Archive for the ‘Oysterhead’ Category

nov3SOUNDTRACK: OYSTERHEAD-The Grand Pecking Order (2001).

oysterheadThis is a really fun album.  Despite the three big personalities here–Trey Anastasio, Steward Copeland, Les Claypool, they work so well together.  Some songs feel like Phish songs (Trey has a song or two that is just him), some feel like Les songs (ditto for Claypool), but you never feel like they are trying to outdo each other.  And of course Stewart Copeland plays his great drums all the way through.

Les and Trey share vocals on “Little Face” which features Phish sound effects and some great Les wild bass.  “Oz is Ever Floating” has jam feel–lots of soloing.  Unlike some of Les’ projects though, on many of the songs, like this one, his bass fits right in.  And the vocal harmonies from all three sound great in the chorus.

“Mr. Oysterhead” is a fun song with Les’ wild bass sounds.  This one feels kind of Primus like but with very different guitar sounds coming along.  This even has a big ol’ bass solo.  “Shadow of a Man is very Primus sounding–it was written entirely by Claypool and is primarily bass with some smattering of (wicked) guitars).  While “Radon Balloon” is a pretty acoustic number from Trey.  He sings gently (and if Les’ bass is there, it’s very subtle).

“Army’s on Ecstasy” has Les’ more cartoony voices, but some interesting jazz guitars and drums.  “Rubberneck Lions” is a fantastic song, one of the most Phish like songs on the disc (even if Les sings the first verse–it’s the chorus that screams Phish).  It’s got a rocking ending with great drums.  “Polka Dot Rose” has some fun group vocals at the end of the song.

“Birthday Boys” is another very Phish seeming song–very Trey influenced–some great guitar picking and subtle work from the other two guys.  It has a great chorus.  “Wield the Spade” seems like a goofy song that might be short (Trey repeating a few words as the song opens), but it proves to be one of the longer songs on the disc.  I gather it is about Ceausescu, and has Stewart Copeland doing all the lead vocal talking/shouting).

“Pseudo Suicide” has a big wild Primusy bass riff.  There’s a great jamming section in the middle, when Trey takes over vocals.  “Grand Pecking Order” is kind of a goofy Primus stomp while “Owner of the World” is a kind of catchy sing along to end this disc.

 There’s some really good songs on this disc and it works for fans of Phish and Primus.

[READ: January 20, 2014] “Picnic in the Yard”

This week’s issue of the New Yorker was its semi-annual food issue.  As such there were four food-related essays by writers who I’ve written about before.  The section was called “Rations.”

The final was by Jaime Joyce (there’s a name with literary aspirations, eh?).  The three essays so far have talked about food in medical school, the army and college. This one is about food in prison. (more…)

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nov3SOUNDTRACK: TREY ANASTASIO-Tiny Desk Concert #414 (January 5, 2015).

treyI’m introducing this delightful little Tiny Desk Concert here because Trey Anastasio joined up with Les Claypool and Stewart Copeland for the band Oysterhead, coming up next.

Anastasio is the lead singer and guitarist of Phish (and several side projects).  Because I tend to hear him amid the noise and jamming of Phish, it’s easy to forget that Trey has a very nice, delicate voice.  It’s also easy to forget amid all of his jamming guitar solos that he plays a lovely acoustic guitar as well.

He plays 3 songs in 12 minutes and is as affable as ever.

“Sleep Again” is a really pretty song.  In introducing the second song he says that he and his wife lived in a farmhouse in Vermont and listened to NPR all the time–the radio was tuned to Vermont Public Radio 24 hours a day.  And he says that NPR entertained his family for so many years that it’s an honor to do something for them.  This song, “Summer of ’89”  is a tribute to his 20th anniversary of being married to his wife Sue.  It’s quite lovely and moving.

He ends with a sweet version of “Backwards Down the Number Line,” one of my favorite new Phish songs.  I don’t think I ever quite realized what the lyrics were before.  I prefer the album version (mostly because of the gorgeous backing vocals) but this is a really nice version.

As they say in the write up, it’s interesting to hear him in this very quiet setting rather than in big arenas or in collaboration.

Check it out here.

[READ: January 20, 2014] “Immovable Feast”

This week’s issue of the New Yorker was its semi-annual food issue.  As such there were four food-related essays by writers who I’ve written about before.  The section was called “Rations.”

The third was by Chang-Rae Lee.

Lee talks about eating in the dorms at Phillips Exeter and how the food was universally disgusting.  [When I was in school there were rumors that the meals were consistently labelled Grade D But Edible (this from our food provider: ARA (which we named American Retards of America–such is the cleverness of college)).  Of course, now that I work at Princeton, I can report that the food here is outstanding.]

He offers one of my favorite quotes about dining ever: “You could fix yourself a basic salad or a bowl of cornflakes, but I always wanted hot food for dinner, and still do.  A cold supper for me is like being dipped in a melancholy sauce.” (more…)

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primus bookSOUNDTRACK: PRIMUS-Suck on This (1990).

primus suckThis was the disc that introduced me to Primus–it was on a beach vacation with my friends Al, Joe and Rad.  Al made this the soundtrack of the drive and, man, it was weird and crazy and super cool and by the end of that trip I was hooked.

Actually I was immediately hooked when the band opened this live disc with a rough version of Rush’s “YYZ” which then launched into “John the Fisherman.”  What do you make of this band and this weird song?  Stomping bass which is doing all of the lead stuff, with guitars that are just noises and craziness but which really work with what the bass is doing (once you listen a few times, anyway).  The drums are mammoth and very prog rock.  And then there’s Les’ voice–cartoony and unconventional–sometimes deep, sometime really silly, sounds that work perfectly with the storytelling lyrics.

The quality of this recording is pretty poor, although I find that it sounds a bit better on smaller, less “good” stereos, where Ler’s guitars don’t get lost so much in the bass.  Most of these songs have been re-recorded for later albums, so perhaps the newer versions sound cleaner to me.  [Groundhog’s Day, Frizzle Fry, John the Fisherman, Pudding Time and Harold of the Rocks on Frizzle Fry and Tommy the Cat on Sailing the Seas of Cheese].

The best songs on this disc have really catchy parts: “John the Fisherman” (most of it) or the insane fast bass and wild soloing section of “Groundhog’s Day.”  Sometimes it’s just when the noise stops and Les gets a line, like “It’s Just a Matter of Opinion” (in “The Heckler”).  Although the noise there is really catchy too–listen to what Ler is playing during the funky bass section–it’s wild and amazing.

Of course “Tommy the Cat” is a major standout from all three guys.

The only song that doesn’t really work for me is “Pressman” which seems a bit too long without a lot of resolution (although the end is pretty cool).  I often get “Jellikit” (the other song that didn’t make it to a studio album) in my head, whenever I think, Did you like it?  There’s even a drum solo from Herb the Ginseng Drummer in that song

What’s fun is that the audience is totally into it and they know most of the songs–anticipating lyrics and even singing along.  And this is where “We’re Primus and we suck.” comes from.  It was a shocking debut when it came out, and it’s still pretty unusual, although not as unusual as some of their later songs would be.

[READ: January 3, 2015] Primus

As I said above, I’ve been a fan of Primus since near the beginning of their existence.  And yet, for all of my enjoyment of them, I didn’t really know all that much about their origins.  I didn’t know that the original line up was Todd Huth and Jay Lane (guitars and drums), and that the three of them wrote the songs that appear on Suck on This and much of Frizzle Fry.  Ler had to learn these unusual parts (Ler took lessons with Joe Satriani and is much more accomplished than his lack of flashiness indicates) and did so wonderfully. I also didn’t know that Les and Kirk Hammet were in the same class in high school (and that he’s the reason Les picked up a bass in the first place, even though they never formally played together).

The book is constructed as a series of quotes from a vast assortment of people.  The “cast” is two pages long and includes current and former members of the band and management as well as fans like Trey Anastasio, Matthew Bellamy (from Muse), Geddy Lee, Chuck D, Eugene Hutz, Tom Morello, Buzz Osborne, Matt Stone, Mike Watt, Hank Williams III, guys from 24-7 Spyz, Fishbone, Limbomaniacs and even Linda Perry (!).

It opens with Les talking about his high school years.  And what’s amazing is how many people who were involved in Primus are friends from when he was a kid.  If they didn’t play together, they were involved with art or management or something.  We also get the origin story of Bob Cock, which answers many questions.

Les had formed Primate (legal dispute with the band The Primates made them become Primus) with Todd and Jay.  They toured a lot and were gaining a following, but Les was always looking for something more.  He even auditioned for Metallica after Cliff Burton died (Kirk thought it sounded great but I guess James didn’t). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LES CLAYPOOL-5 Gallons of Diesel (DVD) (2005).

I’ve loved Primus for years.  And if you love Primus, chances are you love Les Claypool.  And Les Claypool has created and released music with all manner of bands since Primus broke up (they have since gotten back together and have planned a new release for July).  I don’t love all of his solo releases, but they all have something to commend them, and he’s made some great, unheralded music during those years.

This DVD covers the years from Sausage through to 2005.  At first I was pretty excited by the DVD.  The set opens with the off the wall video for Sausage’s “Riddles Are Abound Tonight” which is followed by a mercifully short “making of” video.

Then things started to go downhill somewhat.  The rest of the DVD is live, which is fine (Les live is a thing of beauty). It’s just that for many of the videos the quality is terrible.  The audio is also not ideal all the way through (that may have been my setup, but there were certainly songs that were much quieter than others).  Now I accept that there weren’t professional film crews out for Les Claypool’s Holy Mackerel tour, and that these videos are basically bootleg, but it  seems like they may have spruced them up a bit for the DVD.

Things change with the switch to Oysterhead.  I could have watched several songs from Oysterhead and I wonder why they chose only one.  This is a professional quality mix (although it is a little dark) and I have to say that the whole song is stolen by Trey Anastasio’s guitar thing.  It’s a guitar (called the MatterHorn) but during the verses of the song it appears to be a kind of theremin on the reverse side (with a full-sized antler sticking out of the bottom) .  He holds the thing upside down and waves at it to generate noise.  It was bewitching.

But Trey wasn’t the only one with a weird instrument. For the Frog Brigade set(s) on one of the songs, Les plays a “bass” which is just one string (called the Whamola). He hits it with a stick and changes the notes with a movable handle that he raises and lowers.  I’ve never seen anything like that, either.  Most of the Frog Brigade set is outside at a festival.  The lighting is good but the sound is awful.  In one song, the poor guy on percussion is banging away at various things and you simply cannot hear them.  Les also uses a secondary microphone (the Sandman–which has a great story behind it) but its volume is also quite low, which is a shame as you can’t hear him for quite a bit.

When Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains the setting is an odd one (they appear to be on a cruise(?)).  It’s basically two lengthy jams, which is fine.  Buckethead amazes with his skills.  But the Bernie on keyboards, I can’t tell if he was screwing up or messing around during his solos.

There’s two more songs attributed to just Les Claypool, and this version of “Riddles Are Abound Tonight” is especially neat because there is a sitar playing the majority of the riff.

The DVD extras are fun.  There’s a weird set from a band called 3 Guys Name Schmo which is 2 bassists and a drummer.  The other bassist is miked very loud and it’s hard to hear Les (imagine outbassing Les Claypool!).  Then there’s the second official video on the disc for “Buzzards of Green Hill” (very low budget).  This comes with a making of the video video and a making of the audio video.  Both are interesting and brief, giving tidbits of info without overwhelming us.

The final two items come from an actual TV show called Fly Fishing the World.  I don’t fish, so I never knew this show existed.  But sure enough, there’s our Les going to two separate locations and fishing on.  The best part is that they play lots of Primus music between fishing (probably the most Primus music ever played on non-music TV), and they interview him as well (I didn’t know he had such cute kids). Despite my not knowing the show or caring about fishing, I found the whole program enjoyable and fascinating (and they catch and release as well).  It’s well worth the time.

So overall, this is a mixed bag.  There’s not a lot of video of Les’ non-Primus music out there, so in that respect this is great.  I just wish the quality was better.

[READ: March 25, 2011] “Life in Three Houses”

This is an excerpt from Suicide.  The introduction states that days after delivering the manuscript of Suicide, Levé killed himself.  I suspect that that is the main reason that this story was published here.

It opens promisingly and very interestingly in the second person.  The story tells us that you set off to play tennis with your wife, but you backtrack and go into the basement where you shoot yourself.  Your wife finds you moments later but misses the clue you set out for her (that was handled very well).

The rest of the story (and there’s quite a lot) gets confusing.  First off because it stays in the second person (even after death) but it also goes into apparent flashbacks.  Even more confusing is the addition of an I as the narrator.  An I who knows “you” but who was not present for the suicide so how could he have all these details?

The book is being published by Dalkey Archive Press.  It’s possible that the excerpts do an injustice to the full book, but I fear that I will not be reading any more by this author.

It was translated by Jan Steyn.

For ease of searching I include: Leve

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pumphouseSOUNDTRACK: RA RA RIOT-The Rhumb Line (2008).

raraI have a hard time describing this album.  It has a lot of ingredients that don’t make sense individually, yet which work very well. I would almost resort to calling them pretentious rock, but that seems so derogatory.  Vampire Weekend falls into this category of highly literate pop too, and we know how much  I love that album!

Ra Ra Riot play catchy indie pop, but their main instruments are cello and violin. And yet they’re not anything like Rasputina’s string-laden goth music.  Rather, they write catchy poppy songs that are punctuated with strings.  I even wanted to say they don’t have a  guitarist, (they do) but I guess that just shows how well his licks meld with the rest of the music. And, indeed, on some tracks, the guitar is up front and wonderful.

They also get labelled pretentious because one of their songs (and one of their catchiest) has lyrics from e.e.cummings, or rather, they use his poem “dying is fine)but Death” as the lyrics for the song “Dying is Fine.”  They also cover Kate Bush.  Now the Futureheads covered Kate Bush a few years ago, so perhaps Kate is the next go-to artist for covers.

Ra Ra Riot wins extra points for covering a fairly unknown, and utterly bizarre song, “Suspeneded in Gaffa.”  This happens to be one of my favorite Kate songs, so I’m a bit critical.  However, they do a very good job of making it a pop song (There’s enough weird stuff in Kate’s version to never give it mainstream acceptance).  And the strings work very well for it.

Ra Ra Riot was also featured on that paragon of good taste: the show Chuck [And since I have mentioned the  music of Chuck on many occasions, I would be remiss if I didn’t send a shout-out to this site which lists all of the songs in Season One–gotta update Season Two fellas].  Chuck played “Can’t You Tell” in a romantic scene, and it worked quite well.

So, after all that, what can I say about the band.  They may be too commercial for some, but I think their combination of strings, intelligent lyrics and good vocals is pretty great.  Incidentally, in case you were wondering, a rhumb line  (or loxodrome) is a line crossing all meridians at the same angle, i.e. a path of constant bearing. Following a rhumb line requires turning the vehicle more and more sharply while approaching the poles (thanks Wikipedia).

[READ: May 26, 2009] South of the Pumphouse

So this book is by Les Claypool, lead singer and bassist of Primus.

Claypool’s lyrics are typically stories, full of weird characters in weird situations.  Oh, and fishing.  Lots of fishing.  And that sums up this book pretty well.

The book is set in El Sobrante, California, a redneck haven that has not progressed along with the rest of the state.  Earl is a fisherman and meth addict.  In that order.  Fishing is Earl’s life.  His father fished every weekend, and Earl and his brother Ed went with him.  Rain or shine. (more…)

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