Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

(cross posted at, click on the cover to listen to the album at, where available)

Lists like these are intrinsically flawed. There are records you might love fiercely for a month, a week, a day and then you won't care about again. I felt that way about Animal Collective and Dirty Projectors. There are things that never really grab you the way they seemed to grab a lot of other people – see Phoenix and Grizzly Bear. There are things you really want to like more than you do (Mos Def and Flaming Lips). There are classic artists that did fine records but not great ones (Dylan, Springsteen, Costello). How do you boil down a year of listening? If I went by statistics, my favorite music of 2009 was that of a pretentious college student in 1973. If I factored popular appeal into the equation, I'd be telling you that the Lady Gaga record is better than you think. It is definitely better than I thought it would be.

My strategy toward this list was as follows: What records from this year did I find myself going back to throughout the year? What got stuck in my head? What made me push away from what I was doing and actually focus on the sounds and the words, go into that music tunnel for a while? These are the albums I came up with.

10. Los Amigos Invisibles—Commercial
Disco funk bands were a dime a dozen in 2009, but nary a Williamsburg party boy can touch the boogie-down mastery of Venezuela's Los Amigos Invisbles. Commercial is a brazen title for an album that is exactly that, landing like a mirror-ball meteor on all that heard it.

9. Generationals—Con Law
It's not often a regional record latches onto me the way Con Law did. On more than one occasion, I'd have a sing-song melody—unabashed pop laced with a twinge of melancholy or disaffectedness—cycling in my head. I would scour my iTunes library for it to no avail, only to dial up Generationals and find it again. I don't mean to say this is the sort of quality records to which local pop acts should aspire; it's the kind of thing to which all pop acts should aspire.

8. Vic Chesnutt—At the Cut
At the Cut was already on my list before Mr. Chesnutt's sad passing at Christmas, but I wondered if I still felt the same way about it after. Like most Vic Chesnutt records, the world gives way as his songs unfold out of the speakers, those portraits of vulnerability, bravery and emotional openness. You are tempted to read the recent music of a suicide as a farewell note, but At the Cut is anything but. It's the warm manifestation of the same struggle to live that we all feel.

7. Mt. Eerie—Wind's Poem
I feel for teenage loners even though I no longer am one. It's what I find appealing about metal; that abrasive isolation creates warmth into the microcosm of music. Mt. Eerie is not a metal act by anyone's definition, but Wind's Poem does have its juggernaut moments of roaring noise. The real powerful thing on the record though, is the delicacy of the voice. Listening to this album is a little like experiencing Michael Cera's darkest night of the soul: sweet, maybe a little cloying at times, but ultimately heartbreaking and life-affirming stuff.

6. Camera Obscura—My Maudlin Career
"French Navy" is hands down my favorite single of the year. It is classic Phil Spector girl-group splendor from the drum crack to the ooh-ooh's. But man, it is good, and the rest of the record maintains that momentum. I defy anyone's heart to not beat in unison with this Scottish band's starstruck litany of heartbreaks and dust-offs. It's not the kind of record that makes you think or pause, it's the kind of record that makes you go ooooooh with the things that it doooooo….

5. Tortoise—Beacons of Ancestorship
Y'know, I looked for a jazz record that I could really latch onto and couldn't find one, so this album of exquisite fake jazz will have to do. Tortoise plays to all of their strengths on Beacons of Ancestorship: they lock into geosynchronous orbits, they blast off on fusion tangents and they construct elaborate scaffolding on which they hang large swaths of sumptuous color. It's one of the most immediately appealing records of their career and one of the smartest.

4. The Black Crowes—Before the Frost/Until the Freeze
No record of 2009 surprised me as much as this one. I anticipated the congenial stoner rock that I've come to expect from the Robinson brothers, but what I got was an encyclopedia of ballads, folk melodies, blazing rockers, hell, even a convincing disco number, all recorded before an intimate audience in Levon Helm's barn. It is what I wish every giant band would do once in a while; instead of meticulously making a Faberge egg, make one gigantic juicy omelet with all the ingredients you have. Everybody likes a good omelet.

3. Yo La Tengo—Popular Songs
I know plenty of people who see the cuddly-meets-edgy fuzzed melodies of Yo La Tengo as a blueprint for living, a model for being both hip and down-to-earth. The Hoboken trio walks the middle path between the two on the aptly named Popular Songs, getting their orchestral Led Zeppelin side out one minute, an R&B vamp the next, buffeted by songs that make you wanna break out the skateboard or have a picnic or just enjoy the world like those happy carefree people in the commercials are always doing.

2. Wilco—Wilco (the Album)
I recognize I am squarely in Wilco's demographic: older, white, male, a dad, music snob, has a guitar or three but can't really play them. Maybe most important to that Wilco demographic is the resistance to being demographed. I tried to pick this record apart, and still the songs and the sound were stellar. Jeff Tweedy sounds in union with his band, pushing whatever rock traditions that got him here into new territory.

1. Bill Callahan—Sometimes I Wish I Were an Eagle
There are records full of great songs and great playing and then there are records written like a spellbinding novel, where you are not sure how all of this is going to tie together but the way it progresses compels you to the end, and that end leaves you breathless. Bill Callahan's Sometimes I Wish I Were an Eagle is one of those records. "Too Many Birds," a masterfully built song, a simple structure of building up a message word by word until it reveals a gigantic message that you somehow didn't see coming, serves somewhat as a central post on which this magnificent record hinges. It swings in weird directions at times but hang on, because the ride will be worth it when it's over.

Click here for the original with local events calendar

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Terry's process


This is a picture of my friend Terry taking a picture of something on his phone that he wanted to remember. I would question this as a viable means to record something if it was anyone else, but in my experience it is wisest to let Terry's process play out, because it tends to reveal the greater truths. For instance, the thing he is trying to remember is the name of Howard Buechner, an author that deals in the mystical side of the Nazis (a shared interest of Terry's) and in particular, his book Emerald Cup Ark of Gold: Quest of SS Lieutenant Otto Rahn. Terry reads obscure shit like that. And everything else.

Rahn was a gay German medivialist who under the auspices of the SS went to France to search for the Holy Grail, according to wiki, "he was assigned guard duty at the Dachau concentration camp in 1937 as punishment for a drunken homosexual scrape." He resigned from the SS in 1939 and died that year, freezing to death on a mountain in Austria. Rahn is widely considered to be the inspiration for Indiana Jones (see this book) though neither Lucas nor Spielberg have ever directly indicated such.

Terry and I became friends because our daughters are friends and after this prolonged tale of Nazis and Indiana Jones, I got up to check on our daughters who were playing in the back of the coffee shop. Maya was pretending to crack a whip and informed me, ignorant of the discussion happening across the room, that they were playing Indiana Jones. So glad they weren't "playing Nazis." This is precisely why when Terry is taking a picture of something on his phone, I let him, because with these seemingly foolish actions, the veil over the skeleton of the universe flutters for minute, and interesting things happen.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I'm not listening to Kraftwerk...


...though this tidy array of Kraftwerk vinyl I spied at the Compact Disc Store almost makes me want to rejoin the scratch-a-needle-on-polycarbonate cult again. I read an account from a critic that went to an audiophile's loft once and listened to Autobahn on a 5-digit turntable through just as pricey speakers and said it was the most beuatiful thing he'd ever heard. But I am not listening to Kraftwerk now. I am listening to

Hasidic New Wave - Live in Cracow (listen)

Some klezmer-meets-jazz-meets-racket psychedelic Matzoh ball jamz I saw up at the record store. This stuff has my number - it's like a cross-culture sampling of teenage boys jittering their legs against the same massive table until everything rattles and eventually falls to the floor. I saw two CD's by them but didn't buy them. Instead, I bought

Jim O'Rourke - The Visitor

As I sit here and wait for my computer to import it in more time than it would take for me to one-click download it, I wonder what's the point? Physical media is so cumbersome to me now. I gotta go see if you have it and then pay more for it and then carry it home and then sit by a special machine to play it? I'm not even factoring in the specialness of playing a vinyl record - careful don't bump it or the thing is ruined forever. Ahhh! get on with it, y'all!

But then in the course of all this, I just got a handwritten letter from an friend saying he and his wife are having a baby in a couple of months. Happy news, and take your time!

Jim O'Rourke takes his time moving from theme to theme in this 38-minute piece, lilting ans swaying in the breeze like a funk-free Return to Forever, and lovely as that experience it may be, it left me thirsty for the full thing so I leapt into

Return to Forever - Romantic Warrior

which is a bit much but then it's all a bit much when you think about it. And as much as we wanna burble down the Autobahn, single minded about going fast and forward, the reality is that you gotta have yr swing ready.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Gregor Schneider

I've been trying to remember his name for weeks now and it just hit me. Gregor Schneider is an installation artist of sorts whose major work is Haus UR, a perpetual reworking of his house in Rheydt, Germany. He would create new rooms within rooms, brick up windows, make traps and hidden doors, and then these would be carefully excised from the house and set up in galleries and museums. I went in one once, called something like "guest room" which was a concrete and wood cell with a rough cot and a door without a handle on the inside. Even though it was in a museum exhibition, you got the distinct feeling that if that door closed behind you, you would be trapped in there forever.

Here! take a tour!

"White Torture"

"Bondi Beach"

what the wheelbarrow was telling me


Julian Cope - Autogeddon
Billy Squier - "Everybody Wants You"
Julian Cope - Julian Cope presents '20 Mothers' (listen)

Is there any significance that can be gleaned from coming across a broken wheelbarrow while listening to a song called "Wheelbarrow Man" and carrying one too many bags of groceries? I've been watching an awful lot of Criminal Minds lately (Did they finally run out of Law & Order's?) and something like this usually leads to the solution of the case, only to be capped off by a tidy quote.

Right before it happened, I experienced an unusual urge to hear "Everybody Wants You" right then, and the reason I have an iPhone and Rhapsody and all is so I can set my groceries down right there on the bike path and address that need.

You'd think Billy Squier was all 'bout the riff, but a wordy dude lurks behind that little Stratocaster strut of his.
Say goodbye to conventional ways
You can't escape the hours, you lose track of the days
The more you understand, seems the more like you do
Maybe what the wheelbarrow was telling me that I need to focus less on my usual (escape) route: the obscurities (like the semi-gibberish of both of these wonderful Julian Cope records) and embrace the mundane, carry my shit down the middle path. The more you understand, seems the more like you do. Except that I don't understand.

Or maybe, maybe it just meant I was carrying too much and I could've used a wheelbarrow, man.


This has nothing to do with the wheelbarrow: I had the Creole Grits and Grillades - sour cream and cheese grits and succulent pot roast topped with a line of fresh tomatoes - from the brunch menu of Bistro Byronz, and it's just the best idea.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

crazy bastards


Vic Chesnutt - Silver Lake (listen)
Lady Gaga - The Fame Monster (listen)
Julian Cope - Jehovahkill (listen)
Roky Erickson on Austin City Limits

My world is peopled by crazy bastards, the sort that on paper may seem difficult, egregious, self-centered, occasionally horrible even. I am open to the possibility that I am one of those people, and if I am, I hope I share those people's secondary trait; that they reveal moments of glimmering, radiant warmth that for a moment blaze out of the cracks in their impenetrability and intractability, and it is in that light you can see things that you can't otherwise see. If you recognize yourself in that description, know that I appreciate you, crazy bastard that you are.

I've been a little more worked up about Vic Chesnutt's death than I've a right to be. I've been a fan for years. I've written about him. I did talk to him once, but only briefly. That night I talked to someone in his touring band about him more extensively and intimately, and maybe that's how you process the crazy bastards, through secondary channels, via contact highs. Or mirrors. Or records. Or whatever. It's the only way we can deal with him now, I guess. His family can use some help if you've got something to spare.

A friend of mine that lived in Athens back in the day saw the news in the NYTimes this morning. "Man! I went to see Night of the Iguana with Vic Chesnutt."

Speaking of crazy bastards, I found out that three of Julian Cope's finest albums have been reissued. Jehovahkill, an album so slyly weird it mutates on its way down your earhole has with it a bonus record containing a couple of crazy bastard Roky Erickson songs and lo, as I flip channels and look across my TV and laptop and phone lit up against the dark like all those TV's Roky would have going at once in his house, goddamn Roky Erickson is on Austin City Limits. Like right now. I see Billy Gibbons in the band, and, oh hey, OG Baton Rouge dude Jon Sanchez too. I particularly like seeing his crazy words rip out in the closed captions, the odd comfort the fortuitous, one-sided conversation with a crazy bastard can yield.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Vic Chesnutt

Oh, and man, it's hard to know how to feel about this Vic Chesnutt situation. Maybe relief is all he wanted. "Vesuvius" is one of my favorite Vic Chesnutt songs, with the thunderclap of a line "Christian charity is a doily over my death boner." It may seem in poor taste to bring up such an image in such a context on such a day - I decided against making it my Facebook status, for what that's worth - but it is exactly that kind of uneasy place that Vic delighted in taking us, so there.

I took the above picture of Vic when he performed here in Baton Rouge to about 10 people on Halloween night in 2008. I bought him that very beer that requested "to wet his whistle." At the end of the night, I thanked him for coming, and he said in a high, fluttery, sage way that (paraphrasing) it was his wish that all people everywhere get everything they want in this world.

Get better, Vic, and I'll let you figure out what better is.

another green world


The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (
Art Brut - Art Brut vs. Satan (listen)
Brian Eno - Another Green World (listen)

I am thrilled to announce that as of this Christmas Maya has entered her LEGO period, which means I get to enter my second LEGO period. At a last-minute stab, I went to Toys-R-Us at 6:30 last night, even ignoring the signs the universe was sending by making me forget my wallet the first time, to purchase some LEGO's for under the tree. I did manage to find a tub of standard building blocks, but really, LEGO's are all about kits now which I thought at first to be disappointing. The truth in LEGO's is to constrict your own boxy, pixellated reality of spaceships and buildings and whatever, but, the Spirit of Holiday Spending caught me in its grip and I got this!

The Star Wars Battle of Endor set. What you cannot see in this photo is the intricate gearbox in the At-At or the elaborate detail of the forest speeders or the detail in the working catapult. We haven't even attempted the building yet, which probably has running water and a plumbing system elaborate enough to handle the Rebel Alliance's needs during the blackout periods, you know, when the Death Star rounds the planet, and all. Seriously, LEGO's are another green world away from the flat green sheet and rainbows of 4x4 and 2x4 bricks that I remember.

Evidence of the recession could be found in the absence of everyone while we were milling about yesterday. We all have a touch of bubonic plague from contact with The Mouse, so there was trepidation in venturing out, but dude, it was like Night of the Comet out there. We went to see the fantastically grim and operatic Disney's A Christmas Carol and were the only ones in the theater except for a suspect sextet of 20yo men three rows back. I say suspect because, er, we are y'all not at Avatar instead of creeping me out and making me feel like a youth-fearing Ebenezer.

It did strike me that Scrooge's diatribe against the poor from the beginning of the tale, when the charities come ringing, closely mirrored the rhetoric of the very neocon forces that got us into this economic mess. It would have been a coup of the greatest irony if they'd convinced Glenn Beck or somebody like that to voice the roll instead of Jim Carrey.

On another board I frequent (albeit less frequently), some wog was echoing the bent-out shape of such pundits in regards to the Warhol Mao that some designer slipped into an ornament on the White House tree.

As pinko leaning as I may be, I am not going to defend the Chairman's record, but y'all, "Mao" is not Mao, and icons are not the real thing, and we do not have a Communist or Socialist government just because the insurance complex that you free market lovers created has necessitated our feral experiment to act as a civilized nation and let the poor see doctors, and just because a conclusion can be jumped to with your limited vaulting skills does not mean you need to go there. Whew! Glad that's settled!

I am giddy from the crashing shuffle of LEGO's in the other end of the house. That is the sound of building things, of progress, of not playing games, of building a world of one's own design like the human spirit demands. I am like the Art Brut dude with his comic books and milkshakes about it. It never gets old. Merry Christmas and may the Force be with you!

Monday, December 21, 2009

get down polyester

Disney World reminds me that I don't understand money. Not real money, money of scale. Everything here makes me wonder: is this really necessary? All of this?

I don't mean that in an existential sense; Disney completes a weird but crucial part of what America sees in the mirror when she brushes her teeth, nor do I mean the shocking OCD with which Big Mouse does everything. They know their shit at such a deep level that most of the skits are engineered so that they appear to be flying by the seat of their brass buttoned red pants, just to inject some humanity into the machine it has become, or perhaps, that we ask it to be.

Maybe that's why I have been itching for a Mickey Mouse watch the whole time I was here, besides the fact that this place will make the sorest miser wanna spend some money: they get organization like I never will, and money is just a manifestation of that organization.

For instance, they figured that our resort, one of the cheaper ones, would be best festooned with catch phrases from various decades, as seen from the oversize foosball court in the above photo. Or that a mammoth theatre like this

is best utilized to run the same hyper-elaborated Indiana Jones show, re enacting the stunts from movies etched in all our brains and going into a ton of industry minutiae about how these stunts are done. For a place that puts so much stock in magic, they sure do like to take us backstage a lot.

Is that the passive-agressive truth of American culture? Does it only count if everyone knows how hard we've worked and are working and will continue to work? Is that how The Man (Mouse) likes it?

I dunno. All I do know is the despite being dog tired from walking the contours of the dramas surrounding the meta-dramas that distracted me from the big messages here, I still love it. I love the big stupid yo-yo that comprises our hotel stairwell

as well as the giant 8-track tape that I see from it

I love the fireworks over the castle even when it becomes an eye looking down upon us all, like a real life Sauron,

And I get that they are making me love it through years of grooming. I like to think I'm the type of guy that resists such programming but there I was in line to see one well-oiled fake fiasco after another with thousands of other suckers, cheery and wide-eyed. It wasn't until the late bus ride back that we were tempted to knife a bitch who was wound up and accused us of cutting in the final line of the day. Lady, don't get yr polyester in a bundle, the Mouse has a plan for each of us. Get down with it or get out.

Also: it should be noted that the Osbourne Family light show a Hollywood Studios is straight up unironic Xmas magic, fake bubble snow and all. Ho ho ho, y'all!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

executed with love

I love Magic Kingdom. I epescially love "It's a Small World" pictured above. My favorite thing at Magic Kingdom is "Peter Pan's Flight" and had we not given up on the line, I'd be talking about it instead. But IASW much like all of Disney World (and perhaps by extension, Florida) is such a weird idea executed with a love that you don't put into normal ideas.

My wife is a master Disney strategist; we get there in time to see the morning show when Mickey's steam train of joy comes 'round the bend, and in doing so, rode Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Pirates, Jungle Cruise and probably something else with hardly a line. We only gave up on the Lost Boys when everybody else showed up. My daughter's brio gave out midway through Space Mountain, which throws you around in the dark in a manner similar to a Mafia kidnapping, but otherwise we are all maintaining.

Speaking of Mafia kidnappings, we got a free rental care upgrade to a Chrysler 300 which has, among other amenities, a latch for letting yourself out of the trunk should you fond yourself therein placed. When I win the lotto or get that lucrative book deal, I am gonna stroll all big money into the dealership and bemuse "...but does it have a kidnapping latch?" as I peruse the upscale vehicles. Mileage, comfort, carbon tireprint, yadda yadda. I need to know I can get out if the shit goes down! It's indeed a small world and you never know when things are gonna get ugly.

A woman on the shuttle bus last night was barking (one of those impossibly loud Midwestern women who was taght to speak by emulating a bike horn) about this and that being part of Walt's original plan. I doubt kidnapping preparedness was the kernel behind "It's a Small World" in fact I think just the opposite. And I'm not much of a beliver in anyone's "plan." I just know that the weirdest idea for amusement is even more weirdly the least popular thing in the most popular place for amusement on Earth and I was just there, and it makes me love it more. And you. And everyone.

Friday, December 18, 2009

happy holidays from twitty city

From this eBay auction item

Conway Twitty - 25 #1's (listen)

My daughter excitedly told me yesterday afternoon that she found a great new radio station on her stereo and that it just played "Jingle Bell Rock." I assumed it was the whoever becomes the Christmas station this time of year, but no! It was Country Legends 107.5 and she spent the early evening extolling its virtues, doing improvised railroad handtruck-style dances to Eddie Rabbit and the Pleadin' Cheatin' Deflowerer King of All Country Legends Conway Twitty, pictured above before his ultimate vacation destination Twitty City.

No hard sell is required here. The sound of my childhood up to about 1983 was pretty much 80% Country Legends. I know every one of those damn songs. I was really hoping to hear George Burns' fluke country hit "I Wish I was 18 Again" - that was a huge at the country station in Houma back then, but man, Conway Twitty will do.

Twitty City was renowned for its Xmas decorations in its day, and that seems an appropriate segue to announcing that we are headed to see those decorating the happiest place on Earth, the place you go after winning the goddamn Super Bowl, the vast and shimmering sepulcher of the frozen head of Uncle Walt in a few hours, and to all you diligent readers, I wish you a happy holiday if I don't report back before the fat man gets all up in yr chimney. And, I'm sorry, Loretta...

Edited to add: This might be my favorite Conway song.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

sustain you


The Drams - Jubilee Dive (listen)

My wife and I ate lunch at Zeeland Street Market, purveyors of the best plate lunches in the known lunch universe. I had the pot roast (left) which I would normally proclaim as the finest thing there is to eat, but Jerri got the smothered chicken plate (right). If the pot roast is gazing surreptitiously at a beautiful woman; the smothered chicken is discovering that you can see into the cheerleaders' locker room from where you are sitting. Either is the kind of thing that can sustain you in the cold months.

the alchemy changes with the gear


Gregory Alan Isakov - That Sea, the Gambler (listen)
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Beware
Etienne Jaumet - Night Music (listen)

That Isakov kid is good. His songs are painted in the same rainbow of woody-to-amber browns that is my life, a music barely audible and a singing lilt that sounds like he just cleared his throat because he has a point. His song titles are enigmatic, and I like that. I suppose his words are too but I'm really too busy listing to how he sings them to hear what they say. Don't get me wrong, this is straight up coffee house music, plausibly engineered to compete passively (and a little aggressively) with clanking cups, offering a soft counterpoint to the complicated coffee orders of assholes overspending their way into a momentary Bohemia, and that last bit of that last song disappears like the last sip - a little strong and a little cold - and you look for the first time into the cup and see that it's gone.

I just listened to it a second time while fiddling with my speaker arrangement, if that indicates what kind of record it is. With advisement of the sound-system mind of technical men in their twenties - I once was one of those once but the alchemy changes with the gear - my speakers are now elevated on stacks of promo CD's (finally, a use!) in a Buckminster Fuller triangle with my ears and the boxy subwoofer device is pushed up against my desk to make my whole world rattle with Billy's country upright bass player, as the Lord ordained. It makes my plywood world ring like burled maple. The more I feel myself, the more you're close to me, the old boy sings. I've never even heard that trumpet before!

Also, tony ambient techno is the finest music to which one can go pick up a check. Merci, Etienne! and those with checks to be picked up!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ol' Crusty nailed it


Atlas Sound - Logos (listen)
A crusty runaway-type playing a legitimately heartwarming minor key banjo version of "You Are My Sunshine" on the sidewalk by the coffee shop.
Gergory Alan Isakov - This Empty Northern Hemisphere (listen)

"You Are My Sunshine" is everywhere in Louisiana. It became our state song in 1977 in recognition of it having been a 1940 hit for Jimmie Davis who was the state's famed singing governor in the 60's. Got that? Out on the sidewalk, Ol' Crusty nailed it, and if my phone had video that is what you'd be seeing instead of the push-me-pull-you of the stairwell. That Atlas Sound record is a lovely thing, really and truly, but it and everything else is eclipsed by the rolling thunder of Gregory Alan Isakov, of whom I have just heard but am now an ardent fan. So hard to get heartfelt right without blowing it, maybe because the heart actually doesn't feel anything, it just keeps pumping away until it doesn't and I'd like to keep it doing so for as long as possible, which is why I take the stairs.

That, and I'm only on the second floor and the elevators are totally scary even if I wasn't; the cleaning crews will put their gear in the elevator, press the button and then race up the stairs to meet it on the next floor for legitimate fear of being trapped inside.

I wasn't gonna do a decade list but I just thought of one on my walk, so yeah, coming soon. Those who know me are not going to be surprised in the least as to what is on it.

context sensitive


Final Fantasy - Live 12/1/2009, Webster Hall, New York City (via nyctaper)
The Sex Pistols - Live 7/9/1978, the Kingfish, Baton Rouge (via here)

I've been feeling a little squirrelly about the blog format, among other things so change it up. Instead of a dull row of album covers, here is a context sensitive photo of the the speaker on which I heard the Final Fantasy live concert. Expect a lot of architectural details of my office, what I ate for lunch, and campus scenes in the posts to come.

I like the idea of what Owen "Final Fantasy" Pallett* does immensely, accompanying himself on looped and manipulated violin, building marvels out of impeccable timing, but on record anyway, I like how Theresa Anderssen and Andrew Bird do it better. But there is something very, very real about naming your adult act for a video game; it honors who you really are and thus, I am swayed by how this manifests in a live setting on this recording. I imagine I'd be straight smitten were I there.

Ditto for the Sex Pistols, when they made a Baton Rouge pitstop during their first American tour three years before I moved to Louisiana and a decade before I started my extended pitstop here. I've heard from a few people that were there that it was a pivotal moment for them but frankly I always sorta doubted those claims. I always thought the Sex Pistols were more the idea than the reality, but these live recordings offer up the OG sons of anarchy as a crack bar band. Listen for yourself.

The Kingfish was in a shopping center that now hosts a Mary Lee's donut shop advertising pigs in a blanket from a spectacular homemade poster. If I had an image of that sign, it would be illustrating this post. I am stuffed to the gills form my work lunch but the thought of it (the sign more than the product) made me want a pig in a blanket. See, I already like this blogging style.

* Sticking to accepted superhero secret identity nomenclature. Back in the day when I tried to emulate my favorite comics with transparent variations (not unlike the tack my writing has taken in adulthood) I would get it backwards: Green "Hal Jordan" lantern, which worked fine until I created a husband and wife superhero team Warrior and Warrion. I decided that their identities would be kept secret, even from the reader, and gave every new character a two part name from there on out.**

** I might start dicking around with footnotes too. Consider yourself warned. I will maintain tagging 99% of my posts "today's soundtrack" for reasons that I dare not explore too deeply.

[The Record Crate] Playing Favorites

The pressure is on this time of year for anyone who writes about music or movies or books; the public is clamoring for the annual top ten lists. This year is particularly tough because there are also end of the decade lists to make as well, and with that comes the gamble: will I like a year from now anything I liked this year.

I haven’t done my lists yet, but there are a couple entries that I can preview. For the albums of 2009, one of my favorites is Sometimes I Wish I Were an Eagle by Bill Callahan. I interviewed Mr. Callahan back in 2008 just as he was emerging from his Smog moniker with a new confidence. This second album under his own name finds the singer a little I the weeds, at a loss at how to deal with the complexity of opening oneself to the world, but in that loss, he finds himself. I know that sounds elliptical and a little pretentious, and frankly so is this record, but man, it is wonderfully so. Come run through the wilderness with the guy that made one of this year’s best albums on Friday at Spanish Moon, won’t you?

As for local record labels, no one can touch the inaugural year of Phantom Party Records with Cohen & the Ghost and Prom Date heading up their scrappy roster. The label is celebrating with a Christmas party at the Varsity with Norcio and whoever the Mysterious Stranger is on Thursday.

Finally, it is hard to find a band local or not that is having more fun than Lafayette’s Givers who seemed to erupt out of the earth like a rainbow glitter volcano. They went on the road with this year’s critical darlings Dirty Projectors and are coming home for the holidays on Saturday at the Spanish Moon.

The Record Crate will be off next week, compiling those lists and checking them twice, especially the nominees for the hotly contested top 5 Most Intriguing Baton Rouge CD’s of 2009. Stay safe and stay tuned.

Click here for the original with local events calendar

Glenn Danzig: Librarian


Misfits - Walk Among Us (listen) I went to a work holiday party (food from which is pictured above) and came back and that extended special edition Spiritualized album was still on! Endless outtakes and versions like he's Charlie Parker or something. Jeez, y'all, the album is not that good! Jason Pierce with the full weight of the London Community Gospel Choir behind him and Cop Shoot Cop at the controls still can't punch their way through a paper-bag song half as efficiently as can the Misfits, possibly the world's dumbest band. Just like on that trippy Rudolph special, the misfits save the day.

Remember that time Glenn Danzig showed us his personal library? "...and bluh-bluh-bluh-bluh and anyway, Jesus (slam dunk motion) killed the kid." Book TV would pull in some Bravo-style numbers were they to put this show on just as it is, no shirt, candles and all. Forget Steven Seagal: Lawman, I want Glenn Danzig: Librarian.

touch the meat

Can - Out of Reach (listen)
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - The Doldrums (listen)
Animal Collective - Fall Be Kind (listen)
Bruce Gilbert (of Wire) - This Way (listen)
Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (listen)

I hooked up the computer speakers in the new improved music room, like across the room from where you are sitting where speakers are supposed to be so they can activate the air, kinda how a barbecue's flame doesn't really touch the meat but touches the air that touches the meat and was astounded at how good it sounded. I listen to so much music in iPhone headphones and the crap freebie speakers on my desk at work that I forgot, and now I want to embark on an audio system arrangement project. Make. Everything. Vibrant. And. Beautiful.

In fact, hold up a second....

... OK, I moved the office speakers around a little and bang! Even the crap-ass recording style of Ariel Pink sounded like a flower bursting up through soil right before me.

Sometimes, it takes so little effort to set things right. A little shift here, a thoughtful gesture there. I contend that if you spend you life trying to get everything right, your life will be just that, spent, but the little gestures are the true meaning of investment. That is probably a valuable lesson with which to cap off a year.

Edited to add: I just removed that stupid horizontal desk drawer that my knees brush against all day every day and now I feel like I'm floating in space!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

going into metaphor shock

Benny Sings - Benny...At Home I don't know what is ironic and what isn't anymore, that is how tenuous my grasp on the zeitgeist is, so I cannot comment with clarity on that busted ass cover and album title (from 2007), but Benny brews a mean kettle of deconstructed slo-jam groove ala D'Angelo with nary a trace of menace; or, how a Fraggle softcore soundtrack might sound. The reviewer Justin Farrar nails it with "Prince meets Gilbert O'Sullivan." It's like he started the album out in Pro-Tools but finished it up on a manual typewriter. Great stuff. I'm going into metaphor shock trying to describe it.

I doubt this is the official video for the gray-day-defiant "Coconut" but then, maybe it is. Either way, stupid/brilliant job, y'all.

Prince - Around the World in a Day (listen) Might as well listen to some actual Prince. I'll let you handle the Gilbert O'Sullivan part. One Fourth of July, I drove from Florence, AL to Hunstville, AL at 4AM after driving all day, surviving on this tape and Camel Lights. I slept in the hatchback of my rental car in the parking lot of this mountain campground, only because I was so bleary that I couldn't figure out how to register for a campsite. I had to spiral up and down the mountain twice to even find the place. When the park ranger tapped on my windshield in the morning, I paid the full day admission to take a shower and then drove on to Chattanooga where I met up with a friend and we went to a sketchy drag club, and a woman flashed me on the dance floor. I'm guessing she was a born woman because she was dressed entirely too frumpy to be a drag queen, but I might be upholding an unfair stereotype by saying that. She later left a cigarette on my table, and I smoked it. That's what this album makes me think of.

too late for track suits

Michael Nyman & David McAlmont - The Glare (listen) I just had a great interview with a composer whose work I compared to (among other things) Michael Nyman, best known for the elegant scores for Peter Greenaway movies (where did he go, by the way?) and then had the usual fear of making such comparisons: does the either side of the equations actually sound the way I think he of she sounds? In this case, yes, and it gave me a reason (like I needed one) to catch up on Michael Nyman. The Glare is Nyman's bustling horns-of-activity and his meta-Broadway string section swoonery concentrated to wrap around David McAlmont's lush falsetto like a honeysuckle vine does a garden sculpture. Breathless, sophisticated, soulful stuff. I love when art music people make pop music. They don't exactly make either when they do; they instead make that particular thing that was missing all along.

McAlmont fronted an arty pop combo Thieves in the mid 90's and collaborated with Bernard Butler of Suede, recordings of which I will seek out soon. But really, y'all, The Glare is lovely, lovely music. I tried to listen to Philip Glass' similar Songs from Liquid Days not too long ago and could not really get into it like I once did; the schism between the warm and the cold is too jarring. This is like Prince or Antony Hegarty kicking out the finest MFA recital jamz ever.

My Morning Jacket - Z (listen) Z is a great record, a triumph, but truthfully it is where My Morning jacket and I parted ways. I wanted them to continue to be the rock band that sprouted out of my thoughts instead of becoming the precursor of the Elton John/U2 blockbuster matchup that will eventually open the Harrah's on the moon colony. It was a piece on then in the 2003 Oxford American music issue (did I mention I have a piece in the cur- oh, I did? Sorry, its just that I - OK, I'll shut up) that made me want to write about music on the really real so I felt a little unfounded ownership of the band. I'm largely over all that now, though I can't quite bring myself to put on Evil Urges again. But I probably will since they are up in the high tier of the dizzying JazzFest lineup that just came out, and I'll finally get to see them.

Edited to add: Now that I've listened to it all the way through again, I am an idiot. Z is a masterpiece that holds up to and in some cases, surpasses anything else they've done. I don't know why it took until now for me to realize that.

Damn, "One Big Holiday" off It Still Moves (listen) is about as good as it get though, huh? It's like if turned out that Blue Öyster Cult was a real cult and one evening in the oppressive heat of a Southern August, the world was astounded to witness that indeed a spaceship did arrive to take the faithful on to a higher place. As it lumbered back into the sky, the aliens laughed at the left behind, "Too late for track suits and Kool-Aid now, fuckers!" from massive speakers, and we heard the diligent cult members high-fiving each other in the back ground, all thinking "Sure, they are probably going to probe us, suspend us in glass tanks, and/or throw our bodies from a sliver of a catwalk down one of those impossibly huge exhaust shafts that giant spaceships always have, but man, we were right!"