COLUMNS

  • The Mekons

    IT’S A COMPLIMENT to say that virtually everything in the Mekons United catalogue reads like a practical joke. Of course, there really must be a Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, Florida, where THE MEKONS—that rowdy, collectivistic, erstwhile punk band founded in Leeds in 1977—hung their group-made paintings and other visual and verbal effluvia this spring. But despite the catalogue’s posh design and the genuine Mekons CD slipped in the back sleeve, Mekons United gleefully begs to be interrogated for its authenticity, if not its authorship.

    This is, no doubt, just as the band, or more exactly its

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  • Table of the Elements

    AT A TIME WHEN many are describing vinyl as thoroughly “auratic” (in Benjamin’s sense), recording labels are attempting to make CDs “unique” through any number of desperately ingenious packaging ploys (using cardboard and metal, among other materials). Atlanta-based label TABLE OF THE ELEMENTS is clearly ahead of the game: putting a conceptual spin on the “inauthenticity” of CDs, the label has gone back to the hardest form of hardware: pure, chemical substance. Fans of avant-garde and atonal music are still referring to two recent releases—by Chicago’s Gastr del Sol (the brilliant collaboration

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  • Two Dollar Guitar

    Way back in the era BCD (Before Cobain’s Death), when alternarock had barely begun to rule the world, some people were already sick of all that . . . Zepness. So they went in another direction altogether and invented something called slo-core: bands like Low, Mazzy Star, and TWO DOLLAR GUITAR made music that had a lot more to do with early blues, bummed-out country, and Joy Division during their heroin days than “yo, my dick is sooo big” guitar theatrics.

    Two Dollar Guitar, the Hoboken, New Jersey, band made up of former Half Japanese member Tim Foljahn, ex-Das Damen bassist Dave Motamed, and

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  • Tortoise

    Bongload. Try saying that word a couple of times, let it roll around on your tongue: bongload, bongload. . . . Listening to TORTOISE, you get the feeling that the guys in this Chicago band use it a lot (both the word and the stuff). If this sounds like a criticism, it’s not, really: the oceanic, spaced-out instrumentals that comprise their three albums (1994’s Tortoise, 1995’s Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters, and the recent Millions Now Living Will Never Die) simply happen to be the perfect accompaniment to the rustling of plastic baggies and the muffled inhalations of bud appreciation; to the

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  • Klezmatics

    I first heard the KLEZMATICS’ Rhythm + Jews (Flying Fish) over breakfast with five gay men in a purple-painted pad on Haight-Ashbury. Track one featured demonic yells and an Arab drum, track two a medley of “NY Psycho Freylekhs”—Imagine “Hava Nagila” in overdrive. The third track was a tender love song to “feygele mayn,” “my little bird” in Yiddish. Feygele is also slang for homosexual, my first inkling as to why the Haight-Ashbury house drank in the Klezmatics with their morning coffee.

    The name of their first album, Shvaygn=Toyt (Piranha), rendered the ACT UP slogan “Silence=Death” in Yiddish.

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  • Palace

    Under any name (PALACE, Palace Brothers, etc.), Will Oldham’s music has always been vital for exploring the weird phenomena of desire and doubt (and their similarity). On Arise Therefore Oldham shows that even this late in the day these subjects still have vast territories left to chart. His plangent voice has never been more lustrous or lusty, recalling fading newsprint photographs, old porn, the dazzle of late-spring mornings still crisp with frost after a night of sweat—in short, the bittersweet postcoital rush, when the one in your bed has just left you to yourself for who knows how long.

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  • Velvet Underground

    THE VELVET UNDERGROUND made their first public appearance with Andy Warhol and others at the New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry’s annual banquet for 1966. Warhol, David Bourdon has written, had been invited to lecture, but decided instead “to entertain the group with two of his movies, Harlot and Henry Geldzahler, and the Velvets’ music. . . . Soon after the main course was served, . . . fiercely amplified rock music . . . drowned out conversations. Nico . . . groaned incoherently into the microphone. On stage, [Gerard] Malanga threw himself into his strenuous whip dance, while Edie Sedgwick

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  • Joel R. L. Phelps

    Back in the days when everyone believed Bruce Lee was the baddest guy walking the planet, they used to tell this story about how he could reach right into your chest and take your heart out so fast he could show it to you, still beating, before you died. Probably Bruce never actually did that, but JOEL R. L. PHELPS sure does: one minute you’re pushing the buttons on your stereo, everything more or less fine, depending. Then Warm Springs Night starts up, and midway through you’re staring at your heart, right there in front of you, pumping away in time, going beat, beat, beat. . . .

    Neat trick—and

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  • Faust

    “Krautrock”—the early-’70s Kosmische Musik of German bands like Can, FAUST, Neu!, Cluster, Amon Düül II, Ash Ra Tempel, and Popol Vuh—is currently hipper than it’s ever been. What with the boom in CD reissues, the publication of Julian Cope’s idiosyncratic guidebook Krautrocksampler, and pledges of allegiance from current bands like Stereolab, the Dead C, Flying Saucer Attack, and Telstar Ponies, now is the right time for Rien, Faust’s first studio album in two decades.

    Formed in 1969 at the instigation of journalist Uwe Nettelbeck, Faust created four albums of peerless postpsychedelic/protopunk

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  • Nusrat Ali Khan

    Why is Pakistan’s premiere Sufi singer presiding over Hollywood executions? NUSRAT FATEH ALI KHAN moans over Jesus as the Nazarene bears his cross through Jerusalem in The Last Temptation of Christ. The same smoky voice soars in Dead Man Walking while six syringes are pumping the state’s revenge into a man spread-eagled on a black prison table. The murderer stares through glass at the nun who promised the truth would set him free, and that she’d be “the face of love” for him in his final moment. Scenes of the murder flash. Nusrat, the voice of mystic Islam, howls. If Pakistan is less of a

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  • the Mountain Goats

    I was 29 years old, rolling through New Jersey suburbs in the Vista Cruiser, when the Mountain Goats saved my life. I didn’t know who they were, didn’t even know that they were a band. All I understood was that there was this reedy, not-quite Neil Young, not-quite-tenor voice humming out of the car radio in gorgeous lo-fi, backed up by equally gorgeous lo-fi lone guitar. The voice sang: and Bill Gates/will single-handedly spearhead the Heaven 17 revival/and the Chicago Cubs will beat every team in the league/and the Tampa Bay Bucs will make it all the way to the top/and I will love you again.

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  • Yoko Ono/IMA

    I have always thought Yoko Ono the only thing interesting about the Beatles. While this is probably not the sanest way to begin, it is at least uncompromising, a mode that has long been one of Ono’s greatest virtues and lessons. On Rising (Capitol), her first new album in over a decade (though close on the heels of her astounding Rykodisc retrospective, Onobox), Ono continues not to compromise and so continues to make songs (noises, chants, whispers, conversations, cries) that combine the matter-of-fact thrusts of Conceptual art with the libidinal cerebrations of rock ’n’ roll. Rising ranges

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