snakesThe break up of the short-lived but promising gothic country band (The Sterling Sisters) was announced in a simple text message, read more here (opens in a new window). It was, prematurely, time to move on. Frontman George Cessna pursued a solo career and formed a new band, Snakes. Product declaration: rock 'n' roll. I didn't follow them any further. The drastic change in musical direction was only partially true. There's still a distinct gothic country streak in the music. In March 2018 Snakes released their latest album "No More Songs About Wildflowers". I will now walk you through the album. The first song is "River Dream/Roll On". I really love the first part of the song, which has a floating and dreamy sound. The second part, however, is brutal and merciless rock 'n' roll to the bone. The same could be said about the second song, "Wasted Days". However, the third song "Flora" stands out with its epic arrangement and poignant lyrics. In the fourth song "The Banjo Song" we are sent back to the barren desert landscapes of rock 'n' roll again. The band apparently mixes and gives. The fifth song "Godnight Irene" is a cover by blues legendar Leadbelly. Their take on the song is one of the highlights on the album. An extra plus for the old-school organ arrangement. The sixth song ”Instrumental” is a short instrumental filler. The gothic country quality is restored in the seventh song "The Morning Song". The eight song ”Preaching For The Choir” is plain and loathsome rock 'n' roll again. The last three songs are outstanding. The ninth song ”Thinking Of You" unfolds slowly. The tenth song "Nothing On My Side" with organ and pedal steel fulfills my expectations on how modern gothic country should sound like. The eleventh and last song on the album is "The Cheasapeake Hospitality Waltz". As mentioned in many other articles the closing song is important. When the song ends after some distant yodeling you know it's over. Nothing to add or withdraw. And finally, the overall assessment: This is a rock 'n' roll and country album. I'm a purist and formalist. For me, it's either rock 'n' roll or country. But, this is a very good album. I like the attitude and casual brilliance. However, this would be an extraordinary album if the rock 'n' roll parts had been left at the door. A minor negative remark is the annoying format fetishism with vinyl and cassettes. It's time to combat age discrimination in the gothic country genre. We, the elderly, still prefer cds.  

 

 

This extreme long blog post is another piece in the puzzle of how I became the Ambassador. The Swedish shool system definitely had something to do with it, directly and indirectly. The post is divided into four separate tableus (I know, it's pretentious, but so am I).
 
nhamn lgr69Tableau I. The institutional context 
The overall aim for the public school system in Sweden is to ensure that all children have access to the same high-quality standard of education. This objective is equally grand as appealing. Equal oppportunities is a prerequisite for social mobility, which in turn is the cornerstone in every modern society. I grew up with Lgr 69 (curriculum for the compulsory school). Social engineering was the dominant paradigm at the time. The Picasso-inspired book cover of Lgr 69 signaled change. And change was about to come. The school bureaucrats at Skolöverstyrelsen, SÖ (Board of Education) were ideological, zealous and meticulous. SÖ withstood a comparison with the original; Gosplan, the State Planning Committee in the former Soviet Union. I was in my pre-teens, but I still managed to observe the low-intense clashes between the idealists coming out from teacher training college and the existing cynical old-school staff. The idealists spread the gospel, but the cynics didn't want to be saved. They just kept on doing what they have been doing for the last decades, namely teaching. However, Lgr 69 started to kick in, slowly but surely. The classroom was hitherto the exclusive domain of the teacher, with no or little transparency for others including the principal. On the other hand, you were allowed to listen to LPs on art lessons, while you were pressing watercoloured maple leafs on paper. The times were liberal. One liberal teacher became so dissatisfied with the sex education films that was provided that he showed some porn instead. The principal told him to stop doing that. No reprimands or consequences. The times were really liberal. Not all children could concentrate, adjust or endure. For this heterogeneous group there existed observation classes (obsklass). These classes were primarly intended pupils with normal intellegence, who had such psychological characteristics that they preferably shouldn't be taught in an ordinary class, but at the same time were not in obvious need of other special education. Some school critics thought that observation classes in fact were used to monitor and isolate difficult elements from the ordinary class. More progressive pedagogy was to come. In 1974 came the SIA report in nearly 1 000 pages (Skolans Inre Arbete, translation: School's Inner Workings). This was pedagogic technocracy (or technocrazy). The school shouldn't just be a school. The basic idea was to focus on the conditions in the community, which the proponents meant to be the cause of unwanted behavior among school children. Their behavior was largely a consequence of living conditions. Only by changing these circumstances could their unwanted behavior change. These intentions ultimately resulted in a proposal to equalize differences in school children's background variables via integrated shool day. The latter was a combination of teaching and so called free activities in the compulsory school. Parents could rest assure that their kids had supervision and the same hours every schoolday. What can I say about all this? It was musical chairs in the school sector, but the bulk of the time I spent in a classroom like everyone else. The future wasn't exactly mapped out. However, I became good at team work and set theory displayed on a Flannelgraph.  


nhamn pryoTableau II. The work experience program (PRYO) 
Lgr 69 also emphasized on work experience programs. Politicians and school bureaucrats have, for some reason, always been very concerned about the link between school and working life. This concern is hard to comprehend since working life, like death, is inevitable. But politicians and school bureaucrats got their will through. In 9th grade you spent two weeks in PRYO (praktisk yrkesorientering, translation: practical vocational orientation). The purpose with PRYO was to orientate and to test "the disposition, interests and other conditions required for the professions in question". PRYO should give the pupil an increased understanding of working life, work environment and work tasks. Along with other study and vocational orientation, PRYO was aimed to contribute to the pupil's maturity for vocational choice and be a basis for independent decisions in future choice of study and work assignments. Social engineering at its finest. You could choose any kind of work as long as an employer were ready to take you on. I could choose whatever I wanted, but I was unimaginative and procrastinated the whole thing. At the time, I was convinced of that my dream job was to work in a record store. The student counselor, constantly pregnant in a velvet one-piece, did nothing to talk me out of it. However, there were no vacant internships in the small company town I grew up in, however in the nearby sleepy locality (3 200 inhabitants). It wasn't so bad. I got an excuse to ride my moped, a red Puch Dakota 1969, 10 km (6 miles) everyday for two weeks. The workplace was even sleepier. The small combined radio/TV store was located in the ground floor in an apartment building, with devices and a small section of vinyls in the front and a workshop in the back. Business was slow. The were hardly any customers. I kept the few vinyls in order and made some erratic dusting. After the first day I was bored stiff and there were still nine more working days to go. Not much action. A turning point came when the owner ripped off an old woman. She brought a lamp, which she depended on for her reading. The cord had loosened. It took less than a minute to fix. I thought the owner would fix it for free and make some goodwill, but instead he charged the old woman 50 SEK ($6), which was a lot of money in those days. I was shocked and appalled. I felt compelled to create justice. And so I did. An eye for an eye. And some cassettes. My encounter with small business didn't end well. This work experience program made it clear that this was nothing for me. But the time I spent in the dead-alive store wasn't a complete waste of time. I ate my lunch meal in the nearby school and socialized with a girl I happen to be interested in. After a while, we became a couple.
      

nhamn darkroomTableau III. Optional subject (FVA) 
Another part of Lgr 69 was the FVA (fritt valt arbete, translation: optional subject). FVA was thought of as a link between school and society. The purpose with FVA was to increase the well-being in the school and stimulate students to developing leisure activities and non-profit work. It would also involve the students more in school and in society. Social engineering again. FVA was two hours a week. You could choose almost any subject as long as there were a supervisor/mentor present. I was unimaginative again and didn't make an informed choice. After a short stint with miniature golf and model building (!) I got a tip about photography, which I liked and held on to the rest of my compulsory school years. The school enviroment was tough with bullying and a total absence of any #metoo awareness. The teachers had a hard time. There were never any disciplinary problems in FVA. The FVA hours became a sanctuary. The atmosphere was friendly and helpful. The slightly older girls not only lowered themselves to speak to us, they were very nice and even flirted with us. The supervisor/mentor, a guy just a couple of years older than us, gave advice and provided us with film rolls and sent us out on photograhic missions. But most of all we liked to use the enlarger, experimenting with exposure times and hover over the photo trays with developer, stop and fixer chemicals in the darkroom. The print was then washed to remove the processing chemicals and dried. Hard rock photos and female portraits dominated. I have saved photos from this era, but some of them are either lost or stored somewhere in the house where I can't find them. FVA has nowadays become a derogatory term for poor management and slack in general. For my part, I hold these FVA hours dear. I never became a good photographer, but I developed my aesthetic side (an area with considerable potential for development). I try to convince myself that there's a common thread from the FVA to the making of this website. This work experience program may have really kicked in.
  

mazeTableau IV. The bureaucratic maze 
The Swedish school used to be good. We have a serious problem in Sweden. We don’t understand the proverb "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it". And when we fix things that actually work we tend to go from one extreme to another. Sweden went from bureaucratic regulations to one of the most liberalized school systems in OECD in just a couple of years. In short: in 1991 the responsibility for public schools was transferred from the national (state) to the local government level (municipalities). In 1993, a nationwide universal voucher program was introduced. The voucher system led to an emergence of a school market. Three of the companies that run schools in Sweden are actually listed on the Stockholm stock exchange. School researchers dispute about the causality, but it’s a fact that school results plummeted, school segregation increased, equality of education decreased, grade inflation arose (as a side effect) and the status of teaching staff fell rapidly. Add grade reforms, new curriculum, new wage system and more. It's not strange that it's hard to evaluate the effects and causality. Now things are improving, but from a low level. I'm thankful that I went to school long before this epic downfall. I learned a lot of things that I don't remember. I got second-rate grades in compulsory school, in upper secondary school and at university level. "Mediocrity is always praised" said my first boss and I marked his words. Somehow, I've managed to nestle me through the bureaucratic maze which characterizes the public administration. It's an irony of fate that I later ended up in school bureaucracy on the national level. We didn't connect. It became, by far, the shortest period of employment in my life. There is learning in everything that we may regard as wasted. What I learnt from this work experience is to be yourself whatever the cost.


wishfor2019Time to sum up (again). This is my fifth country note since the website was launched in March 2014. Since then, wishes and expectations has gradually turned into disappointments and lamentations. In fact, I'm becoming Ebenezer Scrooge, year by year. However, facts are facts. It's an undisputable fact that the best years for the genre have come and gone. Legendary Doors-singer Jim Morrison sang loud and clear in Roadhouse Blues "The future's uncertain and the end is always near". He was later convicted on indecent exposure and profanity charges. Like if he cared. He had a self-consuming lifestyle. "I wanna have my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames". I live a kick-free life, but I'm still interested in music that knocks me off my feet. When I now summarize the year I can establish that 2018 was a better year than 2017 in terms of quantity. Some facts to back this up: Unhuman Nature" by Those Poor Bastards, "Songs One Through Sixteen" by DBUK, "The Other Shore" by Murder by Death, "The Tighter You Hold Onto Something The More Likely It Will Fall Apart In Your Hands" by T.K. Bollinger, "The Trial" by The Goddamn Gallows, "Transmissions From The Electromagnetic Understream" by Peculiar Pretzelmen, "Gnosis" by Carrie Nation And The Speakeasy, "Chains Are Broken" by The Devil Makes Three and "A Storm To Drive Me Ashore" by Oldboy (Of the Fens). They were all pretty good releases. In terms of quality, 2018 was a equal to 2017. That's something to be thankful for. At least, the quality didn't deterioate. The only album that knocked me off my feet was the re-release of "White Trash Voodoo" by The Woodbox Gang (from 2009, remixed and remastered by Alex Kirt).

Will redemption come to Ebenezer Scrooge (to be)? I've had the same three wishes for three years in a row. The first wish was a new gothic country album from Christian Williams. The second wish was a new album from The Victor Mourning. The third wish was to acquire at least one of the hard-to-find four missing albums (read more here) and to get all albums from the defunct label Devil's Ruin Records. I actually had some luck this year regarding the last wish. I managed to get hold of Damn Laser Vampires (DRR002). One down and only six album to go. Ebenezer Scrooge didn't make any wishes. "Bah! Humbug!" But I wish for the same three things in 2019. What about next year? Antic Clay has declared to release a new album called "Broom of Fire". It was originally scheduled for 2017 as a 10 year anniversary of the release of "Hilarious Death Blues". We'll just have to wait and see if and when it's going to be released. Also, DBUK will release a new album called "Songs Nine Through Sixteen" on January 25th (already released in Europe on a double CD and gatefold double LP). That's basically it. Maybe Sons of Perdition will find time and place for a new album. I hope so. But, the future's uncertain and the end is always near. 

 

 

457I try to avoid the high US shipping costs. I thought that I bought the new album "Songs Nine Through Sixteen" from the German label Glitterhouse Records. I received a double album "Songs One Through Sixteen". I didn't notice that in Europe "Songs One Through Eight" and "Songs Nine Through Sixteen" were released on a double CD and gatefold double LP. It figures. DBUK recently announced their first European tour in February 2019 to support the European release (France, Belgium, Holland, Russia, Spain, Germany, Schwitzerland, Austria, Czech Republic and Poland). In the US "Songs Nine Through Sixteen" will be released on January, 25th 2019. If I had been more attentive, I would have waited for the US version. Anyway, my mistake. I've pre-ordered the US version. No shipping costs saved this time since it ended with double costs. This is my second DBUK review. I wrote a review of the debut album in late November 2105, read more here (opens in a new window). In my position I'm bound to come across adjectives. It's inevitable. The DBUK press release is a strong contender for gibberish of the year: "DBUK exists on it’s own musical plane. Haunting, warped murder ballads come with a louche, anti-spiritual cast. Limerence and longing co-exist with casual cruelty in compositions that feature a remarkable amount of detail of the natural world; they often begin sparingly, building into an ecstatic reverberation of instruments and voices. Reverb and shake rattles abound, lending a spaghetti western vibe on songs written by Munly J Munly, whose dark humor fills the record lest anyone mistake the menace for malice." I've finally met my match. The excutive summary of the album: The first song is "Bonnie Clyde, The Big-Bull-Hen Of The Women's Prison". Not a bad song, but not an earth-shattering album opener either. The second song is "Deerslayer". The song is laid-back, but not all laid-back songs are cool. This song isn't cool. The third song "From The Estate Of John Denver" is epic and, by far, the best song on the album. This is nearly seven minutes of the finest of gothic americana, sparse arrangement and subtle lyrics. The fourth song "In San Francisco Bay" also fit the top-notch gothic americana bill. The fifth song "Coca-Colonalism" is also a great song and one of the highlights on the album. An extra plus for the witty title. After these three songs the song quality deteriorates significantly. The sixth song ”The Misrepresentation Of The Thompson Gun” is more or less unfocused spoken-word. The seventh song is "It's Killing Me". Hmmm, how should I put it within my limited english vocabulary? The word annoying is a word that comes to mind. The eight and last song on the album is ”And God Bless You”. The song isn't too bad, but doesn't meet the criteria for a good closing song. And finally, the overall assessment: I could copy paste the text from the ”Songs One Through Eight” review. The album contains both highs and lows. The highs on the album are pretty high, while the lows are quite low. If I had been the sole and exclusive producer I would have excluded some of the weaker songs and merged the material on the two DBUK albums into one. This would have resulted in an exceptional album. Now, "Songs Nine Through Sixteen" is just an ordinary album and there's no need for any gibberish.

 

 

456 Well, let it be said that "Inhuman Nature" will not be played by hifi dealers who are in the process of selling high end stereos to audiophiles. Instead, they will cling to their ample safety margins and play Donald Fagen's "The Nightfly" (again and again). The new TPB album was released November 16, 2018 and is raw, unpolished and distorted. It sounds like if it has been recorded inside a claustrophobic closet with a tin can as microphone. The album sets off with "Snake Tounged Deceiver". This boogie-woogie song with rolling bass lines sounds like it was made in the 1950s, if it wasn't for the lyrics: "You fat little troll / You sick little gnome". The tempo ratches up a few notches in the second song "Cult Of Loneliness", not bad. The third song, "Vengeance Trail", is undoubtedly one of best songs on the album. This is what you want and expect from TPB."The medicine ain't working Bill / You're going to Boot Hill / Them owlhoots with lead I'll fill / I ain't ashamed to kill". The following song "Mosaic Law" is just 50 seconds of vocal and instrumental noise, basically. The fifth song "Never Your Soul" is gothic country in waltzing tempo. A trifle. The sixth song "Heap Bad Medicine" is catchy and one of the highlights on the album. I thought they sang about "Madison", before I checked the lyrics. "Arrows made of bone and knotty pine / In my back and through my heart and spine / Evil's always hunting me / Let me be / Just let me be". The next song "Gates Of Hell" has a nice chorus. The following song "Lonely Dreams", doesn't leave a lasting impression. However, "Lord Lift This Burden" is evil death country of the finest quality. It contains tons of distortion and mayhem. The tenth song "I Wanna Disappear" is boring. The eleventh song "Blow Wind" is probably the closest TPB ever will come to a love song. "Blow wind, blow wind / Blow my baby back home again / Sugar, sugar / Sugar, sugar / Sugar, sugar / I feel so cold". A sing-a-long-song. The twelfth song, "Scaffold Song", is the ugly twin of Marty Robbins song "The Street Of Laredo" with its poignant lyrics "Come all you young devils and listen to me / I'll tell you a sad story of bad misery". TPB quality! In my opinion, here is where the album should have ended. The last three tracks "Inhuman Nature", "Human Jackals" and "Can't Stop Crying" doesn't match TPB standards (which are high). "Inhuman Nature" isn't one of their best albums, but three or four songs will actually take their place on my prestigious TPB compilation list. The competition on the list is murderous (in so many ways).


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