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by Evan Sawdey

14 Dec 2010


Tom Zé is one of the most underappreciated geniuses in all of pop music history. He is considered by many to be one of the founding fathers of the Tropicalia movement, which helped redefine how the world felt about Brazilian music culture from the 1960s onward.  Although people like Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes all came from the same collective mindset, it wasn’t until the mid-‘80s when Zé broke through, having caught the eye of David Byrne, getting signed to his Luaka Bop record label, and soon experiencing a remarkable career renaissance . . .

Back in October of this year, Zé became recipient of some unique reissues, ranging from a fantastic multi-LP vinyl box set called Explaining Things So I Can Confuse You, along with a single-disc greatest hits retrospective CD called Estudando a Bossa. To help commemorate these releases, Zé sat down to do a brief 20 Questions feature with us here at PopMatters, revealing how he wished he discovered the diatonic scale, why he looks so good in a fig leaf, and how psychoanalysis is his stress management . . .

by Corey Beasley

13 Dec 2010


Here it comes, to borrow a phrase. “Doin’ the Cockroach” marks the beginning of a trilogy of sorts on The Lonesome Crowded West. That three-part progression, moving through to “Cowboy Dan” and “Trailer Trash”, remains perhaps the most thrilling movement in Modest Mouse’s extensive career. All three tracks remain fan favorites and live staples—and for good reason. They represent Modest Mouse at its creative peak, or at least the peak of this era in its songwriting. While later releases would move into longer song structures and psychedelic experimentalism (The Moon & Antarctica) and hook-heavy, Americana-laced eclecticism (Good News for People Who Love Bad News), the band who wrote “Doin’ the Cockroach” was still that now increasingly rare beast: an honest-to-God guitar unit of the utmost focused intensity. Isaac Brock and company wanted to play loud, wanted to get you moving, and wanted to communicate full-throated and entirely potent emotive experiences in the process.

“I was in heaven / I was in hell / Believe in neither, but / Fear ‘em, as well”, sings Brock to start, barking those last few words in a way that almost sounds like a command. His guitar screams there, too, four quick power chords matching his staccato rhythm as his instrumental melody welds itself precisely to that of his vocals. As the verse continues, Brock paints a lightly surrealistic scene of long-distance travel, his pet theme on the album. He takes inventory of his fellow riders, alternately moving together on a subway, a Greyhound bus, an Amtrak train, each person more unbearable than the last. “PLEASE SHUT UP” becomes his refrain, yelled hoarsely over those brittle chords. The stop-start, soft-loud dynamics, combined with the unhinged imagery of the lyrics, create a queasy and unsettled atmosphere, as if we were riding with Brock on the trip through uneven, hostile terrain. The last traveler he describes sets up the song’s titular image: “This one’s a crazer / Day-dreaming disaster / The origin of junkfood / Rutting through garbage / Tasty but worthless / Dogs eat their own shit / We’re doin’ the cockroach—yeah!”

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.

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