By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I’ve been spending most of my spare time recently figuring out how to get rid of crap, and sifting what’s left into clusters of relative importance — what I can take if I have to leave the country with 30-minute, 24-hour, or two-week notice. It’s a constant struggle to avoid giving in to my twin senses of historic archival responsibility and regular consumer lust. The great thing about the holiday gift-giving season is that, by permitting me to purchase cool shit for the less enlightened, it affords me vicarious consumer thrills without actually messing with the austere feng shui of my live/work space. Here’s a compendium of this year’s most idiosyncratic must-give items.
First things first: I would like to formally nominate San Francisco electronics geek Mitch Altman for sainthood for the invention of TV-B-Gone, the universal keychain-size OFF remote control, and sole product of his company, Cornfield Electronics Inc. — "dedicated to the use of technology for something useful." This is an item I have dreamed of for many years as I sat in an empty bar or waiting room, bombarded with the inane babble of Babylon cranked up to 11. If some jillionaire would please distribute 200 million of these and an equal number of those shades from They Live, our species might stand a chance ($15 from www.TVBGone.com).
If you must watch TV, please watch cable access. If you don’t get cable access, go to www.publicaccesshollywood.com and order a $12 postage-paid copy of this year’s most underappreciated documentary, Public Access Hollywood, featuring local legend Francine Dancer (performing her should-be hit Pizza Box), Christian Scientific Ventriloquist David Hart, postmodern psychedelic deconstructionists the Three Geniuses and other auteurs of the last frontier of American free expression. The Cartoon Network’s late-night Atlanta-based "Adult Swim" programming block is also an acceptable broadcast choice, and I’m constantly amazed at how many of my friends have never seen the dysfunctional fast-food meal Aqua Teen Hunger Force or the dysfunctional marine-research team Sealab 2021, both of which have new DVD collections out at fine stores everywhere. Help your teenage relatives prepare to navigate a jarring, discontinuous hallucinatory media landscape with the full set. If you really want to see the cutting edge of lo-fi animation, though, seek out Pick a Winner,a DVD (+ CD) compilation featuring a cluster of amazing sort-of computer animations by some of the intrepid tripsters from Rhode Island who produce the great comix in Paper Rodeo and Paper Rad and the neopsychedelic overload art installations of the Dearraindrop collective ($16 from www.loadrecords.com).
My new favorite small record label is called Sublime Frequencies. It was started a year or two back by Alan Bishop, lead oud player and bassist for the unclassifiable Sun City Girls, as an outlet for his and his friends’ extremely non-traditional recordings of world music. Ranging from the fragmentary broadcast collage of discs like Radio Palestineand Radio Java to the pop-ephemera salvage operations of Cambodian Cassette Archives and Princess Nicotine: Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar (Burma), the label offers a startlingly fresh and creative approach to ethnomusicological documentation, embracing the subjectivity of the compiler’s attention and taste, as well as the chance sound events that define actual environments. Providing a much-needed corrective to the cartoonish caricatures and pious history lessons that make up our current picture of Islam, these audio encounters with mostly Muslim Southern Asia and North Africa also happen to be riddled with breathtaking musical gems. But you’re just as likely to find yourself immersed in shortwave static, the cries of street merchants, honking traffic, or droning cicadas. Most titles $14 from www.sublimefrequencies.com. I’d be remiss not to mention the new album from the Thai Elephant Orchestra, Elephonic Rhapsodies, which amends their first record’s delicate random avant-gardisms with a number of pachyderm/human collaborations, including amazing renditions of the Hank Williams classic Kaw-liga, and Beethoven’s Pastorale.
Seasonal outsider musical offerings include the soundtrack to A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant ($15 from www.sh-k-boom.com), which, although not actually referencing any of the various solstice-marking rituals now occurring around us, is permeated with a pernicious sense of renewal entirely in keeping with miraculous self-replenishing oil reserves and other joyful mythologies. Those who recently enjoyed the play at Santa Monica’s Powerhouse will be pleased by the expanded version on CD, including new answers to the recurring onstage question What does the L. [in L. Ron Hubbard] stand for?: "The L stands for Health, the L stands for Hope, the L stands for Teach us how to cope!" Amen. Even if you missed it last year, The American Song-Poem Christmas(www.bar-none.com) offers choice song-factory productions of would-be hitmakers’ songwriting efforts, including such looking-glass classics as Santa Came on a Nuclear Missile and the classic Rodd Keith cut Santa Claus Goes Modern — possibly the most enervated yuletide single ever cut. From an adjacent parallel universe, Dust-to-Digital (the label responsible for last year’s amazing rickety gospel box set Goodbye Babylon) has compiled Where Will You Be Christmas Day?, an eclectic gumbo of vintage roots recordings ranging from the alien vocalise of the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers to the early calypso of Lord Beginner’s Christmas Morning the Rum Had Me Yawning ($15 from www.dust-digital.com).