Thursday, July 31, 2003

SAM PHILLIPS (1923 - 2003)

Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, died yesterday.
He started the label in 1952 and, during its 17 year run, would include a roster of artists which read like a who's who of early rock icons: Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis, just to name a few.

Although he mainly recorded bluesmen early in his career, he recorded a few country performers as well. His interest in fusing the two styles created the rock and roll phenomenom, and popular music was changed forever. It's biggest star fell into Phillips' lap in 1954 when a teenage Presley walked into the Sun Studio looking to make a vanity recording for his mother's birthday. Recognizing the singer's potential, Phillips invited Elvis to a recording session for commercial release. Presley recorded five singles for Sun Records before Phillips sold his contract to RCA for $35,000 in 1955. Elvis Presley went on to become rock's most famous icon and Sam Phillips had enough money to develop Sun Records as he wished.

As a producer, Phillips had the ability to draw strong performances out of raw talent. Besides being one of the first producers to embrace fuzzed guitars, Phillips liked to record instruments at high levels in order to accentuate their presence in the recording.
Thanks to both the studio's use of slapback echo as well as the well positioned micing of instruments, Sun Records developed a crisp sound quality admired by record collectors to this day.

Sam Phillips sold the Sun catalog in 1969 to Shelby Singleton. The demise of Sun is attributed to a combination of numerous factors: rockabilly's waning popularity, stars like Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins moving on to major labels, and Phillips' unwillingness to adapt to new technologies and trends.

I recently picked up a three-disc compilation, the Legendary Sun Records Story, which provides an overview of the label's body of work. Elvis Presley is absent from the collection, but all of the label's other stars as well as a number of its lesser known artists are represented here.
A follow up compilation, the Legendary Sun Records Story Volume 2, is also available, as are many reissues of the original recordings.

For more info:
Sun Records official site
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame entry for Sam Phillips
Country Music Hall of Fame entry for Sam Phillips
All Music Guide entry for Sam Phillips

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Every week, the New York Press publishes a column called the Dustbin which I really like. In it, Derek Davis profiles an obscure or forgotten artist from years ago.

I was hoping to find some sort of general homepage or something which I could add to my links, but was unable to find one. Until I do, I'll try to link to his most current column each week.
Some upcoming shows of interest:

July 30: Susheela Raman and Haale @ Joe's Pub (New York NY)
I know absolutely nothing about either of them, but Raman has been described as "a concentrated distillation South Indian classical music, North Indian folk and pop melodies, rock, funk and drum 'n' bass, with an added edge of intensity and spontaneity."
Haale, meanwhile, "blends ancient Persian melodies with contemporary Western instrumentals, creating pieces that are quintessentially hybrid, reflecting both her lyrical Persian roots and her American alternative rock aesthetic."
Sounds interesting.

August 7: the Walkmen, Adam Green, and the Oranges Band @ Pier 54 (New York NY)
I've heard only one song by the Walkmen, and it's amazing.
I saw Adam Green a bunch of times when I used to go down to the Sidewalk to play at their open mic. He was one of the better people playing there, and now he's a rock star.
If you need more incentive, the show's free.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

the Pernice Brothers and the Tyde @ Mercury Lounge (New York NY) - July 25, 2003
I really knew nothing about either band going into the show except: 1) I'd read an article about Joe Pernice a while back and he's writing a book, and 2) the Tyde was advertised as ex-Beachwood Sparks. I got to the show late enough to miss the opening band (King Radio), but just in time to buy the last ticket.

The Tyde was pleasant enough and they played a nice set of summery California pop songs. It was the sort of set, however, where you start to think about how long you've been standing and begin to wonder when they're going to announce their last song.
They were obviously having a lot of fun on stage and played together very well. Unfortunately, the sound was kind of muddy and it was especially hard at times to differentiate between the guitars and the organ. The low point was "All My Bastard Chldren," which started off with just drums and organ, and sounded like it could've been a Sparklehorsesque slow burner but it ended up sounding like the Band once everyone else started playing. The quickly redeemed themselves towards the end of the set, when they dedicated a song to their "friends from the West Coast" and played something which sounded like what would've happened if the early Beach Boys wrote "Back in the USSR." It was one of the most brilliant pop songs I've heard in a while.

The Pernice Brothers had a clearer sound and played a set of incredibly well written pop songs. After a seemingly long set (which was still too short), Joe Pernice came back for an encore of two solo songs on an acoustic guitar. Not only were both songs amazing, I couldn't help but wonder why I'd never heard more about him in the past. The rest of the band came out for a few more songs, and then it was over.
A few days ago I declared Hot Hot Heat to be the best band I saw live this summer. Strike that. The Pernice Brothers are. Both bands are playing again tonight at the Mercury Lounge and deserve to be seen. Go.
The Village Voice has a photo spread of shots from the Siren Festival. In looking at the Idlewild picture, I spotted myself in the crowd. I'm the dorky looking head just to the left of the singer's microphone.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

I had no interest in getting to know David Bazan. Sure, I've heard lots of good things about his band, Pedro the Lion, but there were always two things mentioned in every article I read: 1) he's a Christian, and 2) he's a very good lyricist.
I don't know why the public acknowledgement of his religion bothered me so much, but I imagined him sounding like a Gosepl-preachin', Hallelujah-singin', DC Talk for the indie set. And call me cynical, but I got to the point whenever I hear someone praised for their lyrical content, I take it as a codeword for boring music.
So for a few years, I always passed over PTL in the record store in exchange for other worthy additions to my music collection. That is, until last year.

I came across Winners Never Quit (2000) in the store, and in a why the hell not? kind of mood, I bought it (along with a rather lackluster Kahimi Karie album -- but I digress). It immediately became my favorite purchase of the year as I played it nonstop for weeks.
My two fears concerning PTL were eased right from the start. The Jesus references were no more than those found in the American folk music which has been around for generations. Most interesting, what unfolded over the course of the album was a morality story concerning two brothers, temptation, failure, and redemption. In listening to the record, Bazan proved himself every bit worthy of all the praise he received for his lyrics. He's one of a dying breed of songwriters who try to communicate stories through their music and comes out with clever lyrics capable of conveying universal feelings. And musically, it holds its place alongside any other good indie record.

I was a convert and a believer. When my brother asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I gave him a laundry list of cds and made sure Control (2002) was on it. It didn't floor me right away as did Winners Never Quit, but it's still very good. The songs don't come together to tell a complete story this time around, but a fuller rock band sound is in its place. It's another welcome addition to my record collection.
My only regret is how long it took us to become acquainted.

For more info:
Pedro the Lion official site
Pedro the Lion fan site (much more info than the official site)
Jade Tree Records
All Music entry for Pedro the Lion

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Some upcoming shows of interest:

July 24: the Starlight Mints and April March @ Mercury Lounge (New York NY)
I've seen the Starlight Mints twice before and they were good enough for me to pick up the Dream That Stuff Was Made Of -- an above average pop album with nice quirky twists and turns.
As for April March, I've only heard one song by her, but it was pretty good. I was quite surprised to discover she's a modern day American, as opposed to the 1960's French chanteusse she sounds like.

July 26: Strip Mall Seizures, the Gross Gang, the Pins, and the Afflict @ Fort Awesome (Brooklyn NY)
I know nothing about any of these bands, but it's run by Dan of the Units and the last time I went to one of his shows, it was very cool and a lot of fun. It's also free (but bring your own beverages).

MOONDOG self-titled (CBS)
I picked up this album on a whim at Tower Records. I was browsing through the classical section when I noticed it at a listening station accompanied with his New York Times obituary. To briefly summarize, Louis Hardin was a self-taught composer who lost his eyesight as a teenager. He moved to New York where he became a streetperformer who dressed in homemade Viking-esque clothing. After being discovered by a couple of Carnegie Hall musicians, he began to receive invitations to sit in on their rehearsals. He adopted the name Moondog in the late 1940's and began to release albums in the mid 1950's. He died in 1999.

This record is a compilation of his first two releases on Columbia Records (Moondog and Moondog 2). The first album, released in 1969, is a wonderful combination of classical music, jazz, and 1960's avant garde, mostly performed by an orchestra but peppered with a few spoken bits by Hardin. The second album, released in 1971, is a collection of madrigals, rounds, and canons. The "chorus" is just many overdubbed tracks of Hardin and his daughter singing, while the music provides a sparser accompaniment. Both albums, however, betray Hardin's life long interest in percussion.

If you like Philip Glass, J.S. Bach, or Stereolab, you might like Moondog.

For more info:
Moondog's Corner (official site)
All Music Entry for Moondog

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Siren Festival @ Coney Island (Brooklyn NY) - July 19, 2003
The original Siren Festival in 2001 had indie fans across New York rubbing their eyes to re-read the announcement. Guided By Voices, Superchunk, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Man...Or Astro-Man?, Enon, Quasi, and a bunch of other bands all on the same bill AND playing for free? It was too good to be true. But it was.
Last year's event didn't quite pack the same punch. They had a couple of next big things (Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs), indie darlings (the Shins), and even the token veteran (Sleater-Kinney), but the bill as a whole just wasn't as impressive as the previous year. Throw in a really bad sound system and an explosion at a Manhattan Con Ed plant which shut down the subways and highways for a few hours and prevented access to Coney Island, and the 2002 show was almost forgettable.

Enter the Field Day Festival. Flaunting bands such as Radiohead, Blur, the Beastie Boys, and Elliott Smith, the 2003 Siren Festival was doomed to pale in comparison. But Field Day would suffer a fate worse than snarled traffic and stalled trains, and Siren was poised once again to be a sunny spot of rock and roll fun for New York.

And fun in the sun it was. There's really no better place for a summer rock festival than America's sleaziest amusement park.
Due to some poor personal planning, I arrived much later than I'd hoped and got there during the Sahara Hotnights' set. After about four repetetive songs through a muddy sound system, I made my way over to the second stage to see the bland rap stylings of Northern State. I quickly got bored and headed back to the main stage where Hot Hot Heat was setting up. They were clearly the best live band I've seen so far this summer and they certainly made me forget about the sweaty crowds and scorching sun. I had hoped to catch a little bit of Modest Mouse before going back to the second stage to see Idlewild, but the main stage ran late. Nevertheless, Idlewild played well as the sun set on another Siren Festival.

It's kind of interesting how in just two years, Siren went from being the Monsters of Indie Rock to the Celebration of the Next Big Thing. I suppose the free factor plays a bit of a role in who plays, although admittedly it is kind of disappointing to know the show went from hosting such illuminaries as GBV and Superchunk to tomorrow's bargain bin stars like Northern State and the Datsuns.
Having said that, if you take it for what it really is -- a day at the beach with rock bands and amusement rides -- summer doesn't get any better than this.

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