Tuesday, June 28, 2011

90's Hit Parade #52

April March - Chick Habit

The standard "fun fact" about April March is that, prior to her recording career, she was an animator for Ren and Stimpy, which makes a lot of sense since her songs all sound like they're being sung by cartoon characters. Judy Jetson maybe. This one, in particular, conjures a Kricfalusi-drawn girl group.

Kauai Travel Guide

Aaah. Just returned from a relaxing vacation in Hawaii, on the island of Kauai. Kauai is one of the smaller and more remote islands in Hawaii, and apparently not very crowded in June. We also stayed on the less-populous East side (most of the tourist resorts seem to be on the North). So I'm going to share some pics, and tell you a little about visiting there.

Kauai is just insanely beautiful. I don't know for sure if it's any more beautiful than the rest of the islands, as it's the only one I've been to, but seriously, everywhere you look you see beaches, mountains, flowers and chickens. Yeah, chickens. It seems a hurricane hit this island in 1991, and released a lot of chickens from their cages. They went wild, and they are literally everywhere. The roosters (which seem to be more common than hens) crow all goddamn day. It's a fascinating look at how species spread in the wild: 20 years later, even way up on the remote mountains there are chickens running around. I tried to ask the chickens in the picture below why they were crossing the road, but I got no response.

Another thing you should know about Hawaii is that it's very far south. Like, almost on the Equator. I did not know this. I figured it was straight west of California, the same way that if you start sailing east from Ft. Lauderdale you end up in the Bahamas. It's not. So what I'm saying is, you need to use some serious sunscreen down there. The sun will laugh at your puny SPF 30. You need, like SPF 786 or something. Now, I was raised in South Florida, so I know the rules of the sun (it's dangerous from 9 am to 3 pm. It's even worse between 10 and 2, and from 11 to 1, shit, you might as well stick your dick in a light socket), and I was careful enough not to get painfully burned, but I did end up with a very itchy rash in all my sun-exposed areas.

Oh yeah: and it's expensive. Your average meal in Kauai (and I assume the rest of the islands) is going to cost about the same as a high-end steakhouse in L.A. And there was never a point where I was eating something and just thought "Goddamn, this is good!" So you might want to try to get some groceries when you get there, although the groceries are pricey, too. Apparently, it costs money to ship ingredients out across the Pacific.

The girl who sat next to us on the plane recommended we pick up The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed. This proved to be a useful book. It's arranged in a logical way, and the writing is witty and entertaining.

We stayed at the Kauai Beach Resort. Now personally, as much as I like all the volcanoes and beaches and whatever, my idea of a good vacation basically comes down to this: a place to swim and time to read. Now this place...I'm sure it's not the cheapest place on the island, but it seemed like a good deal on Priceline, and I can't imagine a place suiting my needs better. The pool is like a Hawaii theme park: fake caves and waterfalls, a fake lava hot tub, all that. After spending a week swimming in these pools, I don't know how I'll be able to go back to the crowded lap lanes at the Glendale Y. Tuesday night, they had a live band and hula dancers performing on the rocks at poolside during happy hour ($3 mai tais). You could conceivably sit in the pool, drink a mai tai and watch the hula dancers right in front of you. Talk about milkin' it!

The food at the hotel was, of course, even more expensive than everywhere else, so we ate out at least once a day (well, one day we just got a Subway while we were out and ate it in the room later). Some of the places we ate:

KCL Barbecue and Chinese Restaurant was a typical example of the local fare: bad Chinese food with a lump of macaroni salad next to the gooey rice.

The Bull Shed is right on the water. I mean, seriously, RIGHT on the water. Our tiny triangular table was pressed up against this window (see below) that was, like, 3 feet from the waves. You could even open the window, but the wind and waves were a bit much. Can't remember much about the food.

Keoki's Paradise is as close to a "tiki bar" as the island has. No cool mugs, and if they had Singapore Slings they weren't bragging on 'em, but a nice open air dining hall with lots of tropical greenery and fake waterfalls. If you were going to Kauai and didn't want to splurge on a luau, this would be a pretty good substitute. My steak was lame, but Bobbie got ribs, which were pretty good, and teriyaki chicken, which was very good. Had a nice, strong taste of caramelized teriyaki. Below is the view from our table (beyond it is a parking lot).

Tip Top Cafe and Bakery
is in a motel in Lihue, and is a popular breakfast spot for locals. No atmosphere at all, but the macadamia pancakes were tasty. After eating here, we went to see a couple waterfalls. You're not really right up on these, but you have a good view. There was a third we were considering going to, that you could get closer to, but the hike seemed like too much of a hassle. But here are some nice pictures we took.

Far below: The Quiet Village

Scotty's Beachside BBQ actually has pretty good BBQ: ribs, chicken, pulled pork, brisket. They also have mai tais and other specialty cocktails, and some local beers on tap. But best of all is, once again, the view. The dining room is open air (ie, there's an open window that takes up the whole side of the place facing the sea) and arranged in tiers with all the tables facing the ocean. Incredible view.

Smith's Tropical Paradise: Of course, if you're going to Hawaii, the one thing you want to do is attend a luau. Understand before you go that luaus are going to cost close to $100 per person. This one was near our hotel, recommended by both the guidebook and the people we talked to, and seemed to be one of the cheaper ones on the island (I believe we paid $85 a piece). Now, Bobbie was a bit disappointed with the luau experience. Having grown up on Elvis and Frankie & Annette movies, she was expecting dinner to be on a beach, by a big bonfire, with big plates of food brought to you by people in native garb. So we didn't quite get that. Instead, dinner is served in a big open-air pavilion, where you sit at long tables and go serve yourself buffet style while a Hawaiian band plays. You can stuff yourself like crazy on local delicacies, including the awesome kalua pig, which tastes great with greasy Chinese fried rice, and chicken adoba, which tastes very porky (maybe it's cooked with the pig?), and poi, which tastes like nothing but has the appetizing texture of mud. There's an open bar with mai tais, beer and full bar service. The mai tais, in contrast to the ones served at the hotel, had a nice, balanced taste, and seemed to contain more ingredients than Myers and pineapple juice. Dinner is followed by a big show with the native dances of Hawaii, along with the dances of other Polynesian peoples, and Chinese and Japanese dances. There's fire dancing, and a big, fake volcano, the whole nine.

What makes this particular luau so cool is the setting. It's in this big park covering acres of gardens and ponds. Swans and peacocks roam the grounds. There's a big King Kong-like mountain in the background. There are tropical flowers everywhere. And you are surrounded by birdcalls that sound like they were taken off a Martin Denny record (except that Martin Denny stopped recording before 1991, so there are no cock-a-doodle-doos on his records). That title, "tropical paradise," is earned.

Monico's Taqueria: on the last day, killing some time before the airport, we decided to just get some Mexican food. Simple, cheap, you know what to expect. So we stopped at this place (recommended by a guy at the hotel, faintly praised by the guide book). We had to wait about 10 minutes for them to open, as this is one of those places that closes between 2 and 5 (common for most of the country, but I guess living in the city I'd forgotten about this phenomenon). I ordered two tacos: carnitas and al pastor. Both good, but I really liked the pastor, which was these beautiful little bits of diced pork, almost bacon-y. This actually turned out to be one of the best things I ate on the trip.

Waimea Canyon: So the last day, we had to check out at 1:00, but the only flight out was a red eye leaving at 8:45. We decided to drive up the mountain on the West side of the island, which gives you some great views of a huge canyon, and of the ocean (and the next island, if it's clear enough). Actually, couldn't see the ocean from way up on the mountain because of clouds that day (and we never even made it to the tippy-top), but further down we got some amazing views. Enjoy the pictures.

This last one was a little place some ways up where a stream was running through red dirt dunes like some kind of Martian landscape. Lots of red dirt on Kauai. Your shoes are red by the time you leave, especially if you're into outdoor activities (which, admittedly, we're not).

Friday, June 24, 2011

90's Hit Parade #53

Neutral Milk Hotel - Holland, 1945

I never read The Diary of Anne Frank, but it made an impression on me nonetheless. I remember a whole shelf of copies in our elementary school library, lined up, various shades of red and pink depending on how long they'd been sitting on the shelf. I knew the story of course, and it's easy to see how, for anyone that read the story at a young age, it could haunt you for the rest of your life. It haunted Jeff Mangum, and he devoted several songs on Neutral Milk Hotel's best-known record to the recurring dreams he had had about the character. And this song is definitely about a dream, imagery following that strange dream logic (at one point we see Anne Frank taking a tour of the Anne Frank house: "And here's where your mother sleeps/And this is the room where your brothers were born"). But you can also feel the deep horror at the real situation behind this story. It's definitely not for laughs.

NMH were sort of the odd addition to the Elephant 6 Collective, a group of indie-pop bands out of Athens, GA that also included Apples in Stereo and Olivia Tremor Control (and later several other bands, including the great Of Montreal). While the first two bands played distinctly 60's-style psychedelic pop, NMH were their own thing. They fit in in a general sense, but they didn't sound like anyone else. Honestly, I don't think In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is a solid album from start to finish, but the few songs that stand out are really amazing. Mangum's off-key singing, the odd instrumentation and lo-fi recording all work together to make this one of the best indie pop songs of the decade.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

90's Hit Parade #54

The Highwaymen - The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends

Took me forever to find this because for some reason I had it in my head that this supergroup was called The Outlaws. Anyway, here it is, 4 of the most distinctive voices in country trading off on a classic gangsta story. Although, if I were putting together a dream team in the 90's, I'd probably team Willie up with Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Lo-retta Lynne. But that's just me.

Friday, June 17, 2011

90's Hit Parade #55

Beastie Boys - Body Movin' (Fatboy Slim Remix)

I don't really seek out remixes. Their always interesting when I hear them, but in general, I'd just as soon listen to the original, thank you. But this is one that really kicks the song up to the next level, from a pretty good second single off Hello Nasty to one of the best Beastie tracks ever put to wax. It's that 4-chord headbanger progression Fatboy Slim adds to the chorus. It just sounds like the way the song should have been in the first place, and turns "Body Movin'" into one of the all-time great spazz-attack-on-the-dancefloor tracks.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

90's Hit Parade #56

Cibo Matto - Birthday Cake/Know Your Chicken

Cibo Matto were one of those bands that were all the buzz for a couple minutes, then mostly forgotten. Maybe that's OK. The album of food-obsessed, hip hop inflected electronica from a pair of Japanese-American chicks didn't sound nearly as weird and wonderful six months after I bought it as it did on that first listen. But watching these performances, especially the one of "Know Your Chicken," convinces me that at least these songs deserve their place in the canon (throw "Beef Jerky" in there, too). I mean, this stuff is just off the charts for coolness, the noisy choruses, the tight beats, the surreal lyrics. Maybe I should dig this CD out and re-evaluate.

Friday, June 10, 2011

90's Hit Parade #57

Halo of Flies - DDT Fin 13

Halo of Flies was lead by Tom Hazelmyer, who also ran the crucially important Amphetamine Reptile label. Halo of Flies was named after my second favorite Alice Cooper song (you can't fuck with "School's Out"). Halo of Flies only released 7" singles and a couple EP's, but they did eventually release their entire discography on a CD. Halo of Flies were a sort of midwest companion band to Mudhoney, or at least that's how it always seemed to me. Both bands (and, come to think of it, you could throw in the east coast Pussy Galore) played a nasty, skronky sort of garage punk. People hate on the term "grunge," but it seems the perfect term to describe HoF, Mudhoney and Pussy Galore, almost an onamonapeia. I especially love this song, with the extended whirlwind-of-wah-wah solo that wouldn't be out of place on a Funkadelic record. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure if this is from one of their early 90's singles or their late 80's singles, but since it's on the 1991 CD, I'm going to count it.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

This is a fish-in-a-barrel target, but how fucking ridiculous is this video? Is the contemporary conservative movement in America basically just a bunch of losers who are mad that they don't have their own TV shows or movies? (And could that have something to do with the fact that when they do make movies, you get something like this?)

There's an almost infinite amount of stupid shit to focus on in this short clip, as Jesse at Pandagon notes, "from the insinuation that a gay male high school student was named prom queen because of Elmo to the assertion that totalitarian regimes in the Middle East are anti-church and anti-traditional gender roles." One thing that struck me was that they have a totally incorrect understanding of the term "the soft bigotry of low expectations." It's an idea that, even as a liberal, I think does have some merit, but it absolutely does not mean noting that poor and minority populations have higher illiteracy rates, and therefore directing educational programs toward those populations.

90's Hit Parade #58

They Might Be Giants - Your Racist Friend

It was hard to narrow it down to just one song from Flood. That opening volley of earworms alone--the joyous "Birdhouse in Your Soul," "Lucky Ball and Chain," "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," and this song--is incredibly solid, and even throwaway songs like "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair" can get stuck in your head for weeks. My wife would probably divorce me if she found out I was only picking a single song from this album, and considering some of the bands that I'm giving multiple slots to, she might have grounds. Anyway, I picked this one over "Istanbul" just on the basis of the latter being a cover song, and I think the lyrics are a bit more interesting than "Birdhouse." But really, you could take your pick.

I always like lyrics that cover subjects to which we can all relate, but which there aren't any other songs about, and "Racist Friend" sure does fit that bill. We've all been in this situation before. You're talking to someone at a party, they're saying things that border on racism, but you don't want to be Mr. Annoying PC Guy, so your just "nodding and pretending," then he crosses over that line, that line where if you nod and smile, you're implicating yourself. It's an uncomfortable moment, and you don't really want to deal with it, but there you are. Time to ruin the party.


If TMBG were the band you thought they were the first time you heard them, the light, clever band with the catchy songs that sound like old advertising jingles and are fun to tap your feet to, they would still be an awesome band. But of course, once you actually hear the lyrics to those goofy jingles, you realize that there's a dark streak running under the surface. This is what makes them a great band. (It's for this reason that 1988's Lincoln is my favorite of their albums, the one where this darkness is closest to the surface: the paranoia of "Where Your Eyes Don't Go," or the sadness of the disolving relationship in "They'll Need a Crane".) Here's a classic example, from after the time I stopped following their career (I checked out after Apollo 18). It's a catchy little song about the inevitability of death. You can actually feel it getting closer by the second: "You're older than you've ever been, and now you're even older. And now you're even older. And now you're even older..."

Oh, wait, I just discovered that this song is from the 2001 album Mink Car, which should disqualify it for this list, but since I already wrote all this stuff, I'm keeping it. Anyway, there seem to be some late 90's performances on YouTube. Also, just because I LOVE this video:

They Might Be Giants - Istanbul (Not Constantinople) from They Might Be Giants on Vimeo.

And, what the hey...

Friday, June 03, 2011

90's Hit Parade #59

When I started doing this, I said that I wasn't making any commitment to do it on any particular schedule, but I settled pretty quickly into Tuesday and Friday posts, and now I get stressed when I'm missing that deadline. So today, I'm caught up! Although I can't help but plan out what I'm going to say in the days ahead of each entry, I am trying my best to write these as quickly as possible without editing much, so please try to tolerate the typos.

Digable Planets - Pacifics

Heresy: I actually enjoy Digable Planets records even more than A Tribe Called Quest. Well, I should say, I'm talking about the beats--as rappers, these guys are not as interesting to listen to as Q-Tip or Phife. But the beats, yeah, I think they beat Tribe. See, Tribe was making music that didn't sound like anything else when they came out, and when you go back to listen to it, you can sort of hear the seams where hip hop, jazz and laid back RnB are stitched together. Tribe provided the blueprint, so when DP recorded their first LP in '92, they already knew how to do it, and their beats sound more like a unified whole. At least, that's how my ears hear it.

Probably not heresy, exactly, to say that I prefer their second LP, Blowout Comb, to their more high-profile debut Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space), but it sure seemed like an unpopular opinion at the time. Absolutely one of my top 5 hip hop records ever. But Blowout Comb isn't really a singles record. Each song melts together into one continuous head bob. I would pick "Black Ego," but at 7 minutes, the repetitive hi-hat beat gets on my nerves. So instead, we'll go to the first album for a cut.

"Pacifics" sticks out a bit from most of the rest of the album. Less jazz, mo funk. The lyrics describe a lazy Sunday afternoon in NYC, and the funky rhythm feels like a relaxing walk through the farmer's market and used book store. Absolutely one of the best stoner hip hop tracks ever recorded.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

90's Hit Parade #60

Sonic Youth - Disapearer
This may be one of the best examples of Sonic Youth as a "song band" (rather than a "guitar band"), although it does have some great guitar work and an awesome jam at the center. This really captures the atmosphere that I most associate with Sonic Youth, a late night vibe. The melody is a bit abstract, like the best early R.E.M. songs, you can't quite get a grip on it but it sinks into your brain. And the video is a perfect match for what's already in the song: the feeling of driving late at night, past neon signs and streetlights in a hazy state of consciousness. I especially love the little visual pun with the cheap plastic word game, probably bought at some truck stop to while away the long hours in the back seat, on the words "Western Starland." Funny thing: I only saw this video a couple times, on 120 Minutes, but I would have sworn up and down that it was in black and white.

Bonus Beats:

I saw Sonic Youth twice while they were touring for Washing Machine (first was their headlining spot at Lollapalooza 1995). Curiously, I don't think the album is very good, but the songs sounded great live. I would say that both times, the highlights of the set were "Washing Machine" and "Diamond Sea," and the second time I'd add "Saucerlike" to that list (they didn't play it at Lollapalooza). I'm not sure why these songs didn't really come across in the studio. Maybe it's the jammy nature of both songs ("Diamond Sea" has the explosive climax like "Heroin," "Washing Machine" is more like the mysterious labyrinth of "Sister Ray"), but seeing these songs live...well, I'd put that second show in my top 5 live experiences of all time.