1) Steve Gunn and Black Twig Pickers, Seasonal Hire (Thrill Jockey). Gunn is from Brooklyn by way of Pennsylvania, the Black Twig Pickers from West Virginia and Virginia, and led by Isak Howell’s harmonica they start out searching for the perfect drone. This is old-time music half buried in the ground, with a foot of grunge thrown over it, and after four songs and seventeen minutes, with fiddler and banjo player Sally Ann Morgan’s singing more expressive than guitarist Gunn’s but also more abstract, you figure you know what the band can do. Then comes the title track, and after three minutes, with Mike Gangloff’s jaw harp the most distinctive sound, the piece is only barely underway, and you realize these people are bent on different territory. At four minutes a theme is still taking shape, but now the shadings are coming from Gunn’s guitar. Howell’s banjo moves up. Appalachian fatalism yields to raga tones that refuse to acknowledge time. At nine minutes or so it all seems to be winding down, and then there’s a shift to a harsher, more atonal music, and the balance tips back to the mountains. The dead — the likes of Clarence Ashley and Roscoe Holcomb — are adding their instruments, everything slows down, everyone is resisting even the idea of an ending, until the dead depart and the sound begins to empty out, Gangloff’s fiddle now completely in possession of the drama, until after more than sixteen minutes Gunn’s simple, steady count on his guitar finishes it off. Though there’s not a word spoken or sung, you might think of the Doors’ “The End”; you might think of the Rolling Stones stumbling into “Goin’ Home.”
2) Beth Ditto from the “Rock and Romantic Collection 2011,” in “The Fashion World of Jean-Paul Gaultier—From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” (Grand Palais, Paris, through August 3). In a video, the singer from the Gossip comes down the runway in a reflecting flapper dress, bouncing from her toes to her neck with every step. With her severely cut bangs and her shimmering girth, she looked like the love child of Louise Brooks and Fatty Arbuckle. “He was a wonderful dancer,” Brooks once said of Arbuckle. “It was like floating in the arms of a huge donut.” In a photograph with Ditto, Gaultier, in a Gossip t-shirt, is grinning as if it felt just like that.
3) The Verbs, Cover Story (Verbs). Covers of not-completely-out-front numbers from the mid-60s to early-70s —the Turtles “You Showed Me,” Los Bravos’ “Black Is Black,” the Kinks “Till the End of the Day,” the Brotherhood of Man’s “United We Stand”—but that’s not the feeling at all. With Meegan Voss at the mike and Steve Jordan overdubbing himself, they sound more like they’re making the demos the people who made the hits were working from, and dumbing down—Voss putting heart into every line, hoping someone will notice, and let her make her own record. The biggest thrill comes with the Dave Clark 5’s “Glad All Over,” in the original probably the worst disc here. In Voss and Jordan’s hands it explodes over big rhythmic breaks, with the ethos of David Chase’s film Not Fade Away all over it: people making music to discover what they sound like, and finding they sound like nobody else.
4-8) Francis Picabia, The Brunette and the Blonde, Seated Nude, Portrait of a Couple (The Cherry Tree), Spring, and Women with Bulldog (1941-43), in “Keys to a Passion” (Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, through July 6). The old dadaist was waiting out the war on the Riviera, and if, as the catalogue notes say, this wall of lurid paintings, assembled here from five different museums, collections, and a gallery, were based on 1930s girlie magazines, today you see what they so blazingly anticipate: post-war paperback covers on the order of Women in Prison and Forbidden Passion and Life magazine ads for cars and leisure wear. The pictures, with everything smacking of high art wiped away until only the get-it-done-and-move-on sensibility of an anonymous illustrator remains, almost seem to vibrate with everything they want.
9) New Order, “Temptation” (Factory, 1982). The 8:43 version, where singer Bernard Sumner now sounds exactly like Benedict Cumberbach looks in The Imitation Game: stoic, blank, and ordinary, his face telling you what he’s doing is the only thing in the world that matters and he’s on the verge of shattering, with only a certain pattern—in the movie, a code, in the music, an electronic drum track as compelling as anything ever played with hands—holding him together.
10) Nico Antico, Autel California (L’Association). By the author of a graphic novel about Bettie Page and Linda Lovelace, one about the adventures of fan and groupie Surfer Girl, whose story starts out with Elvis and closes with Jim Morrison singing “The End” just for her, even though she still hasn’t lost her virginity (Antico promises a sequel). The title means “California Religion,” and the book, in French, translates itself visually, with a certain tinge of regret, of disloyalty to old heroes as time moves on, never very far away. Best moment: in a Los Angeles classroom, students are reading their papers. As a ponytailed not-yet Surfer Girl writes
with a heart in her notebook, Dennis Wilson gets up and reads “409.” And then Brian Wilson gets up and reads “Dans Ma Chambre.”