Sound Check: Handshake Drugs

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Drugs, like sex, are inextricably bound to rock ’n’ roll. More than a mere marriage of convenience, the pairing has come to resemble the partnership between remora and shark: It’s hard to imagine rock developing into the shaggy-haired beast it’s become without the influence of chemical compounds. Undoubtedly, other substances have also played a role in shaping popular music. For example, country’s relationship with alcohol is well-documented (see: Hank Sr.’s “There’s A Tear In My Beer”). In the jazz era, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles Davis used narcotics. Dance artists have designed specific beats to match the effects of certain types of chemicals, while reggae has tended to view drugs as quasi-spiritual “journey enhancers.” The following albums represent the epitome of what Spacemen 3 once referred to as “taking drugs to make music to take drugs to.”

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Q&A With Stephin Merritt

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“I do a lot of conventional things,” says Stephin Merritt. “But I don’t do them conventionally.” The singer/composer is best known for the pop-leaning Magnetic Fields and Gothic Archies, both of which he’s currently writing for and recording. But his latest album, Showtunes (Nonesuch), compiles songs from his theatrical collaborations with Chinese opera director Chen Shi-Zheng.

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The Red Krayola: Outside The Lines

red-krayola_2006crAt a Houston shopping mall in 1966, a seemingly standard guitar/bass/drums trio appeared to be consciously using its lack of musicianship to traverse unknown boundaries of what might be termed psychedelia. Lelan Rogers, older brother of Kenny and owner of Texas record label International Artists, happened to hear the group that day. Rogers was later quoted as saying he signed the trio because he thought it was having a joke at the audience’s expense.

Looking down the business end of guitarist/vocalist Mayo Thompson’s 40-year career as the center of the Red Krayola—whose music has ventured into extreme psych, political operettas, Americana and outright noise—it’s clear the mall gig was no put-on. From Texas to New York to Europe and back again, the Krayola has spent its time on the margins of the margins. Perhaps the group’s refusal to repeat itself has guaranteed its obscurity.

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Rhett Miller Makes MAGNET A Mix Tape

rhett-330Rhett Miller is a believer. Putting his iPod on shuffle, the Old 97’s frontman entrusts it to make the perfect mix tape for MAGNET. Miller also has faith in The Believer (Verve Forecast), his second solo outing of smart, countrified pop. From his home in Hudson Valley, N.Y., Miller dances the iPod shuffle.

OPAL “Harriet Brown” (1989)
Opal is the guitarist (David Roback) who went on to form Mazzy Star. It was his earlier band, super-psychedelic and with a different vocalist. Instead of Hope Sandov
al, it was Kendra Smith. Now she lives up in Humboldt County on a farm. Dude, it’s this really beautiful, spacey stuff. I feel like Kendra never got her due.

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Sound Check: Double Albums

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The double album is an artifact of a bygone age in which artists conceived works requiring two vinyl records to contain all the content. Today, most double-length albums can easily fit onto a single CD, which has created some confusion about intent: Is the album simply in need of a judicious edit? The double album also speaks to an era when artistic freedom frequently shook hands with musical excess, from Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde to the Clash’s London Calling. Commencing with the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s At Carnegie Hall in 1963 (widely believed to be the first commercially released double album), artists have embraced the sprawling format. The indie-rock community has chimed in with classics of its own, such as Hüsker Dü’s relentless Zen Arcade and the Minutemen’s ADD-afflicted Double Nickels On The Dime. The following are perhaps the finest examples of the form the underground has authored in MAGNET’s 13-year life span.

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Company Men: Tone, Menomena Score Modern Dance

menomenanewslatIf you’ve ever attempted to bust a move to Mogwai or the Kronos Quartet, you might be aware that a pop-and-lock routine just won’t do. Modern-dance troupes, however, have found the cinematic end of the underground-rock scene useful, commissioning music from Washington, D.C.’s Tone and Portland, Ore.’s Menomena.

Tone, a 15-year-old instrumental ensemble whose members’ lineage stretches back to punk bands the Teen Idles and Government Issue, began working with the Bowen McCauley Dance Company in 2004. In January, Tone provided the music for Amygdala, a Lucy Bowen McCauley performance at the Kennedy Center.

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Mates Of State: The Sound Of Settling

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Some bands become unsteady when they put down roots, but husband-and-wife duo Mates Of State discovered better songwriting through parenthood. By Brian Howard

It’s a blisteringly cold winter afternoon in East Haven, Conn., and Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner are discussing what they did on New Year’s Eve.

“We went to a friend’s party and played this game called Mafia,” says Gardner. “Whenever I explain the game, people are like [sarcastically], ‘That sounds like a great time.’ But it’s really fun. You get cards, and you’re either designated as a mafia member or a citizen. Nobody knows what you are, and you basically argue your way out of being accused; you lie if you’re mafia. And then people are killed.”

“It’s basically about being able to lie to your friends,” explains Hammel, perhaps trying to dignify the parlor game as a hip, happening New Year’s Eve activity. “Kori got wasted, too.”

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Hudson Bell: No Man’s Land

hudsonbellebIf you ask Hudson Bell where he’s lived, he’ll reel off a list of Southern cities: Oxford, Baton Rouge, Lexington, Little Rock. If you ask him what he remembers, the answers may elude him. Just take note of how Bell recounts the grim tale of his guitar teacher’s suicide.

“My view of the story was that my sister took me to practice, I go downstairs, and all the lights were out,” he says in a thick drawl. “I was calling out his name, and he wasn’t there. What really happened was I never went anywhere. I was sitting there practicing in my room, and they called and told me what happened even before I went.”

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Glenn Tilbrook: Squeeze Play

squeezefilm360When Amy Pickard heard that her friend, former Squeeze singer/guitarist Glenn Tilbrook, was planning a solo tour of the United States in an RV, she immediately wanted to make a documentary.

“It seemed crazy to me, because when people think of RVs, they think of senior citizens, retirees or trailer-court white trash,” says the 37-year-old Pickard, a Los Angeles-based indie filmmaker who grew up in Dayton, Ohio. “And Glenn is none of these things. He is so quintessentially English, it just seemed like such a fish-out-of-water thing to me, especially when I envisioned him at KOA campgrounds.”

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Mudhoney: Fuzz Lightyears

mudhoneycareer5025Grunge started with Mark McLaughlin.

In 1981, McLaughlin wrote a letter to a Seattle fanzine excoriating local high-school band Mr. Epp And The Calculations as “pure grunge … pure shit.” Mr. Epp was a band named after McLaughlin’s math teacher and, not coincidentally, featured McLaughlin on guitar. Nonetheless, there it is: After all the rock genealogy, after the explosion, after all the post-mortem inquisitions as to why it all went so horribly wrong, “grunge” as we all know it started with a Bellevue, Wash., teenage punk.

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