Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Benjamin Curtis 1978-2013

Sad news that I just heard: Benjamin Curtis passed away yesterday, a casualty of cancer. He was only 35. I was a fan of both the Secret Machines and School of Seven Bells so it's a bit shocking to hear this news. I missed seeing the former but I did see the latter once. To commemorate his life, here are two clips. The first of Secret Machines playing "First Wave Intact." You can see Curtis shredding on guitar. His brother Brandon plays the keyboards and sings lead vocal.

Next is the completely different and beautiful "Windstorm" from the School of Seven Bells album Disconnect From Desire.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Six Songs from 2013

So how did 2013 stack up in terms of culture in my life? I confess that my interests don't reflect any kind of coherent sensibility but I did enjoy a bunch of stuff: music, TV, films, books, and whatever. Others have made this point before, but the way in which popular culture is fragmented is really striking these days. In other words, it is possible to be fairly engaged with music, movies, TV, etc. and still not know what the hell is going on with other people's preferences. This is most starkly reflected when I look at year-end lists from some websites, and I find (once again) that not only have I not heard or seen or read what is considered the best of the year, I have not even heard of the people on these lists.

Let's go to a fairly mainstream middle brow list, for example, something like Entertainment Weekly. According to them, the top 10 best albums included those by Earl Sweatshirt, Pusha T, Local Natives, Paramore, and Kacey Musgrave. I don't know who those people are. Among the others on the list, I have heard of The Weeknd, Miley Cyrus, and Drake, but I have not heard any music by them. So that brings me the remaining two acts: Vampire Weekend and Kanye West. I have heard their music and I also like them.

And then you go the top 10 singles, and it's got stuff by Lorde, Palma Violets, and Florida George Line. I don't know who they are. .. Also on the list is Haim. I know that hipsters like Haim, but honestly I can't bring myself to listen to them. Conceptually they just sound awful. Katy Perry and Rihanna are also on the list. They are young people who sing about young people things, and that's OK.

Anyway, I'm feeling a bit lazy, so what I'll do is just six songs that I listened to a lot this year.

This song by Portugal. The Man entitled "Modern Jesus" is wonderful. Reminds me a bit of Alt-J, the kind of lush pop that time-traveled forward from the seventies to 2013, while picking up a few technological tricks on the way.

This following song, "Step," by Vampire Weekend is clever (in the way that Elvis Costello might be clever) but not clever for its own sake (in the way that Elvis Costello might be). It's just a pretty song. You don't honestly need to know anything about what he's singing, but beneath is a lot of complexity, especially in the musical arrangement. The vocal melody seems to head in odd directions. The musical instruments are strange but pretty in that same way that the Beatles' "Penny Lane" walked that fine line between the two.

I listen to Boards of Canada a lot, especially when I write. This song, "Palace Posy," from their new album sounds, as one might expect, like music from a soundtrack of a movie that was made on a different planet 5,000 years in the future.

The new album by Deerhunter is an anomaly in their discography, given its slightly distorted production value. But the songs are still pop gems. This song, "T.H.M.," keep swirling in my head. The riff is simple, elegant, beautiful. I imagine that this was a song on an album that Television might have put on Adventure.

And because I sometimes feel like jumping out of my skin, here is Nine Inch Nail's "Copy of A." Remarkably understated for a NIN track and much more electro/techno in feel. The whole album is one with clean lines, nothing distorted or broken, very sparse, very cool.

And finally, Arcade Fire's "Reflektor," the opening track on the new album. Honestly, forget the hype and all of that. This is a great song with great lyrics. They somehow managed to combine late 1970s disco with something contemporary. A relationship song you can dance to.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Favorite Albums of 2013

[in alphabetical order]

1. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
2. Atoms For Peace - Amok
3. Boards Of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest
4. Bombino - Nomad
5. David Bowie - The Next Day
6. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
7. Deerhunter - Monomania
8. Four Tet - Beautiful Rewind
9. How To Destroy Angels - welcome oblivion
10. Johnny Marr - The Messenger
11. M.I.A. - Matangi
12. Monster Magnet - Last Patrol
13. My Bloody Valentine - m b v
14. Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks
15. The Ocean Blue - Ultramarine
16. Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold
17. Pinback - Information Retrieved
18. Savages - Silence Yourself
19. Throwing Muses - Purgatory/Paradise
20. Kurt Vile - Wakin On A Pretty Daze
21. Kanye West - Yeezus
22. White Denim - Corsicana Lemonade
23. The xx - Coexist

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Politics and Music

Question: A lot of artist would say that mixing arts and politics is wrong. That their goal is only to entertain. What would you say to those people?

Roger Waters: [I]f you’re not interested in any of this, if you’re one of those “Roger I love Pink Floyd but I hate your fucking politics,” if you believe artists should be mute, emasculated, nodding dogs dangling aimlessly over the dashboard of life, you might be well advised to fuck off to the bar now, because, time keeps slipping away.” That’s my answer to your question.