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by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

10 Dec 2010


Mendelsohn: We’ve talked previously about separating the myth from the music, but this one is a doozy. The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Are You Experienced? has 40 years of mystique to dig through. Where do we begin? The classic rock radio staples, the psychedelic freak outs, the down and dirty revisionist blues?

Klinger: Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). The introduction to “Purple Haze,” the album’s opening track, employs the tritone, also known as the diabolus in musica. By playing the root note and the flatted fifth, you create an ominous, discordant sound that, believe it or not, was once banned by the church for invoking demons or some such thing. And unlike some of the other famous uses of the tritone (“The Siiiiimmp-sooons!”), Hendrix never resolves the melody by going up to that natural fifth that your brain is expecting. In fact, he keeps the tension moving through the song with his use of the E7#9 chord. It’s one crazy way to kick off a debut album, and it immediately serves as notice that things are going to be different.

What I’m trying to say is that in listening to the album anew for this Counterbalance, I was struck by how tightly constructed it all sounds. Hendrix is all over the place, but it never once sounds like he’s out of control.

by Sean Murphy

9 Dec 2010


December 4, 1993: impossible as it is (at least for me) to believe, it’s been 17 years since Frank Zappa passed away.

Zappa, to me, has always functioned as a corrective sort of converse to the Grateful Dead: he was around so long, was so productive and had (has) such a fanatical following, it’s difficult for the uninvolved observer to make heads or tails of his legacy. Unlike the Grateful Dead, once the dust clears, it becomes obvious that Zappa’s dense catalog of recordings is serious, ceaselessly rewarding, and likely to be dissected several generations from now.

Zappa was never commercially huge for the two most uncomplicated and inexorable reasons: he didn’t particularly want (or, to his credit, need) to be, and more, he couldn’t be. His music was too complex, challenging, and ultimately unclassifiable for mass consumption. Where many (most?) of the more adventurous prog-rock bands of the mid-to-late ‘70s were reviled for taking themselves entirely too seriously (a common sin), they also made music that sucked in almost direct proportion to their augmented self-regard (an unforgivable sin). Bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer wore out their welcome not ultimately because of their insufferable pretension (although naming their double album Works was an invitation for a critical backlash that was well-earned), but because their inspiration could not keep pace with their egos. Or, to put it as plainly as possible, they just started to suck in the mid-to-late ‘70s.

Zappa, on the other hand, appeared with orchestras and wrote compositions with words like “Opus”, “First Movement”, “Allegro”, and “Variations” in them without irony. For one thing, he understood what the terms meant, and he actually employed them. He was not imitating classical music; he was conducting it, albeit a distinctively eccentric, avant-garde variety. His approach was kitchen-sink in the best possible connotation of that term. He was too intelligent, ambitious, and driven to create material that fit comfortably into any simple category. When you are ultimately better than even the sum total of your achievements, it is not possible to fake anything.

by Peta Andersen

8 Dec 2010


Richard “Kinky” Friedman is a modern Renaissance man—he’s an author, comedian, politician, musician, animal rights activist, and cigar salesman. He’s been endorsed by Willie Nelson and is famous for his politically-incorrect song, “They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore”. Now, he’s back touring the West Coast for the first time in almost 20 years, singing, talking, and signing copies of his latest book, Heroes of a Texas Childhood.

In a quiet corner of a New Mexico casino, Friedman tells PopMatters 20 Questions about Mexican mouthwash, Winston Churchill, and Australia.

by Allison Taich

7 Dec 2010


Le Concorde’s fourth studio album House (October 2010, Le Grand Magistery) has set 2010’s mark for contemplative pop, bursting with catchy hooks and California sunshine. House neatly presents love, memories and personal metamorphosis over a bed of keyboards, synthesizer, drum machine, and muffled guitar. The music itself features candy coated synthpop glistening with a topcoat of ‘80s New Wave. 

The slick and vibrant House was composed by the heart and soul of Le Concorde, a.k.a. Stephen Becker. Becker (singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist) crafted House’s earnest pop around migrating from the Midwest to the West Coast. In applying his personal journey, Becker embraced the pliable essence of modern pop music with clean layers of synthetic musings. PopMatters took a moment to get to know Becker with an old-fashioned round of 20 Questions. After listening to Becker’s music it is fitting to hear him gush about intellect, humanism, and urban culture.

by Corey Beasley

6 Dec 2010


When asked to clarify the “meaning” of “Jesus Christ Was an Only Child”, Isaac Brock once said, “It’s not true. He had a brother” .

The guy doesn’t like interviews, sure. Still, it’s a dumb question. Songwriters, more than artists in any other medium, are forced again and again to expound upon the meaning of their works. Does this line of questioning indicate something about our attitudes toward pop music? Do we, even after all this time, not trust pop music to speak for itself? Are we anxious that, ultimately, pop music is devoid of any real insight or grand artistic sentiment, unless its purveyors can somehow point us—outside of the songs, themselves—toward the light?

Whatever. If it’s anyone’s, it’s our job—not the artists’—to write about what it is that songs, or paintings or films or sculptures or buildings, communicate to us. “Jesus Christ Was an Only Child”, for its part, is one of the more opaque tracks on The Lonesome Crowded West (what to make of those lines about “internet cash”?). The emotional tenor comes through, per usual, strong enough: anger, frustration, a nihilistic twinge of humor. Musically, the song indulges Brock and co.’s taste for Americana. Modest Mouse had already broken out the banjo and fiddle for earlier songs like “Mechanical Birds/Make Everyone Happy”, and the band will go on to do it with more frequency, tossing in some New Orleans-style brass, on later tracks like “Satin in a Coffin”, “The Devil’s Workday”. and “King Rat”. Here, Brock abuses an acoustic guitar while guest musician Tyler Reilly lays down a suitably country-fried fiddle accompaniment. These stylings never seem mere affectations—Brock’s already established his blue-collar voice with enough authority to warrant the experimentation, and the thin layer of grit that spreads itself over the recording doesn’t hurt, either.

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