Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Steve Burns - Songs for Dustmites

Steve Burns - Songs for Dustmites

That this record exists at all is kind of funny.  Explaining its pedigree to a person usually elicits the response you might get if you were to start a joke with 'A priest, a rabbi and a monk walked into a bar...'. 

So Steve Burns, the original host of Blue's Clues on Nick Jr., decides to abandon a well-loved and high-profile gig on cable television in favor of recording a song cycle about a reluctant Superman with the help of one Steven Drozd - who we all know as the drummer for the Flaming Lips.  Drozd convinces the Lips' producer - God of Clusterfuck Thunder Dave Fridmann - to produce the album, and then Steve stole the Big Comfy Chair from the set over at Nickelodeon, and the rest is history.

I bought this record from the sorely missed Music Millennium in Northwest Portland on the day it was released - which also happened to be the very first day I ever spent in Portland.  I have a soft spot for novelty music that strives to be something bigger than itself, but I was particularly excited about this one: I'd been reading about it for more than a year, and I already regarded Steve as the most earnest and engaging children's show host since Fred Rogers.  Also, at the time I was so apeshit in love with the Flaming Lips that the chocolate-and-peanut butter nature of 'Songs for Dustmites' was sure to appeal to me.

Of course, with Dave Fridmann at the boards, the album kicks into overdrive almost immediately with 'Mighty Little Man'.  Steve Burns assumes the role of a man who accidentally imbues himself with superpowers in a laboratory accident.  The song is big and loud, and with lines like "Nobody else is stronger than I am/Yesterday I moved a mountain/I bet I could be your hero/I am a mighty little man', it could almost sound like some Creed bullshit if you didn't get the feeling that the singer is being entirely literal.

What follows, surprisingly, isn't 40 minutes of amateur songwriting buried under the electronic patchouli that smothered every Lips album from 'The Soft Bulletin' until 'At War With the Mystics'.  In fact, the quieter moments are the best: '>1' finds our Mighty Little Man wishing for simpler times, remembering building forts, playing with G.I. Joes and anticipating a future in which we'll live on the moon; for the percussion on this track, Steve mic'd the armrests of the big red patent leather chair from the Blue's Clues set and played them like a bongo.  'A Reason' sounds like a plea for sex with the ex, 'Stick Around' expands to include a surprisingly subtle, intricate string arrangement.  The centerpiece of the record is 'A Song for Dustmites', a simple piano ballad about love on a microcosmic scale, which launches into the troposphere at the final chorus with a spine-shaking drum solo from Drozd.  And just to make sure everyone who ever hears it has a chance to scratch their head and say What the Fuck, there's also a song about string theory.

Seven years ago, I spent six nights in the hostel in NW Portland, eating ecstasy and hardwiring this record to my brain.  To me it's a record about smashing through the walls and entering a major new phase, and then realizing how incapable and scared you really are.  The Mighty Little Man has his heart mishandled and decides that although he has the ability to save the world, the world doesn't deserve it.  The stupid bitch.

[originally posted 10/29/10]

The Inner Ear

Welcome to The Inner Ear.

The last thing the world needs is another music blogger.  Some people feel compelled to read a dozen different reviews of the new National or Walkmen or Kanye record, and it doesn't take more than a couple microseconds of googling to satisfy that compulsion.  Here, treacherously deep inside the Inner Ear, I'm not going to have much to say about the hot new shit - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros will complete their eighteen month Moment in the Sun/Backlash/Toyota Commercial life cycle without me adding my two cents.

What you'll find here will be a more-or-less daily examination of one record at a time - a close, personal interaction between myself, your dear old Horned Gramma, and some of my favorite records from my vast collection of marginalia and weirdo music.  It might be something thirty years old or more.  It might be something you've never heard of and may never hear of again.  You may find yourself here because you searched for information on a strange, mysterious disc you found in a dimly-lit record store and this was the only place on Al Gore's vastly, beautifully strange internet that you could find any information about it at all.  Maybe while you're here you'll find some other odd little treasure to take home and puzzle over.

My responses to the records I will be writing about will be more emotional than critical -- it's easy to rip to shreds an album that you can't stand, but making someone understand why you, personally, love a piece of music is much more fun and rewarding. 

Hopefully, over time, this place will become something of an archive and a resource for the many, many great and lost masterpieces that exist outside of the mainstream and outside of the collective consciousness.  That isn't to say that my main objective is to impress you with all the totally obscure records I have, because most of these records are not hidden from and inaccessible to the general public.  In a lot of cases, you'd probably just never know to look for them.

This project was started under a different name in the autumn of 2010 in a dusty corner of the Sasquatch! Music Festival message board.  The Sasquatch! Festival takes place on Memorial Day Weekend at the Gorge Amphitheater in Quincy, Washington, so it's existence at that venue served the purpose of giving the couple dozen people who suffer from Sasquatch! Fever year-round something to talk about during the winter months.  Some of you may have followed me here from there.  The first couple dozen posts will be an archive of the pieces I wrote over there, and then we'll move forward with new stuff.

Pitchfork is the new MTV, just like MTV was the new American Bandstand.  Let this be MTV2, or that weird Canadian channel that would only come in on C-Band at like 2:30am.  This is where Residents videos are still in heavy rotation; this is the dark side where the Moon Man never planted his flag.  This is where The Philistines Jr. made it big instead of Green Day.  So nestle on in like a Ceti eel and permeate the membrane of The Inner Ear.