Friday, December 19, 2008

Nine Favorite Albums 2008

9. Bauhaus -- Go Away White

Bauhaus had been touring the reunion circuit for a few years but out-of-the-blue they decided to record something and put it out. And they immediately broke up and decided never to speak to each other again (obviously Peter Murphy pissed off the rest of the band). The album doesn't reach the halcyon heights of their original first three albums but it's not bad either. The album sounds almost like they just showed up at the studio and recorded whatever they felt like. And for an experiment like that, it's pretty great overall.

8. King Khan & The Shrines -- The Supreme Genius of King Khan

Already wrote about this dude here. From beginning to end, this album is made to get up and dance. A nice video here:

7. Local H -- 12 Angry Months

The best band in the world that nobody cares about. This album is about a breakup, a song each about each month after the breakup. It goes through all the phases: denial, depression, anger, rapprochement, farewell, back together, final goodbyes, etc. And it's all true. Michelle (singer's girlfriend) really broke up with Scott (singer). It's great and they probably are still the best two-man live band in the world.

An old song but a goodie:

6. School of Seven Bells -- Alpinisms

Refugee from the Secret Machines crosses MBV with Nico, gets two supermodels to sing with him. They make good sounds.

5. Nine Inch Nails -- The Slip

Department of Guilty Pleasures from Childhood. Trent delivers. Still crazy after all these years. Surprising but true.

4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds -- Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

The baddest motherfucker with a moustache.

3. TV On The Radio -- Dear Science

Who the hell knows what it all means.

2. M83 -- Saturdays = Youth

Already mentioned before. Fakes you out by making you think you're fifteen again. A completely unnecessary album but somehow beautiful.

1. Deerhunter -- Microcastle


Ten Favorite Songs 2008

In the spirit of all those people who are listing their various favorite things of the year (and not so favorite ones too), here are ten songs that I really liked this year that were not on my favorite albums. I don't want to spend too much time writing about them, but rather just present them with videos or mp3s. If there was one tenuous overriding theme, it's that most of the songs I liked this year kind of had a mellow vibe. And I included a couple of songs technically from last year 'cause I'm lame.

I will post a list of my favorite albums of the year in a few days (none of which, as I noted, include the songs below).

Anyway, here are the songs. In descending (or ascending, if you're dyslexic) order, from ten to one.

10. Blitzen Trapper -- Black River Killer

Beautiful song, a kind of modern day murder ballad. This is a band from Portland, Oregon. The song is from their album Furr.

Blitzen Trapper -- Black River Killer [mp3]

9. Vampire Weekend -- Oxford Coma

The hype about this band has gone through several cycles of back/lash/back/lash. People resent them because they are rich kids who went to an Ivy League school and live in Brooklyn. I could take or leave most of their stuff--it's too plain for me--but there's something about this song I really like. Who could not like a song about grammar that opens with the phrase "Who gives a fuck about an Oxford Coma?" The video is clever too. The album is self-titled.

8. Black Mountain -- Tyrants

A man must rock sometimes. Please go ahead and rock.

Black Mountain -- Tyrants [mp3]

A clip from a live performance:

7. Death Cab For Cutie -- I Will Possess Your Heart

I am not a fan of theirs. They seem too pretentious and all that. And while their lead singer has written a few good songs ("Such Great Heights"), as a band they're sort of lame. So it was a mild surprise to hear this song. It has a kind of odd rocking beat, is about the joys of stalking, and creates a suffocating atmosphere as it reaches the 8+ minute mark. Apparently, they know how to rock. The album is called Narrow Stairs.

6. Feist -- I Feel It All

Again, mellow girly stuff but something in there gets me. I like the fact that she feels it all, she's 100% committed to 'it.' This is very reminiscent of underground pop from the '80s like Beat Happening or something like that. After all the iPod commercials and the Sesame Street appearances, it's comforting to know that she's a good song writer. The album came out last year and is called The Reminder.

5. Fleet Foxes -- White Winter Hymnal

And who cannot like this song? Everybody seems to going nuts over this band, a band from Seattle who recently released their self-titled debut album to much acclaim. They are great singers. This song could have been recorded in the 1940s or 1950s.

4. David Byrne & Brian Eno -- Strange Overtones

I don't like David Byrne although I think his work with Talking Heads was brilliant. Brian Eno is worth a longer line of thought. Either way, they put out a pretty awesome album 25 years ago or something (My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts). They made a sequel of sorts (Everything That Happens Will Happen Today) which is much more pop-song-oriented. This song is great. It's got that whole meta thing going for it too. Even as it's describing someone writing a song, it's also describing the song that Byrne himself is singing. Ooooh, so clever, these old people. I would like to post an mp3 of this song but I'm afraid of getting dragged into court. So here's a crappy amateur video.

3. M.I.A. -- Paper Planes

She's now pregnant and about to have a baby somewhere in Brooklyn. Even as I speak. The song takes the Clash's "Straight To Hell" and makes it more awesome, if that was even possible. The album is Kala.

2. Radiohead -- House Of Cards

Also from last year but released as a single this year. I love this song. I love the music. I love the words. I love the video. The complete package. Apparently, this is one of the first videos in which no cameras or lights were used. Instead, we are told, the band and the director used 3-D plotting technologies. You can even "shape-shift" the video's raw data yourself and create your own video. See here.

1. MGMT -- Time To Pretend

An obvious choice, I suppose. I have been listening to this song constantly the last year or so. As far as disposable pop songs go, it is just fucking brilliant. And within this candy wrapper of a song is a surprisingly astute and sharp observation about the arc of a young person's life and the drawing realization that the search for fame, glory, and chicks ends with the obligatory 'choking-in-your-vomit' moment. A really really great song. All parties must end with this. I see the people dancing, raising their arms, confetti falling around, rejoicing the unglorious fall of the beautiful people. The album is called Oracular Spectacular.

While I cannot embed the video here, I urge every human being on the planet to go here to check it out.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Yerself Is Steam

Back in Pittsburgh, I saw Sparklehorse open for Mercury Rev, probably sometime in 2000, but Google tells me this must have been on June 14, 1999. Wow that was a long time ago, almost ten years ago. My distinct impression of Sparklehorse was that they fucking sucked (an impression that would change 180° within a few years). Mercury Rev were great as usual but nothing on the order of their incredible show a few years before, December 12, 1995 (thanks again to Google). Karen and I showed up at Pearl Street in Northampton, Mass and were so blown away by them that by the end of the show, we were literally lying horizontally, slouching on chairs, like most of the crowd, entirely motionless. We did not move. We did not need to move. We just lay there flat, the soles of our feet facing the band, who were bathed in some kind of weird maniacal light show with skulls and strobes and salamanders and sulfur. It was like standing in front of a jet engine washed by waves of noise, our ears made deaf, our bodies merely swimming in a sea of aural beauty.

Later on, Mercury Rev fell in love with Brian Wilson and has continued on a long love affair with him, occasionally sleeping with The Band on the side. They make pastoral music sprinkled with psychedelia these days instead of psychedelic music sprinkled with total fucking insanity. It's all very nice but not quite as bewildering as their first, greatest album Yerself Is Steam, without doubt one of the greatest pieces of music ever committed to vinyl/plastic. Simon Reynolds called it "an exquisite armageddon of tortured dementia." Meshing their love of noise with melody, reason with insanity, flutes without cheesiness, and feedback with tenderness, they made a helluva noise. You could almost take a bath in the music that came out of the speakers from Yerself Is Steam, particularly its first track ("Chasing A Bee") and the last one, lasting an eternal 12 minutes ("Very Sleep Rivers").

Here in all its glory is "Chasing a Bee." The feedback that comes in at around 3:03 sounds like a FUCKING SUSPENSION BRIDGE COLLAPSING INSIDE YOUR HEAD.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


A recent trip to Lisbon.

Nice things.

On the way home I listened to this song on my headphones.

My beloved Mogwai.

"Helicon 1."

Coincidentally, it captured the feeling.

Best experienced live with the band or on headphones.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


I haven't had a chance to write about this but recently (November 14), I went to see M83 at Webster Hall here in New York. I didn't know what to expect although I've liked them for a while. I'd bought an earlier album (Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts) which was largely electronic with swashes of My Bloody Valentine-inflected shoegazer influences. I liked it but hadn't listened to it in a while. It had long instrumentals that repeated melodies ad nauseum.

Well, the new album, Saturdays = Youth, is very different. First, here there are actual short songs. Second, as I've noted before, what hits you is that this is music clearly grounded in 1980s-era British pop, particularly, the Smiths, the Cure, Cocteau Twins, and other melancholy acts. Yet, it doesn't the sound the least bit dated. It's actually quite a beautiful album with subtle melodies, bringing together both male and female vocals in a sheen that sounds very contemporary. The two major singles ("Kim & Jessie" and "Graveyard Girl") are wonderful slices of '80s pop and wouldn't be out of place in a teen movie about running away from home or something like that.

The concert was great. Given the amount of electronics on the album I didn't know how they would reproduce the experience on stage. Although they had prepared loops and such, they also had a four-piece live band (two guitars, keyboards, drum, no bass), and completely fleshed out sound on stage. M83 is basically a single French guy, Anthony Gonzales (with sidehands for the live experience). The show covered the new album and a few tracks from previous albums, reproduced with great care. The encore was fantastic as the music shifted into total electronic/dance mode and I have no idea if the last songs lasted minutes or hours. I was suddenly transported back to a club in 1989. I was wearing black, she was wearing black. We were subbakulcha.

This isn't cynical music. It's very earnest which makes it easy to make fun of. But the beauty of some of the melodies and the production are designed to make you forget your higher instincts and for an hour or so, you can let yourself go into nostalgia, youthful nostalgia. It's the kind of music that makes you yearn for something (nostalgic music?) that might actually be happening while you are in the act of yearning. In that way, M83's album and show are, as Frederic Jameson might have said, nostalgia for the present. And sometimes that's not so bad.

The video of M83's "Graveyard Girl":

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Supreme Genius of King Khan

On Saturday, a bunch of us went to see King Khan & BBQ Show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. There was a little confusion. The man who is King Khan has two alter egos, one a straight ahead punk rocker (with strains of doo wop) that he does as a two-man band. This is King Khan & BBQ Show.

Then there is King Khan and the Shrines which is a full on garage/funk/Bollywood band with horns and the whole bit. We were under the impression (well, I was under the impression) that we were off to see the Shrines but we ended up seeing the BBQ Show. Not that that was all that bad -- but I expected a little more depraved insanity from the King who seemed rather subdued in Brooklyn.

Who is King Khan? He is the baddest ass rock'n'roller in existence on the planet these days. He's an awesome vocalist, a little bit like James Brown crossed with Prince; he's not afraid to wear women's underwear, Bollywood villian costumes, and dracula capes, and he will rock your world. He also has one of the tightest funk bands in existence (the Shrines), with musicians who have played with Tina Turner, Bo Diddley, Curtis Mayfield, and Stevie Wonder. I hope to see them in concert one day.

King Khan is of Indian origin, raised in Canada, and apparently now lives in Germany. Various tracks from King Khan and the Shrines' recent e.p.'s, singles, and albums have been collected in a U.S. compilation album, The Supreme Genius of King Khan.

See some awesome pictures from his now-legendary performance at the Pitchforkmedia festival in Chicago this past summer here.

And one of my favorite songs by him:

King Khan and the Shrines -- Torture [mp3]

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Two more songs of mine. Both are very low-fi productions but hopefully the ideas are evident.

The first song is called "No Umbrellas." This was one of the first songs I ever recorded, back in my first year of graduate school in Pittsburgh. I think I literally wrote and recorded the song in an hour. I was still trying to figure out how to work the 4-track.

Joy - No Umbrellas [mp3]

The second is "Wake Up." I wrote this a long long time ago, probably in my junior year of college. Best way to imagine it is to picture yourself driving back home after a vacation for a few days out west and you're both tired and you're almost home and one of you is asleep. The car is moving silently on the freeway, there's the sound of the wind, the white clouds jigsawed on the blue sky. You hardly speak but you know that you're both there, and things have moved to the next level. You are undeniably happy but anticipating sadness. Or vice versa. I didn't like the version I recorded, so I made A. sing it. She has a lovely voice and really made it her own.

Almost there
Just a few more miles
Always felt like I knew
Where home was

Freeway's ending
The world gets smaller
Together that lonely feeling
In the both of us

Wake up, we're almost there
My fingers in your hair
You can dream today
Tomorrow's hope away...

Almost there
The sun behind us
No sound but the wheels
Since that station faded out

Home at last
Us over the years
Now we meet the choices
That we spoke about

Wake up, we're almost there
My fingers in your hair
You can dream today
Tomorrow's hope away...

Joy - Wake Up [mp3]

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Guyana Punch

So, the Judy's (not the Judys) were a band from Texas back in the early/mid 1980s. I found a few things about them here but generally they've been forgotten. They were this ultra-minimalist band that stripped down music to their bare essentials. In terms of their musical approach, they owed a lot to junk/pop art and 1950s pop culture and adding a lot of dada-ish vibes to that, you know, playing vacuum cleaners and pots and pans. They were really ahead of their time. Bands like Beat Happening came after and became a lot more famous. And the B-52s had better songs. But still, they are worth remembering if nothing else than for this song, which, for whatever reason, we used to listen to back in the late 1980s in Texas. "Guyana Punch" is about the Jonestown mass suicide in the late 1970s. I think the song was originally recorded in 1981.

I saw them once or twice at a place called Eastgate Live in College Station and as the song reached its climax, they would hurl punch from a tumbler on the audience. It was hilarious. The song is just as weird as ever and would never be a hit in any 'real' world, but for some reason was a hit in ours.


The Judy's -- Guyana Punch [mp3]

Next up: who remembers About Nine Times? Trout Fishing in America? The Pain Teens? All those bands from our childhood in Texas.

Monday, November 10, 2008

All My Friends

My favorite song of 2007.
I'm still listening to it all the way through 2008.
LCD Soundsystem's "All My Friends."

You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan
And the next five years trying to be with your friends again.
Where are your friends tonight?
Where are your friends tonight?

If I could see all my friends tonight
If I could see all my friends tonight.

Friday, October 31, 2008

So Few Words

Back during my first stint in graduate school, right before I dropped out and wandered into my "lost" years, I used to visit a friend down in Galveston, Texas. It was a messy time for both of us, probably best forgotten, but there was something about her insistence that we go to to the beach to swim in the Gulf that sticks with me. The sky was dark, the winds were cool, the beach was dirty, and we were totally and utterly lost. I still hear the weird sounds of the beach: the odd percussive 'whoosh' of waves, the reverse echo of seagull voices, the silence between us. So anyway, many years later, thinking about all these chasms, I wrote a song and recorded it immediately. Although I say "Sheraton Bay" in the song, I actually mean "Galveston Bay." I recorded the electric guitar in my bathroom to get a natural echo. The song is called "So Few Words."

Joy - So Few Words [mp3]

Another song I recorded, more recently entitled "1989 Or so." I was trying to do a power pop song, and play around with bars and meters. This is one of the few songs I'd had in my mind as a complete work and just tried to record it exactly the way it was in my mind. I was trying to get that feeling I used to get while flying a kite in a Dallas suburb on a spring day.

Joy - 1989 Or So [mp3]

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Man Of The World

I discovered the late '60s version of Fleetwood Mac from the better known late '70s version of Fleetwood Mac. One of my favorite albums as a kid (well, I guess 10th grade or so) was Fleetwood Mac's Live, which, a gajillion years later, still stands up as a pretty good classic rock live album. I have a soft spot for the Lindsey Buckingham-Stevie Nicks era Fleetwood Mac that is not rational at all, and best left explained in another posting, but the point is that on Live, they did a riproaring song called "Oh Well" which I later discovered was actually originally done by the late '60s version of the band, the one with Peter Green, variously described as insane and a genius and both. Anyway, all of this led me back over the years to rediscover the blues-based music of Peter Green's old Fleetwood Mac, particularly their stellar album Then Play On, a title apparently a paraphrase from Shakespeare's "if music be the food of love, play on." The thing that really stands about this album (and the others from that period) is the utter sophistication of the guitar playing. These guys had a triple guitar playing field (Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, and Danny Kirwan) but boy, they knew when to pull back and when to hit the notes. Basically, these guys were ten times better than that other absurdly overrated and mediocre guitarist Eric Clapton (who also played recycled but amped up blues). Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, all three of them actually went insane. Then in 1975 or so, the rhythm section took on Buckingham and Nicks, and the rest, is history.

Anyway, all this for a coupla songs which I wanted to post. Neither of these songs were originally featured in any original Fleetwood Mac and seem to be notoriously hard to track down as they were released on CD on only a few places. Both are soft mellow songs, and actually not at all blues-based like most of the band's other stuff from the period. Both, written by Peter Green, are deceptively simple but incredibly beautiful pieces of music. The first is Fleetwood Mac's first single, released in 1967, "Albatross."

The second is even better, "Man of the World," a single released in 1969. The lyrics are so ridiculously simple but these sentiments could not have been better put in another way. I totally 100% understand what he's talking about. And check out the totally understated triple guitar play during the bridge. Lovely.

And just to show that they could indeed rock out. Here's the original version of "Oh Well."

I'm posting mp3s of both songs for a short while. They are supposedly remastered versions from the rare (and expensive) The Chain 4-CD set put out by Fleetwood Mac in 1992.

Fleetwood Mac -- Albatross [mp3]
Fleetwood Mac -- Man Of The World [mp3]

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Young Man Blues / TV On The Radio

I would pretty much give up my real job to play in a band. I say "pretty much" because in actual real life, I haven't and I won't. But you know that's kinda what I really want to do. Everything else is just bullshit that I do to get by. I have a job at a university and it's OK, I suppose. I get health insurance and I have an office with a computer. I work with more or less nice people. Although some of them are rather weird in the socially-awkward-kind-of way. But nothing that would drive me crazy or anything. The university runs like it's the movie Brazil in that things work very slowly and you have to fill out everything in triplicate. One of the drawbacks of my job is that I have to deal with a lot of people all the time. For someone who has determinedly tried to avoid people his entire life, this is obviously rather ironic that I ended up in a job where I'm constantly bombarded by people who have some need to speak to me. (Just to be clear, they need to talk to me not because they enjoy conversing with me but because they actually really need to do so to do their work).

I've been thinking that I'd really like to go to the TV On The Radio show next week in Brooklyn (actually, they are playing three nights in a row) but as usual, because this is a show in New York, all the shows are sold out. I enjoyed watching the clip of them performing on David Letterman. See / watch / look:

The other day, I was walking by a bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I randomly ran into a person I had not seen in at least ten years. She used to be this cool chick who (along with her husband) were the landlords of the house where I lived in Amherst. I'm not sure what she used to do, but it had something to do with the film industry. She would always go to the Sundance film festival or Cannes or something. We had some crazy ass party times in Amherst, Massachusetts. It was at a completely insane phase of my life and our little house, which we used to call the "White House," singlehandedly kept afloat the alcohol industry in America. (Thanks Dave!) Anyway, so I run into this chick and she was smoking outside a bar and we exchanged pleasantries and I got her number. I had no intention of calling her back but accidentally a couple of days ago hit her number on my cell phone. Fuck! So I had to talk to her. But strangely it turned out to be a good conversation. She has like two kids now. That is some weird shit. I cannot imagine her being a mom and everything. We is getting old old old.

Anyway, one of my favorite songs from that period in Amherst was the Who's "Young Man Blues." This was some badass rock and roll shit. It's worth it to watch this video (from 1970), especially because this is the Who, firing on all cylinders. Check out the one minute stretch from 3:45 to 4:45 in the video. That's exactly how I feel sometimes.

Everytime I played this song at the "White House," I would turn up my stereo and wanna smash the whole fucking house down. I'm sure she didn't appreciate the volume. But I needed volume. Did I mention that I would rather play in an ass-kicking rock'n'roll band than do anything else?


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

shows 2008 so far

- the verve / april 29, 2008 / new york / good
- swell season / may 19, 2008 / new york / good
- m.i.a. / june 6, 2008 / brooklyn / good
- mogwai / september 18, 2008 / new york / awesome
- my bloody valentine / september 22, 2008 / new york / fucking awesome

tuesdays = old

listening to the new M83 album

it's very eighties
but it's really good
so different from the last album

happy but sad
old but young
eighties but now
songs but music

my life sucks
have no friends / want no friends / have no friends / want no friends
the new m83 album is called "saturdays = youth

Monday, May 19, 2008

On The Beach

How did he know that it could be like this?

I need a crowd of people, but I can't face them day to day

I need a crowd of people, but I can't face them day to day
Though my problems are meaningless
That don't make them go away
I need a crowd of people, but I can't face them day to day

Not too much to add there.

Campaigner (unreleased long version) [mp3]

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Paralyzed Mind of the Archangel Void

Sunday morning, praise the dawning, as Lou once said. Blogs are obviously narcissistic. Just like all the other electronic crap out in the 'Internets' (you know, the one with tubes connected to other tubes) is also narcissistic. Facebook, myspace, your own nauseating website dedicated to oh-so-adorable pictures of your baby. Narcissism and nausea. What's the point? I'm not making a judgment call on narcissism one way or other. Maybe it's a good thing, maybe not. But I do take a somewhat incoherent albeit principled stand against narcissism. As such, if I'm so principled about my animus to narcissism, why do I even write here? Because I'm a hypocrite? Because I wallow in the misguided belief that this blog is not narcissistic? That it's merely the musings of a humble person in the electronic ether who's just innocently writing about music? I clearly suffer this delusion -- for this blog (and everything that you do on-line) is one or another form of gratuitous navel-gazing.

There's also the relationship between self-revealing and [blogging/facebook/etc.]. We love to reveal things about ourself, especially our consumer preferences ("I loved Brown Bunny!"), but also our frenzied activities (birth, school, work, death), our feeeeelings, our opinions on everything from Reading Lolita In Tehran (numbingly moronic) to Flipper's Sex Bomb Baby (fucking brilliant). It's always our, our, our, our, my, my, my.

In Joseph Heller's book Good as Gold, the narrative is about trivia. It's a wonderful book about the mundane in a person's life in the backdrop of a sudden cataclysmic event. When I (once again, the 'I') read the book as a teenager, it profoundly shook me. There is something really fascinating about trivia, about the mundane, empty daily gestures and movements of people. I'd say that 99% of our lives are banal, trivial, actions of habit and devoid of conscious thought: walking to a bus station, going to the bathroom, dropping your pencil and finding it again, trying to fit your foot into your shoe, straightening out your underwear, checking our mail box. You get the general idea. Yet, our fiction, our art, our movies, reflect nothing of that. That experience is shut out of our notions of 'art' and 'expression.'

Until now. I think our recent collective ability, because of the internet, to let everybody in the world know electronically what we are thinking and doing at any given moment has given agency back to trivia. Blogs are filled with absurd amounts of personal trivia that no one in their right minds would want to read. The irony is that we like to think our trivia has gravitas, we like to think that our world of looking for pencils between the cushions on our couches are filled with symbolic import. My blog is better than yours 'cause I know shit about shit. I know politics and culture and crap. My opinions are informed (so close, a homophone to unformed). Fuck you.

So, in that spirit, I offer something truly trivial here: what I think of a certain album. It's completely meaningless, there's no reason anyone should pay any attention to this. My opinion is technically worth nothing. I once heard an album. I liked it. I will now write here about it. That's essentially the arc of this narrative. It's a relatively empty gesture devoid of value.

Which brings me to Harmony Rockets, who released a single full-length CD in 1995 entitled Paralyzed Mind of the Archangel Void. The music on this CD consists of one single piece of music lasting 41 minutes and 40 seconds. One website calls it an "experimental album of epic proportions," and I would not disagree with that description. The band set up shop in a hotel in upstate New York and just played. They forgot about verses and choruses and beginnings and ends and scales and chords and keys and just kind of improvised some spacefreak music of magnificent proportions. Yet, there's some precedent for what they do: I detect bits and pieces of Sun Ra and even parts of the Velvet Underground's unreleased (at least in a studio version) "Melody Laughter."

But you don't have to know or care about that. How does it sound? For all of its so-called experimental nature, it actually sounds rather cordant (I know that's not a word, but I wish it was) and not at all cacophonic. The band--seven people--use guitars with massive effects, a rumbling bass, a saxophone that weaves in and out. A voice murmurs words and sentences for a while. It builds, it ebbs, at one point sounding like you're literally in the middle of a cyclone (in the key of C). The music slows down everything and puts your existence to total slow motion. Great to listen to while you're waiting for someone to show up. And the conclusion is like a reprieve, you feel the light sweat on your upper lip, as if you're just coming out of a dream. I highly recommend it for those who might be a little adventurous and have about an hour to kill late late very late at night.

Point of note for artifact fetishists: the original CD came in a beautiful package, with silver embossed writing on the cover. The CD also comes with a picture of the tape machine used to record the album. The liner notes say the following:

Paralyzed Mind of the Archangel Void was performed live at Rhinecliff Hotel by the group Harmony Rockets. It was recorded on a hand-held Arrivox-Tandberg 183 analog cassette recorder. Due in part to the out-dated [sic] nature (ancient by today's standards) of this machine and an inadequate P.A. system . . . periodic portions of the music undulate and appear to distort. . . . Thus, the sounds on this disc are unaltered, and remain true to the nature of the original performance.

An important point to make here is this: Harmony Rockets was basically a side-project of the much better-known band Mercury Rev who produced a bunch of great albums in the 1990s, including the classic Yerself Is Steam, one of the most insane albums of that decade. Speaking of Paralyzed Mind of the Archangel Void, Jonathan Donahue, the lead singer of Mercury Rev, later noted, responding to an interviewer:

Donahue: It's mostly instrumental, but there's some vocals on the beginning of it, it's me singing. Basically, what it is, is most of Mercury Rev, that you see up there [on stage], were trying to kill a Friday night in the mountains, got really wasted and wandered down to a local Civil War bar. They needed an opening band, so we brought some old analog effects with us and some guitars and just whooped up whatever we were doing for, like, forty minutes and stopped. Somebody had a tape, figuring it was ya know, Mercury Rev, so they sorta recorded it shittily.

Interviewer: So, the entire album is live?

: Yeah, just made up on the spot. There's not a damn thing that was practiced ever, it just sort of happened, but it came out really nice. We like it, we were pretty surprised.

Looking up my trusty 1,088 page version of The Great Indie Discography (2nd ed), I see that Harmony Rockets released one other thing, an e.p.. That stuff is very very different from Paralyzed Mind: on the e.p. they cover "I've Got a Golden Ticket" from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and (of all things) Vangelis' "L'Apocalypse des Animaux." The music veers from disco to moody instrumentals. Not really worth tracking down.

iTunes has a clip of Paralyzed Mind of the Archangel Void here. [this will launch iTunes]

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Maps Of You

Written in 2002. Will record this summer for the next CD.

Maps of You

As the bulldozers left
We found a comb inside a shoe
The kids played on the rubble
An ambulance came for you

There seemed to be no warning
You were crouching in the gap
‘Tween lines that had never moved
On your childhood map

I looked into your dead eyes
There were crescents colored green
There were floating stars of david
There were places you had been

Red crosses and green crescents
And sirens too
Red crosses and green crescents
And maps of forgotten lessons

I looked into your dead eyes
They lay open like an atlas
With ripped out pages
Lying next to your shoe

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Trash City

Everybody who knows me (a hello to both of you!) has some inkling of an idea that I was at one time obsessed with the Replacements (a band from a long time ago, like, you know, from a time before the internet, yes, there was apparently a time like that, go ask your grand parents). Recently, Rhino Records remastered their first three albums and an e.p. for release.

They are:

Sorry Ma Forgot to Take Out the Trash (1981)
Replacements Stink e.p. (1982)
Hootenanny (1983)
Let It Be (1984)

Each CD has a bunch of extra tracks and stuff to make it a sweet deal. Frankly, I was shocked that there was so much press about these re-releases since Replacements music seem very disconnected with what is going on in terms of hipster music these days. Even snooty folks like Pitchforkmedia chimed in. Billboard even tracked down the main songwriter of the band and the bass guitarist, the former notoriously reclusive, and the latter, well, he now works for Axl Rose. They are both vaguely irritable people who always seem even more irritable in interviews, especially when asked about what they did when they were in the Replacements, which happens to be like 40 years or ago or something. But the new interviews of singer and bassist were personable. Although I was horrified at the prospect that the Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson might reunite to make some dumbass attempt to recreate the Replacements (I guess taking a cue from the Pixies, Mission of Burma, Dinosaur Jr, and a gajillion other bands from that era who have decided it's time to exhume their legacies and force them into the present), it was nice to see Westerberg not quite so curmudgeonly, as he often is.

A lot of ink has been spilled on the Replacements. With the recent spate of reissues, I've read dozens of articles about the band. Almost all of them have the standard issue narrative about them, and they use a combination of the same words. You know: legendary, shambolic, influential, unpredictable, Midwestern, young, alcoholics, played goofy covers, swapped instruments, frequently never finished their live shows, kids with no future, beautiful losers, assholes, heart-wrenching songs, crazy motherfuckers, blah blah. You know the basic deal. The story has become so set in stone that it's hard to write anything new about them that might mean anything. So I was mildly surprised to find a coupla things that were kinda insightful. Both are worth a read. The better one, a reverential review of the four reissues, really nails some of the absurd contradictions of this band. The author writes (speaking of Let It Be, considered by many to be their best record) that the Replacements:

never separated high and low culture, who celebrated pure junk and reluctantly bared their soul... Let It Be is nothing if it’s not a coming of age album, perched precisely between adolescence and adulthood. There’s just enough angst and tastelessness to have the album speak to teenagers of all generations and just enough complicated emotion to make this music resonate with listeners long past those awkward years, whether they grew up with this album or not.

Writing of the unbelievable rush of the sequence of the first two songs on Let It Be, he adds:

Unlike so many teenage post-punk records, this doesn’t dwell on the pain, it ramps up the jokes and, better still, it offers a sense of endless possibilities, especially on the opening pair of “I Will Dare” and “Favorite Thing,” two songs where it feels as if the world opened up because of these songs. And that sense of thrilling adventure isn’t just due to Westerberg, it’s due to the ‘Mats as a band, who have never sounded as ferocious and determined as they do here... here they were fully alive as a band, living gloriously in the moment, a fleeting moment when anything and everything seems possible and that moment still bursts to life whenever Let It Be is played.

The other review, a little more jargony, but less reverential (and in a good way) is here.

Anyway, in honor of the four reissues, I thought I would excerpt a chapter from this book that I keep threatening to publish about my journey through the dregs of American underground(ish) music of the '80s/'90s/'00s. This is an excerpt from CHAPTER 8 (entitled: "I Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right"). It is about the greatest band in the history of rock'n'roll. Enjoy.

CHAPTER 8 (excerpt)

Probably among all the bands I am writing about here, the hardest to write about is the Replacements. This is partly because I had a strange emotional attachment to them, but that’s only a minor part of it. More relevant, perhaps, is that the band itself represented many contradictory impulses, none of which were/are fully formed. To describe the band properly would be to write a paragraph composed of non sequiturs, each sentence omitting a key word. On the surface, the Replacements were this vaguely alternative ‘80s band singing power pop with a punk edge; throw in a few emotional slow songs about loss and loneliness and few clever turns and twists of word and there you have it, the Replacements. But the Replacements were much more than that. Most important, among all the major 'alternative' bands of the ‘80s, the Replacements were probably the one which stood furthest from the idea of “art.”

Other bands of that era (the Cure, R.E.M., Sonic Youth, Big Black, Husker Du, the Smiths, Cocteau Twins, Ministry, Foetus, Love & Rockets, the Church, New Order, Talking Heads, Dead Kennedys, Mojo Nixon, the Jesus & Mary Chain, the Minutemen, the Meat Puppets, the Pixies, Dead Can Dance, Swans, etc. etc. etc.) had something to do with the idea (however facile in reality it was) that there was some "art" to it, even often in the most artless way. “Art,” not only in the sense of avant garde or innovation or conversely as part of a tradition of art, but also in the sense of “cool” and “hip.” All of those bands had dollops of self-consciousness, sometimes ironic.

A band like Husker Du is a classic case. On the surface you have three working class kinda guys who look like shit and wear Midwestern clothes. But Husker Du was not about Joe Blow singin’ shit about shit. Husker Du was about the art of catharsis through noise, a strategy that related as much to the elitist bullshit of the Velvet Underground as anything, and fuck your flannel shirts. Which is why these days Bob Mould can hang around being LoudBomb or whatever DJ thing that he’s doing, ‘cause he was into "art."

The Replacements had nothing to do with art. They were artless bastards (of young). They were never a hip band nor were they ever cool—although for a short period, they were cool to like among some white college students. The band were also true iconoclasts, in the received tradition of punk, in that they opposed every and anything. Unlike most of the ‘80s alternative bands who bought into the false notion that somehow most of what they were creating was worthwhile as an opposing force to the status quo, the Replacements didn’t even bother with that whole issue, they just existed as opposition. If they played in front of punks, they would make fun of punks. If they played in front of hippies, they would make fun of hippies. They made fun of everybody, most of all their alternative peers. They had little respect for anybody, least of all themselves, which luckily for them, played brilliantly into the mythos they created for themselves: beautiful losers destined not to be beautiful but always to lose.

Their capacity to infuse brilliance into both (1) their raging loud motherfucking rock’n’punk side, as well as (2) their tenderest i-am-awfully-lonely-but-i-hate-people side was what I most loved about them. Their songs were a mess of blue, a confession of true, songs about the most normal of emotions of youth, filtered through the complete abandon of knowing that even as you are singing about being the loneliest most misunderstood soul, you will be misunderstood in the act itself. Their song “Unsatisfied” was so bizarre, the lyrics almost but not quite making sense until it drops you into this edgy state of ambiguity:

Look me in the eye and tell me
That I’m satisfied
Look me in the eye and tell me
That I’m satisfied.

I have no idea what that means. Is the singer telling the listener: "hey tell me if you're satisfied." or…is the singer telling the listener: "hey tell me if I'm satisfied." If the former, then it’s like a weird challenge, a challenge to the listener to tell it like it is, which sounds odd, like loneliness is a badge of fucking honor. And if the latter, then why is he doing that? What would cause him to ask someone to do that? It just seems like something that no one would ever do in real life. Why would you ever ask someone else to look you in the eye and see if the eyes said anything about being satisfied? Yet, it makes the hairs on your neck stand up. What the fuck. The song builds, builds, builds, builds through random snippets of lyrics (“liberty is a lie,” “tell me what’s wrong”) until the singer screams, shredding his throat into the simplest stupidest most adolescent articulation of all:

I’m so, I’m so, I’m so…unsatisfied.

And all through it, some weird shit guitar that sounds like a howling dog being stepped upon weaves its way through the song. Who’d have thought that you could encapsulate wanting-and-not-getting, and not-knowing-what-you-want-and-not-getting-it-anyway into the simplest form possible?

The music, the music, the music: but beyond the music, punk (or, really, rock’n’roll in general) was as much about attitude and image and lifestyle as it was about content. To me, the Replacements presented in many ways a perfect package: unknown to most, anti-art, loners, losers, skinny to the bone, knew about love and hate, tolerated by artsy alternative people into the Birthday Party or whatever. But like many bands or music of the period, I relished adopting them because nobody I knew liked them that much. People had heard a song or two but nothing registered that much. By the time, I got obsessed with them, I started to connect with random people here and there who were equally obsessed with them. None of these obsessives were my friends but they were when we shared beers at Duddley’s. I remember this guy, Tim, prematurely old, curly hair, every time I ran into him at Duddley’s he was dead fucking drunk to the world and rambling on about how he could swear on his grave that the best fucking album of all time was the Replacements’ Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash, their first (ratty punk) album released in 1981.

Like all great bands, progression for the Replacements was breathtaking. From Sorry Ma’s smart punk (punctuated by a lovely b-side “If Only You Were Lonely” that recalled Hank Williams Sr.) to the Stink e.p.’s raging jet engine hardcore punk (including the epic “Fuck School”) to Hootenanny (now, they were perfecting the hybrid of punk and pop with brilliance) to Let it Be (one of the best indie rock albums of all time), wherein every goddamn youthful feeling of alienation was eviscerated for all to see through a series of spectacular three-minute gems from the country-punk shuffle of “I Will Dare” to the frustrated shout of desperation that is “My Favorite Thing” to the transcendental “Answering Machine” in which spiraling guitar figures battled with the found sounds of operator voices looping to insanity and infinity as the singer screamed “I hate your answering machine.” In three short years, they moved from pedestrian punk to genius power pop, and they moved fast. Because there were never any lyrics printed on any Replacements albums, half the fun was figuring out what Paul Westerberg—their songwriter, singer, and principal architect—was saying. His genius was to figure out how to say that you hate people but you hate being lonely, the obvious conundrum of youthful angst. But the words had double, sometimes triple puns, embedded in them, making sense years later while you’re listening to a song on your iPod in the subway. His lyrics were clever but not in an Elvis Costello-way of clever in which contrivances overpowered elegance. Clever was secondary to the mood. It didn’t really matter if you didn’t really understand what he was saying anyway. It made sense anyway.

Tim, considered by many to be their best album, came out in 1985, followed by Pleased to Meet Me two years later. I was obsessed with that album because it was not simply an encapsulation of a month or a time in my life but also my life. To go through the album here would be tedious. The songs are brilliant, the sound woefully dated. The one moment of transcendence on the record is neither a lyric nor a melody but an exhilarating “Ooooh!” shouted as a prelude to a guitar solo a song called “Alex Chilton,” a weird half-assed tribute to another songwriter and musician who barely made it. What can I say? It was one of my favorite and personal albums of my youth, 33 minutes of me-as-manchild wrapped in chocolate melodies and loud guitars. And the power of the album grew for me as I dug deeper and discovered the detritus from Pleased to Meet Me: abandoned songs deemed not good enough for the album, amazing b-sides, alternate takes, the stuff of music obsessives. One song, “Can’t Hardly Wait” existed in this strange acoustic version, sounding like he had recorded it on a tiny cassette player in the middle of an airshaft with vocal echoes, with nothing but a snare drum punctuating his lonely voice over an improbably beautiful but ragged guitar. While the song on the actual album is one of hope to see a lover/friend after being on the road for a while, the airshaft version—best listened to in the deep of winter—is a strange almost joyous ode to self-destruction (“…climb to the top of this crummy water tower, I can’t hardly wait…”).

Another unused song, “Birthday Gal,” (or “Birthday Carol” as I thought for years) was a toss-off piece about the sadness young men see in young women who never see it in themselves, a thematic favorite of Westerberg that he would pursue again (“Achin’ To Be”) and again (“Merry Go Round”).

Westerberg once said somewhere that one of his favorite movies was The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. A trouble-maker, ground through the prison system in England, becomes a long-distance runner. His training culminates in the one big race. He runs. It's clear he's gonna win. Just before he crosses the finish line, he stops and lets someone else pass. That is the Replacements story encapsulated in a couple of sentences. We could be heroes. Just for one day. But only in our made up world of success and failure.

Of course, all of this is colored by retrospect. I listened to the Replacements a lot in my twenties, less so in my thirties. In fact, my music tastes significantly evolved (or devolved) from the Replacements, and on one level, I think I resented the fact that Paul Westerberg's solo music was so regressive, especially in a musical way. It all sounded like sub-par pre-1965 Dylan, with barely a chord outside of A, D, G, and E. While I was buying Aphex Twin CDs or whatever, Westerberg was increasingly doing music that was conservative (and I don't mean that politically), aimed at that yuppie-friendly Americana genre between Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams. I resented it for a while, but it's cool now. I think I understand it better 'cause I'm older.

Unlike the Replacements, Westerberg's recent music is firmly in the past. In an interview a few years ago, Westerberg was clear about it:

Interviewer: Are you using an iPod to listen to your music nowadays?

Westerberg: No. No. I still like to pull out 45s and put them on the mono record player in the basement. I love the past and I love what it is. I feel I can learn more from what has come before than what is happening right now and what's happening tomorrow. I'll leave that to someone else who's young and energetic. Somebody gave me a blues compilation, a DVD from England, '62-'69. It's got Little Walker and Skip James and stuff and it's I really enjoy watching that kind of stuff. I enjoy watching the Rolling Stones from that era too. I'm not a modern guy.

Where the Replacements were once the future of music (circa 1983-84), Westerberg now sings like he's part of an imagined past of American music, a line dating back to Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie and (early) Dylan. Westerberg would no longer recognize the Dylan of 1966 saying "play fucking louder" to an antagonistic audience because he has left that behind with the Replacements. He's a bard playing hillbilly music (with a Keith Richards edge) from an anachronistic timeless Harry Smith-esque place that never existed. In that way, he's still doing what the Replacements were doing. Taking his audience to a make believe land that somewhere makes sense. And isn't that sometimes the best that "art" can do?

Can't Hardly Wait (airshaft) [mp3]

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Donna Summer: I Feel Love

A short post, prompted by having just stumbled upon a video of one of the best dance songs of all time, Donna Summer's 1977 classic "I Feel Love." Apparently originally released as a b-side, it, of course, became a massive hit. Amazing, really, how futuristic and forward-thinking the song was, for which most of the credit should go to producer Giorgio Moroder. The video is not all that great in terms of quality, but it's definitely worth a see.

I should add that Giorgio Moroder himself released a few albums, one of which, From Here to Eternity (also from 1977) was something I listened to quite a lot when I was in my early teens (thanks to a friend of mine, Sameena, who, God knows where she is these days, was a big fan). It's definitely worth checking out. The kids these days say that From Here to Eternity was where trance and house music began, which seems a little overstated. Looking up the album on the dreaded wikipedia, it turns out that in the production credits of the album, Moroder wrote: "Only electronic keyboards were used in the making of the album." I think that's fantastic!... Because it completely inverts the kind of self-important claims for "authenticity" that rock musicians would aspire to in the 1980s, about how everything on their albums was played on Goddamn synthesizers...but REAL instruments. Giorgio, it turns out, was way ahead of pack in many respects, not just in terms of his music but also in terms of an understanding of what he was doing.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

I'm no good with regular posts partly (well, mostly) (well, completely) because I have so much other shit to do in life. I have no time to write here. Which means that what I do is mostly daydream about my clever, erudite, and oh so witty musings that I will one day post on this blog that people will be impressed with.

I have a long post, which I intend to finish soon, on the state of pop music in Bangladesh. But until then, I thought I'd post on some contemporary news. Pitchfork recently reported that the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor may have broken up. I know in the real world, a band possibly breaking up is not big news, but it is big news when the band in question is Godspeed. I would guess that if I had to name my favorite musical act from the past ten years, Godspeed would be a contender for the top spot.

Rock critics like to call Godspeed "post-rock" but such a reductive (and silly) term does them no justice. Nay, Godspeed's music is the music God might make had God been a bunch of hairy anarchists from Canada. So...Godspeed are a band based on Montreal, more of a collective than a band, a band that resolutely rejects the notion of leaders, individuals, entertainment personalities, and the often absurd travails of modern day musical (conspicuous) consumption. They are anarchists (!) who put their money where their mouth(s) are. The band gives almost no interviews, claims it has no 'leaders,' self-releases their own records, never signed with a major label, organizes their tours themselves, etc. etc. They are political. Not political in the U2 sense of the word--preachy, contrived, and self-righteous--but political in the most personal levels possible. Their music has no lyrics, although frequently, the music is interspersed with spoken word samples that hint at a kind of personal dissafectation with modern day capitalism. But all of this, on some level, is irrelevant.

The main thing is the music. The music combines absurd beauty with galactic-levels of sadness. As a working orchestra (of usually nine or so people), they play ensemble music, each "song" lasting between 15 and 25 minutes. Each track is divided into movements, much like classical music. The instruments are basically guitar, bass, drum, violins, french horns, electronics, vocals, etc. With these instruments, they produce a music that can be as silent as paper clips dropping on the floor-- or raging jet engines in your face....suffused with a sheer and utter melancholia that is both helpless and hopeful at the same time. Once, while listening to a Godspeed track, all that was going through my mind was the following imaginary title, perhaps thought of by a vagabond on a street: "The Incredibly Small Dot That I Am At The Very Bottom of the Giant Fucking Ocean That We Call Pacific Thousands of Miles From Anywhere in a Bottomless Expanse of Infinite Sadness That Cannot Be Described in Words But Is Lived Constantly In My Daily Life."

Their music traffics in the same kind of dynamics of melancholia purveyed by three other favorite bands of mine: Mogwai, Sigur Ros, and Explosions in the Sky. But unlike these three, Godspeed sounds ragged, almost improvised, and undeniably serious. And fucking glorious. And where all three of these other bands have their moments of brilliance and stomach-churning melancholia, Godspeed makes you viscerally disconnect from people around you. You might never want to feel like that, which is fine. Godspeed's music is not for everyone. It is an acquired taste. It is a soundtrack for the moments that make us uncomfortable with our lives. It is the music of discomfort, of strangeness, of incoherence and yes, even of coherence. It is a music of contradictions. I think the closest classical comparison would be Henryk Gorecki, whose Symphony No. 3 probably can conjure the same emotions in even the coldest and most alienated human being. (More on that in another entry).

Godspeed You! Black Emperor (they used to be Godspeed You Black Emperor!) has released one e.p. and three full length albums. Their second album, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, is a brilliant double album, one of my favorite albums of the past one million years. Released in 2000, it has four long pieces ("Storm," "Static," "Sleep," and "Antennas to Heaven") that will bring you to your knees. I guarantee it. "Sleep" especially is Godawfully beautiful, beginning with a wonderful monologue by an older gentleman, someone who is remembering, haltingly remembering, his time as a young man on Coney Island, about the times when they slept on the beach as young men. Now they no longer sleep on the beach anymore. It's never explained why. But a mournful music begins that takes you on three different movements for about 23 minutes before moving into "Antennas to Heaven," which itself is nearly 19 minutes long. Not at all dirgelike.

I saw Godspeed in April 2003 at Warsaw (the Polish National Home) in Brooklyn. They were touring in support of their final album Yanqui U.X.O. which, although not as good as its predecessor, contained "Motherfucker=Redeemer" (in two parts), the first part of which is a roller coaster of riffs, notes, crescendos that left me breathless as I watched it in concert. Beginning with the soft notes of a xylophone, the music lifted the crowd off the ground, made us take deep deep breaths, made us gasp for air as it headed to its strange conclusion of echoes and guitars ringing through the hall. One of their best pieces of music.

I'm glad I saw them since it looks they won't ever be touring again. It was such a beautiful show. I was mesmerized, almost brought the point of tears. Their shows were not just musical affairs, but also fully realized visual extravaganzas, with movies projected on the band and on to the background, vaguely political moving images from history. Their political message can be seen on one level as hopeless and cynical -- after all according to Godspeed the world is fucked. Profoundly fucked. So it was comforting, almost revelatory to see the band end their show with words of hope ("Hope") flashed on the background, as they convened one last time to play a lovely lullabye piece (called "Outro") that was almost playful, fun, and happy (yes, happy) in its tone. The band smiled throughout this last piece, enjoying each other's company, ended the beautiful piece, stood up, clapped, waved, and were gone.

While Godspeed You! Black Emperor may not exist anymore, several of its band members have gone on to other bands, notably Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band who are still around (in fact, they have a new album coming out soon). There's a very evocative review of a Silver Mt. Zion album (Horses in the Sky) which briefly mentions their earlier classic album He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corner of Our Rooms... It's worth a read.

Here's an amateur video of "Albanian" by Godspeed, an unreleased track that they played live on their 2003 tour.

And here's another one from the same tour of them doing a portion of the first song ("Storm") off of Lift Your Skinny Fists. Neither of the videos do remote justice to their music or their live showa but they do provide a sense of the ensemble nature of their work.

Finally, although "Outro" (the almost "happy" track that they ended their shows with) was never released on an official Godspeed album, it is featured in a compilation CD released by Constellation records entitled Song of the Silent Land. The CD is worth getting. In case you're interested, I've posted an mp3 of "Outro" here. A little bit of an acquired taste, but still very cool.

See you later.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Outro [mp3]