About Ron

Rockabilly guitarist, writer, library technician, Ron fills the daylight hours with dreams of reading, well-behaved pets and the perfect dark beer. Reading interests range from humor to mystery, steampunk to travel writing, historical fiction to surrealism.

Northwest Rocks!

The Pacific Northwest is filled with brilliant musicians who create spectacular albums. Some of those albums find their way into the Everett Public Library local music collection. And on Saturday, September 15 at 2:00 pm, I will present a talk on some of those local musicians.

But wait, there’s more!

After the presentation, Everett’s own Oliver Elf Army will play some rock and roll tunes that shock and assault the senses. In a good way. And there will be much rejoicing.

“So,” you might say to the version of me that lives in your head, “what can I expect at this so-called talk?” Wellsir, we will delve into the history of northwest rock, attack the ever-present confusion surrounding genre definitions and witness interesting (and perhaps boring) stories about local musicians. But perhaps most importantly, we will listen to snippets of songs by various northwest artists.

Here is a preview of some of the groups that will be discussed. They appear here more or less chronologically, with a nod to their approximate genres.

Prepare to behold the instrumentals of The Frantics, garage rock from The Sonics and early local punk from The Accident.

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Thrill to the power pop of Seattle’s The Heats, proto-grunge from the U-Men and the dawn of riot grrrl punk from Olympia’s Bikini Kill.

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Bow down to the experimental offerings of Anacortes’s Mount Eerie, to the post-punk brilliance of Seattle’s Blackouts and to the wide open spaces of Nevada Backwards and their dark country musings.

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Need a breather? There is no time for breathers! Behold the majesty of your northwest heritage!

Prepare to be aurally assaulted by the heavy, heavy sound of Montesano’s own Melvins, get down to the dark cabaret of Bellingham’s Pirates R Us and swing, yes swing, to the rockabilly of Seattle’s Hard Money Saints.

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Dance like a dancer to the synth pop of Seattle’s Perfume Genius, foxtrot to the old-timey swing of Bellingham’s Birch Pereira and the Gin Joints and boogaloo to some raucous garage rock with Bellingham’s Clambake.

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What of Everett, you say? Pogo with Sleepover Club, get blue with Ryan LaPlante and go electronic with goawaysun.

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And finally, weighing in at 325 pounds, Everett’s own Oliver Elf Army will present their brand of sinister pop in a live performance.

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 But wait! We got books:

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We got DVDs!

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We even got audio books!

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So come see what’s happening with local music at the Everett Public Library. In the words of The Presidents of the United States of America:

It’s gonna blow… Volcano!

Attack of the Jacksonauts

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Joe Jackson was one of the most profoundly talented musicians to surface in the 1970s. With the release of both Look Sharp! and I’m the Man in 1979, Jackson and his band made a meteoric impact on the new wave scene. 1980’s release, Beat Crazy, found the band travelling in a more eclectic direction with some songs leaning towards reggae and ska, others featuring slow, dissonant music that one would not typically hear on a “rock” album. This captivating LP remains one of my favorites, one of the more unusual entries in my collection.

After recording Beat Crazy the band broke up and Jackson put out Jumpin’ Jive, an album of Cab Calloway covers! Because, of course, this is a natural career move after releasing two power pop/new wave albums and… No, I can’t finish the sentence. This was a really strange thing to do. As a fanboy (a Jacksonaut?), I was perplexed and none too pleased by this choice (until later in life when swing became one of my favorite genres). Jumpin’ Jive was followed by a pianocentric pop album, Night and Day. I enjoyed the album, but it was lacking in the edge that was so wonderful in Look Sharp!.

As is so often the case, my interest in Jackson’s music waned as time went on and I remained focused on his first few records. I still bought the new albums as they came out, but never seemed to listen to them quite as much as the early ones. But those first five records became an indelible part of my lifescape.

Is She Really Going Out With Him? from Look Sharp! is one of the songs that best represents my high school and college years. It is an obelisk commemorating the deluge of quirky music that opened my eyes to art’s possibilities. Or something like that. And there was the added bonus of having a friend named Jeanne who really hated to hear its lyrics:

 Look over there! (Where?)
Here comes Jeanne with her new boyfriend
They say that looks don’t count for much
If so, there goes your proof

I can’t overstate how different, daring, edgy this music seemed in 1979. It was truly an exciting time to come of age, as it were.

Let us consider another great tune from 1979, this one found on the album I’m the Man. The song? It’s Different for Girls.

No, not love she said
Don’t you know that it’s different for girls?
You’re all the same

With slow and introspective music, the lyrics are a conversation about the differences between men and women, about a particular man’s difficulty in understanding women. The simple ringing guitar lead is invasive, a true earworm that immediately evokes this lovely song. You can hear this one on Joe Jackson’s Greatest Hits album.

Jackson also released other albums, but I don’t care about them.

But I joke.

Later in life Jackson wrote a symphony, reunited the band, and released many more albums. Some might call him a renaissance man, I call him Mr. Jackson. His music is well worth checking out, so make it so!

Finally, I leave you with philosophical and educational lyrics from Evil Eye, off of Beat Crazy. Enjoy.

I stack a pig’s head on the shelf
The boss comes along and says move yourself
I can’t move I’m hypnotized
Staring into a dead pig’s eyes

More the Best of 2018 (So Far)!

Like a crisp newly-minted road map, the music of 2018 unfolds before our eyes leaving a wake of paper cuts and indecipherable allusions. Welcome to: More the best of 2018 (so far)!

The first thing one might notice about Screaming Females is that only one-third of the band is female. Were I to describe them in one word, that word would be HEAVY. Distorted guitars, hard rock riffs, vocals that bring to mind Ann Wilson. Screaming Females does not enter the realm of sludge nor are they simply hard rock, but there is a certain weight that permeates the music of their 2018 release All at Once.

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From the Bunyanesque opening chords of Glass House to the spine-blowing mammothness of Agnes Martin (a song about an American abstract painter) to the angular punkosity of Fantasy Lens, you could say that SF deliver the musical goods in a hefty bag filled with delight. But don’t get the idea that these two mute fellas and one screaming gal have only a single note in their bag of picks (see what I did there?); their music moves effortlessly in and out of a variety of feels and genres. In the words of Thomas Alva Edison, it’s good when a band is hard to pigeonhole.

If you like a hefty sound filled with hoo-ha and hullabaloo, you could certainly do worse than All at Once. This seventh album by an unknown-to-me band, fronted by a singer/guitarist I’ve never heard of who has been named the 77th greatest guitarist of all-time by Spin magazine, is definitely a standout in 2018. So far. As always, check it out.

In an unintentional gender-solidarity pick, Goat Girl (Goat Girl, Screaming Females; get it?) delivers another more-the-best-of-2018-(so-far)! album with their self-titled debut.

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The music is genre-defying: cavernous reverb, country-tinged riffs, jazz noir vocals… These elements combine to create a dark goth-like palette filled with down-home fiddle licks and a free ticket to the rodeo of the undead.

It’s hard to describe music that’s like nothing one’s ever heard. Take the song Cracker Drool. The opening features a simple, typical country bass line. Drums with an equally simple country backbeat, sparse faux pedal steel guitar and good-ol’-girl vocals complete this simple song. But wait! Simplicity is quickly engulfed by a driving, dissonant section that just as quickly disappears. This pattern more or less repeats and we think we’ve got the song figured out. Mais non! Suddenly the tempo and feel change dramatically, although the riffs stay fairly constant, and after a bit of this the song ends. Not at all typical.

And Cracker Drool is unlike any other song on the album. Variety is king. Sounds ranging from riot grrrl to swamp blues to indie rock with a country fiddle permeate this brilliant debut. So get out the excessive eyeliner, saddle up and discover aural worlds never dreamed of with Goat Girl. As always, seat belts are recommended.

2018 has already brought us a mix of pleasant, even brilliant albums. Stay tuned to the future for more excursions into the best of 2018 (so far)! Time machines are optional.

Some Types of Punk Music!

I have become fascinated with the definition of punk rock. There’s little doubt that the term was first applied to bands of the same ilk as the Sex Pistols, but as time passed punk became a blanket term for a variety of styles.

You’ve got your hardcore, your horror punk, Oi!, grindcore and pop punk just to name a few. And you can’t identify your genre without a scorecard. So, in the interest of Properly-Defined Genre Understanding (PDGU) I give you: SOME TYPES OF PUNK MUSIC!

Punk: ClassicPunk® bands, also known simply as punk bands, play ramped up rock and roll. Not so different from 50s rock, add distortion and politics, shake well, go heavy on the melody and voila!
Group punkHardcore: A response to what was seen as the selling-out of punk. Fast, loud, aggressive and hard-hitting. Rhythm is more important than melody and vocals are typically shouted. The standard verse-chorus song structure, a staple of punk, is not used.
Group hardcoreHorror punk: A highly visual subgenre steeped in horror and sci-fi movie imagery. Elements of goth and punk mix with doo-wop and rockabilly, creating a unique sound.

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Pop punk: Punk was never commercially successful. Until someone thought to add pleasant melodies to fast and furious music. Hey, that kinda sounds like ClassicPunk®, don’t it?

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But wait, there’s more! Crust, thrashcore, anarcho-punk, D-beat, stenchcore, powerviolence… It kind of makes a person want to create their own subgenres: sniffletrot, bonesaw-crunch, free retch… Ah, I see a hobby in my future.

But I digress.

My point today, if I do indeed have a point, is that the term punk has shifted in meaning over the years. The original punk bands, i.e. ClassicPunk® bands, are not significantly removed from the mainstream of rock music. Hardcore bands, on the other hand, are an entirely different beast. The aggression, the shouting, the breakneck speeds all combine to form a new type of musical expression. And in my mind, if not in the minds of others, punk has come to mean hardcore punk.

So while I struggled for many years with the label punk being applied to bands like the Buzzcocks, I now realize that their 3 minute songs of teenage angst, love and fast cars are all magnificent pop gems that we simply decided to call punk. And while there may have been but a single flavor of punk for a short time, now there are many. To be entirely clear one must cite which type of punk music one is speaking of.

So be the coolest kid on your block and check out some horror punk or crust or bloodspattergorefest (I made that one up!) from your nearest public library. Remember: Leather jackets are optional but open minds are mandatory!

The Name Of This Band Is…

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Talking Heads ’77, the initial offering by this New-York-via-Rhode-Island band of post-punk art rockers, came out more than 40 years ago. And it still sounds as fresh as the morning dew on the backside of a newly-hatched tadpole. Needless to say, the album quickly joined the soundtrack of my teenage life, with Psycho Killer paving the way for a musical awakening.

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By the time I started college in 1980, Talking Heads had released four albums in four years and I had begun to immerse myself in their vision of funk. As a white suburban kid from the homogenous WonderBread suburbs, funk did not often cross my path, but songs like I Zimbra and Born Under Punches (from Fear of Music and Remain in Light respectively) helped this white boy learn to play that funky music until I die.

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After the release of Remain in Light the band took a break from recording, focusing on touring and pursuing side projects. Finally, 1983 brought the release of Speaking in Tongues, the hit single Burning Down the House and the group’s greatest commercial success. By this time I was itching to see my favorite funksters live, and conveniently the band embarked on its Stop Making Sense tour, visiting the Seattle Center Arena on December 2nd. By turns enthralling, intriguing and energizing, this concert stunned my tiny mind. David Byrne is a master performer, not just singing pleasantly but also providing creative visual flourishes (such as running in place in his giant white suit) as part of the total experience.

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Now, I have to be honest here. Somewhere around the release of Little Creatures in 1985 I started losing interest in the band. This had more to do with my complete disdain for anything commercially successful than it did with the quality of their music. Little Creatures includes fabulous songs such as Television Man and Road to Nowhere. True Stories (labeled simply as Talking Heads on the cover) is music from the movie of the same name, a film which I thoroughly enjoyed. And Naked, an album which I’ve not heard enough to even recollect, received critical praise upon its release in 1988.

These later albums are definitely worth revisiting, but Talking Heads ’77 is the disc that continues to astound me. Back in the days of vinyl it was fairly common to have a favorite side of a platter (as we called them) and side 2 of ’77 is one of the greatest there is. The Book I Read, Don’t Worry About the Government, First Week/Last Week… Carefree, Psycho Killer and Pulled Up. Each song is musically unique yet cohesive with the others, different moods all fit within a larger happy feel (well, perhaps Psycho Killer is not so happy) and a good listen is had by all. Music can tie into our senses and memories in ways that are quite complex, and this album is forever part of my ascent into adulthood (which, coincidentally, I am still experiencing).

The band has now been disbanded for 30 years but their music is still vital and invigorating. We got a passel of Talking Heads albums here at Everett Public Library, so come on down and check them out. And never forget those immortal words of David Byrne:

“Psycho killer, qu’est-ce que c’est, fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa…”

The Best of 2018 (So Far)

With the ending of each year come the inevitable “Best Of” lists. It’s a very tiring time for writers and reviewers. And readers. So, to make life easier, I’m presenting the best music of 2018 (so far). Perhaps if we find something sufficiently exciting we won’t need to do this again in December.

Like a comfortable shirt covered with paint and food stains, They Might Be Giants have nourished my soul for more than 30 years. These prolific songwriters create a vast arsenal of music, so much that some of it’s bound to be good, or even great. But beyond the mere volume of their material, TMBG are a talented duo, crafting quirky and engaging pop tunes by the dozens. I’ve enjoyed but not been blown away by their recent albums, until now.

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I Like Fun, an album whose name is rather difficult to ascertain from the album cover, is not necessarily typical TMBG fare, but it is a great pop rock album. Each and every song, from the somewhat Beatlesque machinations of I Left My Body to the hints of Queen mated with Esquivel in Mrs. Bluebeard to the outright weirdness of the title track, this is one catchy, foot-tapping cornucopia of fabulous music. I give it an 8.4 on the Richter scale.

But wait, there’s more.

No Age is a noise rock duo that has been around for some time now, although they are new to me. Their fifth and latest release, Snares Like a Haircut, has the best title I’ve heard in quite some time, but it’s also filled to the brim with good ol’ sloppy garage punk and roll. If Husker Du and The Replacements had hooked up after an art gallery opening, No Age would have been the resulting spawn.

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The band’s sound is steeped in distortion, but more along the lines of muddy guitar chords than heavy metal guitar riffs. Styles range from the fuzzy dream pop of Send Me to the Ramones-like Popper to the aggressive yet catchy Soft Collar Fad. Kind of sloppy, kind of lo-fi, but the music is still melodic and catchy. An unusual and enjoyable find, I give it a 7.2 on the Richter scale.

To be sure, there will be more great albums released in 2018, but come the end of the year They Might Be Giants and No Age will definitely sit near the top of my best-of-the-year list. So get your Christmas shopping done early (Note: If you want to check these items out and give them as temporary loans for Christmas, please wait until December) and stay tuned for more spectacular music from 2018.

Music and Pictures

Lately I’ve discovered some new-to-me cable TV shows that have amazing soundtracks filled with songs I’ve never heard, and I’ve heard a lot of songs. This has caused me to ponder the purpose of soundtracks, the effects that movies and TV have on songs that already exist. At the minimum, soundtracks can expose one to music that one would not otherwise encounter. And this can be exciting.

One trend I’ve noticed in recent-ish television programs is that the soundtracks are made up of songs that are not particularly well-known. Somebody out there is spending a lot of time finding quirky hidden gems of music. But the brilliance doesn’t stop there. The songs are used skillfully to create moments that the visuals or text or music could not create alone. This leads seamlessly to my philosophy of soundtracks.

Songs enhance movies, movies enhance songs.

It’s a simple philosophy but one that I think about frequently. I’ll use Tin Cup, one of my favorite movies, as an example. Its soundtrack is made up of music that I would not typically listen to or enjoy. Yet, because of the songs’ associations with the beloved movie, I enjoy them. The songs make me picture scenes from the movie, remember funny lines. The two art forms are more powerful together than each is alone.

US of Tara

United States of Tara examines how a family copes with the mother’s dissociative identity disorder (known as multiple personalities for many years). The show is part funny, part traumatic and all excellent. The closing credits are always accompanied by a different weird-ish song that somehow relates to the episode. Thanks to Al Gore’s interwebs, it’s possible to quickly find out song titles and performer names. For a musically curious guy like me, this creates a Christmas-like situation where I can discover enjoyable music that’s new to me.

Here are a few of the artists used in United States of Tara:

Billie Holiday is one of the all-time greatest purveyors of vocal jazz and blues. Not a new listening experience for me, but a noteworthy one.

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Bon Iver is an indie folk group that has enjoyed critical acclaim and success. Acoustic-ish, using some unusual instrumentation, often quiet, worth a listen.

Chairlift delivers sparse and delicate synthpop with amazing vocals.

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Hanni El Khatib is my favorite find from the United States of Tara soundtrack. His style is all over the place, but his music is always energetic and engaging. Acoustic guitar in a rock format, well worth the price of admission.

Weeds

Another show that has led me to fabulous music through its soundtrack is Weeds. A recently widowed suburban mom tries to make ends meet by selling marijuana. She quickly learns the depths of her naiveté and attempts to turn her business into a steady income, all while raising two teenage boys who bring their own problems into the mix.

Here are a few of the artists used in Weeds:

Malvina Reynolds was an American folk singer and political activist. Her song Little Boxes, an examination of the conformity that swallows suburbia, was used as the theme song for Weeds.

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Sufjan Stevens writes in a variety of styles, focusing on lo-fi, sparse indie folk. His music runs the gamut from the overly-precious to the sublime.

Abigail Washburn is an old timey banjo player who delivers haunting ballads as well as upbeat knee slappers.

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Flogging Molly performs a brilliant brand of Celtic pop rock. If you like Irish folk music, check out this group.

So it’s two for the price of one, brilliant television series as well as fun musical discoveries. All courtesy of the library! Take a chance on something new, dare to be pleasantly surprised.