Taurus (April 20 – May 20)
Taurus is full of life, vivacious, often brilliant, but ultimately so healthy she may scare lovers with frail psyches. Mountain Con's new album Sancho Panza is full of challenges to those weak in intellect, faith, and the ability to dance off their problems. The band is from originally from Montana, and lead singer-mastermind Jim Nugent sounds like a sardonic, practical Everyman from Missoula who comes to the City with his possessed muse to dance, but like the character in the title of this album, goes through a transformative process that defines him beyond the electric, entropic era he lives in. Mountain Con play a warm art-frat rock incorporating squeaky turntables, frolicking bass, and various low rent later period Clash effects. This is odd, as Nugent writes tales of the world's end in debris and hubris, which could actually be more chilling than any other songwriter working today. Take the disturbing ambiguity of the pumping "Killers," which could be about a bragging hipster or a demented fan or both, and the tormented protest of Eno-billy "Devotion Is So 20th Century." Very few albums since Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited have made Biblical imagery so intoxicating and humorous.
Gemini (May 21 – June 21)
Spring is a time of duality, the frost of winter evaporating as the sun of summer settles in for these longer days. You might find yourself musing spiritually and feeling a little carnal at the same time. Gemini struggles with duality, according to archetype. On Back To The Web, Elf Power also creates an earthy, joyful, yet very reverent hymn-cycle of lust and transcendence. Glistening like dew on just-lit overgrown bracken and brambles, the strangely shiny production for this sublimely melodic folk-rock record perfectly complements the simmering fire beneath "An Old Familiar Scene" and the mesmerizing "King Of Earth." Spider webs of succulent acoustic and twelve string guitar drape between sturdy trees of backwoods song craft. Check out and see how far Elf Power has come since their crazy days hanging out with Neutral Milk Hotel a few years ago.
Cancer (June 22 – July 22)
Some find you a little head-strong, Cancer, but your tender heart is always generous. This might be a good season to diversify your acquaintances, learning a little from each one, drawing strength for yourself from where you can. Acquired Taste is an example of just how diverse and strong Sub Pop has been as a label since their last DVD compilation, Video Program: Network One (although I've yet to stop playing that one either). This succulent new collection features a devastating plethora of animation and real life narratives to illustrate the inventive underground pop sounds of many creative bands. The video collection begins with The Shins' notorious and adored ode-to-80s indie rock albums covers' "New Slang," a ubiquitous confection of a song that never gets old and has a giggling visual homage to Cowboy Mouth, Squirrel Bait, Husker Du, and the Minutemen as well. Next up is Ugly Casanova's "Thing I Don't Remember (unedited)," adorably scatological and fart-obsessed, showing how the label runs the gamut between the sacred and profane. Other highlights include the disturbingly sensual and demented Love As Laughter anthem "Dirty Lives," done by Chad Vangaalen, whose own music is represented here by "Clinically Dead" as well. The collection also has one of Rosie Thomas' best songs, really funny vids for Wolf Parade's "Shine A Light" and Mudhoney's (bringing us round full circle at the end of the disc) "It Is Us." But wait till you see the emotionally wrenching combination of image and song in Low's "Death Of A Salesman" too. A DVD not to be missed.
Leo (July 23 – August 22)
Leo is insanely confident, even when performing within quiet lives of denigration. Thus, Leo is the ideal American. An ode to this American way of life can be heard in all its mordant power on Seattle band Palodine's traumatically tender and awesomely affecting Desolate Son. Similar to the new American rock of certain neo-psychedelic bands, this debut is formed in the rustic ferocity of Sixteen Horsepower's religious-schizophrenic wake. But the stark lilting or loping late afternoon desert soundtrack is balanced by Katrina Whitney's singing from the bowels of spiritual poverty and mutilated bloodlines. Desolate Son is a relentless dark rain of apocalypse beneath stumbling cries of mercy. "Devils Song" and "Devour Me" are one-two punches of gospel folk-metal, confirming the album's sequence of valley, peak, valley, inverted.
Virgo (August 23 – September 22)
Virgo has an attraction to older people, so she feels less confident with her peers. This can be found in the music of Josh Ritter on his V2 release The Animal Years, where a young man from the plains of Western Washington, whose parents are both scientists and people of faith, raised a troubadour far more wise than his earthly years. This is Ritter's third and best record, built around a vociferous ten-minute folk-rock "Sister Ray" moment called "Thin Blue Flame," in which the transgressions of this world run headlong to match the entropy at the end of time. Ritter's work belongs in the same canon as Phil Ochs or Karen Dalton, a well-read, genuine voice of spiritual distress and a hunger for experience that may lead to damage. "Girl In The War," which opens the record, may be the most meaningful "pop" song ever written about heaven. This is pretty mellow stuff, and I would love to see more demon lover terror blues as "Thin Blue Flame," but for now its whiskey and The Animal Years for me every Sunday morning.
Libra (September 23 – October 23)
Libras should be urged to plan their lives, as they are determined by conduct and values. With the weather starting to get nice, and the days becoming longer, more wrong choices could be made. That's one reason why punk rock has always been great in EP form, as with Trapped By Mormons' debut Go Go Go. Five solid punches of back porch barbeque big beat, the high points on this record are the wickedly burning "Evil Can Evil" and the questionable but wonderful guilty pleasure "Chinese Girls." Both are funny and smack ya juicy in the face with brass knuckles. Trapped By Mormons have the potential to break out of the punk rock scene niche by following a more garage style rock energy, but whatever they do is liable to sound mean and fun, thanks to Todd Nolan's eviscerating vocals. Great drumming from Brandon Samdahl too.
Scorpio (October 24 – November 21)
Scorpios are often extremely attractive because of their intolerance for timidity. Their ability to Get Shit Done is one of the reasons you want to be near them, even when the world is falling apart. However, even tenacity can be seen as absurd in the eyes of the universe. Take Vancouver, BC-based interviewer Nardwuar the Human Serviette, whose double
DVD collection of interviews from Canada's Much Music (with much raw footage he uses to construct his specials on that channel) show a focused but frenzied man asking some of the most audacious questions to musicians both mainstream-popular (Snoop Dogg) and underground-adored (Ian McKaye from Fugazi). I will gush and say that the sheer gut-punching fanboy harassment style Nardwuar uses when interviewing artists has earned him a deep place in my heart, and this extremely generous collection of visceral and hilarious conversations is easily one of my favorite DVDs ever. Some punks like McKaye (especially in the outrageous long version of Nardwuar's interview with him) and Henry Rollins come off fairly humorous, and my opinions of these icons is a little less after seeing how they treat the Human Serviette in response. Jello Biafra seems to have maintained a Lou Reed-Lester Bangs style relationship with him over the years however, only occasionally veering into abuse. Perhaps the most pleasant segment is Franz Ferdinand's, who seem utterly gracious and grateful to be interviewed by Nardwuar, and play along and enjoy him for who he is without trying to come off cool or above it. That brought them up several notches in my book, regardless of whether or not I would actually buy a FF album. Mad love to Alternative Tentacles for releasing this!
Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)
Sagittarius loves to work with animals, especially when their lifestyles don't permit them to have pets. Animals are unpredictable, but their beauty and mystery are something every Sagittarius tends to respect. The Hope Blister was a band that 4AD's Ivo created out of the ashes of This Mortal Coil, and it released a gorgeous, emotionally-slaughtered debut album a few years ago entitled Smile's OK. They followed this masterpiece up with the what-the-fuck Underarms, a fans-only release that was seven single notes played through distortion and developed by mixing into a dreamy sonic canvas. This is where the creature becomes something you don't understand, but you still love it, as its spirit is the reason you own it in the first place. It might piss on your rug, but what delightful colors the fabric now has, and every time you smell it the odor reminds you of the beast you love. A re-release with a full album remix job by Markus Guenter called Sideways has just happened, and it's pure joy, not for one single 4AD devotee to avoid. This is the raw delight of the aesthetic, and both can be purchased simultaneously by inventive-ambient music fans under the title Underarms and Sideways.
Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)
Because Capricorns tend to focus ahead on their lives and dreams, they tend to avoid colors. The New Jersey band Lifetime used a limited palette to evoke the world, but its gritty emotionally-noir punk was as much an inspiration to basement-begun bands of the 90s as Embrace was to the same in the 80s. Their extravagant collection Somewhere In The Swamps Of Jersey not only harvests two complete sequences of their supernova-exploding debut Background, but over two stacked discs presents all the dangling 45s, outtakes, demos, and live and comp tracks you can imagine. Obviously a labor of love over time, an accidental novel about life in the garbage-strewn and heartbroken heartland of the state that claims Hoboken, Jade Tree should be commended for putting out such a tidy, delicious buffet of hardcore-kissed independent rock and roll. The remix job on the earlier material was much needed and superb; and the title track should be the start for a great movie about some kid fresh out of juvie.
Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)
Like Jude with his three names, Aquarius often seems to be of more than one personality. Albums themselves are becoming combinations of music and visuals, as evidenced by two excellent compact discs accompanied by DVDs, Public Enemy's New Whirl Odor and The Go-Betweens' That Striped Sunlight Sound. Public Enemy offers up their best new album in years, featuring extremely funky beats and viciously hilarious rhymes from Chuck D and Flavor Flav, smeared by a lot of deep bass and produced hard but subtle. Tracks like "Preachin' To The Quiet" and "Check What You're Listening To" are a couple of the most prime PE recorded since the late 80s, and the accompanying DVD is a delightful assortment of new videos, documentary footage, and commentary on the album and these times. The Go-Betweens album comes in a two-set DVD of enjoyable live footage, one with a band and one acoustic, and a set of live songs from their delectable oeuvre that is actually the first set of the DVD (but playable in your car stereo or Discman, as opposed to kicking back with some wine and watching at home). It's a remarkable set, featuring many of their best (but a bit more laid back) tracks, from the mesmerizing, metaphysical "Black Mule" to the haunting, deceptively happy "Streets Of Your Town." Both of these album/DVD collections by extremely talented since-the-80s vets give far more bang for the buck than much else out in the market right now, and old fans of Public Enemy would do well to check back in with one of the best bands on earth, while new fans of Go-Betweens get a sweet run-down of earlier material very enjoyably presented.
Pisces (February 19 – March 20)
We live in a time of decision, and Pisces is equipped to reflect the passions of this age. So too are The Coup, whose Pick A Bigger Weapon is easily their best, most consistent album to date, and could be my vote for album of the year. This is decades-spanning hip-hop, infusing the no-bullshit every day politics of Kurtis Blow with the smmoth grooves and loving-life aesthetic of a Gil Scott-Heron. There is no other hip-hop group like The Coup, and no one else I'd rather listen to preach than Boots Riley, whose charismatic, fuck-shit-up sensibilities make this a perfect soundtrack for sabotaging work and drinking liquor out of your lover's mouth on the same day. "We Are The Ones" just cold assesses the misery we have to deal with being have-nots and somehow surviving, with a classy persona voice and some very empathy-inducing details about life on the lean. "Laugh, Love, Fuck, and Drink Liquor" is going to be played at ten on my stereo every laundry day at this apartment building the next three months, my neighbors be damned (or come on over for a beer, y'all). "Yes 'Em To Death" brings true humor and honor back to the between-song skits of rap albums, whilst "Ass Breath Killers" takes a large chunk out of the upper backside of Yes Men and poseurs. This is accessible, danceable, funny, and startling hip-hop, fervently political but extremely inclusive. The Coup feels bad for you even when they're preaching good shit; like the Sex Pistols, that's a perfect combination. The Best Coup DVD Ever is a very enjoyable separate The Coup release from MVD and has seven earlier videos, all great, especially "Me And Jesus The Pimp In A '79 Granada Last Night" and some with classic animation. Truly elucidating interviews with Pam the Funkstress and Riley, and an illuminating travelogue makes this one of MVD's best releas
es, and a perfect way to find out more about the band that just dropped one of the best records of the past few years.
Aries (March 21 – April 19)
The influence of Mars on Aries gives it a need to be active. Otherwise, Aries can go insane trying to figure out what to do with her time. This sort of thing happened to Phil Ochs, for example, whose manic depressive anxiety disorder combined with political trauma from the 60s and an attempted assassination plot by the CIA led him to adopt an angry fat guy persona called 'John Train.' What this has to do with Tacoma band Roy's new album Roy Killed John Train I'm not sure, though the fun and ferocious full length features Ochs on the cover, long before the madness had set in, a censor bar over his face. A bluesman, perhaps Robert Johnson, is on the cover too, and I don't know what that means either, as this isn't really bluesy. But it is rock and roll from the economic trenches, battered out by men under the heels of their bosses, open about their contempt for business as usual and willing to express just how "Fucked and Forlorn" they really are. These are great story songs of lives gone wrong, not unlike the bloodhound-infested existences of the musical heroes displayed in the album art, and "The Middle Son" and "Fresh Lies From The Patron Saint Of Liars" are songs two folk and soul icons could have crafted if they were playing the club circuit in 2006.