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9/29/2005

Oldham as Vital Repository/C&W Treatise 2

Big up to all the tender-hearted on this one, which finds me giggling and lost amongst righteous guitars.

When I wrote on All Jacked Up the other day, I realized that it was something of a betrayal. I've had grander, less conclusive things on my mind (it helped to be visited by some form of soul-hallucination at the MoMA this weekend). Since childhood I've thought of becoming a judge. Neurotically even-handed and generally dissatisfied with anything that seems smaller than the proverbial big picture, I was compelled by the grave worldliness that judgeship implied to me. Still, I'm plagued by the fact that I do have a tastes and tendencies. We're creatures of many moods, but in my perceived self I do still prefer scotch to vodka & soda, I still prefer yellow and gray to red and black, and I think part of me still prefers Will Oldham to Gretchen Wilson.

One day after hearing All Jacked Up, the coffeeshop guys were being their eBay-drunk selves, furiously auctioning a box of rare Oldham discs to princely figures in the Netherlands or spoiled Japanese adolescents. I realized then, as I had realized so many times in the past, that there's something about Will Oldham that just does skirt the country thing for me. Now I'm sure someone like Chuck Eddy (with all due respect and then some, seriously) would call Oldham an unconvincing halfbreed, but for me, 18 and frequently drinking, Palace was a sort of revelation to me. Sure, I was coming from liking similarly spare stuff (in this case, both Low and Silver Jews seem relevant), but it was when Oldham began to smooth out the edges and touch his bleakness with some warmth that I realized "hey, country music." George Jones came next, and heavy. His songs were funny, like Oldham's (which didn't have country punch lines, but did have a kind of naughty, pansexual undercurrent that tickled me); they were both on the heartfelt side, they both went well with bourbon, and they were both essentially sad musicians. At the time, Oldham seemed like the slacker apex of Jones's glow as a barstool catatonic and hopeless romantic.

So when I heard All Jacked Up I realized that yeah, I totally relish in forehead-slapping lyrical hooks like "I'm one Bud wiser than I was a minute ago;" that there's a David Hume in me that can respect the hell out of Gretchen Wilson and praise her for making another well written and well-performed album (beat that, Most Music Made in 2005), but that if you knocked on my coffin, you'd still probably find Lost Blues sticking out of my jacket.

The judge in me bangs hard up against this last point. When I listen to contemporary hip-hop, I have to shelve the moralist in me for the style-hound (often enough to take note); when I listen to country, I can revere the formalism of it and try not to bristle too hard at some of the politics. Still, in what some might call pandering (and what many commenters on Stylus basically have) I've managed to open up some of my tastes and the notion of craft as robust expression of spirit. These issues plague me a little and it's hard to know how much this straw can bend, but it's a refreshing type of self-searching, most of the time. At any rate, I'm sure this will be revised and continue for quite a while, but consider this a second installment.

9/26/2005

Secrets, oooh/C&W Treatise 1

I'm not taking this the guilty pleasures route, I just realized I had been holding something back, which is antithetical to this whole Peanut Butter Words fun trap.

Contemporary country music as current interest.

I would say that anything could've sparked this post, but it'd be a lie (since I haven't done it until now); what catalyzed me was watching two Gretchen Wilson specials on CMT whilst blissed-out on a house sitting couch.

From these eyes country music's calm waters make it especially susceptible to transgression. Granted, this comes within the obvious context/trappings of the genre itself: the chafing politics (both personal and beyond) of midwestern & southern neoconservatism (& just plain old conservatism). While country predates most current forms of popular music, they're pretty slow on getting the rebel figures out, and when they do, they're big on personality but sort of low on broader-context radicalism. In a way, it's refreshing, the social/sociological strictures on the genre throw things into much better contrast, but I can't help but feeling like it also reminds me (with my own personal politics) what a repressed scene it is. This context is obvious to the point of unspoken, which seems less true of hip-hop (another genre where you can also quickly get into some morally ambivalent role playing for the sake of context, e.g. violence & misogyny as fabric of the cultural curtain).

This all seems narrow and tidy for me, A Resident of New York City, but I know there's a pop magnitude to the fact that she resonates with so many people. I have to admit that it's a pleasant irony and point of allure that Wilson milked success out of being completely anti-pop, exuding some evil mirror version of the glazed curls/trim + pretty soft-focus of femme country singers like Faith Hill (whose recent "Mississippi Girl" sounds eerily like a bid at down-home cred in the wake of Wilson's "Redneck Woman"). Wilson's whole popped blue collar/proud to be a redneck/Kmart shopper thing is especially interesting when contrasted with pop's other house of the authenticity trope, hip-hop. I'm told that that's more complicated than I make it out to be, but hopefully in time I'll come up with some Part 2 to this, most likely tomorrow when I go get All Jacked Up.

9/21/2005

The Marginally Huge Sugar Ray Diary Project

Rising to the challenge of Anthony Miccio, in part because I respect him (not at least for rolling around with us mutts when he could've probably been sniffing more nuanced crit-ass at CMJ), but also because I'm into doing the New Thing Thing. For example, I went to visit my father and we ordered Chinese food from the place we've ordered from for about the last 15 years. Instead of ordering orange chicken with brown rice again, I inquired about the Chinatown-direct seasonal vegetables. The woman listed three vegetables and I asked her to repeat the third, whose name I didn't get. Turns out I not only didn't get the name, I really didn't get the name, it was a culinary-lingual chameleon. I ordered it. That's me getting into the new & out of my fears.

Anyway, Miccio designed a Sugar Ray mix. Having only heard two of their songs in my life, I figured I was utterly ripe for this exercise. Here's me bursting with juice in real time, no backsies:

“Answer The Phone”

I have heard this song before, and I really kind of like it. In 8th grade, I was jumping on a trampoline listening to Blink 182’s Cheshire Cat and my Dad’s vinyl of Singles Going Steady, and this is basically that mixed with some awesomely shameless lyrics about fucking you wayyy before that was “cute” for pop-punk to do (prob. not until the late 90’s, at least). I LIKE IT WHEN HE SHOUTS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SONG BECAUSE IT IS TOTALLY UNNECESSARY.

[NOTE: No idea that this song came out in the 00's. So I guess the shameless lyrics about fucking you were timely.]

“Fly”

So this is one of the songs I knew I heard, and it’s great. When Todd Burns and I met Rich Juzwiak, he said something that really got me about the idea of dated-ness, something like “I think it’s a really tall order expect something to be timeless,” basically praising a song for being completely of its era. “Fly” is top-down 90’s, almost unbearably so. I only realize now that it’s also what Sublime cashed in on with “What I Got” (which was heresy to me, having seen the first-ever Warped Tour after 7th grade and buying 40 Oz. To Freedom on cassette).

[NOTE: My esteemed colleague A. Unterberger has since informed me that "Fly" actually came after "What I Got." Still, same vein, and in that case "Fly" just flips from the inspiration to a much better revision of "What I Got."]

“Someday”

Whoa, this song is kicking the lazy thing around more, didn’t realize this was the MO for Sugar Ray. I kinda get it now. It’s a get drunk to kill the hangover thing. I once heard a story about a girl from high school that was going down on a guy in the dark and someone started screwing her and she couldn’t see who it was but she just kinda went with it; this song is what she was feeling, I suspect. I am getting high on frosted tips and alienation.

“Under the Sun”

It’s kind of appropriate that the “nostalgia” song hits when I’ve been flooded with murky early-mid 90’s memories listening the past few tracks. This song is great, if for no other reason than that Mark McGrath basically admits that he couldn’t care less in that “I wish we could rewind & get back to when the words had meaning” bit (i.e. now that we finally have voices, words are nothing, revelry in clever self-negation). This band gets seedier by the minute, or maybe I’m feeling saucy.

“Every Morning”

The other song I knew I know, this song is just coasting through infidelity on rollerskates. I kind of get the frat-pop/shell necklace/casual sex vibe. The “she always rights my wrongs” bit is kind of sweet, but he’s already pretty much wiggled himself into a million beds by now.

“Mean Machine”

So this is kind of their “Little Deuce Coupe,” except that it’s faux-metal. Good for variety, stupid in pretty much all other cases.

“Falls Apart”

So this is the we’re actually serious ballad song & it’s really pretty, actually. Still, McGrath’s proved to be such an utterly squirmy & careless cad in the last 6 songs that I don’t know why anyone would take his word at this point. Still, going on the unstated but obvious world is stupid/experience is its own amnesiac/pedal to the fun aura, they’re totally winning me over by making a mockery of earnestness (as I read deeper).

“Waiting”

Two ballads in a row. Again, knowing that when McGrath says “I should fix my hair” he means frosting & spiking the tips, his utter dip-shitedness is absolutely confirmed. I just realized that they’re a kind of well-scrubbed more marketable musical version of Charles Bukowski, I think.

“When It’s Over”

I know this song too. The production & arrangement is much cooler than I remember though, definitely the most interesting on this list yet. This is the one song I can really take to heart, actually, even though he’s more of an asshole than ever, see “when it’s over, can I still come over? / when it’s over, is it really over?” This guy kills me!

“Ours”

He’s sort of rapping. He says “hella banging.” I like how he spares the French trois for “three” to fit the rhyme. This is the weird ominous fallout of all the careless romance, I guess. If I were with him I’d say “dude, you got played” or something like that, then chortle loudly & order him a shot of 151 and a Miller Lite on me.

“Abracadabra”

This is better than the original. They’ve added “experimental textures” and “rich sonic tapestries” or they just started fucking around and wanted to show you how little they care.

“Chasin’ You Around”

I have stepped into this world and now this world has horns.

“Party For Two”

Like it would take more than three monosyllabic words to get this guy to screw Shania Twain, especially over a honky-tonkin’ dance-pop beat! Still, his feigned restraint in the spoken intro is awesome. Picture me, 30 years from now, overweight & sweating, dancing up on some woman with dyed blonde hair and a gaudy crucifix in a dingy bar with a Tequiza in my hand belching sweet nothings into the shoulder of her white cotton blouse. Right on.

“Heaven”

Obviously, the title has about a lifetime to live up to. It’s kind of messing with me, actually, switching back and forth between cuddly indie pop, an 80’s power ballad, and the sperm-doused hypoglycemia of the chorus. Ultimately meh.

“Rivers”

Call it a closer. I’m powerless. Sugar Ray & Weezer?

Now, this is interesting, actually. Sugar Ray seem like the kind of guys who wouldn’t necessarily beat up Weezer in high school, but they wouldn’t even recognize that they’re actually into exactly the same shit: 70’s & 80’s pop-rock & metal, and a sense of irony that peels back to only reveal reverence. At the graduation party, these guys got drunk together and sang “Mr. Blue Skies” or something.

EPILOGUE:

Sugar Ray understands things that not enough bands do: the glory of anonymity (the song titles, holy shit), the fluidity and pointlessness of our personal lives (however privileged that viewpoint is to even begin to have), and the cute hilarity of insincere, youthful bullshit.

9/19/2005

One Year Later, Clarity

I wasn't really an Arcade Fire fan to begin with, but this shows me that even their best song is "Fantastic Voyage" spliced with the outro of "Five Years." Though the performance is pretty lackluster, it brings a much-needed element of humor to the whole shtick, a fey cabaret hope; I can hear the hum of David Bowie's self-satisfied relevance again, and this time is seems pricelessly ambivalent.

Also, in the 10 Years Later, Clarity/what I do all day at work (listen to music) department, Soundgarden's Superunknown is, unsurprisingly, not as shreddingly & shudderingly awesome as I believed it to be when I was 12, but comfortingly, my favorite stretch is still "Limo Wreck"/"The Day I Tried To Live." "Nasty jams" indeed; hearing this album actually contorts my hands into the position in which I used to hold my Super Nintendo controller.

Monday's Pall

Start with a Friday, where while all the other Kool Kidz were CMJing, I was stuck in a damp cube with people I had never met (in addition to a few that I had), a pile of beer, and endless karaoke. Miccio's "This Woman's Work" was definitely my pick for highlight, though I was proud of myself (the beer) for cutting loose the id in time to perform the Platters' "My Prayer" whilst writhing on the table and trying to wedge myself behind the large television screen.

Still, I'm a little uninspired & disenchanted with the response to Cripple Crow, especially now that's it hit AOW at Stylus. It's a disappointing, largely boring record that makes me want to crawl back into summers with Oh Me, Oh My.... Come to think, it's been a meh year in avant-hipsterism all 'round (aside from Feels), which has turned me in a million different directions. Still, I even got a little yawny last night listening to Southern Smoke 21 & Trap or Die, but I still do like the impression I get that Jeezy's voice is like heavy cream to Lil' Wayne's skim, though Wayne's sense of humor waxes Jeezy's any day, IMO. Still, coke-rap beats crack-rap; I'm getting straight bored with the WWF/Fox News bombast of most Dipset tracks (and the Juelz Santana song with the whistle is really shitty, thanks). New tricks, anyone?

I digress, but I also confess: all this music makes me want to ride my bicycle, whittle wood, & get back into watching movies, streaming the BBC World Service, and writing love letters.

9/14/2005

Dip Down + Beautiful Shit


The word "koyebi" in Lingala means "to hear" and "to feel." While I could simmer and come apart with bliss in the metaphorical implications of this fact, I'll keep that to myself. I'm told that this is actually the case in most Bantu languages; now that's what I call embedded values.

Moving up the coast a litte bit but sticking on the same continent, Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate released their collaboration, In the Heart of the Moon yesterday. Toure, the blues-influenced Malian guitarist, takes a comfortable backseat to Diabate's virtuosity on the Kora, a 21-stringed African folk harp that sounds like more brittle, less mystical version of the sitar. Get in, sprawl; it bubbles and whirls around like loose boats on a midnight sound or cream blots on a black sky, v. beautiful, really. I'm thinking about writing on it, but ironically, the more I try to learn about African music, the more I feel like a dilettante.

Speaking of things that I probably will attend to though, it looks like No New York is finally getting a US CD release on November 15. I was always meh on that comp., especially in the wake of the James Chance catalog getting recently reissued, and the DNA single-disc retrospective last year (still my favorite band of that scene). Still, I can't help but get a kick out of the fact that Steve Albini once claimed "Flip Your Face" as his favorite song of all time, psssssh.

9/08/2005

Detour

Beta currently hosting the Luomo Black Dice remix, trap it while the yousendit lasts. Steam prism->pre-cog grumbles->shroomy somnambulism. "Best psych-house track ever," maybe; "treat it like a window not a door," though. Sadly, it reminds me that Broken Ear Record is a chore of an album that needs a good spanking.

9/04/2005

Home of the Brave/Shots Called


I keep this space to write about music, for whatever it's worth. While plenty of other things cross my mind, I see the peanut butter words as an excercise of sorts.

What I want to say about Kanye West is this: in spite of his messianic aspirations, the grandeur of his ego, and the prickly spectacle that can be made of live television, I can't think of a better and more honorable way to exercise one's fame.

Kanye wasn't flexing some weak, sexed-up Vote or Die agenda. I could only read the tension in his face and stumble in his rhetoric as an expression of his fear in attempting to seize his moment in front of millions; any cooled comments of "soundbyte" are forgetting that things like these coups (if you will) aren't pristine or graceful. Stutter in his step, sure, but no fumble.

There's something overwhelmingly uncool about letting our pop culture tingle mix with our interests as Human Beings of the World; that's not going to change, i.e. American culture has developed way beyond political consciousness as hip, sad and misled as that fact is. In that light (and others, of course) Kanye is a transgressor and hopefully a catalyst. If our entertainers are going to be socially conscious, we want them to be predictable and relaxed about it, where Kanye was sizzling, confused, and passionate. (Note: Conor Oberst, I'm not sure about you yet.)

There's no place in my heart that can possibly fault him taking a detour from the routinized rhetoric of tragedy (i.e. distress->sympathy->comfort->relief) to speak his mind. More than that, he blatantly fucked the expectations of our well-scrubbed celebrities to be politically neutered, especially in a situation where there's some consensus to be "patriotically" unified in our opinion of the event (like say, 9/11).

On an unusually personal and eventually related note, I remember being in college and feeling so bitter and confused on first hearing Richard Pryor's "Bicentennial Nigger" that I wept; I remember writing a paper about The Last Poets'
"Niggers are Scared of Revolution"
and feeling embarrassed about shreds of liberal guilt. Now I realize that I was only stalled by these constructs (being white & in college), that what got me in those pieces was tangled but honest, speaking to a backlog of murky bad feelings and collective uncertainty about race relations (the irrevocability of the slavery era, the sublimation of racism from legislated to viral).

The difference here is that The Last Poets' whole shtick was explicitly politicized, as was Pryor's (to a certain extent and in a different direction). Kanye's been walking this line of being socially conscious & has made some missteps, for sure. I'm not hoping he's going to become a radical (his charges were definitely and astoundingly not radical). What makes him compelling is his public admission of guilt mixed with disgust and sadness. I'm not going to solve any problems on this blog, for sure, but I did think his gesture was significant and beautiful because of its lack of resolution; what better expression could I have asked for?