Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Oh, the summer of 2004 changed me. Of course, you, the reader, have been assiduously following my blog, and already know of my tiki fetish. But that same summer, I also regressed emotionally back to college. And one of my loves at the time was Daria.

I was lucky enough to find it on The N, basically to the Noggin what Nick at Nite was to Nickelodeon. The N was, uh, edgy enough to show teenage dramas like Radio Free Roscoe and Degrassi (which was a Canadian show apparently too extreme to make it onto syndicated American TV). But I didn't want messy reality drama. I wanted my sarcasm, plain and simple. I wanted humor just this side of Beavis and Butthead. I wanted a cartoon to pander to my basest brainwave frequencies. I wanted to hear Daria Morgendorffer and her indomitable sidekick Jane Lane wax sardonic about life, high school, boys, the popular people, name it, nothing was immune to their withering observations. They said all the things I never felt I could say as a high school or college kid for some reason.

Daria delivered the wicked goods. The show actually was an offshoot of Beavis and Butthead; one episode finds Daria correcting the two moronically chuckling in a museum: "He said master painters." But Daria was too much of a character to be denied a show of her own. Who couldn't relate to being a misfit prone to snarky comments in high school? Millions could. So one day in 1997, Daria and her family moved away from their former home in Texas, settled in Lawndale, and one of the best cartoons ever created began its five-year stint on MTV.

The unfortunate thing about Daria is that chances of it being officially released on DVD are slim to none. The background music was sampled from scads of alternative artists, all from different music labels. The possibility of securing the rights to each and every one of those songs is pretty slim...although in this day and age where Girl Talk can sample hundreds of artists in one single 53 minute-long song and probably not get prosecuted, hey...anything's possible, right? Just don't hold your breath is all I'm sayin'.

The other unfortunate thing about Daria is that it stopped being aired on MTV in 2002, and although picked up by The N sometime after that (albeit in edited form), it was dropped unceremoniously in 2005. It now lives an ignominious existence on YouTube. Still, check the ads on the side...maybe there is hope after all.

But in the meantime, we have websites like this to fulfill our Daria-philia. And my love for Daria knows few bounds. This shall not be the last you hear from me about Ms. Morgendorffer.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Somery - Descendents

God. I'm writing this review and I don't even know which Descendents song to place at the top of the heap.

So who are these Descendents? The original bratty snot-nosed California skater punk band from the 1980s. Green Day owes, like, their entire career to them. As do many so-called "punk" bands nowadays. (Irony: I love the Descendents but generally can't stand Green Day. Fact!) Milo Aukerman and Company provide the soundtrack to the teenage boy who wakes up one day to find that his body can barely contain the hormones that are suddenly gushing through his body. Any guy who lived through puberty can relate: a ravenous appetite, intense jizzlobbing dreams, and a cock that gets hard at any random provocation, especially the one that says " like girls."

About half of the songs on Somery (their best-of) last as long as it takes for said boy to go from zero to hard to ejaculation (i.e., less than two and a half minutes), and sound about as spurtastic, too. The longer ones are poppier, and actually owe a fair bit to the Beach Boys. (They even covered "Wendy" on Enjoy.) But the Descendents are primarily a punk band, with a classic, fairly clean L.A. sound somewhat akin to Black Flag.

Shit, man...I still can't decide. So here's a bunch of 'em (all from Somery).

1) "All/No, All!" - British punk band Wire (part of the class of '77) probably set the record for the shortest punk song with the 27-second "Field Day for the Sundays." Youth of Today took over in 1986 with "Standing Hard," with 28 words jammed into 16 seconds. One year later, the Descendents took the title and 2nd place with these volcanic soundbites, 3 and 4 seconds long, respectively. The perfect way to bookend Somery, and these have to be heard. Utterly hilarious.

2) "Suburban Home" - The poppier side of the Descendents' rebellious streak against, well, suburbia. "I want to be stereotyped. I want to be classified." Brilliant.

3) "Kids" - These three phrases are all you need to know: "Warningthebasemastergeneralhasdeterminedthatcoffeeisgoodforyourhealth," "Thankstomodernchemistrysleepisnowoptional," and the one that sums it up perfectly, "KIDS ON COFFEE! KIDS ON COFFEE! KIDS ON COFFEE!" Forty-six seconds of caffeine-fueled teenage insanity.

4) "Clean Sheets" - An excellent opening riff to a song about the angst of wet dreams and a girl who got away. It takes balls for a band to perform a song like this. No pun intended.

5) "Sour Grapes" - A fantastic (if somewhat mean-spirited) kiss-off to a pretty girl who snubs a poor, awkward and insanely shy boy who tries to ask her out on a date (and then some). Best line (misspellings intended): "I wanted her cherry, I got souw gwapes!"

6) "Weinerschnitzel" - Probably the one song I was going to praise originally. An eleven-second fast food order, including turning down a side order of "Bill sperm." The producers of Pump Up The Volume really nailed it when they put this song in there...and had Hard Harry play it twice in rapid succession, just because he could. Then they fucked up royally by not including it on the soundtrack.

7) "Enjoy" - You gotta love the Descendents for coming up with a paean to farting. In a van. With the windows rolled up. To see who can come up with the raunchiest smelling fart. (Comes complete with sound effects.)

8) "I Like Food" - And I like really, really short Descendents songs.

9) "I Don't Want To Grow Up" - The slightly harder-edged side of the Descendents' rebellious streak (see "Suburban Home"). Complete with "nyah-nyah-nyahs."

I'm sure there's others I forgot. But yeah, Somery's rad. Pick it up.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Charlene - I've Never Been To Me

Okay. Before y'all begin throwing your...whatever it is you throw, sit yerselves down. Yes, I'm quite aware that many websites list this song as among the worst pop songs ever. But these lists were probably made by people who take pop music way too seriously (and who, it seems, never heard anything recorded after 1985). That sin right there ensures that "I've Never Been To Me" belongs at the bottom of the dustbin. For those poor folks.

They also cry out that "I've Never Been To Me" is a manipulative attempt at advancing a conservative agenda and the sanctimony of the family. Well, okay. I'll grant that. The song is basically the parable of a woman who has lived a hedonistic lifestyle for years and wakes from her ecstatic dream to find that it was empty, and she regrets her life of debauchery. Then she spends the song talking to a "discontented mother," trying to convince her that her lifelong bacchanale may have been paradise, but. "You know what paradise is?" she whispers. "It's a lie. A fantasy we create about people and places as we'd like them to be."

A sermon against having too much fun in life. In a pop song. Seriously? Seriously. Like #3 on the pop charts in 1982 seriously.

You have to take "I've Never Been To Me" for what it is - a song that is so earnest, so desperate, it just cries out to be mocked. And if you can do that, you'll recognize the genius this song really is.

To wit: during the opening to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, drag queens were performing it with such fake sincerity while dropping squeaking baby dolls on the ground. They got it. When you see it in this context, it's impossible NOT to recognize its awesomeness.

Seriously, you all know the song and could probably at least sing the chorus in your sleep. (If you were living under a rock during the early 1980s, or weren't born yet, then get educated post-haste below.) The things that elevate this song to genius (or drop it to hell, depending on your view):

1) The way those t's sound when Charlene harmonizes with herself on "won't you share the par...T...of a weary hear...T." Toe-curling. You don't hear such perfect enunciation even from Abba.

2) "I've been to Nice and the isle of Greece." Uh, quick geography lesson here? Greece is actually physically connected to Europe. Unless you're talking about, oh, the 1400 or so Greek islands floating in the Aegean. Such adorable ignorance. Charlene, you're just too pretty for words.

3) That hilarious spoken monologue. Because the rest of the song wasn't serious enough.

4) Charlene's voice throughout. Woman has got to have perfect pitch or something...she treats every note as if it were sacrosanct. She also scores major points for really digging into this song and Wringing. Out. Every. Last. Emotion. from the lyrics. (Listen to how her voice just cracks with sadness as she sings "I spent my life exploring the subtle whoring that COST too much to be free!")

Now, having said that, for all its excessive weepiness, "I've Never Been To Me" does have a side worth considering seriously for a bit. It really epitomizes the hangover the morning after the 1970s. "I've Never Been To Me" actually was first released in 1977 and only got to #97. Makes sense that such a thematically sober song would do so poorly in the midst of the disco era. But what a difference five years makes. This song rang bitterly true for more than a few veterans of Studio 54, or for gay men during the AIDS-filled nightmare that was Reagan's "Morning in America." And although Rolling Stone once dubbed Billy Joel's "My Life" (truly an excellent song, by the way) "a neat epitaph for the Me Decade," really, that honor belongs on this song's sequined and fake-feathered shoulders.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Music for TV Dinners / Music for TV Dinners: The Sixties

How can I begin to explain these wacky aberrations of nature? Let's start with the titles. Random, these. Why have music for TV dinners? Weren't TV dinners created so you could eat Salisbury hockey puck, potato buds, and cherry surprise (surprise! fake cherries!) while basking in the radiation emanating from your boob tube? Isn't music kinda irrelevant here? Well, they had to name this set something. Unendurably Perky Muzak: The Golden Years, Vols. 1 and 2 must not have been catchy enough.

But enough slamming. Both of these albums are honestly quite charming in their own way. Completely a product of each of their eras, they also perfectly encapsulate those eras. There is no question which decade each of these albums came from, nor in which context you would expect to hear them.

A disclaimer: I do not have either of these albums. Any commentary I have about this is based solely on listening to the quick 30-second snippets available by the good folks at But really, that's all you need to hear to judge 'em.

In a nutshell, the original Music for TV Dinners is the music that defined the simple chipmunk-like optimism of squeaky-clean urban and suburban 1950s America, filled with happy capitalist consumers radiating civic pride. And these songs are among the earwormiest of earworms, generic background music to those kitschy black and white films about modern living through technology. Songs like "Shopping Spree," "Happy Go Lively," and "Trafficscape" were probably manufactured by scientists who were recruited by corporate types or G-men to motivate the populace to spend, be happy, and revel in the comfortable and secure times, never mind the fact that we were in a Cold War with those evil Soviets. Or maybe not. Either way, Music for TV Dinners makes the opening credits to Leave It to Beaver sound like a dirge. Take that as you will. (Tragically, Music for TV Dinners appears to be out of print as of this posting. If you want it, you'll have to shell out a pretty penny for it.)

Music for TV Dinners: The Sixties shares the same optimism and catchy hooks that its predecessor boasts, but there's where the similarities end. Just like its title claims, none of this music could have been contemplated before 1960, let alone be performed or recorded then. Think Burt Bacharach. Think Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass. Add some go-go beats, some mod stylings, some evidence that Americans had entered the jet age and were loosening up considerably and becoming more cosmopolitan. Suave, breezy and ebullient, you could imagine this music being played on the radio while cruising down the Pacific Coastal Highway in your powder blue Jaguar convertible. Basically, Music for TV Dinners: The Sixties lies at the exact point where Las Vegas lounge, Muzak, and Brill Building greatness collide. Truly groovy and Austin Powers-worthy.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

When My Morning Comes Around - Iris DeMent

I recently boasted on one of those stupid Facebook lists that my musical loves ranged from Skinny Puppy's "Worlock" to this beauty here. Just to show how open-minded I was about music. And looking back, I hate that I did that. People who do that invariably have pretty narrow musical tastes.

Having said that, yes, Iris DeMent and Skinny Puppy are pretty far removed from one another. Skinny Puppy is among the best industrial acts out there, bearing witness to a dystopian postmodern world where life - particularly animal life - is devalued and exploited mercilessly, with lyrics and music that are disjointed, distorted, and ugly. Iris DeMent, on the other hand, is a humble old-time folk singer/songwriter whose songs often sound like they could come rolling out your grandpa's old Victrola, alongside Maybelle Carter and Jimmie Rodgers. Her voice is unfettered and untrained, her emotions pure and naive, and at least for one album, her soul seems utterly pristine, untouched by ugliness of any sort. But there is one similarity between "Worlock" and "When My Morning Comes Around"...both are the undeniable apices to their respective mediocre albums, both by artists who are otherwise excellent.

Now. When people talk about good old-fashioned redemption, or sing about it in hymns, THIS is how it's supposed to sound. Sturdy basic Southern gospel piano, slide guitars and fiddles buttress the swelling emotion, beginning a stately...well, hymn, really. It evokes a loving, forgiving God who knows just how badly you've sinned, who knows the anguish you're suffering as a result, and who will always grant a second chance to get your life right. This is the kind of affirming spiritual guidance that Iris DeMent lives her life by.

And then Iris opens her mouth. It's been a long time since she first sang naively about heaven being "a garden, bunch o' carrots and little sweet peas" on her impressive debut, Infamous Angel. After her wide-eyed optimism, she took a hard, uncomfortably dry-eyed look at the world around her on My Life, full of crumbling relationships, petrifying lives, and wistful remembrances of her past. Iris made an impressive leap in maturity between those two albums, but when she begins singing on this, the first song on The Way I Should, it's apparent her voice is also now more sure of itself, more expressive, and her nasal twang - a fair bit of an acquired taste, let's be honest - has been tempered to great effect. The result is gorgeous.

But this song would merely be a pretty little ditty if the lyrics weren't so damned profound. Iris is standing at a watershed here, looking back at a life lived so wrong, and ever so grateful for the chance to get it right again lying ahead. There's a tinge of wistfulness and regret as she sings about the place she lives now about to "burn to ash and cinder," but it's fleeting. Iris looks forward to the time when "for once, I won't be thinking there's something wrong with me." Raise your hand, people, if you've ever felt hamstrung by your shortcomings. Then give this song a listen. Let it permeate your soul. And if you don't feel a tear of recognition coming to your eye, you've a heart of cold black obsidian.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ultra-Lounge Disc 1: Mondo Exotica

This collection kicked off a short-lived but tremendously intense tiki fetish of mine back in the summer of 2004. Chiropractic school was kicking my lily-white ass after only four months, and I was ready for some well-needed relaxation. So on spring break, I picked up six albums at the famed Electric Fetus in Minneapolis with two very distinct but well-matched themes: exotica/lounge and surf guitar. (For the record, the other albums: Mambo Fever and Bongo Land, both in the Ultra Lounge series, and the first three in the Lost Legends of Surf Guitar series.) This little span of time ended up being the only thing really pleasant from 2004 to me. (And yes, I did learn how to make a killer mai tai. I still refer to that particular recipe as the drink of death.)

Not by any stretch a perfect album, Mondo Exotica is rather a perfect intro to a mid-20th century American escapist dream. The whole tiki/exotica scene came about when American GIs in the Pacific theater of World War II came back with tales of how amazing this heretofore unexplored territory was. Cue the xylophones, vibraphones, bird calls, and bongo drums. Enter the phenomenon of Oriental restaurants and pineapple and teriyaki pork shishkabobs grilled in the backyard. And this certainly has to have led in no small part to Hawaii becoming the 50th state, ensuring that Americans could have their little bit of Pacific paradise.

Exotica is one of the cheapest, most plastic, least authentic and least soulful forms of music out there. It's basically small orchestras led by the likes of Les Baxter and Martin Denny attempting to encapsulate a glorified version of the South Pacific, replete with mai tais, volcanoes, hula girls, wild birds and tikis. But damned if it isn't evocative and fun.

Mondo Exotica has some fun, laid back stuff. Hawaiian paradise is perfectly rendered by the lazy slide guitars and ukuleles of "Alika" and "Hana Maui." But the bulk of this album has a surprisingly dark edge to it. This is not the music of some happy-go-lucky parrothead paradise where revelers enjoy their light fruity pina coladas and Coronas, but rather, an aural exploration of, well, exotic lands and the mysteries they hide. "Hypnotique," "Voodoo Dreams/Voodoo" and "Jungle Madness" do indeed evoke what their titles promise. And from the beginning, I have considered the ending of "Atlantis" to be perhaps the scariest six notes to end a song, repeated over and over again until they fade.

Since exotica is a small musical genre, a representative collection is bound to have some missteps. "Lust," for example, where Bas Sheva quietly moans in front of pizzicato strings, guiro, and bongos, then channels Shirley Bassey in some truly awful, um, vocal noises that evoke pain more than lust. And although the inexplicable but impressive talent that is Yma Sumac is on fabulous display on "Babalu," she ends Mondo Exotica with a brassy rendition of "Wimoweh" that would fit in Las Vegas more than in Waikiki. Still, as far as introductions to exotica go, you could hardly do better. It's perfect music to listen to while having a pupu platter and a zombie or mai tai and daydreaming about that trip to Hawaii or the South Pacific or the Orient (yeah, I said the Orient, not Southeast Asia).