Net Nuggets 38: The Walkmen

[Upload deleted by MediaFire, for «copyright infringement». The track had originally been distributed for free on the Walkmen's MySpace, and has never been commercially available. But you can still get it over at Stereogum.]
Ah, Sunday in Spring! A day owned by a band like the Walkmen. And so here's a rarity—an mp3 you could download for free off their MySpace back in 2008. It's an instrumental jam that sounds like a song sketch (probably from the sessions that produced You & Me).


Rare or Unreleased 52: Ak/Fam

In 2006, Seth Olinsky, singer-guitarist in Akron/Family, released a homespun solo album called Best of Seth, which was not only his first ever solo release but also a triple CD. The voluminous debut of greatest hits includes what could perhaps be called demos for songs given the full Akron/Family band treatment on the Angels Of Light/Akron/Family split CD («Raising the Sparks») and Meek Warrior («Meek Warrior», «No Space in This Realm», «Love and Space»). Olinsky's first and only solo album has since gone out of print.

Of course, two hours and 43 minutes of out-of-tune hippie whimsy can be a bit much. A man can only stand so much Dzogchen Buddhist imagery backed by campfire strumming, front porch banjo picking, strained singing, mystical drones, kitchen sink electronica and the recorder. Toilet Guppies is proud, therefore, to present the best of Best of Seth—a one-stop volume of delights and highlights. And if the above didn't come across as a particularly glowing blurb, if you like your music with a spiritual quotient—and by «spiritual» I don't just mean sincerely emotional, but curious, inquisitive and downright soteriological about this life business and all the big mysteries that come with it—give this comp a whirl. It's beautiful:

  1. The Littlest Horse
  2. Meek Warrior
  3. If on the Path
  4. Raising the Sparks
  5. Dirt Road Cloud of Light
  6. I've Had Enough
  7. Space/Love→Space Is Love
  8. Lord Open My Heart (a/k/a Love and Space)
  9. Rinpoche Said
  10. Noah
  11. What Point Has Come
  12. No Space in This Realm
  13. Sun Goes Down
  14. Death Sparrow Blues
  15. World of Difference
  16. Ghost of Katie
  17. Saddest Turtle


Rare or Unreleased 51: Helge «Deathprod» Sten

Toilet Guppies has made it a point of order to make available to the obscure Norwegian noise loving internet masses—all four of them—any and every out-of-print rarity ever committed to a recording device by producer Helge Sten, a/k/a ambient noise composer Deathprod. (Except recordings never printed in the first place.) Not that there are many; there's the majestic live percussion piece «Komet» and one spoken word collab with American expat poet Matt Burt.

And now «Microwave 1-5», five short pieces of ambient noise made, according to the liner notes, «using the same source material» as two additional tracks by John Hegre and four by relentless noise pioneer Lasse Marhaug (all on the CD, but not included here), both of Jazzkammer fame. What that source material was isn't mentioned.

Whatever the original sounds mangled far beyond recognition, you could do worse on a foetal Sunday than listen to these snippets of typically meditative (but never New Age-y) Deathprod. atmospherics. Curl yourself up, bub. You don't stand a chance.


Toilet Guppies Tries to Connect with People via Mixtapes, No. 3: Punk Slime

This is a mixtape for a mighty fine Catalan fellow named Alfred, who truly understands the greatness of bratty, fratty, pissing, screaming, drinking, drugging, indecent exposure-ing Black Lips. For those who don't know who or what Black Lips are, they're a rowdy band of flower punks who never quite put their obnoxious adolescence behind them. If Jesus died for our sins, they're ignorant for our bliss.

This is not a Black Lips comp, however, but a collection of likewise fuzz-frazzled scum rock, shitgaze, etc. (Yes, we now officially have a genre called «shitgaze».) The sounds on this mixtape are the rock'n'roll created when glorious noise music smashes into catchy pop tunes. It's the warm voice of a lover, faintly heard in a freezing blizzard. The sweet delirium of endorphins in a mangled car crash. Catchier than noise music, but grittier than the sound of marketing. An unlistenable, yet anthemic mess is what it is! The sonic equivalent of playing in your own pooh.

Why such noise? In every music obsessive's life, there comes a time when he can't find solace in or even listen to music. Something so sickeningly irreversible has happened that any pathetic self-pity becomes, unfortunately, a bit justified. To then listen to balladeers and troubadours emoting and poking around in there with their useless pathos and pretentious empathy is out of the question. Suddenly an entire music collection seems irrelevant and inadequate, every song a bearer of memories reminding him of a world that not only no longer is, but can never be again.

What he needs at that point is a total retooling. Something noisy and idiotic, to drown out the squelching pus inside and to get it out of his system by making him dance and shout and jump and drink and smoke and fuck and snort and laugh and fall over. Buzzing static, screeching treble, rumbling hiss, hissing rumble, head(w)ringing feedback, shrieking cymbals, unhinged screams, disintegrating melodies and collapsing performances to wash the mind clean.

Hey, it worked wonders for me! When some guy introduced me to the wretched squall of Black Lips back when I was suffering from «shock» or «Post-traumatic Stress Disorder» or «depression» or some other diagnosis otherwise known as life, it was just what none of the doctors had thought to order. Touchy sentimentality is for when you're OK—when you're bored and can't find any other way in to the vicarious thrill of empathy. Silliness, however, is for when you're fucked—not for when you're already happy and smiling. So let's get stoopid.

Welcome, then, to the gutter of sound, where you'll be content to not even look at the stars. Enjoy the tinnitus racket for all its triumphant rejection of meaning, reason and innocent joy. It's a liberation, kids!


Producer Series #2: Norwegian Noise vs. Scandinavian Design

Here's a producer who, in a way, would be Norway's equivalent to Nigel Godrich (producer of Beck, Air and «sixth member of Radiohead»). His style is typified by glitches and bursts, but also by spacey electronic sounds whose sources you can't quite identify, but that seem to have come from the future—or sometimes your childhood: There's a lot of comedy, with kitschy, '70s home organ sounds and rhythms, not to mention sudden blips, scratches, etc. reminiscent of cartoons. One of his trademarks is slapstick noise music, played with the the same kind of absurdist mischief of Nurse With Wound or Add N To (X). It's arty, but never pretentious, and a lot of the time there seems to be no discrepancy between «moving» and «funny». And why should there be?

Norwegian music possesses two general trends: that few artists have anything interesting to say (or sufficient talent to say them), and that the Protestant work ethic and Germanic meticulousness result in an obsession with detail that makes most of the music sound sleek, either in a perfected (but soulless) mimicry of some internationally hip style or just in terms of the production values. Consequently, the most noteworthy Norwegian music tends to be music that, a) doesn't try to say anything and, b) doesn't copy a style but pays careful attention to sound. In other words, experimental instrumental music. And it's perhaps these qualities that make Norwegian noise music among the most accomplished in the noise field.

This producer is an accomplished noise artist who often uses his near scientific audio chops to help produce inane, Norwegian pop artists (Sondre Lerche, the National Bank, Sissy Wish, Morten Abel, Magnet), a couple of alternative bands whose ambitions dwarf their talent (Datarock, Kaizers Orchestra, Emmerhoff & the Melancholy Babies, Ralph Myerz & the Jack Herren Band), the odd well-schooled and well-oiled jazz pop act (Helén Eriksen), a couple of metal bands (Trinacria, Deride) and experimental (Spunk) and noise (Jazzkammer) outfits. Thankfully, apart from the artists mentioned above, some of whom are middling or even terrible, he has also produced artists who negotiate the precarious balance between prog and jazz, art wank and noise, to yield albums like so many giddily enthusiastic ADD children. You'll find it all here on this compilation.

The more commercial records this guy has produced are too straightforward and safe to do justice to his ideas, and the noise stuff, although a breath of fresh ear in the blandness that is Norwegian culture, is too chaotic to really showcase his studio skills. So here's a collection of songs that find themselves somewhere in the middle. Some melodic stuff not entirely impervious to noise, and some noise stuff not impervious to melody. Many of the pieces on this compilation are what happens when easy listening meets something it would be easier not to listen to, but that's the way Toilet Guppies likes it. This guy somehow manages to combine the sterility of Scandinavian production values with the violence of noise in a best-of-both-worlds kind of way. The best albums he has produced are journeys of discovery, every second and every listen bringing a new revelation. God is in the detail, people. Enjoy.

(For more exotic music from the far-away land that is not the capital of Sweden, check out these Toilet Guppies compilations:


Mp3 Killed the Vinyl DJ 12: Sonic Youth ∞ Locked Groove!

One of the areas in which post-punk was an improvement on punk lay in its willingness to look beyond nihilism. Artists like reformed hippie Michael Gira of SWANS and former Deadhead Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth weren't above contemplating eternity rather than oblivion. Sonic Youth saw noise as liberation, not as destruction per se. A positive more than a negative. Unlike grumpy punks, Sonic Youth and SWANS were about rapture, their ecstatic vision of sound psychedelic but for the '60s trappings of sitars, vocal harmonies and lyrics about smelling the purple of rectangles. At least punk had been good for something, stirring everything up after the old counter-culture had been coopted by the establishment and turned into a kitsch irrelevance, as hypocritical as it had become escapist.

In 1986, when Sonic Youth were still on a journey of discovery, they came out with evoL. On vinyl, of course. And with infinity on their minds, the last track was fitted with a locked groove at the end, the idea being that the drones finishing the song «Madonna, Sean & Me (The Crucifixion of Sean Penn/Expressway to Yr. Skull)» would go on forever.

Of course, the limitations of matter and physics, not to mention the impermanent nature of reality, ensure that it never could, whether it'd be the player or the needle or the vinyl or the energy source that would give first. But you get the idea. It's like, you know, conceptual. And fun. (Like the solo release by Lee Ranaldo where he'd punched holes in the vinyl at certain intervals, so that the needle would come crashing down on the surface of the turntable, creating jolts of shock noise.) To give you a feel for the song as it can only be experienced on vinyl, Toilet Guppies has ripped a 70 minute version. (One minute more would be excessive. No need to overdo things.) Note that if you do get through the entire thing in one, attentive sitting, you really should seek professional help.

But Toilet Guppies digresses again! Being 1986, postmodernism hadn't yet become the academic yawn it is today. And regardless of intellectual fads, Sonic Youth always did enjoy their references. «Madonna, Sean & Me» is no exception. (One might even say referencing and name dropping has been one of the band's career strategies, in order to position themselves as credible in an environment as commercial as it is artistic. Thus they've not only managed to garner acclaim by association, but even made friends through flattery. Clever bastards.) As for «Madonna, Sean & Me», the punk/hippie love/hate relationship is vented in a nod to Charles Manson's infamous connection with the Beach Boys («We're gonna kill the California girls»). Then there's Sonic Youth's familiar obsession with Madonna. How Sean Penn and Madonna's celebrity marriage connects to hippie murder I don't know. But I do know this: paying too much attention to Thurston Moore or Kim Gordon's lyrics is a waste of time.

evoL certainly is not.


Songs Bangkok Taught Us, or, Hookers, Crystal Meth & Justin Bieber

The nightclub, open all night, is where johns who haven't managed to score with a prostitute in any of the bars, brothels or strip clubs go to hook up with hookers who haven't managed to score a john in any of the bars, brothels or strip clubs. The brand new glass, steel and plastic interior, complemented with flashy neon, black light, lasers and strobe, give the impression you've just stepped into a nu-R&B music video. Except the place is tiny—a fact concealed not only by disorienting lighting, but by the distraction of eyeing so many beautiful women in one place, all swaying for attention, about as arrhythmically as the Western clientele of gawping, awkward men who were obviously never the centre of any party or else we wouldn't be here (and in any case you can tell just from the way we move)…

Ah, but you think the girls are beautiful, until the strobe—which against all sound neurological advice flashes continuously, without pause—is cranked up to coincide with one of those near-climactic, trademark techno DJ bursts of beats signalling an imminent change in the music. The strobe begins to flash so rapidly it defeats itself, the flickering near invisible as if the house lights had just been turned on and for the first time you properly see the morning-after face of the woman with the flawless body, in all its winking, grinning, half-toothless, crooked and pockmarked glory.

This revelation is soon forgotten as you turn around and a girl grinding to the beat raises her already minimal mini-skirt to flash you her clean shaven slit in a come-hither pattern of slow, suggestive thrusts, her hips rotating as she lowers her curves to hover over the dirty dance floor, practically sweeping it with her clean and taught Lolita skin, and you catch yourself thinking, «What's in a face, anyway?»

There are screens on the walls and music is always accompanied by its video clip, so the DJ is obliged to play singles. The DJs in this town all play the same songs. It's a crash course in more or less current hits, and you end up hearing—perhaps for the first time—the squeaky clean voice of teen idol Justin Bieber, his adorably childlike face adorning the wall. All of a sudden the hookers go weak at the knees, squealing, giggling. Finally, it's their turn to fancy a minor.

The room—and the club can best be described as a room—has a typical group of young, male upstarts travelling together in a group on their first venture to the other side of the world, as well as older hooligans and businessmen and nerds and perverts and hopeful writers and even an old age pensioner—this one geezer of about 70, waving his arms in the air to hip-hop beats and sidling up to a 20-something Thai girl who can't help but smile at his indomitable zest for life. It's an unlikely place for the face and sentiments of young Justin, whose squeaky clean sneakers are far too neat for this floor.

But you haven't really experienced Justin Bieber until you've had a head full of ice in a room full of hookers and johns, your eyes and mind dazzled and confused by epilepsy-inducing lights and lasers, a girl on the other side of the room trying to feign one of those «shared moments» by giving you a cracked look of desire, all serenaded by the machinery behind a sexless baby face from Stratford, Canada whose balls dropped only last week, singing, «I'll buy you anything / I'll buy you any ring / 'Cause I'm in pieces / Baby fix me / And just shake me till you wake me from this bad dream / I'm going down, down, down, down…»

And when the spectacle that is a discotheque at the heart of a Bangkok Red Light District has sunk in, you notice the girls in the periphery. Girls just standing there by the wall, immovably, alone and never in groups, not even talking. They're not wallflowers. They're waiting, scanning, planning, working (always working), the look on their faces the same as anybody's who'd rather be elsewhere, doing something else.

Whatever semblance of fun there is in this room comes courtesy of the discipline and manic contrivance of those pay-to-play ladies trying to make the best of it out there on the dance floor, and of the men telling themselves that this is the life! They're not convincing anybody, least of all themselves. Yet still they try, their awkward dancing and forced smiles fading with their level of drunkenness until eventually the unwanted men's faces are unmasked, revealing bitter and menacing, primal looks, fixed on you—as if there were such a thing as a rival in a place where everything may be bought.

It's then that the most perverse song ever recorded comes on—that happy-go-suicidal radio anthem familiar from the insides of taxis worldwide: «Damn all these beautiful girls / They only wanna do your dirt / They'll have you suicidal, suicidal…» You decide against getting another drink and start thinking about running along home, meth dick between your legs, to grind in your jaws all those thoughts, fragmenting as reason disintegrates. Sleep approaches in the slowest of motions; the nervous system is numb, but the eyes flit uncontrollably behind their lids until consciousness, some ten hours later, finally releases its grip, too spent to produce dreams of Justin Bieber and suicide…


Smash! Hits of the '80s

Yours truly was too young in the 1980s to appreciate its culture, mainstream or otherwise. My father didn't play tapes of the Fall in our car on holiday trips; my mother didn't breastfeed me while listening to Throbbing Gristle's 20 Jazz Funk Greats. In terms of '80s music, my most formative memory was feeling psychedelically terrified at the sight of the black lights in the music video for Wham!'s «Wake Me Up Before You Go Go», and feeling similarly freaked out by the singer in Fine Young Cannibals. With Sting, Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder bogarting the TV screen, the young me was left no other option than to seek refuge in my parents' obsolete record collection of mainly bland Beatles records. (At least they didn't sound so flaccid.) Like the dayglo fashionista hipster kids postmodernising new wave, I can only appreciate the 1980s in hindsight. And in hindsight, the yuppies and whatever cultural momentum it was that propelled grown human beings into sporting pastel, fluffy hair and shoulder pads made the '80s one of the most obnoxious and least redeeming decades in recorded history. In terms of its sound, the production values polished every edge down to a nub, making everything sound wet and limp. Pop music reached its absolute nadir, from which, thankfully, it has since made great strides (all things being relative—Kylie Minogue is no match for Rihanna or fierce Sasha).

In the 1960s, before record companies had truly honed their industry, there was no distinction between major label mainstream music and independent underground. The industry didn't understand its demographic and so just threw money at anyone they thought might possibly be considered hip by the kids. As the corporate confusion and dust of desperation settled, the '70s saw the artistically excessive (and so less commercially viable) artists increasingly displaced into a newly defined underground. By the 1980s, the schism between art and entertainment was as complete as it has ever been.

Thanks to the major labels' devious marketing in response to the masses' growing boredom with the '80s pop formula, the '90s sowed confusion as to what was mainstream and what was «alternative». Nirvana? Faith No More? Pearl Jam?! (I think it was Jon Bon Jovi who once remarked, «An alternative to what?») The greatest trick the major labels ever pulled was convincing the world Nirvana were alternative. By the '00s, indie was no longer strictly independent, and internet literacy and entrepreneurship made trendy underground acts more competitive in the market place, sometimes blurring the distinctions between «mainstream», «independent» and «underground». Hardly anyone can tell who the Man is any longer, or who is really underground.

Perhaps more than any other, the '80s stands as a decade of near complete musical hegemony of the establishment, with relatively little crossover between the commercial and the avant-garde. Its legacy is a monument to blandness: Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Blondie. And that's who nostalgic indie kidz adulate. In karaoke bars all over the world, people ineptly sing along to artistic atrocities committed by Phil Collins, Elton John, Bryan Adams, Rick Astley… You name it, it's dreadful. And then there are the goths, with their corny Cure, Depeche Mode, «Love Will Tear Us Apart» and all those awfully brooding synths. White culture has always looked to black culture for coolness, as straight culture looks to gay culture for style. But the '80s was a nail in the artistic coffin of James Brown, and disco's undertaker, too, giving us instead Luther Vandross and Whitney Houston, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and George Michael.

Oh, and the production values… The decade of synthesizers, '80s sound engineering and mixing rendered everything plastic. Noise or even just dry, fuzzy texture were relegated to a repressed memory of the '60s.

The '80s saving grace was post-punk. Punk was always a bit shit, really. Not as gritty or noisy as its invigorating precursor, hormonal '60s garage rock, '70s punk typically featured higher, clearer fidelity, just with sloppier performances, most punk amounting to little more than incompetently played boogie-woogie. The music that wasn't performed less energetically than garage rock—perhaps due to the pretentious use of heroin as a kind of adolescently Nihilist statement—was performed impatiently—perhaps due to the speed. Punk was essentially blues without the syncopation, the groove, the sex. Eager to hit the three-minute completion mark as soon as possible, punk was essentially the musical equivalent to a premature ejaculation. «Heigh ho, let's go,» indeed…

But the '80s saw a more sonically adventurous—not to mention emotionally uncompromising—genre that was never even given a name. For want of a better word, bands like the Fall, Birthday Party, SWANS, Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Jesus & Mary Chain, et al. have merely been lumped together into the «post-punk» bargain bin. It's a measure of these artists' sense of individuality and experimentation that a sobriquet was never invented that could sum them all up, despite being fish in the same pool. Unlike new wave, grunge or punk itself, «post-punk» was not a movement. The artists were too intelligent, self-sufficient and confident to join any ranks, despite not being above collaborating or touring together.

In general, however, the playing was tighter, the sound noisier, and the feelings expressed beyond the poetics of mere junkie disgruntlement set to sloppy bar rawk. Let the punk stew in his beer-and-glue stupor, covered in his neglected dog's excrement there on the floor of some uncleaned squat wherein he somehow feels morally superior to the people who originally bought the sandwiches which leftovers he picks out of the dumpster (emptied and paid for by the people who actually pay taxes for the basic services everybody enjoys), and let somebody interesting say something.

The only question is, can a decade that spawned Huey Lewis & the News, Robert Palmer and Bros. ever redeem itself?

Yes, it can. Here's a comp comprised of the best '80s acts I can think of. Obviously, other good music came out of the '80s (Devo! Grace Jones!), but I've stuck to artists specifically associated with that decade, while avoiding the one hit wonders and guilty pleasures (as if guilt and pleasure have anything to do with one another).

The result of such a collection is telling: With the financial boom and the excessive optimism it encouraged, the underground's response became ever more perverse and determined. The cleaner the sound and content of the hits, the dirtier the sound and content of the obscurities. The chirpier the one, the pissier the other. The noise of most '60s rock was a consequence of limited technology and funds; by the '80s any scuzzy noise was entirely deliberate. The results are monstrosities in sound, and Toilet Guppies dares you to name any young band making the rounds today that possesses even a fraction of the intensity of many of the acts on this Super Hits of the '80s collection!



Toilet Guppies Tries to Connect with People via Mixtapes, No. 2: Banjo Madness!

Marty Trix—one half of the DJ duo with the indisputably wickedest wigs in all of western Norway, I'll Buy You A Husband To Match Your Earrings—has bought a banjo!

In celebration of this event, and as a further encouragement to Old Trixie, Toilet Guppies would like to extend to her—and to anyone else who might care for a helping of music featuring one of the most ridiculed instruments in world history—a collection of prime cuts employing the infamous guitar-drum-thingamajig. There's folk, psychedelia, Americana, experimental rock, blues, singer-songwriter balladry, medicine show music and a piece from a soundtrack score. And no, the latter is not from Deliverance. Let's put a stop to the rumour that the banjo is an instrument played predominantly by inbred, toothless, sadist homosex offenders in the rural outskirts right now.

Still… because it's such a stellar scene, what the heck:

Toilet Guppies will be back with more compilations dedicated to defending our most maligned musical instruments at a later date: the accordion, the fiddle, bagpipes, perhaps the pan flute… hell, maybe even the recorder! (I bet you'll be watching this space now…)


Rare or Unreleased 50: The Dodos

Meric Long: A couple of songs off the «Dodo Bird» EP [.zip]

Been browsing the old iTunes library for something rare but Sunday-like, and came across these dreamy, currently out-of-print ditties. Before the Dodos became a band, its singer-guitarist Meric Long recorded an EP, «Dodo Bird», in 2006. It's basically the same musical universe: bluegrass fingerpicking, syncopated acoustic strumming and percussion inspired by West African rhythms, all bursting from within the melancholy bounds of wistful words and soft melodies. Happy Sunday, people.


Toilet Guppies Tries to Connect with People via Mixtapes, No. 1: Black Music for a White Woman

My main squeeze has an iPod, but no music to put on it. Not enough, anyway, and has requested some. So below are a couple of .zip files of music, posted here so that you, too, may enjoy its vivifying vibes. Each is an introductory compilation collecting the best of a band within a certain period. If you like current, somewhat independent bands who play the blues, but use the word «Black» in their names, feel free to have a click at the links below:

[Raw, drum driven, soulful blues, .zip]
[Nasty, bottom heavy psych-blues grooves, .zip]