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Published: 2008/02/24
by Jesse Jarnow

Indie Weirdo Round-Up featuring Eugene Chadbourne/Jimmy Carl Black/Pat Thomas, Cornelius, Jeffrey Lewis, Megafaun, Pete Seeger

The Jack & Jim Show Presents: Hearing is Believing – Eugene Chadbourne, Jimmy Carl Black, and Pat Thomas (Boxholder)
The latest installment in the 15-year collaboration between demented avant-banjoist Eugene Chadbourne and original Mothers of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black, recorded in mid-2005, begins with the usual scratchy banjo kerplunks from Dr. Chadbourne. The ‘Dr.,’ Chadbourne once said, ‘stands for drop ‘drop-out.’‘ and the DIY-anarchist philosophy runs through every note. Three inside-out Beatles covers demonstrate the durability of Lennon and McCartney’s melodies under even the most bizarre deconstructions, including a brilliant 16-minute jam beginning with a post-Mansonite take on ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey’ in which ‘come on, take it easy’ sounds more desperate than laid back. British improv’er Pat Thomas keeps Chadbourne’s atonalities grounded with lush keyboards. Extraordinarily accessible by Dr. Chad’s standards. Totally WTFworthy by most others.
Gum EP – Cornelius (Everloving)
If lack of organics was the primary problem on last year’s Sensuous, the fifth album by shibuya-kei leader Keigo Oyamada, then the new Gum EP does its best to remedy that. The centerpiece of the eight song, 40 minute release is a pair of covers by American vocalist Petra Haden — one in English, one in Japanese — in which she uses her a capella process to re-realize the hyper-composed grids of ‘Music.’ Three new tracks also appear, including a cover of Yellow Magic Orchestra (‘Cue’), and ‘Turn Turn,’ a collaboration with film composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, which is perhaps the most traditionally Japanese-sounding track Oyamada has yet released, Oriental modes transposed into electronics and laid atop a stuttering beat fit for Midnite Vultures-era Beck. Still, the songs suffer the same sterility as their LP counterparts, minus ‘Kling Klang,’ a seven-minute collage of chimes and bells. Post-rock leading lights Prefuse 73 and The Books try their hand at remixes, the latter a skittering electro-acoustic concoction that finds a groove of its own in the last minutes (‘Fit Song’), the former not pushing terribly far from Oyamada’s own mini-anthems, until an extended ambient coda.
12 Crass Songs – Jeffrey Lewis (Rough Trade)
The Lower East Side anti-folker sinks his teeth into a dozen songs by Crass, the literally anarchic UK punks who never made much of a domestic splash, but were never meant to, anyway. Like the Dirty Projectors’ intentionally half-remembered tribute to Black Flag, Rise Above, and both of Cat Power’s covers albums, Lewis reinvents the songs from the inside out. Or, perhaps not so much ‘reinvent’ as transfer them from the early Thatcher-era UK to turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. If there was weariness in punk to begin with, at least there was the hope that the genre could change the world. In Lewis’s hands, there’s no hope that punk can even do that — but that doesn’t mean the songs aren’t worth singing. Not quite as awesome as Lewis’s ever-growing songbook of idiosyncratic originals, the Crass catalogue at least works as a base to find an ideology behind Lewis’s monotoned apathy.
Bury the Square – Megafaun (Table of the Elements)
Buddies with nu-indie/jammer heroes Akron/Family — all of Megafaun joined the expanded Akrons line-up on their fall tour — the North Carolina outfit appeal for many of the same reasons as the Williamsport/Williamsburg outfit. Ragged harmonies, of course, are the order of the day on Megafaun’s Bury the Square debut, which range from group-chanted gospel-folk of ‘His Robe’ to gentle Brian Wilson/Yo La Tengo coos on the opening ‘Find Your Mark.’ The Raleigh trio hasn’t quite found their focus yet, occasionally disappearing into distant noise drifts, such as on the 11-minute ‘Where We Belong.’ Elsewhere, they get it just right, shifting into an effortlessly fluid Appalachian groove on ‘Lazy Suicide’ that sounds somewhere between the Allman Brothers and Brooklyn heroin-chic sludge-rockers Vietnam.
American Favorite Ballads, v. 5 – Pete Seeger (Smithsonian Folkways)
Folk legend Pete Seeger presents something of a conundrum. A one-man archive of American folk music culled from cowboys and miners and hobos, Seeger’s presentations are so lily white that it is hard to reconcile the genteel music with any type of cultural vitality. But, however his music holds up, Jah bless it. Seeger’s five volumes American Favorite Ballads make the core of his Johnny Appleseed-like work, the subject of a recently concluded reissue program by Smithsonian Folkways. The 29 songs on the last installment — originally released in 1962 — are the usual cross-section of banjo reels (‘Old Joe Clark’), neutered work tunes (‘Whoopie Ti-Yi-Yo, Get Along, Little Dogies’), and antediluvian campfire faves (‘Sweet Betsy From Pike’). It was history and technology that made Seeger the last orally-educated vessel of these songs before electricity twisted them beyond belief. It was Seeger’s sheer exuberance, still totally communicable in 2008, which put them in the hands of so many.

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