Sunday, February 27, 2011

20 Questions with Cult of Youth's Sean Ragon

Last week Cult of Youth's eponymous full-length debut on Sacred Bones unleashed swarms of spaghetti western dust storms, swells of psych dissonance, and strident neo-folk martiality. Singer/songwriter Sean Ragon's delivery and message tends to be surly yet thoughtful and undeniably earnest; he took a few moments out of his touring conquests to take on my 20 questions...

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Hell is: everywhere or nowhere, the choice is yours…

New York City is: alright if you like saxophones

My latest record: is just the beginning… Just you wait for the next one!!!

Favorite vice: I work too much

Favorite virtue: I work too much

My onstage aesthetic: Total war or give peace a chance. Depends on the day...

Analog or Digital: Both are great if you know how to use them and you've got something to say. It's amazing how many people don't. Strangely enough those are usually the people that draw a line in the sand about the issue.

Hot or Cold: Hot. I grew up in the cold. I hate the cold. Seriously.

Best NYC venue to play: Secret Project Robot

Favorite NYC bar: Home Sweet Home

A rumor about my band: People accuse me of having all kinds of unfavorable political motivations without ever having met me or talked to me first. Kind of foolish if you ask me.

Pre-show ritual: I need a minute to myself

Post-show ritual: I need a minute to myself

Favorite Philosopher: Howard Stern

Favorite monster: the self

Dead muse: the old me

Living muse: the new me

By day: selling records at Heaven Street. Come on by!

By night: preferably sleeping! Sometimes DJing, sometimes playing shows, and sometimes just catching up on emails.

My musical motto: I don't do this because I want to, I do this because I have to. I'm still in disbelief that people are paying attention.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reconsidering Chinese Democracy

An exacting and erudite case for reconsidering Axl Rose's Chinese Democracy has just been posted over at Decibel. Author Shawn Macomber systematically debunks the mythology mucking up the album's aura and asks us to actually listen to the music. He couches refreshing insights amidst incisive snarks such as: "[Chris] Cornell hasn’t been qualified to carry Rose’s sweat-soaked bandanna since Badmotorfinger" or "Appetite for Destruction was the result of a set of very specific, unsustainable, unrepeatable circumstances. (Just ask Buckcherry.)" BURN!

Whether you love it or hate it, a formalist approach to Chinese Democracy seems most useful. But regardless of how the tides of public opinion may turn, "I.R.S." and "Shackler's Revenge" will still stick it out on my playlists...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

TWSS: The Ultimate Feminist Gag?

Garth: Hey, are you done yet? I'm getting tired of holding it.

Wayne: Yeah, that’s what she said.

(Wayne’s World, 1992)

Thus launched the most recent wave of what may be the greatest oral gag of our time. It’s the little black dress of the joke world; so simple and yet so functional that barely an exchange exists that cannot benefit from an unexpected injection. Whether repeated ad nauseam by Michael Scott on The Office or by your 15-year-old brother, That’s What She Said has penetrated pop culture to the hilt. But while it seems on the surface to be a misogynistic tool predominately the province of men, there’s a dynamic, female-centric undercurrent to the gambit that has been thus far overlooked.

First and foremost, That’s What She Said gives power to the woman who speaks. Who exactly she is may be unclear, but depending on context, she’s a virginal coquette, a wayward ingénue, or a seasoned cougar. What’s constant, however, is her sexual appetite: we always relay what she has to say in a sexual situation, and most often in an encounter with a man and his appendage.

As Freud proposed, psychosexual development revolves around the phallus, so whether you have it or lack it, the presence of the penis is felt deep within our psyches. Yet in spite of the phallocentric world in which we live, TWSS has supplanted the dick joke as the ultimate in sex humor for the early oughts. Last summer, The Huffington Post published a link to an early version of That’s What She Said from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1929 film, Blackmail. Back then, the phrase was “As the girl said,” but the effect was indeed the same. “Come here, stand in your place, or it will not come out right, as the girl said to the soldier,” Hitchcock tells a giggling blonde. He dominates the conversation with his imposing, masculine figure and delivery, but still speaks for the girl getting hot and heavy with a man in uniform.

Going even further back into history, one can find a similar sentiment delivered in English Edwardian times. “As the actress said to the bishop” was the line, which author Leslie Charteris of The Saint series later put to good use in the late 1920s. Fast forward to 2010, and we’ve got dozens of iPhone apps on the topic, YouTube mashups of Michael Scott’s best uses of the phrase, and even a website, TWSSstories.com. Many may have tired of its ubiquity by now, while others are just coming around.

In any time period, and in any That’s What She Said, the man is the mere object of the joke and a ‘thing’ to be commented upon. She is always the subject - the acting, speaking subject with sexual agency, so whether the TWSS joke is told by a man or a woman, the listener is receiving a woman’s point of view. It is for this reason I posit TWSS as a feminist phenomenon that has harnessed the willing participation of countless men, who unwittingly objectify themselves with every slip of the tongue. That’s What She Said subversively promotes female sexual empowerment by giving voice to her actions and desires, and thus, the gag always has a woman coming out on top, regardless of in whose mouth it originates.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Wildstreet II...Faster...Louder

The fact that a band like Wildstreet can fill a club in New York City is a wet dream come true. Since their hedonistic glam metal debut, they’ve scratched their sonic nails across the country’s back alleys and mainstreets, playing shows with those of the original sleaze rock coterie like L.A. Guns and Bang Tango. Two years later and they’ve got a new EP, (released digitally on January 25th), and it’s filled with the kind of riffs to drive your fists and lyrics slippery with enough sex action to make you yearn for better days.

Don Hills got a taste of the new tracks at the official release show last Friday; “Poison Kiss” won my vote with its refrain to “wake up when the sun’s down” - a reminder of a time when metal bands had a corner on the market of songs about sleep patterns. Things got really hot and heavy at the tail end of the set, however, when Militia of Judas Priestess stormed the stage for an electric duet of “Gimme Shelter” with Wildstreet frontman Eric Jayk. Her powerhouse vox were, as ever, dripping with diamonds and rust. It was an evening of heavy, trashy rock 'n' roll at it’s finest. Amen.

Friday, February 4, 2011

20 Questions with Religious to Damn's Zohra Atash

Glass Prayer has been simmering on my stereo. On it, Religious to Damn traverse howling landscapes and oneiric territories; there’s noise, water, and meat in these songs, and so much movement. At times, it seems singer/songwriter Zohra Atash almost forces reviewers to write in verse. I’ve been a victim, and from recent write-ups that smolder with the blackened glow her songs inspire, I’m definitely not the only one. So in honor of Glass Prayer's official release next Tuesday on M’Lady’s, I’ve asked Zohra to write her own verses for us in answer to my new Proustian questionnaire. Enjoy.

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Hell is: Other people. This is quoted a lot as a joke, but I remember when I first read the surrounding stuff, I really related to it. It's more about being trapped in this dialog box where we're forced to judge ourselves with the tools other people give us. That's hellish.

New York City is: My home, and I love this city. We've had people say things like, "Your music doesn't sound like you're from New York. It sounds other-worldy." The music I make is about escapism, and I incorporate a lot of influences. I also travel quite a lot. I just find the whole notion of 'you have to live in a converted barn by the sea to write about elemental, mystical stuff,' as silly.

My latest record: Is a work I'm proud of.

Favorite vice: Worrying

Favorite virtue: Enough respect for my loved ones not to romanticize my vices.

My onstage aesthetic: Black lace, things that jingle and sparkle, and a short skirt.

Analogue or Digital: False dichotomy.

Hot or Cold: Hot across the board (except for "wave").

Best NYC venue to play: Wierd at Home Sweet Home.

Favorite NYC bar: Motor City anytime Zack Lipez or Jonathan Toubin are DJing, and Friday nights with Anna Copa Cabanna go-go dancing.

A rumor about my band: I'm not sure it's a rumor, but maybe an annoying misconception. There seems to be this idea that because our music has been referred to as "gypsy" that we make actual gypsy music or that because gypsies are exotic and I'm Afghan, that the music is supposed to sound exotic or super eastern. But I grew up in America and I like a lot of British and American music. Some people think of gypsy garb as having coins and shiny things on it and sometimes I wear things like that. But Bob Dylan wrote gypsy songs, and Fleetwood Mac wrote the song "Gypsy" and it's all a mood, really. If I identify with it at all, it's in the sense that it's just music about a wild, wandering heart.

Pre-show ritual: Half an hour of meditation.

Post-show ritual: Josh and I discussing the show at length.

Favorite philosopher: Can I combine Rumi and Schopenhauer into one, pessimistic, passionate, music-adoring entity?

Favorite monster: Sirens.

Dead muse: Oum Kalthoum.

Living Muse: Josh Strawn - he keeps me focused and tells it to me like it is. We share a musical brain. And Daniel Lanois.

By Day: Collecting inspiration.

By Night: Creating.

My musical motto: Be dynamic, colorful, and know when to minimize and maximize.

Religious to Damn "Drifter" Music Video from Jason Akira Somma on Vimeo.