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Published: 2008/10/20
by Jesse Jarnow

Indie Weirdo Round Up: John Baker, Menahan Street Band, Oneida, James Jackson Toth, Why?

The John Baker Tapes, vol. 1 – John Baker (Trunk)

For those intent on making their listening as much like a bizarre-o late night radio station as possible via the employment of shuffle and cross-fade features, then the first compilation by BBC in-house musician John Baker will quickly cause the illusion of having tuned into the pirate station of some celestial art-freak. Creating small, perfect electronic vignettes as a radio show themes and intra-segment introductions between 1963 and 1969, Baker—who died in 1997—strikes the perfect tone between experimental and playful. There are baroque figures ("French Science and Technology"), instructions on how to speed up and slow down samples poured water and pulled wine corks to create seven seconds of music ("Women's Hour"), analog wildlife ("Locusts"), and a few extended compositions ("Building the Bomb"). Library music at its best.

Heads Ain’t Ready 7-inch – Oneida (These Are Not Records)

The latest from the Brooklyn head-rock heroes Oneida—whose Preteen Weaponry is perhaps the jammingest release of the season—is a 7-inch-only release of two tunes from the Grateful Dead’s self-titled 1967 debut. Both are punk-ass tears through Dead jams that were pretty punk-ass to begin with. The A-side, Jerry Garcia’s solo-penned "Cream Puff War," is the slightly tighter of the two, but both are more or less the same: blazing solos and ecstatic group choruses. "Cold Rain and Snow," which the Dead adapted from Obray Ramsay’s traditional arrangement, has some great mixes (perfect for Andy Votel’s next mix), and rides on a bed of vintage organ and overheated guitars. Or maybe that’s just the mp3 transfer.

Waiting In Vain – James Jackson Toth (Rykodisc)

It's a cop-out to call something Dylanesque, but it's tempting to do so for James Jackson Toth's debut under his own name after recording for years with the Wooden Wand moniker. Perhaps it'd be more polite to call it Donovanesque. Whatever it is—and it doesn't often sound much like Dylan/Donovan, just an undeniable predilection for run-on surrealism—Toth seems to have recovered the primal melodies that lacked on last year’s James and the Quiet, and regained a Biblical authority, taboot. "When the ocean came between them, they would build a boat and row," Toth sings on "Nothing Hides," which grooves along on a pleasant twang-bed. But sometimes it does sound like a vintage ’65 electric side, like "Beulah the Good," where Toth sings about "blind eyes so vampiric they come on so slight, but by the looks of it she’ll hardly even notice" and how "she speaks as if onstage opposite a dying leading man who’s clearly gotten sick and plain gone crazy" over a peppy folk-rock beat. No complaints. Just sayin’.

Alopecia Demos – Why? (self-released)
Almost Live From Eli’s House – Why? (self-released)
A pair of subtly conceptual releases by Why?, the Anticon outfit that convincingly fuses indie rock with semi-subtle hip-hop strategies, the Alopecia Demos and Almost Live from Eli’s House present the beginning and end products around their latest album Alopecia, released in March. Peppered with tight melodies, mega-confessional lyrics ("touching your handwriting, getting horny by reading it") and devastating observations ("you’re a beautiful and violent word, with the skinny neck of a Chinese bird"), Alopecia is one of the year’s most original and pleasingly beguiling albums. The former companion disc contains early drafts for the songs, mostly complete and surprisingly vulnerable, by leader Yoni Wolf; the latter a pristinely recorded version of the live quartet’s 2008 repertoire. There’s not much change between the tunes. On the contrary, hearing three different versions of the material, like the "These Few Presidents" and "The Hollows" underscores the luminous hookiness of Wolf’s writing. Eli’s House, highlighting the band’s arrangements—double drumming, xylophone, lotsa telepathic lushness—is the more interesting of the two. But if one is interested in one, he’s probably interested in both. Why not?

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