Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Music Compilation That Never Was

Save Mt. Sacramento was supposed to be the 40-song compilation that could have potentially earned Sacramento some much needed national respectability (foolhardy-har-har!) It was supposed to compliment the only other compilation of all-Sacramento bands produced thus far: Sacramento: City Beer. It featured up-and-coming local bands and musicians that, at the time, were getting some notice outside the city limits. This compilation could have been a contender ...if only it actually came out.

If you follow the hype (and who doesn't?), Sacramento, California wants to be a "world class city" (whatever that  means). According to most locals you talk to, Sacramento also wants to be a small, sleepy and unfussy little town. So, "world renowned" without providing visitors with world renowned stuff to do. They don't want things getting too exciting around here, I suppose.

In reality, Sacramento is California's "hella classy" capital city. It's the place where the gears of politics in the "Golden State" turn. Or don't. It's hard to tell if anything gets done in that arena these days, actually. The people doing and not doing their jobs still bring home considerable paychecks, despite the city's freeways being littered with garbage and auto accident remnants.

In addition, every building in Sacramento is some shade of beige. It's as if the city planners were bamboozled by a snake oil salesman who needed to unload gallons of baby shit-hued paint, and Sacramento was just the sucker he was looking for. And while this bland paint scheme may be great for pseudo-yuppie wives who dream of schtupping Fabio in a villa in Tuscany painted in soothing colors that compliment vanilla scented candles, it leaves Sacramento looking kinda boring and banal.

Mayyors (photo courtesy of Last.FM)
One of Sacramento's many saving graces (and it has quite a few--you just need to dig them out) is it's music scene. While live music venues in this town are scant (thank you, City of Sacramento and your red tape, hoop-jumping-through-ing micromanagement!), the bevy of talented musicians and bands that make up this town are not. Sacramento has given rise to a host of great bands over the years/decades: The New Breed, The Twinkeys, Tiger Trap, !!!, and Mayyors (to name but a very few). It's an ever evolving, ever revolving scene in "The City of Trees." Sacramento might not be the most entertaining city in the world, but it's not for a lack of highly-entertaining and talented musicians.

So it was on a trip to Portland in 2009 that I found myself in the boutique store for the record label Tender Loving Empire. Among the stacks LPs and CDs of local bands and musicians on the label's roster in the sale bin I discovered a locally sourced 2XCD compilation titled PDX Pop Now! This compilation series, which started in 2004, features 40 Portland-based bands, each of which is hand-picked by a committee of keen-eared volunteers. Housed in a hand silk-screened chipboard case, this annually produced compilation series gleefully radiates hometown pride.

My first thought just looking at this collection was, "Why doesn't Sacramento have something like this?"

It wasn't as if the bands weren't there. In some ways, Sacramento's music scene easily contended with the greatness of Portland's. Sure, that town that gave the world The Kingsmen, The Wipers, Sleater-Kinney, etc. And Portland's current roster of talent such as Menomena, The Thermals and The Helio Sequence are nothing to sneeze at. But Sacramento, on the other hand, features a much more grittier field of play from Portland's rain-slick streets. This is a town that celebrates it's "janky"-ness, and the music made here tends to be more interesting for it.

I give this over to the fact that creative things are harder to do successfully in Sacramento than they are in other places. There's a stratum of by-design tedium that has to be punched-through in order to get anything (music, art, literature, Peep-eating contests, etc.) off the ground in this town. Fueled more often than not by cheap beer, musicians in Sacramento usually start bands because they are talented, bored and mischievous.

The old Phono Select storefront, R.I.P.
Phono Select was an independent record shop in the heart of Sacramento's midtown. Owned and operated by former Tower Records vets Dal Basi and Nich Lujan, Phono catered to mostly punk and indie audiophiles, housing enough affordable and used vinyl to keep a record collector fat and happy for a fortnight or so. They carried local bands on local labels, and hosted cramped shows whenever touring indie bands like, say, King Tuff, blew through town. Phono Select was a refuge in a town that practically celebrates mainstream mediocrity. So, who better than them to put out a Sacramento-centric music compilation, right?

At the time, there were several bands taking off and getting blips on the national radar. Sea of Bees signed to a major label. Ganglians were getting approving nods from Pitchfork. Pregnant had their song "Selling Records" used as bumper music on the radio program Market Place. Chelsea Wolfe was scarring the libidos of he new-found fans. Sacramento's music scene was ripe for a compilation to document the scene as it was at that moment.

Dal and Nich were game to make this local compilation, and I set about cajoling 40 bands and musicians to appear on our compilation. Sometimes it was easy, and bands registered everything from "That would be awesome to "Sure, go for it" when solicited for a song. Sometimes, it was a bit more tricky. Sea of Bees appearance, for instance, came with the caveat from their new major label overlords that we could only produce CDs; no electronic sales via iTunes or Amazon (which would have been the antithesis of this record shop-born endeavor anyway, so okay). Then there was this one local heretofore unnamed jazz musician, dubious of the whole enterprise. After hearing my pitch, he actually asked, "What's your angle, man? How much you makin' off this?"

(Not planning on making jack shit back on this comp, we simply hoped to break even, if at all. Needless to say, this musician didn't submit a song).

After all 40 bands (including legendary high energy street busker Downtown James Brown) submitted their songs, we set about to get this thing--which we would title Save Mt. Sacramento (that we nicked from Scott Miller)--properly produced. Raleigh Moncreif would master both discs for a nominal price, while local scribe/musician Dennis Yudt wrote a clever little ditty introducing Sacramento's music scene to anyone who cared to learn about it. Up-and-coming local graphic designer and show poster artist Laura Matranga at Asbestos Press create the cover art and graphics. We were good to go. Soon Sacramento would have a music compilation it could rally around and be proud of. 

Then ...well, bupkis.

You see, the business of selling records is dicey prospect these days. More so in a town like Sacramento. This is, after all, where the record peddling behemoth Tower Records was once based. That is, until it fell in 2006. And it's where a small slice sanctuary like Phono Select struggled to stay afloat. Putting out a local compilation of music wasn't high on the priorities list when you're facing bills, low customer turnout and the end of your store front's lease (out with the record shop and in with yet another the women's clothing store!) Needless to say, Phono threw in the towel, and Save Mt. Sacramento couldn't do for itself what it's name suggested. 

Calls and emails to local indie labels to put this comp out went unanswered. No one seemed interested. It languished on the shelf, literally for years, collecting dust and not much else. In those intervening years, some the bands featured on this disc (Pets, Sister Crayon, Agent Ribbons, Chelsea Wolfe, and Flowerss) would move on to bigger cities in an effort to obtain higher profile recognition. New bands like Fine Steps, Gentleman Surfer, Death Grips, RAD, and Trash Talk (who moved to L.A.) stepped in, gained varying degrees of notice and notoriety. Save Mt. Sacramento became an obsolete curiosity: a collection of songs trapped in the amber of its time, locked away in the attic of an old Victorian owned by a serial killer, tossed under an old electric blank with frayed wires that's been repeatedly sprayed with cat piss.

Too bad, too, since it was a compilation that was pretty damned good (if I do say so myself). And that is why, nearly 5 years after it's inception that I decided to post Save Mt. Sacramento up on my 8tracks page for the world to hear. Give it a listen and know that you're enjoying a little slice of a time when Sacramento's music scene had it really, really good. Sure, music in the little town by the river it named after itself is still going strong. But for my lack-of-money, it doesn't get any better than this.

Save Mt. Sacramento track list:

Disc One
  1. Downtown James Brown "Keep Midtown Janky"
  2. Zach Hill "NASDAQ"
  3. Th' Losin Streaks "Fine Line"
  4. Ganglians "Blood On the Sand"
  5. Fancie "The Hill"
  6. The English Singles "Winter"
  7. Agent Ribbons "I'm Alright"
  8. Buk Buk Bigups "Wave Runner"
  9. Sister Crayon "(In) Reverse"
10. MC Ground Chuck "Can You Feel It"
11. Danny Offer "The Sound of Settling Down"
12. Two Sheds "Mind Wrecker"
13. Pregnant "Selling Records"
14. The Alkali Flats "Hogtied Over You (Live)"
15. Brianna Lea Pruitt "The Big Beautiful"
16. Art Lessing and The Flower Vato "Crabdigger"
17. Dead Western "Courageous Eye"
18. Electro Group "Dead Beats"
19. Charles Albright "Headphones"
20. Chelsea Wolfe "Pale On Pale"

Disc Two
  1. The Spiral States "She's A Lover"
  2. Pets Hit By a Wave"
  3. Sea of Bees "Marmalade (G. Caddilac Remix)"
  4. Matt K. Shrugg "Say No"
  5. The New Humans "Estranged Tide"
  6. The Standard Tribesmen "How Rupert Murdoch Don't Got Hip"
  7. Ricky Berger "Une Petite Berceuse"
  8. Waterfoul "Roam"
  9. Ashenden Papers "The Cycle"
10. Flowerss "Drag"
11. G. Green "No Big Deal"
12. Hearts+Horses "Piet"
13. BOATS! "21"
14. The Four Eyes "The One Road"
15. Appetite "Merry Anne"
16. The Bananas "Jus' Folks"
17. Baby Grand "Skyline"
18. Dog Party "Charlie"
19. Darksun Skypilot "Ol' Salt Lick"
20. Knock Knock "I Was Born"

Saturday, August 24, 2013

MY BLOODY VALENTINE - Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, 8/23/13

     My ears are still ringing.

    It's a singular, high-tensile tone that buzzes unrelentingly in my head. The swirling jet engine cacophony that caused this to happen seeped through my ear plugs and went in straight for the kill. I should be resentful or angry, even, but I was warned ahead of time. Twenty or so years ago, really.

      So it was that legendary Irish shoegaze foundation-pavers My Bloody Valentine glided into to San Francisco's Bill Graham Civic Auditorium to wash their fervent audience in equal parts distortion, feedback and honey sweet harmonies. And as is the legend of this band's propensity to play their blissed-out melodies at eardrum-shattering, audience patience-testing levels, My Bloody Valentine did not disappoint.

     Playing to a packed house (or auditorium, as it were), the mood was semi-charged. Against a blue-hued backdrop bearing the band's abbreviated self-titled album, m b v (released early this year), the capacity crowd consisting of fans old and new (hipsters, psychers, mods, goths, glitter punks, and a middle-aged woman in a mini skirt and sheer top accentuating her floppy breasts, etc.) waiting in anticipation, hollering and whooping sporadically. It wasn't until the lights finally dimmed and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig bounded out on to the stage that the audience finally erupted into cheers and claps. He was soon followed by bassist Debbie Googe, guitarist and vocalist Bilinda Butcher, touring keyboardist and guitarist Jen Marco, and the man himself: My Bloody Valentines' OCD perfectionist and Jazz Master-manipulating tone bender, Kevin Shields.

      It was right then and there that I dawned on me: I'm in the same room with these people! The band responsible for what is widely considered an alt-indie masterpiece, Loveless. The band that promised a follow-up to that blistering, genre-defining album, and finally did so 22 years later despite one-off song releases, band break-ups, personal break-ups, and reunion tours. The band I've spent countless time, money and effort collecting every scrap of sonic minutia of since joyfully discovering back in 1994. There they were, not 20 feet away from where I stood. Not even the cold, hard, sole-destroying floors of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium could diminish the sheer awe-inspired joy I felt at that moment being in this band's presence. 

      As pot smoke swirled above the crowd, My Bloody Valentine launched into the sonic boom wallop of "I Only Said." Butcher stood poised at her microphone, strumming her glitter green guitar and singing in her signature glazed coo, while Ó Cíosóig beat his drum kit into submission and Googe provided her crouched-knee bass dancing techniques. Shields, with his chin-length shag gone grey, was flanked by a rack of guitars on one side and a wall of amps that easily dwarfed the biggest Expidit bookshelf Ikea has to offer on the other. 

      "Play louder!" was the "free bird" of the night, and Shields and company were happy to oblige these oh-so clever members of their audience. Culling most of their set from Loveless, the band inter-spliced with material from that album's bookend releases, Isn't Anything and m b v , as well as EP cuts such "Cigarette In Your Bed" and "Honey Power" sprinkled in for good measure--all at the highest volume possible. At certain points during the show, ears where covered despite being corked with plugs (which were provided for free at the door by the management). Couples snaked out from the center of the crowd sporadically, perhaps overcome by the din, or to escape the epilepsy-inducing visuals projected on the wall behind the band. People went out into the hallways for a respite. Someone even reportedly passed out, and quickly regained consciousness again.

      It was glorious!

     In yet another signature move, the band closed their set, as they're notoriously want to to do, with an a feedback-drenched ender that went well past the 10 minute mark. This time it was an extended version of "You Made Me Realise" from Isn't Anything. Shields has sited in some review or another that he carries on these finale caterwauls until he feels that he has connected with the one person in the audience who at first doesn't get it, but then eventually submits to the ear-bleeding trance bombarding them. Once Shields has registered that said audience member is perfectly mesmerised, he and the band can then wrap it up. "Enjoying that sonic euphoria, yeah? Splendid. Well, goodnight everyone!"

     I wouldn't have missed this show for the world. Of course, I'll miss being able to hear anything without a constant ringing in my ears. But then again, after a night of music with this band, the new constant white noise companion in my head was well worth it.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Daughn With The Law

     So, it's been a couple of weeks (months...?) since I sent Sub Pop Records my completely random and unsolicited video script idea for their current roster artist/baritone-blasting hunk, Daughn Gibson. Gibson has a new record out this year titled Me Moan, which is the slickly-produced follow-up to his impressive 2012 haze wave debut, All Hell.

     Me Moan opens with a barn-burner titled "The Sound of Law." Needless to say, this is one of my favorite tracks of the year. It begins with a pensive, stabbing rhythm section and doesn't let up until Gibson is standing victorious, hi atop the bodies of other such golden throated troubadours like Stuart Staples, Aidan Moffet, Bill Callahan, Leonard Cohen, and the like. It's a damned good song!

     I must have listened to this ditty 10-20 in a row when it first came out. It's pretty damned badass. So taken with this song was I, that I began to see video-like scenarios of the song's narrative (or, at least what I thought the song was kinda, sorta about) in my head. This, then, led to the inspiration to write my frontal lobe-induced cinematic mind fart out as a script for a potential video.

     Upon discovering that Sub Pop hadn't produced a video for "The Sound of Law" yet (and instead went with a still picture video posted on YouTube), I thought I'd send my script in, completely unsolicited. I mean, who doesn't enjoy getting emails from random busy bodies, right?

     Well, I never did hear back from Sub Pop. Which is too bad, since I think this video idea ain't too shabby. It features a swaggering Gibson hitting on a girl in a dive bar. And it would have been relatively easy and economical to shoot. What's not to like?

     Anyhoo, you can read my script idea for Daughn Gibson's song "The Sound of Law" below. The lyrics were a bit hard to decipher, so I had to put "Lyrics That Follow" in the margins of the singing-dialog parts. It should be pretty easy to follow, though.



Daughn Gibson
“The Sound of Law”


Ext. - Bar/Afternoon

An old dive bar [song starts here].

Int. - Bar/Afternoon

The place is dark and dank, with old oak accents and velvet paintings of ancient seafaring ships. A smattering of patrons are seated in the booths along the opposite wall.

A lone BARTENDER is serving a beer (bottled) to a pretty YOUNG WOMAN at the bar.

The darkness inside this establishment is broken for a second or two by the light from outside as a young man named DAUGHN GIBSON makes his entrance.

There is a swagger in his step.

He instantly spots the young woman, tosses his keys and sunglasses on the bar and sits down beside her.

He motions to the bartender, makes a peace sign and taps both fingers at the bar in front of him.

The Bartender gives him a nod and retrieves Gibson’s drinks.

Gibson shifts his attention to the young woman and starts regaling her with a tale.

              My Daddy was beast…
                   (Lyrics that follow)

The young woman seems interested enough in Gibson. He’s good looking and has THAT voice. Why not?

The Bartender places a shot of whiskey and a beer in front of Gibson. Gibson slides a bill to The Bartender without taking his eyes off the Young Woman.

In telling his tale, Gibson’s gestures and motions gradually become more animated.

              He laid a kiss in my little hand…

Gibson smacks his hands together, shoots one off into the air.

              And blew that fucker off to Hell.
                   (Lyrics that follow)

The Young Woman laughs, warming to Gibson.

[Chorus] Gibson turns his attention to his drinks. He pounds the shot, and sips his beer.

              That girl keeps the sunset
              Close to the end of the road.
(Lyrics that follow)

Things between Gibson and The Young Woman are going pretty well, until…

(Con’t - Staring at his beer)
              Well they can keep my company
              When I was born along the highwayside.

[Bridge] Gibson’s mood has shifted. Talking about the “Sunset Girl” incident has drudged up some bad memories. The Young Woman can read it on his face.

Gibson takes out a cigarette, and is about to light it, but the Bartender points at the “No Smoking” sign on the wall.

(Con’t - Perturbed)
              You gotta moooooove…

[Chorus] Gibson’s gestures have become slightly more agitated. He’s just venting now, and has a wide-eyed “Who does that?” look on his face.

He doesn’t even look at The Young Woman who is now looking at him, skeptically.

              Let it go…
(Lyrics that follow)

The Bartender shakes his head (echoing “Let it go”) looking down at the wash sink. Sloshed patrons regard Gibson and The Young Girl with lazy inquisitive glances.

The Young Woman has obviously changed her mind about this ranting, neurotic dude.

As Gibson’s story comes to an end, he looks over at The Young Woman.

He motions to her with his index finger, then to himself with his thumb (same hand) giving her a “Whaddya say?” look.

The Young Woman smile-sneers a polite “no,” lays some money on the bar, turns and walks away.

Light cracks in once again, illuminating Gibson’s disappointed, but resigned face. Then the darkness resumes as the front door closes behind The Young Woman.

Gibson looks at The Bartender, who in turn shrugs back to Gibson.

“What can you do?”

Gibson turns back, sighs and takes a swig of his beer.