O! Me, Flower Wilting in Crack'd City Street
Guy Debord Takes You to Tits Project
Andy Warhol's Dance Diagram (Foxtrot)
Since returning from the tree-drunk half-time of VA, I've been under spells: Donald Fagen's Morph the Cat, Ghostface's Fishscale, Moondog's The Viking of 6th Avenue, and Seconds's's's Kratitude. All totally different, all fundamentally functioning as dreams of urban experience.
Ghostface is a psychogeographer extraordinaire; Supreme Clientele's lyric "Bung bung bung, your bell went rung rung rung / Staple-Land's where the ambulance don't come" is still an astounding threat because he tosses you in a place outside of jurisdiction - Clammyhands giggle nervously at streets with funny names - and lets trouble find your scent. Of course, at least part of it is Rap Fantasia; Fishscale's "The Champ" cuddles his verbal erections: "This is architect music."
He masters his cityscape even when messing around, shitting himself with juvenalia on the "Heart Street Directions" skit: "the next block is Clit Boulevard - but you gotta be careful, it's kinda wet down there - you goin' past Guts now, that should take you to Tits Project; my man Balls be around there somewhere. The Heart is around there somewhere." Yeah, it's dumb, but it also reminds you how commanding he is about locales; being able to smell and fear his sense of place is disorienting because you know his boulevards bubbled up in the same cauldron as his erogenous language-as-sound rhetoric and fruit-spiels - the dynamic nonsense that helps set him apart. Still, even if it comes out as part fantasy, Fishscale's premise of city-as-secret is thoroughly alluring; SFJ's Tarantino comparison is well-worn, but reminds you of something important - the double-nuance of pulp: cheap, sensational, but just as much a part of the fruit as the juice.
If Fishscale is city-as-secret, the Moondog compilation The Viking of 6th Avenue is a fantasy by necessity. Moondog was a blind street musician; as I said in another post, the gobsmacking poignancy of his music is that he somehow manages to paint Midtown perfectly through Loony-tuned jazz brut even though he never actually saw it. Of course, it's a "pre-internet" portrait - a tag I've grown fond of as a catchall for the experience of say, open-air saxophone and city drift that seems totally lacking in my ultramodern & disaffected experience of New York. So it, like Ghostface, is its own escape music; a completely different city and somehow on the same blocks; Moondog turned the NYSE into a Native American battleground and skyscraper stories into heads on stacked totem poles in a way both intimate and accurate - it's still uncanny that his senses were abbreviated.
Kratitude is a new album by Seconds, a neo-no wave band that oddly betrays some of no wave's most well-defined characteristics: presence and dynamics. Seconds make super-cyclic and ostensibly minimal punk; in fact, they're sort of like an early Sonic Youth/garage version of Liars, whose Drum's Not Dead smokes with the same hypno-chanting schtick. Which is fine; what compels me about both these albums isn't that they're all that good, but that they're such a specific reaction to the city. In fact, the onesheet for Seconds talks about minimalism - Steve Reich "It's Gonna Rain"-style; the revelation-by-repetition scheme. Both bands use repetition as a way to try to scale back to prehistory, probably because the city is so goddamn fast and confusing - the first track on Kratitude is actually a vocal round consisting of "Slowly moving slowly moving faster moving faster" - loopy, disorienting. The urban escape of fetishizing Early Tymes seems present in Excepter and Animal Collective, too; strangely, this resonates with Moondog's restoration of the city to a distant past, though younger bands seem to be doing this in a much more destructive/deconstructive way. Seconds and Liars fall short of scrambling circuits because they drive the neopromitive experience underground, where the freaky stuff is always a go; AC is the closest to bringing the aesthetic to success, but my cavemen friends tell me that the word around the obelisk is that they're going MOR.
Never as MOR as Fagen, who plays just what you'd expect - the slick, detached, mind's eye approach to the city. What got me about Morph the Cat immediately was the title track: a cloud of smoke in the guise of a kitty renders New York euphoric, like if the "plume" in DeLillo's White Noise was gigglegas with the scent of freshly-baked cookies. What gets presented - and mirrored in Fagen's impossibly exact music - is the paradoxical threat of calm; a mass numbing in the guise of playfulness, the capitulation of all kindsa modern horrors that Fagen would wryly twitch his lip at. So maybe Seconds and Liars had to go underground after all. If his portraits of The Masses are unnerving, think about the protaginist in "Security Joan," standing on the verge of getting it on with the woman waving the metal-detector wand over his trembling pre-flight body. If it's funny, it's also crushingly sad: no lover at home - a home that he spends enough time outside of to make a chance encounter with a sterile uniform worth it (not to mention the ha-ha soft dominant/submissive power dynamic of their encounter); the guy's always between flights, stimulated by the most banal encounters. I actually thought of Scott Walker's "Time Operator," a song about a man talking to a telephone operator that actually represents "Security Joan"'s modern alienation even better: "Time Operator / Take the time to take the time to come over here / We got so much in common / Seems it's hard for us to sleep with all the razzle dazzle in the street." It's straight Walter Benjamin: we're too buried under the rhythm of the city to make connections with people (think about your commute); Fagen and Walker's cynical capitulation is in trying to have phone sex with a city employee or a quickie with an airline attendant.
In the end, what's funny about all these approaches - Ghost's secret city, Moondog's serene metro-toons, Seconds/Liars neoprimitive resistance and Fagen's suffocating calm - is that they all envision places that don't exist but seem equally and thrillingly real. If Fagen is closest to truth, he's also the most fucking daffy of in the bunch; Ghost has said crazy stuff before, but he never needed a large, formless cat made of smoke to argue his point.