Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2023 June 28 • Wednesday

Happy birthday!

We're still very twentieth-century in a lot of ways around here. Don't get the wrong idea, we navigate the year 2023 about as well as anyone our age can reasonably be expected to—or so we think.

But we still favor the actual to the virtual. And it's perhaps for that reason that we haven't read as many issues of Jonathan Baylis's So Buttons as we would have liked to. Because we buy them when we see them, in an actual comic book store. And there aren't that many of those and we don't go into them that much, although we can remember a time when we went into a comic book shop something like five times a week!

Anyway, Baylis writes these wonderful stories and gets different artists to draw them. It's very reminiscent of American Splendor and Baylis has made the connection explicit in the cover of So Buttons #8:

But, uh, we don't actually have this one. The next time we go on an online shopping spree we might just order everything we don't already have from Baylis, but for now we just have what we have.

And that includes So Buttons #10:

It's wonderful. Baylis's tone is different from Harvey Pekar's but the idea of personal, feet on the ground reportage of everyday life is what American Splendor is all about, as far as we're concerned.

Baylis can use his memories to encourage readers to become bone marrow donors or to talk a bit about Norman Mailer, whose birthday (not the year but the day) he shares.

Also charming are insights into the new world of fatherhood. We've been there! We're still there! We never want to leave!

There's a lot to grumble about these days but there always was. And it was always restorative and gratifying to find something genuine and uplifting like Jonathan Baylis's So Button comics.

Go get 'em!

2023 June 26 • Monday

The 784th Soundtrack of the Week is Toru Fuyuki's music from Daigoro vs Goliath.

It starts with a few very peppy vocal numbers, all the same tune, and since “Gambare Daigorou!” is a prominent lyric, Daigoro must be the good monster.

Then there are some pastiches of cheery, “classical” music followed by a few cues that sound more like dramatic underscore before a return to an instrumental version of the main theme.

In general the music is comedic and signals that the movie’s target audience is children. You will hear the main theme enough times so that it’ll be hard to shake out of your head.
2023 June 23 • Friday

Bear Family has once again unearthed a fascinating relic from the early days of American rock and roots music. In this case it’s twenty-one demos sung by P. J. Proby for the consideration of a certain Elvis Presley, mostly for his movies.

Almost all of the songs on Presley Style: Lost Elvis Songwriter Demos 1961–1963 sound pretty much perfect for the King, and cover a wide range of material as well, all well suited for their royal object. Perhaps the major key to Elvis’s success, despite all the ink spilled about danger and sex and pelvises, was his corniness, tagged early on by Nick Tosches, and the songwriters have instilled that hokiness (they prefer the word “sentimental”) in most of the numbers here while Proby does his best Presley impression on the vocals. He even talks like Elvis, making this a “method” approach to demo recordings.

Most of the songs have adroit electric guitar playing (jazzier than Scotty Moore), bass and drums and, on at least one song, organ. There’s an army song, a circus song, a “girlfriend as hit rod” song (with the inevitable “classy chassis”) and some exotic vacation songs (“Fun in Acapulco”) as befitting the miles logged by Presley’s movie roles.

And then there are in-the-pocket rock/pop songs with dips into novelty and nods at Presley’s past hits (dog howls, for instance).

This probably isn’t for the casual listener but there aren’t too many of those around Gutbrain Headquarters and once again we have nothing but respect and admiration for the Bear Family label.
2023 June 21 • Wednesday

Once again we've found ourselves reading "literature", something we generally avoid. Not because we're anti-intellectual or anything like that, just that "literature" comes with a lot of baggage and pesumptions and, well, just doesn't really deliver a lot of the time.

Certainly there are numerous examples of really great writing but great writing can be found anywhere. And we like to look for it in places that are uexpected or forgotten.

Julian Shapiro's Water Wheel is actually something of a forgotten book, brought back to our attention by the admirable Tough Poets Press.

While it's not really for us, it does have its points of interest, most notably the descriptions of Manhattan in the 1930s. At the time this was probably just a casual reporting of what anyone would have observed but now, 90 years later, it's fascinating.

It's essentially an autobiographical novel in which the narrator, a stand-in for the author, grapples with his own thoughts, feelings and memories, always complicated in each moment by sexual desires.

At the time this was a bit much for readers and some critics put the book down for its sexual content. It isn't explicit by our standards but even today's reader might find it surprisingly frank.

But the real point of the book seems to be modernism, to write in a post-Joyce manner, after Joyce's massive efforts to shove writing itself forward down a path that few could see. Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf are also mentioned in this regard, all three authors namechecked in a blurb for the book at the time of its initial publication.

And that's one of our problems with literature right there. We don't have much need for writing itself to take a new form. Sure, it can, but there should be a good reason for it that's organic to the book itself.

That's probably true when it comes to Joyce, Stein and Woolf (we wouldn't know) but in this case it feels imitative and performative. The book isn't about much other than young man going kind of crazy in New York and then going to London to go kind of crazy over there. With so little story or plot going on, then certainly the author is going to have to do something extraordinary to make it worth reading but it takes more than some unusual punctuation and typesetting.

But it's still an interesting artifact and we were grateful to have this window into a different time.

The first line is "Hudson River was a quarter of a mile from his window".

2023 June 19 • Monday

In general I don't really like having clips of dialogue from the movie included in the soundtrack album. But the 783rd Soundtrack of the Week is a definite exception (as well as being a "jukebox" soundtrack, i.e., a collection of songs): Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.

This movie was actually my first encounter with Alan Partridge but I've gone back and watched all (I think) of the television programs. He's an amazing creation and it's fascinating to watch how he's grown over the years.

If you've seen the movie, the soundtrack album is a fun reminder, alternating bits of Alan and radio station jingles with songs that are used in the movie, mostly (entirely) as played on the North Norfolk Digital radio station.

There's a certain Alan Partridge zone for the songs, which is kind of an unabashed quality to them, whatever they might be.

They range from "Cuddly Toy" by Roachford (a favorite song from the record and a great scene in the movie as Alan lip synchs along to it while driving) to Gaudete by Steeleye Span, from Bryan Ferry's "Let's Stick Together" to Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman".

Listen to it and you'll probably find yourself wanting to watch the movie again!

2023 June 16 • Friday

Every once in a while we get an email out of the blue from somebody we don't know, usually regarding something we've written about on this site.

Approximately 100% of the time we love receiving these and the latest such is no exception.

A guitarist named Ryan Miller in Portland, OR, wanted to tell us about his band's new record because he thought we'd be into it. And he was right!

The band is called U SCO and the record is Catchin' Heat and it's an awesome mixture of art rock as well as more rock and roll type grooves, thrash, industrial and avant garde.

Most of it is instrumental, too, which is a bold choice but one of which we approve.

Not only is the music great but so is the production. The sound is thick but bright, lively and interesting.

Check it out here and hey, why not buy it?

2023 June 14 • Wednesday

Jason Starr's The Next Time I Die has a great idea for a story and while it seems to have been favorably received by just about everybody I glimpsed in two seconds of looking at a search result online, we regret to report that this particular book was not a hit at Gutbrain Headquarters—even though we also met Starr way back when in the Mysterious Bookshop days and liked him personally in addition to liking some of his novels.

Even back then, more than twenty years ago, he was helping to keep the paperback original alive and it appears he's even more successful in those endeavors now.

The Next Time I Die is about a lawyer whose life is in a bit of a crisis and abruptly finds himself, after a violent altercation that should most likely have been fatal, in an another world that's very similar but also very different in many ways.

In the world he came from, his wife was cheating on him and about to divorce him. In this world, they're still together. And wealthier! And they're both in better physical shape!

Sounds great, right? But the other shoe that drops is that things are actually even worse in this life. Like the fact that he's been cheating on his wife with their babysitter—the "he" in this case being whoever he is in this other dimension or timeline or whatever you want to call it.

Pretty soon things get much worse, as he finds out more about what he's been up to in this reality.

I love this idea. It's like a cousin of the time travel story. But this take on it ended up being frustrating.

The biggest hurdle is that the main character never really acts in a believable manner. Once he's figured out what's going on, basic survival skills and common sense would pretty much compel him to be a lot smarter than he is.

For example: this takes place in New York City and surrounding suburbs about twenty years after 9/11. And yet our hero wastes a lot of our time trying to get in touch with law enforcement and government officials to try to prevent 9/11 from happening.

This is after he's established that many, many, many things he remembers happening in this world never happened and probably never will. Google doesn't really exist, for instance, and neither does Netflix. There are similar companies with different names but they are, well diferent.

Presidential elections and world history are vastly changed as well, as are major sporting events, movies, anything you can think of.

So what's the point, in alternate reality 2021 or 2022 or whatever exact year it is, of calling all these people on the phone to warn them about Mohamed Atta? If Atta is even still alive, which might be the first thing to look into if you're really so concerned (and I contend that you shouldn't be, in this case), chances are he's not doing much.

It happens over and over, that despite a multitude of examples of how his own life and history are wildly different, as are the lives and histories of everyone else, he keeps freaking out about people being the same as they were in the timeline he came from.

This leads to the story taking a very limited path to its conclusion and for us it just wasn't that enjoyable.

But we haven't given up on Starr and will happily check out some of his other work someday!

The first line of The Next Time I Die is "Late Friday evening, I'm in my home office, honing my opening statement for the Jeffery Hammonod murder trial:

"If a person isn't responsible for the thoughts that lead to their actions, are they responsible for the results of those actions and, furthermore, do they deserve to be punished as a consequence of those actions?".

2023 June 12 • Monday

The 782nd Soundtrack of the Week is Nicholas Carras's music for The Doll Squad, "an elite army of female assassins in a race to save the world", which sounds to me like just another way of saying probably one of the best movies ever made!

It's on what they're calling "jumpsuit green vinyl" and, even more impressively, has an old-school print-out of the liner notes.

And what about the music? It starts with a very short "Big Boom", a dramatic suspense piece that's like an extended sting, and then has a bit of dialogue from the movie, the first of many such bits.

The first substantial cue is "Doll Squad Theme", a grooving number that's part Bond, part Shaft. Wah-wah guitar plays a prominent part, as do horns, an indication of what to expect from much of the music. The drums are really sharp on this.

Next is "Fateful Warning", a more atmospheric and pensive piece that makes effective use of organ and flute.

This is followed by "Dangerous Trail", basically a reprise of the main theme, and then the relatively subdued and suspenseful "Mad Man Talk", a short cue with organ as the main voice.

"Jealous Lady" features the alto sax on top of some interesting organ sounds, as well as the other woodwinds and ubiquitous electric bass guitar.

There's a lot of space and long tones in "Double Trouble", a restrained but tension-building piece in the first half but a soul jazz funk action cue in the second half.

Flute and piano are key structural elements in the jazz-ambient "A Put-Out", which almost sounds like a hybrid of west coast jazz and minimalism, like somewhere between Lalo Schifrin's Mission: Impossible music and Philip Glass.

Toes can start tapping again with the slinky "The Big Switch", which pleasantly realls some John Barry, some Henry Mancini, some Lalo Schifrin.

While there was a fateful warning before, there's now a "Fateful Rendezvous" It's more slinky spy jazz with some nice '70s touches, including, of course, wah-wah guitar.

Snare drum and timpani play a big part in "Hounds & Hares", as does trilling flute, giving the beginning of the cue a Mission: Impossible feel. Then it switches into a groovier mode with some simple swaying chord changes.

"Freedom Beat" opens with some break beat drumming, soon joined by some cool horn playing, giving it all a lean, soul/acid jazz feel as well as still being soundtracky.

Then there's the aptly titled "Calm & Cool", a flute feature with a mellow, sunny, lilting feel to it.

The record concludes with "Song for Sabrina", a vocal version of the main theme ("Forever is a word on your tongue / A song that is sung and soon forgotten").

2023 June 09 • Friday

Suppose you wanted to listen to blues, rockabilly, country and rock and roll with a novelty song or two and some ephemera thrown in but you didn't want to change the record?

Bear Family's Hank Davis CD, One Way Track, has you covered!

This release is as cool as its cover, with stunning guitar, moody photograph and even moodier color scheme.

The first two tracks should be enough to sell you on it, from the doomed love of the title song to the country lament "There Is No Right Way" (to do me wrong), made exceptional in every moment by steel guitar playing.

From there it goes to some straight rockers with impressive overdriven electric guitar sounds, novelty songs both goofy ("Dinosaur Girl") and clever ("Lift Up Your Hands").

A run through of "Got My Mojo Working" is already surprising in this context but the use of electric piano makes it more so.

Every track delivers something valuable but the close harmony of "Lonely Road", a synthesis of country, pop, blues and rock, with close harmony vocals that recall the Louvin Brothers, is a favorite.

2023 June 07 • Wednesday

The latest book about Steve Holland, indisputably the world's greatest ever male illustration model, is perhaps the best, certainly our favorite. Steve Holland: Paperback Hero is exactly the kind of thing we like to have around at Gutbrain Headquarters!

Of course have stacks and stacks of these kinds of paperbacks. And Steve Holland might be on the cover of any one of them. The confirmed number is in the thousands and he worked in all genres.

Michael Stratford has once again done an amazing job of not just collecting but curating and commenting. He's an exemplar of a rare breed, the cultural detective.

If you like this sort of thing, you need this book!

2023 June 05 • Monday

We're kind of interested in Fabian around here, as well as Mike Curb. A biography or long article about each of them would be welcome. And here they both are, in the 781st Soundtrack of the Week: Mary Jane!

Mike Curb co-wrote the score with Lawrence Brown, except for the title song by Valjean Johns and Guy Hemric.

The title song starts out promisingly with a kind of trippy wooziness but immediately becomes kind of a cheery, sunny, sort of dippy '60s pop song. It's okay, but it's the rest of the record that really delivers.

Starting with "Ellie's Theme", things get really groovy and interesting, like Mancini on acid. This number has a great groove with accordion in the lead and some unexpected minor chords coming in like storm clouds.

"The Fun Zone" is a short instrumental blast from a nebulous area that's not quite surf or hot rod but isn't far away from those either.

Then things get a little jazzy and messed up for "Grass Party", which has free energy from the rhythm section and vibes soloing throughout.

The first side ends with "Persuit" [sic], which sounds like it might be a Davie Allan track to me. The guitar sound is certainly sick enough. It's a great tune.

Side Two opens with "Jerry's Theme", which sounds like a love song and features flute and piano.

"Bay City Boys" opens with a rock-solid drum track and another astonishing electric guitar sound. Could this be Davie Allan? The sharp reverb and fuzz certainly suggest him. The production on this one is also really sharp.

After that comes "Gas Hassle", hands down the best track on the album and just an extraordinary piece: high energy drums and electric bass guitar getting the momentum going while (electric?) harpsichord wails on top, soon to be joined by wooden flute and percussion.

Then there's a reprise of "Theme from Mary Jane". The first one appears to have been sung by Mike Clifford while this vibrato-heavy rendition is credited to "Mrs. Miller". Still think that this song is only so-so.

The record concludes with "Store Stealing", a cue with a medium tempo jazz swing and electric guitar volume-swelling in and out while piano lightly tinkles away, joined later by flute soloing and an increase in tempo and intensity.

This record is way too short. I could listen to this kind of thing for hours.