Odds and Ends . . .

The Simpsons Sky: I was driving west down Central Avenue in Albany yesterday, and I looked up . . . and the color of the sky, and the piles of puffy cumulus clouds looked uncannily like the clouds that roll across the opening credits to “The Simpsons.” It’s odd when real life looks like cartoons, innit?

Crow vs. Grackle: I love watching birds in our yard, but where most folks favor the finches and cardinals and blue jays and other pretty birds, my personal favorites are crows and grackles. They both have serious attitude: they know they’re in charge, they’re clever, they’re loud and proud, the thugs and punks of the bird world. I was eating breakfast yesterday, and heard a lot of screeching and croaking from the front yard, and looking out the window, I saw a big, bad-ass crow stomping around the yard (the way crows stomp when they’re on the ground), while two grackles kamikaze dived it from above whenever it drifted too close to their nest. This went on for a good 15 minutes, and the crow never took to the air: it was his ground, he was gonna stomp around on it, and no shiny, angry grackles were gonna make him leave. So they’d scream and dive bomb him, he’d flap his wings in annoyance and yell back at them, and then he’d stomp around some more. Forget “Freddy vs. Jason” or “Alien vs. Predator:” this battle pitted the scourges of bird lovers against each other in submortal combat, and it was dang good entertainment. Crows and grackles rock.

Music: I’ve gotten three great albums in the past couple of weeks, Ministry’s Houses of the Mole, Einsturzende Neubaten’s Perpetuum Mobile, and the Fall’s The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country on the Clink). All three mark excellent returns to form after some period of less engaging work by three great bands. Back in ’96, I wrote a review of Ministry’s Filth Pig that linked their best records to presidential election years. They sat out the 2000 campaign (in the midst of label difficulties), but they’re back with a vengeance on Houses of the Mole, easily their best record since Psalm 69. Longtime bassist-producer Paul Barker is gone, so this one is Alien Jourgensen’s beast all the way, but it rocks like nobody’s business, so I think my ’96 review is proven pretty danged prescient. Neubaten’s last disc, Silence is Sexy, was the first one they recorded after longtime members F.M. Einheit and Mark Chung were replaced by Rudolph Moser and Jochen Arbeit. It felt tentative to me, but with Perpetuum Mobile, the new quintet is fully integrated and making superb, bracing music again. While some of Silence‘s ambient and atmospheric touches remain, they are well balanced with the sorts of rhythmic fire that has been Neubaten’s hallmark over the years. Blixa Bargeld is in fine voice throughout, balancing the banshee screems with a lovely baritone croon (not unlike that of his part-time boss, Nick Cave), and as much as I liked bassist Mark Chung, switching guitarist Alexander Hacke to the bass spot was an inspired move, and he rumbles majestically and with great technical expertise. I also bought the 2002 Brussels live set, and this five-piece lineup does a great job in concert, too. Very encouraging and enjoyable, and the sound of the live album is about as pristine as any concert recording I’ve ever heard. The Fall’s latest marks their first full-length American release of new material in something like six or seven years; the title stems from the fact that some of the tracks were evidently leaked online. Despite a pretty complete turnover from the classic Fall days, Mark E. Smith manages to keep things punchy and potent with his new supporting cast, making this probably my favorite Fall album since the Brix Smith era. Lotsa good listening this week.

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