Go, Go-go Girls, Go!

Faster Pussycat

Sandwiched between '50s cocktail lounge and '60s garage rock—between the suave and the scuzz, as it were—you get this: Sides recorded by house bands with residencies in strip clubs and go-go bars before the advent of disco, nu-R'n'B, techno and other scourges of the sexual impulse forever banished decent music from houses of ill repute. Not as sedated by painkillers and umbrella drinks as exotica, nor quite as dishevelled by raging hormones as garage beat, this is music for whiskey swillin' business daddies to occasionally let loose to, remembering, through liquor's hazy prism of lowered inhibitions and loss of control, his youth and his natural drives, lusting for tits.

Most of the songs in this obscure sub-genre are instrumentals, and there's typically an added catchphrase, or suggestive giggles or a few lewd haw-haws, repeated throughout. They tend to contain the kind of dated humour that appeals so much to people who are nostalgic, yet too self-conscious to admit so, dressing their admiration up in ironic pop culture references instead.

Which is easily done, because the jokes—tame and corny by now—retroactively castrate whatever edge there may once have been to this music. The songs become quirky, and there's nothing sexy about quirky. Instead of inciting people to fuck, the songs have been turned into just another escape from the frighteningly delicious appetites rumbling in your base animal gut…

Yet not all the recordings of this genre are novelty songs. If you like your sex with raunch rather than laughs, sensual pleasure rather than abstract ideas, there's plenty to be had: Raw, sexmongering saxophone from a time when the guitar was not yet the phallus of choice… sassy rhythms that alternate between grinding and pounding… the sloppy, overly eager playing of lusty musicians who have something more urgent to get out of their systems than musical notes.

This collection eschews the cutesy half-ironic/half-nostalgic recordings all too common in such retrospectives, in favour of the tracks that have stood the test of time to remain hot. The ones instantly evocative of flesh on your hands, soft, warm texture on your fingers, various fluids on the tip of your tongue, skin 'tween your teeth, etc. etc. This is the sound of hips, thighs, breasts, nipples, napes, shoulders, clavicles, bellies, backs, wrists, chins, lips, eyes, labia, rosettes, feet, all in frenzied, shaking movement (when not slowing to a sweet, aching grind). And that's just the beginning; no less than two of the tracks on this comp feature the bullwhip as an actual musical instrument!

This music wasn't intended for cuddling on a bed of rose petals and scented silk sheets. This is all flesh and fluids; the sound of straight male fantasy. What men seek, whether they're flicking through the Bible for passages about the whore Magdalene or they're at the strip club, gawking up at the vixen atop the table, his desires lost in a conflicting mix of the will to power and willing servitude, best expressed by that master perv, Russ Meyer:
… violence doesn’t only destroy; it creates and moulds as well. Let’s examine closely, then, this dangerously evil creation, … encased and contained within the supple skin of woman. The softness is there, the unmistakable smell of female, the surface shiny and silken, the body yielding yet wanton. But a word of caution: Handle with care and don’t drop your guard. This rapacious … breed prowls both alone and in packs, operating at any level, any time, anywhere and with anybody.
The danger and challenge of the untamed savage—shaking her primal nudity up there on her pedestal, in touch with nature's forces in ways men think they can't even imagine (yet nonetheless try to)—gives rise to a tension between wanting to control and to be controlled, to tame and to be tamed, leaving the voyeur at her feet a drooling mess of confused horniness, desire going off in every direction. It's the moment for which every businessman lives and breathes… He may have the money, the vote, the driver's licence, the freedom, but, baby, you possess the only thing he really wants.

And the only thing you need to make that man crawl, is a soundtrack such as this.


New Hate Rock

While we wait for the album currently most anticipated here at Toilet Guppies', HTRK's Work (Work, Work) (to be released in about five months' time), the band is currently offering a live album, recorded in 2008, over at their website.

Not very well known—nor will they ever be if they continue to explore, in such a stubborn manner, what most people would rather avoid, all the more so because it's always there, that hum underlying your very existence—HTRK is still the most interesting «art rock» outfit since Flux Information Sciences. But unlike Flux Info, HTRK doesn't dilly-dally with things like distracting or ameliorating humour. Their music is not the type to cowardly put on a brave face, forcing itself to qualify, always unconvincingly, «… but it's not that bad.» Or to find other ways of looking away.

You can be indifferent about many things. Most things. Sorrow and sex are not among them, which is what gives HTRK its emotional currency. While other indie bands tend their hairdos and seek out people with whom to schmooze like so many gold diggers at the yacht club, so that they may better peddle the ditties they've slapped together with a view to becoming rich and adored by the snivelling and the stupid, HTRK takes care of business. Music was made for dealing with these things—pain, boredom, desire—and not for certain people to have their narcissistic exhibitionism indulged, their desperate need for validation met or their pointlessly ambitious greed gratified. When you've lost all faith in music—when every recording artist comes across as either a scenester or just plain bland—a band like HTRK comes around, offering you hope with their brand of hopelessness.

I'm sure that wasn't their intention, but there you go. Take it as a gift. Then go buy their live album.

[The above mp3, by the way, has nothing to do with the live album. It was a free give-away, downloaded off their MySpace some months back. Although a demo, it's as good as the songs on their records (and certainly boasts higher production values than their debut). Fuck the hyperbole, it's really very, very good. One of their best. So far.]


Producer Series #1

This collection is not about songs, or even music, but about sound:

There are certain producers, studios and record companies best known for being producers (Phil Spector, Lee «Scratch» Perry), studios (Sun Studios, Studio One) or record companies (Motown, Factory Records), with a distinct sound overriding the individual talent. But most producers flit around from album to album, band to band, record corporation to record corporation. With some albums selling well and others rarely if ever to be heard, and few of the bands likely to appear on the same record, most people miss the connection. The producer's contribution goes largely unrecognised, which is why Toilet Guppies is launching a series of comps collecting the scattered work of such sound whisperers.

If you listen to the various projects a producer has overseen in one set, you'll appreciate how a good producer makes his mark on the work, guiding the listener through the music by way of the mix, challenging, pushing or manipulating the emotional state of the performers, adding (or subtracting) arrangements… A producer worth his mettle becomes an artist in his own right, bringing to the mix his own textures, philosophy, judgment, demands and perhaps instruments. Thus George Martin was known as the «fifth member» of the Beatles, &c. &c.

The subject of the above comp is the «sixth member» of an English environmentalist art rock-techno prog group that has pioneered Internet music distribution. He has also worked with the finest folk/hip-hop mixer upper to come out of the Church of Scientology; an offensively bland but eminently competent French duo applauded for their interior design muzak (such as their robotic, paradoxically sexless hit about a sexy boy); the actress daughter of a legendary Judeo-Gallic fun boy; a knight of the realm who once used to be in the best known rock/pop group of all time; a slacker alt. rock band inexplicably adored by the sonic youth underground mafia as if they were deities; some blips on the hipster radar that vanished like UFOs; and Travis.

Regardless of the merits of the artists he has produced, what this musician and sound engineer brings to the mixing table is sublime: The crisp and warm synthesizers, the glockenspiel punctuation and those languid strings he coats the music in all make you feel like someone's gently spreading honey laced with opium across your eardrums.

And the mixing! There's always something happening. Details abound, tickling your cognition, yet nothing ever competes for space or attention. Everything in its right place. Not afraid of noise, he's also deft at somehow making something loud and uptempo come from a place of great sensitivity, almost delicate. And unlike the unimaginative polish applied to hits, there's not a boring sound in this guy's sonic universe. There's a kind of futurism to his craft: If Kraftwerk succeeded in conjuring the music of an unconscious, mechanical machine, this bloke predicts what an artificial intelligence might one day compose.



A Secret Rendezvous Between Folk, Classic Rock & Indie, or, «hit the road with a gun in the boot»

Blackberry Songs [.zip]

If today's Toilet Guppies mystery primer isn't your bag, then I must profess ignorance as to why you're even visiting this blog in the first place. In fact, it's hard to imagine anyone not liking this artist's music. But then I suppose that's what Usher thought about Justin Bieber, so that particular argument goes out the window…

Anyway, this singer-songwriter is not only a finger-picking sensation in the tradition of John Fahey; a lo-fi indie rock arranger making Sonic Youth et al. sound decidedly unadventurous; an occasional dabbler into atmospheric noise and electronica; and a pop sensibilist shamelessly inspired by the classic '70s FM radio rock of the Boss, Bob Seger(!), et al. He's also one of the most wry lyricists you're likely to hear anytime soon, making you chuckle at workaday griefs, relationship challenges and good ol', all round people hatin'.

This guy knows how to appreciate the unintentional poetry in overheard snippets of chatter, as well as in throwaway comments of near and dear ones who inevitably go through moments where they despise you, every now and again. A fine guitarist but a middling vocalist, he turns this drawback into an advantage by acting more than singing, drawling—deadpan and Dylan-like—everyday phrases pregnant with passive aggression. There's a slight air of melancholy, but don't worry: it's not the insufferably maudlin and exaggerated kind peddled by, say, Nick Drake. Call this non-pathological blues. Never before has a songwriter been so self-pitying and managed to stay this unpretentious. And rarely has a lyricist so bitterly comedic managed to avoid clever irony, salvaging his sincerity all the way…

The best music is usually a tightrope walk: Inconspicuously balanced, seemingly unremarkable and deceptively boring, staying well clear of the bombast and cheap tactics of the extremes, it just keeps on giving, new shades revealing themselves upon every listen. As an old chum said, this music will make you want to «hit the road with a gun in the boot». Give it a twirl, bub, then go buy his albums.


Net Nuggets 37: Vile Promotion

Kurt Vile: Vile Promotion [.zip]

There are ten tracks on Kurt Vile's new album, Smoke Ring for My Halo, out today. Five of them are great.

That's a respectable 24 minutes and 20 seconds out of a total 45 minutes and 48 seconds of uncomplicated music for complicated emotions. Unpretentious down home classic rock feel, perfect for Sundays. Swirling acoustic melodies with odd drips of cocoon noise psychedelia to fully secure the introversion of compositions penned by a guy who does for serious heterosexual males with periodic bouts of social phobia and/or disabling misanthropy what Blondie or Joan Jett did for girls who just wanna have fun and who have to ask, «What does 'misanthropy' mean?»

So, if you're full of sadness and frustration as brought on by friends, lovers and other enemies, get Smoke Ring for My Halo now. As the man sings on the album opener, «I will never, ever, ever be alone / 'cuz it's all in my baby's hands… / I get sick of just about everyone / and I hide in my baby's arms / 'Cuz except for her, you know / as I've implied…»—be that «baby» drink, drugs, work, a hobby… or music, such as, say, the songs on Smoke Ring for My Halo. Hey, whatever gets you through the day.

If you're a cheap Charlie and need even more coaxing before parting with cash for Vile's new record, here's a little compilation of various more or less recent Internet radio & TV recordings of the troubadour plugging this and his previous album (the equally worthwhile Childish Prodigy)—though I'd go with the official studio releases, if I were you:
  1. On Tour
  2. Jesus Fever
  3. Amplifier (a/k/a You Was Alone)
  4. The Hunchback
  5. Overnite Religion
  6. He's Alright
  7. Dead Alive
  8. Red Apples
  9. Runner Ups
  10. Ghost Town (a/k/a Sad Ghost)
  11. In My Time
1, 2, 9 & 10 with the Violators, live on Pitchfork's Don't Look Down
3 & 6 with the Violators, live on WXPN's Free At Noon
4, 5 & 7 live on QTV (4 & 5 with Robert Robinson)
8 & 11 live on WFMU's Best Show
Happy International Women's Day, by the way:


Net Nuggets 36: Clara Engel

Clara Engel: «Lick My Fins» [mp3]

Sometimes, it's hard to tell whether the spiritual impulse of religion is really the lust to be one with the world beyond your lonely self—like those medieval nuns visited at night by ecstatic visions of the «light» of Jesus «penetrating» them—or whether you're just a single minded, one track degenerate for ever thinking so in the first place. Pervert.

Regardless, scripture is a great source for loophole pornography—suggestive literature heavy with similes and symbolism from a time when people were too bashful, prudish or classy to be outright and crass about it. Because, you know, like Sparks sing, «Chicks dig dig D-I-G dig dig metaphors / Use them wisely, use them well / and you'll never know the hell / of loneliness». I'm sure a lot of those guys who penned the Bible got laid. They would've been the rock stars of their day and age.

And why not? As any fan of gospel music can attest to, the raptures of religion and of rumpy-pumpy are closely related. The Bible's Song of Solomon, for instance, is one long, bawdy allegory for wanting to be one with God, trying to convince us faith can feel as good as fucking. Turning this onto its head are singer-songwriters who show us that fucking can feel as meaningful as faith. And what better metaphor than the Holy Ghost, with its tongue and tendency to fill people?
Let the Holy Spirit lick my fins
I want to crawl back to the ocean
For you
Lose my limbs and my lungs
My agility of tongue
For you
This sultry little couplet is sung by Canadian cabaret mermaid Clara Engel. Imagine if burlesque was still innovative and alive and relevant as an edgy art form, sexual once again and not just kitsch, quaint and cute, this is the type of song you might hear at a show. Far more literate than the old Betty Boop-oop-ee-doo/«teach-me-tiger» schtick, it would actually stir something in you.

Other than the burlesque-esque jazz of the arrangement, the composition hints at Middle Eastern melody and so, by extension, the crazy Judeo-Christian religious frenzy that is, despite everything else about it, actually quite sensual… Hips swaying, bellies dancing, pelvises grinding, slow and determined… Thankfully, the backing band is more focused on sonic texture than on squeezing in as many notes and rhythm changes as possible. It's jazz as played by perverts, which is exactly what that particular genre needs more of, cerebral and stuck in a time warp as it is.

Women routinely go weak at the knees just at the thought of a man who can sing or play the guitar, but it's not often a man is given cause to go weak at the knees upon hearing a female performer. Sure, there are men drooling over hit list divas given music video make-overs, but that's not about the vivifying music, mesmerising charisma or shimmering eloquence as much as the lighting, clothing (or lack thereof) and Photoshop. So it feels good to hear the powerful, confident singing of a succubus challenging and perhaps even scaring you a little bit with the sheer force of her voice and convictions, sensual to the point of obliterating mysticism. Personally, I haven't felt a sensation quite like this since I heard PJ Harvey command me, through the speakers, in no uncertain terms to lick her legs.

And tell me true: Is there any sexier image than that of a woman crawling on her hands and knees through the hot sand towards the beckoning waves and slow ebb of the undulating sea? This woman wants to go back all the way to the birthplace of life for you… to seek out the original life force for you… go bathe in the primordial soup with you…

Don't you want to go with?

[«Lick My Fins» is from Engel's 2009 album, Secret Beasts.]