Hump Day In Corporate Hell (Part 2)

It’s been three hours already and, so far, I’m happy to report that there haven’t been any business-related deaths or casualties, so the “bullshit block out” tunes must ultimately be working.  I am proceeding then with Phase Two of the morning’s corporate serenity, the ‘Cure for Pain‘  album also by Morphine.

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This is the 2nd album by the band and, ultimately, their big break through released in 1993 (Rykodisc).  Funnily enough, I am familiar with the songs ‘Sheila‘  and ‘In Spite of Me‘ as they were prominently featured on the soundtrack of the 1994 independent film ‘Spanking the Monkey‘, which I recall seeing at the Princess Cinema in downtown Waterloo, Ontario at some point during my university days.  I was probably high at the time.  But be that as it may, this was likely my first exposure to the band although I wouldn’t really become a “fan” until later…much later.

With their cult following growing, Morphine expanded their audience even further with this exceptional sophomore album.  Whereas their debut, ‘Good‘, was intriguing yet not entirely consistent, ‘Cure for Pain‘  more than delivered.  The songwriting was stronger and more succinct this time around, while new drummer Billy Conway made his recording debut with the trio (replacing Jerome Deupree).

Like the debut, most of the material shifts between depressed and upbeat, with a few cacophonic rockers thrown in between. Such selections as ‘Buena‘, ‘I’m Free Now‘, ‘All Wrong‘, ‘Candy‘, ‘Thursday‘, ‘In Spite of Me‘ (one of the few tracks to contain six-string guitar), ‘Let’s Take a Trip Together‘, ‘Sheila‘, and the title track are all certifiable Morphine classics.  And again, Mark Sandman’s two-string slide bass and Dana Colley’s sax work help create impressive atmospherics throughout the album.

Cure for Pain‘ was unquestionably one of the best and most cutting-edge rock releases of the ’90s. In fact, the album placed 8th on the Alternative Nation site’s Top 10 Underrated 90’s Alternative Rock Albums list.

And it’s some crazy shit indeed.

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Hump Day In Corporate Hell (Part 1)

Well, it’s that day of the week again.  The day I inevitably venture into Ground Zero of Corporate Hell (ie. the office) to slog out another day of corporate bullshit.  Yay, me.  The good news is, that while I get lost in writing my modules and presentations I can escape into my headset and block out all that BS thanks to the marvel that is YouTube.  And today’s bullshit “blocker-outer”,so to speak, is the ‘Like Swimming‘  album by Morphine.

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I have mentioned before that this is a band I wish I had known about way back in my stoner days;university especially.  But I’m doing my best to make up for lost time (with the band, not the weed) here at the office today.

This album (their 4th) was released back in 1997 on Rykodisc, which would have coincided nicely with my alma mater stoner days.  The music, which connects with listeners on a very physical level, is so simple it’s amazing no one’s done it before. Using exclusively low-register instruments, Mark Sandman’s two-string bass and baritone voice, and Dana Colley’s bass and baritone saxophones, the band’s songs actually reverberate in the chest, treating listeners to a low-impact massage.  And anything that feels this good can’t be bad.

But Morphine’s blessing – that distinctive low rock sound – is also their curse.  Not only do they bind themselves to an instantly recognizable sound, but they also limit themselves in their arrangements: Voice and sax can each hit only one note at a time (though Colley sometimes manages to honk two saxes at once), while the bass can manage a two-note interval at best. It’s hard being dynamic using only three or four sounds.

‘Like Swimming’  is easy to appreciate, full of loping bass lines and slithery sax riffs that strut through jazzy rock numbers like ‘Wishing Well‘  and ‘Empty Box‘.  But while newcomers may be happy with the band’s warm swing, others will pine for the first time they heard the band’s earlier breakthrough on ‘Cure For Pain’ (which, I think I’ll check out next).  Only with the album closer ‘Swing It Low‘ (a title that could be a band manifesto) does Morphine hint at changes to come: With guitar, keyboards, programmed drums, and no saxophone, the song (first released as a Sandman solo project) proves it possible to capture Morphine’s noir moods in mid-range as well.

But there is also great contrast in this album as well.  For instance, take the hauntingly sublime ‘I Know You (Pt. 3)‘  and the chaotic ‘11 O’Clock‘. Only Morphine could deliver these two opposite styles of music with such perfection.

It’s simply the tits and a great start to an otherwise day full of the usual office bullshit.

Oh, and on a side note, the album cover is pretty accurate representation of how I felt by the end of my 3500m  swim strength workout this morning.

Just sayin’…

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Drills/Easy Fartlek Run (7k)

The wife and I are going to see Plants & Animals in a month or so at Lee’s Palace in Toronto, so she asked me to put all my albums on her USB stick so that she can familiarize herself with the songs while driving.  No problem.  The thing is, I couldn’t find the ‘With/Avec‘ EP.  And you know how it it, it should be there right between your Pink Floyd and Poco CD’s…but it isn’t.  How incredibly annoying is that?  Fast forward 40 minutes later and I’ve pretty much cleared out all the albums off shelves L through Q and…it ends up being in the upstairs CD player all along.

FML.

Anyway, the upshot to all this that I ended up rediscovering about a dozen or so albums that I had long since forgotten I even owned and as of today, I’m going to begin working through them on my next few weeks worth of runs, beginning with this ‘Flying Saucers‘  album by Mad Tea Party because, hey, why not?

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And here you thought this was going to be another Plants & Animals album, right?

On a side note, listening to this album just also happens to come at a time when SETI is investigating a very real possibility if just having received an extraterrestrial signal from deep outer space (click HERE); specifically, from a 6.3-billion-year-old star in the constellation Hercules – 95 light years away from Earth.

How apropos is that shit?

But, anyway, onto the music.  First of all, just look at that album cover.  It has a giraffe in pants and cowboy boots playing an uprright bass, a rabbit in a dress playing guitar and a bear in a suit rocking out on the fiddle.  On the back cover, yup, you guessed it…flying saucers, which I’m also using to qualify this album as Airplanes, Bitches!  album worthy.

The Mad Tea Party (originally Ami Worthen’s Mad Tea Party) is an eclectic “uke-abilly” band based in Asheville, NC.  The high energy group was formed by Ami Worthen (vocals, ukulele, and other occasional instruments) and Jason Krekel (guitar, ukulele, slide whistle, kazoo and other assorted items), who performed and recorded as a duo for several years. Lora Pendelton joined the band on bass later on.  This album was the resulting musical progeny released shortly afterwards in 2005.

I’m pretty sure I bought this album after seeing them perform live at the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance in Chapel Hill, North Carolina when Uncle Lance and I drove down (2006?) for our annual guy’s getaway.  I don’t remember the performance specifically because, well, aside from a few classic moments (click HERE), the weekend was pretty much a whiskey-soaked blur, so this album is really my only memory from that specific moment in time.  I mean, it must have been great otherwise I wouldn’t have purchased it.

The Roaring ‘20s ushered in an era of looseness, flair, and simplistic decadence that would quickly diminish once the big crash and the Great Depression set in.  For every drop of liquor that was poured out during Prohibition, bootleggers would smuggle in 10 more, giving organized crime a mission and reason to exist.  The extravagant decade can conjure up feelings of a time long forgotten in both fashionable trends and politics, but not necessarily in music.  The toe-tapping, ragtime/retro-swing sounds of Mad Tea Party have appropriately bottled the 1920’s with some Blue Ridge flavor in this amazing album.

The trio encapsulates not only a fervor for Carter Family harmonies and 1920’s ragtime, but their own unique devotion to both jazz and folk music; not unlike the Squirrel Nut Zippers.  The album was essentially recorded live and listening to it feels like watching an old black and white Chaplin film on late night television.  It really feels like genuine period music.  I have expected to run past a Ford V-8 parked by the side of the Friendship Trail with Bonnie & Clyde spread out on a picnic blanket cleaning a BAR machine gun.

It’s that damn slick.

Early on in the album, ‘Pagan Love Song‘  finds its place somewhere around sundown with a fiddle solo weaving in and out of the shadows among the old and new growth that fills those “beautiful mountains”.  Worthen’s voice then sails into Iris Dement and Stacy Earle waters on the lonesome ‘I’m an Old Cowhand‘, which I imagine I’d sing if I were perched up on a split-rail fence overlooking an open field (albeit in a more masculine voice); which isn’t likely going to happen anytime soon.  The title track feels like the Carter Family classic ‘Atomic Power‘,  and I’m some of you will remember Dinah Shores ‘Buttons & Bows‘  (click HERE).  The combination of UFOs and the 1920’s through the album appear to be strange bedfellows, yet the end result couldn’t be more fitting.  Someone should tell the Coen Brothers to use ‘Walking in the King’s Highway‘, perfect for the opening scene of their next movie.  Oh, and ‘Indian War Whoop‘  is an old favorite of mine, so that was a great way to close out an otherwise terrific listen.

All things considered, today’s 7k run was probably the best I’ve felt in the past 3-4 weeks.  ‘Ol Thunder n’ Lightning felt decent and my heart didn’t feel like it was going to explode out of my chest thanks to it not being ridiculously hot out.  It’s still warm enough (29°, 73% humidity), out but it’s not stupid Sahara-hot either.  I’m still being careful however (or lazy, depending on how you want to look at it) by including some easy walking recovery intervals in between my bouts of running.  However, today 3 x 1.25k intervals were at a build into a sub-4:30min/km  pace which I haven’t been able to do for a while…hence my classification of this run as an “easy fartlek” run.  I’m hoping then that this is a sign that my patience and persistence in taking it easy (ie. lazy) through this hottest part of the summer was the smart thing to do and I’ll soon be able to return to longer, more productive…and regular…run workouts.

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Yoga Stretch

It was a long hard day at the bike mount line yesterday at the SunRype Tri-KiDS triathlon in Fergus, Ontario meaning I’m pretty sore today.  I accomplished an easy 2000m drill swim this morning but I’m not really inspired to do anything else.  It’s these opportunities then that I like to do those little, oh, so important workouts, that I just never deem important enough to do regularly…although I also recognize that I should.  I mean do loves me my easy yoga stretches but among all the other workouts I also feel I need to accomplish weekly, they always seem to take a back seat.  So I’m rectifying that this afternoon with this easy stretch out on my basement floor with the ‘Brewing Up with‘  album by Billy Bragg.

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I largely credit my friend Michelle for introducing me to Billy Bragg back in high school.  I probably wouldn’t have been exposed to him otherwise seeing as how just about all the other music I was listening to at the time involved ether copious amounts of psychedelics or black Mascara in order to enjoy them.  Not that you can’t enjoy Billy Bragg with these things now, but it’s certainly not as integral or necessary.

My favorite was likely the ‘Life’s a Riot with Spy vs Spy‘  album, but this album was a very close favorite and got lots of play around my dorm room back in my first year of university.  Not just because I loved it but because all the other guys on my floor listened to either Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam or Alice In Chains and this, well, let’s just say that this annoyed the shit out of them.  Somewhere down the road though, I parted ways with the album as I did with other CD’s that were in my collection then.  God only knows what happened to them.

Personally, I blame one of those grungy, goatee-d, plait jacketed dipshit’s from East E.

Bragg’s first full album delivers another clutch of memorable, clever songs.  Here the rudimentary voice and electric guitar arrangements prevalent in ‘Life’s a Riot With Spy Vs. Spy‘  are refined and sweetened by occasional use of overdubbed vocals (‘Love Gets Dangerous‘), organ (‘A Lover Sings‘), and trumpet (‘The Saturday Boy‘); this last selection is a jaunty mid-tempo number about unrequited love that makes reference to the Delfonics’ ‘La-La Means I Love You‘.

Occasional 1950’s influences surface on this album, most notably Bo Diddley in the jittery ‘This Guitar Says Sorry‘  and Chuck Berry in the bouncy ‘From a Vauxhall Velox‘  (which has the classic couplet “Some people say love is blind/But I just think that it’s a bit short-sighted”). In addition to songs about relationships, there are also pointedly critical numbers that deal with social/political issues; examples include ‘It Says Here‘ (a ringing gruff tune that lampoons the press) and ‘Island of No Return‘ (a gripping and angry antiwar song).

At the time, the album reached #16 in the UK albums chart and in 2000 Q magazine placed this album at #87 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever.  Oh, and on another interesting note, the cover has the subtitle “A Puckish Satire On Contemporary Mores,” a quote from the Woody Allen film ‘Love and Death‘, in which Allen’s character reviews an army play presented to Russian soldiers to prevent them from becoming infected with venereal diseases while at war.

Umm, thanks for that Billy.

Anyway, I found this album a few weeks back at the Niagara Records store in downtown St. Catharines and even though the cover is in a bot of rough shape (the record is just fine) I knew this was an album that needed to be “rescued”.   It certainly deserved more than where it was currently located in the discount bin for $4.00, so I happily snatched it up and brought it home.  And as it turns out, it was a terrific nostalgic listen today while doing my slow yoga routine this afternoon and, hey, you just can’t put a price on that.

Welcome home.

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Weights

It’s Friday night and I’m off to the gym for my He-man routine with some He-man tunes, namely the ‘Welcome to the Monkey House‘  by The Dandy Warhols.

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It’s been a while since I’ve listened to the Dandy’s during one of my workouts but, this evening I’m going back to the well with this 2003 album on Capitol records.  The album was originally mixed by Grammy Award-winning soul music engineer Russell Elevado, but Capitol Records were unhappy with releasing it, and instead released a more polished, synthpop-influenced mix by Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran. The original mix of the album was later released as ‘The Dandy Warhols Are Sound’  in 2009.  The album’s title was inspired by Kurt Vonnegut‘s short story of the same name.

Over the course of their career, the Dandy Warhols alternated between slick, smart, slightly smirky pop singles like ‘Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth‘ and ‘Bohemian Like You‘  and the ambitious yet somehow empty-sounding tracks that made up the rest of their albums.  With this, their 5th album, the band capitalizes on their pop sensibilities and even manages to turn their prior weaknesses into strengths, resulting in a collection of gloriously blank, cleverly stupid neo-new wave songs.

It’s true that, once again, the Dandy Warhols look to other people’s music for direction, but this time around, the new wave and synth-pop revivals that inform the album sound so natural that it’s hard to imagine the band in any other incarnation.  ‘Welcome to the Monkey House‘s glossy mix of synths, guitars, and drum machines – aided and abetted by co-producer Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran (I mentioned that, right?) – are the perfect complement to Courtney Taylor’s knowing, flip outlook.  The album gets off to a strong start with sharply crafted songs like ‘We Used to Be Friends‘ – which feels a little bit like a follow-up to ‘Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia‘s ‘Bohemian Like You‘ – and ‘I Am Over It‘, a slice of electronic pop that’s delivered in appropriately blasé, mechanical fashion.

Not surprisingly, most of the album’s best songs revolve around emptiness, drugs, and narcissism, such as ‘The Dope‘, an electro-inspired number that could give Fischerspooner a run for its money when it comes to jittery, vocodered trendiness.  It’s still cool though.   ‘I Am a Scientist‘  is the album’s trashy zenith; a hybrid of sleazy beats, breathy samples and a rather nihilistic celebration of science’s lack of emotion (not to mention its contributions to recreational chemistry). ‘You Were the Last High‘, however, confuses drugs and girls in an unusually bittersweet way.  Some shades of paranoia and existential crisis creep into the album from time to time, more playfully on ‘Plan A‘  and more seriously on the brooding ‘Insincere Because I‘, giving a what-goes-up-must-come-down balance to party-hard odes such as ‘The Dandy Warhols Love Almost Everyone‘  and ‘Hit Rock Bottom‘.

Like any party, things start to fall flat toward the end of the album; ‘Heavenly‘, ‘I Am Sound‘ – an ‘Ashes to Ashes‘  homage – and ‘You Come in Burned‘  provide a sluggish comedown to the rest of the album’s go-go pace, although they’re not as distinctive as what came before them.  Ultimately, in general and on this album, the Dandy Warhols work best when they don’t try to inject weighty matters like meaning and substance into their jaded pop confectionery.  ‘Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia‘  might still be the band’s most accomplished album, but by embracing their emptiness and stylishness on ‘Welcome to the Monkey House‘, they’ve crafted an album that is no less enjoyable because of its disposability.

In any case, it was a fun listen which ripping muscle fiber, what else is there to really say?

So now I have the evening to myself to enjoy a cold prime rib sandwich with chick pea spread, bean sprouts and aoli at The Sanctuary and one (hear that, honey?  ONE) of their new ‘Pie With a Little Help From My Friends‘ saison beers.  I had originally wanted to have hot dogs, but after a totally miscommunication on a friends Facebook page (still sorry, Cori) earlier this afternoon, I had totally psyched myself out of having them.  And for the record, I do not  advocate the eating of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppies as BBQ or on a bun or roll of any kind, shit, I just don’t eat dog, okay?  In fact, I don’t advocate the eating of any new born creatures, unless it’s veal…cuz that shit is delicious.

And with that being said, I’m crashing on the couch now with Tina the Cat and the newest James Bond ‘Spectre‘  movie, because that’s how I’m choosing to roll this evening.

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Easy Run (5.75k)

I’ve been debating all morning as to whether I would run outside this afternoon or wait until this evening and run on the treadmill at the gym as a warm up for my weights session.  Really, I hate the treadmill and it’s pretty humid outside right now meaning there’s a good chance I’m going to end up walking for spells…but in the end, I decided to sack up, get outside and get ‘er done.  I guess I’m a total glutton for punishment.  My listening pleasure then is the ‘Somewhere Else‘  by Lydia Loveless.

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I knew very little Lydia but I’ve heard a lot about her in the past few months, likewise, I’ve seen her albums hanging on Record Store walls.  Lydia…Lydia…Lydia.  So I figured it was high time I check me out some to see what all the hype was about.

Lydia is a is an alt-country singer-songwriter from Columbus, Ohio, whose music combines pop music, classic country, honky tonk, and punk rock.

Awesome, right?

How can I go wrong?

Somewhere Else‘  was released in 2014 on Bloodshot Records.  Rumor has it, she basically scrapped an entire records’ worth of songs before beginning with this album.  So it bound to be good….right?  Well, that’s if you’re into the whole “chick rock” thing…which, coincidentally I am.

Remember, Courtney Barnett?

Great stuff.

Essentially, she falls for married men, she thinks a lot about her old boyfriends, she’s lonely, she’s needy, she gets lust mixed up with love (and vice versa), and she wants the sort of grand-scale romance that doesn’t work in real life. In short, she’s a twenty-something woman who lives in the real world (it doesn’t get much more real than Columbus, Ohio) and has developed an uncanny ability to talk about matters of the heart and soul with a lyrical voice that’s graceful, keenly observed, and brutally honest.  I may not have ovaries, but this is still great stuff!

Loveless’ singing is just as outstanding as her songcraft – she can move from sweet country and canny pop to fierce, Stones-style rock & roll at the drop of a hat and nail it at every turn.  The production by Loveless and Joe Viers is subtle but captures the full range of Loveless’ moods and ideas, and her interaction with her band is intuitive in the best way; she sings with the musicians, not over them. And while the tone of the songs on ‘Somewhere Else‘  is often confessional, she makes the details feel powerfully authentic and deeply felt; there’s no shock value in Loveless doing cocaine to get a man off her mind in ‘Really Wanna See You‘  or telling her lover what she wants and needs in ‘Head‘, there’s just the clear, unashamed sound of someone laying her life bare for us, and the effect is liberating.  And Kirsty MacColl’s ‘They Don’t Know‘  is a pretty inspired choice for a cover.

At the age of 23, Loveless is still young enough to be fearless, but she’s matured enough as an artist to make something truly special out of her stories, and ‘Somewhere Else‘ confirms she’s the most strikingly accomplished woman to emerge in roots rock since, say, Neko Case.

My original intention for this run was to keep it short and easy but, hopefully, consecutive which I have not done for a while outside.  However, seeing as how – idiot that I am – decided to run at high noon in stupid° weather, that did not happen.  Oh well, at least I did some longer intervals before being forced to walk for a bit over my 5.75k run through Crystal Beach.  heat and humidity aside, the major complaint today was in my legs which are certainly feeling the after effects of last night’s manic bike ride at a 42/44 km/hr pace through Wainfleet in torrential downpour.

It’s amazing what a little fear and anxiety can do to inspire you to ride totally outside your normal abilities.

However, my legs felt like lead weights today.

IMG_0803Oh, and special mention goes the tourist fucktard in the grey X-Terra doing 70km/hr down Point Pleasant in a 40km/hr residential zone.  I certainly appreciated getting the finger, especially since you saw fit to pull a U-turn in the middle of the road, narrowly missing the couple on cruisers, to come back and wave it at me.

You sir, are an asshole in the extreme.

How long before the tourists go home and I get my nice, quiet, asshole-free neighborhood back?

Anyhoo, I’m going to both reward and console myself with my Pay Day Friday lunch treat, a Turkey Cobb sandwich with a maple raisin butter tart from The Kitchen, down the road.

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Thursday In Corporate Hell (Part 2)

Two.  More.  Hours.

Part 2 of today’s magical mystery tour here at Corporate Hell is brought to you by the Brian Jonestwon Massacre album, ‘Methodrone‘.

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Listed at #43 on NME’s list of the 50 Druggiest Albums Ever, this album is simply the tits. In 1995, Anton Newcombe droned on like a stoned party bore as he cooked up his own takes on the drone-heavy oeuvre of those other great substance-enjoyers: Jason Pierce (aka J. Spaceman) and Spacemen 3, My Bloody Valentine and a good dollop of Jesus & Mary Chain.  This album is clearly the sum of these influences.

Even the album cover is very “shoegazer-esque” (think MBV’s ‘Loveless‘).

Thankfully BJM does a very solid job with them throughout the album’s course of over 70 minutes.  ‘Ol Anton favors breathy, sighing vocals over post-Jagger drawls, understandably (‘Crushed‘  is as perfect an example of American Anglo singing as it gets), while the seven other rotating band members whip up a good amount of machine-like chugging and rave-up bliss as they go.

Part of the reason why it all works so well is Newcombe’s impressive abilities to actually perform rather than pose. ‘Wisdom‘, for instance, isn’t very complex, but it successfully creates a psychedelic haze.  While assembled from a variety of different sessions and about seven different engineers, ‘Methodrone‘  feels like a unified collection. Newcombe (control freak that he is) is due further credit for ensuring that his own particular (if second-hand) vision is carried throughout.

The album closes on a spectacular high, with the wafting feedback prettiness of ‘Outback‘ followed by the majestic drone of ‘She’s Gone‘, armed with a stunning guitar line, then wrapping up with an untitled bonus track that assuredly builds to a strong end with quirky touches. Though the band never returned to this sound in full, Newcombe and BJM as a whole have nothing to be ashamed of here.

In fact, I thought that the ‘Give It Back‘ album was going to forever be my favorite of the BJM catalog but, what ya know…I stand corrected.  This album just became that.  It’s that freakin’ good!

Interestingly enough, Anton is reportedly on the wagon these days.

And meditating on it, too.

Good luck, buddy!

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