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12/29/2005

Ducksinnarow

THAT'S TLAHUIZCALPANTECUHTLI TO YOU


Yes, I confess, there are things I hide (ha!): very early on Friday morning, I will be going to Mexico City for eight days to chase the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl. This, then, will be my last post of 2005. I'll be back on the 8th; don't forget about me. When I started this blog in May, I was cross-legged in my bedroom, and now it's December; I'm sitting on a couch in my living room. I don't know who reads this save the few commenters and the occasional email exchange, but let me try to gracefully extract myself from the jaws of sentimentality and just say: I appreciate that you're here.

I was going to waste this space for more Dave Berman exegesis; I'm going to wait until seeing two Silver Jews shows in March. Don't recoil yet. Anyway, I'm going to do some loose ends work now; consider this a list of a few things I may not have attended to enough this year for whatever reason.

Music is the Weapon, a 1982 film about Fela Kuti

There are plenty of phenomenal things to hear in Fela's catalog, but what you don't hear are the sounds of his mother being thrown out of a window by the Nigerian police, the depth of the wounds he incurred at the hands of government thugs, and the fact that this was a man who attempted to harness power through music - a tacky or cliched gesture in the relative security/privileged caution of "the west," but a well-worked dream in a country ravaged by corruption and in deep political upheaval. For a man with so many scars, he had a fucking sense of humor: I learn later that the album Expensive Shit is a reference to when police planted a joint on Fela and he swallowed it; he was arrested until they could examine his feces. Brothers in bars, his prison mates offered their own waste as proxy; a rebel, leader, and a magician. Incredible.

Konono No. 1 at Joe's Pub/Amadou & Mariam at Joe's Pub/XTC, Black Sea

Got to see both "hot" "new" African bands this year, which was thrilling. Konono didn't sound as good whistling through the wall of 50 people eating plates of expensive brisket and not dancing, but it was great to witness such uninterrupted intensity, songs halting without warning, mid-pant, furious. It took me a little while to get over the pure shock of hearing Congotronics 1 and the residual guilt/uncertainty about the project of exporting such a sound, but in retrospect, it's really one of the most interesting, well-defined things I had heard this year. (Incidentally, and more on this later, but Congotronics 2 has been quite good to me so far, too.) Amadou & Mariam were charming as all hell; Amadou's playing is the only thing I've heard this year that made me want to pick up the guitar again after a long haitus except for "No Language In Our Lungs" by XTC, a song I had rediscovered after years of half-appreciating Black Sea, an album so ridiculously top-loaded that they could've made it three songs long and I still would've paid $15 for it.

Crazy Titch, "Singalong"

Honestly, if they sold grime records here, I'd buy them. (I did order Kano's Home Sweet Home from Amazon UK. Worth it, obv.) Until then I scour, I scavenge; I pick the bones where they lay. It's not an honorable life, but it's mine. Still, if I abstained, I wouldn't have heard "Singalong." I should say that I realize that this isn't necessarily time capsule grime at any phase, but there is something maddeningly indelibe about it. Okay, let's get past the fact that CRAZY TITCH SHOUTS LIKE THE DAY CARE CENTER IS ON FIRE (a style that Dom Passantino from Stylus has cripplingly referred to as "market trader," which I thought was hilarious). What makes the song is the backdrop: frilly string samples bouncing along on a beat that rocks like a Bar Mitzvah, clarinets winding like garden snakes up your arm. Produced by a team named Imp Batch for fuck's sake. Crazy Titch doesn't do the faux-regal chinstroking rogue thing like Prince Paul sometimes did, but "Singalong" masters the kind of music I've always felt Americans were barred from making: the nipple-squeezing composure of schmaltz matched with cartoonishly unhinged vitriol, like Felix the cat swinging a mace; the fact that the whole thing is a rally for a gang chorus annihilates everything from Oi to campfire rounds.

Dave Queen's piece on the Eagles box set in the Seattle Weekly, Nick Sylvester's riff on S F-J.

I guess it's natural to love what you aren't. I probably got more enjoyment out of reading (and rereading) these pieces than any other music criticism this year (though Nick's is more critic criticism, whoa). Both guys play an insider's game, but one I'm willing to follow up to a certain point, that point being the point at which I develop hilarity-induced stomach pains and require cool towels and mineral water in order to calm myself down.

12/28/2005

Like Tons of Feeling

My year end thoughts at Stylus, mostly dealing with amnesia, hero worship, and bourbon. I watched all of Freaks & Geeks last week too; it shows. Good year, ready for another.

12/26/2005

Clipse en Español/Obligatory Destroyer Gush

I wish this article had been better than it is. After trying to trudge through Rising Up and Rising Down unsuccessfully, I've had this deep ugly pit in my stomach that says William Vollman is playing the part of the alien whose weird brand of naif-libertarianism has made more excuses than answers. And shit, I watched The Man Who Fell to Earth last week, and Vollman's not it.

Still, after all the ponderous nights and anxiety I got out of coke rap this year, I'm excited by the subject of narco corridos: drugslinger legends played out in song.

This article on the BBC was a lot better and more informative, particularly the near-perfect resonance of marketing's rhetoric:

"Mariluz Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for LA-based Fonovisa Records, which represents Los Tigres and several other narco corrido stars, said: 'They are not glamorising the drug dealers' lives, they are simply telling a story. They are not promoting it.'"

Endless return!

Somehow, it makes me both more queasy and more excited that this is such a vibrant trend elsewhere; I wonder if we'll get Pusha on some Los Tigres Del Norte tracks until Hell Hath No Fury finally shows up.

--

Also, it's tough to hold back the flood of feeling with regards to Zoilus' ruminations on Destroyer's Rubies; I'm reviewing it for Stylus in February, and it seems gross to spoil it all here. I will say that I'm largely in accordance with the post, though I can't help but adding a few things. I think Bejar has fully problematized himself: the relatively straightforward "musicality" of the record belies a kind of coming to terms with formal cliches; he actually sounds like he's making indie rock and not MIDI-theatre or conceptual rock*, but his lyrics sound more polarized than ever, bumping bitterness against redemption in the same verse.

(*I'm invested enough to think that This Night's exaggerated looseness is there for a reason and that Streehawk: A Seduction is purposely and purposefully sloppy and one-dimensional, especially after the relatively composed and smoothed-out arrangements of Destroyer's Rubies.)

In the end, I think it's a more optimistic record, but only if you buy Bejar's criticisms that "A life in art and a life of mimicry" are the same thing. When you get down to it, it's plain Warholian - Bejar's gesture of originality being a partial rejection of the concept's primacy to begin with - but OH NO! I can't dork out for long on that without posting my undergraduate thesis, which would surely be a hoot.

(Also, if you thought this post on Destroyer was too concise, allusive, and clinical, here are my earlier thoughts on the record from a couple weeks ago; like most things infantile, they're ill-informed, brutish, expressive, and expansive.)

12/23/2005

"I Live in Sweat but I Dream Light Years"

I'm a white kid with a tinny-sounding guitar plagued with a restless mind and a firm belief in the street art of intellect. I am listening to Black Sea and didn't even realize that it's the vicennial of mighty D. Boon's passing; in 1985, I was futzing around fingerpainting on my walls and trying to figure out how long I could keep my daipers on before my parents made me hit the john like the other kids. There was other stuff on my mind, like space. My idols are either dead or dread-locked, literally or metaphorically. More guitar solos Carlos, I'm feeling tender tonight. (Thanks for the tip, Ian.)

12/21/2005

We All Want To Love Big

Brad Shoup and I both have pieces on evil ol' TOKENISM up at Stylus today. Please read! Please comment! The robust democracy of the internet is a privilege, not a right!

12/20/2005



I couldn't resist posting a picture of Coil's The Ape of Naples; I have never been so utterly compelled to stare at a record cover for quite so long. My girlfriend found the reaction completely predictable. I'm surprised at how much I like the record, being a casual-but-interested-enough-fan to attempt to familiarize myself with A Guide for Beginners, A Guide for Finishers, Horse Rotovator, and whatever the digi-nocturne record with "Batwings" was. It's strange listening to a posthumous record that doesn't really sound like a cash-in; perhaps I just like to think that people that manage estates of guys like Jhonn Balance aren't ogling accounts books and wondering how to extract the last dollar from marginally gnostic weirdos and repressed pervs that dig Coil's abject meditations. At any rate, the extended prayer of "Cold Cell" is prescient to a point that edges so deeply into eerie it's almost hard to take (though I have to say that while this version of the songs fits better on the record, I prefer the more stately 6-minute version on A Guide for Finishers). This post is also partially in tribute to the fact that I never knew I had been waiting for a song like "Fire of the Mind" for so long. The kind of record that would cause your mother to suggest you "get some air" if she caught you listening to it on a visit home.

Powerless to Resist

People liked the first batch
Since we are all prostitues;
A few more haikus

--

VA, RWD The Mixtape, Vol. 1

Give the elderly
Heart failure twice as fast as
Devo chased with meth

--

M.I.A., Arular

Malcolm McLaren
Somewhere reading Pazz & Jop
Laughing heartily

--

Sunn o))), Black One

Hey I found your tape
Of the fan through a fuzz box
Screwed and chopped

--

Fall, Fall Heads Roll

Is anyone else
Starting to wonder if he
Might be immortal?

or

Repetition re
petition repetition
Repetition re

--

Excepter, Throne, Self Destruction, and Sunbomber

I won't be sure if
This is spooky or stupid
Until I come down

--

Paavoharju, Yhä Hämärää

The lyrics might mean
"Save us from these fuckin' woods."
Shame it's in Finnish.

--

I am done for now
Let's just piss these syllables
Off this rail right here

12/16/2005

Friday Zenith, Three Flowers

ACID IN EACH BUD, TOM ZE


1. I almost didn't know that Tom Ze had a new record out, and I wouldn't have known if it hadn't been for S F/J. It won't grace the unforgiving ears of North America for a little while (Luaka Bop, eventually), but The Internet has helped me out for the time being. Honestly, I was only half-crazy about Fabrication Defect, but after four or five listenes, I can honestly say I'm really digging Estudando o Pagode. Ze gets tossed off as a hungover Tropicalist; he was undoubtedly a part of the Tropicalia movement, but I've always felt that not only did he stretch a lot farther musically than the other likely suspects (Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Os Mutantes, early Milton Nascimento, etc.), but that his career trajectory has left him in an avant-lonely realm after a lot of his compatriots veered off into more MOR territory at the dawn of the 70's/Tropicalia's metamorphosis into "MPB". I mean, I got to see Caetano in Buenos Aires last year; the theater was packed with 50-year old women singing along to their husbands; while my girlfriend was in Brazil, she asked people about Tom Ze, and they snapped with contempt. It makes sense; while Tropicalia's idiosyncracies got smoothed out, Ze retained the quirks that had always made him a tough fit anyway: the meshing of several consonant harmonic elements to form an overall dissonance, the incisive wordplay (which is diminished a little by having to sit in front of the speakers with a lyric, sheet, but I'm willing); stumbling onto the feeling of everything about to giggle-burst, but not sure whether the pinata's filled with candy or daggers, i.e. something wicked lurking there. At least something suspect. Not sure yet. Will be more soon. And seriously, someone tell Beck to hang it the fuck up or get a new gig; Estudando isn't what Guero could/should've been, but if you're going to make rough-edged postmodern, latin-flavored music, let's keep it out of Urban Outfitters. Grrr.

2. In other tangentially excting news, I've done three Stycasts in the past week or so, which helps explain the slightly meek postage around here. Go listen! More Cambodian pop! A stunted obituary/tribute to Richard Pryor! More hott psychedelic microhouse! John Fahey brushes his fingers on steel strings and immediately, I weep!

3. Confession: I have listened to Joanna Newsom's The Milk-Eyed Mender once a day since Thanksgiving. The album took a bad rap for being precious, but I think that there's a lot revealed here lyrically, a lot of great, intense lines hidden in the elfin warrior voice:

Bitter romance! "Even when you touch my face, you know your place."

The dark curse of Spartan aesthetes! "But what's it mean when suddenly we're spent, tell me true? Ambition came and reared its head and went far from you/Even mollusks have weddings, though solemn and leaden, but you dirge for the dead and take no jam on your bread/Just a supper of salt and a waltz through your empty bed."

The walloping cleverness of synaesthetes! "And the signifieds butt heads with the signifiers/And we all fall down slack-jawed to marvel at words/When across the sky sheet the impossible birds/In the steady alliterate movement homewards."

Durable loves blossom slowly.

12/14/2005

Formality Regained

Sorry, I have spent
The morning writing haikus
About some records

--

Vitalic, OK Cowboy

Do you like cocaine?
Tonight, let's fuck and crash cars
Even shy kids relate

--

Antony and the Johnsons, I am a Bird Now

Model man-child for
earnest, tender-hearted naifs
Fetch me my kerchief

--

Half Man Half Biscuit, Auchtung Bono

Is the gap between
England and America
Only an ocean?

--

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
Wait, that's the name of the band?
Ohhhh, this will be fun.

--

Kanye West, Late Registration

Only once a year
To be socially conscious
Let's make this count, guys

--

Kate Bush, Aerial

A bit new age, yeah
Still gives me an erection
Some loves never die

--

Robyn, Robyn

Because Girls Aloud
Are so last year and Annie
Was only half-good

--

Devendra Banhart, Cripple Crow

If this is a voice
Of our lost generation
We are fucked, people

--

Slim Thug, Already Platinum

He rhymes "boss" with "house"!
Have you ever drank codeine?
Very nice, really

--

Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary

There are not enough
Syllables here to express
My distaste for this

or

"Indie" can be spelled
Two ways; there is only one
Spelling for "boring"

--

New Pornographers, Twin Cinema

At least they're better
Than the Decemberists, damn.
No, really, that's all.

--

Decemberists, Whatever Album the Decemberists Released this Year

Come on guys, wake up
Loosen your goddamn corsets
Get drunk or something

--

12/12/2005

Bloodlet Your Blues Bleat Style

I COULD QUOTE ANYTHING BY DESTROYER HERE AND IT WOULD RING YOUR HEAD AND HEART LIKE THE GODDAMN LIBERTY BELL


Destroyer, a.k.a. A Real Lookin' Future Bible Hero, a.k.a the guy in the New Pornographers who doesn't get enough attention because his songs have too much flair, allusion, and mystery, not to mention that he's hardly cute and has neither A) red hair nor B) red hair and breasts is releasing a new album, Rubies on February 21st.

I could wile out for an uninterrupted hour about Destroyer (if you toss six fingers of Jameson into the mix, up that to about 2.5 hours, including time spent getting up and down from desks, climbing fences, breaking windows, shouting unintelligibly, shaking your shoulders, and crying), so I'm going to keep this a little on the short side. Guy's one of my favorite songwriters ever; clever for miles but with about two tons of care. I'm fond of distance (I confessed to my brother on the train yesterday that defamiliarization was the best skill I've ever learned in life), and Bejar's lyrics often push right on into these open wounds I never got around to dressing: why do we listen to music, how do we create music, etc. Granted, the post-Momus New Victorian Chile element has been stepped up progressively since his first recordings, but it makes a ton of sense: Bejar's in the cheap seats with binoculars, the OED, and just about every pop/rock record I've ever heard, pinching phrases here and there just to mess with the trainspotters, crossing his legs with an analyst's cool, and telling us just what's going on on the ground. Sure, this makes him an easy target for people shouting about how he's too precious or intellectual or whatever, but there's a visceral element to him too; he's so steeped in music as a listener/fan that at times it seems like he's fighting off the desire to just immerse himself. Choice lyric, from 2001's painfully underrated Streethawk: A Seduction: "When signs become impure again, the crowd doesn't know where or when/to let it all hang out, BLOODLET YOURSELF STREET STYLE." Come on! Anyone with half an ear to rock's confused state should shake like a washing machine at that line.

Anyway, I could go on, but I won't. Rubies sounds great so far, and a departure from the MIDI phantasies/Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time vibe of Your Blues and back to the sloppy rock of past triumphs, but carries itself much more delicately not to mention independently (of Bowie, etc.) than Streethawk or the sprawl of This Night. More in February, but suffice it to say that I had an almost involuntary consummation of this intense relationship when I realized the first track was not only nine minutes long but is actually self-referential at several points. I'll be in the dark with a few protein shakes and a blanket to keep warm until I can make some sense of this.

EDIT: Your meager reward! Download "European Oils" from Music Cherry. Love & love & love some more.

12/08/2005

Tha Year In Turgid Moral/Aesthetic Confession

A couple of nights ago I had something of a revelation while talking to Todd B. about notes I had been making for a girl group article on Stylus (watch out J. C-L, I haven't forgotten) about the way I weave morality into the music I hear. I've loved music as something of a savior since I was a kid; I've always seen it as something of a potential source of salvation or transendence. It sounds grand, but it's sort of true. Why else, I wondered, would I so passionately prop up things I thought were just and good in the world: the cosmically kinky, the cryptically romantic with a touch of hard-assed melancholia, and the rawly earnest/earnestly raw? It's not everything, but it's about 85% of me.

I want to palm the nut without art or nuance; I want to crack the nut without remorse. I watch Scarface and like it fine, but why did it take me so long to realize that enjoying We Got it 4 Cheap is basically the same thing? Am I dense? Do I really have that much faith in music? Why does music polarize me on moral grounds before I can always let the art of it seep in?

It might be that I secretly really love people, and music's got inherent community down like no other medium. Take mixtapes; while I've had friends that copy out poems for other people, it's got nothing on the feeling you get throwing a friend's comp. in the stereo and having it blow you away and you being able to feverishly call the person, tenuously gripping the phone and muttering "YES," riding the warm highs of discovery. When a great song comes on in the car, at the club, in the living room, everyone drools "YES" in unison. People don't high-five when they finally get to see Nude Descending a Staircase; while art and cinema transpose themselves into the idea of "community" in interesting ways, I still think that music is as readily a collective experience as they come.

Now what I'm getting around to is that it's hard for me to imagine two friends bonding over Clipse (or whomever); I still can't play the stuff in the car for my girlfriend, who still winces a little at the occasional jets of misogyny or homophobia that pollute even the most incisive, intelligent hip-hop. Maybe it's that when I hear something as music, it doesn't have the safe distance that the printed page or celluloid or most of visual art's "object" status and therefore I feel as if it's actually so deep within me that I shake with dissonance when I feel something that isn't right to me, morally speaking.

Still, I'm coming around to it all, I'm dropping some of my moral pretenses in order to try to see what other people see in things I would otherwise find immediately conflicting. Really though, I'm not sure if that's something I want, or dare I say I should do; I mean, is it misguided to think that music could have some kind of moral redemption in it? When politics betray the polis, when love feels backhanded, when the world feels so damn cold sometimes, is it naive of me to think that this thing we do - this music thing - shouldn't mirror the depravity so much of the world as to try to counteract it or at least provide us with some relief? Savagery doesn't seem voluntary (show my hand, it's full of Hobbes & Beckett), but art is, and that's why I'm gagging on the issue.

Sometimes I'm dazzled by my utter humorlessness.

12/07/2005

Topical, if Referential

James Hong in 1986 basically playing what John Carpenter looks like in 2005

The ever-elusive Erick Bieritz has a Stycast on John Carpenter up today, which is a little uncanny given the last post's reference to The Thing. It's always tough to get into the Classic Burns Monotone reading other people's scripts (which always look prettier when you make the leap to mentally retranslating the words onto the printed page), but whatever. I was never Totally Wild about Carpenter's music, but I think this is a pretty good selection, even if he witholds the "Escape from New York" theme until the end. When it comes to horror soundtracks, I always enjoyed the primal synth-crust of Fabio Frizzi more; perhaps I'll have to do a little mining for another similarly-themed Stycast. A little disappointed by the omission of Carpenter's steamy perm-rock version of "Big Trouble In Little China" performed with his blazered pals in the Coupe DeVilles; a minor flaw, overall.

12/05/2005

Stock Taking and Raking Muck

Let's get simple. Took a few days, watched The Thing, The Brood, and a slew of Jacques Cousteau Odyssey episodes (underwater picnics, even); crafted heartfelt indie pop, hit the town with visiting friends, ran straight into a pole like a cartoon character and busted my face open, took a good long nap, and re-joined the fray.

Did you read the address of this site?

2005 REVELATIONS + TREATS:

Doo-wop. Jaysus. The ballads more than the bangers, but still, pound-for pound a form that I'd have a hard time getting sick of. I remember reading that Brian Eno called it "martian music" but I didn't get that until recently. I know that I'm wont to project all kinds of nonsense in order to prop up my bonkers musical continua; I got whiffs not only of of other persistent loves (Cocteaus, Animal Collective), but also of throbbing ghost sex bottled up deep in the vocal flutters and bedroom-eye subtlety. Slinking auras move closer but never break the field; in doo-wop I heard fleets of phantoms jangling bodies without letting it out through the hips. Dead can dance, but keep a ruler between you. Triple hot and for spirits only. When I want you I just call for you; it sounds like setting a bird free after stuffing its beak with stars. I'm still tasting the cream of the classics, but still, I think that of all hearts I'm juggling, this is one that won't break for a while.

Moondog. Louis Hardin, Viking outfit and wacky street performance aside, so accurately crafted the feeling I get walking around New York that it's uncanny. The music looks backward and forward: for every shred of "primal" rhythmic takka takka you get, you also have to swim through pentatonia, patchwork modern classical, stretches of speech, and other otherearthlies. It does the distant future/past blend well, but it's more akin to the mystical/innate vibe I get in Sun Ra: incredibly avant-garde music that isn't so much concerned with breaking down new boundaries so much as it is taking the time to go back and re-explore older avenues unapologetically forgotten before they were pushed as far as they could go. What you get is the sound of horses clopping in time with your feet, frogs croaking on Madison Avenue, the cartoon bustle of the city translated into some cheery ruckus; you look up at office buildings long enough to turn them into trees. Psychogeography in action.

Ariel Pink. I knew about him in 2004, but by the time the year closed, I had only heard The Doldrums and Worn Copy; since, I've heard Scared Famous, FF, House Arrest and some other odds and ends found on slsk. I know, he's been called a charlatan, a piss-take, a sham, even a harlequin baby, but seriously, really give yourself a good steep in one of these and just tell me you don't feel swept with a rare melancholy that begs gently to be revisited. I could talk for a long time about where he takes me, but it doesn't seem to be the point. The point is that with every song the degradation becomes clearer; even the jaunty ones are starting to add up for me. It's the world on wholesale rot, up all night and stumbling through its best efforts with a tank scraped empty. I used to feel like I was getting a glimpse into a nightmare, but the longer I spend with him, the more it just feels like an alternate reality. Not even alternate so much; you know those subway ads that say things like "if Hepatitis C attacked your outsides like it did your insides, you'd look like a Cronenberg still, too"? Well, it's sort of like that, except with the secret surge of feeling you get from life's careless squalor amplified to pornographic levels and showing up like boils on your belly. If you can't dig any of this with your slacks on, try quitting showering for a few days, putting on some dirty socks, turning the heat in your house way up, huffing some household cleaner, and masturbating to soap operas with the volume off (just another day around here).

I'm being a windbag. More reflections soon.

12/01/2005

Kh-'mere

Best Sears portrait ever taken, hands down.


If you've stuck with me for more than a day, you might realize that

A) I'm a little omnivorous and

B) I don't stay in one place for long

Right!

Chhom Nimol is the singer of Dengue Fever, an L.A.-area band that plays a kind of patchwork South Asian psychedelia; if you've ever heard Cambodian Cassette Archives, any of the Cambodian Rocks comps or just imagined Nuggets in Khmer with a bunch of miscommunicated flair, then you'll have an idea what they sound like. Anyway, I'm not sure that Escape from Dragon House is really a *great* record; the Sublime Frequencies Radio Phnom Penh comp, while much different in character, is probably a slightly more enjoyable Cambodian-related psych-ish release form this year (though it's also a lot more varied than Dengue Fever and has that archival allure). Still, my song of the moment is "Sni Bong," which can be listened to here. The band's sound is a little anemic/Guitar Center-y, which, compared to the unusual production/archival mystique/lo-fi charm of the Cambodian rock comps, leaves something to be desired. But DAMN, the chorus is like a thousand high school garage bands gleefully steeped in sloppy swamp-disco getting hoisted out of the bog by one of the most hypnotic vocals I've heard in a while.