Dub Narcotic Sound System

Sam’s recent post of Shelleyan Orphan had me looking through my vinyl, something I do maybe four times a year these days. I don’t own either of the bands from his post, but I did stumble across an old gem from Dub Narcotic Sound System, formed in 1993 and named after the Dub Narcotic Studio, the studio of Calvin Johnson, founder of K Records. While my personal favorite “Teenage Timebomb” is not available for free download, the funky smoothness of Calvin’s Pacific Northwest, baritone white boy rap on “Handclappin'” is.

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Tender Forever

Melanie, my favorite French street-artist-turned-K-Records-stalwart, has released her second LP Wider. Her live show that I caught several years is one of my favorite live shows of the past ten years. To quote myself in our Junk Drawer: “Holy moly, Melanie was incredible, part musician/poet/child/dancer/manipulator/artist/provacateur/comic/songwriter. And her voice live is so loud, so strong, so filling.” She set up on the floor in front of the stage for maximum audience interaction, which involved her punching me in the stomach, taking and wearing my wife’s coat, and rifling through the pockets of my friend Vince. With her new album, she continues to craft her electronic performance-pop, with sweet melodies and varying tempos, harmonizing with herself about love and life.

Original post 10/12/2005:
As previously mentioned, my personal goal of attending all shows by 3hive bands in my hometown has been quite a failure, coming in right now at about 3 out of who knows…10? 20? 30? That’s gonna improve slightly when Tender Forever comes to town on November 6 with His Royal Highness of Indiedom Calvin Johnson. A musical journey from Bordeaux, France, to Olympia, Washington, can only mean one thing: exquisite Franco-American pop. Melanie Valera and friends, see you soon.

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C.O.C.O. play funky dance music, as does their lumberjack-soulman-boss Calvin Johnson, with an unselfconscious swagger that wears its anti-hipster lameness like a faded black t-shirt, not to mention on instruments that won’t be rendered useless when the power goes out at the house party (although their propensity for dub fadeouts might get lost with the lights out). Olivia Ness and Chris Sutton are a rhythm section in no need of melodies. It’s what all the Olympia kids are dancing to these days, and with any luck these rhythms will sweep the nation and set basement parties afire from coast to coast.

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Mirah and Spectratone International

Observations of insects are typically rendered so clinical that you may as well be studying accounting or, on the flipside, so elementary that you’re dealing with plush caterpillars whose sole purpose is to teach your child how to hug. Share this Place: Stories and Observations is, well, a creature of a different stripe. The multimedia project commissioned in 2006 by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art features music by Mirah (repeat after me: We love Mirah) and her longtime collaborators Lori Goldston and Kyle Hanson, AKA Spectratone International (also with Jane Hall and Kane Mathis), and stop-motion video by Britta Johnson. It sounds like something that could easily become child’s play, and in fact the chamber pieces are indeed playful and alive — Spectratone’s arrangements give a subtle bounce to Mirah’s ever-airy vocals, and Johnson’s stop-motion insects are made from all manner of found objects and wander around rolling dung and other fun things. But it’s also serious literary entomology thanks to its source material: Jean Henri Fabre is considered the father of the study of insects and is most remembered for telling his tiny friends’ tales as first-person narratives. So it is that in “Credo Cigalia” (video below) a cricket addresses us with “you’ve no choice but to listen to my song.” And on the fantastically delicate “Community,” rather than a standard lecture on the group habits of six-legged creatures, you get a lullaby so sweet and smart that you’ll want to sing it to your sons and daughters all the way to MIT.

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Maher Shalal Hash Baz

Maher Shalal Hash Baz primarily consists of Tori Kudo, a Japanese composer/musician who has been making somber dissonance for nearly two decades now. The name comes from the Book of Isaiah and roughly translates from Hebrew as “To speed to the spoil, he hasteneth the prey.” As lesser preached Bible passages go, it ranks up there for me with “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” But I digress… Kudo doesn’t just make messy music—he appears to these ears to be a true inventor of improvisational balladry. “Different Daylight” sounds at first like an early rehearsal in which the instruments are all being played by Kudo at the same time. But at the center of that clash of horns, strings, guitar and other odd noises is the steady, knowing voice of Kudo himself, like a tour guide through a sandstorm. He has said of his own music, “Error in performance dominates MSHB cassette, which is like our imperfect life.” Yes, but if you listen to “What’s Your Business Here, Elijiah?” (sorry, Domino isn’t down with the free MP3 tip) you’ll find that imperfection can sound pretty close to perfect after all.

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Karl Blau

This guy doesn’t mess around. Guitar, flute, sax, drums—you name it, Karl Blau’s played it, whether it’s on his K Records debut, Beneath the Waves, or for Mirah, The Microphones and Laura Veirs. The album title is aptly named because listening to Blau gives you the same serenity effect as lying on the beach listening to the soothing sound of the waves crash against one another. But just as you think you’re listening to a straight-forward pop song comes songs like “Into the Nada,” which is full of Spanish-influenced melodies. Come to think of it, messing around is exactly what Karl Blau does…

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Jason Anderson

Regular readers of 3hive know that, as silly as it sounds, we sometimes have problems figuring out the names of the bands we profile. Case in point: Is it Jason Anderson or Wolf Colonel? Greg says, “Who cares?” (Someone will, I’m sure, as I’m sure we’ll hear about it. For the record, I think it was the former and is now the latter.) He — Greg, that is — suggested Jason Anderson, and I’m okay with that, because the plaintive folk-pop of “O, Jac!” pairs nicely with the Michigan’s snowy forecast. Thanks, G!

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Beat Happening

Two bands in my heavy rotation right now: Beat Happening and Lync. With our late autumn here, until the cold hit this morning, what better songs to celebrate the warmth than those of Beat Happening’s “Indian Summer” (and the excellent cover of this song by Spectrum, aka Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3) and Lync’s lovely album These Are Not Fall Colors, also on K Records many years ago. Plus, Calvin Johnson, indiedom’s Barry White (for the baritone, not the love songs), founder of K Records, member of Beat Happening, the Halo Benders, and Dub Narcotic Sound System, is playing in town tomorrow night with Tender Forever. Sure, some of the offerings below are a crappy 56kbps, but with music this good and already this lo-fi, who cares?

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Landing’s music-as-ripples-in-a-pond swirls in and out of focus around a riffless guitar and the spaciest of keyboard calls. It’s horribly out of vogue in these times of ballsy beats, retro-rock posturing, and other fashionable music movements. But Marshall McLuhan dubbed the persistence of fashion “The Bore War,” and I’m guessing that if he were around today he wouldn’t be bored at all by these sweet ambient sounds.

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While Liz Phair’s spent the new century embedded in VH1’s Culture Vultureplex, Mirah’s been embedded in evergreen indieland (that’s Olympia, Washington) making sweet and musically adventurous paeans to relationships, politics, and many of the other things that make us think about more than our cholesterol. “Jerusalem” is the only new track here, but it’s worth downloading the others to see how easy it is to fall in love with a singer whose mind is as irresistible as her disarmingly delicate voice.

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