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Austin Psych Fest Preview: Quilt (More Like a Tapestry, Less Like Clare Quilty)

March 7, 2012

As their name implies, Quilt’s songs thread through a range of influences, yet form a singular whole. It’s really rather impressive what an expansive, organic sound this band has achieved on its debut album. It would be easy to call them neo-primitive hippie folk-rock, but there’s an underlying pop sensibility that makes their music vibrant and almost modern.They’ve been compared to Devendra Banhart, but they’re not nearly so self-consciously freakish as that. While they can go off on mind expanding tangents, this is a remarkably polished and sophisticated band. Sure, there’s a lovely 60s psych, pop vibe, but at times, they spark embers of Electrelane, but instead of the propulsive guitar, it’s the vocal harmonies that keep this band rolling. Quilt may have their roots in the past, but their elegantly blissful ways could just bend the future to their will.

“Young Gold” opens the record and it only gets better from there …

Quilt – Young Gold – MP3

Check out their Nitetrotter session here. It’s an excellent set. Do your day a favor and listen to “Milo.”

Quilt – Milo – Nitetrotter session – MP3

While you’re at it, buy their debut album here, straight from their label, Mexican Summer. It’s only been out for a few months and in a reasonable and just civilization it would be on the top of the charts. Meanwhile, beware, if you buy the record on Amazon you will find yourself overwhelmed with ads, emails and recommendations for sewing machines and quilt patterns for the rest of your life. You have been warned.

Rock n Roll Suicide: Pete Ham & Tom Evans of Badfinger can’t take it anymore

March 5, 2012

Pete Ham poses with what's left of himself after Badfinger's manager took his cut

Pete Ham and Tom Evans must have thought they hit the jackpot when The Beatles’ Apple Records signed their band in 1968. First, they released an album as The Iveys, but by 1970, they would be christened Badfinger and under that moniker they would go on to be the most successful act on the Apple Records roster. Ironically, the name Badfinger came from the working title “Bad Finger Boogie” which would later become known as The Beatles’ kumbaya classic “With a Little Help from My Friends.” Unfortunately, as Badfinger would painfully discover, in the record business, so often the people who claim to be your friends are really just vermin waiting for the opportunity to take you for everything you’ve got.

Badfinger’s first hit was Paul McCartney’s “Come and Get It.” If there ever was a rock n roll cautionary tale, it is this song. The lyrics now sadly serve as the epitaph for the band’s two creative forces Pete Ham and Tom Evans, both of whom thought killing themselves was the only way to escape the misery caused by the indentured servitude they endured due to a particularly cruel rock n roll contract.

“If you want it, here it is /  Come and get it / Make your mind up fast / If you want it, anytime / I can get it / But you better hurry cause it may not last.” It was almost as if this band made a deal with Devil and the Devil was Paul McCartney, who as the good Beatle, couldn’t help but be completely honest when he laid of his Faustian bargain.

Well, no one can say that Badfinger weren’t warned about the pitfalls of being rock stars. Of course, practically no one walks away when given the opportunity to seize the ring of fame and riches. However, while Pete Ham and Tom Evans certainly got famous, they never got rich.

In a few short years, Apple Records had turned Badfinger into stars. Poised to take advantage of all the world was offering them, the band demoted the manager who had brought them to Apple and hired the seemingly more worldly Stan Polley in 1970. Opportunities abounded for the breaking band and Polley supposedly had the acumen and contacts to broker the kind of mammoth deals that would allow Badfinger to seize the moment and secure its members’ financial future.

Sure enough, in 1970 and 1971 all went as planned. Badfinger was on top of the world. Their albums Straight Up and No Dice were rocking the charts. In addition to “Come and Get It,” they scored with “No Matter What,” “Day After Day,” and “Baby Blue.” The Ham/Evans-penned Badfinger ballad, “Without You,” hit number one for Harry Nilsson. Their members backed George Harrison on All Things Must Pass and did session work on John Lennon’s Imagine. The success must have been intoxicating and the future promised to be more of the same Not only were they poised to be the next Beatles, they had The Beatles’ stamp of approval.

Stan Polley: Stone Cold Weasel

Despite – or more accurately, because of  – the financial machinations orchestrated by their manager, the members of the band were seeing little money from their efforts. The same, of course, could not be said for Stan Polley. He was rolling in the cash. As revealed in Dan Matovina’s book Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger, a financial statement prepared by Polley’s accountants for the period from December 8, 1970 to October, 31 1971, showed Polley’s income from the band: “Salaries and advances to client, $8,339 (Joey Molland), $6,861 (Mike Gibbins), $6,211 (Tom Evans), $5,959 (Pete Ham). Net corporation profit, $24,569. Management commission, $75,744 (Stan Polley).” According to Matovina’s website: “When prompted, he [Stan Polley] had often bragged that anyone under his wing would be so broken emotionally and financially that if they challenged him, they’d never even attempt to sue him. And he wasn’t averse to flashing a gun or joking about taking out someone’s eyeballs.“

After touring relentlessly through 1972, the band needed to deliver an album, but in Apple’s eyes nothing suitable came out of the self-produced sessions. Another producer was brought in and the result was Ass, which many thought was an apt description. Tellingly, the cover features a donkey with a big juicy carrot being dangled out in front of him. Apple had issues with the album, so the band bolted for Warner before it was released.

The exodus must have seemed like it was for the best. At this point, Apple was flailing. The label was a case study in dysfunction, so it would have appeared to be a fine trick when, under Polley’s direction, Badfinger landed a $3 million deal with Warner. Apple soon after went into bankruptcy, tying up much of the band’s publishing royalties for years. But now with their new deal, Badfinger was finally going to get paid.

Stan Polley toasted them as millionaires. An escrow account was set up for their advance and the band got back in the studio. Their new album Badfinger was quickly composed, but poorly reviewed. The intended title, For Love or Money, was jettisoned, apparently being a little too on the nose. Further complicating matters and confusing Badfinger’s audience, Apple unleashed Ass on the world a few weeks before their Warner debut.

It was not the new beginning the band was hoping for, but they would try again. Those sessions resulted in Wish You Were Here, inspiring their best reviews in two years. Badfinger had every reason to believe they were on their way back to the top of the charts.

Instead, it all fell apart. Some $600,000 “disappeared” from the escrow account and as a result Warner pulled its support for Wish You Were Here a few weeks after its release. Naturally, Stan Polley, who had been fingered during Senate-investigation hearings in 1971 as an intermediary between unnamed crime figures and a New York Supreme Court judge, had a pretty good idea where those funds went.

While Stan Polley lived high on the hog, the band members were impoverished, in debt and devastated. And it looked like that was the way it was always going to be. Yet, still, they recorded another album. Warner, however, decided not to release it and in 1975 the label cancelled Badfinger’s contract.

Pete Ham couldn’t take anymore. He was depressed and putting cigarettes out on his arms. The 27 year-old rock star saw no way out. He’d been on the treadmill of fame for six years and he didn’t have a dime to show for it. As bleak as it may have looked, he did have a daughter on the way. Tragically, though, that wasn’t enough to sustain him. On April 23, 1975, he hung himself in the garage of his new Surrey home. His suicide note read, “I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better … P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.”

[It gets worse after the jump.]

Read more…

Austin Psych Fest Preview: Pure X

March 4, 2012

all are pure X, but only one has the power to purify the depths of your soul

When we first met, Pure X has me thinking of hand sanitizer and MDMA, but that was a trick. Neither of these references are appropriate when it comes to their music. Certainly in a broader scope, there is ecstasy here, but nothing quite so chemically sinister as their name might imply. This Austin band doles out more of a slow motion, have you ever really looked at your hands? vibe than the rhythmically infectious psychedelic camel-step that one might expect at a rave. With gently crunching echoes of the X in sexy, their lo-fi wallpaper melting drone would make an excellent soundtrack to a three hour make-out session where you never go beyond kissing and couldn’t be happier about it. Unfortunately, I’ll never be sixteen again. This is music to melt by. It would certainly be a welcome luxury to have several couches scattered about the venue when they play the Psych Fest, as my knees are already weak and all I want to do is sink into a cushion and marinate in this band’s enveloping and expansive glow.

Pure X – Voices – MP3

Pure X – Easy – MP3

Pure X – Dream Over – MP3

Now that you love them, but their album here. Don’t buy it at Amazon. If you do, they’ll sell your name to the DEA. Seriously, they will.

Song of the Day: American Music Club’s “Myopic Books”

March 3, 2012

Mark Eitzel has ventured out of his room on a cold night and all he wants is to find a bookstore. They’ll play Dinosaur Jr and the people who work there will be super unfriendly and that will make him happy … There’s really nothing I could write that can illuminate the compressed beauty of this song. I’ll just say a bookstore like that would make me happy, too.

American Music Club – Myopic Books – MP3
“Myopic Books” is from the album Love Songs for Patriots. Buy it here. Whatever you do, don’t buy it at Amazon. They kill bookstores. In fact, each time another bookstore dies Jeff Bezos drinks a shot of a struggling writer’s blood in celebration. Of course, Bezos thinks he’s doing the writer a favor. After all, he makes it so easy for the writer to get him his blood. It’s way more convenient than the plasma center. He’ll even pay for shipping, although his stipend never quite covers the actual cost and once Amazon takes a commission on the transaction, it’s hard not to wonder if your blood was really worth anything at all.

Song of the Day: Radiohead Serenades Andrew Breitbart

March 1, 2012

“Matt Drudge’s bitch,” as Andrew Breitbart called himself, died last night at 43. Breitbart was a Republican activist who delighted in dirty tricks and character assassination. Because the truth was never on his side, he subverted it in whatever way he could. In Breitbart’s addled mind – and in the world of the modern GOP – up is down, black is white and wrong is always right. His most famous hatchet job was to edit video of  Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod speaking at an NAACP fundraiser to make her look like the racist GOP’s idea of every black bureaucrat. The video appeared to show the crowd applauding as Sherrod bragged about denying white farmers federal assistance. Reality, though, was the exact opposite. The unedited footage showed Sherrod discussing episodes in which she overcame her own flawed instinct to under-serve white landowners. Her speech was about seeing past our preconceived notions, not acting on them. It was a courageous admission to make. Her ultimate goal was to bring the races closer together. Thanks to the gutless Obama administration, the manufactured outrage cost Shirley Sherrod her job. When the full tape came out, she was offered another gig at the USDA, but declined.

Andrew Breitbart at work

We can also thank Breitbart for providing a platform on his website for his protege James O’Keefe, who made the infamous ACORN videos that featured O’Keefe pitifully dressed up as a pimp asking ACORN employees how to avoid prostitution laws. The outrage from the right that followed led to ACORN being defunded by the government. The organization is now defunct. It was a huge win for Brietbart and his band of evil tricksters. Of course, ACORN’s big crime in conservative circles was the sin of registering voters, many poor and/or brown. And there’s nothing that threatens the GOP more than people who aren’t white who exercise their constitutional right to vote.

On the day Ted Kennedy died, like a shit-throwing monkey, Breitbart delighted in tweeting a stream of vile attacks on the not-yet cold Senator.

Here on the day after Andrew Breitbart’s death, one not need make vile remarks. Character assassination is not required. All it takes is a sober look at his body of work to get a measure of the man. While the GOP grieves for one of their master practitioners of deception, somehow the rest of the world will have to find a way to spin without him.

Dead at 43, with four children left behind. What is it they say about karma?

Song of the Day: Daydream Believer

February 29, 2012

Davy Jones died today from a heart attack at the age of 66. People will say that he is best know for singing “Daydream Believer” – which, indeed, is a phenomenal accomplishment.  It’s a piece of pure pop gold and The Monkees were a great band.  But I will always remember him best for stealing Marcia’s heart on the Brady Bunch.

While it’s hard to top the great Davy Jones and the Monkees’ version of John Stewart’s “Daydream Believer,” here are some who have tried:

Paul Westerberg

This track is from another performance and is quite stellar:

Paul Westerberg – Daydream Believer (live) – MP3

The Great Shonen Knife

The Four Tops

The Timers – in Japanese!

Yes, there are others, but editorial mercy required me to leave off Alvin and the Chipmunks, Susan Boyle and the cast of Dawson’s Creek. Sorry.

Austin Psych Fest Preview: Moon Duo

February 28, 2012
where is my mind? moon duo knows

It is quite uncanny how Moon Duo has hit upon the perfect psychedelic frequency. The crunching guitar and propulsive keyboard combine to form an undulating wave that has been seemingly designed to wash away all the chatter in my head and replace it with a renewed sense of possibility and desire. With mind controlling abilities clearly at their disposal, a band with these transformative powers could be dangerous. I can only hope that they are not as nefarious as they sometimes sound for under their spell I could see myself being compelled to abandon any sense of morality I thought I possessed and do their diabolical bidding. It only takes about five minutes with them in my ear and I’m poised to have everything I thought I knew about the world subverted. If you were going to start a cult, these guys would make a great house band.

But would I travel to the moon to see them? Yes, if they told me to. I would have no choice. Good thing for now, I’ll just have to go as far as Austin.

Moon Duo is Ripley Johnson of Wooden Shjips and Sanae Yamada. Here they are playing at KEXP, the best radio station in the world.

Here’s a track off their latest album “Mazes” (Sacred Bones, 2011). Buy it anywhere but at Amazon.

Moon Duo – When You Cut – MP3