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Posts Tagged ‘Bourbon Tabernacle Choir’

Ignored 35: When skits went indie

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2014 at 1:59 pm

#ignored35

“The 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Skits list” from Complex Magazine is a good read and helps shine a light on the (mercifully) dying art of the hip-hop skit.

Wikipedia defines a hip-hop skit (ed. I seriously LOVE that’s there’s an entry for this) as “a form of sketch comedy that appears on a hip hop album or mixtape, and is usually written and performed by the artists themselves. Skits can appear on albums or mixtapes as individual tracks, or at the beginning or end of a song. Some skits are part of concept albums and contribute to an album’s concept. Skits also occasionally appear on albums of other genres. The hip-hop skit was more or less pioneered by De La Soul and their producer Prince Paul who incorporated many skits on their 1989 debut album 3 Feet High and Rising.”

A fair definition but clearly not every hip-hop skit was trying to be “funny ha ha”. Some were sending a harsh message (i.e. N.W.A. sings “Message to BA”). Others were semi-scary glimpses into domestic violence and violence violence (i.e. the Notorious B.I.G. sings “Intro”). Others still spawn catchphrases that would go on to dominate UrbanDictionnary.com (i.e. Dr. Dre sings “Deeez Nuuuts” ).

As the popularity of the full-length album has largely died, the prevalence of hip-hop skits in the culture is likewise on life support. If you need further proof, check out this BBM conversation between me and my friend Ryan on the topic.

This is some #realtalk right here!

ryan

So since “the hip-hop skit” era is a thing of the past (more proof from The Onion A/V Club), here is a companion piece of sorts to the Complex Top 50. Except instead of hip-hop, this is indie rock and instead of 50, it’s five. Since middle-class college kids apparently like to make the odd skit too.

Honourable mention: Bright Eyes and Godspeed You! Black Emperor who often incorporate bits of spoken word into their songs w/o getting too skit-y.

1. The Pixies sing “You Fuckin’ Die…!”

A bit confusing since it’s only a standalone (track 11) on certain CD pressings of Surfer Rosa, “YFD” is nevertheless a landmark track in the annals of indie rock skits. I guess. It’s not overly clear what Black Francis is getting at with his f-bomb assaults but it appears it’s an imitation of Kim Deal and how she reacts when “somebody touches her stuff”. Yup, seems like a healthy band dynamic! Between this skit, the topless lady on the album cover and the weird lyrics about UFOs and physical harm, it’s no wonder the Pixies found an audience amongst those who like some guts and macabre served alongside their poppy hard rock.

2. Sonic Youth sings “Providence”

I suppose this technically could be considered a song because a spooky Jandek-ish piano track that is present through out. However, the core of this “skit” is Mike Watt’s voice mail for Thurston Moore, admonishing him for (I think) drugs and how forgetful he becomes while on drugs. There’s an interesting father-son dynamic here, which is double-interesting since Watt’s only about half a year older than Moore. A throwaway of sorts but given it’s placement within the track list of the epic Daydream Nation full-length, “Providence” does serve as a reminder of the more experimental (vague?) side that Sonic Youth had started shedding by the late 1980s.

3. Beck sings “11.6.45”

This is probably the least surprising artist on the list since Beck took many early cues from hip-hop. And folk. And “power electronics” (not really). And television. And fast food. Flipside was primarily a fanzine but also released some music, including the “soooooo random” 1994’s Beck effort Stereopathetic Soulmanure. The album predated his commercial breakthrough Mellow Gold by a week and a bit, and contains a whopping 25 tracks. Some of these were music and some of these were not. In terms of the “nots”, you have some noise bursts, live weirdness and wonky vocal recordings. “11.6.45” is my personal favourite and features a sped-up voice mail talking about playing Pac-Man in 1945 and a Sasquatch eating a burrito. Heavy commentary on the Clinton regime, no doubt.

4. The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir sings “Happy Earth Day, Tortoise”

Tortoise was a dude friend of the under-remembered Toronto indie/funk/R&B outfit the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir. He played on a few recordings and we can assume, was a roommate of band member “not that Chris Brown”. This track features Mama Brown calling up a house at 50 Palmerston Gardens, briefly performing a Weird Al-ish tune “Happy Earth Day to You” and asking Tortoise about what time the band would be playing at Toronto City Hall for Earth Day. Tortoise sounds out of it and Mama Brown sounds frustrated. Turns out the band was playing at 3:00pm. The track can been found on the Bourbon’s out-of-print 1985-1995 collection, which pops up on eBay at times.

5. Built to Spill sings “Preview”

“Preview” goes with a fake infomercial motif and closes out BTS’s sophomore There’s Nothing Wrong with Love effort. I think I’m not alone in having always wanted to hear the full versions of the five fake (real?) songs featured on this fake Built to Spill album. Wikipedia called the skit “satirical” although it’s a bit unclear what this is supposed to be a satire of. Maybe a K-tel commercial? This Amazon review says it “pokes a little fun at the mainstream punk scene and modern rock radio”. This Amazon review says it is “hilarious”. I’m not sure it’s either but it’s strangely not out-of-place either.

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Ignored 8: The mediums are dead or dying

In Uncategorized on May 13, 2013 at 2:14 am

Ignored8

It’s about three decades too late to be fishing for cred by quoting Marshall McLuhen, right?

Nevertheless, his “medium is the message” concept continues to ring true across all phases of society. And in the case of popular music, the mediums kinda suck when you think about it.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Whether you get squirrelly over vinyl, CDs, 8-tracks or cassette tapes (we’ve been hearing about this supposedly-pending cassette renaissance for forever), the reality is physical manifestations of music have always been mere vehicles. Accordingly, the message is the message and the medium is just something you store on your BENNO.

Now, this is the stage in the essay where vinyl purists tell me how music sounds “warmer” when played on a turntable. That’s fine. Have your moment….

(pause)

Ok. So speaking personally (and from the heart), the music lover in me has no issue whatsoever acknowledging the fact I haven’t purchased music in hard copy form for at least 3-4 years as of this writing. And really, I have no imminent plans to do so any time soon… or ever again.

Sure, I do miss trolling the stinky walkways of Sonic Boom or shoehorning visits to Amoeba Music during every California pit stop. However, progress is progress and I now revel in making iPod playlists and wondering where the (heck) all the MP3s are on my hard drive.

So I’m positioning this as a eulogy of sorts to every record, cassette and CD I ever owned. To effectively put bookends on an era lasting (ballpark) from 1984 to 2009, here are my best recollections as to my first and last albums in each medium and some self-inflicted nostalgia with regards to the ownership of each.

First vinyl record: Van Halen – “Jump” 7″
Purchase year and retailer: 1984, A&A Records at The Shops on Steeles and 404 (ne: Markham Place)
My family did enjoy deep cuts from Sandra Beech and Sharon, Lois & Bram back in the day (note: the former’s performance at German Mills Co-op Nursery School Play Day 1983 was worthy of an At Budokan-type box set) but I will always “Jump” as the first piece of recorded adult music I ever owned. Which is ironic since the lyrics to “Jump” are pretty juvenile (especially the “Go ahead jump/Might as well jump” part).  More background: my sister was heavily into Cyndi Lauper at the time and requested a 7″ of the noted women empowerment anthem “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. As a means of keeping the peace for my folks, I was able to choose a record as well and opted for “Jump” for some reason. A curious choice because while I thought the tune was completely OK and was fairly impressed with David Lee Roth’s dexterity in its video, I don’t really remember being completely in love with the song. In hindsight, I perhaps should have opted for the Cars’ “You Might Think” although in fairness, that probably would’ve been largely based on the fact that Ric Ocasek turned into a lipstick during the video.

Last vinyl owned: Talking Heads – More Songs about Buildings and Food
Purchase year and retailer: 1999, Cheapies in downtown Hamilton
The vinyl resurgence hadn’t quite kicked into full force in the late 1990s and thusly, you could still get a ton of nicked-up old records for next to nothing during this time. I really wanted to own the song “Artists Only” so I picked up this album for less than $1, even though I didn’t own a record player. Years later, I splurged on the CD and gave this vinyl version to my friend Mike although I seem to remember this record and Teenage Head’s self-titled debut sitting in my office for at least a year. Beside some office supplies.

First cassette: Rick Astley – Whenever You Need Somebody
Purchase year and retailer: 1988, Columbia Record and Tape Club
I’m going to write a full essay or two about record and tape clubs someday. They were kind of ubiquitous at the time and no doubt were responsible for a bulk of the Spin Doctors’ records sold, in general terms. The 12-for-a-penny deal was tantalizing although obviously a bit of a scam that preyed upon the lazy and dim-witted, since you were on the hook to buy 8-12 more albums (at wildly inflated prices) over the next year. Letting your kids enter a record club was somewhat comparable to letting your kids own a pet: they would promise to do the legwork  but ultimately, you’d end up with a whole lot of dog crap. Case in the point: the unexpected comedy of my Dad unsuspectingly receiving a cassette of Robert Palmer’s Heavy Nova on cassette plus a bill for $18.43. Oops! Me and my sister shared a club membership in 1988. Because she was a year and a half older, she got to choose all the cool records: Def Leppard’s Hysteria, INXS’ Kick, U2’s The Joshua Tree, Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, etc. From what I recall, I chose such gems as Steve Winwood’s Back in the High Life (was this album about drugs BTW?!?), Steve Winwood’s Roll With It (could you imagine a 10-year old listening to this in 2013?!?… different times) plus Rick Astley’s blue-eyed soul masterstroke Whenever You Need Somebody. Not sure why I didn’t get Chicago 19 as one of my choices, as I quite enjoyed the power ballad “Look Away”. I still do, actually.

Last cassette owned: The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy
Purchase year and retailer: 1998, Cheapies in downtown Hamilton
As mentioned, Cheapies had a ton of cheap vinyl and it also had a bin (some would call it a garbage can) full of orphaned cassette tapes that were missing their liner notes, cases or both. These retailed from anywhere between $0.10 and $0.50 although I bet if you asked REALLY nicely, you probably could’ve had them for free. I managed to fish the incredible debut from the Jesus and Mary Chain out of this rubbish pile and to this day, it remains in my Top 10 albums of all-time True story: I once listened to this cassette on a speeding motorboat. Please email me for the extended version of THAT extended version of that exciting story.

First CD: Sonic Youth – Washing Machine
Purchase year and retailer: 1995, Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street, downtown Toronto
I was fairly late to the CD game but I did eventually get a five-disc changer in advance of Sonic Youth’s 1995 show at the Warehouse in Toronto. I purchased Washing Machine alongside Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral (fairly cool) and Sponge’s Rotting Piñata (uncool) to christen the device. The album was pretty solid and the concert was great. Helium opened, much moshing ensued and me and my buddies chatted briefly with Brendan Canning (then of hHead, later of Broken Social Scene).

Last CD: The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir – Shyfolk
Purchase year and retailer: 2009, eBay
Early 1990s CanCon indie is a weird black hole in the Internet. Some cool YouTube videos have surfaced but there is a ton of cool music from that era that now seems wildly obscure considering it was fairly popular at the time. Ergo, the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir. These guys’ good-to-great albums lapsed out-of-print rather quickly so their music is a bit challenging to track down in hard copy form. I’ve managed to acquire three of these (1992’s Superior Cackling Hen, 1995’s Shyfolk and 2000’s best-of/rarities set 1985-1995). Shyfolk was the last of the three I purchased, on eBay for around $4.95 and quite possibly the last piece of physical music I ever own. Bye.