Sunday, December 31, 2006

And a happy new year

Today, the Tonics informed me that my services were no longer required. Then, they disbanded. Of course, I was very upset, but before I had a chance to shoot back an e-mail telling them to fuck themselves, they formed an oldies appreciation society and tribute band Solid Gold & the Rhythmic Souls ("The Tonics," for short) and hired me as their publicist. Anyway, here's another great moment in rock and roll.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Tonics meet!

Yesterday, the Tonics had another one of those infamous top-level meetings. As usual, Neon Phosphor was not invited. So, in order to bring you the latest buzz in the world of Tonics, I have to make shit up. So this may or may not have happened at Mark's house:
  • The Tonics disbanded and rebanded as The Tonics.
  • Music was recorded that would not be heard by anybody for the next ten years, due to the lack of promotion.
  • Drugs. Specifically those formulated to treat hemorrhoids.
  • The Tonics honored the late James Brown by covering "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag."
  • The Bose Wave radio revealed a barely-audible snippet of dialogue at around 2:14 on "Lucy" that says "I buried Steven." Steven then confesses that he's not the real Steven, which explains a lot, because the real Steven would not have sold his soul and gone to work for one of the largest accounting firms in the world.
  • They decided to embark on their much-anticipated world tour, on a Risk board.
  • Creative differences over production resulted in a compromised track destined for the 3rd quarter section of the next album that everybody skips over.
  • Arta sang.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Happy birthday!

Mark turns 23 today. We'll celebrate by listening to some Beethoven, who was born on this day in 1770.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Beach Boys - I Get Around

That's Brian Wilson on falsetto vocals and bass guitar, showing no signs of the stage fright and various illnesses he would have after 1964. Dennis Wilson is the one rocking out in the back. Mike Love is on lead vocals.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Zombies - Tell Her No

Yes, it is possible to rock out as a hands-free lead singer without having to suffer a seizure on stage or look like a statue. In this performance, Colin Blunstone demonstrates how the proper use of facial expressions and hand gestures could express more emotions than the Thom Yorke breakdown or any emo artist of today. Consider the way Colin sings "I love you" (0:39) in the second verse. Look at his eyes, the way he leans forward... you can detect the anger and bitterness. The second time he sings "I love you" (1:27), it's different... he does it in a more wistful manner. Notice the barely audible sigh that follows. That's some real character development going on under 2 minutes, in this unusually complex song that falls somewhere between a love song and a break-up song.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Hollies - Bus Stop

It's all about the vocal and guitar harmonies.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Gene Pitney - Town Without Pity

Gene Pitney, who died earlier this year, was one of the great singer-songwriters of the early 1960s.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Little Richard - Lucille

Another one of those great singers of all time forgotten by Clear Channel and Infinity Broadcasting.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Will the Tonics turn into this?

We'd look kickass with an upright bass, don't you think?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Another rehearsal

The Tonics are looking more and more like an oldies act everyday. Today, they added the following to their repertoire:

Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs - Stay
The Beatles - Hold Me Tight
Del Shannon - Runaway
Radiohead - Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Tommy James & The Shondells - Crimson And Clover

At this rate, they're going to be touring the retirement homes in a few months. Way to go, guys.

Friday, November 24, 2006

15 years on

Today is the 15th anniversary of Freddie Mercury's death.

Rehearsal, for what?

A few months ago, the Tonics were on the verge of indie pop stardom with several Hollywood gigs and the release of their brilliant debut album, Get Things Done.

How quickly things change! The Tonics have apparently stepped away from the verge and back into garage band territory. Just look at today's rehearsal program:

The Zombies - Tell Her No
Al Green - Let's Stay Together
Tommy James & The Shondells - I Think We're Alone Now
The Everly Brothers - All I Have To Do Is Dream
The Beatles - Nowhere Man
The Beatles - She Loves You
The Velvet Underground - Sunday Morning
Brenton Wood - Gimme Little Sign
The Beach Boys - Don't Worry Baby
Sculpted Static - Lorem Ipsum

Notice the total absence of any original material. What happened to the creativity?? Have Mark and the bean counter given up on songwriting?? Okay, we know the corporate whore-for-it has sold his soul to the man, but what about the next superstar with a goatee?? What happened to "Our House"?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Today, Mark, Arta and the sell-out reconvened in a cavern underneath South Pasadena: Arta with his Dean Palomino, Mark with his trademark acoustic guitar, and the corporate whore with his old RadioShack keyboard. They played the Zombies' "Tell Her No," Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" and "Oh Pretty Woman," and the Beatles' "Anna" and "Don't Let Me Down." Are they turning into a 1960s cover band? Only time will tell.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Saturday, November 11, 2006

"Neon Phosphor! Have you left us?"

----No, I just wanted to make y'all frustrated from the lack of witticism.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

"Why don't you update your blog more often?"

----Because I don't like answering questions from pestering pests like you. Bugger off.

"Are the Tonics doing anything right now?"----Breathing.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


The Beatles performed a full-band version of "Yesterday" when they toured Japan in 1966. Can we do the same thing with "Elegy For Anne Bancroft?"

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Great moments in rock and roll: the meta-moment

For our purposes, the meta-moment is when a song refers to its own performance (usually in the form of naming its singers). Think of it as an actor breaking the fourth wall, talking to the audience and forcing the audience to remember that the play and the characters are not real.

The Beatles - "Boys"
(1:04): Ringo says, "All right, George!" before the guitar solo.

The Beatles - "Honey Don't"
(1:15): Ringo says, "Aw, rock on George. One time for me."
(2:20): Ringo says, "Aw, rock on George. For Ringo one time."

Pixies - "Tony Theme"
(0:00): This moment was previously featured in the spoken-word episode of Great Moments. Kim Deal says, "This is a song about a superhero named Tony. It's called 'Tony's Theme.'" And so it is. Watch a live performance below:

Radiohead - "My Iron Lung"
(2.47): Thom Yorke sings, "This, this is our new song, just like the last one. A total waste of time, my iron lung." ("My Iron Lung" is Radiohead's follow-up single to "Creep." The electric guitars even quote the infamous crunch from "Creep.")

The Beatles - "Get Back" (rooftop version)
(2:30): During the coda, Paul says, "Get back. You've been out too long Loretta, you've been singing on the roofs again. And that's no good. 'Cause you know your mommy doesn't like that. When she gets angry, she's going to have you arrested." The line makes more sense when you consider that the song was being performed on the roof of the Apple studios just as the police were about to shut it down.

This is a really fun video because we see John playing lead guitar and George having a problem with his amp.

Paul McCartney - "Silly Love Songs"
(0:39): McCartney spends a whole verse justifying this song's existence: "Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs. And what's wrong with that? I'd like to know. 'Cause here I go again: I love you, I love you..."

Jay-Z feat. UGK - "Big Pimpin'"
(1:34 and others): "It's just that Jigga Man, Pimp C, and B-U-N B." This line refers to the three rappers on this song: Jay-Z (Jigga Man), Pimp C and Bun B. Pimp C and Bun B are the two members of the hip-hop duo UGK (short for Underground Kingz).

Gwen Stefani feat. Eve - "Rich Girl"
(2:51): Yet another hip-hop meta-moment. Eve raps, "See Stefani and her L.A.M.B., I rock the Fetish People, you know who I am."

Queen - "Crazy Little Thing Called Love"
(1:52): Freddie Mercury sings, "Take a long ride on my motorbike until I'm ready," and the harmonies respond, "Ready Freddie."

The Beatles - "Only A Northern Song"
The whole song is a meta-moment. Wikipedia explains it best:
The lyrics feature Harrison's disparagement of the song itself, concluding each verse with the title phrase "It's only a Northern song", which Harrison has explained as referring both to the band's often-disrespected hometown of Liverpool (northwest of London), and to the Northern Songs publishing company. (Harrison had not yet formed his own publishing company; Northern Songs was Lennon/McCartney's publishing company, for whom Harrison was, at the time, essentially a writer-for-hire). The song is sometimes interpreted as a sarcastic jibe at Lennon/McCartney, mocking the overtly psychedelic lyrics and musical style they employed in many songs during this time, and as a reaction to the often-dismissive attitude bandmates John Lennon and Paul McCartney held of Harrison's songwriting contributions, with Harrison listlessly singing "It doesn't really matter what chords I play / What words I say or time of day it is / As it's only a Northern song".
Sly and the Family Stone - "Dance To The Music"
(beginning at 0:39):
"All we need is a drummer, for people who only need a beat" (drum solo follows)
"I'm gonna add a little guitar and make it easy to move your feet" (lead guitar comes in)
"I'm gonna add some bottom, so that the dancers just won't hide" (bass guitar comes in)
"You might like to hear my organ playing 'Ride Sally Ride'" (organ comes in)
"You might like to hear the horns blowin', Cynthia on the throne, yeah!" (horns come in)

The Monkees - "The Monkees Theme"
(1:13 and others) "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees/ And people say we monkey around/ But we're too busy singin'/ To put anybody down."

Despite the fact that the meta-moment is one of Arta's favorite things in the world, The Tonics have yet to use it in one of their songs. The closest we have is Mark singing about his "creative self-hatred" and "I'm a jingle I'm so useless."

Saturday, September 23, 2006

"Let's Stay Together"

This is Al Green.

"Jaan Pehechaan Ho"

Sung by Mohammed Rafi. This scene is originally from the 1966 Bollywood movie Gumnaam. It is also featured in the opening credits to Ghost World.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

"Are you trying to follow in the footsteps of Internet phenomenon Clap Your Hands Say Yeah?"

----Hell no. Someone needs to cover up their footprints with some fresh sod. Why are people still listening to this retro dance synth shit with whiny vocals? That's mating the worst of the 80s with the worst of the 90s. Oh yeah, because Pitchfork gave them a 9.0 and said their "garish foyer gives out onto spacious, elegant chambers of clean lines and soft lights."

"But doesn't 'Save The Day' sound a lot like the 80s?"----Yes, but our singer sounds like Morrissey and our beat changes frequently like a Pixies song. Plus, the hot guitar. "Save The Day" is the best of the 80s, in just under three minutes.

"Street Spirit (Fade Out)"

Let's hear some Radiohead.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"Be My Baby"

Today's video pick is the Ronettes' "Be My Baby."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"Across The Universe"

Neon Phosphor is going to play video deejay for a while, at least until Tonics business picks up. Today we spotlight Fiona Apple's brilliant cover of John Lennon's "Across The Universe."

Monday, September 18, 2006

George Harrison and plagiarism

In 1971, George Harrison was sued for plagiarizing The Chiffon's "He's So Fine" on "My Sweet Lord." You can read all about it here. Neon Phosphor believes the plagiarism charges were unfounded and ridiculous, and even if Harrison did copy the melody, "My Sweet Lord" is a vast improvement over "He's So Fine."

The reason for this post, however, is to show an interesting similarity between Harrison's 1979 hit "Blow Away," and Enya's 1988 hit "Orinoco Flow."

Here's the music video to "Blow Away":

And here's Enya:

"Blow away, blow away, blow away" versus "Sail away, sail away, sail away." Coincidence? Probably.

"Do the Tonics plagiarize?"----See the list below:
  • The opening chords of "Sunday Night" are lifted from Dave Clark Five's "Because"
  • The organ part during the second half of the "Mean Song" verse is from Del Shannon's "Runaway."
  • The "ba ba ba ba" harmonies on "Distance" is based on "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys.
  • "Save The Day" borrows from Depeche Mode's "Enjoy The Silence" and The Strokes' "The End Has No End."
  • The beginning of "Get Things Done" is "Embarrassment" by Madness (according to Johnny Cashpoint of
  • The guitar riff on "Lucy" is a modified version of Nirvana's "All Apologies" riff.
  • The inclusion of "Bartleby" rips off Pet Sounds in a conceptual way.
  • The harmonies at the end of "Lucy Tricked Me Into Something" is similar to "Because" on The Beatles' Abbey Road. Also, the descending flute/organ part is a conscious attempt to copy that flourish on the second verse of "God Only Knows."
  • The ooh-la-las on the third verse of "Hamlet" is from The Beatles' "You Won't See Me."
  • The electric piano on "Greenback" is a lot like the one on The Doors' "Riders On The Storm."
  • The verses of "Love Makes People Stupid" rip off the whole genre of flamenco music.
  • "Elegy For Anne Bancroft" rips off "Neon Phosphor" by Sculpted Static.
  • "Thank You" is so completely ripped off Sculpted Static that it is literally the same take of the song that appeared on Sunny Ash.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Pipettes

There is a girl-group in England called The Pipettes. Take a look at their mission statement:
LET US write the histories of pop music (the plural has a certain importance). A history at once oral/aural but not linear or progressive. A history that snakes and twists and turns back on itself, a history of ruptures and wrong-turnings. But let us not start with The Beatles. . . let us start in the year Phil Spector wrote and produced his first hit, "To Know Him Is To Love Him", taking the title from his father's epitaph. Phil Spector, the first Tycoon of Teen, the first Pop Genius, the first person making this crazy new music who was actually of the age of its audience, the first guy with any power in the music industry who actually liked this stuff.
Yes, and their music does sound a lot like The Ronettes. Especially "Feminist Complaints," which you can listen to on their Myspace. It's only 1:53!

The only reservation I have about this group is that they were manufactured. You know, like The Monkees and The Spice Girls. According to Wikipedia, "The promoter Monster Bobby formed the group with the intention of reviving the traditional Phil Spector pop sound and giving it a modern twist. To this end he recruited three frontwomen to be the public face of the group."

Not that there's anything wrong with that, as long as great music gets done. The Monkees, of course, showcased Neil Diamond's excellent songwriting. Most orchestras and drama companies recruit their members.

Whatever they are controlled by, The Pipettes stand for the rewriting of history; they actually acknowledge the existence of pop music before The Beatles. That's commendable.

Unfortunately, their CD is not sold in the United States and it's $30 if you want to get it imported on Amazon.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Age Watch 2006, or "are we falling behind?"

As of today, the oldest Tonic (except for Alek) has lived 23 years, 7 months and 2 days. At this age, here's what some of the greatest artists are doing:
  • Buddy Holly has been dead for more than a year.
  • A few months before committing suicide, Ian Curtis records "Love Will Tear Us Apart" with Joy Division.
  • Morrissey has just formed The Smiths. They are five months away from releasing their first single, "Hand In Glove."
  • Brian Wilson is recording the instrumental tracks for Pet Sounds.
  • John Lennon is filming and recording the soundtrack for A Hard Day's Night.
  • Phil Spector has nearly finished with The Ronettes and is preparing to record "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" with The Righteous Brothers.
  • Eric Clapton is about to release Disraeli Gears with his band Cream.
  • A year before his breakthrough, Jimi Hendrix forms a band in New York and meets Frank Zappa, who introduces Hendrix to the wah-wah pedal.
  • Roger Waters is recording Piper at the Gates of Dawn with the original Pink Floyd lineup with Syd Barrett. He is about seven years away from Dark Side of the Moon.
  • Syd Barrett comes out of retirement to record The Madcap Laughs, his first solo album.
  • Elliott Smith is still playing in Heatmiser, and is a year away from recording his first solo album, Roman Candle.
  • Thom Yorke is five months away from releasing "Creep" with Radiohead.
  • Conor Oberst is busy promoting his breakthrough album, Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, released a year earlier.
  • Lisa Loeb is playing coffeehouses in New York, and has three years to wait until her breakthrough single, "Stay (I Missed You).
  • Kurt Cobain is a year away from recording Nevermind (including "Smells Like Teen Spirit") with Nirvana.
  • Jack White has just finished recording The White Stripes' debut album.
  • Gwen Stefani and No Doubt are two years away from commercial success.
  • Black Francis is recording Doolittle with The Pixies.
  • Stuart Murdoch is still struggling with chronic fatigue syndrome, and is four years away from forming Belle & Sebastian.
  • Debbie Harry has not yet begun her musical career, and is seven years from her debut record with Blondie.
  • Chris Martin (of Coldplay) introduces the world to "Yellow."
  • Jim Morrison and The Doors have hit #1 on the charts with "Light My Fire."
  • Avril Lavigne has not lived that long.
Non-musical artists tend to be a bit slower:
  • Wallace Stevens has just graduated from law school, and he will work the next twenty years at various law firms and insurance firms before publishing his first book of poetry.
  • T. S. Eliot is a Ph.D student in philosophy. He has already composed most of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" but is ten years from composing The Waste Land.
  • Sylvia Plath, a Fulbright scholar at Cambridge, is getting ready to marry fellow poet Ted Hughes. She is four years from publishing her first collection of poetry.
  • James Joyce is teaching English in Austria-Hungary. Dubliners will come in nine years. Ulysses, seventeen years.
  • Vincent van Gogh has quit his job at an art dealer, gotten jilted by a love interest, taken up religion, and gone to England to work at a boarding school. In four years, he will decide to be an artist.
  • Yoko Ono composes "Lighting Piece" ("Light a match and watch till it goes out.") about seven years before Fluxus is organized, and ten years before she meets John Lennon.
  • Andy Warhol is working in the commercial arts industry. In two years, he will self-publish a book called 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy. The silkscreens will happen about five years later.
  • Pablo Picasso paints Garçon à la pipe during his "Rose Period."

Friday, September 15, 2006

Great moments in rock and roll: the misleading count-in

Smashing Pumpkins - 1979
The song fades in with a quiet 4/4 beat for a few bars, but the song resets itself on the 'and' beat. That is, count 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 1 and 2 and so on.

The Beach Boys - Caroline No
We hear two complete repetitions of the drum pattern (three beats of the high-pitched sound followed by the echoey conga drum), and only two beats into the third repetition, the song begins and resets the counting.

Outkast - Hey Ya
The singer counts in 1-2-3 before the song starts on the next beat. This would be fine if the song were in 3/4, but it is actually in 4/4. Therefore, the song sounds like it has started a beat early.

Radiohead - Sulk
Phil's fill into the song happens on an unexpected beat.

Pixies - Oh My Golly!
I don't even know what time signature the drum intro is in. Unless you've memorized the song, it's pretty difficult to anticipate the start of the song.

Queen - Killer Queen
If you pay attention, you will notice 6 fingersnaps counting into the 4/4 song.

The Smith - This Charming Man
Start counting from the beginning of Johnny Marr's riff and you will find that it counts 15 beats (one beat short of four 4/4 measures) before the song kicks into a 4/4 beat. Is it prog?

The Beatles - Taxman
There are actually two count-ins. The voice in the foreground is counting to a different tempo from the song. Near the end of the intro, we hear a "real" count-in happening in the background.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I'm back!!!

I'm exhausted from a week of traveling and coming back to find out all the shit that's been happening to my blog and web site. I'm going to say, first of all, I don't hate the band and I didn't blow up the cube.

Secondly, I wasn't out to kill myself, you miserable fuckers. I was going on a long walk. Literally. And where did I go? It's really none of your business, but in the interest of clearing things up, I was on a backpacking trip through Europe. First stop, the wineries of the Czech Republic. I got totally plastered wandering through Moravia's 11,000 hectares of wineyards. Next stop, the wine country surrounding Bordeaux in France. Okay, so I was having such a great time I don't remember anything, but here's the web site. Then, I stumbled into the Père Lachaise in Paris, where Jim Morrison is buried. Over his grave, I downed a bottle of whiskey in his honor. Yes, I got the whiskey from a convenient store, and it was very convenient.

So, yeah. Neon Phosphor had a pretty good time. But then I logged onto the blog at an Internet cafe in Amsterdam, and what do I see? That bastard taking over my blog.

I came back on Friday morning and saw that little shit sitting on my Blogger Dashboard, and he threatens to turn me in for blowing up the cube. The nerve! I was like, I wasn't even there, what the hell are you talking about? Then, the police came and took me in for questioning. I was like, I didn't do anything, I wasn't even there, why don't you ask Pascal 'cause he's the one who probably wanted to frame me? I told the police to go check Pascal's secret hideout, behind the holes in the schedules and the holes in the walls. Sure enough, when they did, they found the weapons of mass destruction: a copy of Photoshop and Dreamweaver that was used to blow up the cube. Then, Pascal confessed to his crime and they put him away.

It turns out he always wanted to be the mighty Tonics publicist and then took advantage of my vacation to pull off his miserable scheme. Yes, we were friends when we were young, but he got jealous when I appeared on Sound Check and he didn't. And when I cashed in bigtime on the sale of my chords to "Anne Bancroft," Pascal got really pissed. But I didn't think he would ever act on his anger.

Well, as he was being escorted to the police van, Pascal had one more thing to say: "It was a great idea! It was a great idea! Was a great idea but never in practice." Indeed.

As they say, it's "back to regular programming" on this blog. Fuck.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

"Readers have questioned your ability to carry on this blog, particularly because of your lack of humor."

----What readers need to understand is that I take this blog a lot more seriously than my predecessor. I'm not here to waste your time, people. This is going to be a serious blog about serious music. You know how Neon used to bash Pitchfork Media? I never understood why. I think Pitchfork's where you can get the most intelligent reviews from today's best writers. I think I'm doing this blog a favor, actually.

"It has been reported that your musical taste conflicts with the band's."----I don't think that's really a problem. I'm not the one writing the songs, anyway. I like the Tonics' music, especially during their early progressive phase when they were actually creating new sounds and experimenting with forms like the rock opera. They showed great promise back then, and if they go back to their roots, I think they can produce more artistically challenging and satisfying songs.

"You're not a musician, are you?"----No, and I don't see how that impairs my ability to write about music and serve as the Tonics' publicist.

"And I understand you have something against 1960s pop."---I know Neon and several of the Tonics adore "Be My Baby," but I don't particularly care for it. I don't think Phil Spector was an artist; he merely stumbled on a formula that happened to be commercially viable. Similarly, I don't rate Brian Wilson as highly as, say, Robert Fripp and Brian Eno. And the Beatles? Overrated. If they weren't singing about girls, they were singing about drugs and sunshine. Did they ever make you think? No.

"Don't you think the readers you inherited from Neon Phosphor will be upset about your views?"----I don't think so.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

"Will they rebuild the cube?"

----It's too early to tell whether they will rebuild the cube, construct a monument in its place, or leave it as is.

"How are the Tonics taking this?"----The Tonics are naturally upset by the news.

"Your answers, they are so straightforward."----Oh yes, I don't believe in obstructing good journalism. The best publicist is an honest publicist.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Oh dear...

Is Neon Phosphor not only a disgruntled employee, but also a criminal?

Neon had plenty of reasons to blow up the cube: Neon disliked working at the Tonics' press office, especially when he was criticized by members of the Tonics. Neon was disappointed that the Tonics had not yet achieved stardom. On top of that, the Tonics stole Neon's chords and transplanted it in "Elegy For Anne Bancroft."

Ever since "Anne Bancroft," Neon Phosphor has walked around without his chords. It was as if someone ripped out Neon's heart and threw it into the trash can.

One can imagine that, in the last few days, Neon has "slipped back inside/ All alone inside/ Except for the liquor he borrowed."

So desperate to make a point, Neon decided to pack the cube with explosives, and blow it up to smithereens.

There's only one problem: how did Neon get all the explosives in there? On Saturday, the authorities had searched every corner of the building for signs of Neon. They did not find any explosives. The building was then fenced off. Neon could not have gotten in unnoticed. A crowd had gathered there by the time the investigators finished searching the building.

I was personally across the street from the cube at the time of the blast, trying to obtain comments from everyone. Maybe Neon snuck in while we all had our backs turned? It was quite late at night, quite dark...

I wonder if, in the course of my journalism, I had distracted myself and others from noticing that someone was sneaking in a dolly full of explosives. How horrible that would be!

How am I going to sleep tonight!

And Neon! There's a terrorist on the run.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


At around 11pm, an explosion occurred on the Sculpted Static web page. The cube, a longtime symbol of the band, was destroyed in the incident.

No one was inside the cube during the blast. The cube had been fenced off from the public since yesterday. Initial reports indicate there were no injuries. All Tonics staff members have been accounted for.

Only hours ago, investigators had found evidence of recent habitation by Neon Phosphor inside the cube (see article below).

Neon Phosphor leaves a clue

Ever since losing domain-name status earlier this year, the Sculpted Static website has been a ghost town. Today, however, the town was abuzz with activity again as investigators continued their search for the lost Neon Phosphor.

Early this morning, a witness reported seeing a disoriented Neon Phosphor stumbling out of the cube and disappearing into the car.

Sure enough, investigators found evidence that the Tonics' publicist had stayed in the cube overnight. The second floor of the cube had the smell of fresh urine, the investigators reported. More telling is a message on the wall that read, "i piss on this wall -np."

"It is unlike Neon to vandalize our own property, but we take it as a sign that Neon is alive and on the run," said a source close to the band who wished to remain anonymous. "Of course, we cannot rule out the possibility that the message was left behind by someone else with the initials NP. But I highly doubt it."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

An exclusive interview with Steven Chow

P: I am Pascal.

SC: what do you want, Pascal the Rascal?

P: The media has speculated that Neon Phosphor may have run away because of an abusive e-mail you sent to Neon on August 27. Would you care to comment?

SC: neon is one of the rudest writers in the world. how can he/she/it, whatever neon is, be hurt by a little memo? neon reads and writes that kind of shit everyday. there are deeper issues at work here. neon probably listened to "Hamlet" one too many times. if that is the case, i take partial responsibility.

P: Do you have any idea where Neon is?

SC: i bet neon's out drinking. but seriously we don't have too many clues.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Pascal appointed acting publicist

The Tonics announced today that Pascal will fill in the role of acting publicist, effective immediately.

"Pascal grew thirty by the book, and I am confident that Pascal will grow thirty by the blog," said Mark Williams, guitarist and singer in the Tonics.

Pascal, who joined the band in 2001 as a lyric, has spent much of the last five years living on Sculpted Static's Soundclick page.

"It is not ideal that I should have to accept the position under these circumstances," said Pascal. "But I know this is a job that has to be done, and I feel honored to have been selected. Neon and I go way back. We spent most of our childhood playing around Bm and Em before Neon moved on to more chords. I hope I won't have this job for too long, because like everyone else, I would like to see Neon on the blog again."

Neon Phosphor is missing

The following is a joint statement from the five members of the Tonics:
Neon Phosphor, our publicist, has disappeared.

Neon Phosphor showed up to work yesterday and left a note saying, "I am going for a long walk." Immediately after updating the blog at 11:44 AM Pacific Time, Neon clocked out normally and left the Blogger Dashboard. A Blogger staff member in the parking lot observed Neon driving towards the information superhighway.

Numerous attempts to contact Neon Phosphor via phone, e-mail, and text-messaging have been unsuccessful.

Neon Phosphor joined us as a lyric in summer 2001 and has been our publicist since December 2004. We are very upset and in shock over the news, but we are cooperating with the authorities who are handling this case. We are asking the public for any information that will lead to Neon's safe return.

Thursday, August 31, 2006



Sunday, August 27, 2006

"I heard Steven's going to record an album of video game music on his Korg. Is that true?"

----Huh, I don't know. Let's hear from the artist himself:
neon, next time you forward me a stupid question like that, you're fired. you got that? we didn't hire you to waste our time, we hired you to answr [sic] questions from the stupid media. that's why you're our public fucking relations manager. of course i'm not recording an album of video game music!!!!!! why couldn't you figure this one out? and by the way, i'm really disappointed with the blog. you're supposed to update everyday. don't you ever think about your readers? now do your job, do it well and quit bothering me. -sc

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Friday, August 18, 2006

What you find when you Google yourself

I found a review of the Sculpted Static website on something called the Unlikely Glossary Project. I don't know what it is (I can only access it through the Google cache) but I suspect it's made by one of Arta's friends.
The band has a website that is virtually impossible to navigate, by being purely symbolic and textless. It’s a huge ass-pain. You are encouraged to insult the website at its "scrawlwall". You are encouraged to use Dirty Sanskrit.

Update: Apparently, "Sculpted Static" is now called "The Tonics."
Now here's an interesting one. It is a forum post by a high school friend who produced artwork for us during the Heart of Darkness days.
The only band that I listened to recently is Sculpted Static. Why? The short explaination is, I have no taste in music. Here's the long explaination: A couple of years ago, back in high school, a couple of friends and acquaintances of mine decided to start a band. I told them something to the effect of "but you suck" / "it will never work out". They currently have two albums out, and actual fans... :p I still say that they stink though. Some of their songs are good, but the percentage is too low to justify the effort for me. The moral of the story is: I have no taste in music. Some of them are going to hunt me down now... But I regret nothing.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Song Tapper

Check this out, this thing really works when you don't know the name of the song and you don't know the lyrics. You just have to tap the space bar to the melody and the web site tells you the name of the song. Except it doesn't work for the Tonics' songs. "Distance" comes out as "Perfect Druge" by Nine Inch Nails.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Great moments in rock and roll: spoken word

Spoken word is different from rap in that it does not follow the rhythm of the music. Well-known examples include: "All right, George!" and "Rock me, Joey Santiago." This article pays tribute to spoken words that play an even bigger role in the rock and roll song:

Morrissey - "At Last I Am Born"
(0:40) "Look at me now. From difficult child to spectral hand to Claude Brasseur-oh-blah blah blah."
A voice sounds naked when it isn't wrapped up behind a melody. It works for this song because Morrissey is singing about having sex, or so we are led to believe.

Darlene Love - "White Christmas"
(1:20) "The sun is shining, the grass is green/ The orange and palm trees sway/ There's never been such a day, in old L.A./ But it's December the 24th, and I'm longing to be up north/ So I can have my very own white Christmas."
A classic example of a spoken verse on top of background singing.

The White Stripes - "The Union Forever"
(1:11) "Well I'm sorry but I'm not interested in gold mines, oil wells, shipping or real estate. What would I liked to have been? Everything you hate."
This song contains a lot of spoken word, but these particular lines are spoken with the most natural rhythm.

Blur - "Parklife"
(0:21) "Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as... (parklife!)/ And morning soup can be avoided if you take a route straight through what is known as... (parklife!)/ Johns got brewers droop, he gets intimidated by the dirty pigeons - they love a bit of it. (parklife!)/ Who's that gut lord marching? You should cut down on your porklife, mate, get some exercise! (parklife!)"
The speaker is not Damon Albarn; he is English actor Phil Daniels. Spoken word is a good way to showcase your accent or dialect.

The Cranberries - "Yeat's Grave"
(1:19) "Why should I blame her,/ That she filled my days with misery,/ Or that she would of late have taught/ To ignorant men most violent/ Ways or hurled the little streets upon the great./ Had they but courage equal to desire."
This is simply a reading of W. B. Yeat's poem "No Second Troy."

Pixies - "Tony's Theme"
(0:00, 0:55) "This is a song about a superhero named Tony. It's called 'Tony's Theme.'"
It sounds tacked on, but it's really a part of the song. Kim Deal would perform this line in concert.

The Beatles - "Get Back" (single)
(2:38) "Get back Loretta/ Your mommy's waiting for you/ Wearing her high-heel shoes/ And her low-neck sweater/ Get back home Loretta"
It's Paul, speaking with his bluesy voice.

The Big Bopper - "Chantilly Lace"
(0:00) "Hello, baaaaby! Yeah, this is the Big Bopper speakin'. Ha ha ha ha ha! Oh, you sweet thing! Do I what? Will I what? Oh baby, you knoooow what I like!"
Probably the most entertaining phone call in rock and roll, from one of the original rock and rollers.

Jack Sheldon - "Conjunction Junction"
(2:00) "In the mornings, when I am usually wide awake, I love to take a walk through the gardens and down by the lake, where I often see a duck and a drake, and I wonder as I walk by just what they'd say if they could speak, although I know that's an absurd thought."
Schoolhouse Rock! is one of the greatest things that ever happened on TV. The second greatest is Eureka!, a Canadian cartoon about science.

Spoken word is a dangerous device because it can easily make the song too melodramatic. It is, therefore, commonly used in motivational/inspirational songs, religious songs, and over-the-top love songs, such as our following example.

Elvis Presley - "Are You Lonesome Tonight?"
(1:27) "I wonder if you're lonesome tonight/ You know someone said that the world's a stage/ And each must play a part/ Fate had me playing in love, you as my sweet heart/ Act one was when we met, I loved you at first glance/ You read your line so cleverly and never missed a cue/ Then came act two, you seemed to change and you acted strange/ And why I'll never know/ Honey, you lied when you said you loved me..."
It goes on, complete with heavy reverb. The best part of the speech is when it ends and Elvis' phenomenal singing voice returns with a vengeance.

Sculpted Static used spoken word on the "Scramble For Loot" section of Heart of Darkness: The Rock Opera. Arta used his voice to great effect on lines such as, "Yes, they call me Kurtz,/ And damn the rhetoric;/ Your ivory’s all I seek."

On the unreleased recording "Jaguar," Steven says, "Jaguar. Select Edition. Certified Pre-Owned. Previously owned/ The heart of performance..."

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

"Your publicist is pretty cute. Can I have her number?"

----I'm sorry, I only date people of my kind. For example: fictional bloggers, cartoon characters, and superheroes.

"But I am a fictional reporter! No one's really asking these questions."----You and I have something in common. Let's have a drink at this imaginary cafe.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Great moments in rock and roll: "Is She Weird"

This post is about three ways to lead into the chorus, as demonstrated by Pixies' "Is She Weird," off Bossanova.

0:34 - Hesitate: We hear the first line of the chorus, "Is she weird," before a slight pause (as though the singer came in too early and corrected himself). Then, the chorus kicks in from the beginning.

1:27 - Go into a bridge: After teasing us with the first line of the chorus, "Is she weird," the singer takes us into a completely different direction with "Is she over me/ Like the stars and the sun/ Like the stars and the sun" before transitioning smoothly into the chorus.

2:20 - Get right into the chorus: Also, Kim Deal joins in the singing for the last chorus.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

"I have a question."

----So? Go take some medicine for it.

"We, the concerned members of the public, couldn't help but notice that Arta has not been seen with the band for any of the promotional activities since June. Is he dead?"----Let's put it this way: James Dean has not attended any of our press conferences and album signings, and is he dead? Yes.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"Is 'Mean Song' baroque pop?"

----No! It's so obviously Renaissance pop.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Great moments in rock and roll: the chorus-verse switch

There are countless ways to go from the chorus back to the verse. Sometimes, you hang out for a few bars before starting up the verse. Or, you go into a guitar solo. Or, you go into a bridge before coming back to the verse. This blog post will celebrate some of the more creative solutions:

Overlapping with a tail
The Mamas and the Papas - "Dedicated To The One I Love"
At 0:55, the chorus ends with the tail: "This is dedicated to the one I love" but the word "love" becomes the first word of the ensuing verse: "Love can never be exactly like we want it to be." Brilliant, and no time wasted between the chorus and the verse!

The Beach Boys - "Let Him Run Wild"
The tail comes, almost awkwardly, after few bars of instrumental contemplation. We hear "Guess you know I've waited for you girl" (1:27) and before we can wonder, "What the hell was that?" it leads right into the familiar verse.

Instrument in place of singing
The Kinks - "Do You Remember Walter?"
At 0:47, we are tricked into thinking the song has turned into an instrumental. But no, the organ's only playing the first notes of the verse before the vocalist picks up the melody mid-line. Someone deserves a gold star for this moment.

Disguise the verse
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Rich"
The instrumentation during the final verse (1:55) is completely different from the first verse, despite having the exact same vocal melody and lyrics.

When all else fails
Herman's Hermits - "I'm Henry the Eighth, I Am"
Just say, "Second verse, same as the first!"

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Great moments in rock and roll: the punch

The punch is a single-note (or sometimes several quick notes) played for emphasis by an instrument that otherwise has little or no role in the song. Often, it is used to mark the beginning or the end of a section.

Al Green - "Let's Stay Together"
The trumpets' two-note attack introduces the chorus (1:25), wakes us up from the sparse instrumentation of the verses.

Elton John - "Honky Cat"
Heard throughout the chorus, especially at the beginning of the chorus (0:57), when the tenor saxophones play a two-note motif followed quickly by a single accented trumpet note.

The Beatles - "I'm Looking Through You"
The verse is just acoustic guitar, bass and drums, when bam! the end of the verse is punctuated by several organ chords over guitar riffage. (0:28)

TLC - "Waterfalls"
More subtle than the two examples above. A single trumpet note with a hint of glissando introduces each verse. (0:34, 1:40)

Friday, July 21, 2006

"So, what's in store for the Tonics?"

----According to our in-house accountant, that would be raw materials, works-in-progress and finished goods. Incidentally, our works-in-progress inventory includes a song called "The CPI Song" that has lyrics like: "Let's go measuring prices with the CPI/ Consumer Pricing Index/ From the Bureau of Labor Statistics."

Here's a question for you: Steven purchased his $250 RadioShack keyboard in May 2001, with an estimated 4-year-life and a residual value of $50. What is the depreciation expense for 2001, if their year-end is Dec. 31? And what is the net book value of the keyboard on Dec. 31, 2001?

"What is the method of depreciation?"----Straight-line.

"Okay, depreciation expense is ($250-$50)/4 years = $50 per year. Multiply that by 8/12 and you get about $33. The net book value is $250-$33 = $217."----Very good.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

"I read on the blogosphere that the Tonics' next album will be entirely musique concrète."

----I hate bloggers who'll just make shit up when they have nothing to say.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Great moments in rock and roll: B&S lyrics

It is an unofficial policy of this band and this blog to stay away from Belle & Sebastian because they are twee, despite being the industry leader in the area of indie pop. Today we make a lyrical exception to this rule by spotlighting the brilliantly constructed verse from Belle & Sebastian's "I Love My Car," available on the Push Barman To Open Old Wounds compilation album, or if you work for--I mean contribute to--Pitchfork, the I'm Waking Up To Us EP. The verse occurs at 2:15 into the song.

"I love my Carl/ I love my Brian my Dennis and my Al/ I could even find it in my heart to love Mike Love"

This verse is brilliant for several reasons: 1) It is a play on the regular lyrical hook "I love my car." 2) It incorporates the names of all five original Beach Boys. 3) The last line hints at the popular perception that Mike Love is the "villain" who hindered Brian Wilson's artistic progress.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Spotlight on Syd Barrett: Part 3

Here is the promotional video for "Arnold Layne," Pink Floyd's first hit.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Spotlight on Syd Barrett: Part 2

When you're mad, or a genius, or both, like Syd Barrett, your conventional sense of rhythm flies out the window. "Bike" is mostly in 4/4 time, but with one or two extra beats sprinkled in here and there. Amateurs who try this trick usually make it too obvious, but on "Bike," Barrett is able to insert these extra beats seamlessly and naturally. He doesn't seem to think in 4/4 time, he's just singing freely, as you would if you were humming to yourself walking down the road. Of his contemporaries, only the Beatles have been able to work in these natural time-signature changes, as seen on "All You Need Is Love," "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," and "Here Comes The Sun."

The other interesting note about "Bike" is that Syd Barrett sings "You're the kind of girl that fits in with my world" on a slide melody. That means he starts the line on the top note (A) and smoothly descends to the bottom note (D). Since there are more syllables than notes along the way, he actually sings some quarter-tones (notes that are in between consecutive keys, therefore unplayable, on the western keyboard).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Spotlight on Syd Barrett: Part 1

This week, we're going to honor the memory of Syd Barrett by highlighting some of his work.

"Candy And A Currant Bun"
This is a little known B-side of "Arnold Layne," Pink Floyd's first hit. The main innovation of this 1967 song is its radio-unfriendly lyrics: "Oooh, don't talk to me/ Please, just fuck with me/ Please you know I'm feeling frail." And you thought the Rolling Stones were explicit in their treatment of sex.

The harmony vocals are Roger Waters or Richard Wright wailing on a slide melody, years before Thom Yorke would use that technique.

Despite the fact that Pink Floyd was known as a psychedelic jam band even during the Barrett era, most of their recordings actually clocked in under 3 minutes. "Candy" is 2:47 long.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Syd Barrett

We mourn the death of Syd Barrett, founding member and original frontman of Pink Floyd. Barrett made a few singles and only one album ("The Piper at the Gates of Dawn") with Pink Floyd, but his work has remained highly influential and relevant to this day. He was a pop genius with an ear for catchy melodies who was barely 22 when he retired from music.

Sculpted Static (our old band) counted Pink Floyd as a key influence, and performed Barrett's "Astronomy Domine" twice during the early 2000s.

Monday, July 10, 2006

"What's 'Bartleby' about?"

----It's about time we had an instrumental.

"I mean, is it a musical interpretation of Herman Melville's 'Bartleby the Scrivener'?"----No, we just liked the name. Sorry to disappoint you.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

"Do you consider yourselves part of the L.A. music scene?"

----No. We are part of the L.A. music backstage.

"What do you mean?"----2:56.

"Excuse me?"----That's the arithmetic mean of the lengths of the songs on our album. That's what you're asking, right?

"You're weird."----No, I'm Neon Phosphor.

Friday, July 07, 2006

An exclusive interview with Steven Chow


SC: i know, and i'm not feeling too creative today, let's just get this over with.


SC: it depends on the method. smashing a guitar is too clichéd. i prefer burning and axing. i think we should bring a heavy-duty tree grinder to our next concert.


SC: before the concert, we usually listen to oldies radio, especially "everlasting love" by the love affair.


SC: soda pop (go the tonics). otherwise i'd fall asleep.


SC: telegraph's retired. and i never practice lucy for fun. i'm not really into those ballads for solo piano. lucy's much better with the band.


SC: stereolab


SC: last weekend i saw Smash-Up Derby at a festival. they give you twice the hits in the same amount of time, for instance by mashing up nirvana and michael jackson, and the strokes and christina aguilera. good times.


SC: later

Thursday, July 06, 2006

An exclusive interview with Mark Williams


MW: hey neon


MW: i do not. i know arta offered to put his old lp out to pasture for the first lava lounge gig, but didn't. so i guess the specter of instrumental destruction hangs over the band. keep in mind that we'd need to be booked to play on a stage to smash any instruments there


MW: i drink at whatever point the band lets me. that's more of a habit than a ritual, though


MW: whiskey, it makes you want to yell. that's a lie: of course i drink a gin and tonic


MW: yeah, of course. i never play old songs by myself for enjoyment or practice, though maybe i should, especially for the latter. once we arrange a song as a group, it's not something i feel compelled to work on again, outside of the group. though maybe i should. having said that, it'd be a blast to play "old mcdonald" with the band


MW: no... well, that's not entirely fair. i think the kings of convenience are all right, if a little quiet. and i think the new cat power album might be ok, but who knows. that's about it. i like the replacements, too. they're relatively recent.


MW: sheesh, it's been a while. i went to a student recital in june on campus. the last rock kind of concert, in a venue, was when george clinton and the p funk gang played at the fillmore in may


MW: take it easy neon

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sculpted Static flashback of the day

"Salvo Social" (2003) was a significant Sculpted Static song for the following reasons:
  • It marked the first time the band modulated to a new key in the middle of the song. The change happens at 1:33.
  • First use of spoken word in a Sculpted Static song. Steven reads from the USA PATRIOT Act during the verses. The effect was inspired by the Velvet Underground's "The Murder Mystery" from their self-titled album.
  • The "drumming" was simply a preset pattern on Steven's RadioShack keyboard. Before "Salvo Social," the band's fake drumming was usually played manually on the keyboard.
  • Arta uses a sampler near the end of the song, and it can be heard clearly over the last chord.
Arta played all the guitar parts, and Steven played bass and performed all vocal parts. Mark and Ian were at school and did not play on the recording. However, the song was performed by all members of the band at the No Future Cafe concert.

Friday, June 30, 2006

"I'm a big nerd and I want to know about works in progress."

----The following is a list of 23 original songs that may appear on future Tonics releases.

  • "Down Below" - a relatively slow song with an octave harmony
  • "Our House" - a vintage guitar-driven song, currently in an advanced stage of production
  • "Atlantis" - according to the writer, it's "somewhere between an elliott smith and a don mcclean impression"
  • "Atoday" - a slow 6/8 song, also known as "Hifi"
  • "Future Four Four" - another song with a guitar hook
  • "How To Win" - features a whistling section. Was rehearsed briefly during the last spring break
  • "Savage" - a waltz with lots of echo and lead electric guitar
  • "Alpha And Omega" - apparently abandoned despite being a contender for the Get Things Done album
  • "My One Sweet Love" - a quiet organ-driven song
  • "Lisa" - a vintage dance pop song, recently Spectorized but remains unreleased
  • "Radio" - a piano-based song dating back to 2003
  • "Nothing Matters At All" - a mid-tempo pop song with a catchy chorus
  • "If You Want To Feel Young" - a multi-movement song
  • "Laetitia" - the sequel to "Lucy Tricked Me..." according to the songwriter
  • "Crowds Of Nervous People" - a piano-based Get Things Done reject
  • "Amaj7" - briefly rehearsed by the band before being abandoned for "not sounding enough like a Tonics song." Some of the melody was written by Mark during the 2003 Davis summit.
  • "Stair" - a song most notable for its non-recurring introduction
  • "This Is The Last Day Of Your Life On Earth" - a pop song almost completely written by Arta, with slight modifications by Steven, and later reworked by Mark
  • "You're Only Human (Do You Know What You're Doing)" - left off Get Things Done despite receiving a new lead vocal track in 2005
  • "The Country Song" - this love song for Princess Diana was shelved halfway through serious production
  • "Surf Rock" - a surf rock instrumental
  • "The Waltz" - a bizarre instrumental, the completed master remains unreleased
  • "Someday" - a faster pop song written by our new bassist Spencer

Thursday, June 29, 2006

"Is rock dead or something?"

----Rock is something, and Lucy tricked us into it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

"We haven't heard any news for weeks. Can you give me an update?"

----Sure, you may download the latest Windows service pack here.

"No, I mean, any news from the band?"----Yeah, they just released a new box set. From Bacon Fat to Judgement Day is the name of an 8-CD retrospective of the band Levon and the Hawks, the group that morphed into The Band in 1968. It was released in 2006 by Canadian Other Peoples Music label. It includes previously unheard historic studio and archival live recordings, rare singles, extensive liner notes, interviews, and photos.

Monday, June 26, 2006

"Is there any truth to the rumor that the Tonics are throwing in the towel?"

----What kind of an idiotic inquiry is that? The Tonics do not feel it necessary to disclose their bathing/drying/beach-going habits. Talk about invasion of privacy when you're in the show business.

"Show business? Are you guys planning to write a musical, or an opera?"----Yes. It's called Il Paparazzi Intrusivo Dovrebbe Appendersi, or The Meddling Paparazzi Should Hang.

"Really? In how many acts?"----Two. The first act is to fit a noose around your neck, and the second is to release the trapdoor.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Friday, June 23, 2006

"Hare Krishna, Sandinista? What does that mean?"

----Why do I always have to do the Wiki research for you?

The Hare Krishna mantra, also referred to as the Maha Mantra ("Great Mantra"), is a sixteen-word Vaishnava mantra, outside of India notably popularized by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (popularly known as 'the Hare Krishnas').

The Sandinista National Liberation Front (Spanish: Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional) is a Nicaraguan leftist political party that was swept to power in 1979 in a popular revolution that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship. Following their seizure of power the Sandinistas ruled Nicaragua for roughly 12 years from 1979 to 1990. Their organization is generally referred to by the initials FSLN and its members are called, in both English and Spanish, Sandinistas. The Opposition to the Somoza government began with the anti-imperialist imperatives of Augusto C. Sandino, decades prior to the Nicaraguan Revolution.

I think the connection is rather obvious.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

"There's a rumor going around..."

---- No, it's the flu that's going around.

Monday, June 19, 2006

"Is it true that the Tonics are back in the studio?"

----Partially true. Only Alek is in the studio, drawing an office building on his drafting table.

"Did you know that tonic water contains quinine, which is flourescent? I read it on Wikipedia."----That's why I am Neon Phosphor.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

"Are you making a new album?"

----No, I'm writing a new blog post.

"Readers have complained of a marked decline in the quality of this blog since Get Things Done was released. Can you respond to that?"----Let's not blame it on Mark. I'd say it's a neoned decline in quality.

"Any chance the web site will be updated?"----Yes. The chance is slim to nil. Or fat.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Unsolicited mail of the day

We are always proud of the fact that we get customized spam---that is, instead of generic shit like Cialis or home mortgages, we get music shit like "join our mp3 site" or "enter this talent contest." Today, we have someone offering photography services:
Hi there it's Lux. If your band is looking to shoot a MUSIC VIDEO, I'm your man. I have a very professional and award winning portfolio. I work with all budgets, let's talk about it.

Also, I shoot band photos for posters and album cover.

you can check out my website

and Stills at



Tuesday, June 13, 2006

"I heard this extraordinary rumour..."

----What are you, British or something?

"Let me finish. I heard a rumour that the Tonics are supporting Radiohead on their North American tour."----Correct. They have our moral support. And we want everyone to know that our moral support is much more interesting than Deerhoof, who are opening for Radiohead at their California shows.

"That doesn't even make sense."----It makes more sense than ∂∑∑®høøƒ lø√∑∫ M∑! I would call for their heads on a stick for their abuse of Unicode, if they weren't already signed to Kill Rock Stars.

"That almost makes sense, but it doesn't when you think about it."----Go read some Pitchfork if you want to think. Fucker.

Monday, June 12, 2006

"Can we get back to classic Neon Phosphor?"

----No. That would be pastiche.

"But you're doing it now."----Doing what now?

"The snappy answers to stupid questions bit."----Yeah, I guess they were pretty biting.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Wall-of-Sound Explained: Part 11

Below is a challenge to musicians everywhere to produce a pure wall-of-sound record based on the following rules:

1. Recording shall take place in a kind of environment familiar to listeners and musicians. For instance, houses, offices, markets, gyms and malls. An effort should be made not to record in sonically-treated spaces such as echo chambers and studios with foam-padded walls.

2. Upon public release, the recording shall include documentation to show where the recording was made and where all the musicians sat or stood.

3. Only one mic shall be used to record the master. Additional mics are permitted only for the purpose of monitoring.

4. Monitor speakers are not allowed. Musicians being recorded may only use headphones for the purpose of hearing themselves and the other musicians clearly.

5. No instrument shall be amplified, except for instruments that require amplification, such as the electric guitar and keyboard. These instruments must be connected to their own amps (one amp per instrument) and must not be connected directly into the sound board. The volume on the amps will be set to the minimum required to obtain the desired tone.

6. No singer shall be individually mic'd, except for monitoring reasons. All singers (along with everything else) will be recorded through the one master mic. No pitch correction or special effect will be added to the vocals.

7. Any equalization adjustments shall be done on the actual instruments and amplifiers, not on the soundboard. Unamplified musicians can move around the room to achieve a desired EQ in the final mix.

8. The use of screens to reduce volume is discouraged. Volume reduction should be done by moving the musicians farther from the master mic.

9. If a singer is playing an unamplified instrument such as the piano or acoustic guitar, and the master mic cannot be placed in a way that properly balances the vocals and instrument, it is up to the singer to maintain a proper volume of the instrument by playing technique alone.

10. If a singer is playing an amplified instrument, the amplifier will be moved away from the singer as appropriate.

In researching this section, I discovered that Scottish pop band Aberfeldy has already done this. ( But I'm still interested to see if it can be done on a massive scale in order to maximize the depth of the record.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Wall-of-Sound Explained: Part 10

Arta responds to Part 8:
See, I totally agree with you here, when you say that "The Tonics are all producers." I think that's the approach you should have taken all along, but last time it really did seem that you were demarcating a division of labor between "musician" and "producer." If we realize that "musician" and "producer" are really just two hats worn by "artists," then we can go somewhere. But my problem with Spector is that I really don't think he saw it that way. He employed legions of session musicians and used a really rigid formula for his arrangements, making them pretty boring, upon repeated listening, to my ears. His whole approach is antithetical to the making of a flexible creative process between equals. You should really give more credence to the negative accounts of artists who actually worked with the guy -- a lot of people seem to think he was an anti-social, egotistical dictator.

If he was just composing music, that would be fine. As you note, a composer lives a solitary existence and has a lot of freedom to create his individual world. But a conductor, or a musician, or a producer, needs to be a social creature that understands consensus, flexibility, revision, and criticism. And I am convinced that Spector did not. He worked fine with artists who were willing to completely defer to him, like the girl groups composed of naive 18 year olds, but older artists (who actually composed their own music) and had a sense of pride in their work tended to hate Spector's egotism and arrogance. Anyway, I don't doubt that he was a smart guy. But I reject him as an object of adulation, and I think you could be a bit more critical in your analysis of him too. This all reminds me a bit too much of the "Clapton is God" stuff of the Cream era.

I think studying wall of sound or any other production technique is valuable to an artist, but only if we approach it with open eyes and an objective stance. Saying the wall of sound is the "best" way for a band to realize its musical potential seems like an obviously false statement to me, just like it would be silly for me to say that "impressionism" is the best way for a painter to realize her best artistic potential. Phil Spector and the wall of sound don't need apologists, in other words, the body of work can defend itself. A good analysis shouldn't be a defense, and it should take criticism into account.

And dude, be honest with me, don't you think the paragraph below sounds a bit authoritarian?

"You are in control of your musicians. If your musicians want to go and create their own records so that they would individually sound the way they want, they can do so. But right now they are working for the collective good, the wall-of-sound, and you are the organizer of this project."

That's what kind of pissed me off, because if anyone in our band had ever acted like that, the rest of us would have whooped him upside the head. And it really didn't seem like you were talking about a metaphorical "spirit of production" guiding the band, it seemed like a pretty literal endorsement of the Spector approach: one man, the Producer, is in charge of the Collective Good (the Wall of Sound) and makes decisions for the whole, free from criticism. If the people in the band aren't cool with that, they can get lost. Doesn't that sound a little USSR?
Phil Spector's nasty business practices, which included depriving many of his musicians a fair share of the royalties, are acknowledged and condemned by this writer. It is a challenge to this writer to study and recommend a production method invented by a man seen by many people as unethical.

Perhaps the next version of this essay should focus less on the production methods and more on the finished product, i.e. the wall-of-sound.

As far as I know, there has not previously been an attempt to describe the wall-of-sound in a way that would be useful to today's musicians who are trying to emulate the sound. This essay, however, has not been exactly neutral, and has been crafted hastily and sometimes recklessly.

It was important for me to get the words out there, in order to get feedback and identify the parts that need revision. There will be a much-improved second draft.

In Part 11, I will conclude this essay by proposing a recording setup that should produce the wall-of-sound.

The Wall-of-Sound Explained: Part 9

Last time, I promised that we would examine some post-1960s records. Well, I lied. This chapter will be dedicated to a wall-of-sound producer we have not yet introduced: Andrew Loog Oldham.

Oldham is best known for being the Rolling Stones' producer in the mid-1960s. It was he that insisted on the Stones taking a bad-boy image, as a counterpoint to the clean-cut Beatles. And it was Oldham who produced most of the early Rolling Stones' songs with the wall-of-sound.

Why has this essay ignored his important work until now? I don't know, and I think I need to correct this in the next revision.

Anyway, Oldham was a big fan of Phil Spector. So much, in fact, that he once took out an ad in the British music paper Melody Maker that read:
This advert is not for commercial gain, it is taken as something that must be said about the great new PHIL SPECTOR record, THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS singing 'YOU'VE LOST THAT LOVIN' FEELIN''. Already in the American top ten, this is Spector's greatest production, the last word in tomorrow's sound, today, exposing the overall mediocrity of the music industry.
From 1964 to 1966, most, if not all, of the Rolling Stones records featured all the necessary elements of the wall-of-sound. Everything in mono. Guitars and drums mixed with a bit of reverb. Mick Jagger mixed up front. Harmonies further back. And tambourine, handclaps and other percussion.

These songs include "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "The Last Time," "As Tears Go By," "Time Is On My Side," "19th Nervous Breakdown," and "Get Off My Cloud." The compilation album, Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass), is a good place to find many of these songs.

People don't usually consider these songs to be wall-of-sound, because there's no layering of instruments. But they have that depth that is so reminiscent of the Ronettes and the Beach Boys, and is lacking in the productions of the Beatles. It's all in the mixing.

Incidentally, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" was #2 in a Rolling Stone magazine's top 500 greatest songs list. It should be noted that two other wall-of-sound productions ("Imagine" and "Good Vibrations") also made the top 6.

Is the wall-of-sound a reason why the Rolling Stones had such an enormous effect in America, on par with the Beatles, despite having little sex appeal?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Wall-of-Sound Explained: Part 8

At this point, Arta raises an worthy objection to Part 7. It is reproduced below.
I disagree with your fundamental assumption that music production has to be a hierarchical and authoritarian project. The "conductor" of an orchestra provides a beat and helps each of the hundred instrumentalists stay in sync with the whole -- he doesn't "ignore" anyone's will or act as a veto. Does a string quartet have a conductor? Why does the producer have to "ignore" the wishes of the bandmembers -- why create that kind of dichotomy in the first place, a rigid binary between "band member" and "producer"? That might be the way Phil Spector operated, (the man was also fond of pointing guns at his musicians) but plenty of bands have been able to have a cooperative, egalitarian artistic process. You might think that Radiohead started to sound shit when their producer started to let them have free rein, but I think they actually started to suck when Thom Yorke essentially became the band leader and yeah, producer - the one who was free to ignore the rest of the band, make final decisions, and be unaccountable.

In other words, why should people run their bands in a way that you and I find repugnant when applied to the organization of larger institutions (such as the state)?
When I said conductor, maybe I should have said composer. In classical music, all the parts are written out and all the instruments pre-assigned. The individual members of an orchestra cannot do much else but to play their assigned parts, with very limited space for interpretation. But this is quite acceptable to many musicians, and their work is rewarded by creating a beautiful, massive sound with the rest of the hundred-odd instrumentalists. There are those whose art is simply to play their own instruments at a high level, and they possess neither the inclination nor the ability to create music from scratch. For the record, a conductor does more than just provide the beat; he or she is there to direct the volume changes and provide a visual cue of the level of energy required at any given point in the music.

This essay seeks to recognize the rock producer as an artist, and to empower the producer with the privileges of the classical composer and conductor.

A producer should not ignore all the comments from his musicians. In the last section, I was only giving specific types of suggestions (mostly regarding the mixing) that are likely to be rejected for the sake of the wall-of-sound. If it came across as something else, then I shall revise my wording.

Like some medicines, the wall-of-sound is not for everybody. I would hate for producers to work with musicians who are adamantly opposed to the wall-of-sound even after the philosophy is explained to them. But admirers of the wall-of-sound have included the likes of John Lennon and Brian Wilson. Clearly, it is something worth studying, worth applying.

Let's continue with Arta's comment.
We've always been a completely egalitarian institution. We do all our own recording, producing, mixing, mastering. It's not a perfect process, we revise and redo things a ton of times until everyone's happy, but isn't that sort of consensus-driven system a hell of a lot better than having some outside producer who dictates to us?
As Arta correctly notes, The Tonics are an egalitarian institution, and it works because each of them understands where they should fit in the mix. In fact, they don't always agree with where they should fit in the mix, but they all recognize that it's an important enough question to consider. None of the Tonics are extraordinary players of their musical instruments, but they play the instrument of production that is rarely played by other bands. They are all producers.

I am writing this essay in the hope that entire bands will get behind a production philosophy and work towards it without having to use an outside producer. I want to show that production is just as important to a record as songwriting. I want to show that pages upon pages can be written about production from an artistic viewpoint. It doesn't have to be wall-of-sound, even though this author believes it to be a most effective production method. You have to figure out which philosophy right for yourself. Alas, many bands don't even take this first step. Many bands walk into a studio, perform, and walk out and leave the engineers to mix. The Tonics don't do this. They would rather spend weeks in postproduction.

But enough about us. In the next section, we will continue reinforcing the wall-of-sound concept by considering if/how some post-1960s records measure up to our definition of the wall-of-sound.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Wall-of-Sound Explained: Part 7

When you're a producer, you hear a lot of demands from your various musicians. They sound something like this:

Drummer: "I want every piece of my drumset to be distinguishable in the mix, so people don't miss the cool patterns I'm doing."
Electric guitarist: "I didn't buy my $2200 Les Paul Standard for nothing. The world needs to hear my awesome tone."
Acoustic guitarist: "Can I get the vintage Martin sound on this record? I did spend $2400 on this guitar."
Bass guitarist: "Don't make me sound muddy, especially on the part where I'm soloing"
Vocalist: "I hate my voice. Let's put double-tracking, delay and reverb on it."
Arta: "Where's my pick?"

A good wall-of-sound producer will ignore all of these comments. You cannot make everyone sound the way they want, if you expect to create the kind of depth required by the wall-of-sound.

Think of yourself as the conductor of an orchestra. You are in control of your musicians. If your musicians want to go and create their own records so that they would individually sound the way they want, they can do so. But right now they are working for the collective good, the wall-of-sound, and you are the organizer of this project.

I make these points because musicians who do not appreciate the wall-of-sound will certainly not appreciate having his or her instrument buried under layers of echo and reverb, and also because the most common kind of the wall-of-sound has multiple instruments playing the same melody to create a new, bigger sound. This is a trick employed by both Phil Spector and Brian Wilson to create the most monumental hits.

The more instruments you hear playing a melody, the more powerful the melody sounds. Having more instruments also creates more depth to the song, because following the rule in Part 5, you would have to move the instruments farther away from the listener in order to hear the lead singer.

Here are some examples of this technique:

Bass with piano: The Ronettes - "Sleigh Ride"
Lead vocals with oboe: The Beach Boys - "I'm Waiting For The Day"
Electric guitar with piano: The Beach Boys - "California Girls"
Glockenspiel with flute: The Beach Boys - "Sloop John B"
Piano and piano an octave up: The Ronettes - "Baby, I Love You"
Electric guitar and electric guitar an octave up: The Crystals - "Then He Kissed Me"

Remember, even if you have a room full of instruments, it is not wall-of-sound unless you apply the appropriate amount of echo and reverb to all the instruments, as described in Part 5. And remember, too, you don't always need to have a room full of instruments for the song to be wall-of-sound. Think about the sparse instrumentation on "Instant Karma." Or the opening bars of "Imagine," where the piano echoes are sufficient to create a deep sound.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Wall-of-Sound Explained: Appendix to Part 6

This section addresses Arta's comment on Part Six:

"Be careful of formulas, dude. The best art tends to violate, rather than adhere to, any kind of rigid formula -- that's why the exceptions you note (like '1979') are some of the best songs."

I think he is right. But let me try to reconcile his comment with the seemingly contradictory formula of wall-of-sound.

Yes, the wall-of-sound is more or less a formula, but it is a formula against the establishment method of producing music. It is not meant to constrain; it is meant to open up new possibilities for music production. For instance, to allow for the idea that maybe muddiness is not a bad thing, that clarity is not always the right thing.

Part Six makes some recommendations for songwriters but it would be a mistake for songwriters to follow them blindly. In making the points above, I am only trying to remind producers about the little details that matter. Maybe you will disagree with them, but I will feel better that you disagree with me than if you had never considered those points, one way or another.

So many pop producers take for granted that their artists know what they are doing. They do not ask questions. They do not think about what they are doing, beyond making phone calls and getting the right engineers at the session. I want producers to take more responsibility in the art that they are producing. Before they put electronic beats into a song, I want them to ask themselves, why am I using electronic beats? Is there no better way? Am I being considerate to my listeners?

Wall-of-sound is a Dogme 95 for music. Follow it or not, but recognize it as a statement against the idea that popular music can only come from the modern ways of production, from the big labels' studios. It is to realize that people do not always care for stereo trickery, that people don't just want to dance to synthesized beats. That people miss the vintage sounds.

I have a friend who has heard both versions of Smile, and she says that the remake is lacking something from the original. Is it the voice, I ask? No, she replies. There is something wrong with the mix. It is not as warm, or something. She can't put her finger on it.

I think I know why she didn't like the new Smile. It is too clean. Everything sounds so deliberate. The stereo mixing overwhelms you with sound. But it seems like I am only describing the way most, if not all, records are produced today. I tell you, people (young people!) are still listening to Pet Sounds, the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, the Beatles... why? I don't think it's just because of the songwriting. There is something about the production that is missing in contemporary records.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Wall-of-Sound Explained: Part 6

As a producer, maybe you don't plan to write songs. But you still need songwriting skills. When do you bring in certain instruments? What if you need to write a tiny melody to link two sections, or to fill unused space? These are all artistic decisions every bit as important as the composition of words and melodies. Both Phil Spector and Brian Wilson were songwriters and multi-instrumentalists.

What makes a good song? Lots of self-help books for songwriters have tried to answer that question. They talk about following A-B-A structures and keeping scrapbooks of ideas. Some even draw the notes out on a musical staff. My opinion is, those books waste your money.

The best way to improve your songwriting is to expand your musical vocabulary by listening to a lot of good music, and listening to them over and over again. There is no getting around this. It is the same as learning a language. You have to get to a point where you are so comfortable with melodies and chords that you can pull them out of the air. A snippet of melody from this song, a verse resolution inspired by another song... that's what the best songwriters have on their musical palettes.

I can't tell you what specific records to buy, but I will advise you to pay more attention to the music of the past. Don't take them for granted just because you heard them during your childhood in your parent's car radio. Listen to the records again, take them off your parents shelves if you have to, and I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

As for modern music, do not be too influenced by what's happening today, because you don't want to participate in a fad or a trend. Don't worry about getting on the radio. Renoir didn't try to make his paintings look good next to Monet's and Cezanne's. Making it in the music industry is a concern only for people whose music is borderline acceptable to the masses, and then they make a lot of noise about why the mainstream music industry ignores real musicians. The truth is, if you make a good, big song worthy of the world, people will hear it.

Now we have talked about some general ideas about songwriting. What about some specifics? Let's begin with some characteristics of good and bad pop songs.

The good pop song is fun for the listener. Unlike a bad pop song, it is never boring. It is not obnoxious. It does not waste the listener's time. Melodies are not slow and drawn out, like some Radiohead songs. A pop recording is not supposed to showcase a singer's voice. It is supposed to make people dance, make people sing along.

For instance, "Help Me Rhonda" is a great song to sing along to, because there are so many vocal parts. If you don't want to sing the lead vocals, there's a great harmony line with the equally-fun-to-sing "bow-wow-wow" part during the chorus. In contrast, "Exit Music (For A Film)" is not fun to sing along to. Too many whole notes. Too many empty spaces. Too slow. That's why it's not a hit single, despite being an otherwise well-written and melodic song.

At this point, I would like to say that I am not accusing bands like Radiohead of being bad musicians. Remember, this is an essay about pop music. There are many other styles of music out there, and I generally have nothing against them, even experimental music, as long as the artist is making a serious and sincere effort to be creative, considerate and meaningful. We should realize, too, that listeners do not always want to hear pop music. If you are in a bad mood, you might rather listen to Kid A than "Da Doo Ron Ron."

I am however against music that is unexciting either because it is formulaic or because it is overindulgent by the artist. A lot of classic rock and 70s pop falls into this category. Here is a list of things that waste a listener's time:
  • A line of melody repeated more than 3 times. This can take the form of a very repetitive chorus, or a verse that keeps using the same melody, such as the Raconteurs' "Steady As She Goes."
  • A melody of only one or two pitches that lasts more than one measure.
  • A guitar solo that lasts for more than 20 seconds, unless there are vocal harmonies during the interval, or if the guitar is playing a singable melody
  • Chords being played by a distorted guitar with nothing else happening except bass and drums. Contrary to popular belief, a distorted guitar does not necessarily project strength. The best way to project strength at any volume is to have multiple instruments playing the same thing. A hundred violins playing in unison is more powerful than Jimi Hendrix. Keep in mind that most people listen to music at a quiet volume, and the distorted guitar sounds pathetic when quiet.
  • The instrumental arrangement does not change throughout the song (a common flaw on Smiths songs)
  • Anything that could be described as "jamming," unless you are Bob Marley
  • Anything that could be described by the words "ethereal," "atmospheric," "hypnotic," or "deep." The point is to make people dance, not to make them contemplate life and fall asleep.
  • You plan to impress your audience by a "shock and awe" technique of producing chaos and cacophony, even if it's melodic.
  • The rhythm section is repetitive (e.g. the Postal Service, Death Cab for Cutie, Broken Social Scene). However, in certain rare occasions it is okay to have a repetitive backing track (Smashing Pumpkins' "1979").
  • Song length is more than 3 min 30 seconds. (but really, you should aim for 2 min 30 seconds.)
Regarding the last point, it is usually okay to create an epic song if it is under six minutes and contains more than three very distinct movements. A good example is "Bohemian Rhapsody." It is not okay to create an epic song of the same length that follows a predictable buildup to a climax. This is why it is a truth universally known and accepted that "Stairway To Heaven" sucks.

Does your song suck? A good way to find out is to listen to your song with a (sober) friend who's never heard it before. You will immediately be much more self-conscious about your work, and it will be easy for you to sense where the boring, even embarrassing, sections are. Of course, there is also the benefit of receiving much valuable feedback from your friend.

A good sign that you have a hit song is if your friend can remember the hook a few minutes after listening to it. Always strive to make an impression the first time. Here is a list of more things that make a song exciting for the listener:
  • The song changes about 3/4 of the way through (something to look forward to)
  • A single, unrepeated hook (for example, the link segments on Weezer's "Buddy Holly" and the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows"). It makes people go back to the beginning of the song when they are disappointed not to hear the hook again.
  • Drums that drop out and come back in
  • An exotic instrument (such as the theremin on "Good Vibrations" and the synthesizer on Del Shannon's "Runaway", but be careful about using faddish ethnic instruments such as the sitar)
  • A melody that spans more than one octave
Over the course of your career, you will discover more things that are exciting to people.

So now you have a good idea of what makes a good song. How do you put it all together? In the next section, we will talk about the best instrumental arrangements for the wall-of-sound.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

An exclusive interview with Mark Williams


MW: hello


MW: yeah, thanks


MW: probably neither, since we'll be in different counties and countries. a few songs may slip through, though


MW: i hope not, but it's not running around like a bandit these days


MW: no way. they're still around?


MW: yeah, i did use to like them. i'd rather see al green these days, though. any idea what these guys new album sounds like? robots shitting into tin cans or something?


MW: you mean nigel?


MW: that's rough. why'd they do that?


MW: hmm, that's pretty admirable


MW: that guy's doing solo albums? man, did he not have enough leeway with the band?


MW: steven chow


MW: probably spector. though i've been guiltily enjoying "telstar," so maybe joe meek


MW: i like to think so. there're facts to back that up, but who knows these days