Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Feistodon

Feistodon is a 7-inch vinyl single which was released exclusively for Record Store Day 2012, limited to 5000 copies. It’s an unlikely collaboration of sorts between the Canadian adult-alternative singer-songwriter (Leslie) Feist and the Atlanta-based sludge-metal band Mastodon. One side of the single contains a cover by Mastodon of a song from Feist’s 2011 album Metals, and the other side contains a cover by Feist of a song from Mastodon’s 2011 album The Hunter. These two artists make strange bedfellows, to be sure. They met in October 2011 when both of them performed on an episode of the BBC talk show Later…With Jools Holland. Mastodon’s subsequent plan to cover Feist’s “A Commotion” led to the idea for this very intriguing Record Store Day item. Each artist covered the other’s song their own way, with no input from each other.

The surprising thing about Mastodon’s cover of Feist’s “A Commotion” is that it makes a lot of sense. Their sludge-metal interpretation of the song’s repetitive guitar riff works very logically, and the masculinized vocals serve the song’s unsettled mood very well. Feist’s cover of Mastodon’s “Black Tongue” is interesting for the exact opposite reason: it doesn’t make much sense, which may be the reason it’s so riveting. It’s mainly composed of distorted, staccato sound fragments mixed at comparatively low volume. Against that backdrop, Feist provides a gentle vocal delivery of the angry lyrics. The result sounds quite surreal – which was probably the intention. Feistodon is a bizarre concept that works. Although the two artists don’t seem to have much in common on the surface, they seem to have found their common ground with the two chosen songs, which use similarly dark lyrical metaphors.


Mastodon / Feist - Feistodon

Mastodon/Feist “Feistodon” (single) (Reprise 7-530123) 2012

Track Listing:

a. Mastodon – “A Commotion” (Feist cover)
b. Feist – “Black Tongue” (Mastodon cover)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Jack White's "Freedom at 21" flexi-disc

In his eternal quest to find new and imaginative ways to produce and distribute vinyl records, the irrepressible Jack White recently distributed a 1,000-copy limited edition flexi-disc by way of helium balloons. You read that right. White's label Third Man Records printed 1,000 copies of a flexi-disc containing his song "Freedom at 21", one of the tracks from his debut solo album Blunderbuss (which will be released this Tuesday, April 24th). The flexi-discs were attached to blue helium balloons that were released into the air from the Third Man Records lot in Nashville on April 1st, leaving them to land where they may. Only a few copies have been accounted for (see details at the Third Man site). However, at least one of the flexi-discs has been sold on eBay for an astonishing amount of money. Here is what the Third Man site has to say about it:


On April 17th, an eBay auction for a copy of Third Man’s balloon-launched “Freedom at 21” flexi-disc realized a price of $4238.88. As far as can be discerned, this is the highest price ever paid for a flexi-disc record, topping out usual benchmarks from obscure Japanese hardcore singles of the early 80’s and Beatles fan-club Christmas offerings. Of the 1000 balloons launched, only a handful have been discovered so far. This release will surely continue to rival such rarities as hand-painted Dead Weather singles, 3rpm LPs and Triple-Decker records as yet another in a long-line of collectible, investible, hard-to-find vinyl from the folks at Third Man Records.

I must say I am amused by the unconventional way of distributing the disc; it gives whole new meaning to the term "record release". And, needless to say, I am jealous of the lucky people who have found copies of the flexi-disc on the ground and are selling them for big bucks on eBay. It's like money falling out of the sky during tough economic times.


What the disc's buyers on eBay are paying for is the novelty value of the physical item. The song itself is only going to be a rarity for a few more days until April 24th, when Blunderbuss will be released.


The song "Freedom at 21" sounds like one that could have been recorded by the Dead Weather, with an instrumental portion that is reminiscent of the White Stripes’ “Icky Thump”. With a simple yet powerful guitar riff and controlled drumming, the song uses slightly gruesome lyrical metaphors (much like that of the album’s first single “Love Interruption”) to describe a devil-may-care modern woman.



Jack White "Freedom at 21" (flexi-disc) (Third Man TMR 144) 2012

Track Listing:

a. Freedom at 21

Friday, April 13, 2012

Phantom, Rocker & Slick

It has come to my attention that the short-lived mid-‘80’s trio Phantom, Rocker & Slick have reunited to play live shows, and the U.K. label Rock Candy is set to reissue their self-titled 1985 album Phantom, Rocker & Slick on April 17th. To the best of my knowledge, this will be the first time the album was ever available on CD. This trio was originally formed during the temporary breakup of the Stray Cats, the band that singlehandedly spearheaded an early-‘80’s rockabilly revival in the U.K. and the U.S. While the Stray Cats’ singer/guitarist Brian Setzer began his solo career (several years before the formation of his successful swing orchestra), bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom joined forces with Earl Slick, sometime guitarist for David Bowie, to record two albums in the mid-‘80’s. Lee Rocker was the trio’s frontman, and was a less colorful singer than Setzer.

On the self-titled Phantom, Rocker & Slick album from 1985, the trio does not entirely abandon the rockabilly sound of the Stray Cats, especially on “Time Is On My Hands” and the thrilling rave-up “Runnin’ From The Hounds”. But there is little that can be described as retro-‘50’s about this album. The production and attitude are very mid-‘80’s, and Slick’s guitar playing (which is quite good) keeps the album in a mainstream rock mode. Slick’s glam-rock past is sometimes evident as well; the opening song “What You Want” bears more than passing resemblance to T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On)”. Slick’s guitar heroics make the longish “Men Without Shame” a standout. Guest pianist Nicky Hopkins adds flavor to the otherwise standard ballads “No Regrets” and “Lonely Actions”, while the one and only Keith Richards lends his guitar work to “My Mistake”. Not a dull album, but not a distinguished one, either; Phantom and Rocker are better off working with Brian Setzer.

The trio’s 1986 album Cover Girl, their second and last, basically contained more of the same mainstream-rock-vaguely-derived-from-rockabilly, but it’s slightly better than its predecessor. Pete Solley’s less-heavy production gives this album a more natural sound, and the quality of the songs is more consistent, especially on the second side. The material is still undistinguished, but is pleasant enough. Most of the tracks have a post-1970’s hard-rock spine thanks to Slick’s guitar, although the title track, “It’s Good To Be Alive”, “I Found Someone Who Loves Me”, and the cover of the Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress” are a bit more reminiscent of old time rock and roll. As of this writing, Cover Girl is still in out-of-print limbo.

As fate would have it, it wasn’t long at all before Phantom and Rocker reunited with Brian Setzer to record the Stray Cats album Rock Therapy, which also was released in 1986. (Earl Slick gets a “Special Thanks” mention in the credits). The reported reason for the recording of this album was to fulfill a contractual obligation. The ten tracks are split 50/50 between ‘50’s covers and quasi-‘50’s originals. The band produced Rock Therapy themselves, eschewing studio polish in favor of spontaneity, showing little or no concern for commercial considerations. Similarities to the members’ concurrent works pop up on this album. The Phantom/Rocker composition “I Wanna Cry” features a lead vocal by Rocker, and sounds like it may have been intended for one of the albums recorded with Slick; however, this track serves to demonstrate that Phantom and Rocker sound more at home working with Setzer. The Setzer-penned “Broken Man” is an awkward bluegrass attempt that sounds more like an experiment than an inspired move. It’s possible that it may have been cast off from Setzer’s solo album The Knife Feels Like Justice. (That album was also released in ’86; it’s no wonder that Rock Therapy sounds like it was made so quickly). But Setzer comes off much better on three rockabilly originals (“Reckless”, “I’m a Rocker”, “Change of Heart”). The covers are also well done, as the trio does justice to Chuck Berry (“Beautiful Delilah”), Gene Vincent (“Race With the Devil”), Buddy Holly (“Looking For Someone To Love”), Johnny Burnette (the title track), and Charlie Feathers (“One Hand Loose”). Rock Therapy is an authentically good rockabilly album, although it lacks the immediacy of the earlier Stray Cats recordings. (Note: Rock Therapy is currently out of print, but it was available in the U.S. as recently as 2008 on the now-defunct Hep Cat label).


Track Listings:

Phantom, Rocker & Slick “Phantom, Rocker & Slick” (EMI America ST-17172) 1985

1. What You Want
2. My Mistake
3. Hollywood Distractions
4. No Regrets
5. Well Kept Secret
6. Men Without Shame
7. Runnin’ From The Hounds
8. Time Is On My Hands
9. Sing For Your Supper
10. Lonely Actions


Phantom, Rocker & Slick “Cover Girl” (EMI America ST-17229) 1986

1. Cover Girl
2. The Only Way To Fly
3. Sidewalk Princess
4. It’s Good To Be Alive
5. Still Got Time
6. Can’t Get It Right
7. Going South
8. I Found Someone Who Loves Me
9. Enough Is Enough
10. Dressed In Dirt
11. Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress


Stray Cats “Rock Therapy” (EMI America ST-17226) 1986

1. Rock Therapy
2. Reckless
3. Race With The Devil
4. Looking For Someone To Love
5. I Wanna Cry
6. I’m a Rocker
7. Beautiful Delilah
8. One Hand Loose
9. Broken Man
10. Change of Heart