Monday, October 31, 2022

Brief Notes on Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks

There's four guys in Animal Collective. Each of those guys releases music under their own name. Two of those guys have other bands. All the music in the orbit of Animal Collective has the potential to be freaky but none of their output wears frightening! and horror! and spooky! and scary! on its sleeve quite like Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks.

The short-lived side project released one album, Enter the Slasher House, in 2014. Slasher Flicks was a three-piece including Dave "Avey Tare" Portner, Angel Deardoorian, and Jeremy Hyman (who would later go on to drum for Animal Collective during their tour of Painting With in 2016). As you can imagine, their 11 songs are concerned with the kind of moody tropes of classic low-budget murder movies. The inner sleeves on the LP jacket feature a masked-wearing clown holding a large knife.

As you can also imagine, their 11 songs are filtered through (at the time) Avey Tare's signature murky swamp sounds that heavily paint the sonic landscape of his 2010 solo debut Down There, which is a nightmare in its own right.

Don't let the name scare you, though, Slasher Flicks' music is fun. Their shows are about as close to punk as keyboard and synth freak music can go. I will fondly remember spring 2014 on the Animal Collective message boards looking for leaks, swapping live bootlegs, and eagerly awaiting the album's proper release.

Panda Bear is my go-to Animal Collective solo act, but I always enjoy revisiting Avey Tare around Halloween: whether its the serial killer licks of Slasher House or the muddy waters of Down There, its nice to listen to something a little slow, a little sticky, a little sinister. Tare's more recent output is a little more pastoral, and while I'm glad he's finding brighter soundscapes, its nice to listen a little wicked. Every now and then.

Arbitrary marathon of live bootlegs of The White Stripes

There's a lot of things out there people will tell you is a marathon, not a sprint. One of those marathon-not-sprints is how I decide what I'm going to listen to while I am in my office. This is, in part, because I have every modern media format you can play music on in Sansbury Hall 201: a tape deck, a CD player, and of course: my entire record collection. My office is more like a dorm room then the literal dorm rooms on the floor above mine, all I'm missing is a Pulp Fiction poster.

As Ohio Dominican is a teaching institution, I do a lot of teaching, so the three days I am on campus I am on campus all day. If I am diligent, I can listen to an album before my teaching day starts, during my mid-morning gap, and then depending on how many folks pop in during office hours, anywhere between 3 and 6 albums in the afternoon.

You might think, what great wealth of time you have to DJ your days. Wrong! It is a curse to be away from my records (and CDs, and tapes!) for 4 of the 7 days of the week so I have to budget my time accordingly. What LP can I listen to on Friday that I might be craving on Sunday? The burden of choice looms!

Playing to type I had been saving for today a 2017 Vault Exclusive release by The White Stripes: Live in Detroit 1999/2000/2021.

Contained within the above pictured slipcase are three (count 'em - THREE!) live shows each marking a distinct hometown show capturing the first albums by The White Stripes. You've got Live at the Magic Bag - Ferndale 7/30/99 playing the hits from their debut self-titled as well as previews of some later jams like "Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground". You've got Live at the Magic Stick 8/18/00 which brings De Stijl's eclecticism into the mix. Makes the case for "You're Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)" as a classic album opener, at least until White Blood Cells comes out, and, well, you know how that album opens:

 Finally, a rare full-album performance (in order!) of White Blood Cells on Live at the Gold Dollar Volume 4 6/7/01 which you can hear on your streaming platform of choice (or buy it you cheapasses!) because this bootleg is included in the 20th Anniversary edition of White Blood Cells that came out in 2021 (which I wrote about at length over at P*p Ma**ers).

Anyway, I got to thinking while spinning the opening LP of Live in Detroit: I have a lot of White Stripes bootlegs. At this exact moment I have over 10 within arm's reach for goodness sakes. Earlier today I was listening to a music podcast talking about how some bands' definitive statements are their live show. I'll never really know that about The White Stripes having only missed them by a few years. But, in that moment, at that red light, while Steven Hyden of Indiecast talked about King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard I thought of a "fun" exercise to "enjoy" what I listened today was born.

I had, recently, been revisiting the Stripes' studio albums anyway. That was like a sprint: listen to Elephant on the commute Thursday, rush through White Blood Cells on Wednesday, and so on. I've had a completionist's listen queued up for Jack and Meg already going, lemme take it further and shotgun as much live White Stripes as possible. So, instead of savoring my live LPs, instead of making careful decisions about what to play while I can play it, I'm just going to dive in. October 28th, 2022: live White Stripes Marathon begins.

Miles 1-13: LPs in the office

(1) Live at the Magic Bag 7/30/99
(2) Live at the Magic Stick 8/18/00
(3) Live at the Gold Dollar vol. 4 6/7/01

this one is a jam: an early, early Vault release of songs played during the day on The White Stripes final run of shows all over Canada. Great, if not a little questionable quality in recording, testament to The White Stripes' commitment to quirk.

(5) Live in Las Vegas
what can I say about Live in Las Vegas? It is a true grail of an album for collectors of The White Stripes, and while I try to not derive joy from its exclusivity, I can't help but think about how special this one copy is. My one copy, one out of maybe 30 or 40 (or maybe hundreds, this is disputed). This is one of the only rare and collectable albums I try to preserve, so each listen is special. A good one to end the vinyl run on for today.

Miles 14-16: CDs in the car

At some point in the not-so-distant past Third Man Records and made some kind of arrangement to release live recordings of The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs, Jack White solo, and The White Stripes. This started a slow drip: some notable shows from the milestone birthdays of early White Stripes albums, then a Jack White solo show here and there, the digitization of a Vault album every few months. Nice stuff. This year, though, White released every single night of The Supply Chain Issues World Tour on the platform, which has been a bounty of listening treasures. This particular White Stripes show is the show before The White Stripes last ever concert. It is a hot, dirty, frenetic performance - unburdened by the weight of Live in Mississippi's finality. This is (probably) my favorite live recording

Another set from the Elephant-era, this is a great spotlight on how two kids from Detroit could fill a whole stadium with sound. Look no further than the impressive take on "The Hardest Button to Button" making a rare appearance in the lead-off spot. Shit is huge. Definitely drove above the speedlimit for this cut.

Note: this is not the exact cut but Jack plays it the same:

Okay, I am going to be honest I wasn't in the car long enough to listen to this one, but it remains an important entry in the catalogue specifically as a CD. And if I'm being really honest, about halfway through the Sloss Furnace gig it became Saturday and this became a full weekend of White Stripes bootlegs.

But in the instance of Live in Sweden, this CD has a special place on my shelf: two skinny and pink jewel cases each with a tracklist in the unmistakable handwriting of my Uncle Bill. Through my own error of transcription, I'd mislabeled the MP3s as "Live in Malvo" and occasionally would try to find clips of the show on YouTube, or read anything about it to no avail. This weekend, having extended my listening well beyond the limitations of Friday, I shot Bill a message and learned some quick facts:
  • the show was in Malmo, Sweden, not "Malvo"
  • the bootleg was hosted by a European music blog
  • the discs were burned on an office computer in Hamilton, Ohio, which I'm told worked fast and burned many CDs
The show itself is sick, and it includes a very awesome (and not altogether common) cover of Raconteur Brendan Benson's "Good to Me" and an exceptional show stopping "Jack the Ripper" but for me the real joie de vivre is how the CD was passed to me: thoughtfully made and mailed to an obsessed nephew.

Miles 16-25: MP3s

(9) Under Nova Scotian Lights (2007)
A trend I am noticing with some of the MP3s I spent time with this weekend are that they come from elsewhere: dvd and livestream audio, vinyl rips, recorded-live-to-cassette. Sheesh. I guess that's in keeping with The White Stripes' all analogue all the time ethos. Take for example the first of the "headphones era" marathon: this rip of an extra DVD in the Under Great White Northern Lights deluxe box set that captures The White Stripes' performance in Nova Scotia on the night of their tenth anniversary as a live band (later, I listen to their first-ever live headliner, you'll see). The DVD, also shot and directed by Emmett Malloy, so there's a similar aesthetic to the excellent documentary chronicling the Stripes' final jaunt through Canada. 

However, as you can imagine, the full-set on the deluxe edition captures more than the wide release of UGWNL and has the fringe benefit of being a little secret, as opposed to the last "official" release before the band broke up.

(10) From the Basement (2005)
All killer, no filler. Four from Get Behind Me Satan (my first new White Stripes release as a fan) and the excellent "Party of Special Things to Do" cover. Just twenty minutes of The White Stripes doing what The White Stripes do best: making quirky, kick-ass, blues rock music. I forget I have these saved and every time I stumble upon this humble little homemade bootleg I'm reminded what I love about this band.

Maybe thinking the venue is cool is a stupid reason to listen to a bootleg, but in Fall 2000 the early White Stripes were at the peak of their powers. This is a nasty little De Stijl tour show with an unforgettable rendition of "Cannon" sung like the Batman theme song, with Jack drawing out the titular lyric: "can-na-na-na-na-nananon."

(12) Live on Bastille Day / 9/14/97
This was the first-ever White Stripes performance, originally a Vault-exclusive 7" of the brief open-mic set, for self-titled's 20th anniversary the show was released on streaming platforms. 

Speaking of first shows and the historic Gold Dollar, here's the first headlining show the band played. Another Vault exclusive, this set was pressed in my convert-vinyl-to-mp3-era and we're better for it on weekend listening adventures. Exceptional cover of "TV Eye." 

Fans are rabid for a vinyl release of this concert film. I always underrate it, but early 2004 White Stripes are really a sight (and sound, in the case of the dvd audio rips) to behold. This morning I almost wrecked my car when "Ball and Biscuit" came on.

Note: I did not finish listening to Under Blackpool Lights, but I shuffled a good 2/3s of it on the drive in.

Mile 26: 3" singles

(15) I'll let the picture speak for itself. I couldn't do my whole set up at home, but I do not sleep under a roof unless there's White Stripes vinyl there too.

Water, a Beer, and a Cool Down
So what did we learn? First, that it is hard to listen to a lot of music in a single day. Second, each listen propelled by ear to a new thing: oh this cut of "Apple Blossom" is the best, or this "Fell in Love With a Girl" slow jam is palatable, and always: f**k I wish I'd gotten to see these guys live. Were there any surprises? Yes, two:

one, I did not get bored of only listening to The White Stripes this weekend and

two, could not discern a "best way" to listen, meaning headphones, earbuds, the car, or the office, all delivered similar audio pleasures.

Which is the best? This article is a little older (it pre-dates a few Vault albums and the Nugs partnership) but I think its a sound list. Plus, its nice to see I have all of the albums they mention ha. I think my cop out answer is all of it is the best. None of it is the best. I'm sure this is true for anybody who loves any band as much and for as long as I've loved The White Stripes, but at the end of the weekend, its

... all music to my ears.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Can't Help Myself: Something Sweet in Kenton, Ohio

Imagine, if you will, that you are me. You are driving north from Columbus to Detroit for a quick one-night trip. You are tired, and because your week dramatically changed how the weekend would go, you are maybe not 100% looking forward to this trip. You know you'll be glad once you're there, seeing loved ones and friends, doing important work that you care about, but now, 50 minutes north of Columbus, grey clouds hanging low, you're mostly feeling lonely in the driver's seat of the car.

Then, out of the corner of your eye you see something you wouldn't have expected in one million years in Kenton, Ohio: a record store. You flip the car around and park, eager to see what the used record scene in the perfect geographic center of northwestern Ohio. You also have to pee.

It is important to note that Kenton, Ohio is beautiful. Even on a gloomy day its idyllic courthouse square has all the charm of the best one-stop towns in the small parts of large places. Here's a picture I didn't take with Kenton's claim of fame:

I hastily stroll around the corner to pop in and what I discover is called Knox 'em Dead Records. I'm greeted by a guy I'll learn is named Eddie. He looks like Santa Claus with no beard or gut. Really, he looks like the dude from that I Think You Should Leave skit about jazz, but older. Unlike that guy, he's extremely nice and gives me a little tour of the shop, which was good because the shop is laid out really strangely. 

The front room is his desk and a lounge area: there's two nice retro couches and a bitchin' hi-fi set up with speakers taller than me. Something jazzy was playing, but before I could place it, he took me down the hall into three separate rooms, which he called "classic rock and cassettes," "jazz," and "bullshit." I'm not gonna tell a record store guy how to mind his business, but I couldn't figure out the sorting practice: INXS had LPs and tapes in all three rooms.

After crate digging, I picked up a weird promo copy of Historic Performances at the Monterey International Pop Festival featuring a side a of Jimi Hendrix and b side of Otis Redding. Couldn't put it down. I also found a $1 copy of The Doors by The Doors, which boasts a pretty solid track list for a single dollar bill. As Eddie and I chatted while I was checking out, I couldn't help but notice the proggy, kinda groovy sounds coming out of that hi-fi. I went to look at it, and, well, see for yourself:

Look at that album art! Behold! Jade Warrior's Last Autumn Descent. I asked Eddie if it would kill his vibe to sell me the LP right off the turntable, he chuckled and said, "I have ten of those upstairs I can't ever sell 'em." He's only got nine left now.

I walked out of there feeling good, feeling ready for the road again. And then I remembered I needed the bathroom. Behold, again, meeting my gaze from across N. Detroit St: Jitterz Cafe! Surely they have a restroom, and surely I could use a cup of coffee.

I went in to find three women sitting and visiting at one of the many family-style tables set up in Jitterz' huge dining area. One of them, it turns out, is the proprietor. She jumped up and took my order and while she was brewing a cappuccino, a slice of pie caught my eye. I hoped it was rhubarb but I didn't want to guess, "Is that cherry pie?"

"No, Fruit of the Forest," she said.

"What's that?" I asked. She smiled.

"Well, its a mix of bramble berries, apple, and rhubarb." My excitement must have betrayed me because she continued, "go grab a seat I'll warm you up a slice and bring it to your table."

So I did. And it was good. Little surprises are nice when we can find them, especially in those lonely moments on the road in the middle of nowhere, figuratively or literally, it's nice to stop and say hi. Have something sweet, vibe to something new, find something wonderful you would have otherwise passed right on by.

Also: holy s**t that was a good slice of pie.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Coheed & Cambria's "Afterman: Ascension" Turns Ten, Expanded Universes, & Midway Airport

On October 8th, 2012, Jack White performed live at the then-named Lifestyles Pavilion, a venue where I have seen White (or side-projects he's involved in) three additional times since, in Columbus, Ohio. It the first time I saw any song by The White Stripes performed live with my own human eyes, so of course I was willing to travel from San Francisco where I'd moved four months earlier to see the show and loved ones left behind. Technically, that's only material to this story insofar that this story ends on an airplane which is where, for me ten years ago, Afterman: Ascension began.


The album itself begins with a muted instrumental, not altogether unusual for Coheed & Cambria, who stay busy weaving musical and narrative motifs in the dense science fiction universe their albums create. In 2012, that universe was called Heaven's Fence, and The Amory Wars story told the tale of Claudio Kilgannon, son of Coheed & Cambria, two IRO-bots built by Dr. Leonard Hohenberger during the events of the prequel Year of the Black Rainbow (2011, my first release as a fan and due to that personal favorite of their 10 albums). The two Afterman albums would be a prequel to the prequel, a split double-feature of Ascension and Descension coming in February 2013, that dramatize Sirius Amory's adventures into the Keywork, which is the network of energy binding together the 78 planets of Heaven's Fence. Dude leaves behind his wife (tough concept to deal with if you're in a cross-country distance relationship) to go on this long mission accompanied by a semi-sentient A.I. that lives in his spacesuit named "All Mother." 

With all that being said, my understanding of the fiction of these albums is shaky because at the time, I didn't read the novella bundled with the two CDs (Descension was a blank CD-r with artwork printed on it - you had to burn the disc yourself once the MP3s were released!). It sitting in a storage unit in Michigan and I cannot wait to read it once the other half of my shit and I are reunited.

Coheed & Cambria, like Jack White, are insanely good at making guitar music, and I suspect that's the primary reason why I enjoy the bells and whistles of their expanded universe: it always comes back to excellent guitar music.

Take, for example, their newest album [pause for a breath]: VAXIS ACT II: A WINDOW OF THE WAKING MIND, which also shipped with an accompanying novella. Yet another opportunity to match the lyrics with lines of dialogue, a real Leo in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood reading experience.

I want to talk specifically about the ending of the book, which in hindsight, is pretty obviously forecasted by the album art:

That astronaut dude right behind the cute kid (that's Vaxis!) is Sirius Amory, The AFTERMAN! Don't believe me? Consider the spoiler heavy final lines of the Act 2 book:

"A man fell to the floor in front of the Quintillian Speaker, strained to hold himself up on all fours. He wore a spacesuit ... The stranger wheezed once more before finally standing and drawing the helmet's face shield up ... He looked up ... fuzzy eyes blinking as they adjusted, and uttered four words. "All Mother, we're free.""

Reveal of the century if you're into that kind of thing. Even if you're not, remember: excellent guitar music. I finished the Act 2 book a few days ago, it not dawning on me how funny the timing of this reading which reaches back into the band's fiction for a huge callback, perfectly aligned with the decade milestone of that album's release. Naturally, I thought of where I was when I first heard it.

The album came out on the very same day as that Jack White show I was just telling you about, which means, I didn't get to listen to it on release day. No worries, I wasn't want for music to listen to, and I was enjoying my own little Expanded Universe with friends left behind in Ohio during my very first homecoming after moving to California. I got to see the Mossmen Boys before the show, Eric went to the show with me, Rachel came over after. It was, by all accounts, a sprawling weekend made up of dozens of moving parts, bumming rides, eating pizza, and exchanging longing kisses in one particular case. I was drained, but the good kind, as I exited this weekend.

The opening track of Ascension is "The Hollow," an instrumental. Building a bridge across time and space to The Amory Wars' Part One, Second Stage Turbine Blade. It is a good instrumental. I love the All Mother's robotic voice dramatizing Sirius's sad tale of isolation, assuring him: "I'll be there every step of the way," while I (assisted by one of Southwest's 737s) am traveling away from my loved ones. The first proper song is "Domino the Destitute." Well, actually, its called "Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute." "Key Entity Extraction" refers to an event where Sirius is possessed by the various lives and ghosts consumed in the Keywork energy who sort of astral project him into the dramas of their own lives. Aside from that mumbo jumbo, the song whips. It is an eight minute epic. A real ass kicking table setter.

So imagine my surprise when the third track, "The Afterman," sets a somber tone way earlier than you'd expect a slow jam in a track list to be. "If he's not here then where?"

She teared, your selfishness has robbed you
of the man you could've been
I wouldn't change a thing about you
I love you dearly, my friend

Now, what Meri, Sirius's wife, is singing about is a perceived fatal accident during Sirius' launch into the Keywork, but, as with the best lyrics, it is impossible to distinguish the sci-fi from real life, and damnit if I didn't let this song destroy me all the way from Columbus to Chicago Midway. We had one of those layovers where the plane rolls up to the gate to get more people but you never get off. Grounded by distant. Close by away. If not here, then where? I think once the plane took off I let myself continue on to tracks four and beyond but I am, even ten years later, permanently haunted by the power that third song had, and how it hangs over the album.


I'm also hung up on Expanded Universes. How possible it is to just love one thing? But isn't it nice to let that one thing grow a huge web of other things? Coheed's music whips ass, to be sure, but if the guy introducing me to Coheed didn't also breathlessly recount the convoluted web of the Coheed E.U. am I as inclined to give them a fair shake? Hard to say.

But one thing is very easy to say: Afterman: Ascension holds up. These songs have the power to transport you back to row 14, seat E. They have the power to rock you. They have the power to stop you dead in your tracks. They have the power to tell their own brief and strange story, and while doing so, connect to a much, much larger story that's still ten years from happening.

Who knows what will pop up in the universe at the next milestone birthday? Maybe I'll be sitting on an airport's tarmac. Maybe I'll be home with my friends and family. If not here, then where? If not that Universe, then which? Its sort of fun to wait and find out, but I have to wait to tell you about that until after, man.