More toe-cutting and thumb-busting today with an idiosyncratic Zach Hill banger. This is the stuff I love most, when experimental artists wrangle their sound into something vaguely resembling songwriting. Face Tat is full of this approach — nontraditional electro/rock hybrids with verses, choruses and weird lost bridges. The pop-friendly pieces are all here, you just gotta look for ‘em. Hill is best known for Hella and Death Grips but his solo material has always been my favorite, and I still play this one regularly 5 years on.
When I decided on Thee Oh Sees for today’s tune, “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster” was the first song that came to mind. It was also the last song I wanted to use, not because it isn’t deserving, but because it’s the one track anyone even remotely familiar with the work of John Dwyer is guaranteed to have heard. In fact, it became something of a mini-hit upon its 2013 release — as much of a hit as Thee Oh Sees have had and likely ever will. There’s no denying the charming, smart/dumb hook at the center, and gun-to-head, this is probably the track I’d pick for uninitiated listeners looking for a quick fix. Today I’m gonna assume that’s you. Do you like a little sweet with your sour, some candy with your crush? Does that kaleidoscopic cover art freak you the fuck out while simultaneously piquing your interest? Does it conjure mental images of jawbreakers, sweet teeth, cavities and bloody fingers scraping bass guitar strings? Are you interested, at all, in well-recorded, overdriven garage rock played by experienced professional musicians who know the genre inside and out? Have you given up on chasing trends, chasing lost youth, chasing money or career, chasing anything but the elusive self-conception of whoever and whatever you truly are? Well then, well then. Have Thee Oh Sees got a song for you …
This isn’t a post I wanted to write, and not just because it’s about Phish. As a fan of The Dead and other assorted jam acts, I don’t have an aversion to the band like some do. Phish’s output as a recording entity is fine, just fine: inoffensive, technically accomplished, whitebread like nobody’s business. And I can see the appeal of their live shows and the community that’s grown up around them. But listen, they’re … they’re just not for me. And like little else in life, I can state this fact with integrity knowing I’ve put in the time thanks to Scott Aukerman and Harris Wittels’ hilarious and now-departed “Analyze Phish” podcast. Wittels, as you may be aware, passed away two weeks ago at just 30 years old, leaving behind not only his popular podcast and a respected career as a writer and comedian, but perhaps the thing he loved most of all — Phish itself. Wittels aficionados know he was a devoted “phan” who followed the band on tour when he could. He also made no secret — on the podcast, in interviews — of his heavy recreational drug use, how it went hand-in-hand with the concert experience, how it inevitably crept into his daily life. The problem is clear now, of course, in the light of day. All the anecdotes that used to amuse listeners have betrayed darker meaning in the wake of his passing. But life marches on — Harris’ memory, and his work, and the music he loved are still with us. Here’s to you, Harris … I didn’t know you personally, but you mattered just the same. Thanks for sharing your time with us.
Did you want me to write about the song too? Well listen, it’s a fine song, just fine … a kind of weird, knowing (I think) mash-up of “No Woman No Cry” and “Let It Be.” About as safe as 21st century songwriting gets, I suppose — and in a world like ours, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Modern-day dub is something of an anachronism. As the earliest form of remix music, many popular dub techniques originated with the live-mixed studio technology of the day (reverb, echo, delay), effects that sound clumsy and dated today. In 2015, when any laptop comes preloaded with more sophisticated recording technology than the Kingston studios of the 1960s, cleanliness and precision — two characteristics not traditionally associated with the genre — are pretty much foundational. This yields modern-day compositions that mimic early dub soundscapes in practice but actually have more in common with hip-hop production. Witness Meaning of Dub — a collection of 10 modern “versions” built around the same instrumental track, spearheaded by DJ/producer Tom Chasteen, who also hosts a weekly Dub Club night at L.A.’s Echoplex. Nothing about the instrumental feels rough or handmade. Rather, this is music made by modern studio heads who’ve clearly internalized the lessons of the genre while updating the technique. The end experience is as absorbing as all the best original dub, just not in the same way.