Friday, February 29, 2008

The Bang on a Can Baton Rouge Marathon was…

sneaky phone shot of the Bang on a Can setup from backstage of the finest concerts I have ever witnessed, all five glorious hours of it. Musicians of the highest caliber, music composed with intricacy and passion, delivered with the perfect balance of wit and reverence. I'm writing up a more formal review of it, so more to come, but suffice to say it was awe inspiring. If you ever get a chance to see one of their marathons, DO IT. I don't know the last time I felt this invigorated the day after a concert, like there is important work to be done.

The added plus was hearing some of the LSU faculty and their genius on the program (some of those guys need to start leaving the recital hall and start showing the common people on how shit gets done…Griff Campbell), getting to meet and talk to Don Byron, and seeing some fellow new music freaks that I haven't seen in years.

If you are not into Iva Bittová, get into her. She's a Romani singer who mixes sensual folk melodies with screeches and bird calls and demonic possession howls, all while grinding away on a fiddle. For art music, it is sexy as hell, and for folk/world music it is, well... still sexy as hell.

Equally or maybe even more sexy was the perfomance by Julliard cellist Victoria Bass whose dramatic rendition of Berio's Sequenza XIV was nothing short of astonishing. She did more with two fingers, while beating on the cello's body with the other hand, than most other bands can do with a full ensemble, looking wilder and scarier than the most monstrous corpsepainted metalhead.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Conservative Egghead Death Vortex

I didn't really have a lot of love for William F. Buckley, Jr. I certainly didn't hate him, and whether you agreed with him or not, his presence added a level of sophistication otherwise absent in the often boorish world of political jabber. You felt he was aristocratic enough to effectively deliver the elitism he espoused. I guess. He had a good run.

The only reason I'm posting about this at all is that this weekend, a number of things made me think of an old college roommate of mine. He and I bonded over an appreciation of obtuse classical music (he was my assistant one semester at the radio station before taking over the classical show on Sundays), and I needed to get out of the apartment I was in, and he needed a roommate fast, so there it was. He was a math major, though I never got the feeling he was a natural at it. He spent hours and hours locked away in his room, tearing away at a blackboard, trying to wrap his mind around advanced topological formulae and whatnot. He did crazy things like ate the same exact sandwich at Blimpie's everyday in an effort to streamline and order things.

He was also a staunch conservative; something else I felt didn't really come natural to him. He had an impossibly rigid life planned out for himself, often recited: undergrad in math at LSU, graduate study at A Good School, professional track position in an engineering firm for a number of years before returning to academia, then marriage, one female child. He had no discernable social life except for the occasional get-together with his almost exclusively gay friends. His passion for high art and culture (from afar - he meticulously kept clippings in binders) didn't really jive with the Good Republican act. Also, his daddy issues were colossal. He spoke of his father in regal terms, referring to him as "my father" in his resonant, formal yet brilliant way of speaking. This led up to everyone in our circle being certain that he was a repressed homosexual but now, I think he just may have been a peculiar guy who people always thought was gay, and like everyone else in their twenties, was latching onto whatever made sense.

William Buckley was the mortar to his loose bricks. He was a hardcore fan, and he read all of his books, and spoke of him as a mythic figure, chuckling over whatever lethal barb ol' Buckley launched at the hapless liberal menace today. To have someone as quippy and fabulous as Buckley on the side of one's professed belief system was probably a real problem solver and a comfort for what seemed to be a soul in conflict. So for that, I'm thankful for William F. Buckley and I hope that old roommate found what he was looking for.

Outsideleft: Bon Iver, Over the Breakup and Through the Woods

Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago

Postmodernism describes our current state of living in that it doesn’t describe much. No perceivable hierarchy, quick easy interbreeding among the animals now freed from their hierarchical pens, all the offspring of those couplings developing a homogenous patina – acting, looking, smelling, becoming the same. It’s a little depressing actually; it implies there are no more heroes and thereby no more heroic gestures to be made. It makes the image of a giant cultural machine eating from tubes into which it itself on the other end.

Fortunately, the organic mess of life has little time for theory and instead seeks scratches for the itches and lately, there has been an itch for something melodious and organic (but not too organic) infecting the masses. The scratcher has taken on many a post-folk form, from the fishtank burble of Brightblack Morning Light to the soft gallop of Iron & Wine to the lock-groove Kundalini patter with which Panda Bear charmed everyone last year. Generally, I am for it; it picks and chooses from the finest portions of a million things: Brian Wilson’s harmonies, Arlo Guthrie’s ramble, Stevie Wonder’s sense of sound, and produces something from it that is joyous enough in its own amalgamation that dissecting it for its origins becomes a fruitless, boring activity. It is music that dares to be pleasing.

Bon Iver is the latest player in this game, flowing in on a soft breeze that blows the scorecards out of the spectators’ hands. For Emma, Forever Ago is, at first whisper, a quiet, unassuming, lovely record. Justin Vernon is the baker of this confection that is Bon Iver (purposefully misspelled French for “good writer”.) The word has it is he holed up in a Wisconsin cabin with an axe for firewood, a freshly dissolved relationship for inspiration, a guitar and a portable studio for the music-making, and this record bears traces of it. The harmonies are built of choirs of Vernon’s earthy falsetto, hanging on to the skeletal guitar figures like leaves suspended by spiderwebs.

Like the landscape in the woods, things get intricate on For Emma, Forever Ago when you move in for a closer look. “For Emma” has a horn section that sounds like a far-off loon, “Lump Sum” starts with an almost Gregorian duplicity of the voice easing into a rather spritely folk melody. This album has texture down pat, but nowadays, any yahoo with a laptop can build up afghans of sound as deep as they want. What fundamentally makes this stick out is the songs that emerge after some focused inspection. Read more...

Really Listening: Brew Ha-Ha's Songwriter Spotlight Sunday

Doc McCutchan at Brew-Ha-Ha, January 2008. Click the image to see more.

(Check out my recently renamed column on Country Roads' recently designed website)

Why does the forum in which music is played shape how we take it in? Really, it is all vibrations moving through the dust and air pockets until it rattles our eardrums, whether it is created by a lone guitarist or a full marching band. Great songs come in all forms but to me, there is just something about a singer-songwriter performing his or her material alone. When a songwriter is accompanied only by the instrument he holds in his hands, there is a synergistic reaction; the coupling becomes larger than just a singer and instrument. The song has a sharper edge without all the adornments; allowing it to wedge right into you, where a richer orchestration tends to surround you.

For as intrinsically musical a place as is Louisiana, Baton Rouge doesn’t have as strong a singer-songwriter contingent as other musical cities, but Dorothy LeBlanc is making great steps to rectify the situation. As a children’s musician and member of The Buskers, she has taken up musical residency at Brew-Ha-Ha, a locally owned coffee shop on Jefferson Highway near Government Street. A month or two ago, she added a Songwriter Spotlight to the coffee shop’s entertainment roster, and it has been a resounding hit.

Brew-Ha-ha is usually a cozy oasis from the daily grind, with its walls festooned with local art and panoply of coffee drinks on a chalkboard over the register. It’s a great place to pop in and get work done during the day, whether on the shop’s free Wi-Fi (a number of these very columns have been written there) or in the meeting room in the back. Usually, I have no trouble finding a table in there, so it was a shock to see the place filled to capacity with a rapt audience listening to Baton Rouge singer-songwriter Daniel Patterson, one of six artists on the bill that evening. Read more...

The Record Crate: Divorcee Rockers and Can Bangers

Mark Olson at Chelsea's, Baton Rouge, LA, 2/23/2008

I believe in love everlasting and all, but it must be said that a divorce can sometimes push a singer-songwriter's material over the hump of familiar patterns. Former Jayhawk Mark Olson seems, at least on record and on stage at Chelsea's this past Saturday, no worse for wear after his parting with Victoria Williams in 2006. Traveling as a trio featuring a violinist and percussionist/pianist, Olson delivered the lush, bittersweet material from his solo debut, The Salvation Blues, with grace.

Granted, he plays it rather public radio-safe (he could dub his touring group "Mark Olson and Viewers Like You") and a djembe is no substitute for the delicate brushed percussion on the album, but Olson has found a confident voice for his mature art. While chances of reforming The Creekdippers with Williams seem slim, other former Jayhawk Gary Louris appears on Salvation, and Olson did manage a rather luminous version of his former band's "Blue" at the show. Here's hoping for a reunion on that front.

But the grown-folks entertainment doesn't stop there. The world-class Bang on a Can All-Stars is staging one of their legendary marathons from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the LSU Union Theater. This is a remarkable treat for our city, and if you have an ear for adventurous music, this is a very rare opportunity to see a group of this caliber. The legendary Arlo Guthrie finishes his two-night run at the Manship on Wednesday, followed by renowned jazz pianist Kenny Barron on Thursday.

This week's Record Crate is brought to you by the letters F, U, N, and K, courtesy of Erykah Badu's irresistibly groovy new psychedelic soul masterpiece, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), sliding into stores this week. Link

100 Words on Listening to Steve Reich All Morning

Listening to ever changing patterns over and again.
Listening to ever evolving patterns over and again.
Listening to gradually evolving patterns over and again.
Listening to gradually evolving patters overlap and again.
Listening to gradually evolving patterns overlap and dissolve.
Listening to gradually evolving patterns overlap then dissolve.
Listening as gradually evolving patterns overlap then dissolve.
Thinking as gradually evolving patterns overlap then dissolve.
Thinking as gradually evolving forms overlap then dissolve.
Thinking as gradually evolving forms overtake then dissolve.
Thinking as gradually evolving forms overtake, blossom, dissolve.
Thinking as ethereal evolving forms overtake, blossom, dissolve.
Then it abruptly stops.

(Ed: I don't know why it seems funny that Steve Reich has a MySpace page, but it does.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Outsideleft: Binka, New Queen of Iceland

Would be a Start
(Kitchen Motors)

When one thinks of Iceland, one most assuredly conjures up images of the island's techno influenced ambassador Björk but for the first time in the 20 years, someone else has a shot at being the new Viking sweetheart. Binka (full name Binka Helmutsdottir) rose out of Reykjavik's critically overlooked avant-folk scene, armed with a girlhood spent listening to Joni Mitchell records and learning guitar, plunking out her own interpretation of Mitchell's already idiosyncratic style. Fans of Joanna Newsom will see some similarities in her elfin warble, those hip to Juana Molina will likely lock onto her melancholy sensuality, but Binka has a lean all her own.

Would be a Start
, her third LP but the first in the US, finds her style stripped down to the bone, thankfully leaving the subtle electronic textures from her previous efforts behind. The records almost sounds like it was recorded on those rainy train tracks she walks on the cover, with footsteps crunching the gravel serving as organic percussion for tracks like "Goat Girl", and banging on a metal barrel being her only accompaniment on the spectral "Brandari er á þú" sung in her native tongue. Binka may not have the celebrity acumen of Björk, but her songs will make you forget all about that swan dress and all that screeching.

OK, just foolin'. This album was actually generated from this meme posted on Brainiac . Psyched your mind!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Library Haul – “What I Need” Edition

I freed Maya to go color at the table/peruse the movies in the kids' section so I could browse the CD's right outside the gates at my leisure, but evidently there has been an outbreak of aggressive rule-following in my usual laid-back community. Just this weekend, we were at a laser tag birthday party which states one must be 48" tall and 7 years old to play, so I told Maya to lie and say she was seven, but the bastards had a yardstick and were pointedly quizzing each kid in line, so she got singled out for her adorable honesty. You know, Laser Tag, they aren't "real lasers," right?

Anyway, she bolted right back informing me that the lady said she had to have a grown up in there, so I glanced at the racks thinking, OK what do I need? It's a ludicrous question, because I don't need any of this, remotely. My own "needs" were quickly losing a battle to those of a categorically patient 6-year old freshly experiencing the frustrations of institutional draconia, so I came up with this quick list of needs, what am I out of, like I'm at the grocery store 5 minutes before they close, so I mentally jotted: R&B, string quartet, Charlie Parker and Indian music. So here is what I amassed in two minutes flat:

Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie – Bird and Diz (Verve) – I know one is supposed to revere Charlie Parker and recognize that jazz as we know it would likely be some Dixieland bullshit without his innovations, but honestly anytime I've picked up a CD of his, I couldn't get into it. They are usually archival affairs that contain three consecutive takes of the same song over which the purists may salivate, but they make for difficult waters the un-indoctrinated to navigate. Dizzy Gillespie, on the other hand, has always been reliable in delivering the goods, and this meeting of the two is finger-snapping, congenial hipster splendor. And lo, the other players on this disk are none other than Buddy Rich, Thelonious Monk and Curly Russell. There are many repeats, including four versions of "Leap Frog," but with this noodling away in the spring breeze through my window as I try to make a remote database server behave, the songs lilt in relatively indistinguishable loveliness.

Shuggie Otis – Inspiration Information (Luaka Bop/Sheridan Square) – This lost funk-soul-rock octopus from 1974 is probably not the first place one should stop if you are needing some R&B on hand, but unto itself, it is a lovely, inspired record. Sweeter than Sly, rockier than Stevie Wonder, funkier than the jazz cats working this angle back then, Shuggie's shit is tight. I keep coming back to one song "Aht Uh Mi Hed" which is musically, one of the flimsiest. It's largely an organ plunked over a galloping drum machine, but Shuggie becomes a lovechild of Van Morrison and Stevie Wonder, swimming in a sea of strings that compete with the clip-clop beat. I heard it on the college radio station the other day, thinking it was one of those Brooklyn disco rockers that accidentally tripped over his vintage vans and fell into some actual soul, and was a little saddened to see what it actually was. I have picked up a copy of this album a couple times ever since David Byrne re-released it in 2001, and just like all those other times, its resets my dials on R&B for at least the next week.

Kronos Quartet – Kronos Quartet Performs Philip Glass (Nonesuch) – Choosing either Kronos or Glass from the classical music section will likely send an aficionado into fits of dull rage, but I will fess up to having a taste for both. Kronos always delivers in my book, even if they dare to loosen their collars so that the occasional regular music listener won't be scared off. Philip Glass, well, he's got that one thing he does and somehow, through endless variations on that one simple thing, I find something good in it. Compositionally, he's like the high art version of the Stooges – he lands on a good riff and just works that until the engine blows out. I've listened to his more flowery, romantic work and to be honest, it doesn't hold water as well as his trademark scale-runner numbers.

Ravi Shankar – Three Ragas (Angel) – If Philip Glass is a sputter-inducing, unimaginative choice for classical music, than Ravi Shankar is the baloney sandwich of Indian music, but like I said, I was in a hurry. Most folks would argue that one CD of ragas was one too many, but I can get down in the buzzing overtones and lines tracing up the stepladder frets of gorgeous instruments played by dedicated folks seated on perfumed cushions. I won't pretend to know the difference between a morning raga and an evening raga, or to tell from the improvised bits from those handed down from God's hands millennia ago. The liner notes of this disc, a reissue of Shankar's first LP, give you the breakdown should you want it. One thing did strike me as interesting is how Shankar had to adapt the instrument to his own needs:

Since my Guru did not play the sitar, I had to work very hard to create a suitable technique – after lots of experiments. I also had a special sitar made to suit my style and get my special sound. I emphasized getting the best of Surbahar (which I played for several years) as well as the specialties of sitar. My invention of the hook system to gag the bass strings in the faster parts has become a common thing with most sitars now.

Next thing you are going to tell me is that he plays it left-handed and upside down as well. It definitely flies against the impression that Indian classical music is a hopelessly orthodox form of music.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

More on Cy Twombly's Fluffy Clouds

This covertly shot video of the Cy Twombly opening, featuring the very paintings alluded to in my last post, does not excatly sell me on the paintings but offers an armchair art fan like myself a rather delicious meta-experience, getting all up close on the art and the people that go to big name openings. James Kalm, the covert videographer attends a lot of openings and graciously shares the experience.

Getting up close to them in the video, I start to see some of the residue factor I appreciate about Twombly, the scumbles and drips and the unfussy dashes of the brush but, as my wife astutely noted, they still look like designs for Urban Outfitters.

Pour, Drip, Splash, and The Things We Know You For

I was flipping through Art in America and was struck dumb by an ad for Larry Poons' "Throw, Pour, Drip, Spill, and Splash Paintings: 1977-1980"show at the Jacobson Howard Gallery (See the review and slideshow at New York Magazine)

He's one of those guys that I know as a geometric abstractionist from the 60's, a guy that would fill a vast monchrome canvas with a somewhat logical array of identical dots, quivering and humming in optical contrasts to the background (and, with some interpretaive license taken, in the turbulent times in which they were crafted) and here was this luminous cascading waterfall of silver and candy clolors. The tense control I associated with him seemed to give way to cheery abandon. I thought at first it was a new painting by Cy Twombly, whose haphazard scribbling style gradually turned into graceful quasi-landscapes like this. Poons made his mark by making dots, and it seems a betrayal of the Thing We Know You For to move in this direction.

Consider, though, he did that pink painting in the 60's and the waterfall in 1975 and has moved on to even more floral terrain in his most recent work. Over the course of 40 some-odd years, a guy should change things up, evolve and yet we cling to The Thing. If I was trying to explain who Larry Poons is to you, I wouldn't say they guy that's gradually taken his work through lyrical progressions, I'd say "the dot guy from the 60's" just as if someone was asking who Paul McCartney was, I wouldn't start with Wings or 20 years of dopey solo records.

When considering an artist, its an important thing to resist The Thing, if that artist is (arguably) fortunate enough to have one, to consider the work at hand. Plenty of people coast on the momentum of great art crafted long ago, with the current work often seen through the rose-colored glasses of the former. And, why shouldn't they? Should they continue what they are doing even though it lies off the path they previously beat? Shouldn't an artist reap the spoils of success and do whatever the hell they want? Shouldn't they do that regardless of success? Of course they should. The onus is on us to judge the current work on it's own merits, and not on the scrapbook of memories of what came before it. Only then are we really talking about art and not our corny forced nostalgia about it.

That said, what is up with Cy Twombly's recent work? The down side of leaving my critical backpack at the desk is wanting some more epic-scale, cosmological, ecstatic scribbling about the Punic wars and Rilke and discovering that he's all about fluffy clouds now.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Stan Brakhage

I read his Film at Wit's End ages ago, but happened upon it at the library the other day. Even if you are not all that into the vague, hermetic world of experimental film, this book eschews the dry scholarly tone with which most people come at art and offers a very personal take by a very personal artist on filmamker's he loves.

He decalres Maya Deren as the sexiest woman he's ever met, a handshake with her had more charge than intercourse and describes a scene in her apartment where, in a Voodoo trance, she throws a refridegrator across the room. My other favorite scene is when he invites speed-addled Christopher MacLaine to stay at his house only to be woken by the deafening sound of bagpipes in the living room and the sight of MacLaine leading his own children out an open window like the Pied Piper.

The tone of the book, culled from lectures Brakhage delivered, is over-blown, anecdotal, self-agrandising and overwhelmingly given to perpetuating the mythology of those he considered his contemporaries in filmmaking, and will likely cause an academic to toss this out the window for its frivolities, but after reading this slim volume, you feel you not only know the film-makers, but understand where their art is coming from and are ready to champion them as well. And, unlike almost all other books about film besides John Waters' Shock Value, Film at Wit's End is a compelling read.

I once was in the same room as Stan Brakhage. On my only foray to NYC about 15 years ago, I sat through the 4 1/2-hour version of The Art of Vision (meticulously dissected by Fred Camper here) at the Anthology Film Archives. the audiance started with about 20 people, two of which I brought, but by the thrid hour, dwindled down to myself, a guy three rows back and a bearded guy in the back. It became a test of will to make it all the way through - the film largely consisted of sections of his already tedious Dog Star Man further diced up and repeated over and over and over. I must have seen a young lumberjack-looking Brakhage tumble through the same snowdrift about 100 times. Did I mention it was a 4 1/2-hour silent film?

Here is a segment of Dog Star Man, just to give you a taste.

and here is a better copy that doesn't allow embedding

Once it was over, I looked up to the room and saw what I'm pretty sure was the filmmaker himself making a hasty exit, probably to wisely avoid talking to me and the other guy and having to endure us both vociferously miss the goddamn point of his magnum opus. I shook the other guy's hand in admiration and asked him if he wanted to grab a beer since its likely that I will never be able to talk about this film with someone else whose seen it again, and my friends had long abandoned me to this dubious activity. Wide-eyed, the guy said, "No thanks I'm gonna go see if they will let me watch it again in the projection booth, and see if Stan will watch it with me." I was clearly out-classed and went on my way.

Derek Bailey

My external hard drive crashed the other day and with it went my formidable iTunes library, so I am stuck in the primative state of listening to CD's for sonic entertainment. I wept a wee, precious tear for my misfortunes, but truth be told, these cullings are good for me - they force me to redefine my baselines and see what's really out there.

I grabbed a couple handy choices for the car today, a little bummed at not have my usual iPod's worth at my disposal. I was about to pop in the lesser of four evils when out slid a CD-R someone burned for me of Derek Bailey's guitar improvisations, and in his plinks and plunks and surprising reliance on harmonics, my faith in the universe is renewed.

Bailey sought for non-idiomatic music, people coming at an instrument not to obey or disobey convention but to create something personal and unique, to be a Zarathustra approaching Geetar Mountain. He used standard tuninig, standard gear, standard everything and used that as a basis for creation, even when his own body started to fail him. Astutely stated in his Wikipedia entry:

Carpal Tunnel, the last record to be released during his lifetime (ed. he died
on Christmas day 2005), documented his personal struggles to come to terms with
the development of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in his right hand, which had rendered him unable to grip a plectrum (and in fact marked the onset of his motor neurone disease). Characteristically, he refused invasive surgery to treat his condition, instead being more "interested in finding ways to work around" this limitation. He chose to "relearn" guitar playing techniques by utilising his right thumb and index fingers to pluck the strings.

The whole reason I love writing about music so much is that it has a way of dipping into the machinations of what is going on with me personally and helps me the contraption of life in the direction I want, moreso than any other art form. Today, on one of the periodic cruxii of perpetually redefining myself, this disc of rackety guitar noodling was the perfect thing to slide out of the jewel case of some other CD.

Right Livelihoods: Three Novellas by Rick Moody

This book was a delight after reading the Palahniuk's Rant. Where Master P stretches two or more presposterous ideas across each other until they become a taut web over which his Huck Finn characters are doomed to scramble, Moody starts with the character and allows the complexities of the worlds they inhabit to be illuminated over time, as if they are slowly illuminating a cave by placing candles on the outcroppings.

In each of the novellas, the charater is embroiled in an environmental mystery where things, and particularly people are not what they seem. "The Omega Force" involves the paranoia of an incresingly delusional citezen of a posh offshore retirement community, "K&K" is the dull flame of attaraction and discover that occupies a lost soul in the corporate setting, and the real masterpiece here, "The Albertine Notes" is a shimmering look at drug addiction, 9/11, and that our seeking for understanding is the main component of our hubris.

These are all Garden of Eden tales, where the protagonist plucks fruit from the tree of knowledge and is slowly eroded by fruit's flavor. I had Moody pegged as the knowing poet of modern yuppie detatchment, but with "The Albertine Notes" he shows an enviable dexterity with science fiction, just explaining enough to get us all in trouble, which is basically what happens to us in life all the time. Link

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Few Observations about Sly and The Family Stone

  1. The humming that lies in the lower strata of "I Wanna Take You Higher" sounds exactly my phone when it's on vibrate and rattling away in my backpack, so I just spent a minute of funk-induced frenzy looking for it. This is one of the many factors I like about funk - it can make a white person look all the whiter without even lifting a ring-encrusted finger.
  2. "Spaced Cowboy" would make for the world's worst song-idea proposal ever. OK, picture this, y'all - I'll take the most synthetic drum machine sound available in 1971, record some corny harmonica licks and some basic funk guitar and bury them deep in the hissy mix, and then I'll come in and yodel over it. And yet, this mess of a song kinda works, which is what can be said about most of There's a Riot Going On. "Family Affair" being an exception to this assessment in that it is one of the best R&B songs ever produced, perfect in architecture and execution.
  3. I am torn between loving the hissed-out, hissed-out nature of original recordings, all muddy and acid-saturated, and wanting to hear them remastered by Dr. Dre or Kanye with all surfaces polished up to a hypnotic gleam.
  4. I find the cavernous dirge variant "Thank You For Talkin' To Me Africa" preferable to the albeit eternally fabulous "Thank You (Falletin Me Be Mice Elf)" because you almost feel like Sly is beating the funk out of a dying beast with the band hunched in a circle around him on their last legs, which is, from what I gather, the exact circumstance under which Riot was recorded. It would be the prefect song for an apocalyptic zombie movie, as a military truck cautiously patrols the destered husk of a city, nervously eyeing the landscape for brain-eating monsters. Funkadelic does end-times drug-casualty better on tracks like "Wars of Armageddon" but Sly does it with more style.
  5. There are only two accounts of Sly and the Family Stone you need to read. The first is Greil Marcus' casting of Stone as the mythical Stagger Lee character from blues lore in Mystery Train, about to see its fifth edition, and this account of David Kemp trying to interview the elusive funk legend printed in Vanity Fair in 2007.

photo from

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Outsideleft: These Mountain Goats Make a Worthy Sacrifice

The Mountain Goats
Heretic Pride

I’m going to skirt through the givens of the Mountain Goats so I can get to what results the formula produces. Here we go: he’s recorded approximately 7000 songs on 700 albums, largely recorded on jamboxes in a rush, his songs have been fiction until the last three where he fessed up to writing about himself, he has a pronounced penchant for hormonally charged acoustic guitar runs over which he spills a mix of deep insight and repurposed cliché pronouncements in the service of The Poetry of Life, and his best song is probably “This Year” of The Sunset Tree, where all these things came to a head and provided the perfect tension in his product line required so that he could slingshot into something new.

That new was the quiet, reflective Get Lonely which found center of the Goats’ cosmology John Darnielle in darker spirits; still clever as hell but coming off broken, both in the shattered glass and bronco context and, frankly, I was a little worried about him. I met Darnielle once, briefly, and he hugged me, but I’m not saying I know him in a buddy kind of way. I know him the way you know an author you follow or a basketball coach. You talk about them in familiar terms, as if you expect them to bust in the room and say “Hey, what are you guys all talking about?”

The thing I get off him, or more precisely, get off on about him, is that I immediately internalize the arc of his songs as they fly out of the speakers, his dropping of smarty-pants literary references, his peccadillo for Black Metal, the way he keeps talking and talking until he rounds the corner to The Point. He feels like a more articulate me, talking about me in his songs. And this level of narcissism on my part is heresy, feeling everything to be ensared by tendrils of my unique being, stretching out like starving roots, desperate to tap into a wet something and suck it dry in the service of my own persistence, but fuck, y’all – who doesn’t feel that way? Like Chris Bell, I am the cosmos! We are the world! If we aren’t, then the nihilists are all right and it all is for naught, that we “just keep living.” Do we really want to take a Matthew McConaughey catch-phrase as a mantra? I don’t know about you, but I lack the abs to pull it off so I take pride in my heretical celebration of the self. Read more...

The Record Crate: It Was Weird, But It Was Good

You have new Picture Mail!You have new Picture Mail!You have new Picture Mail!

Lil Ray Neal and Teddy Johnson
Bill Callahan, Jonathon Meiburg, Scott H. Biram

The blues was in full effect Wednesday, starting with Teddy's birthday party featuring Big Al and the Heavyweights at the Juke Joint on Old Scenic Highway. It was difficult to tear me away from food and the hypnotic holiday lights out at Teddy's, but I managed to tear myself away to catch Scott H. Biram's amphetamine punk blues at the Spanish Moon. While the music at Teddy's was more traditional than Biram's intense one-man blues sledgehammer, it was very cool to see the thread between the two, that throbbing backbeat, that coyote howl, that stomp, and still get home by midnight. Thank you for hosting an early show, Spanish Moon. It was also fun to see the transition between the audience for Biram's confrontational blues and the dance night denizens waiting it out.
Saturday night saw much odder musical birds roosting on Chelsea's stage. Shearwater's Jonathon Meiburg opened the set, channeling songs from their exquisite Palo Santo album through a weathered banjo, alone on stage. Meiburg is a tremendous singer, and the melodrama of his material became all the more pointed performed solo. He donned a suit as he joined headline Bill Callahan for his set. I've been a fan of Smog (the name under which he's recorded until recently) for years, but had no idea what it would be like live. He came off like a cross between Buck Owens and David Byrne, clean-cut and surreal-looking, playing a parlor-sized guitar for much of the evening. His voice and lyrics, though, are equally deep, and soon enough he was filling the room with his tales of isolation and love's conquering power. It's one of the first times I've ever heard people shush the omnipresent talkers in a crowd in Baton Rouge. It was weird, but it was good.

Great songwriters are on tap this coming week. Mark Olson, formerly of the Jayhawks, will bring his excellent songcraft to Cheslea's stage in support of The Salvation Blues, an album of possibly his most heart-wrenching work to date. Legendary folk singer, storyteller and political activist Arlo Guthrie will start a two-night run at the Manship Theatre. But if you are looking for something a little less cerebral and more in the reptilian booty-shaking category, techno superstars The Crystal Method take to The Varsity stage. Link

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Three Things

  1. I am very pleased with my awesome new tea-bagging technique (oh, wait, I get it now...) utilizing a coffee filter and mad folding skillz and my Valentine's present of a Damien Hirst "For the Love of God" knock-off-designed teapot. We found a proper English tea room place about an hour from here, brazenly titled The English Tea Room, so tomorrow we are going for a luncheon of scones and clotted cream and their "Russian Country" blend which is a mix of Chinese and Indian teas with Lapsang and/or some kind of ambrosial vanilla/hazelnut/lemon/white tea concoction.
  2. My computer is rife with corruption and I am going to reformat the bastard this week, and am tempted to go Vista even though it is the popular conception that Vista gives you cancer and kills babies with your data. In its defense, it has that pretty bubble screensaver. I teach with it, and in my experience it works pretty well, so we'll see.
  3. The new book is coming along nicely. I gathered up all the bits and pieces into one document to see what it looks like and it comes out to 18,404 words. It's about music and will prove to be a funny, insightful, narcissistic memoir/critical materwork that suprpasses my former book in all those vectors. All I'm lacking is a good title. I plugged in "Needle on the Record" as a placeholder, and was shocked to see that no one has published a book with that title, at least on Amazon. The title "Dust on the Needle" is tempting now that I look at it, though.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Record Crate: Award Shows and Packed Houses

Perusing the Grammy fallout this morning, I guess I need to hear that Herbie Hancock record of Joni Mitchell songs, if it was good enough to not only be the second jazz album in history to snag "Album of the Year" at the Grammy's but also wrestle an accolade from the gravitational pull of Amy Winehouse. Locally, kudos to St. Landry Parish's Terrence Simien who won the first "Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album" award for his Live! Worldwide album, as well as to Shreveport native Kenny Wayne Shepherd who scored nominations for "Best Traditional Blues Album" and "Best Long Form Music Video." Last but not least, congrats to Lil Ray Neal who finished third at the Memphis International Blues Challenge.

Last week Band of Horses, the current favorite band of seemingly everyone, filled the Spanish Moon to capacity. Band of Horses bears more than a passing resemblance to My Morning Jacket, sans their versatility, but that's OK. If you'll pardon the pun, Band of Horses (soaring reverb vocals over fuzzed-out anthems) is a one-trick pony, but they ride that pony well. The local showcase did equally well at the KLSU benefit later in the week. To Ape Iron, a melodic ambient collective comprised of member s of Wilderness Pangs, and entertaining but somewhat puzzling rap act Tabernacle opened the show, and Terror of the Sea tore into the night with their usual fervor, reaching a poignant climax adding Fred Weaver on guitar and vocals with "Left of the Dial," The Replacements' 1985 tribute to college radio. We have a good thing in KLSU, and it deserves your support.

This week, be sure to catch one-man blues/punk tornado Scott H. Biram at an early Wednesday 8 p.m. show at Spanish Moon. Biram's brand of hillbilly mayhem recalls that of Hasil Adkins with a little more rattlesnake thrown in. Over at Chelsea's, The Last Waltz Ensemble tries to recapture the grandeur of Bob Dylan and The Band during what many consider to be their finest hour, and Bill Callahan, one of the finest singer-songwriters to emerge from the rock underground, will bring material from his former project Smog and his critically-acclaimed solo album, Woke on a Whaleheart. Read More...

Outsideleft: The Hissing of Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock
River: The Joni Letters

I doubt it is too scandalous an admission that I had not heard Herbie Hancock’s collection of Joni Mitchell excursions before I read that it won the Grammy as 2007 Album of the Year. The concept has Starbucks written all over it – lessee: performer and songwriter are legendary artists both past their agreed-upon prime, Norah Jones and Corinne Bailey Rae guest on it, colon in the title. Yeah, this looks like the musical equivalent of steamed cauliflower, definitely good for you and satisfying should you order it, but it’s not exactly making your mouth water when you see it on the menu.

Herbie Hancock cannot be denied, let’s be clear. He has been a key player on some of the greatest records ever. When his albums veer toward cliché, it serves a peckerwood to remember that the cliché was likely based on something Hancock made up in the first place. Joni Mitchell too. Her great albums are singular, weird, inspiring crossroads where convention and unfettered poetry met. Albums like Blue and Court and Spark and The Hissing of Summer Lawns hold up as well today as they did when they hatched from their alien eggs decades ago. Read more...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski

Two stars

I think a lot of people pick up Finnegans Wake and fall in love with the perverse but precise architecture of that book and figure, "shit, I can do that."

Well, they can't.
I positively adore Danielewski's House of Leaves equally for its compelling structure and the stories stretched up on those frames, but this one is all stretcher and no canvas. It's a he-said, she-said, both stories glind through the book, upside down from each other. The letter O appears in green everywhere in the book for reasons that I do not care about. The font in each story gets smaller as the story progresses, and there is a running oblique timeline of events that runs the sidebar, starting with teh abolition of slavery in the 1800's and the date progresses on each page by as many days as there is left in that particular story, starting in his story and telescoping into hers. Curiously, he continues the sidebar structure up into something like the year 2350, but stops filling it in around May of 2005, likely when the book was completed.

The story is written in higgledy-piggledy poetic form and while I caught myself getting caught in the meldoy of it, I could never really get a bead on what was going on. Graphic designers and other font obsessives will dig it, those who prefer form over function might dig it, but otherwise I found it to be an impenetrable curiosity. Link

Saturday, February 9, 2008

filler: not just a game

Click on the image above to play the game, but your screen will not look like this cuz you are not


like I am. Sure, you get assignments done, spend time with family, take baths, perfectly non-masterful activities that many pedestrian people seem to fill the empty sacks of their lives with, but the call of the ball is one that only the brave dare to heed, lonely as the road to being


may be.

Normally I'm not all that into games, but I recently watched The King of Kong, a brilliant and perverse documentary about competitive arcade gaming, and the rivalries that persist to the day, and felt inspired to go for it. You'd think the guys that set Donkey Kong records decades ago would have moved on with their lives, but I came to find that I actually had not moved on. You can smell the arcade of your youth just watching it. Like any great documentary, life trumps fiction in weirdness with the cast of underdogs, otherworldy sages and beguiling villains.

Any kid who begged a ride to the arcarde off his parents will immediately relate to this film, even if you were as categorically terrible at games as I was. But the weird personal connection for me was this: Twin Galaxies is the official (Guiness-recognized) record where traditional arcade scores are tallied, happens to be named for the arcade proprietor Walter Day (who plays a pivotal role as the referee and balancing agent in the film) in Ottumwa, IA, one of the first arcades I ever experienced. I had a gaggle of teenage cousins in Ottumwa that my sister and I would visit on occassion and I know we spent a signifigant part of our time at Twin Galaxies.

So, it only makes sense that on that hollowed ground was my "eye of the tiger" opened and perhaps it took thirty years for me to find the right game through which my shocking prowess can be unleashed. Maybe, like Steve Wiebe in the film, it is finally my time.

Outsideleft: The Future of the Left is Better than the Now of Everything Else

Future of the Left
(Too Pure)

I have a fondness for hilarious bluntness. Like the exhortations of characters in John Waters movies, or the thought of conking someone on the skull with a ball-peen hammer – the bluntness gets me. It’s hard to find a wrecking ball with a sense of humor in popular music – bombast usually get channeled in the service of image maintenance or expressions of dissatisfaction with institutions impervious the messages directed at them; wasted energy, man. It’s like wooing a woman who is clearly uninterested.

McLusky was a Welsh band that offered an alternative vent for all that pent-up rage, spooling out lines like our love is bigger than your love and (my favorite) you’re turning me on with your lightsabre cocksucking blues. Their brief period on this sphere is documented on a trio of brilliantly titled records: My Pain and Sadness Is More Sad and Painful Than Yours, , and The Difference Between Me and You Is That I'm Not on Fire and a boxed-set succinctly labeled McLuskyism. Each offered relentless torrents of grinding rawk hatched from a three way involving The Fall, Mission of Burma and Helmet. Lead singer and guitarist Andrew Falkous often sounded like he was being stretched like a canvas over the band’s frame, a taut impenetrable surface on which smears and scrawls become art. Any structure can only maintain its tensile pressures as long as all parts are in concert, and alas their bassist John Chapple left to form Shooting at Unarmed Men, a band with which I am wholly unfamiliar. Read more...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Buckminster Fuller Lecture

In the interest of shameless self-promotion and documentation, they are using one of my photos of the now demolished geodesic dome in their post card.

In the interest of awareness about interesting things that exist(ed) right under our nose and what we can learn from them, this promises to be a great lecture about the dome and the legendary architect behind it. Thursday, Feb 28 at the old Governor's Mansion on North Blvd.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

100 Words on the Temporary Reappearance of the Sonic Chicken Fried Steak Sandwich

To borrow from Streicher, whose own words were already granted to Goering in history’s mind, whenever I hear the words “healthy lifestyle,” that’s when I reach for my revolver. And the bullets for this revolver are fashioned out of succulent nuggets of chicken fried steak, processed and fortified by sweet delicious chemicals in some factory somewhere and then frozen and re-animated cross the fruited plane. And I would take aim at the Morgans Sprulock and track-suited unlikeable descendants of The Healthy and, one by one, I would pluck them from the fence like glass bottles, with a gluttonous, menacing bellow.

The Record Crate: It's Getting Kinda Heavy

Behold the new improved blog pic starring my giant meatball head. The rarely-spoken-of third Blues Brother is gonna come eat you, music fans of Baton Rouge!

On their ironically named album In the Future, British Columbia's Black Mountain creates rock as heavy as their name -- sludgy Sabbath riffs, lysergic keyboards and everything -- wielding every classic rock cliché with a postmodernist's accuracy. They may seem like they are pushing things with tracks such as "Stormy High" and "Stay Free," but Black Mountain is at the head of a wolf pack of neo-rockers that forgo all ironic distance and let their freak flags fly, as you will get to witness this week at the Spanish Moon.

Another cat who is piloting his zeppelin into our docking station this week is Dax Riggs, formerly of Deadboy & The Elephantmen and Acid Bath, who opens for The Bravery at The Varsity. His sensational album, We Sing of Only Blood or Love, is packed with monstrous tunes delivered like a possessed Robert Plant possessed from Riggs' golden throat.

New Orleans' Zydepunks don't exactly play rock 'n' roll, but you will likely see everything else out of them at their appearance at North Gate Tavern. With two accordions, fiddle, bass and drums, the Zydepunks throw down the meanest Irish/Cajun/Gypsy punk to which you can still drunkenly tango. Link, with the weekly concert listings

Monday, February 4, 2008

V. M. Bhatt

Normally the idea of world fusion would send me running to the hills, fearing the wrath of heavily reverbed Native American flutes, thunderous hand-drums and a synth whoosh, but V. M. Bhatt manages to mix his deft moohan veena (Indian slide guitar) playing with western music to breathtaking result. On Tabula Rasa, he pits his lonely tones against Bela Fleck's banjo, both demonstrating remarkable restraint in keeping the music from venturing off the multicultural precipice. The tabla and flutes sometimes get get away from the tune, but it feels to be in the spirit of ecstatic interlock. The group is equally at home with Bhatt's meditative ragas as they are with folk chestnuts like "John Hardy."

Even better though, is A Meeting by The River, his duet with Ry Cooder than won them a Grammy in 1994. Cooder is no stranger to multicultural fusion - with his albums with Ali Farka Toure and coordinating the Buena Vista Social Club sessions being just a sample - but this record is relaxed and sublime. The story has it that the two me for the first time only twenty minutes before the recording session, but this album sounds like anything but a "jam." It unfolds like the river to which they allude in the title, and when the tablas kick in on the title track, it kinda makes me gasp.

Here is a video of a session with blues dobro player Doug Cox

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Library Haul - Abstract Truth Edition

I went in search of a copy of Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question, because I have haphazardly saying that Johnny Greenwood much-ballyhooed droney soundtrack for the equally droney and ballyhooed There Will Be Blood consisted largely of 4 minutes of material lifted form Ives stretched out to fit an overlong movie, and figured it might be a good idea to see if these claims had any merit. The Unanswered Question remains unanswered, but I did land on this exquisite set of Ives' two string quartets, performed by the Lydian String Quartet.

Once back when I was a classical music snob I was very into string quartets and Charles Ives. I though string quartets seemed to contain a composer's real thoughts. One could still get pretty flowery in that setting, but there is little place to hide in such a small ensemble. one of the most transformative musical experiences I've ever had was listening to the Guarneri String Quartet play Janacek's second quartet (like Ives, Janacek only produced two quartets, and also like Ives, they are both exquisite) - I remember saying something like "it's like doing algebra while the plane is going down" in slackjawed afterglow.

Charles Ives is the most American of composers, and that meant something to me back in my snob days. Aaron Copland gets the limelight for ripping off Dvorack and Stravinsky and filtering it through the dirty rag of Tin Pan alley (ok, not really. Aaron Copland is a motherfucker of a composer when you start digging into his catalog, and a double motherfucker of a catalyst for music. One minor contribution of his was bringing a promising young Welsh violist by the name of John Cale over to study under him, but Cale soon fell in with a bad crowd and his musical career took a different turn) but Ives is the bomb.

Ives was like Walt Whitman, in that he was engrossed in the cosmic American experience, pulling in folk songs, leaving parts of them intact as to not betray his sources, while submerging the melodies in his own processes: a hodgepodge of Romantic technique and experimental ideas. He took an entrepreneurial stance toward the music of The people and that of The Spheres - gathering it all into a pile and saying now, what can I do with all this? In Ives, just like in Whitman, John Fahey, Bruce Springsteen, we can find an abstracted variant of who we are as a people.

The way I always approached classical music (the correct term would be art music, since classical is a period, not a style, but classical is what we say) is to start pretty and head into the cold toward austerity, so I dragged through the stacks in search of something even more cosmic, something closer to the bone and landed on Béla Bartók's Mikrokosmos performed by Claude Heffler. Bartók' is in many ways the Ives of Eastern Europe, building vast epihanous beauty from the folk music of his native Transylvania. His orchestral music is wild, exquisite stuff, but here on the six volumes of Mikrokosmos, the melodies are stripped to the core starting out as little more than scales, evolving into dense urgent rhapsodies as they progress. the piece was written as student work, that a eager pianist could graduate through the volumes of this as their expertise grew.

The thing that is interesting about the progression is that the earlier, simple pieces have a tranquil air about them, a dreamlike lollygagging around the scales, where as they get more complicated, the melodies get confused, the mood is tainted with anxiety and occasional panic. The steps herein the expert end seem to be taken lightly, as if experience has shown that the ground might just give way if one stomps around as one did in their youth.

The reason I stepped away from classical music years ago is that I found it fostered a distance between my own thinking and the greater mass of humanity around me, and that this was a part of myself that I only half-liked. I did enjoy the feeling of superiority it tricked me into feeling but it made me rather impossible to be around, so I had to get into something a little less pretentious. Instead, I got into Jazz. I thought Jazz might unearth that wire connecting the Appolonian and the Dionysian, but more often than not, jazz would mire itself in its own traditions, losing track of both camps in favor of constructing an ivory tower of its own.

Take Oliver Nelson's brilliantly titled The Blues and The Abstract Truth. With a thesis statement like that, all emblazoned in Impulse! black, white and orange, this record should contain all the answers, and of course it doesn't even come close. Nelson delivers piece after piece of perfectly wrought jazz pleasentry in a variety of styles: "Stolen Moments" is penthouse cool and groovy, "Hoe-Down" is an awkward repositioning of the kind of cornball Appalacian themes Aaron Copland was much better at assimilating into his art, "Cascades" is an impressive bop workout. It's not until we get to "Yearnin'" where we get close to the blues and the abstract truth. The truth is there is no viable abstraction of the truth. We can talk around it, rub up next to it, but The Truth is an egg that proves to be hollow when we crack it.

So, we can spend all of our lives pulling away from the pedestrian, climbing mountains of our own crafting to speak to gurus that aren't there, searching for meaning in the universe, or we can kick back and enjoy the ride, and this is precisely what Wes Montgomery does on So Much Guitar! Wes is about as brilliant and tasteful a guitarist as there is. the sun shines out of his archtop when he plays. There are definitely more virtuoso players, more cerebral players, certainly many more interesting players, but few that sound as organic as Wes Montgomery. And this whole diatribe is not a turning of my back on the Appolonian way of doing business, on the contrary. This has been an Appolonian exercise in and of itself. It serves as a reminder to not analyze myself into a corner, to not get so hung up thinking too much and to step back and have fun every now and then.

Outsideleft: Up on The F*cking Block with Xiu Xiu

Xiu Xiu
Women as Lovers

(Kill Rock Stars)

I once attended an erotic poetry reading in a semi –abandoned warehouse with a girl that was soon to be my girlfriend, just as soon as the messy detail of the current girlfriend was handled. The then current girlfriend broke up with me a week later at a basketball game to which I was late in arriving to because the new girl and I were off on a bike ride. The transition was frankly not much of a shock to anyone, as are the romantic machinations of the hormonal youth, but they feel like the roof is collapsing in on you with each touch, each baited breath. I remember the erotic poetry at the reading as being completely not erotic at all, but one balding grad student had the wisdom to drag out a copy of Henry Miller’s Sexus and delivered this:

It was fast clean work after that – no tears, no love business, no promise me this and that. Put me on the fucking block and fuck! that’s what she was asking for. I went at it with cold blooded-fury.

That very sentence was the removal of the keystone on that relationship. No dull ties to girlfriends and the like, no passion reined in by weak unmeant and unkept promises. The nakedness of that line was as embarrassing as being actually naked, but when you are naked, it’s more honest than when you’re not.

Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu has a similar honest nudity to his songs as Henry Miller, but instead of imbedding them in a rush of words , they are ensconced in a beguiling mixture of electro-pop sheen and Chinese opera klunk. Women as Lovers comes on the heels of some of his more accessible efforts, and while it’s not the exposed nerve plugged into Pro Tools that was A Promise, it’s a wild, sometimes harrowing, sometimes funny, skid across the fucking block.


Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk

Alex V. Cook's review
rating: Gr_red_star_activeGr_red_star_activeGr_red_star_activeGr_orange_star_unactiveGr_orange_star_unactive

This is, I think, the third book I've read by Chuck Palahniuk but its hard to tell, since the stories all run the same track. He is all about the trans-dimensionalty of life, how belief (Fight Club), mutation (Lullaby) and social order (this one) are either the ties that bind us to the tracks or, when loosened, allow us to reach liftoff. I might be reading too much into the odd cover design here, but I thought this book was Choke until I got it home from the library, because the cover looks similar and the spine bears the author's name in large letters, but the title is actually hidden under the dust jacket. Perhaps this is slyly saying that Palahniuk is more like a brand than an author; whichever one of his books you get will offer a variant on the same pleasures.

I like the style of the book, written in Plimpton-esque cubist viewpoints all about a special kid named Rant who we never hear from directly. He gets into a very cool rhythm in the later chapters, playing two story lines at once in alternating accounts in dexterous counterpoint.

The problem is that the book is difficult to follow. It starts off a rural fantasy about a kid who contracts rabies and shifts later to becoming a William Gibson urban dystopia of people segregated into day and night people and a nihilistic pastime involving car crashes and virtual reality. It ties itself up with some even less-believable cords, slowly woven throughout the book. It is definitely interesting and inventive fiction, but at times, it felt like I was watching a movie that I had unwittingly fell asleep during, wondering where those characters came from and what the hell is going on.

x-posted at goodreads

Saturday, February 2, 2008

I Am Very Jealous of John Darnielle Because

  1. Even if I were to drop everything, suddenly become a talented songwriter and engaging performer and devoted every waking hour of the rest of my life to this new facet, I would never have half the albums as he does. According to wikipedia, there are 43 separate Albums, ep's and collections by The Mountain Goats, of which Darnielle is often the sole member.
  2. His blog is better than any music blog I could ever write, because it is better than anybody's.
  3. I was just on campus, walking back from getting my computer account set up so I can use their delicious hi-speed wi-fi while listening to Master of Reality on the iPod, watching boys and girls all twitchy and pimply, dressed in the gambit between full winter gear and shorts, as is the custom in Louisiana in the "season" the rest of you call "fall." I was thinking that Ozzy Osbourne might be the perfect male rock vocalist, all double-tracked and anguished (not the most talented, but perfect.) I was thinking that the swell of youth was cascading around me in sync with the lugubrious sloshing black tide of "Children of the Grave." I was thinking I should write something about Black Sabbath, like something big and meaningful about them, or around them or something. I thought, when I get back to my computer, once I get this new online account working, I'll start on it, just 300 words to get it seeded. Instead, I set up the account and perused my RSS feeds to see that John Darnielle just wrote a book about Black Sabbath's Master of Reality for 33 1/3.
  4. This doesn't really make me jealous, nor does any of the above, really: The new Mountain Goats album Heretic Pride is really, really good.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Country Roads: Savoy Music Center

In the February 2008 issue of Country Roads:

Savoy Music Center
A transcendent Cajun music experience, for the price of a pound of boudin.
By Alex V. Cook
February 2008

I woke up to 2008 in the grip of anxiety. Not the crippling kind, or not completely anyway, but with
the shudder of the unknown I feel as I pass through any barrier, be it the glass doors of an office building or a new page on a freshly unwrapped calendar, and the only way to counter this is to bolster myself with the familiar and plunge headlong into the new. So as I’m flipping through music to listen to on my iPod, the vast landscape of all my sonic obsessions contained in a shiny aluminum and plastic box, I happen on Richard Buckner’s The Hill, a thirty-three minute song cycle based on Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. Buckner’s dense acoustic tangles and haunting mountain man baritone are the perfect traveling partners as I jet across the Atchafalaya Basin, concrete, brown trees and a cloudy sky layered like blankets, on my way to the Savoy Music Center. Read more...

Also, here is a flickr set of more photos from this story

225 Magazine: Bang On a Can All-Stars and Bill Callahan

In the February 2008 issue of 225 Magazine:

Banging on Cans
Bang on a Can All-Stars:
By Alex V. Cook

A musical marathon that breaks down barriers among musical styles is coming to town, a spectacle that was born in New York City.

“There was a whole new generation of composers who didn’t fit in anywhere. We wanted to provide a place for new music in society,” explains Julia Wolfe, composer and cofounder of Bang on a Can, a series of concerts that started in New York in the late 1980s.

“Music was perceived as this elitist thing—academic, clever, scientific, inaccessible. Nobody cared if people came to the concerts, and the music reflected that.” Read more...

Clearing the smog to let the music shine through:
Bill Callahan

By Alex V. Cook

‘I can’t think of anything that isn’t universal in this world,” singer-songwriter Bill Callahan says about the myriad of subjects that find their way into his beguiling songs. “I wake up with music resting on my chest, like a cat that likes to sleep there. And its eyes are open before mine, just waiting for me to wake.”

Callahan entered the music world through the back door in 1992 as Smog—and occasionally as the deconstructed “(Smog)”—creating home-recorded epics of love and isolation. This past year, however, he issued his first album, Woke on a Whaleheart, under his own name. Read more...

I feel I must have broken through to the next layer of indie rock strata because the photo for this article was provided by Joanna Newsom