Friday, November 29, 2013

Landed Just A Little South Of Moline

Okay, so it's been months. Whatever. It's time to post my photos from Portersville. Don't worry though - even though my camera battery died well before the tractor pull itself, there's plenty to see!

I'd never seen a traction engine do a load test before. This was pretty impressive when he had it up to full power!

On the day we visited, the sawmill was powered by steam, instead of the diesel motor in the center background; you can just see the boiler in the far right of the photo. The sawmill is fully functional, and I believe they actually do use the wood they cut for exhibit construction and repair. 

A working - working! - Linotype machine in the print shop. One of the Portersville organization members who had some experience with on of these machines demonstrated how the machine worked. He also explained that the Linotype machine was far from obsolete; many smaller newspapers and other organizations rely on them. As a result, there's still money to be made from repairing them; and a gentleman had just been in to check the association's example over. I wish I'd taken video of it in operation. 

Some more printing miscellania. I really like how nothing modern appears in this photograph. It's perfectly vintage.

A very nice Ford. 

I really like this Oliver Super 88. I was hoping 'Injun Joe' would bring his ridiculous (and loud!) Oliver 99 to the pull, but he's been absent for a year or two. 

Hey Mike - you still want one of these? This is a Rokon all-wheel-drive off-road motorbike. There's a unique chain system driving the front wheel; and I believe both wheels are hollow, but I do not recall offhand for what purposes - either buoyancy or liquid storage (such as fuel?).

An interesting later model Farmall. Can't say I've seen one from this era, that I know of. 

Case row. The second tractor from camera did pretty darn good in the early rounds of the pull. 

A World War II Jeep.  It's been restored very nicely. 

This Dodge pickup, whose stakebed was inexplicably full of Lawn Boy lawnmowers. 

The Portersville group also displays some preserved steam and natural gas stationary engines. This photo is in the steam building. These would have seen use in their heyday in factories or workshops with an overhead pulley system. The museum does have a tool shop that is powered just so, but my camera battery had run out by the time we popped in. Also not photographed: tractor-powered ice cream!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Like An Ocean Being Warmed By The Sun

Naturally, my vinyl list has grown. And in many ways, not shrunk.

Untamed Beast - Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside
Shulamith - Poli├ža
Up From Below - Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
Mechanical Bull - Kings Of Leon
Port Of Morrow - The Shins
New Moon - The Men
Torches - Foster The People
Heartthrob - Tegan & Sara
Hummingbird - Local Natives*
The Suburbs - The Arcade Fire*
Reflektor - The Arcade Fire
Blunderbuss - Jack White
Clockwork Angels - Rush*
Vapor Trails Remixed - Rush

3 - Gamma
Lights Out - UFO
Drums & Wires - XTC
Crystal Logic - Manilla Road*

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Put Another Nickel In The Jukebox

Best drunken jukebox mistakes ever!

ABBA's 'Dancing Queen' instead of Led Zeppelin's 'Dancing Days'*

The Osmonds' 'Down By The Lazy River' instead of Neil Young & Crazy Horse's 'Down By The River'

Pink Floyd's 'One Of These Days' instead of The Eagles' 'One Of These Nights'

Olivia Newton-John's 'Xanadu' instead of Rush's 'Xanadu'

Justin Bieber's 'Baby' instead of Styx's 'Lady'

Peaches instead of Peaches & Herb

Kenny Chesney's 'She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy' instead of Guided By Voices' 'Tractor Rape Chain'**

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' 'We No Who U R' instead of Neil Young's 'We R In Control'

Rick Astley's 'Never Gonna Give You Up' instead of The Black Keys' 'Never Gonna Give You Up'

The Flaming Lips instead of The Fiery Furnaces (or vice-versa)

* This happened to me once. No lie. It was awkward.
**Your mileage may vary.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Don't Hesitate To Give Us a Call

It's actually somewhat notable that Neil Young has recorded on only one record label for almost his entire career - Reprise. What I only just learned is that the label was created by Frank Sinatra and later sold to Warner Brothers. In 1976 almost all of the artists signed to Reprise were transferred to Warner's main label except Sinatra, who would effectively have Reprise as his own vanity label.

Oh, and also Neil Young, who simply would not leave. He is rumored to have protested the phase-out decision until apparently giving in after 1981's Re*Ac*Tor. Signing with Geffen Records, where he was promised artistic freedom, Neil embarked on what is often regarded as the most bewildering and out-of-character phase of his career. Electronica, rockabilly, straight-up country, and even New Wave got a workout at Neil's hands - and David Geffen would not be pleased, suing Neil in 1983 for making 'unrepresentative music'. Well, whatever, Dave. You don't know what you had in 80's Neil, and we're going to examine two of those gems - Trans and Landing On Water.

So in 1982 Neil started work on a new album for Geffen. Originally, the album was to be a Crazy Horse backed effort with a hard rock sound, but Neil made major alterations to the album with synths and a vocoder. As a result, the album took on a bizarre, nigh-upon-robotic sound. Personnel included all the Crazy Horse regulars - Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Frank Sampedro; as well as Neil buds Nils Lofgren and Ben Keith, and session men Joe Lala and Bruce Palmer. 

What I Liked:
Well, I can't really get too enthused or descriptive about the instrumental performances; it's all masked by a digital filter, really. But even so, it's very nicely melodic. Neil can still write a tune, even when he's pushing buttons on a machine. The vocal timing is good, and it alone could make the album; and even with the vocoders, Neil's typically plaintive delivery still calls to my ear, especially on the heartbreaking 'Transformer Man' and the thickly-veiled-digi-lust of 'Sample And Hold'. Best yet, the almost-unintelligible lyrics, if your ear is keen enough to pick them out, often deal with communication, especially the vain efforts to communicate with those that can't receive the message. And here, incidentally is the core of Trans and the reason that 'Transformer Man' is such a tearjerker: Trans was Neil's attempt to express his frustration and all the time and energy and soul spent trying to communicate with his son, Ben; who is handicapped due to severe cerebral palsy. Neil, despite using the seeming coldness of of electronic instruments, captures an amazing range of emotion; other themes he touches on are, presciently, cybercrime; the explosion of technology at the time (which enabled him to make the album!); and, in a sense, nostalgia reimagined, if you consider the cover of 'Mr. Soul'. Of the handful of non-electronic songs on the album, 'Like an Inca' is the best, being a surprisingly interesting counterpoint to the powerful display of technology that the core of the album represents; instead it idealizes the ancient kingdoms of South America. The main villain, however, is The Bomb, rather than the internet. Best songs? Everything except the first track on each side. 

What I Didn't Like:
Bizarrely, Neil includes three songs from an aborted album inspired by Hawaii. These are the outliers, and despite bookending the electronic strangeness, they sound far more out of place here than Trans itself does in Neil's catalog. 'A Little Thing Called Love' and 'Hold On To Your Love' - despite being well-executed, they sound empty and somewhat vapid, for Neil material. 'Like An Inca' is good enough to escape this problem, but goes on longer than necessary. And the key takeaway about the album's failings is that you need to know the story in order to fully appreciate it. That's not a failure of the music itself; even Neil had trouble getting the full message across, in a sadly ironic turn of events. 

In Conclusion:
A surprisingly classic album, despite it's oddities, with a genuine story behind it and solid songwriting to boot. Neil diehards should give this one a second look, if they haven't yet, and anyone who likes electronic music should check out this as a footnote, if nothing else. 

In 1986, Neil released an album that began with a failed Crazy Horse session in 1984 and was completed by Neil as a solo album. Fully embracing New Wave, Neil made a disc almost as bewildering as Trans, and this would be his next-to-last release for Geffen. 

What I Liked:
It's less robotic than Trans...or not. The performances are all fairly cookie-cutter, but well-done. It's extremely polished, and it's not really suffering from that approach. On a couple tracks there's a choir providing some backing vocals, and Neil sounds pretty good both singing and playing. The songs are generally well-written, and tuneful; Neil can't keep his own feelings from leaking onto a record either, despite how much a product of its time Landing On Water might sound like. I like how Neil can still bring a hard rock crunch to some of the songs, despite the New Wave backdrop. He handles pop well enough while he's at it. Best songs have to be 'Weight Of The World', where Neil distills New Wave to its essence; 'Bad News Beat'; 'Touch The Night', and it's TV news aesthetic (and music video); 'Hard Luck Stories'; and 'Pressure'. 

What I Didn't Like:
Probably the general sterility of the album. It's not a complete failing, but it doesn't let Neil break out and pull all the stops; he's kind of restrained. It's like he's holding himself back. (Perhaps a wise move, since Freedom and Ragged Glory came out in '89 and '93 respectively?) Some of the songs get a bit pointlessly sugary, like 'Violent Side' (!) and 'Hard Luck Stories', while others have an overly analyzed feel to them, almost autistic or blindly accepting. In general, the shorter (and comparatively more spontaneous) the song, the better, I'd say: case in point, 'Drifter', the album's mediocre closer, seems to drag, and does, at 5:05, the longest on the album. Last but not least is the only thing that could have truly broken the album for me, and that would be Neil's voice; but in this instance it's this particular context in which it appears. He's not the ideal New Wave lead singer. 

In Conclusion:
I'd recommend this to fans of Ric Ocasek's solo career; as Neil takes the same approach on this disc. Neil diehards should at least hear this once; casual fans should wait. If you need 80's music for something, it would be hard to place this album as anything but a product thereof. 

Rock and Roll Can Never Die

Counting some draft posts I've been working on, here are all of the artists I've quoted for my post titles:

Guided By Voices: 9
This is actually not a big surprise, but nonetheless I have caught myself off guard with how very much I seem to like Guided By Voices.

Neil Young; Rush: 5
Also not a surprise, since Neil occupied the place that GBV did before I knew about them. I'm kind of surprised to see Rush as Neil's only companion in this category, but it makes sense.

The Monkees; Yeah Yeah Yeahs: 4
Very weird to see two bands so damn different in third place.

The Beatles; The Black Keys; The Doors; Jethro Tull; Johnny Marr; Pink Floyd: 3
I'll take it, but i thought I'd quoted the Black Keys more than that.

Billy Joel; Bloc Party; Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band; Don McLean; Elton John; Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Jet; The Rolling Stones; 'Weird Al' Yankovic; The Who: 2
Sounds good to me.

And the long list of, as it were, one-hit-wonders:
Creedence Clearwater Revival; The Donnas; Johnny Cash; The Arcade Fire; Band Of Horses; Silversun Pickups; Wild Flag; The Desperate Bicycles; Tom Waits; Mission Of Burma; Manilla Road; David Bowie; Coldplay; The Five Man Electrical Band; Donnie Iris; The Mike Curb Congregation; Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds; Joe Walsh; Tom Vek; Lynyrd Skynyrd; XTC; Toto; The Mooney Suzuki; Camper Van Beethoven; The Mamas & The Papas; Dragonforce; Arlo Guthrie; The Like; ZZ Topp; Ok Go; Charlie Daniels; The Darkness; The Breeders; Dinosaur Jr.; We Are Scientists; The Jam; Raconteurs; Archers Of Loaf; Blue Oyster Cult ; Johnny Preston, oddly enough; Ramones; The Grateful Dead; Chuck Berry; Dire Straits; Misissippi Fred MacDowell; Pat Travers Band; The Walkmen; Elvis Presley; Aldo Nova; George Thorogood; Sleigh Bells; The MC5; Blondie; Paul McCartney & Wings; Hank Snow; Talking Heads; Gamma; Beck; Replacements; Led Zeppelin; Donovan; Def Leppard; Younha; McFadden's Parachute; The Von Bondies.

Plus there's one song whose artist is unknown, and one traditional whose rendition I had in mind was by Boxcar Willie.