Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dhaka Calling

I've been here in Dhaka for two days and still getting over the jetlag. The roughly 12 hour time difference completely disorients you. I have only been out once, to the wedding reception of a friend. Otherwise, I've been ensconced at my parents' home. The city is oddly quiet, not surprising given that both the Eid and Christmas holidays have shut everything down. Quiet is a relative term---my point of reference is only the frenetic noise of the traffic infront of our house. There has been none so far. Yet, reading the newspapers, the city and the country seems as madly frenetic as ever. Millions of things are going on. Meetings, conferences, festivals, and most of all, weddings. In Dhaka, weddings (like fruits and vegetables) have seasons, and 'tis the season of weddings every December and January. There are literally dozens across the city every single night. Hotels and convention centers are booked, and some wedding party is facing some crisis at any given moment of the day. Based upon my recent annual visits, the weddings seem quite different from twenty years ago (my other point of reference). They seem much more homogenous and yet more colorful. Urban weddings of a certain class have the same series of events, mutating slowly every year into forms unrecognizable from before. I hear now that at the engagement parties, they make the food on the spot infront of the guests. New forms of authenticity are replacing old ones.

I'll venture out to the city later today. In the meantime, here are two random pictures from the last couple of days of news here. One an image of a street celebration of Eid (top) and the other a guy in a red suit dispensing joy yesterday (below), both here in the city. (Both pictures stolen from The Daily Star newspaper). No -- it's not all religion here, and yes, I'm not a big fan of by any stretch of the imagination. But just to start things off with some color on my musings on the trip to the desh this year.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Seefeel (redux)

Earlier this year, Too Pure records put out a re-release of Seefeel's classic Quique CD, now expanded to a two-CD package called Quique: Redux Edition. Needless to say, the music on it is awesome beyond words -- electronic bliss captured in a moment of almost-genius by this long gone British band. I wrote at length about Seefeel in my zine thing (see Fred issue 7 here) so I won't go on about the band in general but I will say that the new package is definitely worth getting if you are into electronic music that is narcotic, minimalist, and yet not boring.

While the first disc on the set is their debut album released in 1993, the second disc collects a bunch of random tracks from that same era, 3 previously released and 6 previously not. Most are remixes of the tracks on disc 1. The second disc takes the idea of "ambience" ['e' and 'a' interchangeable, apparently] to another level altogether, with little grounding in the kinds of beats and melodies we normally associate with music.

The package comes with two short essays, one from Simon Reynolds, who apparently upon listening to Seefeel coined the now oddly silly term "post-rock," and the other from Seefeel chief architect Mark Clifford, the former, basically a record review written in 1993. Reynolds is a wonderful writer (which is why I hate him) and he says "Quique is perfectly blank, utterly abstract." Indeed, it is. He adds, "Fuzzy harmonics, like a harp played underwater, simply hang tremulously in the air: this really is Rothko'n'roll." (Reynolds' idea of pun is to use lots of funs. Yes, I meant that).

Go get the new Quique if you can. Read more about Seefeel here.

Very rare live footage of Seefeel performing, apparently from the early 1990s, of their track "Industrious" from Quique:

It's all done with GUITARS!!!

Michael Gira

I have not seen that many shows this year, but one of the few that I did catch was a show by Michael Gira, formerly of the Swans, who did a solo acoustic thing at the Highline Ballroom here in New York on September 14. The show was basically a record release show for the new album by his band Angels of Light. The new CD is called We Are Him.

This is not the time for a long post on the Swans, one of the greatest bands of the 1980s (more on that later) but I will say that seeing Gira (pronounced "jeera" I discovered only recently) was a profoundly intense experience. This guy is not fucking around. He's in his early fifties now (amazing!) and he sorta looked it. Walked on stage, still thin, still so absurdly intense that you either want to laugh or be scared. He had his usual cowboy hat and boots on, sat on a stool with a single acoustic guitar, dead center in front of the stage. I was almost to his front, just a little to the left so I barely escaped the spit that flung out of his mouth as he berated, condemned, nay, admonished former lovers, friends, people, God, himself, and God knows what else for a period of about an hour-and-a-half. Bile. I really had no idea what to expect when I went to see him, but after he did the first song, I just muttered under my breath: "Holy living fuck."

Stripped down to acoustic guitar, every word that came out of his mouth (with his spit), hung like drenched blankets in the dead air, unable to swing. I don't remember the set list anymore--a buncha Swans songs, some Angels of Light--but the entire audience was mesmerized the whole time. All the more amazing, when he would pause between his indictments and sing the most tender of songs, something about (gasp) love or human affection. For those few minutes, you unclenched your firsts, love or affection actually meaning something real and not platitudes or cliches.

A young woman, probably in her late twenties, who came to the show alone (like I did), stood directly infront of him. When Gira launched into his first song, looking mad, and talking about filth and despair, she just broke into a most uncomfortable smile, as if she was so so so embarrassed to be having to hear this most personal lyric in a room full of strangers. I have never seen a smile so uncomfortable. Later at the end of the evening, when Gira did a short encore by doing "God Damn the Sun" (the beautiful final track from the Swans' The Burning World album from 1989), the same woman had tears streaming down her cheeks. Streaming. She lost her capacity to be embarrassed. Gira continued:

When, when we were young
We had no history
So nothing to lose
Meant we could choose
Choose what we wanted then
Without any fear
Or thought of revenge

But then you grew old
And I lost my ambition
So I gained an addiction
To drink and depression

The following is not a terribly good version (sound quality is bad) but you can see the man pretty well as he does "God Damn the Sun."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Waves of Plastic

A couple of months ago, I managed to track down a very rare piece of music. I don't normally buy that much music anymore, but in a fit of I-don't-know-what, I decided to splurge something like $71 for six songs. Six songs I have heard before and have somewhere, at least on ancient cassette tapes. In 1987, the band the Replacements released a double 12" single only in Germany that had four rare b-sides. I am not sure why they chose release this stuff only in Germany (maybe so I could buy it 20 years later for an obscene amount of money) but they did. Bastards.

So, for about 20 years, I'd been desperately trying to track this mythic thing down. I'd managed to get pretty much everything else by the band. But this one thing remained. I scoured record stores (back when there used to be such things). I'd do absurd Google searches. Nothing. I'm not even sure why I bothered to try and find it. I rarely listen to the Replacements. I don't even like that kind of music anymore. But it was, you know, some sort of lame attempt at grasping-for-youth or worse, a small material object to make me happy. Blah blah. Twenty years went by.

So, in May or June or whatever, I managed to track it down on-line, forked over $71 and lo and behold it arrived at my house a week or so later. It was like chocolate melting in your mouth. I cleaned it lovingly, played all four sides a few times. I'd heard all the songs before so it wasn't like a revelation or anything. But it was nice to hear the songs (which, at least the b-sides, weren't that stellar) in their original pristine glory.

Later, more recently, I discovered that someone had left my double 12" on top of my cable box attached to the TV. As one knows, cable boxes are hot. They give off heat. Since my Replacements vinyl had been sitting on it for months, naturally, both the records warped beyond....well, beyond playing. The records look like waves of plastic.