Saturday, March 31, 2007

• Audion, “Mund zu Munde” (Spectral Sound)
• Digitalism, “Home Zone” (Astralwerks)
• Dominik Eulberg, “Die Alpenstrandläufer Von Spiekeroog” (Traum)
• Gabriel Ananda, “Sweet Decay” (Karmarouge)
• John Prine & Mac Wiseman, “Old Cape Cod” (Oh Boy)
• Junior Boys, “FM (Ten Snake Remix)” (Domino)
• Loden, “Ideal Skies” (Mush)
Ozomatli, “Lo Segunda Mano” (Concord)
• Partial Arts, “Trauermusik (Alter Ego Mix)” (Kompakt)
• Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, “The Unwanted Things” (Touch and Go)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Last August, I wrote a piece for The Onion A.V. Club's New York edition that never appeared online, so here it is. It was originally timed to Kiki & Herb's Broadway show. Thanks to Andy Battaglia for commissioning it.

Kiki & Herb Will Make You Die
A derelict drag duo takes on Broadway

These days, the “Great American Songbook” means something specific and very dated: songs from the 1920s and ’30s by Broadway composers (and some from Hollywood) that jazz and pop singers revisit to steal a bit of history, sophistication, and class. All can be conferred, however tentatively, by reworking the old reliables—just ask that old reprobate Rod Stewart.

Kiki DuRane is an old reprobate too, and though Stewart can laugh at himself, she’s also a lot funnier. The creation of the raspy singer/raconteur Justin Bond, “Kiki” is a lounge act, an over-the-top vocalist accompanied by pianist and joke-butt Herb (Kenny Mellman). The story goes that when Kiki & Herb first resurrected their act, they decided to concentrate on material more recent than "That's Entertainment" and focus instead on hits and semi-hits from indie-rock, hip-hop, and whatever else. It’s a tweaking of the approach used by standard piano-duo configurations, and Bond and Mellman treat their material with ruthless abandon. On Kiki & Herb Will Die For You, a recording of their 2004 “farewell” show at Carnegie Hall, they steal “Institutionalized” from Suicidal Tendencies and do a medley of Ryan Adams, Duke Ellington, and Prince. It’s as if they’re attempting to create a new, if supremely odd, version of the Great American Songbook.

“I think that’s what we’ve always tried to do,” says Mellman, during a break from preparations for Kiki & Herb Alive On Broadway, a new month-long show set to open uptown on Friday, Aug. 11. “The only way to make money [as a musician] now is publishing rights, so a lot of people don’t cover songs,” says Bond. “I don’t think people hear songs bare-bones. You don’t really get to examine songs, step outside and interpret. For me as a singer, it’s a delight to reveal how many contemporary writers write really great songs. Everyone who has heard one of our covers has been really amazingly generous with their praise. We’ve been very lucky. If someone was unhappy with what we did with their song, it might disturb me.”

One such fan is John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, whose song “No Children” was reworked on Kiki & Herb Will Die For You. “[Bond] sort of makes his persona a bridge between hard pathos and light burlesque,” Darnielle says. “Liza Minnelli’s never going to sing one of my tunes, but hearing Justin sing it is almost as sweet.”

The major difference, of course, is that Kiki & Herb are to some degree a goof on what Liza does, complete with a ridiculous back-story that includes, during especially infamous holiday shows, queasy tales of run-ins with Jesus and his manger. Still, Bond is adamant about his overriding intentions: “I’d hate to think anyone thinks we were taking the piss out of a song. I’m a little addle-pated, so I screw up lyrics sometimes. But we try to keep the integrity of the song.”

Is the constantly refilled bottle of whiskey that Kiki pours and drinks from onstage part of this addle-patedness, or maybe a cover for it? “Yes! Absolutely. It’s a win-win situation. Or lose-lose.”

“Yeah, that’s an Escher,” Mellman says.

“It’s a real brew,” assures Bond. “There’s definitely alcohol in the bottle. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Whatever the situation requires.”

“We’re not in our early 20s anymore,” Mellman notes.

Bond, who is 43, met Mellman, 37, in the early ’90s, when they began performing together under their own names. “We were doing lounge versions of rock songs in straight clubs in San Francisco,” says Bond. “I’ve always been a tranny on one level or another, but I wasn’t doing drag then. Our audience was always this weird sort of crowd that wasn’t necessarily gay. We’ve always played to music geeks.”

They kept that crowd when they became Kiki & Herb, and have been building in popularity ever since. Surely, though, moving up to Broadway has made them rethink their approach?

“I think it’s the exact opposite,” counters Bond. Aside from a stage set, a Kiki & Herb first (“I had this idea when I was stoned on my friend’s back porch in L.A.; next thing I know, producers are paying thousands of dollars to have my dream made real,” says Bond), the new show concedes little to the Great White Way. “Playing to a more mainstream audience makes me want to say more aggressively outrageous things,” says Bond. “When we play to our downtown audience, we can do more provocative or subversive material. We feel like it’s something they all know or are used to hearing. We’ve stuck to biographical stories for the characters. But as far as pushing buttons, I think it’s moreso in these shows. They’re darker than any shows we’ve ever done.”

Given Kiki’s predilection for introducing Herb as a “gay Jew ’tard” and turning tales of her drowned daughter Coco and the husband she attacked with a knife, that’s saying something. Still, for all their horrifying history, Kiki & Herb have managed to emerge less bruised than some of the artists they’ve covered. “Why is Gil Scott-Heron in jail on drug charges, anyway?,” Bond wonders about the poet-singer whose “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is a set staple. “Some people do drugs and end up on Broadway.”

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Amon Tobin, “Big Furry Head” (Ninja Tune)
• Basement Jaxx, “Make Me Sweat” (Atlantic Jaxx)
• Bebel Gilberto, "Bring Back the Love (Prins Thomas Mix)" (Six Degrees)
• Beck, “Cell Phone's Dead (Villalobos Entlebuch Remix)” (Geffen)
• Big Business, “Start Your Digging” (Hydra Head)
El-P, “Smithereens” (Definitive Jux)
• Jörg Burger, “Polyform 1” (K2)
• Lee Jones, “There Comes a Time (Prins Thomas Miks)” (Aus)
• Lily Allen ft. Wale, “Smile (Mark Ronson DC Remix)” (MP3)
• Nick Holder, “Da Sambafrique (Ian Pooley 2007 Edit)” (NRK)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Lurve the new Basement Jaxx single. A-side has eight bars of Roxanne Shante, plus the usual anonymous tuff-sounding Brixton dollybirds and the AIM tinkle. The B's a percolating Indian/Middle Eastern hybrid with nice glassy high synth. Get it now, get it cheap.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

• Ali Payami, “Audio Driver” (Just for Fun)
• Amp Fiddler, “Ridin' (Carl Craig 12" Edit)” (Genuine)
• D*Funk, “ElectroTek (4/4 Electro Mix)” (Westway)
• Dylan Hears a Who!, “Green Eggs and Ham” (
• Harada, “House Arrest” (Leftroom)
• LCD Soundsystem, “Us Vs. Them (Go Home Productions Remix)” (
• Michael K & Pompili, “Elektrobit (Original Mix)” (Vintage)
• Mims, “This Is Why I’m Hot” (Capitol)
• Teriyaki Boyz ft. Kanye West, “I Still Love H.E.R.” (Def Jam/BAPE, Japan)
• Tracey Thorn, “It’s All True (Escort Extended Mix)” (Virgin)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

In case you missed my reading with Douglas last week, here's something I wrote for the occasion.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

• !!!, “Bend Over Beethoven” (Warp)
• Air, “Napalm Love” (Astralwerks)
• Binder & Krieglstein, “Drink All Day” (Essay)
• Brother Ali, “Listen Up” (Rhymesayers)
• The Dynamics, “Move on Up” (Big Single/Finetunes)
• Feadz, “Edwrecker” (Ed Banger/Vice)
• Grinderman, “No Pussy Blues” (Anti-)
• Justus Koehncke, “Elan (Prins Thomas Diskomiks ft. the Full Pupp Strings)” (Kompakt)
• NRG, “He Never Lost His Hardcore 2007” (Peacemaker Breaks)
• Z.A.K., “Mr. Me Too Remix (Clipse/Lee Fields)” (MP3)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The National Recording Registry just announced its newest entries (the full list is here). I've become semi-obsessed with the Registry and the new list seems curious in a good way--I haven't heard of many of the inclusions. Preferable to this rehash of a thousand rehases, at least.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

MSN has my review of the new Arcade Fire up, though sadly they eliminated my favorite line, here in full: "'Keep the Car Running' aims to prove that the Hold Steady aren’t the only indie-rock band who can rip off Bruce Springsteen, by fashioning an inert Goth variant on John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band’s 'On the Dark Side.'”

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Actually, the real problem with Factory Girl isn't just that it's a horrendously unwatchable piece of shit. (If I can't even enjoy seeing Sienna Miller nude, the movie is doing everything wrong.) It isn't even that it demonizes Warhol or that it champions stupid folkie piety. It's that it ludicrously ignores the popular mythology (and possible fact) that in 1966 Bob Dylan was doing more speed than the entire Warhol factory combined. That and it has Hayden Christensen playing him. I eagerly await the casting of Jarvis Cocker as Alvin the Chipmunk.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

I'm reposting an older squib in case anyone missed it or might be able to offer anything. My project for this April’s EMP Pop Conference involves interviewing college students who have Bob Marley posters. (People who live in student housing are especially welcome.) My study will be less scientific and numbers-based than anecdotal--I’m happy to send a questionnaire to students via email, and would also like to talk with as many as I can, either on the phone or (for students in and close to Seattle) in person.

I’m interested in speaking to students of any age and background for this study; I only require that they have a Bob Marley poster. If you know someone who might be interested in participating, or who might know someone who would be, feel free to forward this note. The best way to reach me is via this email or else this one. Thanks in advance.

Tonight Angela and I rented four movies from Scarecrow, which is a habit we’ve been indulging more frequently of late; this is the fourth or fifth time we’ve done it. Wednesday is two-for-one rental night there so that’s when we go. After we got in the car, I looked at our goods and determined that, without meaning to, we’ve found ourselves a loose formula for renting: One Criterion Collection title, one comedy, one exploitation movie, and one foreign. This time around it was, in order, the Maysles Brothers’ Grey Gardens/Beales of Grey Gardens twofer, the 1937 screwball comedy Love Crazy (on VHS, a first for us; Angela’s TV has a tape player built in), Switchblade Sisters, and G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box. Last time, on Valentine’s Day, it was The Third Man (my disc wasn’t in its case; I think it’s still in New York, where about six boxes of my miscellany are safely at Angela’s parents’, in the bedroom she grew up in), Modern Romance (very funny but also very horrifying; afterward we spent about 20 minutes assuring each other that, no, we really didn’t do those things), Detroit 9000 (whose Tarantino shortie, in which he previews other movies in his as-selected-by line, is what inspired the Switchblade Sisters rental), and an insane Chinese comedy/soft-porno/horror/drama called The Love That Is Wrong that has about 800 plot twists, none believable, all kind of riveting since the tone is so ridiculously off-balance throughout.

Scarecrow is by pretty much all accounts the best video store in America, and one of the fun things about renting there is its total lack of hierarchy--everything they can stock they try to, and the staff is at times frighteningly knowledgeable. When we go, we usually have one or two titles in mind and improvise from there. So the “formula” had Angela worried; is it really improvising if we wind up repeating our patterns? I think this is fine: improvisation tends to occur in patterns as a rule, as long as we stay within the moment when we’re picking things out it isn’t likely to stagnate, and even if we start filling in blanks those are awfully broad categories. (Even the most limited, the Criterion catalogue, is up to around 400 titles or so.)

This is a long way from when I started buying DVDs in earnest a few years ago, when I was working at Seattle Weekly and had a consistently sizable disposable income for the first time in my adult life. I decided to start buying as many Criterion titles as I could, and having amassed a good number, I haven’t watched half of them. These trips to Scarecrow are helping me realize why: man cannot live on the classics alone. I crave variety as a rule, and while the Criterion Collection provides that in sheer genre terms, its imposing sense of classic-dom can be a little stifling, even when the movies themselves are not. That and owning a DVD means you can always watch it later, meaning in many cases that they sit on the shelf waiting for that day to come.

The same is true of books a lot of the time. Today I got two, one a promo I’m reviewing, one purchased largely with a gift certificate my roommate Neal gave me for my 32nd birthday two weeks ago. The former is the new Clive James book, Cultural Amnesia, which looks pretty scrumptious and slightly daunting: 110 essays on various cultural and political figures from the 20th century. I’m a sucker for this kind of organizational principle anyway--both People’s Almanacs instilled it in me--and having just read James’s introduction I see he’s gone even further, conceiving of it as a piecemeal overview of the century in humanist terms. There’s something about this that makes me slightly uneasy on initial contact--I want to feel more embarrassed about it than I actually do. James is setting himself up, here, as an elder cramming as much of his amassed knowledge as he can bear into one place and forking it over for a younger audience that might do something with it. A few years ago I’d have rolled my eyes at that--only slightly, but I’d have still done it. But now I think it’s kind of noble, and I’m touched by it as a gesture. The weight with which James puts his intentions I have trouble putting my finger on precisely, but I recognize it as serious without being ponderous, and I’m eager to see where it goes. (Though his depiction of Johnny Rotten as being malevolent seems kind in light of the past 25 years of Lydon-dom; maybe he means something closer to Sid Vicious, dead-eyed nihilism more frightening for being its own dead end instead of a jump-off point the way Rotten’s turned out to be, however limited his jump ended up after Metal Box.)

The book I bought was Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, the first volume of Taylor Branch’s just-completed trilogy. Peter Scholtes named Branch his co-Artist of the Year, along with OutKast, in City Pages in 1998, when Pillar of Fire was published; at the end of last year, Britt Robson gave Branch his full AOTY vote for At Canaan’s Edge. Peter and Britt are both heroes of mine, so via them I’ve wanted to read Branch for a minute, and having a few free dollars helped push me along. No idea when I’ll get to the book--Clive James is going to take a couple weeks, and if anything Branch’s book is more daunting, 1,000 pages to 800. I do figure it’ll be worth it, though.

Shopping at the University Book Store with a gift certificate was interesting. I wanted something slightly over my GC total ($18; Neal explained the number’s significance in a way I remember fondly but not well) and had in hand at various points a number of titles I’ve looked at longingly for weeks or months. The book of various writers’ Top 10 books; the Penguin paperback anthology Read the Beatles; that new hardback about white folks’ relationship with hip-hop with the Alan Light and Mark Anthony Neal quotes on the back jacket. I was also tempted by a new history of Columbia Records, but that seems like something I can get free if I can land a review. This is a serious consideration for me with books, even more so than with albums. To be honest, I figured I’d buy a Proper box set--one of those nicely packaged four-CD comps put together by the English reissue company specializing in out-of-copyright music, of which I own and enjoy many--but when I got to the store it seemed foolish to buy yet more music when I have so much I already haven’t gotten around to. I have acres of books that fit this description, too, and magazines. But the GC was for a bookstore and it would have been foolish to pass up the opportunity. And while I was satisfied with the Branch purchase for a number of reasons, the best was that it seemed weighty, something to dig into, to expend some of your life with, to be rewarded by. That’s what a gift should do.

At 7 p.m., after the bookstore, I crossed the street and saw the Academy Award-nominated animated shorts, plus five others to round out an hour-and-a-half program. Very entertaining, quite rewarding; The Little Matchgirl, was shamelessly sentimental, but it worked on me. My favorite, though, was the winner, The Dutch Poet--least sophisticated animation of the five nominees, most involving and funny and moving story. They showed the live-action Oscar shorts afterward, at 9 p.m., but I had to skip that for Scarecrow. After the video store we watched Switchblade Sisters and Angela went to bed. I have two deadlines I’m avoiding by writing this. Maybe tomorrow night I’ll head back to the University District and see the live-action shorts.