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The University of Hartford

Music and Culture of the
New Depression
With Kevin "Moondog" O'Toole

My “ratings” pledge
You will not see this column cluttered up with complaints about awful music, films or television (which is what it’s chiefly concerned with.  If it’s worth me writing about it, I will write about it here.
The ratings for this column will be between *** (three stars) meaning “Worth a shot” and ***** (five stars) meaning, “Damn, don’t you have this already?  What’s the matter with you?”
Another thing: since I end up dividing my free time between music and films (as well as other occasional media), this column will no longer just be about music.  It will probably just as often be about films, but no longer just music.
As such, I will feel free occasionally to kibitz (though perhaps only at year end) about some of the worst movies out there, as well as the best.
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       The hipness curve for your average post-punk retro-funk-soul revival can be tough to scan.  One minute, you’re Jon Spencer Blues Explosion; next, you could be a jam band on tour with a Phish reunion.
Having heard two CD’s from the back catalog of Montreal, Canada’s ten-year old band King Khan and the Shrines, all I can advise is that you ride the psychedelic freak out while it lasts, baby.
Unlike the comparatively lean Blues Explosion, the Shrines is a full octet plus its’ leader King Khan (formerly known as Blacksnake when he was a member of another Montreal outfit known as the Spaceshits).  Little has been told about Khan (like, for instance, his birth name), but his live shows with the Shrines are taking on ledgendary status.
If their recorded output (so far represented in the states by Vice Records’ 2008 compilation The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines (****½) and their stateside release of 2007’s What Is?! (****½)) is any indication, the band throws down a manic energy that is in parts James Brown, Otis Redding, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, MC-5 and... Jeff Buckley??? 
Yeah, okay, Jeff Buckley.  I’ll go there when describing the tune “The Ballad of Lady Godiva” from What Is?! with its’ harmonium drone recalling “Lover You Should Have Come Over”.  It’s a different track amongst a set of psychedelic garage soul rave-ups.  The only thing it sonically shares with anything else on the album is a deliberately lo-fi ethos.
The album begins, however, with a four song blast that announces the arrival of the King and his court:
“How Can I Keep You) Outta Harms Way” is a post-Motown garage rock macho anthem, backed with a horn section featuring sax by Long Fred Roller and Ben Ra and lead guitarist Till Timm, and led by the able and soulful shouting and screaming of Khan.
“I Wanna Be a Girl”  (“sometimes” amends Khan) is an ode to sexual frustration that would make an able B-side to the Monkees’ “Stepping Stone” (or, if you like, the Sex Pistols)
Welfare Bread” is King Khan pimping the benefits of living on the dole queue, and I do mean pimping...
“Land of the Freak,” however, is the H-Bomb 300 pound gorilla of this set.  It’s the full on rave-up that this band was built to deploy.  This group began in Canada, and developed in Berlin, Germany, but along the way it must have astral projected to Muscle Shoals in the late 60’s while holding a seance to call up the poltergeist of James Brown and the JB’s.  Thankfully they left evidence of this paranormally funky and explosive event on tape for us to hear.
What Is?! has plenty else to offer, if only because the rest is “just” a great big chunk of expertly delivered garage pop (“Fear & Love,” could be a lost b-side to the Amboy Dukes’ “Journey to the Center of the Mind”).
What Is?! was a 2007 import just arrived here on Brooklyn’s Vice Records, but also worth mentioning here is last year’s Vice Records compilation of The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines, which features four tracks from What Is?!, but is loaded with other worthy nuggets from overseas Shrines releases.  Notably: “Torture”, from 2004’s Smash Hits; “Destroyer” from their Hazelwood release Mister Supernatural; “Sweet Tooth” from an early release on the German label Sounds of Subterrania; and “Took My Lady to Dinner” from their first solo billed release, Spread Your Love Like Peanut Butter.
If you like Queens of the Stone Age or Jon Spencer, or anything hip and rocking, then do not delay and dig you some Shrines now!
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Listen for three hours of new and rare sounds every Friday on the Friday Gothic Blimp Works- “Call It Thing” At Midnight after Friday Accent on Jazz, and tune into Culture Dogs every Sunday night at 8 PM for an hour about films on the local scene and at your local video peddler, with myself and Sam Hatch.  Listen live at 91.3 FM WWUH, 89.9 WAPJ Torrington and wwuh.org.  Culture Dogs also podcasts thru culturedogs.org.
Peace, Kevin

 

Copyright©WWUH: July/August Program Guide, 2009

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