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Music Notes


We need to talk about the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. As always, it’s worth noting that Hall of Fame’s are stupid generally and that’s especially true with something like music, where there’s not even a useful metric. That said, one would hope the best available acts would be elected. And year after year after year, most of them not only do not get elected, they don’t even make it to the finalists. The large majority of inductions fall into two categories. First, a rock band active between 1967 and 1975 who had some songs make the cut for classic rock radio. Second, a guitar-oriented band from a later era, preferably with a lot of blues-influenced solos that appeal to white men between the ages of 60 and 75.

This has led to a criticism of the acts that get into the HOF, which have heavily excluded black acts, hip hop, R&B acts, as well as more underground and influential acts that heavily shaped modern music even if they didn’t sell a ton at the time (Television, Big Star, etc). Stung a bit by this criticism, the HOF changed up the voting a few years to skew much younger. It hasn’t helped. The same types of acts are elected year after year, to increasingly absurdity given the difference in quality between them and who is not being inducted.

Let’s look at this year’s inductions. I was happy to see Sister Rosetta Tharpe inducted and was shocked that she wasn’t before. This is an obvious call. I don’t really see Nina Simone’s music as rock and roll, but certainly she was influential to so many people and no one could be displeased by her induction. The fan vote elected Bon Jovi, which is a bad band, but at least an incredibly popular one that helped define a generation of bad music. The fans are always going to vote for bad bands (Kiss, Journey, etc). And to be honest, that’s better than what is coming.

I suppose I have no problem with The Cars. It’s just not a band I think much about. But shiny shimmery 80s guitar rock that had a lot of successful albums? Alright. I wouldn’t vote for them in a broader competition, but I can’t complain too much. Dire Straits, well, alright I guess. Mark Knopfler is obviously a great guitar player. But the real commercial impact of that band was just Brothers in Arms. There are other albums and a few other hits like “Sultan of Swing.” But what is the broader impact here? Who is influenced by them? They seem to fail on a number of merits, primarily that they are not convincing in any one area. They are the Dwight Evans of rock bands. And I say this as someone who is a minor fan who owns several of their albums. But they have a lot of guitar solos that appeal to the HOF voters. And so of course Dire Straits was going to get in.

But the election of The Moody Blues? WTF? The Moody Blues were a flat out terrible band. Now, they started off OK with their original British invasion sound. But once Justin Hayward took over as the lead of the band and they went with a bullshit psychedelic soft rock filled with atrocious poetry that would make Jim Morrison blush and lush arrangements of songs that meant nothing, it was lousy album after lousy album. Say this for Days of Future Past–it was at least innovative. “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon” aren’t really terrible songs. But starting with 1968’s In Search of the Lost Chord and continuing through their first breakup after 1972’s Seventh Sojourn (and ignoring entirely their various comeback albums, for obvious reasons), it was just laughably bad music that was somewhat popular, largely panned by critics, influenced almost no one, and is not particularly remembered fondly by people active in music today. In fact, In Search of the Lost Chord is a great album to interrogate about why this band sucks. There’s the vomit-inducing paean to Timothy Leary, “Legend of a Mind,” written by Ray Thomas and therefore filled with a flute solo. “Ride My See Saw” was the big hit and is just a super dumb song. And what album could be complete without “Om,” including some hot Justin Heyward sitar action? Plus two, 2!, bad Graeme Edge poems. Great! And then there’s 1970’s A Question of Balance. It’s big hit “Question” isn’t even a song. It’s two half-formed songs, one a fast heavy-strumming Who ripoff and the other a slow ballad that would stand up on their own, shoved together into one crappy song. God, I hate The Moody Blues.

But they were the next 60s band who hadn’t been inducted and so here we are. Jethro Tull has a significantly more compelling case than this. King Crimson has a massively more compelling case. Sir Douglas Quintet would blow The Moody Blues off the stage (and in Erik land is the greatest snub from that era, as merely one of the greatest bands ever formed). So even by the standards of 60s bands that haven’t been inducted, The Moody Blues is a terrible choice.

The problem with The Moody Blues is that they are a terrible band. But they were active between 1967 and 1973 and had a some hits. So welcome to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Before all the Baby Boomers yell at me in the comments, let me ask you under what metric should The Moody Blues be inducted? Influential? No. Critically loved? No. Era-defining popularity? I mean, they had some hits, but not really.

And let’s be clear about who is getting excluded so The Moody Blues can get in: Including Sonic Youth. That’s right: The Moody Blues is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Sonic Youth is not. I have nothing else to say after that.

Oh yeah, Ray Thomas also died the other day. So did Motorhead guitarist Fast Eddie Clarke. At 67, he was the last surviving original member. Which, let’s face it, is not surprising. You know another band that should obviously be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ahead of The Moody Blues? Motorhead. And I don’t even really like Motorhead.

A friend of Simon and myself, Charles Hughes, noted music historian, is spending 2018 reviewing the 50th anniversary of albums released in 1968. Should be pretty cool. The first entry: Elvis’ Gold Records, Volume 4, which is not a great set of songs. But Charles still finds value in it. He’s since done Hag’s Sing Me Back Home, which is a great fucking album, and Taj Mahal’s self-titled album, which reminds me that I have never listened to a Taj Mahal album.

Album Reviews, consisting almost entirely of American women and the African diaspora:

Coathangers, Parasite

My favorite punk band had a short EP out last year and it’s a solid five-song set. One is an alternative version of their awesome song “Down Down” off Nosebleed Weekend, the other 4 are new, with “Captain’s Dead” being particularly excellent. The great advantage of an EP is that it is a bit of methadone before the next hit of Sweet Lady H comes hopefully soon. Good stuff.


Downtown Boys, Cost of Living

These leftist Providence punks have the following description on their Bandcamp page:

The position of Providence, RI’s Downtown Boys has been clear since they started storming through basements and DIY spaces with their radically-minded rock music: they are here to topple the white-cis-het hegemony and draft a new history. Downtown Boys began by combining revolutionary ideals with boundless energy and contagious, inclusive fun, and their resolve has only strengthened as their sound and audience have grown.

Well, that’s a very specific kind of language for a specific kind of punk. I thought the music improved since their last album. The lyrics, well, they ain’t subtle. Chanting “Fuck That!” in the opening song “The Wall” is not an overly sophisticated analysis. But what do they care? I’m sure they would tell this middle-aged cis white male to fuck off. And so they should. The full effect of this band, for better or slightly less better, is in the KEXP clip below.


Brandy Clark, Big Day in a Small Town

This 2016 release is a strange album. In the first half, loaded with the songs that were intended to be the singles, I found this way too pop country. Not over the top douchecountry, but too geared toward country radio for my taste. On most albums, the 8th and 10th of 11 songs are usually some of the weakest songs before the big ending. But I really liked the songs on the backend. “Three Kids No Husband” and “Drinkin’ Smokin’ Cheatin'” are solid country songs about bad relationships that remind me why I like Angaleena Presley. And then the closer, “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven” was a good end of album ballad. If only there weren’t so many cooks in the kitchen of creating country-radio friendly pop hits at the front end. Meanwhile, Clark herself wrote “Drinkin” and co-wrote “Three Kids” with the always reliable Lori McKenna. To some extent, this album is the problem with contemporary country music, drowning quality talent in bad ideas, even as the raw talent shines through at times.


Vince Staples, Summertime ’06

Staples is a great talent, even if this 20-song album from 2015 is a bit exhausting. This Long Beach hip-hop artist is a man of the gangsta life, but that’s because he was born into it and never saw much of a chance to escape. He avoids most of the violence and misogyny that can sometimes go into this genre of hip-hop. But it’s not like life is fun. In fact, it’s a pretty big drag. The police are the only people who make him run, but he doesn’t romanticize his toughness. There are dead bodies here and there, but he doesn’t romanticize that either. He hears his teacher teaching black history as oppression and his mom talking about black history as the successor of kings and he doesn’t quite know what to believe. He sells coke with his dad and that’s his version of capitalism. It’s a pretty unrelenting look at black urban life and a good album, if again, a little tiring at an hour.


Bassekou Koyate and Ngoni Ba, Ba Power

This 2015 record features the Malian ngoni master Koyate and his band. The ngoni is a little 4-string instrument about the size of a mandolin but boy if Koyate doesn’t do a lot with it. It’s a family band compounded with a lot of outside guests, including Robert Plant’s drummer, which isn’t surprising given the work Plant has done with African musicians. The outside guitars and the like might swallow up the ngoni work a bit too much here. But it’s a quality release from a great musician.


Soul Sok Séga: Séga Sounds from Mauritius, 1973-1979

In the last decade, compilations of world music from the 1970s have flooded the market. And while at some point, these may have diminishing returns, by and large that hasn’t happened too much yet. That’s because the 1970s was this amazing time for music around the world, where newly independent nations combined their political freedoms with the influence of great music from the United States, the Caribbean, Africa, and Latin America. Not all of this melds the same–Thai rock and pre-Pinochet Chilean psychedelic bands have strikingly different sounds but this combination of globalized music and developing world political possibilities created a potent mix. Plus so much of the music sounds great.

That’s the case for this collection from Mauritius, the island in the Indian Ocean I am guessing few of us have ever thought much about. Séga is traditional Mauritian music that originated with the importation of African slaves in the 17th century. I don’t enough about the musical tradition to know what the older stuff sounded like. Here, it sounds like a bunch of people melding rock, R&B and reggae into their traditional sounds, like so many other musical traditions. And it sounds very good. This is a fun album.


Rough Guide to Voodoo

Rough Guide collections are usually good introductions to musical traditions. Now a venerable machine of world music themselves, they play a major role in the world music landscape. This collection of voodoo, released in 2013, covers Louisiana, Haiti, and Cuba at the very least and is a really great introduction to this music, which originated in modern Ghana and Benin before the slave economy began and then transformed itself over the centuries into a variety of traditions that in popular culture are connected to the occult. And some of this music is raw and weird. It’s also a great intro to it, with more accessible songs by people such as Dr. John interspersed with intense cuts from Haitian albums. However, given the huge variety of this music, I’m not sure 2 different versions of “Marie Laveau” were required, even if they are quite different.


Loretta Lynn, Full Circle

When you are Loretta Lynn, you can do whatever you want. That might not often lead to great results. But sometimes it does, most notably with the Jack White-produced Van Lear Rose. Full Circle is not that. But it’s fine. Loretta’s voice holds up well for being 83 at the time of recording. I’d probably rather have less re-recordings of earlier songs, including some of her very first tunes, as well as the legendary “Fist City.” In the history of Loretta’s recordings, this is fairly minor. For the average music fan who thinks Loretta is pretty cool but maybe doesn’t have the patience to hunt down her many albums over the years, this is a nice intro to her music.


Corrine Bailey Rae, The Heart Speaks in Whispers

This 2016 album by British R&B singer Corrine Bailey Rae is fine. And that’s what it is: fine. It consists of completely listenable, totally respectable singing and arrangements. But there’s little exceptional about it either. Moreover, why does this album need to be 75 minutes long over 16 tracks? It does not. When CDs first showed up around 1990, there was a sudden boom in overlong albums. We have space to fill! That led to a lot of very bad decisions. Then people again realized that 35 minutes of great music led to a much better album than adding another 35 minutes of bloat. But occasional, this self-indulgent tendency rears its head. If you are going to put together a 75 minute album, it had better be worth it. In this case, 45 minutes would have been much better. If Rae really believes in the other 30 minutes worth of songs, well, write another 3-4 songs and there is your next album.

….So after listening to the whole thing and then doing some research into the album, I see that the original release did not have the last four songs but they are standard on the streaming (I stream albums one time before deciding to buy them or not, I don’t routinely stream the same album). But even without the extra length, I still think this album is slightly boring.


The Lowest Pair, Uncertain As It Is Uneven

In 2016, this duo issued two albums simultaneously. I listened to Fern Girl & Ice Man some time ago and find it a solid album that I occasionally listen to now that I purchased it (and buy some albums you cheap bastards!). I finally listened to the other album. Like the former, it’s a good album, more stripped down than its slightly more lush sister. I still think Kendl Winter and Palmer Lee could use some larger instrumentation at times. When you are going with two acoustic musicians, you are asking a whole lot of the songs. And to be fair, the songs are completely fine. Like their other work, it’s a solid album. This would be a lot of fun to see live in a tiny venue (typical Eugene, after me being there for 4 months and 1 act of note coming to town that I wanted to see (albeit a really kick-ass Margaret Glaspy show), they, The Coathangers, and Bill Frisell are all playing Eugene shows in the next 6 weeks now that I am gone). As an album to listen to frequently, this is the sort of thing that if you want some pleasant background music with words and nice duel banjo arrangements, you are good. If you are wanting something utterly arresting, they aren’t going to reach that point in such a sparse fashion.


In conclusion, any of these albums are better than any fucking Moody Blues album after Days of Future Past. Let’s induct all these acts into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!

As always, this is an open thread for all things music and none things politics.

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