Grand Duchy Cultural Position #4: The Cars

grandlogo150c2120bcGrand Duchy is the latest venture from Charles Thompson (a.k.a Frank Black, a.k.a. Black Francis). It’s a duo with his wife Violet Clark that explores relatively off-road terrain for Thompson: high-gloss new wave and vampish synth pop. Grand Duchy’s playful and slightly Euro-affected debut album, Petits Four, is out April 14 on Cooking Vinyl. Thompson and Clark are guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with them.

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Black Francis learned muted, plucky rhythm guitar from listening to the Cars on the radio. Violet bought all their records (on vinyl, natch) and studied the masterfully poppy song construction for hours on end in her aqua bedroom with the rainbow-and-wildflower-field photomural on one wall.

Ric Ocasek, the real Thin White Duke, was a freaky-looking frontman who made it hip for a frontman to be smart, funny and needily co-dependent with women. Ben Orr was the pretty-boy bass player who girls could crush on. His bass playing is monumentally influential on Violet, as were Greg Hawkes’ deeply satisfying and catchy new-wave synth confections. Ugly and pretty, perpetually in the lurch, acidic, rocking and leering, feeling exclusive yet utterly lowest-common-denom, the Cars’ ouevre is a steamy, dancey, flirty Saturday night at Froghoppers set to music.

“Just What I Needed (Demo)”:

MP3 At 3PM: Starfucker

starfuckev400Despite humble beginnings as a one-man/one-drum-kit outfit, Portland, Ore.’s Starfucker has filled out nicely into a electro-pop-loving band over the course of the past two years. In that time, the group worked to cultivate an infectious-yet-melancholic sound on its self-titled 2008 debut album and an appropriately disaffected cover of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” for Buffetlibre’s Rewind series. “Medicine,” from Starfucker’s latest effort Jupiter (due May 5 on Badman), is less lo-fi and eclectic than its earlier songs but equally synth soaked and danceable.

“Medicine” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/Medicine.mp3

Memoir: Pansy Division’s Jon Ginoli

pansypool550Pansy Division was an openly gay rock band at a time when the very notion of an openly gay rock band seemed shocking and political. And the early ’90s weren’t even that long ago. Pansy Division is still a gay rock band—more accurately, a pop/punk band befitting its Lookout! Records/Gilman St. heritage—and have just released eighth album That’s So Gay (Alternative Tentacles), which retains the group’s signature melodic songs and humorous, homo-tawdry lyrics. Frontman Jon Ginoli, who recently published the book Deflowered: My Life In Pansy Division, tells his story:

In 1988, I’d quit playing music. After attending the University of Illinois in the mid-’80s, I’d formed a jangly guitar band called the Outnumbered. Living in Champaign, Ill., we made three albums. We played a couple hundred gigs, toured a little bit and finally wound down and split up. My band had some minor success, and I felt like I’d given music a try, so I gave it up and moved to California.

After moving to San Francisco, I became involved with activist groups such as ACT-UP and Queer Nation. A lot of the art being made in these circles was necessarily dark, shrouded in pain and cathartic; large numbers of people were dying tragic, premature deaths from AIDS. This was the moment, in 1990, when the word “queer” was transformed from an epithet into a weapon. That use of the word was a brash move, a good example of making a positive out of a negative. I thought, “What if someone did songs like that?” It didn’t take long to figure out that if I wanted to see that happen, I’d have to do it myself.

A lot of the Outnumbered’s songs, though poppy and catchy, were fairly bleak lyrically: an emotional response to the Reagan years, a reflection of how much worse things had gotten since the optimistic ’60s. Though I wanted to be as honest and sincere as possible in those songs, playing them meant reliving that frustration with each performance, and if it got me down, what was it going to do for the listener? If I was going to make music again, I wanted to make music that would uplift an audience, make them smile and make me smile, too.

None of the musicians we now know to be gay—such as the Pet Shop Boys, Michael Stipe, Bob Mould, Rob Halford, kd Lang, Melissa Etheridge, Marc Almond—was open and out back then. Some were pretty obvious, but when asked, they would still deny it. We thought that if no one else will step forward and do it, we’ll have the territory to ourselves! In the early days of Pansy Division, we felt like our subject matter was unlimited. We weren’t just gay rock musicians; we wrote songs with specifically gay subject matter: songs about our gay bar experiences, sexy songs without vague pronouns, songs about liking curved dicks. Songs with titles such as “The Cocksucker Club.” We also wrote songs about how we didn’t fit within the confines of the gay subculture—about the triumph of the superficial and about disliking Judy Garland, disco and the sometimes nasty and bitchy underside of gay life. We dared to push ourselves. What do we really want to say? What can we get away with? We were cracking ourselves up, thinking, “Wait until people hear this.”

“Twinkie, Twinkie Little Star” from That’s So Gay (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/TwinkieTwinkieLittleStar.mp3

Continue reading “Memoir: Pansy Division’s Jon Ginoli”

Grand Duchy Cultural Position #3: Tommy Wiseau And “The Room”

grandlogo150c2120bc1Grand Duchy is the latest venture from Charles Thompson (a.k.a Frank Black, a.k.a. Black Francis). It’s a duo with his wife Violet Clark that explores relatively off-road terrain for Thompson: high-gloss new wave and vampish synth pop. Grand Duchy’s playful and slightly Euro-affected debut album, Petits Four, is out April 14 on Cooking Vinyl. Thompson and Clark are guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with them.

theroom390Once upon a time there was Grand Duchy. Then one day, we watched The Room. Now there is only The Room. And Grand Duchy is but a figment, residing within The Room. Possibly the most powerful, greatest film ever made, haunting and compelling, capable of moving the most stoic viewer to tears—of joy. Inept in every sense of the word, Tommy Wiseau’s genius lies in marrying his passion, sincerity and unswerving perseverance as a filmmaker with the worst script, most shiteous acting, heinous cinematography and maudlin and dated soundtrack ever in the history of film. You will love the extended close-ups of this auteur’s butt muscles and the inscrutable accent. Grand Duchy just purchased eight more copies yesterday to give to friends and strangers on the street. Buy one today on Amazon and host your own The Room viewing party. It’s better in groups; if you watch it alone, you might feel like you’re simply going insane.

Tommy, if you’re reading this, we love you and appreciate your contribution to our lives!

Lost Classics: Come “Near Life Experience”

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

:: COME
Near Life Experience // Matador, 1996

come380 The needles, the damage done and the subsequent cycles of kicking junk, sweating recidivism, then relapsing; toxic, destructive codependencies; the epic, bluesy intertwine of Thalia Zedek’s vocals and Chris Brokaw’s glassine guitar lines. Such was the stock-in-trade of Boston’s Come in the ‘90s. The band was made up of refugees from Live Skull and Codeine, and its austere, bleak rock was propelled by the weather-worn croak of Zedek, a recovering heroin addict. By Near Life Experience, the group’s longtime rhythm section had bolted; Zedek and Brokaw compensated by recruiting members of Tortoise and Rodan to help record Come’s most cinematic, diverse and accessible album.

Catching Up: After 1998’s underwhelming Gently Down The Stream, Come’s principals splintered into solo-album and guest-spot obscurity without officially breaking up. Zedek struck out on her lonesome; the Thalia Zedek Band issued Liars And Prayers last year. Meanwhile, Brokaw has performed and recorded with the likes of Thurston Moore, Evan Dando and Steve Wynn, scored films and issued a handful of overlooked solo records.

“Hurricane”:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/Hurricane.mp3

Grand Duchy Cultural Position #2: Pink Champagne

grandlogo150c2120be3Grand Duchy is the latest venture from Charles Thompson (a.k.a Frank Black, a.k.a. Black Francis). It’s a duo with his wife Violet Clark that explores relatively off-road terrain for Thompson: high-gloss new wave and vampish synth pop. Grand Duchy’s playful and slightly Euro-affected debut album, Petits Four, is out April 14 on Cooking Vinyl. Thompson and Clark are guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with them.

nicolas_feuillatte_rose200bIt’s actually called “rose,” but since we don’t know how to make the little accent go over the “e” in “rose,” we’ll just call it pink. Maybe the best thing to happen to a tongue since French kissing. Champagne is such a crisp and delightful experience anyway, but add a little color and a little fruit to the body, and it’s like Valentine’s Day in your goddamn mouth. A staple on our tour rider and in our personal relationship. There’s Mr. Thompson, Mrs. Thompson and a bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rose in between us. We and the bottle, holding hands on a porch swing. Can you picture it? Good. Now go buy some and have it with your quinoa spaghetti and veggie balls tonight.

MP3 At 3PM: The Dukes Of Stratosphear

dukesofstrat360b1The Dukes Of Stratosphear was XTC‘s idea of an April Fool’s Day joke back in 1985, issuing the 25 O’Clock EP under that moniker and disguised as a foppish ’60s Carnaby Street psychedelic band. It was Austin Powers in the era of Back To The Future, and it was brilliant. The lineup included Sir John Johns (a.k.a. frontman Andy Partridge), the Red Curtain (Colin Moulding), Lord Cornelius Plum (Dave Gregory) and E.I.E.I. Owen (Ian Gregory). In honor of Partridge’s Ape label reissuing 25 O’Clock and 1987 Dukes full-length Psonic Psunspot, here’s a download of “My Love Explodes,” which we believe is the soundtrack to a money shot to an imaginary late-’60s porno titled, oh … let’s call it Strawberry Alarm Cock. That was a very chaste observation in light of what Partridge once told us about humping a rubber shark.

“My Love Explodes” from 25 O’Clock (download):

The Over/Under: Merge Records

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Merge Records, the North Carolina-based label built by Superchunk, sustained by Neutral Milk Hotel and Magnetic Fields, and made mega by Arcade Fire (pictured) and Spoon, turns 20 this year. In honor of the anniversary, MAGNET presents the five most overrated and five most underrated items in the Merge catalog. It’s our weird, judgmental way of saying happy birthday.
Continue reading “The Over/Under: Merge Records”

Grand Duchy Cultural Position #1: Woody Allen Movies

grandlogo150c2120bcGrand Duchy is the latest venture from Charles Thompson (a.k.a Frank Black, a.k.a. Black Francis). It’s a duo with his wife Violet Clark that explores relatively off-road terrain for Thompson: high-gloss new wave and vampish synth pop. Grand Duchy’s playful and slightly Euro-affected debut album, Petits Four, is out April 14 on Cooking Vinyl. Thompson and Clark are guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with them.

sleeper545Where do we begin, what’s not to love, and what can be said that hasn’t already been said about Woody Allen? He is the greatest philosopher/moviemaker of the 20th century. An atheist with a healthy fear of God just to be on the safe side. Violet grew up watching comic gems such as 1973 existential sci-fi romance Sleeper over and over on Sunday afternoons with limitless glee. 1986 familial masterpiece Hannah And Her Sisters made young Violet pine to get grown up and move to the Upper East Side, have dysfunctional, passionate affairs with artists and host sadirs. Charles is particularly smitten with 1980’s Stardust Memories, a film about the vapid inanity—and shifting sands—of fame, idolatry and integrity in the arts industry. (Don’t forget the subplot that sees Allen’s character compulsively and blindly drawn to the sexy, creative, complicated and crazy-making woman; something Mr. Black knows a thing or two about.) Ultimately, when Mr. Allen says, “80 percent of success is just showing up,” it makes Grand Duchy very, very happy to be here.

Lost Classics: The Elephant 6 Collective

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

neutral-milk545Though its name conjures some long-lost Saturday-morning cartoon, the Elephant 6 collective turned out some of the catchiest, most brilliantly art-damaged rock of the ’90s. Despite a sprawling roster of bands, each bearing a distinct take on vintage pop and lo-fi psychedelia, the Elephant 6’s founders and followers will always find themselves overshadowed by a surreal-yet-brilliant album by one of its founders: Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel (pictured). In The Aeroplane Over The Sea has earned justifiable accolades since its 1998 release, but the Elephant 6 got its start years earlier. Founded in Denver, Colo., by Mangum and longtime friends Robert Schneider, Bill Doss and Will Cullen Hart, the collective issued its first release in 1993: the self-titled debut EP by Schneider’s Apples In Stereo (then known as the Apples). With his persistently sunny songwriting and unabashed love for the trebly pop of the Beach Boys and the Zombies, Schneider was the architect of the E6 sound.

Hart and Doss set up shop in Athens, Ga., calling themselves the Olivia Tremor Control on a seven-inch bearing the E6 imprint in 1994. Backed by a revolving cast of contributors (including Mangum and Schneider) dubbed the Elephant 6 Orchestra, OTC released 27-song opus Music From An Unrealized Film Script: Dusk At Cubist Castle in 1996. Culled from more than 200 four-track recordings, Dusk At Cubist Castle was a celebration of Revolver-era psychedelia embellished with layer upon layer of impressionistic sounds, tape manipulations and channel-spanning lunacy via Schneider’s final eight-track mix, giving the E6 its headphone masterpiece.

As its core bands signed with larger labels, the collective grew outward. Members of Neutral Milk Hotel and the Apples In Stereo begat Secret Square. In 1997, Mangum, Hart and Doss formed the Black Swan Network, an ambient project performing scores for dreams described by fans who responded to an invitation in Dusk At Cubist Castle’s liner notes. That same year, Schneider worked with San Francisco’s Beulah, which became the Elephant 6’s first West Coast representative. Soon, the collective’s second wave was underway, including the like-minded guitar pop of Elf Power, the Minders and the Essex Green.

The E6’s decline came slowly but steadily. After In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Mangum dropped out of the industry entirely. Dogged by breakup rumors, the Olivia Tremor Control issued Black Foliage: Animation Music in 2000, but its layers of ancillary sounds and thick noise resembled multi-tracked madness. The band split soon afterward, with Doss forming the Sunshine Fix and Hart gathering former Olivia members for the Circulatory System. Schneider officially disbanded the collective in 2002, but Elephant 6 re-opened its doors five years later. “We invite the world to join us,” Schneider told MAGNET in 2007. “Have big ideas, seek new perspectives, dream in bright colors, join with your friends to do something special, give others something to believe in.”

:: NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL
On Avery Island // Merge, 1996

Jeff Mangum’s debut full-length was so neglected by fans and so overshadowed by the colossus of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, you might assume On Avery Island was some amateur misstep or a ska album. But it’s an extremely sturdy bookend to Mangum’s other opus. Avery Island was considerably more electric than acoustic (the guitars were overloaded into the tape machine with a satisfying static crunch), Mangum’s singing was softer and less braying, and the punk/psych songs were fully developed, beautiful and strange.

“Song Against Sex”: