Thursday, December 29, 2011

Obscure Song Obsession: Big Star - "Stroke It Noel"

"Kramer could hear Leary and Haynes screaming at each other inside, and when he finally worked up the courage to open the door, he found the two of them smashing guitars, bottle and chairs in what Kramer calls “the most potent example of bad behavior I have ever seen. To this day, more than fifteen years later, I have no more vivid memory of the effect a life in music can have on a human being.” 

Moments later a man entered the dressing room and asked if he could borrow a guitar. “BORROW A GUITAR??!!! WELL, WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU???!!! Haynes screamed, eyes flashing in delirious anticipation of forthcoming violence. But the man was totally unfazed. “I’m Alex Chilton,” the man answered calmly. Haynes was flabbergasted. After a long pause, he methodically opened the remaining guitar cases one by one and gestured at them as if to say, “Take anything you want.” --
excerpt from Butthole Surfers chapter of Michael Azarrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life,  (via soupsoup)

The story of Big Star reads tragic: band pedigreed for success gets jobbed by shoddy promotion from label. debut sales flop. tension causes rift, band member leaves. sophomore album is hyped. 2nd album flops. another member leaves. frontman and drummer record crushingly bleak 3rd album. label says no thanks. bank breaks up. 3rd album released 4 years later, weeks later guitarist dies.

However sad their story may be, the music they left behind is a celebration of rock and roll innovation. When they wanted to rock, the Memphis-based group filtered Beatles melodies through a unique rootsy set of chops that ended up setting the template for power pop. At their most downtrodden, they just let frontman Alex Chilton do his thing and knock you breathless.

"Stroke It Noel" appears at the heart of their third album Third/Sister Lovers (Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens were dating a pair of sisters at the time), sequenced after pair of tracks that constitute seven minutes of the most haunting music Chilton ever wrote. One of the songs is called "Holocaust" and the other is a dark opiate haze of sparse acoustic strumming, belligerent percussion, and strings. The opening notes of "Stroke It Noel" are played backwards, as if rippling the album into a fleeting dream sequence free from misery.

The song immediately bounces into charm. The stuttery swing of each verse build to a towering orchestral chorus, with Chilton cathartically asking, "Do you wanna dance?" before cueing the Noel Gilbert, a violinist of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra who sat in on the Sister Lovers sessions. He spends the second verse drunk, wondering whether a bombing attack is coming. The strings rise again and he continues his search through the clouds for a dancing partner. "Stroke It Noel" may or may not be a drug song, but regardless it's a brief moment of euphoria on broodingly dark album and celebrates the simple joy that music can bring.

Also see: Big Star - Thirteen; Big Star - The Ballad of El Goodo

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What I've Learned Over Winter Break

Ranking "Eggnog +1":
1. White chocolate licquer
2. Peppermint schnapps
3. Amaretto
4. Rum
5. Kahlua
6. Whiskey
7. Vodka

I'm assuming tequila is just terrible and I'd never force gin to mingle with dairy. Updates to come if ma buys another carton of eggnog to support her son's shitholery.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Worst of 2011

[ (surprisingly not a porn site)]

I love creating best-of lists. No one reads them of course, but I get a lot of satisfaction out of talking to myself in my head in a pretentious, scholarly tone about how this year's new Sister Hazel LP was such an important record. But best-of lists are overdone and not nearly as fun as talking shit. Here's are some of the worst things I've experienced over the past year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Watch It: Submarine

I'm a sucker for coming-of-age comedies. Rushmore, Igby Goes Down, and Lymelife are a few of my favorites. Submarine, the 2011 debut feature from British director Richard Ayoade, just jumped into that class upon watching it today. The film revolves around 15-year old Oliver Tate who falls for a girl (such a bold coming-of-age story device!) and simultaneously attempts to save his parents' marriage. It's got a great script and great performances from Oliver (played by Craig Roberts) and his parents (Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins) drive the thing. Paddy Considine is also great as the Tate's douchy neighbor who attempts to re-capture the love of his old flame, Mrs. Tate.

One critique of these types of films is that the protagonists, generally mopey self-perceived intellectuals, can come off as annoyingly pretentious (esp. Igby Goes Down). While Oliver fits this profile, Submarine's tone and dry sense of humor keep it from getting in-your-face. It does the whole bittersweet teenage love thing pretty well too. Just watch the stupid movie.

Here's a great scene where Oliver's mother questions him after he gets beaten up to defend his lady's honor:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Really Good Drummer: Greg Saunier


Deerhoof is a pretty fucking weird band, but they're undeniably talented and Greg Saunier is out of his mind. He says he intentionally keeps his kit stripped down to force himself to be more creative. Sometimes, as in the "Milk Man" video below, all he has is a bass, snare, and makeshift ride/crash remote hi-hat.

His style makes Deerhoof worth seeing live regardless of how much you care about their music. Sits really low, plays frenzied and looks like he's all over the place. Doesn't bother himself with time-keeping duties (not Deerhoof's style anyways). Takes really big swings at the thing. And as someone on YouTube points out, he looks a lot like Jim Carrey. 

Here are some good videos of him:

And this is just a good Deerhoof song (and funny video):