Culturespill » 2008 » May

David Ford: “Go To Hell”

24th May

David Ford

If there’s one thing about which we can all agree, surely it’s this: There is something mightily cathartic about a guy screaming “GO TO HEEEELLLL!!” over a sprawling jungle of percussion, piano, guitar, bass, and, uh, kitchen knives and sugar shakers. In yet another of David Ford’s “one camera, one take” videos, this time for the debut single from his new album Songs For the Road, Ford begins the way he always does: as quietly unassuming as possible. Stirring his morning coffee with a spoon as he leans against a counter behind him, it seems to dawn on Ford that this, too, is an occasion for song, as he soon slaps together some steel utensils to initiate another endlessly textured soundscape that progresses to achieve the roar of the wronged and heartbroken.

Like an intolerably suspenseful moment in some pyschological thriller that leaves your girlfriend shivering under the seat and you clutching the gallon of coke you shoved in the armrest, the phenomenally talented Ford builds an increasingly roiling ocean of sound, playing every instrument himself. You never know what flourish may strike his muse next–perhaps the flicker of a banjo, perhaps a sugar shaker, maybe a guitar and a few sly strokes of a drum.

The sum of all these parts equates to a revival of the now-stale talent of David Gray, who so sadly abandoned the spare and genuine joys of earlier works like Sell, Sell, Sell for the disastrously overproduced catastrophe of Life in Slow Motion, his once-gritty tales of loss and self-discovery grown syrupy with a decadent serving of schmaltz. Sure, there’s a hell of a lot going on in any given David Ford song–enough to floor you with the anxious feeling of crossing some cab-strangled intersection in NYC with a kid tucked in your arm–but never does any of it smack of the kind of desperation Gray’s more recent work wreaks of.

David Ford: “Go To Hell,” Songs For the Road

Aside from that esteemed but fallen predecessor, much of Ford’s work settles into the hypnotic and atmospheric folk of, say, Daniel Lanois, thick with the layered percussion and nuance Lanois’s staked his claim in. Come to think of it, Ford’s rockin’ his garish caps and five o’clock shadow too–but his sound isn’t nearly so claustrophobic as to produce Lanois’s boringly characteristic Here Is What Is (I love ya, Daniel, but you’re one dude who’s in desperate need of a musical makeover.)

Few artists convey such a jubilant pursuit of creative discovery as Ford. While his one-take videos are certainly more calculated than he lets on, they nonetheless come off as products of a brave and curious imagination. Tracks like “State of the Union” and “Go To Hell” showcase a willingness to abandon himself to any flight of melody and wander wherever it may lead; each new note enters the song like a match struck against the surface of his vision. After a few of these one-take videos, though, the device of layering sound upon sound as he roams a cluttered studio and dubs one instrument over another to create a gradual crescendo can become a tired shtick. Ironically, the very spontaneity he seems to be aiming for can also be the very thing that threatens his sound with utter predictability.

But there’s something about seeing him pull all this off live, a ballsy nod to the one-man band in which a guitar case factors into the mix as much as the guitar inside it, that makes the ticket you bought to see it worth every last dime. If you happen to be close enough to any of the tour dates below, I wouldn’t miss it if I were you–especially the first four, where he will appear on the same bill as Aimee Mann:

13th June

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26th June

Ah, Gerry, We Hardly Knew Ye

22nd May


If you’ve ever worked up the brass to sit through the brilliant scene in Quentin Tarrantino’s Reservoir Dogs when Michael Madsen pulls a blade on a cop to cut the mother fucker’s ear off–but not before shuffling his best Texas Two-Step to the tune “Stuck in the Middle With You”–then you know Gerry Rafferty. Recorded with an outfit called Stealers Wheel that Rafferty put together with Joe Egan in 1972, the song was an only hit for a band that made more money for the lawyers they needed to get out of contract hell than its members made for themselves–an all-too common industry nightmare that would recur in Rafferty’s odd career, as EMI kicked him to the curb about five years later when they bought out the flagging Universal Artists in 1980. It’s little wonder the guy preferred music’s version of the witness protection program for the rest of the decade–what artist of any value DIDN’T vanish in the 80s?–and only resurfaced sporadically after that to record one critically adored but commercially disastrous album after another, each of which moved about 3 1/2 units (that may be a mildly optimistic estimate.)

Culturerspill newsflash: the record industry blows, especially when you’re trying to make it with a label that consists of more than a phone in an abandoned garage and some Emo dork with a borrowed kazoo. In an era void of ring tones, myspace profiles and, well, the whole damned internet in general, Rafferty surrendered to this sad fact after making bank with his brilliant City to City album in 1978, an album that featured his enduring masterpiece, “Baker Street,” about busking in the subway station. So enduring, actually, that The Foo Fighters got their hands on the song not too long ago–which is either a blessing or a reason for instantaneous self-immolation, depending on your taste. Chances are that the size of the royalty check Rafferty took to the bank was enough to keep his food down, even if the cover sucked. Decide for yourself here. (The brilliant Eagles of Death metal, for their part, served up a killer cover of Raffery’s “Stuck in the Middle With You. Check it out.)

Reservoir Dogs: “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel

Rafferty adamantly refused to tour even in support of that hit–a single so successful that it booted the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack off the top of the charts at the height of disco’s infamy–so he sure as shit isn’t about to make much of a fuss about himself these days at 61-years-old and counting, but, dammit, that doesn’t mean WE won’t!

Of all the immortal albums in rock ‘n roll history, City to City just HAD to be recorded in the late 70s, the most confused decade in the history of modern pop music. For an era that pumped out acts like Alice Cooper and The Clash alongside a seemingly endless barrage of disco trash and some of the most mawkishly produced pop music ever to soil the ears of man, calling it “confused” is an act of extreme courtesy. Yet this seems precisely the thing that designates City To City a masterpiece.

Despite the album’s love affair with the flowery, post-psychedelia production that turned pop music into a pageant of circus cast-offs by 1978, the strength of Rafferty’s songwriting stands firm. The album’s most amazing moments come at times when Rafferty seems to have sent his producer out on another take-out run for the band. Good clean tracks like the stirring “Whatever’s Written in Your Heart” and the flawlessly composed “Right Down The Line” attest to the power Rafferty commands when left to his own devices. By contrast, the hysterical onslaught of bells, cymbals and synths that usher in “Baker Street” sound like the start of some 25-year-old Perillo Tours ad.

Gerry Rafferty

Yet the songs themselves endure: “Baker Street” soon clears the clutter and slides effortlessly into a gorgeous ballad with Raphael Ravenscroft’s unmistakable sax riff cutting a backbone through the song, rivaled only by Rafferty’s stinging guitar work in the song’s amplified crescendo. “The Ark,” a beautifully understated ballad brought to fruition by a genuinely moving vocal performance, is as successful an opening track as there has ever been. Only the title track and the album’s last two songs seem incapable of overcoming the desperate production that threatens to derail the album throughout but, thankfully, never succeeds. It is this tension between indulgence and tact that makes for one incredible listening experience. That Rafferty essentially abandoned his talents in apparent disgust with the industry soon after this is just as tragic as City To City is miraculous.

Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely

19th May

by Sara Mrozinski


In 2006 Jack White broke my heart. He released an unsatisfying album with a newly formed side-project of friends and crowned the endeavor “what he has always wanted to do”. It seemed nothing but an abandonment of Meg and a half-hearted attempt at proof of self worth. Jack said himself that he would be nothing musically without Meg, that it was her childlike hammering that made each bluesy chord of his cohesive. So then, why Jack do you wish to dilute your talent with superfluous accompaniments and banal verses? The single “Steady As She Goes” was mildly catchy at most while the album as a whole fell short of the Whitelicious masterpiece we were accustomed to. It pretty much sucked. Just when all hope was surely lost, Icky Thump was born and life was good again.

Needless to say, I was more than skeptical of the newest Raconteurs project. I accept and love that Jack White is a man of many escapades, including plastic camera and speaker manufacture, collaboration with the Gods (Loretta Lynn and Bob Dylan), cell phone protestation, and home movies of snoring band mates (sorry Meg). With the exception of the premier Raconteurs album, he hits all these ventures out of the park. Therefore, I gave him an open, yet highly analytical second chance.

Raconteurs: “Salute Your Solution”

Consolers of the Lonely, HOT DAMN! I’m sorry my lord for ever doubting your ability. I grabble at your feet in repentance! The Kinks got busy with Icky Thump and conceived Consolers of the Lonely, plain and simple. This album delivers Jack White’s signature raw energy viciously burned with blistering horns and riffs to rival Zeppelin. The band let the album speak for itself, doing zero promotion and allowing the content to leak on iTunes and the like. Bravo boys. White and company have created radio-soluble tunes capable of pushing facileness overboard. So long Linkin Park and Flobots! This album is a must for summer and pairs perfectly with open-windowed driving. After all of Jack White’s eccentric pursuits, he again proves his tireless ability to win my applause.

Rock on Raconteurs!

The Heavy: “Making Noise While You Make Love”

18th May

The Heavy

Major Culturespill props are due to StellaSplice for tipping all of us off on a band they call “incredibly digable.” We completely agree. The Heavy, a funky, put-on-your-assless-purple-leather-Prince-pants-and-get-down outfit out of the UK, is easily making some of the most boogie-worthy music this side of the moon. But you probably haven’t heard any of it yet, and that’s about to end right now. Cluttering the kitchen sink of Parliament-worthy funk with a bulging load of every genre under the sun–Motown, hip-hop, rock, pop, soul, industrial, folk and–who knows–maybe Polka and Carnival music are on the horizon too–their myspace page identifies them as everything from “Black metal” to “Easy Listening” to “Italian Pop.” That pretty much leaves it all out on the table. And to top things off, you can watch them blast some Remington 1100’s into a row of unassuming water bottles here. Yippie.

The world hasn’t heard music with this much groove since RHCP lured George Clinton into a studio to lay down some tracks with them on their underappreciated Freaky Styley album 23 years ago–you know, back before the Peppers became “arteests.” As the funktastic “That Kind of Man” explodes with a relentlessly massive sound that brings to mind some dude straight out of the late 1970s with a mile-high afro and an early boombox half his size clutched to one ear as he struts right by you up the block, it becomes clear that The Heavy aren’t taking shit from anybody. That’s probably why they include “big bad wolves just doing what they do” among their band members on MySpace. There really isn’t a more accurate description of their sound than that. These boys (and one girl–clutching an axe with a murderous stare on their myspace page, no less) are here for the long haul.

The Heavy: “That Kind of Man”

The Heavy’s sound is Tom Waits backed by The Stooges, Muddy Waters back from the Dead to make an album with Danger Mouse (because Danger Mouse SO needs another project on his hands.) These guys are bringing taste back in a big damned hurry, and judging from the friends they keep on MySpace, it’s hard to conceive of a more fitting band to do it–The Sonics, Howlin’ Wolf, Slim Harpo, Tom Waits, and even Waits’s label Anti. These people know a good groove when they hear one, and they’re threatening to bring plenty more of their own for good measure. Check ‘em out.