Richard Swift : 1977-2018

Photo by Larry Crane

I won’t lay it on thick here, as I can’t say I’m a longtime fan of Richard Swift’s work. What I will say is that as a producer, Richard Swift produced three of the best sounding indie records in the last 10 years. His work with Damien Jurado on albums Maraqopa, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, and Visions of Us on the Land, to my ears, is pure and perfect. He had a magic touch with Jurado that aged those songs and albums to a pristine magnificence. Swift had a very unique approach to his production, giving both an organic and ethereal vibe to the work. Those albums feel like time capsules to some alternate universe version of the late 60s and early 70s. Epic in feel, yet intimate to the ears. 

Of course, Swift has worked with countless artists over the years(including The Shins, David Bazan, Foxygen, Stereolab, The Black Keys, The Arcs, Guster, etc…), and has put out albums and EPs under his own name(recording at the Wilco Loft for his Richard Swift as Onasis album.) His reach was far in the musical world, and he touched many artists. He made them sound that much better in the studio and on stage alike.

Richard Swift passed away July 3rd, 2018, at the age of 41. Play some Richard Swift today. I’m gonna blow the roof off with Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son. Maybe twice if the wife lets me.

RIP

 

 

 

Sun’s Gone Dim : RIP Johann Johannsson

The last three weekends I’ve barely left my pajama pants, let alone my house. Winter blues? Middle age aches and pains? The hermit transformation nearly complete? Maybe a little of all of that. Anyways, this weekend I wasn’t going to melt into the caverns of the couch watching a Sam Raimi marathon like I did last weekend, so yesterday after morning coffee I changed into my workout clothes and dutifully headed into the YMCA. I was gonna put in some laps on the walking track upstairs come hell or high water. On lap three I glanced on my phone to see the headline that Icelandic musician/film composer Johann Johannsson had died in Berlin on Friday, February 9th. He was 48 years old. No cause of death has been determined or released at this time. But 48 years old? That’s not an age where you just randomly drop dead. Jesus.

I have to be honest, I was and am gutted. I didn’t know anything about Johannsson until I watched Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. I absolutely love the film. It pretty much turned me inside out, and a major part of that was the haunting and beautiful score by Johann Johannsson. It really captured the mysterious quality of the film; are these aliens truly friendly or are there ulterior motives behind their sudden “arrival”? The music Johannsson composed for the film carries a vastness and an alien quality to it. It truly felt like he locked into some unknown musical language to create something truly special.

Once I was aware of him I jumped into his back catalog. His previous work with Villeneuve, like the scores for Prisoners and Sicario are as equally compelling. I haven’t heard what he did for Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, but I plan to very soon. His album IBM 1401, A User’s Manual is a work of art. An ode to technology, nostalgia, and also an ode to Johannsson’s father who worked for IBM at the beginning.

What I was looking forward to most this year is the release of Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy. It’s a post-apocalyptic film that takes place in the early 80s that stars Nicholas Cage. Cage’s wife is murdered by a group of roving biker mutants and Cage is left for dead. The second half of the film is Cage reeking sweet revenge on the group of mutant murderers and their cult-ish leader. The film was scored by Johann Johannsson and it’s one of my most anticipated films and scores of the year. Cosmatos’ previous film, the dark and eerie Beyond The Black Rainbow is one of my favorite movies in recent years. There is a plot, but that’s not what’s important. What is important is the visual style of Cosmatos and how he engages the senses, sight and sound, in his work. On Rainbow, Cosmatos worked with the amazing Sinoia Caves. That soundtrack is one of my absolute favorite scores. I can only imagine that Johann Johannsson’s score will do the same for Mandy.

I think I’ll get a few more laps in today. Sinking into the couch just doesn’t sound like something I want to do to. You know, seize the day and all that. I’ll start out with Arrival, and then on lap 10 I’ll switch to IBM 1401, A User’s Manual. I hope Johann Johannsson is at peace, wherever he is.

Johann Johannsson, born September 19th, 1969 and died February 9th, 2018. He was 48.

Drink the long draught, for the Hip Priest : R.I.P. Mark E. Smith

People only need me when they’re down and gone to seed – Mark E. Smith

I can’t say I’ve been a Fall fan my whole life. I’ve really only gotten to know the world of Mark E. Smith the last 9 years or so. But in that time I’ve gotten to love this ever-curmudgeonly Brit with a snarl like a pissed-off stray mut and the tongue of a philistine poet. His willingness to just say f**k it and do as he sees fit on both record and on the stage is something to admire, really. From the sound of it, Smith wasn’t an easy guy to please, given the 60+ folks that have made their way through the hallowed halls of the Fall roster. But it seems that most that have played with the guy feel they’ve learned something(even if it’s that they never want to play with the guy again.)

I don’t feel I can comment a whole lot on the passing of The Fall’s ever present angry leader/poet/instigator, as like I said before that connection isn’t there as deeply as say someone who’s been a fan for the last 40 years. I will say this, when the mood struck there was nothing better than Hex Enduction Hour, but I had to be in the mood. If I made the mistake of throwing on The Fall when I wasn’t ready emotionally it was like a jackhammer migraine trying to bust out of my skull, with Smith as a stand-in for my subconscious screaming at me all of my life’s great disappointments and letdowns. But when I was feeling particularly self-destructive or going thru some serious existential turmoil, nothing felt better than hearing the line “Hey there fuck face! Hey there fuck face!”

Hex Enduction Hour and Groteque(After The Gramme) were the two albums that hit me the most. The mix of garage-y swagger, drunken spittle on the mic, and grimy poet laureate vibe was enough to keep me coming back. “C.R.E.E.P.” was great, and I adored their cover of The Kinks’ “Victoria”. The amount of artists Mark E. Smith influenced is endless, with standouts being Pavement. Protomartyr is another band as of late that seem to tip their hat to the world of Mark E. Smith and The Fall.

More than anything, I just want to acknowledge the massive body of work Mark E. Smith accumulated in his nearly 40 years of making music. I’d read where someone called The Fall’s discography “intimidating”, and I can’t think of a better way to describe the work. Both in the massive amount of albums and moods to try and get through when you’re first diving in, but even in the attitude each one reflected. It’s as if Smith and whichever crew he had assembled was egging you on; daring you to keep listening.

That’s as punk as it gets.

 

Malcolm

AC/DC was the first band I ever got truly obsessed with. I was 11 years old and at the cusp of maybe, possibly wanting to learn to play guitar. Anything with crunchy, choppy, standout guitar would catch my ear. I put my mom and dad’s Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits cassette through the ringer, listening to “Last Child”, “Kings and Queens”, and “Sweet Emotion” over and and over. But the band that stoked that guitar playing fire more than anyone was AC/DC. My parents had Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and Highway To Hell on 8-track and I remember specifically wanting to hear “Beating Around The Bush” constantly. That song in-particular was like cat nip for me. It was rough, tough, badass, and that riff was as heavy as anything that was coming out of the Bay area in the early 80s or the Lower East Side in the mid-70s. There was just something very visceral and physical about the rhythm guitar work on those AC/DC albums.

The summer before my 6th grade year I had some chore money saved up(probably some raking for my dad) and my mom took me to Big Wheel, which was a retail store in town where you could pretty much buy anything(precursor to Walmart.) They had a pretty decent collection of cassettes so I snagged up High Voltage by AC/DC and by the time we were 20 seconds into the drive home and “It’s A Long Way To The Top(If You Wanna Rock ‘n Roll)” I thought I’d heard everything I’d ever need to hear in terms of guitar music(in some ways, that statement is still very true.) That staccato rhythm Malcolm Young built that song on was like the Pyramids of rock and roll, where hard rock built its civilization upon. Of course everything else about that song was amazing, but for a fledgling, wannabe guitar player it was as if the curtain had been lifted and I was shown that a simple flick of the wrist and just the right amount of volume from a Marshall plexi head could blow minds.

In that summer of 1986 I quickly amassed a collection of cassettes from AC/DC that covered ’74 Jailbreak up to Who Made Who. By the time I’d gotten my first guitar at the end of that summer I was already learning “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”, “Ride On”, and “Hells Bells” thanks to the AC/DC songbook that came home with me. Malcolm Young made playing rhythm guitar seem deceptively simple, yet he had a very deft touch that would take a few more years to somewhat crack(though I never really cracked it.) Everyone talked about Angus and his schoolboy uniform, his stage antics, and yes his raw, bluesy lead playing. His sound was perfect after all. It was electric, buzzing, and always on point. But when you get older and you can look back on those old AC/DC records you see and hear the true secret ingredient to those albums was Malcolm Young’s rhythm playing. He laid a solid foundation, along with Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd, on which Angus could bewitch us with his SG wizardry.

I can’t imagine anyone else playing “Kicked In The Teeth”, “Dog Eat Dog”, “You Shook Me All Night Long”, “Beating Around The Bush”, “TNT”, “Who Made Who”, “Highway To Hell”, “Back In Black”, “Gone Shootin”, “Shake Your Foundations”, “Bedlam In Belgium”, or ANY other AC/DC tracks with the same amount of restrained, simple dexterity and spot-on timing than Malcolm Young. He, along with legends like Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry, Chet Atkins, James Burton, and Jerry Reed elevated the rhythm guitarist into as vital a role in rock and roll as the front man. Malcolm turned being a rock and roll rhythm player into an art form.

Malcolm Young died today. He was 64 years old. It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll, but Malcolm Young made it. He even added a few floors above it.

Monk at 100

Not that the man is celebrating given that he’s been on the other side now for over 37 years. But if Thelonious Monk was still among the living he’d be celebrating a century on this earth. Even though he only lived to be 64-years old, the man blazed a musical trail of legends. His work was unlike anyone before or after. He played like an alien interpreting the wonky rhythms of ragtime. His songs were like a Lemonhead in that they were tart on first taste, but as you let those tunes melt down there was a hidden sweetness you couldn’t deny. I couldn’t deny it, anyways.

Thelonious Monk was the first jazz artist I ever got into. I bought Monk’s Dream on a whim when I was 21. I think I’d read an interview with Flea where he name dropped the man so I figured if Flea dug him maybe I would too? Turns out Flea has great taste as Monk’s Dream became an obsession of mine. It was an obsession that has lasted to this day. I’ve collected countless Monk albums, with Straight, No Chaser, Underground, Solo Monk, Monk, and Criss Cross as favorites. There’s a double LP I found with Thelonious and John Coltrane that’s pretty stunning, too. And the Clint Eastwood-produced doc Straight, No Chaser is a favorite as well. In that doc filled with tons of wonderful archival footage you see the strange and beautiful in him. He just wasn’t on the same plane as the rest of us. He didn’t just think and write outside of the box, he thought and wrote outside of our universe. He was a true original that will never be duplicated, matched, or remotely replaced.

So on this day, October 11, 2017, let us celebrate Thelonius Sphere Monk. One of the coolest far out cats to ever sit at the ivories.

 

The End Of The Rainbow Is Always A Long Ride : R.I.P Tom Petty

There are a few musicians that I connect with on a very personal level. The music feels like walking through the front door on a particularly lousy day at work, and the warmth of home melts all those bad vibes away. A certain song takes me back to a car ride in the summer of 1983 to my grandma’s house for a day of fishing. Or an album puts me in the dead of winter with the blue, Midwest air freezing my lungs on first contact. There are a few artists that take me to certain places when I hear them and Tom Petty has always been one of those artists.

Though, it took me years before I truly appreciated the man.

As a kid he was a soundtrack in the car, much like Steve Miller, The Eagles, Foreigner, and Styx. He was part of AOR soundtrack of my childhood. Most of that stuff I hear nowadays and I just want to turn it off immediately. Steve Miller is an exception, as is Tom Petty. “American Girl” “Listen To Your Heart”, “Even The Losers”, “Refugee”, “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, and “Breakdown” were always welcomed ear candy when I was a kid. There was something inviting in the songs of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Something that felt familiar. When I saw pictures of Tom Petty he reminded me of the gaunt, stick figures I’d see at family reunions. He looked like the smoking long hairs I called relatives. He looked as if he should be in the basement playing pool and drinking a Strohs with my mom and dad and uncles. He just seemed like a dude that would show me a couple bar chords and let me swig some of that half warm Strohs.

Though I wasn’t buying up Petty albums growing up he was always around, making weird videos I’d catch at friends houses or playing on the local classic rock station 97.7 out of Elkhart, Indiana or 95.3 out of Niles, Michigan. Then my freshman year of high school he released his first solo album, Full Moon Fever. Hearing songs like “I Won’t Back Down”, “Free Fallin'”, “A Face In The Crowd”, and “Yer So Bad” were like a revelation. They were like this reinvention of the middle-aged rock and roll guy I’d heard for so many years in the backseat. Petty’s Wilburys collaboration created this long standing working relationship and friendship with ELO’s Jeff Lynne. Lynne gave Petty a new sonic imprint; he brightened the drums, brought the vocals front and center, and gave Petty a spotlight on his more personal songwriting style.

He made Petty cool to the kids.

As much as I loved Full Moon Fever, it wasn’t until 1994s Wildflowers that I completely fell for Tom Petty. That album to me feels like a sonic work of art. It sits among my all time favorite records as this regal musical piece. It was well-aged the day it was released, chock full of absolute masterpieces. To me, this feels like the record where Tom Petty found himself. Yes, even after nearly 20 years of making music, gold albums, and number one singles it wasn’t until this Rick Rubin-produced record did Petty find Petty. There’s a looseness on this album that evokes visions of bearded guys sitting around a studio with smoke(of the cigarette and “Mary Jane” variety) swirling around as amps buzz, basses thump, and drums groove. The atmosphere of those Lynne records, however great they were, were very tight and uniform. There seemed to be no room for letting the tape run and see what would happen. “Honey Bee” and “Cabin Down Below” under those conditions might’ve come out sounding pinched, or worse yet twee. Here they’re gruff and unruly, just the way the Lord intended.

There isn’t one song on this album that I don’t love. It brings back the winter of 1994. It was cold, but the inside of my little Nissan pick up was warm and inviting thanks to songs like “You Wreck Me”, “It’s Good To Be King”, “To Find A Friend”, “Hard On Me” and “A Higher Place”. This album also inspired in me the need to create myself. Even more than Rubber Soul or Village Green Preservation Society, Wildflowers songwriting and sonic stamp made me want to make songs like those. From both writing and engineering standpoints this album was that bar I needed to reach. It sounded like an album you’d find in some dusty record store bin from 1972, not 1994. It was well aged, much like the vintage Fenders and Rickenbackers used to make the record.

I think the song that hits me hardest on this album and always has is “Only A Broken Heart”. There’s something very fragile about it that feels like a punch to the gut every time I hear it. From Petty’s nearly whispered, gently delivered vocals to the mellotron to his acoustic strumming it hits all the right emotional notes for me. There’s loneliness and pain being given out in dollops of musical beauty. Petty sings lines like “I know the place where you keep your secrets/Out of the sunshine, down in a valley” and “I know your weakness, you’ve seen my dark side/The end of the rainbow is always a long ride” with almost the innocence of a child. I think this song is an absolute masterpiece, and it connects me to Tom Petty forever.

There’s not much more I can say. I loved Tom Petty as a songwriter, singer, and musician. If I’d known him I’m sure I would’ve loved him as a friend, too. Mentor, even. He is, was, and always will be one of the greats in the pantheon of rock and roll. So long, Tom Petty. Thank you for everything.

And the days went by like paper in the wind

Everything changed, then changed again

It’s hard to find a friend,

It’s hard to find a friend…

If you haven’t seen the doc Runnin’ Down A Dream by Peter Bogdanovich do yourself a favor and clear about 4 hours for it. It’s the ultimate history on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. 

Saturday, Harry, and Beaches

We’ve gone from an incredibly mild beginning of the month to slowly making our way back to some summer heat. Hell, we had a high of 65 degrees just a few days ago and are back to mid-80s and balmy(thanks Obama!) After I ran to the bank(and the comic book shop and Karma Records) I took to the yard for a serious round of mowing. Despite the cooler temps the grass still felt it necessary to grow way out of hand. I put on the latest Marc Maron podcast and proceeded to sweat like an atheist at a church social. Even after a good two hours, a spinach, strawberry, pineapple, wheat germ and almond milk smoothie and some Greek yogurt and a relaxing shower I’m still sweating(am I dying?) It’s okay, I’ve got some new tunes spinning. I’m sure I’ll survive.

Before I even had my first cup of dark roast I started seeing folks posting pictures of Harry Dean Stanton and got a bad feeling in my gut. Sure enough, one of the greatest character actors to grace a screen had passed away. I was pretty bummed about this. I was thinking to myself “Man, he was probably in his late 70s or early 80s by now.” Turns out I was wrong. Stanton was 91. 91?! I think maybe because of the fact that he’s looked to be in his mid-60s for the last 40 years I just assumed he was in his 70s. He was always this thin, skeleton of a man wrapped in secondhand clothes in the films he was in. He always looked like a guy that had seen far more in his life and had experienced even more than that than everyone in the room combined, yet never felt compelled to share too much. Quiet, unassuming, and someone happy to share a longneck(or two) and a pack of Reds at the local watering hole with anyone willing to buy a around or two.

He could’ve been any number of guys I’d see when I was a little kid and my grandma would take me to the Moose Lodge for lunch. She worked there as a waitress and bartender when she and my grandpa lived on Lake Manitou back in the 70s and 80s. We’d go over there when my mom and I would visit during summer. We’d sit in a booth and I’d eat a hamburger with fries and a Coke while a cavalcade of regulars would come by to say hi to my grandma. Maybe Harry was one of them, I don’t know.

First time I remember seeing Harry Dean Stanton in a movie was Alien. He was the unfortunate soul that tried getting the cat and was bit in the face by the Xenomorph for his troubles. Then in the mid-80s we rented Repo Man and I think it was that movie that made me think, “You know, I kind of like this guy.” Repo Man was an insane, head trip of a film that put me onto both Alex Cox and punk rock. It was also one of Emilio Estevez’ finest films. Stanton was the crusty old timer showing the young punk the ropes and trade of repossessing vehicles. It’s a classic. Then in the early 90s when I worked at a video store I started bringing old Betamax tapes home(because nobody rented them anymore and I had our newly repaired Toshiba at home.) There were lots of movies that they never replaced with VHS copies and only had the Betamax left. There was literally a giant box filled with old Betamax tapes in the back that I could take whenever I wanted. One of those was Wim Wender’s beautiful Paris, Texas. It was this European arthouse film that was shot in the heart of Texas with grizzled American actors. It was this tome on loneliness, the open road, regrets, and how insignificant we are in the scheme of things. For me, that film defined the lonely soul that Stanton could play so well. He was also featured in several David Lynch films and was even in The Avengers as a security guard that finds a naked Bruce Banner in an abandoned factory.

So long, Harry. 91 years. You had a hell of a good run.

What am I listening to, you ask? The new Beaches album Second of Spring. It’s a double LP of dreamy psych rock from this all female rock outfit from Australia. I absolutely loved their 2013 album She Beats. It had a lo-fi vibe to it, yet never came across as amateurish. It felt like a well-aged rock record you might find in some collection sitting and collecting dust. One of those rare treats of an album that had a special appearance by none other than NEU!s Michael Rother.

Second of Spring is a double album clocking at over 75 minutes of psych, dream, shoegaze, and grungy garage rock. These ladies lay on the hazy guitar vibes beautifully this time around. It’s been four years, but Second of Spring was worth the wait.

That’s all I got. There’s some PBRs in the fridge with my name on ’em. The boy and I plan on marathoning the Alien collection tonight. We watched Prometheus and Alien: Covenant a couple weekends ago and are doing the original Scott film, along with Cameron’s Aliens, tonight. If we’re so inclined, maybe we’ll finish up Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, too. If we’re feeling crazy or something.

A little “my two cents”, in regards to Scott’s newest Alien films. I think they’re great. It seems that there’s either the “we loved it” or “we hated it” camps. I don’t get all the jeers for these films. They looked great and had great acting. The effects were amazing and the story, though a little dense, starts to make sense after my second viewing of Prometheus. Plus, Michael Fassbender was fucking brilliant. So there’s that.

Alright, enjoy your weekend my lovelies. Grab a beer and watch Paris, Texas.