Normal History Vol. 318: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 31-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

In 2009, Wendy Atkinson (whose three solo experimental bass albums are on Smarten UP!) played with Jandek at his Vancouver appearance. I don’t mean that she opened for him; I mean they played together. He selected her (and several other musicians) to work with.

It was all very exciting and totally out-of-the-blue, but my question was: What would it be like to play with one as uniquely unpredictable as Jandek? Thinking that it might be pretty uncomfortable, I suggested to Wendy that she and I get together a few times to get her warmed up for the show. I volunteered to act like Jandek, and yes, we video-ed the whole thing. Wendy played bass and I played kooky guitar and made up a pile of lyrics on the spot.

Anyway, as you can see I’ve gone and made the release of Wendy Atkinson’s new album The Last Fret all about me. What kind of person am I?

You can “Like” Wendy Atkinson’s Facebook page or “Like” the newly overhauled Smarten Up! & Get to the Point Editions page … I mean, you don’t have to choose … there’s plenty of Dave to go around … oops, I mean … she’s no Yoko Ono … I mean, she actually is, but not in that way …

OMG. I’ll stop now.

“Trapped Against” from Dovetail (K, 1992) (download):

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From The Desk Of Diamond Rugs: Music

As was the case with Diamond Rugs’ 2012 self-titled debut record, much of the band’s sophomore album, Cosmetics, formed and grew in the studio. That’s an impressive feat, considering that Diamond Rugs is something of a weekender project for members of no fewer than five bands, all of whom keep moderate-to-ridiculous recording and touring schedules anyway: John McCauley and Robbie Crowell (both Deer Tick), Ian St. Pé (Black Lips), T. Hardy Morris (Dead Confederate), Bryan Dufresne (Six Finger Satellite) and the legendary Steve Berlin (Los Lobos, Blasters and about six dozen other outfits). The boys in the band will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our recent feature on them.

13PhysicalGraffiti

Dufresne: The earliest memory I can recall is of my brother pushing me, zooming me across the green-and-blue deep shag carpet of the living room as I sat in the dust cover of his turntable. A fair amount of photographs taken in our living room during that time period include myself seated in a giant blue bean-bag chair, wearing giant headphones tethered to the receiver by a coiled black cord. One is of myself sleeping with the headphones on, a plastic toy guitar across my chest. I must have fallen asleep “playing along” to whatever record was playing—most likely Led Zeppelin, early Aerosmith, Neil Young, Kiss, Beatles or any other rock ‘n’ roll that I was fortunate enough to be exposed to, thanks to my two older brothers. I remember staring at the Kiss Alive album cover and actively thinking, “That is what I’m going to be when I grow up.” While I did not become a member of Kiss, I did do all I could to ensure a life full of music, specifically rock ‘n’ roll.

I signed up for the school band as early as possible (around age 10) and while choosing an instrument, I remember being disappointed that there was no “guitar” option with a little checkbox next to it. I wrote it in, drew a box, and checked it, hoping for the best. I played tenor saxophone for a few years until setting my sights on the drums. I had no desire to play in the school band at age 14, and had made up my mind to form a rock band with my friend Jon, who had been playing guitar for a while. That Christmas, I was lucky enough to unwrap a snare drum and immediately sought lessons. I learned how to hold a stick and play a paradiddle. Keeping a steady beat came to me very easily. Four months later, I had gotten ahold of my first kit—a five piece with a crash/ride and hi-hat. I went back to the stereo, put on the headphones and played along with Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti until I could play it reasonably well (about a year, and I know I was doing a miserable job at it; hahaha) front to back. I’m still learning how to play that record, still learning from that record, and I still cannot get enough records-through-headphones in my life to this day. It has proven a great asset as far as gaining a musical education and as a way to really get into and study what’s going on in a particular song. How else would I have gotten a hold on Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher,” if I hadn’t had the option to listen repeatedly with my finger up against the edge of the turntable, slowing it down to a graspable speed? Records and rock ‘n’ roll have obviously formed a great deal of my perceptions, learning processes, and abilities, and I could not feel more appreciative and fortunate to be able to play and record with a rock ‘n’ roll band and to put out copies of our efforts on vinyl. “Hail, hail, rock ‘n’ roll!”

Video after the jump.

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Film At 11: Today Is The Day

Active since 1992, Today Is The Day is still making music and recently put out the chaotic Animal Mother EP. Now, the band shares a frantic new video “Heathen.” The harsh music matches up with the eerie moments of the clip as colors flash brightly and destruction is shown. You shouldn’t watch this one at work, folks.

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MP3 At 3PM: Frog

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There is something about short, concise band names that’s becoming very appealing both aesthetically and mentally. Frog, from Queens, N.Y., falls into that category, and it will release new album Kind Of Blah on May 25. Frog shares frantic first single “King Kong” for free download. The song is a frenzy of fast guitar licks and off-kilter vocals, but it all comes together to form an impressive force. Download “King Kong” below.

“King Kong” (download):

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From The Desk Of Diamond Rugs: Sound

As was the case with Diamond Rugs’ 2012 self-titled debut record, much of the band’s sophomore album, Cosmetics, formed and grew in the studio. That’s an impressive feat, considering that Diamond Rugs is something of a weekender project for members of no fewer than five bands, all of whom keep moderate-to-ridiculous recording and touring schedules anyway: John McCauley and Robbie Crowell (both Deer Tick), Ian St. Pé (Black Lips), T. Hardy Morris (Dead Confederate), Bryan Dufresne (Six Finger Satellite) and the legendary Steve Berlin (Los Lobos, Blasters and about six dozen other outfits). The boys in the band will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our recent feature on them.

12Sound

Dufresne: Recently, I awoke far earlier than I would have liked due to the neighbor’s chickens having a heated six-way conversation. They’re adorable, but, at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, it’s just noise to me. Noise is everywhere in a city. Traffic, sirens, machinery, construction, voices, phones ringing, text messages, trains, alarms, the neighbors, the neighbor’s dog, televisions everywhere you go—the noise just does not seem to stop sometimes. You feel like you need to get away, maybe go back home where you remember it being so still and silent. Maybe a vacation, where all you’ll hear are waves and seagulls.

All of this noise, all of this sound, and despite all of it, what does everyone say? Put some music on! Once it’s on, if it’s good—if the DJ is just knocking it out of the park, or if your digital library is shuffling the songs just right—there’s just nothing better. Music can bring people together like no other tangible substance that I know of. It can heal, it can stir memories, it can forge and strengthen relationships, and it absolutely exemplifies humanity. Ever travel to a foreign country where you might not have a handle on the local language? You might have noticed that despite the language barrier, music permeates, breaks and pretty much denies barriers. It is a certain “glue” that can hold literally millions of people of differing faiths, races, ages and backgrounds together in unison and harmony.

It is a most literal magic, mystery of which can never seemingly be fully unraveled. Ears the world over agree on certain tones, notes, songs, albums, musical artists and groups. All pretense is not only pushed aside, but dashed to bits by the magic of music. It is a true healer, and a true unifying, intangible force unlike any other imaginable. Music is fortunately a massive part of my life, and of those whom I hold dear to me. I feel fortunate to understand what I can of it, while its literally boundless possibilities and depths simultaneously mystify me. I believe wholeheartedly that music is life—it is a totally conscious force that has and will continue to bring joy and tears, laughter and friendships, the feeling of possibilities and promise, and complete magic. Music. It is forever written about while eluding description altogether. I’ll end my attempt at doing so now, and just listen.

Video after the jump.

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Film At 11: TV On The Radio

TV On The Radio recently released its latest album, Seeds, and readies for a spring tour by sharing a new video for “Trouble.” The clip takes an interesting angle as it explores the emotion in peoples’ faces. It’s a visual exercise in human emotion and the way we process other people’s emotions. Check it out below.

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MP3 At 3PM: Marshmallow Coast

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Athens, Ga.’s Marshmallow Coast will release new album Vangelis Rides Again on May 5, and now shares first single “Hash Out Cash Out” for free download. The track exemplifies the hooks that frontman Andy Gonzales makes great use of. While it’s a fairly straightforward track, there is more going than you might think. Download it below.

“Hash Out Cash Out” (download):

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MAGNET Classics: Sleater-Kinney’s “The Woods”

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The making of Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods
By Steve Klinge

The cover of Sleater-Kinney’s The Woodsis a Michael Brophy painting of a wooden slat-board stage with dark, heavy trees growing out of it—three in the foreground, backlit and casting shadows. Red curtains frame the sides and cover the edges of the stark white all-caps letters of the band’s name as it hovers in the middle of the scene. It’s unclear whether those curtains are opening or closing.

The Woods shocked and surprised Sleater-Kinney fans when it arrived in May 2005. One of the most beloved and fiercely independent bands of the era—the best in America, according to eminent critic Greil Marcus in the July 9, 2001, issue of Time magazine—had shifted from its riot-grrrl/punk-rock axis to embrace hard-rock jams that owed more to Led Zeppelin or Cream than to Bikini Kill or Fugazi. In place of terse, fast songs were improvisatory guitar solos and a continuous two-song suite that lasted nearly 15 minutes.

“I am proud of The Woods,” says drummer Janet Weiss. “It surprised a lot of people and expanded their perception of who we were. We loved nothing more than to destroy the boxes we were put in as artists. In the case of this particular album, we shattered the mold.”

In interviews soon after the album’s release, including one conducted by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder for MAGNET, Weiss and singer/guitarists Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker talked about how the album was opening new avenues for them. But, little more than a year after the LP came out, they announced that Sleater-Kinney was going on an indefinite hiatus. After a farewell tour, they closed the curtain with a final show in their native Portland, Ore., on Aug. 12, 2006.

And that finality changes how we hear The Woods: The album is now an endpoint—a period or maybe an exclamation point—to a significant body of work. Or, since speculations about a Sleater-Kinney reunion remain, it’s a question mark.

The Woods was Sleater-Kinney’s seventh album in 10 years, a discography commemorated by a new set of remasters on Sub Pop. Brownstein and Tucker joined forces in 1994 in Olympia, Wash. Both were active in the Northwest riot-grrrl scene, Brownstein in Excuse 17 and Tucker in Heavens To Betsy, and Sleater-Kinney was originally a side project for the then-romantically-linked partners. The band moniker came from the name of the road of an early practice space, although Sleater-Kinney, their 23-minute debut, was actually recorded in Melbourne, Australia, in one session with drummer Lora Macfarlane, an Australian recruit who moved to Olympia and stayed with the band through its second album, Call The Doctor.

Sleater-Kinney, released in 1995 as a 10-inch on Chainsaw Records, was an auspicious start that found Brownstein and Tucker figuring out the dynamics of their trio format of two voices, two guitars and drums. The basic elements of the band were in place: Tucker’s guitar taking the low-end riffs with Brownstein’s filling the mid-range and lead; Tucker’s powerful voice sailing over Brownstein’s contained, more plainspoken one. From the start, Sleater-Kinney’s underlying theme was to think about questions of self-definition and to challenge any force—be it personal or sexual, political or commercial—that might limit one’s freedom to define oneself. They hated boxes—anything that might contain or confine—and molds were something to be shattered.

1996’s Call The Doctor, also on Chainsaw, began the band’s string of indelible albums, with the title track’s clarion call, and with Corin Tucker proclaiming her desire to be “the queen of rock ‘n’ roll” on “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.” That royal ambition sounded like punk-rock hubris or a scrappy challenge. The band wasn’t speaking from a position of authority—it was a buzzed-about group that hadn’t transcended its Pacific Northwest scene yet when it released Call The Doctor, although another verse from “Joey Ramone” sounds prescient now:

I wanna be your Thurston Moore
Wrestle on the bedroom floor
Always leave you wanting more
Throw away those old records.

“Always leave you wanting more”—that could refer to the terseness of the songs, to the insatiable desire for new music from our rock ‘n’ roll favorites or, ultimately, to the band’s career, which ended with its most Sonic Youth-like album.

Which old records should get thrown away, though? The members of Sleater-Kinney were iconoclasts, much more prone to looking forward than backward, but they valued their peers and predecessors. In part, that perspective was an outgrowth of the band’s riot-grrrl roots, the political agenda that sought to combat gender stereotypes and categories, especially the male hegemony of rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll was not merely entertainment, but something meaningful: an agent of change, a powerful release, a stage for ideas, a communal experience for band and audience. S-K constantly navigated and explored that territory, and most of its records include at least one song that directly contemplates the meaning and process of rock ‘n’ roll. But the band had little respect for music, whether on old albums or new, that undermined or diluted those principles.

1997’s Dig Me Out is Sleater-Kinney’s first classic, the one for which all the pieces came together. Weiss joined the band (all the while maintaining her partnership with Sam Coomes in Quasi), and the album—produced, as was Call The Doctor, by John Goodmanson—came out on Kill Rock Stars; the band retained the same producer and label for all its subsequent records until The Woods. Dig Me Out contained the bouncy, girl-group-like “Little Babies,” the meta-rock of “Words And Guitar,” and the rave-up punk rush of the title track and “Turn It On.” Many of the songs were about desire, and the band sounded hungry and eager. Dig Me Out was ubiquitous on critics’ best-of lists, which established another pattern for its future.

Sleater-Kinney didn’t repeat itself, but Dig Me Out became a template for 1999’s The Hot Rock, 2000’s All Hands On The Bad One and 2002’s One Beat. The songs looked outward more and more on those albums, especially as frustrations with the politics of the George W. Bush era grew, and the trio found new ways to intertwine voices and guitars and drums (and, occasionally, but rarely, other instruments).

But a template is also a mold.

Dig Me Out—everything just was the successor of that album,” Brownstein told MAGNET not long after The Woods came out. “And now I feel like that has been demolished or pushed further to the background and there’s all this new material and it’s not fixed, and it’s not static; it’s very much swirling around and can take us off into different directions.”

Several factors contributed to the band retooling the template for The Woods. Perhaps most significant was its choice to open for Pearl Jam on an arena tour in 2003, after One Beat. Touring was becoming increasingly difficult for Tucker, who married filmmaker Lance Bangs in 2000 and had a son in 2001. But rather than again headlining theaters and clubs full of fans and, often, preaching to the converted, the band commanded a larger stage for an audience that was sometimes indifferent or hostile, Pearl Jam fans apathetic about an opening act or venting sexist hostility toward a band made up of women.

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From The Desk Of Diamond Rugs: Overlooked Records

As was the case with Diamond Rugs’ 2012 self-titled debut record, much of the band’s sophomore album, Cosmetics, formed and grew in the studio. That’s an impressive feat, considering that Diamond Rugs is something of a weekender project for members of no fewer than five bands, all of whom keep moderate-to-ridiculous recording and touring schedules anyway: John McCauley and Robbie Crowell (both Deer Tick), Ian St. Pé (Black Lips), T. Hardy Morris (Dead Confederate), Bryan Dufresne (Six Finger Satellite) and the legendary Steve Berlin (Los Lobos, Blasters and about six dozen other outfits). The boys in the band will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our recent feature on them.

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Berlin: My favorite (possibly) overlooked records of the last 12 months. I admittedly don’t get out much as I used to, so, if you are already tired of these, please forgive.

Barr Brothers Sleeping Operator
Definitely my most played record of the last year, so it must be my favorite. Employing a real harp, pedal-steel guitar and incredibly inventive songwriting, these guys make a stunning record that goes from country blues to Gnawa without forcing a single note.

The Notwist Close To The Glass
For a band whose native tongue isn’t English (they’re German), they sure write amazing songs. They have a way of incorporating synths and machines that make them sound utterly human. All their previous records are highly recommended as well, especially Neon Golden.

Matt Andersen Weightless
I freely admit I’m biased because I produced it, but fuck it. He’s a songwriter and singer of immense power who deserves a wider audience. If the world can call Sam Smith a soulful singer, then Matt certainly should get a listen, too.

Thundercat Apocalypse
Part of the Flying Lotus brigade, this is a shreddy record that somehow never loses the groove and, in the process, invents some new ones. It’s from 2013, but it’s new enough.

Hiatus Kaiyote Tawk Tomahawk
There’s something about Australian weirdoes that makes records super interesting and different (Tame Impala, Avalanches, UMO). Kinda similar to Thundercat in occasional shreddyness, but always in service to the song. Sonically astounding.

Video after the jump.

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Film At 11: Dawes

L.A. rock quartet Dawes will release its new album, All Your Favorite Bands, on June 2 via its HUB Records. Now the group shares a video for laid-back single “Things Happen.” Calm music plays as we watch a man prepare for his day as a street performer. It turns out it’s not that easy to find a street to perform on, though. Check it out below.

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