Monday, June 30, 2008

[outsideleft] Steve Reich: Life, Death and Agitated Particles

Steve Reich
Daniel Variations

While giving Daniel Variations a final listen, I was waiting in line to put my noodle bowl from the Vietnamese grocery in the microwave. The woman in front of me in line had a great looking lunch: a leftovers plate of pork chops and glazed carrots over some kind of wild rice, making my sketchy “spicy beef rice cake” seem all the more dubious a choice of something to eat; the aroma wafting up from her meal only hammering the point home when it came my turn.

Watching this cardboard bowl go through its alchemical process in the little glass turntable, I saw the similarities to the music I to which I was listening. Pork chop lady probably listens to R&B or classic rock, something as predictable and satisfying as the meal she was about to eat. Neither takes much of a leap.

Steve Reich makes a different tasting but immediately digestible and delicious music. Among the minimalist composers with which he is reluctantly lumped, Reich holds both popular recognition (his “Electric Counterpoint” forms the base of The Orb’s classic “Little Fluffy Clouds” for instance) and respect from the academy, but the music he makes hardly passes for what most people call music. He builds in repetitions of small phrases, sometimes just pulses, over time, letting melodies slowly unfold out of the cloud. His music sounds African, alien, antiseptic, analytic yet ultimately warm and universal; pleasant verging on New Age (I would imagine the early settlers of Windham Hill would readily admit his influence) yet with just enough tension to keep from disappearing altogether.

Daniel Variations, in four parts” opens with open handed tone clusters on the piano and the sudden entrance of a choir, intoning alternating texts from the book of Daniel and from the diaries of Daniel Pearl, the journalist assassinated by religious extremists in Pakistan in 2001. Much like the way he uses melodies, Reich tends to choose a single line, break it down into atomic parts and have his choir slowly issue forth the line over several minutes, sweeping over a percolating piano and marimba choir.

The second movement involved the dissection of “My name is Daniel Pearl. (I’m a Jewish American from Encino, California.)” over eight and a half minutes, the voices asserting the name, identity, occupation and origin of the subject, much in the way that Pearl must have to his captors, but also in the way we all constantly reassert our identity, our reason for being where we are, tracing our lines over and again back to the start. It can be said that not much happens in a Steve Reich piece, but the reality is that everything is happening at once, systems are evolving and decaying just to maintain that virtual stasis of being alive, assertions and reassertions of thoughts and themes stoking the engines of existence. Like the weird salty bowl of food, shipped from half the world away, warmed up by exciting its lowest molecules, Steve Reich makes a heady combination.

Filling out the CD is the less programmatic “Variations for Vibes, Piano and Strings,” hearkening back to the fast-slow-fast form of the more Apollonian "New York Counterpoint" and "Electric Counterpoint" pieces. The expansive opening movement allows you to witness time and melody get stretched over each other, bits suddenly snapping back to regular size only to be stretched again. Instead of the voice of man, we get the voice of all mankind humming away in this instrumental piece. In fact, when we hit the sentimental slow movement, it is as if we are ejected from the seat of some hyper-complicated ride, left mid-air to witness the whole of the amusement park for a minute, only to get caught by the spinning arms of another ride at the final movement. Here, though, we have seen the whole of the carnival, we’ve experienced the heaven and earth of it, and we can enjoy this new spinning contraption in the light of greater knowledge. This is the joy of Steve Reich’s music: he uses the lull of overload to acclimate us and then jettisons us out into the air to do something with this knowledge. It’s an experience as profound as being born, as mundane as answering the ding on the microwave and as meaningful as seeing how the two are inextricably, somehow, connected.


scale and antiquity

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Wandering around the library on my lunch break, I headed toward where I thought the art books were but instead is the home of countless bound foreign architectural journals from the late 60's and early 70's, detailing magnificent German collisions of planes, erected to house those in seek of great knowledge and greater productivity, Japanese poems in glass and concrete with lines shapes by the wind, Italian buildings that were, well, sexier than the rest. This is one of the reasons I love working on campus. To go engage in this pursuit with direct purpose would be ridiculous, but to land upon it like a leaf in the breeze is serendipitous and lovely.

Then I fell into where they keep the oversize books, gigantic atlases and tomes preposterously still bound in those delicious monchromatic central binding hardcovers with only a tiny title and call number embossed in white on the spine "The Gulf of Mexico" over a comparatively endless expanse of red for the cover. The most poetic thing in there was this:

The Pyramids of Gizeh, towering in dusty gold and black above all it surrounded. I wanted to pull it off the shelf and hopefully discover and acre of foldouts detailing the inner-workings of the pyramids from when they were explored by lantern

Ramen Review: Spicy Beef Instant Rice Cake

Another leftfield hit. I wanted to branch out from the realm of noodles and this was my initial step. The rice cake came in inch-and-a-half flat oblong slabs, and stayed that way throughout the alchemical process. I knew the flavors would be at least interesting given the pungent spicy cloud that hit me as I dumped them unceremoniously on top of the beige flat lozenges, but I held no real hope that this would turn into food.

Amazingly, the rice cake softened into something like pasta but exquisitely not pasta, having a satifying texture and a subtle flavor unto themselves, and the broth had a heavy, spicy, intoxicating (for instant noodle bowls anyway) aroma which adhered nicely to the rice cakes. I could see little circles of hot pepper and dark strings in the soup, and with a few sips, my earache momentarily subsided. Maybe from the wincing (it was pretty salty) or the aftershock (it was pretty spicy) but it felt like a miracle cure. I drank half the bowl, all I could handle, hoping to join the hearing again when minutes later my ears popped back to their previous muffled condition.

I would imagine this would make an actual lovely meal with slices of beef and snap peas soaking in it as depicted on the lid image, but in the future, when warehouses of noodle bowls are the only thing that survive the Grand Hubris of Humanity (I saw Wall-E this weekend) me and my apocalypse team got dibs on the rice cakes.

cocaine-fueled mega-success

The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
I have a goddamn ear infection and with the antibiotics and muffled hearing and general lethargy that comes from it, I have a hard time to get going, and I rely on the former denizens of Minneapolis - living there must be something akin to always having an earache - to kick my sick ass out of bed.

The Hold Steady is on my short list of Bands that Matter - the succulent tight sausage to emerge after putting emo and white boys into hip-hop and Springsteen and a high school's worth of drugs into the grinder and stuffing the mix into natural casing; only to then be grilled on the coal-stoked heart of rock-n-roll by a dad that still has a Guns 'N' Roses shirt up in the house somewhere. I cannot wait until Stay Positive comes out, the myspace samples give me hope for the survival of the species.

The Hold Steady capture in a shot glass the sweat of youth dripping down their arms as they collapse, and in the low light of the basement or the bar or the dome light of the car you can see everything swimming in that mixture, golden threads coiling in the clear water like strands of dead DNA, spinning in time with the stereo, at least until the cops show up.

Big John Patton - Let Em Roll
Honestly, I put this on just for the cover, but Big John delivers the crimson soul, abstract and modern enough to befit such stark lettering but with organ swells and sweet licks to get the girl in the photo to even show up. This is what the drugs deals on Boys and Girls in America sound like before everything goes wrong and half the people involved end up in the hospital.

To the vibraphonists of post-rock, should there be any of you left out there - did all the post rockers finally become reborn metalheads? - the title track will serve as a guide of how to have vibes integrate perfectly with guitar. Patton's organ hums like the vibrations of the earth while Grant Green - maybe the most tasteful of the jazz guitarists - kicks the summer melody back and forth with Bobby Hutcherson through the haze of Otis Finch's cymbals. Paton sends the song rolling down hills, cannonballing into the pool and lazily sunbathing on the bank.

Fleetwood Mac - The Pious Bird of Good Omen
It's hard to believe the bizarre English blues-rock combo languishing on this record would only in a few years become the dictionary example for cocaine-fueled mega-success and change the course of pop music for a while.

And unpolished for that matter! Fleetwood Mac, to me, is the model of seamlessness in my mind, and to hear old Peter Green chewing people out and the loose-limbed approach, I'm hard-pressed to believe this is the same band that produced Rumours eight years later, which I mean, I guess it really isn't the same band.

John Mayall - The Turning Point
While living in Kansas, I once heard "California" on the radio, maybe as a bumper on NPR or something and was completely transfixed by it. I wanted so badly to be teleported away from the five-lane streets and the apartment complex and the soul-sucking job I had there to some breezy Laurel Canyon compound, lounging in a hammock amid conspirators and loveable losers, lazily strumming a guitar laying around, rumored to be the one Neil Young wrote "Revolution Blues" on or something. I mean, my life is pretty good now, and still that option looks attractive. I can only imagine the allure California has for a dreamy-eyed long-hair from Macclesfield.

Now, the lyrics on "California" are embarrassingly insipid, but once the soprano sax and tambourines commence to spellcasting in the middle of the song over that hypnotic bass line and the idle fingerpicking, I see the genius of John Mayall, flickering like a campfire in the dark.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ramen Review: The Cereal Way of all Things

The Cereal Way Non-Fried Instant Noodle soup is a hit!

Not a home run, but at least a base hit.

The noodles taste like actual noodles and not small strands of plastic that are designed to repel soup. The contents of little vegetable pack turned into something akin to vegetables when reconstituted, like one piece even had some texture. Usually the vegetable pack looks and tastes a little like a handful of potpourri snatched from an old lady's guest bathroom, so having them turn into near-vegetables is practically revolutionary.

The mushroom and chicken soup was bland to almost hospital food levels, but palatable. Maybe the "Spicy Beef" flavor solves this problem. But the noodles were actually good! I suppose one should expect good noodles from a noodle bowl - I mean, how hard is noodles? But I don't subscribe to service economy thinking, shaking my little fists at the sky demanding greater quality for my $1.43 lunch. Instead I look at it in the same way a guy I knew once described sex, expressing bewilderment at men who obsess over having a type.
Be picky? Hell, I'm happy to just be there.

The Cereal Way, you make a decent lay of a noodle bowl, and for that, I am thankful. Here's to finding out if spicy beef adds a little chickie-wah-wah to this relationship.

phoenixes in your woodpile

Just skip to the fable at the end.

Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel - Dual Hawks
Centro-Matic is one of those bands I really love but never think of when someone asks what bands do you love. I think its because Will Johnson has a quiet nature, one that observes the room from a spot on the wall and that permeates his music. This double record from Centro-Matic and his/their alter-ego South San Gabriel is quietly erratic, Rococo ragged, delicately tense introspective rock rendered in saturated watercolor, glowing off the paper/tape/air/whatever means it gets to you. I find their albums to be absolutely perfect when I listen to them, especially Fort Recovery, but the second they are done, they are gone, crumbled into ash from their own immolation and blow away with the next breeze.

Fortunately, Centro-matic has some phoenix in its woodpile because on that breeze the magic reassembles itself and is ready for another bonfire.

Sigur Ros - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust

The first time I heard Sigur Ros was in a small used record store in Mission, KS on my lunch break. I was there to buy a copy of Richard Buckner's Since, which instantly became and still is one of my favorite albums and I didn't want anything distracting me from my mission. I was on a mission IN MISSION! and they had it used! and I thought the record store planets were aligned, a magical convergence of want and availability was happening in the low orbit of my expendable income. I walked up with Since in my hand eager to get out of there when the girl behind the counter put Agaetis Byrjun on and that huge saturated "Sven-G-Englar" boomed out of the sound system and all my aligned planets started to roll out of step into their own complicated orbits.

I hate when that happens: when you find The Perfect Album at a record store with the full money and intention to buy it and then the goddamn clerk puts on something that blows you away. I paid up and got the fuck out, spitting Sigur Ros' name in the gravel parking lot as the dirty saboteurs they were, but that song hung in my head, even as old Buck wrote it out in stones where the road divides and a week later I tracked it down online and it set everything in the room floating like a friendly poltergeist.

I don't think the band has ever hit as high a point for me as that, and this new one, they have complementary touches of Joni Mitchell and Animal Collective operating in their anthemic formula, and it works brilliantly but doesn't have the crystalline beauty of their nadir. Which I guess is the point of a nadir.

Cormac McCarthy - Picture Gallery Blues
A discussion about The Road just reminded me that The Hemmingway of Today has a couple of folk/country albums I came across and never gotten around to listening to. The sunny voice, like Paul Burch without quite his brightness, is shocking. You expect him to bark like a gristled drifter, not grunting and twisting through a folk/country song melody.

Some quick research revealed that is is indeed a different Cormac McCarthy, a performing name that must bring this adequate but hapless new England folkie no end of grief when a furious lit major drives 200 miles to see the other Cormac Mccarthy inexplicably perform in some dive-ass coffee shop. Hell hath no fury like a lit major denied their unlikely meeting with greatness, even when it is revealed that their own shoddy research was to blame.

Unless its my brief research that is shoddy and this IS the "real" Cormac Mccarthy... if that's the case, I don't know what the hell is going on.

Greg Brown - Yellow Dog
Greg Brown is a grim-voiced folkie that came to mind when listening to the above that I forget about. And when I do remember him, he's usually had three albums crop up in the meantime. He's got that folk thing going - a mix of devastating gravity and embarrassing lightness to his records; folk people seem to never quite no when to pull back from corniness. Isn't that what Bob Dylan was for, to remind every folksinger in his wake that its OK to be lousy at times, but you still have to be poetic when doing it?

Greg Brown is a victim of his own corniness a lot of the time, but this is a live record where the temptation for smoothing away any edges is removed, and he's all the better for it.

Lou Reed - Legendary Hearts
If we are to talk about musical phoenixes who pump back and again the fence separating genius and flatulent, the subject of Lou Reed should defintiely be breached. I've never listened to this record, along with a couple others in the catalog, and while the title track is a winner - old Lou rounding the corner with a chestnut You gotta fight to do what's right. The new wave-meets-old-time-RnR on some of these tracks is a little too Huey Lewis for me, but the ones that center around his gentle strumming and meditative walking blues arpeggios and straight up riffs are hidden gems. If only Fernando Saunder's bass was pushed a little down in the mix rather than right up front. Sanders is a hell of a bassist, but here it comes off a little like someone farting loudly during a tense family dinner.

While trolling around about his stellar underdog Ecstacy the other day, I came across a Perfect Sound Forever article about the finest of his neglected albums; this, Escatcy and The Bells being the ones in question.

Plus, Guitarist Robert Quine is on this record, and he was the coolest among the cool making streetwalking cheetahs Lou Reed and Richard Hell sound cool and somehow coaxing some classics out of otherwise tepid Matthew Sweet on the Girlfriend album.

Matthew Sweet - Girlfriend
Since you mentioned it. If only the rest of the 90's still sounded this good. With Richard Lloyd, Robert Quine and Sweet himself on it, it becomes a we-still-got-it guitar hero trio record hiding under pop classicism. "I've Been Waiting" and "Girlfriend" are so perfect, they play in perpetuity while you cop a feel off your date at the Sadie Hawkins dance in Valhalla. Or maybe...

A Power Pop Fable inspired by Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend"

Upon hearing "Girlfriend" come on on the TV's overhead, Alex Chilton bellowed to the other people in the Blockbuster , "See? SEE?? THIS is what I was trying to tell all you stupid motherfuckers, but you wouldn't listen" and then someone whispered loudly, "Who is that guy?" and another responded "The guy from Big Star" to which the first person countered "Who is Big Star?" which garnered "OK, he was in the Box Tops" which got a shrug to which was responded "need me a ticket to an aero-plane?" ending in a nod and a quiet "oh" from both whispering parties.

Witnessing all this as goddamn Matthew Sweet crooned the perfect power pop line I wanna love somebody, I hear you need somebody to love, Alex Chilton screamed like a howler monkey in agony, throwing a trashcan through the window and storming out. Meanwhile Paul Westerberg, who'd driven him there, was thumbing through a magazine, oblivious to the whole thing until he heard the breaking glass. Paul drops the magazine, muttering "not again" and chases after him. The onlookers glance at the mess left behind, while the assistant manager, played with delicacy by Nick "Cruel to be Kind" Lowe smiles into the intercom mic "We need a cleanup in the lobby - broken glass."

Just then, Marshall Crenshaw ushered in a couple of well mannered kids through all the broken glass. "What happened here?" he loudly chuckled, and before anyone could answer, he said "Lemme guess.... Matthew Sweet. Was Elvis Costello in here or something?" and everyone says in sudden unison "Not hardly."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

[DownBeat] Lil' Dave Thompson: New Blues Perspectives

Lil Dave Thompson: New Blues Perspectives
by Alex V. Cook

Like most blues artists working today, singer/guitarist Lil Dave Thompson is aware of audiences' expectations for nostalgia or familiar progressions. He also knows how to avoid them.

"I consider myself more contemporary with a bit of Delta style," Thompson said just before a set at Teddy's Juke Joint in zachary, LA. "I'll throw a shuffle or a slow blues on each album, just to hold on to that traditional style of blues, but at the same time I want to be more contemporary. I just don't want to stay in that bag."

Read the whole thing in the July 2008 issue of Downbeat, page 25.

An outline of my new favorite thing to do

  1. Listen to WWOZ
    1. A public radio station from New Orleans specializing in
      1. Funk
      2. Jazz
      3. Soul
      4. And the occasional folk, but the funk jazz and soul is the reason you go there
    2. Just cool enough to
      1. Make you feel hipper when you have it on
      2. Inject some much needed R&B in my R&B-deficient listening habits
    3. Just corny enough to
      1. Play a lot of Dr. John
      2. Keep from being a completely stagnant exercise of [Listening To Jazz]
    4. Usually just out of range at my house
  2. On my phone
    1. A Sprint Palm Centro
      1. Which I love
        1. Much more than a grown-ass man should love a goddamn phone
        2. Because it does everything
          1. Maybe not with as much style as an iPhone
          2. And I am not that stylish anyway
        3. And then some
          1. I started writing this very document on it
          2. But decided to finish it on a "real computer"
            1. Because computers are merely tools
            2. And one should use tools to their advantages
      2. Since somebody asked
    2. Via the web stream
      2. Like I said, its normally out of range at my house
        1. But the internet has eroded
          1. the notion of range and
          2. the detailsof location, its
            1. precision
            2. limitations;
        2. And while I love
          1. Record stores
          2. Libraries
          3. Magazines
          4. Radio stations
        3. A lot, I will always take
          1. Access
          2. Information
        4. Over
          1. Fetishization of the package
          2. Dedication to the delivery system
          3. The hoarding instinct
  3. Though the little speaker
    1. Which is louder than you think a speaker on a phone should get
    2. Sounds perfectly lo-fi for this station because
      1. The vintage of the recordings played on WWOZ were made in an era of collective social listening
      2. Where sound was put into the air through the likes of
      3. Small transistor radios
      4. Sitting in/on
        1. Kitchens
          1. When visiting my uncle on the farm, he, his mentally challenged handyman and I would sit around the radio during lunch and listen to Paul Harvey rattle off little feel-good homilies that
            1. Reinforced the wisdom of
              1. Clean responsible living
              2. The elderly
            2. Actually made you feel good
            3. Usually ended with a prophetic twist –
              1. "…and that young crossing guard from Massachusetts that thwarted the robbery because of his dedication to duty grew up to become
              2. (… wait for it)
              3. Mob-buster Elliot Ness."
        2. Workshops
          1. The one good thing I can say about this guy my mom dated was that his omnipresent AM radio gave me an appreciation of country music
            1. Before it got totally ruined
            2. I remember one day hearing "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" play about 36 times in one day
              1. Which is strange since the song came out in 1979
              2. And this would have been around 1982
              3. Maybe The Charlie Daniels Band was playing in the area that weekend and no one has ever wanted to hear any other song by The Charlie Daniels Band
          2. Though the melody of Johnny Horton's "The Battle of New Orleans" still triggers a little shudder of him for me
            1. I'm not implying"anything happened" while that song was playing
            2. Nor am I implying anything "happened" ever, just saying
            3. Memories stitch things together in their own way
        3. Swingsets
          1. One hot summer afternoon, eight years old, I was sitting on the swingset with
          2. Tracy Quackenbush
          3. Listening to the Bay City Rollers cover of "I Only Want to Be With You" on my little transistor radio
            1. The Regency TR-1
            2. Pictured above
          4. when the announcer broke into the song and said
          5. Elvis Presley had died
          6. And there was a minute of silence
          7. Followed by the same Bay City Rollers song again, presumably so the DJ could go grab all the Elvis records the station had
          8. And play them non-stop for the next week.
  4. As it sits on the dryer
    1. Because that's where the charger is plugged in and
    2. Because this tiny phone sounds like a transistor radio rattling against that metal
    3. And WWOZ sounds so good because it sounds like memory
    4. Blaring away on a transistor radio
    5. As memories apparently do.

[The Record Crate] The new, the old and the forever

The new: Cuteness abounds when impossibly joyous Brooklyn couple Matt & Kim intersperse their hand-clapping indie rock throughout the hugely popular Velcro dance night at the Spanish Moon. The party is just getting rolling there, as hodge-podge mashup fun of Girl Talk rolls in on Friday. Neither act is the kind of act that leaves you scratching your chin much, but then your hands are supposed to be in the air at a dance party.

Japanese eardrum busting trio Boris will land the mothership once again at the Spanish Moon, touring behind their melancholy supernova Smile. Somewhere between happy joy pop and devastating doom is the elaborate chamber rock of Islands. The Montreal sextet takes the (sonic) spectacle of a Flaming Lips and mixes it with the polite wry sensibilities of Jens Lekman -- a joyous noise in the outcome.

The old: Baton Rougeans of an increasing vintage will point to two bands that defined this town. Dash Rip Rock shows at The Chimes, when The Varsity was still a movie theater, were packed to the gills, with barely enough room to swing your partner. The Roebucks, while never reaching Dash's popularity, took the mix of rock and country swing to perilous levels. Trying to keep up on the dance floor at a Roebucks show in the early 1990s was like trying to do tricks on your jet ski without spilling your Bloody Mary. Both groups make an appearance in town this week, Dash at Phil Brady's on Friday and the Roebucks at Chelsea's on Saturday.

The forever: Teddy Johnson will be quick to point to the stage at his venerable Teddy's Juke Joint and say "I was born right there, and then I went over there (pointing to his DJ booth in the back) and I'm still here." For the past 30 years, Teddy has been running his juke joint in the house he was born in and it remains one of the last authentic juke joints on Hwy. 61. Lil Ray Neal and crew will be out there for the weekly Sunday night jam, celebrating the kind of funky legacy that's hard to find anymore.

Link, with local events calendar

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lou Reed's Baton Rouge

I've just listened to Lou Reed's 2000 album Ecstacy three times in a row while doing some tedious computer stuff and have this to say on it:
  1. Lou Reed really is that good. Some times I think he's overblown and my interest in him is more about trying to bring secondary interests to the forefront.
  2. And half the time he is overblown; he does a great record followed by a tepid one with remarkable consistency.
  3. Esctasy is a great record, up there with New York and Magic and Loss
  4. But the real thing I want to know is: what is the back story behind the song "Baton Rouge"
  5. Was his first wife Sylvia (nee Morales) from here?
  6. I think this album is largely about her, looking at things that went wrong, exorcising his anger at her and himself, and coming into his relationship with Laurie Anderson.
  7. Does he mean a marching band? If so, does that mean that Lou Reed once went to an LSU game as a teenager for some reason, a family vacation from Long Island?
  8. And he fell in love with a local girl, making time in the back of car until they were ripped apart by cruel circumstance? And that all came crashing back to him at the dissolution of his own marriage?
  9. Or is Baton Rouge a River Styx for rockstars, what with Lynyrd Skynyrd and all, and he is using it as some obscure allegory?
  10. Whatever it is, its one of the lovelier songs in his late albums, lyrically and musically, with the strings rushing in over "so helpless so helpless"
  11. And with time number three, I got these goddamn numbers on this report to add up and thereby feel a little less helpless in the grand scheme of things.
Lou Reed - "Baton Rouge"

When I think of you baton rouge
I think of a mariachi band
I think of sixteen and a crisp green football field
I think of a girl I never had

When I think of you baton rouge
I think of a back seat in a car
Windows are foggy and so are we
as the police asked for our I.D.

So helpless
so helpless

Ooohhh, so helpless
ooohhh, so helpless
Ooohhh, so helpless
so helpless

Well I once had a car lost it in a divorce
the judge was a woman of course
She said give her the car and the house and your taste
or else I set the trial date

So now when I think of you baton rouge
and the deep southern belles with their touch
I wonder where love ends and hate starts to blush
in the fields in the swamps in the rush

In the terra-cotta cobwebs of your mind
when did you start seeing me as a spider spinning web
Of malicious intent and you as poor, poor me
at the fire at the joint, this disinterred and broken mount
in the bedroom in the house where we were unmarried

So helpless, so helpless
so helpless
So helpless, so helpless
so helpless

When was I the villa in your heart
putting the brake on your start
you slapped my face and cried and screamed
that's what marriage came to mean
The bitterest ending of a dream

You wanted children and I did not
was that what it was all about
You might get a laugh when you hear me shout
you might get a laugh when you hear me shout
I wish I had

So helpless, so helpless
so helpless
So helpless, so helpless
so helpless

Sometimes when I think of baton rouge
I see us with two and a half strapping sons
One and a half flushed daughters preparing to marry
and two fat grandsons I can barely carry

Daddy, uncle, family gathered there for grace
a dog in a barbecue pit goes up in space
The dream recedes in the morning with a bad aftertaste
and I'm back in the big city worn from the race of the chase
what a waste

So thanks for the card the announcement of child
and I must say you and Sam look great
Your daughter's gleaming in that -
- white wedding dress with pride
sad to say I could never bring that to you that wide smile

So I try not to think of baton rouge
or of a, of a, of a mariachi band
Or of sixteen and a crisp green football field
and the girl, and the girl I never had

So helpless, so helpless
so helpless
So helpless, so helpless
so helpless

New favorite sign: chili Cheese NACHOS

Right around the corner from my house, next to a snowball stand.

blown fuses

Sly and the Family Stone - There's a Riot Goin' On
You might actually alert a DEA dog at the airport by merely having this album on your iPod. Riot is much less about explosive protest than it is about the empty space, the grand vacuum of being stoned. Other Sly records like Stand! are about everything coming at once; Riot is about nothing coming in. Stand! is "Go funk!"; Riot is "Oh fuck..."

The recording sessions for Riot are legendardy, the isolation, control, paranoia - with Sly casting himself in the role of enemy of society, locked away in his studio. It reads like the final days of a doomsday cult, nervously seeing the ATF tanks approaching from the horizon and all they have is Jesus (or Miles Davis in this case) and the calling to push the groove forward until the tear gas comes.

Like a rose growing in shit, out of this emerges "Family Affair," one of the greatest pop songs ever written. Sure, the family is pushed to the background behind papa's growling pronouncements and rare good mood, but together in the loose glue of a syncopated beat the family still clings to the last threads of love that manage to stay tight, even as every other one has long unraveled.

Various Artists - Roots of Greek Music Vol 3: Rebetika
I did actually find a rather anthropological record called Cannibis Indica in Rebetika Songs Recordings, 1931 - 1946, old stoned Greeks singing songs like Sa Foumaro Zeibekiko "When I'm Smoking a Joint" - I was going to wade through just to fit in on the stoned theme, but instead I opt for the bargain bin survey of this noble intricate music like the American Consumer I am.

Rebetika emerged as from the poor sectors of the Greek cities, rattling away, dancing about hashish and the hardships of the people which led it to be banned by dictator Ioannis Metaxas in 1936. Metaxas be damned! Even dry-old Wikipedia cannot help but succumb to the inherent sexy, forbidden noir of this music:
The cradles of rebetic song were the tavern, the ouzeri, the hashish den and also the prison.
If you have a taste for Gogol Bordello and Beruit and Devotchka, then you owe it to yourself to taste the flavors that get weakened in their respective stews. It's much sexier when anonymous Greeks do it than indie rockers with a library card. I can understand their adoption though; if I could play this stuff on either mandolin or accordion, I might never stop until the next dictator locked me away.

Zydepunks - Exile Waltz
Now, if you are looking for some impassioned fusion of the world's wild accordion music, mazurka on over to New Orleans' own Zydepunks. Not one but two accordions are required to beat out this wild storm of Gypsy/Cajun/Irish/Greek drinking music of the damned. I interviewed these guys a while back as part of a piece I did on New Orleans underground music for The Wire on October 2007. Here is the whole interview

How would you describe your group to a serious music fan who'd never heard you before?

Folk/punk. A combination of Louisiana French & and European folk with punk rock.

What is it with ecclectic music in New Orleans. NO other place in the US has as many fiddles and accordions and other non-rock instruments playing in often, large bands. Why is that? Is there something about New Orleans that brings that out (dixieland/brass band tradition)

I'm not sure that's 100 % true. New York, San Francisco, Asheville NC, Portland OR... there are a lot of cities with a core of bands using non-rock instruments, for different reasons. Right now a lot of it is really underground. Bands like the Decemberists, Flogging Molly and Gogol Bordello are a reflection of what's going on underground and what's been going on undeground for a long time.

NY has a lot of Russian and Jewish immigrants, Asheville's an old-time/bluegrass capital, San Francisco's music scene is incredibly diverse and experimental so there have always been bands using weird instruments there. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of musical exchange between New Orleans and these cities. Many musicians move between them and NOLA on a regular basis.

New Orleans' base of jazz music gives non-rock instruments instant credibility and give people who live here the opportunity to hear music that's not purely run by DJs and rock'n'rollers. It also draws people here who play other instruments because they're respected here. Where are you going to go if you play clarinet? The choices are limited, and New Orleans is one place to go.

Also, there is an eastern European "circus" vibe that many bands have about them, a very Fellini-esque sound. Any idea where that comes from?

Tough, tough question. You're asking about musical traditions that go back to the origins of jazz, vaudeville, Yiddish theater, Gypsy jazz, train-hoppers, punk rock and more. It would take a book even to summarize it, but I'll try.

Some musical styles have a lot in common. Slavic, Jewish and Gypsy music all have a "weird" sound to Western ears, so it fits well with the "weird" vibe a lot of modern freakshow circuses have.

People pick up on music from Eastern Europe by traveling there or meeting street performers who teach songs. It's a very natural progression.

New Orleans attracts weird people. It has an "anything-goes" vibe, especially in the more obscure neighborhoods, though the anything goes clubs have pretty much shut down in the last few years. And the circus attracts weird people who need large, open-minded venues to be able to do their shtick.

Do you see what you are doing, taking a number of disparate elements and putting them together in an artful way a reflection of what New Orleans is doing to itself after the storm?

I hope I don't offend you, but I have to shoot the idea down :-)

I've been playing folk and punk for a long, long time - well before Katrina. Music hybrids are a natural progression of society - jazz was a combination of blues, African and classical music, Salsa combines jazz, Cuban, african and classical, the Rolling Stones mixed blues/r&b with a heavier sound. The list is absolutely endless. It's just what musicians do.

What really is a reflection of New Orleans is the nature of our new songs and lyrics. They present a bleak, dreary, angry vision of how things are in New Orleans and Louisiana right now, with the occasional glimmer of hope.

Various Artists - Miles from India
This is where fusion starts pushing things. Miles Davis may have included some Indian flourishes on Get Up With It, largely because of the effect Indian music was having on rock music at the time, but I think lacing late Miles and the Indian tradition up is being a little too connectivist, even for me.

Fortunately, I think this project is more of an acted-upon lark than a sound anthropological manifesto and is all the better for it. An it'll-sell-at-Starbucks CD. All that aside, the album is pretty good, retrofitting the Bitches Brew/On the Corner funk haze to be performed on Indian instruments and chanting singers. The violin on "It's About Time" is particularly incendiary, going interstellar like John McLaughlin or Jean-Luc Ponty while still holding on to that peculiar thinness of Indian violin, the group giving it a moment of silence in which it can shine.

Miles Davis - Get Up With It
If I'm going to say its name, I should be willing to go there. This is Miles at his best not-really-jazz-anymore state, I think. There are funkier records (On the Corner) , once more in line with acid rock (Jack Johnson) and even more feral Hendrix-inspired wildness (Dark Magus) but Get Up With It is where he gets possibly further away from jazz, sounding more like Italian horror movie band Goblin (they did all those delicious Dario Argento movies) than Miles Davis on the spectral "He Loved Him Madly."

Get Up With It (1972) shows Miles the wolf standing on the precipice of becoming the lizard that emerged 9 years later with the largely flat The Man With the Horn, a low point that led into his final phase. Miles has a claustrophobic atmosphere on many of his electric records, and that exists here, but you get the feeling the heavy studio curtains are starting to part, a knife of blaring sunshine illuminating the dust tumbling in the air.

Like on Riot, Miles is revealing a glimpse of the end here. Perhaps they both have gone out far enough to finally see the big picture and that realization is what snaps them back to earth.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Technovelty Manifesto

I was sure I'd coined the term "technovelty" the other day when I was mooning over my new phone and cosidering how silly it was to do so, A Google search at a stop light revealed a code snippet website already had it.

Though, being able to Google for "technovelty" at a stoplight is surely technovelty in its purest form.

And, posting it here with an example might just be enough to make it a word.

I mean, NPR is forever running a smarmy story about a new word entering the dictionary, like Brangelina and locavore, and the story always points to a journalist coining the term in some article, so why not technovelty, and here, and me?

Did I mention I'm typing, editing and posting this all from this device, using technovelty to express itself? Should I draw up a PowerPoint to demonstrate? 'Cuz I think this thing has PowerPoint on it.

In Defiance of the First Day of Summer, I'm Listening to The Fall

As some people are bewilderingly dedicated to a losing sports franchise, I am a Fall fan. I even like their spotty hodgepodge songs (in some cases, even better than the the more conventional ones) and see Mark E. Smith as a model artist, a way to see things through despite logic and convention, like Buckminster Fuller saw pirates and Lester Bangs saw Lou Reed. The Fall is not about success, it is about method and perseverence. It is about allegiance to vision before anything else, even the viability of results.

My favorite albums by The Fall
  1. Hex Enduction Hour
  2. Grotesque (After the Gramme)
  3. Levitate
  4. The Infotainment Scan
  5. Light User Syndrome
  6. Perverted By Language
  7. Extricate!
  8. Bend Sinister
  9. Austurbaejarbio (Live in Reykjavik 1983)
  10. Are You Are Missing Winner?
It might be blasphemy in Fall circles to not include their tinny debut Live at the Witch Trials and its follow up Dragnet, but I think its Grotesque where the band really found its foothold. Also Are You Are Missing Winner? is an absolute unjustifiable shambles of a record, the loosest, most unformed for a band who has been pushing the lower envelope of having their shit together for 30 years or so, and I love it for that very reason.

The Fall - Light User Syndrome
I'm in the pre-process of reviewing/compartmentalizing their 30-something-th album Imperial Wax Solvent, and I figured it is like anticipating a possibly awkward family reunion; it's a good idea to firm ones resolve with fond memories. So here is one of my favorites from the tail end of the Brix years.

The band is ragged and flinty in 1996. Longtime guitarist Craig Scanlon, considered the lynchpin of the band's sound, had been sacked before the recording began, and keyboardist Julia Nagle was added to the lineup creating tension between Mark and his wife Brix. Brix walked out of the group and their marriage on the tour for the record, as did the rest of the band eventually. Supposedly, Mark only showed up on the last day of recording to contribute his vocals.

So, a train wreck; yet the Fall embraces a train wreck. The irritation seems to only stoke their engines, crank things up a notch as the group careens toward oblivion. Mark E. Smith seems to embrace this as a strategy, seeing better results under pressure. I bet it sucks to be in The Fall.

Fun fact (or rather, conjecture): "Powder Keg" contains the line

Sickening in its infection.
His radioactive
radio-head drips with powder
His aura, round halo, thin.

which I am going to put out as where Radiohead got their name from. I think I've read that they got it from Talking Heads' "Radiohead" off True Stories, but The Fall is closer to the twitchy soul of Radiohead than David Byrne's pollyanna conceptualization of The Real America as seen by an entrenched downtown Manhattanite. I'm not implying Byrne doesn;t have a finger on the pulse of some partucular American heartbeat ("The Big Country" and "Nothing But Flowers" are good examples) but I think True Stories missed the bus.

The Fall - Bend Sinister
Bend Sinister makes it here because it was the first one I got (found a casesette of it at the bottom of a box of old suit jackets in the warehouse of Here Today Gone Tomorrow, an off-circuit thrift store in Baton Rouge. It was so impossibly hidden under all those moldy tweed jackets in a room were usually forbidden to enter back then, providence was undoubtedly in play bringing it to me. Plus "Shoulder Pads (Part 1)" is the infectious pop hit that never was for the band. The cover of The Only One's "Mr Pharmacist" is pure garage genius

Bend Sinister finds this markedly unromantic band at their most romantic, twinges of nostalgia casting sepia tones upon the usual exposed nerve guitar riffs on which Fall songs are routinely built. Even when Smith barks out through a megaphone on "Dr. Faustus" it sounds like he's doing so from the pages of a scrapbook.

The Fall - This Nation's Saving Grace
This is, to me now, not a great album unto itself, but it has some of their most important songs on it.

"Spoilt Victorian Child" was on a $3 Rough Trade comp tape I bought at the mall that also introduced me to Love and Rockets, Bauhaus, and a couple other staples from the era. I happen to still think this is one of the great unsung garage rock songs of all time. It's as snotty as "Pushin' Too hard", brilliantly opting to go slow and contemplative where most garage rock songs would hit the turbo switch, opening up the listener to cold self-reflextion.

And you know that servants keep their order knowledge
And as you walk on in the footsteps of steed, babe
In the encrusted green unwild
You know
you are
a spoilt

And immediately after, we shift to the glamorous world devoid of any self-awareness. "L.A." is either spot-on love letter to Los Angeles, a city that weighs heavily on the English imagination (Morrisey: We look to Los Angeles for the language we use; London is dead - "Glamorous Glue") or a perfect ironic slam of that very sentiment. It's hard to imagine these dour Mancunian speed freaks sunning themselves at Redondo Beach, but Smith's wife Brix Smith was from there and served as the hub of the band during the late 80's, so maybe she was just homesick.

The chant of this is my happening and it freaks me out lifted from Russ Meyer's Beyond the valley of The Dolls serves to further confuse the love/revulsion twist in this song.

The Fall - The Infotainment Scan
The Infotainment Scan I got for a $1 on CD from a video store here in town that was closing out its short-lived music section. It was out-of-print at that time, and finding it there unfortunately cemented my need to thumb through every box of crap cut-out CD's ever presented to me ever since. I'm in a post-object phase of music fandom, preferring digital copies or better yet digital streams from subscriptions for my fix, so that I can let whim be my only guide, which may be the exact horror imagined on this album.

Here, Smith is deepest in the mire of rock and technology (Levitate is even less a rock album than this, but he's more comfortable with it) best expressed in the cover of Giorgio Moroder's "Lost in Music" retaining its dance floor throb but instead of the original's enthrall, the narator is now frightened, scrambling in a hall of mirrors.

The demented wrecking ball set of "Paranoid Man in a Cheap Shit Room," "Service," "The League of Bald-Headed Men" and "A Past Gone Mad" are electropop interpretation of the crisis of modernity at its finest - really, I think Richard Hell might be the only other singer able to deliver this with a sharper edge than Mark E. Smith, and Smith is infinitely more loquacious - but its the oddball cover of Steve Bent's "I'm Going to Spain," involving a lummox intoning to coworkers his hopes that his unimaginative vacation will give him the recharge he so sorely needs - Cousin Norman had a real fine time last year - really nails it. It's odd that a guy who can't really sing, fronting a band that technically isn't that proficient can unearth real power in a cover song.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Yea-zerr, they can't stop me.

Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
Listening to see if I want to work up a review of this. This album is rather spectacular pop, poking its head above the waterline so likely, that's a yes. I'm always iffy about reviewing hip-hop: from a cultural standpoint, its the most important music currently being made, but I have a hard time applying the 90%-of-everything-is-crap rule to ferret out the 10% worth noting in that I'm really not a huge hip-hop fan and there is a patina of genius that gets foisted on the big money acts that works differently than it does in indie rock or alt-country or whatever. I think that is a big part of what makes hip-hop so interesting - how the marketing of it is so entrenched in the music itself that the two ends support each other, sometimes blurring the line between them. I don't cotton to the Rolling Stone practice of trying to extract the wisdom of, say Chris Martin of Coldplay just because they sell a bazillion records, but I don't want to wholesale dismiss them either. Except for Coldplay. I feel pretty safe dismissing them.

For instance, 50 Cent is reportedly one of the most popular music artists in the world, that his music is played in Moroccan markets and eastern European neighborhoods, which to me is interesting. The music of 50 Cent, though, to me, is not interesting at all, and from a musical standpoint I don't know what I'd have to say but this stuff is kinda asinine, and that is of no use to anyone. And I don't mean the hoary old dilemma of "he doesn't even make that music." Elvis and Frank Sinatra didn't write songs or music, but to say they aren't the forces behind "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Witchcraft" respectively is ludicrous. I am in full understanding that and artist or group is but the front desk reception area to an entire warehouse devoted to the creation of that music, but the music is theirs nonetheless. 50 Cent is a great celebrity, great personality, but I don't really like the music.

But so far, Tha Carter III is badass outside and above any context in which my self-righteous, elitist honky ass might try to fence it, pulling the mask off the usual hip-hop costume revealing the egotistical, nervous, anxiety-ridden twitchy soul under it, so I'm on it. I'm sure Lil Wayne is relieved.

Nurse With Wound - Huffin' Rag Blues (myspace)
This album by noted avant-garde act Nurse With Wound segues with Lil Wayne rather well: Stephen Stapleton has in many interviews spoken of his affinity with hip-hop production and it would not surprise me if the deep crate diggers of hip-hop are familiar with NWW's grand ambient queasiness. This album is straight up exotica fucked, which seems a little behind the curve unless there is a lounge resurgence of which I am unaware. I used to do a weekly radio show of thrift store lounge music, and here NWW pefectly captures the precision of the sound floating in pristine stillness characteristic of that music - exotica gained its popularity as demonstration of hi-fi's in the 50's, pulling off the Hawaii mania of that era.

Once at a garage sale, I bought an envelope of souvenir photos from someone's 1961 trip to Hawaii, including the menus fro the plane, luau invitations to Don the Beachcomber's, haunting tiny snapshots. I gave them to a friend eons ago to make a website out of it, but we've lost touch and hopefully those photos still exist. I think Blogspot and Flickr slideshows were designed with the idea of wordlessly displaying 40-year old beach pictures. And this album would be a singularly perfect demented accompaniment to it.

Mogwai - Mr. Beast

I've never quite bought the mass-hysteria over Mogwai. I'm a big fan of elegiac stately marched of slowly unfolding simple melodies, but Mogwai always seemed a little too simplistic to me, like they didn't know how to push the music past its structure like Kinski or even Explosions in the Sky do. But I was fishing around for something without words the other night and they effing nail it on the opening track "Auto Rock."

It's Big Flood music. Hanging on that thin mast of piano is a mighty sail taking us all to glory, across 40 nights of floods with all those animals fucking and griping "are we there yet?"in the background, as giant waves of God's wrath splash over the bow like they do on Deadliest Catch. I wish that song was 20 minutes long and they built it up proportionally over the span.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

[outsideleft] Silver Jews: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Back from Death

Silver Jews
Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea
(Drag City)

The last time I reviewed a new Silver Jews record, it was playing in my car and I backed over a cat in the driveway. I cleaned up the mess, took some painkillers and fell asleep on the couch. Today, I sit with Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea streaming out of my phone into a decidedly less tense situation, with humidity standing in for painkillers, drowsily playing with a new live puppy in the backyard.

Trading a dead cat for a playful puppy documents the transition from the rehab-story one-upmanship of Tanglewood Numbers to the cautious affirmations in Lookout Mountain rather succinctly. Berman still has that exhausted voice, like that of a guy who’s finally taking off his shoes in a motel room after selling encyclopedias all day, but here he stares with the curtain opens into the sunset over the motel parking lot instead of retreating into the dark crevices of a damaged soul. He’s really good at mapping those bleak places; look at the oppressively heavy atmosphere of The Natural Bridge if you want to see where he used to be, or Tanglewood Numbers if you want to see what happened when he slipped over the edge.

Lookout presents a less oblique artist, bravely trying to express his new philosophy against the crickets and twang on “What Was Not But Could Be If” which fails as a manifesto of reconciliation, but succeeds as a portrait of those who attempt such declaration – when failure’s got you in its grasp, and your reaching for your very last, it’s just beginning. The transformation of escape from escapism is the thread that feeds through the album: “Aloyisius, Bluegrass Drummer” is a rollicking tale of love among the lowlifes that ends horribly, with Aloyisius darting out as fast as he can. “The Pillow is a Threshold” denies the tether the damned have with a bad situation – I throw my thoughts like Tomahawks into a world which I disown. The delicious downer tone of this song points to the old train wreck Berman in which many listeners found solace, which is a welcome return after the filigree of Tanglewood. The production on Lookout is still elaborate, but subdued, allowing the stories to take center stage.

And, like any conversation with a recovering lowlife, there are great stories. “San Francisco, B.C.” is a hilarious Tarantino ride through a drug deal gone really bad involving many characters like his girlfriend who after her dad had been beaten to death, she became a martyr in the vegan press and a drug dealer’s stepson Gene in which he gets embroiled in a botched robbery – try to be his friend, he’s got a friendly side. The musical accompaniment is picture perfect, trotting like “Memphis, Tennessee” - I'll bet the cover by Silicon Teens is in Berman's tape case somewhere - punctuated by casino rattle and the clink of glasses. This song is a masterpiece of noir humor, stepping into and back from the narrative.

What Berman has thankfully done is cleaned up his act – Tanglewood Numbers was a response to surviving a crack and Xanax suicide attempt – but can still find beauty and humor on both sides of the fence. “Candy Jail” is a dense twanger built on piles of candy references that I am guessing refers to the immediacy of the life he lived not so long ago, its appeal and availability. It’s unclear whether the jail is addiction or sobriety, and maybe that’s the point. This ambiguity continues on the punctuation point on this record, the lovely “Party Barge” where he details his background and how he chopped down this weeping willow tree and built this party barge. The barge he crates out of his sadness is being a mess, is recovering, and is ultimately being himself.

I know it’s a common fallacy to read one’s art as strictly autobiographical, as well as sensationalize an artist’s predilections and personal history, to conflate the singer with the song, but with Tanglewood and this record, it’s unavoidable. David Berman speaks with such unflinching intimacy that makes you want to believe his songs, and maybe that’s what happened to him. Whatever he is - noble survivor, big liar, jackass addict, sadsack poet - David Berman is a hell of a songwriter who has ahandle on life's conflicting dimensions, and those are themselves a dying breed. I'm glad to have at least one still kicking around.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nuke the whales for Slayer

I am tired of having 3-4 40% jobs and am ready to go back to having just one %100 one thank you. Today was one of those days where problems inherent joined forces to create a Voltron of problems.

All day today it was non-stop thundering

to pummel the pain away. It has been forever (and for a couple of these albums, never) since I've listened to Slayer. Much like how I got into straight jazz via free jazz, I came into metal through the back channels of black and doom metal of it, and in both cases, it gave me an appreciation for the foundations that I might not have had otherwise.

Has it ever been noted that Slayer vocalist Tom Araya sounds an awful lot like a sped up, grittier D. Boon from The Minutemen? Slayer were all California punks who wanted it harder, so its not that much of a stretch.

I knew I loved Slayer even in my snobbiest college dj years because once I was visiting a friend in the high-rise dorms on campus and someone has put a "Save the Whales" sticker on the elevator wall. It must have been fresh, because on my way down, it had already been x-ed out to say Nuke the whales for Jesus. A week later, someone had crossed out Jesus and replaced it with a rather elaborate Slayer mural, complete with pentagram of swords and an eagle. I want to say the eagle had a dead whale dangling from it's beak, but I think I am just wanting it to have had that. Regardless, a band that inspires that degree of defacement has always got my respect. I expect no one has rode up and down a stinky hot elevator in a dilapidated men's dorm just to add the finishing touches on their Decemberists mural.

It Was a Perfectly Baton Rouge Bloomsday

in that no one, including myself, remembered to bring a copy of Ulysses with us. It was for the best. We engaged in the grand Irish tradition of drinking and talking shit on a Monday laced with literary pretension.

I don't know why I'm so into this whole thing right now. I went through a Joyce phase about 10 years ago. Maybe I'm now figuring out what I can do with this stuff.

I land on a couple things as I dragged through Finnegans Wake the other day. That book is less a novel than it is an oracle, little bits of genius linked together into a web that catches everything.

for instance, here are some of the speculative leaps one is tempted to make:

The diasporation of all pirates and quinconcentrum of a fake like
Basilius O'Cormacan MacArty? (Part:3 Episode:13)

Did a young upstart writer named Charles McCarthy change his name to Cormac when he came across this passage in Finnegans Wake? The Cormac McArthy Society says this:

Originally named Charles (after his father), he renamed himself Cormac after the Irish King (another source says that McCarthy's family was responsible for legally changing his name to the Gaelic equivalent of "son of Charles").

Considering much of his work involves the spreading out of thieves and the unravellings of many layers of a man to reveal his falsehood, I say maybe so.

Semperexcommunicambiambisumers (Part:1 Episode:6)

Roughly: those who are always excluding, walking and walking, and using things up. That would be us.

-- My dear sir! In this wireless age any owl rooster can peck up bostoons. But whoewaxed he so anquished? Was he vector victored of victim vexed? (Part:3 Episode:14)

I snapped a picture of this sentence on my cell phone and uploaded it because I thought it sounded like a heavy pronouncement about my obsession with this new device, which makes me feel like the world can now be easily captured and filtered through me, titrated for meaning, and of course , in doing this very thing I became one of any owl rooster (night or day) that can do that very thing, immediately vexed and victim of the vectors over which I proposed to be the victor. And the anguish of that realization being what I am waxing about at this very moment.

Finnegans Wake is supposedly one night of the whole world spiriling down into one mind. I have heard it said that if you take all the locations in FW, half are in Europe, half of those in the British Isles, half of those in Ireland, half of those in Dublin, half of those in the neighborhood in which he lived, etc etc etc. If that is true, then the book becomes a telescoping parabolic drain with the world's experiences, or, even better, a black hole (justified and popularized by Einstein in 1916, FW was started in 1922) pulling everything, bending light (language) to its gravitational will, the center, the narrator, until its combines and and reduces and becomes The Singularity.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bloomsday Revelry, Death Boners and Polite Creepy Company

Leon Redbone - Champagne Charlie
I'm listening to Leon Redbone because I compared a song on a CD I was reviewing to him, and had to check to see if my comparison was on (it was.) But now I can't stop listening to it. Leon Redbone is so weird - with his sly minimal instrumentation and that muted vocal style of his, the yodeling and Hawaiian slack key guitar, that hat and that mustache. He's at the other end of whatever scale he and Tom Waits are on. It's the kind of music you can only appeciate alone, for the first thing anyone else would say is "Why are you listening to this?"

When I was a kid, Leon Redbone popped up in pop culture all the time, and I forgot until I read his wiki page that his identity and background is quaintly obscure. But listening to "Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)" led me to think about Will Oldham aka Bonnie 'Prince" Billy and Redbone's manicured oddity seems to be a touchstone for Oldham.

She and Him - Volume One
I am somehow just getting around to this album, a collaboration of one of my favorite musician's M. Ward and the most beguiling Zooey Deschanel. Z-De pulls this off pretty well - she's not exactly a great singer, but then M. Ward is a master of glorifying an understated voice on his own records. When she gets multi-tracked into a one-woman girl-group though, it is deliriously good, like if Phil Spector did a Tammy Wynette record with Fleetwood Mac as the band. Or something. Trust me, I'm a professional.

I keep waiting for M. Ward to pop up with his gravelly whisper that breaks my heart every time I hear it.

Here they are doing "Dream a Little Dream"

The next logical step is that Scarlett Johanssen album of Tom Waits covers, but fortunately my wife just popped in and gave me a taste of her astounding White Cherry Icee, and that satisfied any thirst for saccharine perversity I might still harbor.

Jenny Scheinman - Crossing the Field
I was struck by an ad, of all things, for her two new albums in a recent issue of Downbeat. She has that downtown avant-garde smoothness about her, a wildness that somehow gets chanelled into elegant restraint through the rigors of being a virtuoso. After seeing Bang on a Can perform a couple months back, I have such an art-tooth for this kind of music - too smart for PBS but too populist for serious composition. According to what I've read, she does vocals and violin with equal stunning grace, this being one of her violin albums. I know I want to hear more.

Vic Chesnutt - Ghetto Bells
When I think polite company with a dark side, I think Vic Chesnutt. I reviewed Ghetto Bells when it came out and I think most of the things I gushed about it still hold true. His eerie love song about his mom "Virginia" is creepy, as in a vine as well as "creepy." The beauty of Vic Chesnutt is that he can muster all the poise and nuance of anybody, but he will totally go there in his words and subject matter. The line Christian charity is a doily covering my death boner from "Vesuvius" is worth the price of admission alone.

Vic always works with a sympathetic producer, and Van Dyke Parks, who also helped out crazy old Brian Wilson on Smile, was on board for Ghetto Bells. I think its a high point for both, but take a look at...

Van Dyke Parks - Song Cycle
What a weird record! I just spent an hour in the library scouring a copy of Finnegans Wake for the ten hundred-word thunderclaps for a Bloomsday reading tonight, and only found eight. My head is a little dizzy still from that barrage of words and juxtapositions. Joyce is minefield like that. But this record seems to be an American pops equivalent. Like Cole Porter making a musical out of Leaves of Grass to be played by the Marine Band on peyote. Songs collide with songs and idoms and noise and reconceptualization faster than you can process, and yet, from a distance, it is sweet and easy as Leon Redbone. I think its a masterpiece, but I'm not sure I'm up to its challenges right this second.

Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
After that, it can be safely said Sufjan Stevens is Encyclopedia Brown to Van Dyke Parks' Prospero, but I still love the little eagle scout. I just got a blip on my PR radar about Of Great and Mortal Men: 43 Songs For 43 Presidencies, and for a second I thought it was a revealing of Steven's latest history project in song, but no, he's not even on the guest list.

Still, Illinois is a masterwork, despite the fact that I think we are supposed to be over him. And "John Wayne Gacy" and "Casimir Pulaski Day" are going to make me choke up like they always does. He's got one on every album that kills me - "Romulus" on Michigan, "That Dress Looks Nice on You" on Seven Swans, "The Pick-Up" on The Avalanche. Maybe its that my heart has been tenderized by all the rich Baroque beauty of his other songs that it simply cannot contain itself at the sweet simple ones.

Maya and I listened to this album as we waited in line at McDonald's for an hour and a half, the only thing open a few days after Katrina - somehow it and a convenience store on Florida blvd were spared the blackout the rest of the city suffered, and we reveled in a thankful moment of air conditioning as shell-shocked workers barked "ALL WE GOT IS 10-PIECE NUGGETS AND QUARTER POUNDERS SO DON'T EVEN ASK FOR NOTHING ELSE" at the line of cars stretching down the block. I was already a fan, but Sufjan made perfect cosmic sense, the collapsing of the profound and the mundane, the worst environmental disaster in American history and a McDonald's drive-thru, twittering French horns and xylophones prancing up and down those scales ol' Sufjan had practiced so many many times. This was the fusion and density that Walt Whitman and Charles Ives and James Joyce saw in the world and brought to their art.

Happy Bloomsday, motherfuckers.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

100 Words on Smartphone Epiphany

This is what epiphany looks like: mundane as driving down your street except mediated through something that abstracts it and cuts it with blinding flashes of light. This cramped little device with which I filmed the drive, watched it unfold, typed this message, counted the words and finally pushed it to the edge of exterior is the engine of my epiphany. Or maybe its just rare sated consumer lust talking. All I'm saying is I am participating in a Bloomsday reading of old epiphanous Joyce and I am tempted to upload Ulysses to my phone and read it from there.

Friday, June 13, 2008

blogging from my new phone

is cool. The Palm Centro is a total tricorder

much more coming soon

Greatest Office Meltdown in History

It's going around, but what the hell. TGIF y'all! Happy hour at Superior Grill!

ganked from the perfectly-named blog The Farting Bag
via Baton Rouge Rocks

OK, this is actually pretty disturbing, but I can't help be a little inspired by this, seeing a little feral humanity peeking through the veneer.

My favorite part is when he picks up the stack of papers off the ground like he's finally simmering down and then throws them at the gawkers. Timing is everything. - Watch more free videos

and another angle - Watch more free videos

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A goat pissing on his own hooves

Leviathan - Howl Mockery at the Cross
Jef Whitehead was asked in an interview what he saw in the ink blot above and, like all black metal artists, he gave a great answer.*

A man looking at himself in the mirror at the mouth of hell.
A goat pissing on his own hooves.

Jef Whitehead is the mortal name of Wrest, a key figure in US black metal, operating the one-man bands Leviathan and Lurker of Chalice. I really got into this stuff a year or two ago when a metal PR guy kept sending packet after packet of discs. I had forsaken metal as greasy kid's stuff, having spent junior high in The Ozzy Years, but I felt bad because he was sending me all this stuff. It was a split album from California's Xasthur and Denmark's Nortt that got me, and for a while, black metal was my favorite subject to write about.

Here is the review of that very album, and one about attending an all-ages black metal concert.

Black metal is such a compelling subject because it is one of the few truly rebellious musics around anymore. It even has some real danger in it: murderers, church-arsonists and unfortunately, extreme racists are among, but far from define, its practitioners. It rebels against form, function, society, God, country, everything. It seeks the pit. It generally sounds like shit, recorded in the dodgiest of circumstances by loners of dubious talent, at either breakneck speeds or tar pit lugubriousness, the vocals are rendered into belched screams. In other words, it is often defiantly unattractive music and yet therein lies the appeal.

There is an article about U.S. Black Metal in the upcoming music issue of The Believer, which will also contain an interview I did with Fugazi's Ian Mackaye. Just sayin.

You should go read the preposterous and smart "Gidget on the Couch" in the current issue that goes to great lengths to connect surfing culture to brooding ex-pat Austrians.

Beck - Mutations
Ya know after that Leviathan, I had board in hand to surf the Plutonian tide raging in the Gulf of Sorrow, but magically I am completely over it, so I thought, "what is the breeziest music that I still like" and this Beck album came to mind. It's no Odelay, which I pull out every couple months just to marvel at postmodernism at its most funnest, Mutations has its own dopier vibe to it that I appreciate. And though I risk making one of the more schizoid playlists, turning my back on my Satanic black metal brethren, I am reminded by Beck:

Blame the devil for the things you do
It's such a selfish way to lose, to lose these selfish blues

Tell me it's nobody's fault but my own

and speaking of blame the devil, Louisiana governor and possible Republican Vice-presidential candidate Bobby Jindal is, or has been at one time, a practicing exorcist. I shudder to venture as to whether this would hurt or help the McCain campaign. I can hear Pat Robertson yelling into Jindal's voice mail "Where were you when I needed you in '88??"

It's enough to send me careening back into darkness

Anaal Nathrakh - The Codex Necro
Anal what now? According to the book bound in user-generated flesh, Anaal Nathrakh got their fun-to-say name from here:

The name comes from Merlin's Charm of Making in John Boorman's Excalibur (1981). Given Michael Everson's transcription, Anaal Nathrakh means "serpent's breath".

This brand of hyperkinetic metal is really not my bag, it feels more like the work of machines (marketing) than actual pitchfork wielding monsters. I need something between this and Beck to get the taste of childish religion out of my mouth without making me unfit for congenial interaction with humans. I have meetings this afternoon.

Wolf Eyes - Burned Mind
When all sides of humanity's weakness is too much to bear, its time to go post-human, do the opposite of Beck, who glibly humanizes the machine, and jack in with Wolf Eyes, making wild-eyed robots out of our quivering carcasses. I'd really like to hear the album free-jazz legend Anthony Braxton did with them, just to hear what kind of beast-with-two-backs Apollo and Dionysus can make when the shit gets serious. Here is what it looked like from far away.

On Burned Mind, we get the lullaby of the 60-cycle-hum, the howl of dogs shot into space, the benediction in the church of busted effects pedals followed by a peal of bells deadened by lichens and neglect. In other words, good stuff! They even get a little "Iron Man" (Black Sabbath, not Robert Downey Jr.) during "Black Vomit."

Six Organs of Admittance - For Octavio Paz
Man cannot live on post-human nihilism and breezy denial at the face of the end times alone, there needs to be beauty in even the most dire of situations for there to be something on which we can grasp. That is what grates me most about dull Christianity and its pervasive tendrils infecting all of human life, offering sophomoric morality to resolve messy issues - there is no beauty in it. I think human life is an extension of the protein chains that are its building block, differing pieces adhering to each other in whatever hooks we can find, and beauty is that bonding agent. To disregard that, to live your life in Sunday school and endless cycles of unconvincing cuz-the-Bible-tells-me-so reasoning is a travesty, an insult to the beautiful, horrifying life in which we are thrust. I may be failing the Pascal triangle in brazen denial of the almighty, a foolish goat pissing on his own hooves, but I'd rather be a stinky goat than a well-shorn sheep any day.

* to see an even better example of a black metal artist giving good answers, just ask Gorgoroth's Gaahl about his influences