This poster by Peter Savile, who first came to prominence for his designs for Factory Records, was issued to promote Joy Division’s 1979 debut album, Unknown Pleasures. Band member Bernard Sumner found the image, a rendering of successive waves emitted by a pulsar, in an astronomy textbook. Saville reversed the image from black-on-white to white-on-black, conjuring the darker atmospherics of the album’s sound. The Cover Art design has attained an iconic status, particularly of late, going so far as to spawn the term “joyplot,“ which refers to a method of data visualization that involves the layering of successive and comparative histograms.
Photographed as Part of the Exhibit, Too Fast To Live Too Young to Die: Punk Graphics at the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC.
When a song instantly conjures a mental movie, on whose soundtrack it fits perfectly, from the very first time you can hear it, that song possesses a cinematic quality that’s been missing from music since the seventies. Just being serious. The transcendent power of the one-song soundtrack hit me as soon as I watched this week’s video clip, “How You Feel” from the southern California-based, mixed-gender sextet, WARGIRL. Blending sixties psychedelia together with seventies funk until it is oh, so smooth, “How You Feel” could have been lifted from a key scene in almost any early James Bond thriller, or perhaps something a bit more exotic, such as Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik. If reading that sentence doesn’t get you excited to hear this band, you are dead from the neck up and there is no hope for you. Visually, the accompanying video is a Mondrian-esque, color-block title sequence to that very same movie in your head. It’s two minutes and thirty-five seconds of pure, cinematic perfection.
Comprised of guitarist Matt Wignall, lead singer Samantha Park, bassist Tamara Raye, keyboardist Enya Preston, and dual percussionists Erick Diego Nieto and Jeff Suri, the various members’ diverse backgrounds allow WARGIRL to effortlessly cross and combine genres. I know it’s often said, but WARGIRL truly is a band that sounds like no other, and that’s a very good thing. “How You Feel” can be found on WARGIRL’s self-titled debut album, which is due out on April 19th, 2019! Enjoy!
‘Transcendent’ is not a world that I find myself using very often these days when talking about modern music, if I talk about it at all. I looked at the Billboard charts a couple months ago for the first time in probably a decade — just being serious — and when I realized that every band or artist in the top 20 or so positions on that chart was either someone I’ve never heard of, or someone I am familiar enough with to have a strong distaste for their songs, I knew l’d made the right decision to abandon rock journalism and start writing about art and food. Because I would rather listen to The Beatles or Led Zeppelin for one hundred million billion years than any of the boring, shitty, derivative, eardrum excoriating garbage that ‘the kids’ are downloading for 15 minutes. Fuck the kids.
Of course, it’s not that everything sucks, but the really good stuff is now back in the underground, and this is why it takes me a week to uncover even one song worth featuring in this column. Fortunately, hard work pays off. This week’s clip, “Spiked Flower,” comes to us from the band Swervedriver, who were being pitched to me when you were in diapers: when I was cranking out CD reviews and long-form interviews with top musicians at a pretty steady clip. How are they still around, and how do they still sound so fucking good? “Spiked Flower” is song that’s transcendence distilled, and I don’t even feel compelled to defend it beyond offering that it sounds like if Husker Du had a baby with the Jesus and Mary Chain. Sometimes the only quality that good music has to have to is that it sounds good. “Spiked Flower” can be found on Swervedriver’s upcoming album, Future Ruins — earning bonus points for featuring Coney Island’s iconic Parachute Drop and Thunderbolt roller coaster on its cover — which will be released on January 25th, 2019 on Dangerbird Records. Enjoy!
At a time when the reigning administration has zero regard for the environment: dismantling the EPA, selling off our public lands, aggressively polluting the water and air through the abolishing of regulations meant to protect the health of all citizens, and expediting the extinction of endangered species, this week’s anthemic Video Clip, “Last Lion of Albion” from Neko Case, is a call to action, in case you aren’t paying attention.
Brough to life visually in an animated clip by artist Laura Plansker, “Last Lion of Albion” is a requiem for the magnificent landscapes and creatures that have been erased from our planet by the effects of humans. Case explains, “I’m very honored and excited to debut this video by one of my very favorite artists. I’ve loved her work forever; she‘s so skilled at using handmade figures and props to create surreal worlds. Her work perfectly balances humor and darkness in a way that breaks my heart. Laura has a way of making something so artificial [feel] so very alive. The turning of the lion’s head to look at the sky, or its own reflection, makes me cry my eyes out. There is so much straight ahead compassion in Laura’s work, there’s no need to manipulate emotion of the viewer, it is the perfect balance. I’m so happy to share it here with you!“
“Last Lion of Albion” can be found on Case’s recently released album, Hell-On, which includes contributions from some three dozen guest performers, including k.d. Lang, Laura Veirs, Beth Ditto, and Robert Forster on backing vocals, Joey Burns of Calexico and Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices on guitars, and Barbara Gruska and Matt Chamberlain on drums. Enjoy!
My favorite memory involving Jon Spencer (he of the eponymous Blues Explosion) goes back to the time that I was assigned to write a cover story about him for a now long-defunct Rock magazine, whose editors would not allow writers to use the word “that” in any articles. Just being serious. For the interview, I arranged to meet Spencer at a Starbucks in the neighborhood where we both live, assuming it would not be impossible to settle in at an empty table and just chat over the reasonable din of people getting coffee and taking up space. When no tables were free at Starbucks, we attempted to find another nearby restaurant or bar to duck into, but there were no viable options, for some mysterious reason. I then suggested that perhaps we could just go to his apartment that he shares with wife Cristina Martinez, but Spencer said no way in Hell was that going to happen. Lovely. We ended up doing the interview while sitting on a bench in Union Square Park. Whatever. He was a decent interview, and now I have been able to share this fun story with you, so it all worked out.
This brings us to our featured video clip, with Spencer flying solo for “Do The Trash Can” – which was described to me as being “a Molotov cocktail of sound,” so I am just going to go with that. If you are already a fan of the kind of take-no-prisoners, eardrum-excoriating noise rock that Spencer is, dare I say it, the absolute best at churning out, then you will go crazy over “Do The Trash Can.” It’s a Jon Spencer song, what can I say? If you have no previous exposure to this true garage rock legend, consider this a test drive. Your mileage may vary.
Visually, “Do The Trash Can” is a bit of a softer sell, because this video ranks as a Work of Art. “Do The Trash Can” rates up there in the top five or so “most fun to just look at” video clips I’ve featured in five years of running this column. With Spencer dressed up as a vendor of the kind of fast food that you might find at, say, Coney Island, the video focuses on artfully directed images of him interacting with hamburgers, hot dogs, soda, french fries, and pop corn, while also introducing The Trash Can as some kind of minimal dance, and of course playing guitar. This is all presented against the most highly-saturated palette of primary colors that I can recall seeing in a video since DEVO’s “Whip It,” which everyone agrees was ahead of its time. I’m hungry and I want to go to an art gallery, just thinking about it.
As an aside, it has also never dawned on me how much Spencer’s guitar playing sounds to have been influenced by that of the late, great George Harrison. For a point of aural reference, revisit the breakdown in The Beatles’ “Tax Man” and tell me I’m not on to something. “Do The Trash Can” can be found on Spencer’s first ever (no kidding) solo album, Spencer Sings The Hits!, which is out on November 9, 2018 via In The Red Records! Enjoy!