the Badasses of Contemporary Composition blog.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Coolest Song Ever Right Now: Robert Pete Williams - "Prisoner's Talking Blues"

Despite the unnerving fact that Dire Straits - "Walk on By" has been entering my head everytime I get in the car for the last week, I declare this number as the Coolest Song Ever Right Now.

Spectral. Moving. Haunted. Elemental. Its like this is a hard, damaged little acorn of a song that the entire Oak of Music grew from.

The whole album is as good as the cover promises, eschewing the usual musicological aridity plaguing similar collections (Arhoolie complilations are the best) and is actually filled to capacity with moving and entertaining performances, and this song is but the first on the disc, but perhaps its all you need.

Robert Pete Williams - "Prisoner's Talking Blues"

Monday, March 27, 2006

My Love is Bigger Than Your love

x-post-facto : originally on outsideLeft
Now that I am off my meds, I can once again feel the wrecking ball of emotion, alternately flying high into the blue sky with unstoppable Cartesian fortitude only then to hit the hall with a pronounced thud, turning the wall to rubble and losing a bit of my own veneer with each crash. Is it better than a prescription cloud, who’s to say, depends on what you are truing to do with your time. But in times like these, I look to certain bands to soundtrack the swinging doors banging on the sides of my psychic barn. The Fall is a good choice here, with its barked nightmares set to the steadiest tempos available, The Stooges Raw Power – albeit that band's most commercial recording still hits with a harder punch than its demon orgy sister Fun House. Shellac fit the bil some times as well, but really, why spend all that time sifting ingredients when its all baked in a gleefully violent batshit pie in the Welsh band Mclusky.

Mclusky went largely unnoticed outside of listservs it seems, but every time they did come up, it was accompanied with glorious adulation. The razor wire guitar, nutzoid vocals and lyrica, car crash percussion and over all bad-assedness made the three albums they put out in their short lifetime as classics in kicking against the pricks. (I say that, but their final missive The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not on Fire flew so low under the radar, a rabid fan like myself has yet to hear the whole thing, but the tracks I have heard showed it to have the same villainous power that McLusky Does Dallas had, and that’s an album I’ve listened to so many time it would show up on a drug screen. But like all beautiful creatures, life has robbed of it, and the band imploded luike everyone who cared predicted.

Too Pure and singer Andrew Falkous answered the howling wolves asking for scraps, and pulled together a 3 CD boxset of rarities, singles, outtakes, but that like the rest of their material, escapes my presence, so what I have is the single CD distillation. But we wolves are thankful for scraps. Here you have the Greatest Rock Song of All Time “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” panting gleaming in its eerie electric blue sweat after tearing the modern condition a new asshole, “Alan is cowboy Killer” writhing in its own adrenaline excess and quell surprise, some tender moments like the summer-melodic “She Will Only Bring You Happiness” and the methamphetamine bubblegum twist of “Rice is Nice.” Should you have never heard the band, and all signs point to you being in that number, high on down one of them online stores, and try to not enact a rabid-money version of the dances from the iPod ads, gleefully jumping on car windshields and kicking trashcans into the street, and screaming with abandon “Mclusky is Dead, Long Like Mclusky.” It’s maybe the last bit of rock-n-roll in a Zarathustra sense, so get on it and happily bang your head on the wall as the universe peters out, largely do this bands absence in it.


Monday, March 13, 2006

Way Down Yonder in a Hollow Supernova

x-post facto: originally posted in outsideLeft

I have an internal list of empty blanks I wish to fill, things that are probably out there but evade my discovery. Among the unnamables are an Ecstatic Dub-Metal combo, some ramshackle Vintage Chamber Quicksand Music, and others. But recently I’ve been able to scratch Chicker Fried Trance Music off that list, partly because of the resurgence of Fluxus upstart Henry Flynt’s back catalog and because of the backyard poke salot hybrid that is Town and Country. I’ve landed my musical butterfly on them a couple times over the years and it never gave up the nectar, but their latest Up Above is positively turgid with pollen and sweet life-giving juice.

Town and Country trade in a sub-riff level of repetition, where pulses interlock on whatever is handy, kitchen sink percussion rattling in its breeze. Yet, (and this is the key for successful acoustic trance music), it does not come off like a jam, but as an organic thick progression. Avant-garde gumbo music if you will. It moves between clop-clop horse beats over an acre of foghorns like on “Blue Lotus Feet” and subterranean schizophrenic blues on “Phoney Fuckin’ Mountain”; plunky-punky Orientalism on “Bee call” and full bore sitar bliss out on “King of Portugal” but dull yoga music this never becomes.

It’s what the hum of the invisible threads connecting all things sound like as they are lazily bowed by an immaculately stoned God. It is the echos of the moos and farts from that cow the Norse believe was present at the dawn of time. It is the golden woodpecker, hammering away on the Tree of Knowledge. It’s the kind of music that makes me want to keep on exhaling until I am spent into breath. And evidently, it is the kind of stiuff that leads me into embarrassingly flowery prose, but I don’t care. I will gladly hop aboard this peace train before it derails down the rabbit hole. Peace out, bitches.

Town and Country - "Phoney Fuckin' Mountain"

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Bring the Sludge

x-post facto: originally posted at outsideLeft

Nary is there a more manly art than sludge metal. Totimoshi recently proved that them with teats are equally adept at flying the mud-crusted flag, so its no boy’s club in its nature, but there is something purely knucklehead masculine about it. Its like that annual game of mud football you get in, or when provoked at a work party gone akimbo, you wrestle a co-worker whose shit you have to endure day in and out. It just feels good. It’s not a workout, it’s not even a release; it’s just opening that cellar door and letting the inner caveman off the leash for a bit.

One recent release that makes me want to get my Incredible Hulk on (really, when you get into that tired “what superpower would you want?” meme, Hulk powers are the logical choice, no?) is Vampire Circus from Maryland Sasquatch-metal combo Earthride. The fat giant riffs sound like they came from a volcano, and singer/bassist Dave Sherman has a sack-of-meat wrecking ball voice that sounds like it suffered under hours of practice for a belch-the-alphabet tournament against Lemmy from Motorhead. In other words, it’s absolutely brilliant.

Like many sludge classics, the songs kinda all tread the same muddied waters but the ones that stick out are “Understand” with a guitar solo that can only be doused by holy bongwater (when are we as a musical community going to get over our aversion to the guitar solo? We don’t need to go on for 10 minutes or anything, but c’mon. Everyone loves a perfect quick guitar solo.) and the organ-ground end times blues of “Dirtnap.” And really, my favorite on any sludge record is the extended “Maggot Brain” moment (and in case you didn’t know, Funkadelic’s 10-ton album of that title is as important a document in doom metal as the first Black Sabbath album, though its influence may be subliminal to the average practitioner of the dark art) and that is found in “Loss” which beats that dead horse for a merciful 6 minutes. Bursts of guitar smoke erupt in between the hooves of the Reaper's horse as he surveys the poisoned crop of humanity for his next soul. Or something like that. It’s a bleak picture, but the fun kind of bleak. The kind of bleak that you can water ski behind. It’s meat and potatoes anhililation Earthride trade in, and it’s your buds left slackjawed, holding your beer.

Come listen to where it all culminates: Earthride - "Swamp Witch"

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Seriously, Touch Me. I'm Not Sick Anymore

x-post facto: originally on outsideLeft

What happened to music that bands have these protracted lifespans? Used to be the Rolling Stones were the only ones allowed to outstay their welcomes, and the Beatles and Duran Duran were considered impressive that they made the decade mark before dissolving (I don’t consider the new Duran Duran official. Not for any real reason, but it just doesn’t feel right) but now, every goddamn band hangs around forever.

Take Mudhoney, for instance. Superfuzz Bigmuff was perhaps the only truly necessary document out of the Grunge movement Nirvana wasn’t involved with (and both of those are probably due to their relative tangential relationship to the grunge marketing machine) and they had their moments over the years, and the true believers hung on like happy little ticks, and I never really got it. I thought they were good, but not that good. Not devotional good. I figure a number of people must’ve had what I call a “Bauhaus moment” with them early on, where a tendril of a notorious group laps into your psyche and something clicks and never unclicks. Even when you’ve grown past the band itself, that click still resonates in your head.

Mudhoney trudges ever forward, and by the sounds of Under a Billion Suns, I might just come around. Mark Arm still has that arena-in-my-garage croon that falls just short of the required pitch to make the thing ring. He can sing, but he can’t Sing. Also, lyrically, I’ve always thought Mudhoney a little weak, a little obvious. And none of this is exactly corrected here, but the elements converge to make a great album. That ambience of menace, the incessant somnambulant groove, the ebb and flow tide that mid-tempo Mudhoney songs do so well is perfectly in check. “Where is the Future?” – a lament about the absence of jetpacks may not be cutting any new soil, but the way the horns, the feedback rings and the vocals interplay with the pop-Melvins trudge totally works. Faux metallers, take note: this is how “stoner rock” is supposed to sound.

The rest of the record staggers on this trajectory with great poise as well. Mudhoney is a band I’ve always associated with Sonic Youth, based mostly on that early split 7” they did on Sub Pop eons ago, and I have to say, Mudhoney has fared better. I get the feeling Sonic Youth is more into being “Sonic Youth” than pursuing a rockist musical trajectory. Maybe the screwdriver-in-my-strat dynamics is just not that jarring anymore. But Mudhoney still lives in the world of fuzz and reverb they always have; they just have learned to navigate it better. Indie blues-metal workouts like “I Saw the Light” are timeless like those early Sabbath albums. “Endless Yesterday” is a woozy ballad abouthe apocalypse, and the shining moment is the lost alternative power anthem “Empty Shells” where they proclaim “We are the empty shells of our former selves” but honestly, I think they’ve filled those ravaged husks quite nicely.

I might just have to go re-investigate the Mudhoney catalog of the past couple years to see what I’ve been missing, or I might just let it go, and pick up at this point. “Let’s Drop In” which pits Arm’s death howl and some akimbo drumming and an errant horn or two makes for the best track that never made The Complete Funhouse Sessions. And its good advice on any band that’s been soldiering on even while no one was watching, it’s worth your time to see what the greasy kid stuff has turned into. You just might like it.

Mudhoney - "Let's Drop In"

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Separated at Birth: INXS and Shellac

OK, clearly not. INXS being the most palatable and rockist of the pretty boy new wave era in retrospect, and Shellac being the homliest and workmanlike of the raw nerve post punk era in endless re-hash. Yet, while cleaning up the kitchen after yet another glowing success with barbecue chicken (The tabasco spicy BBQ sauce is infallible) I was struck by both these two songs playing in my head. Then, it reminded me of a friend of mine.

Shellac - "House Full Of Garbage"

And no, this is not a comment on the state of my kitchen. But I had a friend that fit the description of the lost soul depicted in this song. His house was filled with garbage, like bags and bags of it, finally turning into a labyrinth to his living room. He was rather unabashed at his conscious squalor, as every friend he had began to distance themselves from his madness that had grown from amusing to dangerous. This was a guy prone to projects: homebrewing, pinhole cameras, taping every single miniseries, etc, and that's what I liked about him. His mania was a noble stab at the dark of the complacent life. Its when he crossed the line into being filthy that his humanity began to get too thick to deal with. Soon after that, I moved across country and kept sporadic-at-best email contact.

Upon re-arriving in town, I hooked up with him for dinner, and clearly the years had taken their toll. He was jittery, the spark drained from him. He had lost all friends, and really was to weird to bring into my circle now that I had a family. I liked the guy, still like the guy, but he became too much to take.

Evidently, that sentiment followed through onto his physician, who put him on Hardcore Atkins, gave him meds to cure his adamant insomnia and thoughts-of-doom. He got his physical and emotional sides back in working order, and rejoined the human race with renewed gusto. And I tried to pull him back in, but there were too many ashes left over from burnt efforts. It was difficult looking at him now, even though he was clearly happier than he'd ever been in his life.

INXS - "Don't Change" (still trying to find a copy)

It is so strange that there are roads down which you can go, and walk back up safely, and never be the same again. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for the guy. His turnaround is extraordinary, but something happened while he was down that road, and maybe while I was down my own parallel road that just severed that connection.

Maybe this all came up because this friend was a master of the grill, would procure tons of smoked meat that he got free from some obsessive abuse of a grocery chain's policy that if you find something expired and bring it to the manager's attention, the store will give you a good one free. He and another glorious nutjob would hit these store daily, reporting back to each other that suntan lotion was going to expire at the one College Dr., whereas there is a big block of Velveeta about to turn the corner out on the north side of town. I'm not making this up. He would get tons of meat out of the deal and have these elaborate dinner parties (before the garbage thing hit full throttle) to eat off his bounty. I had an art show years ago, and he brought a platter of smoked lamb to set among my paltry table of chips and boxed wine.

He's a good guy, an interesting guy. But I have a couple other friends that are on similar paths because of which the friendships probably will not recover, and that's a little sad, but its the raw fact of linear existence: everything moves forward, always and forever, and there is a reason that objects in the rear view mirror seem closer than they are, because its the residue of those things that propels you.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Get Your Meme On: Andrei Codrescu on Baton Rouge

Listen to the NPR Broadcast

Even though Andrei is somewhat of a fixture in this town, known equally for being a powerful poetry teacher and a lethario (his nickname in the past was "Andrei Undress-you") it is still a trip to hear someone talk about the Wal-Mart I go to (with alarming increase) on National Public Radio.

I don't know Andrei personally, though I've met him a number of times through mutual friends, and he's always struck me as a rather genuine guy, like he has the juice to back up his Big Poet persona. I bought a copy of one of his anthologies "A Craving for Swan" at a yard sale once, priced very conspicuously by the jealous colleague of his, selling his gratis copy for .10. I remeber the guy spitting, "well, I can't just give it away I guess" through his contempt, feeling his act of definace against his much more popular peer needed to be underscored. Anyway, I had a friend get Andrei to sign it, and he wrote "I've done worse for a quarter, but never so much for a dime." I'm not exactly sure his point in that statement, but he won me over with ot anyway. And with the article in there revolving around his Rumanian grandmother's recipe for potato soup. My copy has been long lost in the ether of cross-country moves, but I made the recipe once, and I remember it was pretty good.

The story page at NPR:

Thursday, March 02, 2006

On Not Being in Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti

x-post facto: originally seen at outsideLeft

Ariel Pink is kind of a pet project for me critically speaking. I am well aware of the Emprorer’s New Clothes in his disjointed post-kareoke nightmare, and how he may not be as savant as he proclaims, or rather, is proclaimed about him. But that’s the trouble with all “outsider” art, people get too caught up in the semiotics and the authenticity fetishism to really enjoy or hate the work with any sense of personal honesty. And with a sincere face, I can say I like Ariel Pink’s work. I like the patina of madness that tints every AM Gold garbled broadcast coming out of his transistor brain.

His latest sand-shovel-ful from his supposed daunting back catalog of lo-fi jewelry House Arrest is just as delicious as last year’s Worn Copy, as desolate and harrowing as The Doldrums the year before. There is a carnival ping-pong aspect to this that is absent from the others, but mostly it is still an echo drenched slab of startling music that comes at you like the ghost of Gino Vanelli haunting a mineshaft. Each record of his has a “hit” and this one is the opener “Hardcore Pops are Fun” a Vince Clark buoyant cheer for the glory of drugs! Hurrah! Though, my personal favorite is the fucked piano ballad “Oceans of Weep” that gets almost jazzy at points with a stolling bass line and wandering piano cometeing with his rainstick-impersonation percussion.

The reason for the above title is that Ariel has a thing going on his current tour where he gets a local act in each city to be his backing band for the second part of his set, and I signed up immediately for it, thinking my marginal guitar work to be perfect to accompany him, but thankfully a local synth pop band Slobot beat me to it. Ariel live seems to be a video snapshot of what its like to create this mayhem in his bedroom studio: punching the drum machine awake, stabbing at the keyboard and pacing around like a caged animal, with a stage persona somewhere between Otis Redding and Max Headroom. Slobot added some balance, some structure to their part of his set, something that I would’ve been able to do.

My role would have been to merely confound the audience more, making them wish they were back to just one village idiot on stage instead of two. And really, I’m being too hard on the boy. He clearly has a grasp of what he’s after. He managed to keep us rapt with just him and a couple machines. The last person to be able to coax as much magic out of a cheap echo pedal was Lee “Scratch” Perry, back before he went truly mad. If anything, I saw that Ariel is very real, that this is no hipster ironic act. It's feral and, in a way, inspiring. I’m glad I got to be but a spectator in all this rather than an inept participant, I got to look into his abyss without fear of jumping in with him.

Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti - "Oceans of Weep"