Pirate Cat Radio

Album Reviews

Minnesota Nice and The Most Dangerous Polka Band on Earth

I’m in Minneapolis for part of the summer, staying in a 400 unit condo complex that seems to be a cross between a retirement community and a gay cruise. Bitchy queens tanning by the pool while old ladies do lazy laps in water wings. They call it the Gay 90s – either you’re gay or you’re 90.

Before I came here all I knew about Minneapolis was that Tom Waits wrote a song called 9th and Hennepin, and it was the home of Bob Dylan, Husker Du, the Replacements, and Prince. Prince always reminds me of the funeral where my friends hid out in the bathroom doing drugs. It seemed in particularly bad taste as Rik died of an overdose, so I don’t listen to much Prince. I do listen to the Replacements, quite a lot in fact, and Bob Dylan is unavoidable.

These days this seems to be a big Jazz city. I have a solid and well-earned reputation for hating Jazz. It’s not that I don’t get it, I get it, and I hate it! I’ve been known to run out of the room when the threat of a flute or squeaky saxophone becomes apparent, so the scene is pretty much lost on me.

So far the best music I’ve seen was at a place called the Polonaise. A place that looks like its been going strong since the 1940s. Red and gold glitter vinyl booths and mirrored bars. In one room, an ancient woman manned the piano framed by a circular bar with patrons bellied up and awaiting their turn at the mic. On the other side of the swinging doors was a polka bar with a trio billed as The Most Dangerous Polka Band on Earth crammed onto a stage about as big as a coffin. An elderly gentleman who couldn’t sing was the singer, and an even more elderly woman rocked the house with an accordian, while a spry drummer no older than 65 kept a steady beat on the drums. The coolest thing was there we’re people of all ages crammed into both of these bars. Drinking and singing and doing the Chicken Dance – the fucking Chicken Dance. I’ve always thought of the Chicken Dance as something distinctly European, but it just goes to show the depth of the Midwestern cosmopolitan ethic.

Minneapolis is a liberal city, with lots of unpretentious hipsters and beautiful architecture.
There is however, an eerie glut of white people. After 18 years in San Francisco, and riding the Mission 14, I’ve gotten pretty used to being the only white girl within eyeshot. I’ve grown beyond comfortable and have to strain to even notice anymore. But being surrounded by people who look like me feels odd.

The saxophones and white people are outweighed by the theatrical weather. Weather that alternates between being so hot it feels like a bathroom hand dryer is pointed at your face, and radical summer storms what appear out of nowhere. A couple days ago I stood at the window and watched hail the size of golf balls, which I always thought was just an expression, fall out of the sky. The lawn was jumping with chunks of ice. Last night we watched an awesome lightening storm from the Hennepin Bridge. It was amazing, if you just stared into what looked like flat darkness and waited, a bolt would flash and light up layers and layers of clouds. Gorgeous.



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Bragg removes songs from MySpace

Billy Bragg has removed his music from the MySpace website as he fears it could be used without his permission.

The musician is objecting to a clause in the terms and conditions which he claims could allow MySpace to do what they want with it.

But a UK-based spokesman for MySpace, which is owned by News Corporation, said it does not have any ownership rights over any music put on the site.

The online networking site is popular with musicians posting their work.


Stars such as Robbie Williams, Madonna and U2 are among the artists who all have homepages on the site.

In a posting on Bragg’s homepage, his representative said: “Once an artist posts up any content (including songs) it then belongs to MySpace (aka Rupert Murdoch) and they can do what they want with it, throughout the world, without paying the artist.”

“Because of this we’ve had to take all of Billy’s songs down.”

The clause which has raised concerns states artists “grant to Myspace.com a non-exclusive, fully-paid and royalty-free, worldwide licence (with the rights to sublicense through unlimited levels of sub licensees) to use, copy, modify, adapt, translate, publicly perform, publicly display, store, reproduce, transmit and distribute such content on and through the services”.

But the MySpace spokesman said the copyright remains with the musician at all times and the clause is there only to allow the music to be used on the site in the way the artist intended.

He added that once the music is removed from the site the licence to MySpace is terminated.


In a statement, MySpace said: “Our terms of service are designed merely to allow artists to offer fans their music on MySpace and to permit the site to function as designed.

“Because the legalese has caused some confusion, we are at work clarifying it to make very clear that MySpace is not seeking a licence to do anything with an artist’s work other than allow it to be shared in the manner the artist intends.

“Putting music on MySpace does not give us the right to sell it – the musicians own their content and can do with it as they wish.

“Obviously, we don’t own their music or do anything with it that they don’t want.”

It added: “Because MySpace respects artists and the work, we go to great lengths to ensure their content is treated properly.”

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Just like Heaven…

Sitting in that room, surrounded by the fragrance of a thousand cars torn into a thousand parts bleeding in from the adjoining warehouse, stacks of records and a wall of cds, panels of blinking lights and a phone with no handset, staring out the asphalt through barred windows, it’s easy to feel alone. Really alone. It’s easy to wonder if anyone is listening to the music you are so lovingly choosing – the music you’ve scavenged all week, the sets you’ve planned, the segues you tried out in your head.

When the phone rings its heaven, (except when it’s Monkey chastising you for playing Tricky or something you really knew wasn’t Post X but couldn’t go another minute without hearing). Knowing you’ve effected someone’s day and that the song you just put on made them feel something, enough of something to dial their phone and say thanks, is what makes every breath of effort worthwhile.


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Roger and Me

On April 26th Roger Miller from Mission of Burma, Alloy Orchestra, and Binary System, he’s a busy guy, came into the Pirate Cat studio. He was dreamy and it was a blast. A real live grown up who didn’t crash and burn in the 80s punk scene and continues to make music. Mission of Burma has a new album that came out last month, Obliterati. They’ll likely be touring next fall and will come through San Francisco in September.Go see them, the rock! Alloy Orchestra is another project Roger Miller is a part of with a couple other musicians. They compose contemporary scores for classic, and new silent movies that they play live while the movie is showing. They travel the world playing film festivals. He was in SF playing at the Castro theater.

Roger – we’re on a first name basis now you see – played four or five songs in the studio. All I did was turn up the main mic and the sound was great. I just sat there listening, dazed and feeling spoiled. Later we had drinks and laughed and talked about grown up things like kids and divorce.


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Glovebox interview

So the lovely people of the band Glovebox dropped in for an interview this evening. It went well i think. If you can’t get a band to laugh and talk about politics then what is the point. Oh, and they are from Australia. I taught them how to properly pronounce the word “no” and in turn they taught me that Melbourne is pronounced Mel-bun. Good times. Too band they were just passing through San Francisco. Makes me wonder if we aren’t a bunch of hicks out of touch and fooling ourselves.

Rock on and long live the greats music of the 80s.

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Revisiting a Classic: Cocteau Twins’ “Victorialand” LP (4AD) on the 20th Anniversary Of Its Release

Cocteau Twins debuted in 1983 out of Glasgow, Scotland and quickly became one of the most highly influential and innovative bands in the era’s post-punk movement. Setting them apart were their bold ventures into various new sounds and a uniquely creative approach to their music production; at first rendering them as dark and atmospheric, and later as lush and ethereal, moody and psychedelic. Moreover, their indecipherable lyrics, cryptic album cover art, and their notoriety for being press-shy only contributed to their air of mystery.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of their fourth release, “Victorialand” on 4AD, thus inspiring me to revisit this pivotal moment in the Twins’ career. The tone and mood for this album was decidedly more thematic: a consistent, more relaxed sound full of lush and haunting melodies without the use of percussion and a more subtle bass. Tracks such as “Lazy Calm” (the album’s opener) and “Fluffy Tufts” manage to convey just what their titles suggest. Even if you don’t know what a “tuft” is or how it could be “fluffy”, one can’t help but simply imagine it…and that is the magic of Cocteau Twins and the beauty of this record. The fluidity of the guitar on “Oomingmak” is like a steady, wave of what I call ‘emotional gradation’, to which vocalist Elizabeth Frasier’s oft-said “other-worldly” voice heavily contributes. The arrangements on “Feet-like Fins” and “How to Bring a Blush to the Snow” display their knack for being unconventional and abstract, all the while remaining beautiful. All eight tracks on this album convey a kind of melancholia that somehow seems inspiring and full of hope. 20 years doesn’t seem to have aged this album a bit.

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X – Make the Music Go Bang

X exploded out of Los Angeles’ legendary club The Masque in the late ’70s, the epicenter of the city’s thriving punk underground. X also ultimately proved to be one of the most influential American rock bands of their time. Fronted by Exene Cervenka and John Doe-who co-wrote their material-and anchored by Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake, X reinvented punk with their literate and volatile sound. The band’s inspired individuality, however, obeyed no genre boundaries and fused rockabilly, country, metal, roots rock, and more into the mix. Their landmark 1980 debut, Los Angeles, kicked off an extraordinary career that’s spotlighted in this essential retrospective.

Casual fans and folks who want to get introduced to X should first get ‘Make The Music Go Bang’. That compilation serves up a 2-CD slice of some of their biggest songs and serves as a proper Greatest Hits package.

‘Beyond & Back’ is served better as a complimentary collection to ‘Make The Music Go Bang’ by delving further into the X catalog with rarities, outtakes, B-Sides, and alternate takes on some of their greatest songs.

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Wire – 154

Completing the transformation from abstract punks to art-rockers, 154 is Wire’s most impressive album. The virulance still remains, but with more depth and style than elsewhere. Ever-changing writing partnerships create a new level of tension, pulling the release in often-disparate directions. On the surface this creates a rather disjointed album, but the sheer quality of writing and performance soon banishes such thoughts for good.

Experimentation is still evident—most notably in the harrowing The Other Window that tells the story of a man travelling on a foreign train. From his window, he notices a dying horse fataly trapped in a barbed wire fence. The stressed instrumentation of the backing and out-of-time metronome drumbeat enhance the atmosphere building to the simple finale: ‘He turned away/What could he do/The other window had a nicer view’.

Wire’s keen sense of observation also appears within the amusing On Returning, emphasising the way British people sometimes travel overseas with a level of nonchalance and arrogance: ‘You’ll be sorry when the sun has roasted you to lobster red’; ‘On arriving with the third language tucked into your briefcase next to your toothbrush’.

The musical high-point arrives halfway through the album in the shape of A Mutual Friend. The arrangement is rather less contemporary than any of the other tracks, combining various guitars with cor anglais passage and evolving drum beats that range from delicate cymbal play to rampaging tom rolls.

The reissue also adds a four track EP with one piece from each member of Wire, and the cutting B-side Go Ahead, which probably says more about the situation with the band’s record label at the time than any other piece of prose. If you like Wire then you’ll adore 154 and although this is sometimes one of the most painfully disjointed albums you’re ever likely to hear it’s also one of the best.

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