Sunday, November 30, 2008

blasted clean and empty

There are less glorious ways to greet a Sunday morning than with Mahavishnu Orchestra. Listening to Between Nothingness & Eternity first thing in the morning is akin to surveying a cluttered room for a minute before spending the next twenty running a gas-powered leaf blower over it until ever nook and corner is blasted clean and empty.

There is a lot of music to walk to the dog to, Yusef Lateef being as good a choice as any. I had read somewhere about his "symphony" albums Concerto for Yusef Lateef and Yusef Lateef's Little Symphony, wrought on the most cheddar of keyboards, and considered one of them for this sojourn, a nice follow-up to the aformentioned orchestra. I like the way he incorporates his name into the sterile servility of classical composition names. I picture him in a skit referring to himself by his full name - "Yusef Lateef is going to eat Yusef Lateef's hamburger now!" But ultimately, this hipster jazz won out - one needs to have one's stroll on while walking the dog.

The weird opening track "The Plum Blossom" with the jug-sounding muted flute against that ratatat beat and idle tambourine - it's like if you were drumming your fingers and so were the people around you and somebody yawned and suddenly everyone at once realized it made a song.

Ed. to add: My daughter and I were listening to this on repeat as we cleaned up the back yard. "I like that song you were playing. It sounds like jazz." she remarked. I told her, "It is jazz."

"Hmm" she said. "Weird. I don't usually like jazz all that much."

Righteous Buddha @ Chelsea's, Baton Rouge

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cohen & The Ghost @ Chelsea's, Baton Rouge

finding beauty at an angle

Preparing, always preparing. My friend Philip and I are preparing a new collaborative blog effort about badass contemporary composers, if for no other reason than it will lead us to find our who they are. In those efforts, I came across a best of 2008 list from the classical critics at the New York Times and acquired a few of them in preparation for a day on the road - today I was headed back to my home town with my daughter in tow to see my parents, and to, of all perverse things, go to the circus. (click at your own risk) So as a part of subpreparation, I went to Wal-mart with the above collection of Michael Gandolfi's fine orchestral work in my ears. I can do the big box stores with headphones on, in fact I rather enjoy how the throng of frustrated shoppers get Koyannisqatsi'd by whatever I'm listening to. NY Times critic Allin Kozinn said this collection would "show that angularity can be beautiful" and well, the only beauty one can find in Wal-Mart is at an angle.

Gandolfi's tasteful survey of 20th-century music styles is a little smooth for my jagged palate, though I will say I stopped my cart in its wobbly tracks at the 9th movement of Themes from a Midsummer Night (Time Dream) where strains of pulses and patterns collide at differing tempos forming a complex organic harmony out of disorder, perfectly describing the relatively deserted shopping behemoth at that early hour.

The road calls for sturdier stuff, so the Orion String Quartet's muscular performance of the first four string quartets by Leon Kirchner got me on my way. One of my goals of this new blog is to find a contemporary badass specializing in string quartets, for they are my favorite, and Kirchner is close. He has that Schoenberg daydream thing going without the master atonalist's feathery touch - Krichner saws through the laws of music to form his pieces. The music takes place like a cocktail party - people speaking in bursts, possibly answering each other, possibly not. The 3rd quartet with the electronic tape accompaniment was particularly nice - at one point there was a giant squelching buzz, like when someone on Family Feud offered an answer not in the survey results.

Once that played out, I opted for the pleasantries of the Now Ensemble. I know nothing about this group, except they share a label with itsnotyouitsme, whose album as described in the NYT roundup piqued my interest. My suspicion is that the real interesting new music is being done not by composers as such, but by art music bands such as this one. It was raining hard at this point, and the back roads to my home town are slick and nerve-wracking in these conditions, so all I can say is the Now Ensemble was a sweet burbling compass that guided me through the storm.

Thanksgiving leftovers were eaten. The circus was observed, and pretty funny actually. There was a French clown that did these really simple but effective stunts on a bike, and nothing is cuter than six immaculately trained dachshunds. I will agree that the circus is a terrible thing - I kept hoping one of the elephants would toss a goddamn clown into the bleachers and go out in a blaze of glory, but nope, they danced to rehashed New wave hits along with the rest of cast.

On the way home, I wanted to hear John Adams' Hallelujah Junction since I plan to read his autobiography named for this piece, lauded in yet another NYT list. The piece is piano four hands, and consists of, it seems, only two notes arranged and overlapped to create a full orchestra simply out of juxtaposition, resonance and rhythm. Like most everything else Adams does, it is lovely.

My tastes for rippling minimalism were like my desire for Thanksgiving leftovers at this point - fully sated, so I jumped into Yes. I cannot stop listening to Yes. They have become my "What Would Jesus Do" bypassing the question part and going straight to the affirmative response. My daughter requested that I change the song from the back seat because it was creeping her out. Once again, youth recognizes when questions need not be answered, or even asked.

So I put on The BBC Sessions from Belle and Sebastian. If I didn't have some silly personal rules against reissue packages residing on my favorite-of-the-year list, this would be near the top, if only for "Stars of Track and Field"

From 2006 in San Fransisco:

I love this song so much it hurts - I think the version recorded for the Beeb is implausibly more poignant than the original, and any tension of darkness and rain and family and holidays was quickly erased by it. The excess of Yes was contained by it, the racing pulses of minimalist composers and the lurching arrhythmia plaguing old Kirchner corrected into a slow, healthy gate, and in it Wal-Mart and my hometown and the circus converged, elephants freed from their duty playfully tossing merchandise around the store and with that, I pulled into my driveway and shut off the car.

Friday, November 28, 2008

It's like a motorcycle at a hot dog stand!

Jonathan Richman - "Fender Stratocaster"

I just heard this song on the radio and felt its simple yet profound joy needed to be shared with all who can hear me. Jonathan Richman is no musical genius, nor is he a knucklehead but he can extract the genius in the knucklehead like nobody can. Now if you excuse me, I'm going to go listen to the Original Modern Lovers album over and over and over and over

Born in the 50s looking so bold
Fender Stratocaster
Everythin' your parents hated about rock 'n roll
Fender Fender Fender

Wangin' and a twangin, sounding so tough
Fender Stratocaster
And the kids in my corner, they can't get enough
Fender Fender Fender
Like the wind in your hair when the top is down
Like taillights headed for another town
Fender Stratocaster, well there's something about that sound.

Like gasoline in the sand
Fender Stratocaster
Like a motorcycle at a hotdog stand
Fender Fender Fender
Like the Dunkin Donuts in Mattapan
Fender Stratocaster
Like the Thrifty Drugs in Santa An'
Fender Fender Fender
Well the sound is thin and the sound is cheap
Like a tin can falling on a dead end street
Fender Stratocaster, well there's something about that sound.


Well how can it sound so tough?
Fender Stratocaster
And it's made to be treated rough.
Fender Fender Fender
It's got the ancient Egyptian script
Fender Stratocaster
It's got the wang bar from the crypt.
Fender Fender Fender
Oh you should have known it right off the bat
One look and you know it would sound like that
Fender Stratocaster, well there's something about that sound.

Like gasoline in the sand
Fender Stratocaster
Like a motorcycle at a hotdog stand
Fender Fender Fender
Like the Dunkin Donuts in Matapan(?)
Fender Stratocaster
Like the Thrifty Drugs in Santa An'
Fender Fender Fender
Oh and the sound so thin it's barely there
Like a bitchy girl who just don't care
Fender Stratocaster, well there's something about that sound.

Like Woo Woo Ginsberg at the juke box joint
You hear the sound and you get the point.
Fender Stratocaster, well there's something about that sound.
Oh Oh Oh Alright, etc.

Family Portraits

Frank Zappa in his parent's house, from a LIFE magazine photo essay on rock stars in their family's homes via Apartment Therapy sub-via aworks

Check out Elton John's mom's boots and that wallpaper! People knew how to put some stuff together in the Seventies.

Review of Fiskadoro by Denis Johnson

Fiskadoro Fiskadoro by Denis Johnson

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I am notoriously terrible at watching movies - the combination of a contrived story, the dark, siting still, and the hours between 8 and 10 in the evening are the lyre of Orpheus. I usually fall asleep twenty minutes into a movie and wake up twenty minutes before its over and think nothing happened, piecing the two ends of thing together with dream logic. I walk away feeling GOD I hate movies, how can anyone like these stupid things before realizing that I missed all the important parts that make for a compelling story.

I feel like that happened to me with this book, thought I am pretty certain that I bookmarked my spot when I did occasionally fall asleep. This has all the right elements: an author I like, the post-apocalypse, and most importantly, the suggestion of a friend whose tastes I trust. He brought this up during a discussion about The Road --he did not care for and I consider to be one of the most powerful books I've ever read-- saying this was a much more dynamic, interesting and believable traipse through the years after end of the world, citing one particular detail I won't disclose here that made me go "NOOOO WAY DUDE I gotta read that!"

I think dream logic is the mortar with which this thing was put together, but it was not that delicious, heavily perfumed kind that Garcia-Marquez uses; this was the haphazard, loose threads of actual dreams. The garbled patois of the post-apocalyptic inhabitant of the Florida keys and the uneasy interplay of customs that even the characters didn't understand made a believable case for what it would be like for the shell-shocked next generation to rebuild some sort of society out of the scraps, there is little talk of the bomb or what goes down in the Quarantine - they are stumbling through the process of living like people always do.

And maybe that is what is missing here - you don't feel a philosophical resolution here, or at least I didn't. I felt like I was missing something throughout this whole thing, some thread tethering me to the cosmic had been missed. You want this out of apocalyptic literature; the idea that we have learned something about ourselves in the destruction of the world. The truth is, we probably wouldn't learn anything and we would go about the business of rebuilding the absurdity of society in the shadow of the radioactive nightmare, dragging in fishing nets, being scared of other ethnic groups, practicing our weird little religions, wondering what those old silent grandma's are thinking up there on the porch. In that sense, this is likely a more realistic portrait of life after it all goes to shit than in the bleak, magnificent fable of The Road, but that is the kind of thing I tend to sleep right through.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

gettin streamy

Lil Wayne - Dedication 3
Neil Young - Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury House 1968

If you are neither a fan of Lil Wayne nor Neil Young, perhaps an impromptu mashup of playing both at once will do it for you.

Review of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I think Chuck Klosterman has become slyly brilliant as he progressed as a writer since this, honing his "It's one thing, but really it's something else entirely" shtick into an occasional scalpel, but the references and concerns here seem so dated that it feels like reading old issues of Spin, which is, I guess, what this is.

He is a guy that gets thrown under the bus a lot because he is cast in a position of authority by expressing his Everyman-ity at every turn. Like every other snob, I don't think he has very enlightened tastes in music, but he has a way of making really brilliant things out of his observations. Like this:

The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me (2004):
You will like this album if you used to like AC/DC but now you just read a lot.

or his notion expressed in a reprinted article collected in Chuck Klosterman IV that the first Van Halen album is the most average record of all time, and if you like a record more than it, its a good record; less, and its a bad record.

Things like this seem to be tossed out for a laugh and they are, but there is something penetrating here, something that digs a little deeper than you thought there was ground under the subjects he peruses.

View all my reviews.

[The Record Crate] Tryptophan Rock

It’s a tryptophan kind of week this week – tryptophan being the chemical present in turkey that causes even the most active of human to find the nearest recliner and snooze through a football game. But should the sweet turkey dope wear off and you suddenly realize there is a reason you don’t spend the rest of the year crammed into one house with your extended family, there are some diversions awaiting you in area nightclubs and music halls.

One of my favorite new bands, An Empire at Sea, will unfurl their majestic instrumental sails at the North Gate Tavern with Secret Annexe in tow. Secret Annexe, by the way, released a rather excellent album of cover this past Election Day that is available for free download here. My innate snobbery draws me to any and all Daniel Johnston and Leonard Cohen covers, but my favorite is their strings-and-piano enhanced take on Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mr. Crowley.”

Cohen and his Ghost entourage have promised the upgraded products of his comprehensive muse to be delivered during their set, opening for Righteous Buddha at Chelsea’s.

And should the holiday take a toll on not just your waistline but your soul as well, former Fat Possum blues powerhouse Lil Dave Thompson will be around on Monday to shake the timbers loose out at Teddy’s Juke Joint. So really, overindulge this week. Tap into your pleasure zone. Give back some of the love you get. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, Nov. 26

Mike Foster Project at Chelsea’s

Thursday, Nov. 27

Black Sound Parade at Chelsea’s

Friday, Nov. 28

Six Pack Deep at Spanish Moon

Red Stick Ramblers at Chelsea’s

An Empire at Sea, The White Horse, Tabernacle and Secret Annexe at North Gate Tavern

Donna Angelle & The Zydeco posse at Boudreaux & Thibodeaux’s

Saturday, Nov. 29

Righteous Buddha and Cohen & The Ghost at Chelsea’s

Here is Why, Peter Simon, and Luke Ash at north Gate Tavern

The Anteeks at Boudreaux & Thibodeaux’s

Monday, Dec. 1

Lil Dave Thompson at Teddy’s Juke Joint

Tuesday, Dec. 2

Wilderness and San Serac at Spanish Moon


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

running the clock out before the holiday

Caetano Veloso - Personalidade (lala)
Alvin Lucier - I am Sitting in a room... and The Only Talking Machine of its Kind in the World (ubu.web)
Jóhann Jóhannsson - Dis (from wherever I got it from)
Malcolm Middleton (the other guy from Arab Strap) - 5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine (lala)
Mogwai - Come On Die Young (lala)
The Streets - Everything is Borrowed (lala)
Various - New Wave Gold (lala): came for Ian Dury, but left with Bram Tchaikovsky's "Girl of My Dreams"
Haircut 100 - Pelican West Plus (lala)
Brian Eno - Another Green World (lala)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Badass of Contemporary Composition: Kitty Brazelton

Kitty Brazelton is a strange bird, straddling the chasm between mannered art song and listen-to-my-amp-hum out rock, at least on the What is it Like to Be a Bat album listed above. The songs here travel through ragged wires until they find a short and they explode in a shower of sparks, further complicated by cavernous tape delay and slam-bam rock/jazz drums. Positively frightening music. There is a bit of the crone-holler of Carla Bouzilich up in this, but Hazelton's approach is harder, more contained, sharper, and ultimately more devastating.

Even in the more subdued confines of her chamber music showcased by the California EAR unit on Emergency Music (lala), there is a bit of the powderkeg waiting impatiently for the spark. In R, the trumpet twitters and honks like a bird, not a Platonic birdsong bird, but a real bird - reptiliian and a little panicked but still in a fuller physical awareness than the human listening to it. This same is true of the more jazz-informed pieces: Sonar como una tromba larga would not sound completely out of place in a brass band repertoire, and Sonata for the Inner Ear is almost coffee-house ready in its worldly ambiance, with just enough pull from the expected to keep it interesting.

Somewhere in between the rabid bat and the barsita counter lies her sweet spot, as exhibited in this performance with SONYC, String Orchestra of NYC

Here is an NPR piece on her (opens up the mp3 directly)

And dig her crazy website! It sparkles!

Not saying there is a direct correlation...

... but wasn't it around the time Peter Gabriel released Passion, a sorta-soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ coming on the tail of his improbably huge album So, and started using the little rainbow strip on the left corner of his album covers that he went from being The Big Innovator of Pop Music to publicly irrelevant, only getting wheeled out every couple of years so that people can say "Oh Peter Gabriel...yeah, he was....hmmm....did we really like 'Sledgehammer' that much?"

I am an unapologetic Kanye fan, and was one for old Pete in my formative years, but on first listen, I'm not really getting his new record. I think Kanye was peculiarly adept at making compelling pop music out of the raw materials of hip-hop, but not so much when he makes it from scratch.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

# 10 thing I love about my wife

She has made the last ten years of my life the best ten years of my life. Happy Anniversary!

# 9 thing I love about my wife

She operates under the wisdom that one should not invite in the things she doesn't want in her life.

# 8 thing I love about my wife

She is smart as a whip and has a knack for finding the truly interesting detail in everything.

# 7 thing I love about my wife

She has the good sense to keep the foolishness of the world at the perifery.

I'm keeping reason #6 to myself.

#5 thing I love about my wife

That booty.

#4 thing I love about my wife

She can tap into the sweetness of a person- in the old lady at the coffee shop, in trashy ass people, in me, in everyone.

#3 thing I love about my wife

She makes better scrambled eggs than anyone on the planet. This may not seem like muchM but you haven't had her scrambled eggs.

#2 thing I love about my wife

She has the most accurate sense of humor of anyone in the world. She knows what's funny, and what's not funny.

#1 thing I love about my wife

She is as far from a trifling person as I've ever met.

like a playlist, except forced and pretentious

Oasis - like modern rock, except they are an actual rock band in the classic sense, even if they aren't as good at it as they used to be.
Van Der Graff Generator - like David Bowie, except actually weird and exploratory rather than convincing you that they are.
Badly Drawn Boy - like solo John Lennon, except without bum tracks taking up half his records.

5 things about Star Wars - The Clone Wars

Jar-Jar Binks' head
A bust of Jar Jar Binks' head

  1. After resisting the gravitational pull of my generation's mythology for seven years now, my daughter is into Star Wars after one viewing of The Clone Wars.
  2. She is particularly into the much maligned Jar Jar Binks which I wholeheartedly support. If one is going to interface with mythology, one should find mythic counterparts for one's own character. She, like Jar Jar, is boundlessly bouncy, joyous and true blue. They both have a penchant for talking funny. They are both reliably game for any adventure. I much prefer that to the dour prissy princess who thirsts to be a lousy diplomat in faux-Indian getups, or dullard Jedi's and their tedious rules. Like most men of principle, Obi-Wan was only interesting to talk to when he was past his prime (and a hologram)
  3. My identifying character was always the nerd translator C-3PO, a background figure whose presence always seemed to be the linchpin to resolving whatever conflicts arose. Sure, he always needed rescuing, but he was quick with the bon mots in over six milion forms of communication and protocols.
  4. The original came out when I was my daughter's age, and I told her that Star Wars was all my friends and I talked about. Because of some pissing match between my parents, I did not see the actual film until its last week in the original year-long run in the theaters, but I had the comic books and action figures and could talk the talk even if I'd never been on he actual sidewalk. I have to think that experience prepared me for a lifetime of being a quick study in subculture.
  5. She made two prototypes of Jar-Jar figurines out of air-dry clay after being dismayed at the lack of Jar Jar action figures on the rack at Target. "He's the main guy in the movie!" We went to Borders last night and she got herself the novelization of The Clone Wars, and got mad when I called her "Jar Jarina Binks" on the way back to the car. We have The Phantom Menace on TiVo, and she is stoked to watch it, well-schooled in the lingo after perusing some episodes of The Clone Wars on Cartoon Network's website. Surely every parent thinks this when they recognize their own childhood in their child, even when seeing it through the screen of your own personal Darth Vader mask, but I sense The Force is strong in this one.

Friday, November 21, 2008

open a tuba whoopass

Thanks to some very famous pink elephants, the mighty tuba is generally thought to be a jolly, happy instrument

Jesús Jara will relieve you of the illusion. On this album (lala) of complex tuba and electronic compositions, the king of brass becomes a whale lurking in the inky water of modernity, occasionally coming to the surface but more often acting as an impossibly huge shadow gliding by in the deepest level still perceptible from the surface. His tuba becomes a subconscious to these works, where the tremors of its presence through the complimentary electronics becomes the physical manifestation of the the whole. The listing on lala does not say who composed what, but even across these composers, Jara finds a common thread.

Jara performs his own Profitfürfabi with a video by Daniel Lupión

Badass of Modern Composition: Michael Gordon

I was asked who the current badass composers are, and I didn't know, so here is the first of many attempts to find them

Here are three excerpts from Michael Gordon's Lightning at our Feet, as performed by the Ridge Theatre.

Gordon is one of the founding members of Bang on a Can, and my theory its is through the more band-like ensembles and the immediacy of YouTube and MySpace and other carefully capitalized outlets that the real stuff will be discovered.

This piece reminds me of one of my favorite out-there bands Bardo Pond, not so much in direct instrumentation or sound, but in the heavy haze that surrounds the music, like you and the music are both moving through this thicket to reach each other. The wall between this and groups like Bardo Pond and Beme Seed is a thin one, but rather than taking the drug-ravaged ecstatic approach the aforementioned bands with laconic female singers take, Lightning at our Feet seems to come from a high art direction, like it is walking away from an accident, stunned and processing.

Here is a less romantic but equally spectral piece Industry (1992), a solo piece for amplified cello, performed by Jeffrey Zeigler

At first it appears to travel the same wires as Tony Conrad, finding bliss in the physical and metaphoric grind, but as it progresses, the electronics become more integrated into the sawed cello, creating something monstrous and other out of their coupling.

More transparent in its processes and impact is XY, a 1998 piece for solo percussion.

Gordon here explores a natural impulse to repeatedly bang on something. If you have ever witnessed a kid (or me) at a drum kit, this is the default setting - pound away. Actual drummers tend to cringe at this behavior- rightfully so, it is annoying - because the art of being a musician is as much about restraint as it is release, and it is in that restraint/release that the world's great music is crafted. XY is close to the raw experiential, a drum echoing in a room, action fusing with reaction. I realize there is more than that going on here, of course, but that impulse to repeat something that sounds/feels good to do is something that art tends to fight against in the efforts to contour expression, and it is, to me anyway, rather exhilarating when art doubles back on itself.


Review of Amulet by Roberto Bolaño

Amulet Amulet by Roberto Bolaño

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I cannot stop reading Bolaño's books; I'm expecting to hit a wall, but just as the wall approaches, it dissolves into mist. Amulet is similar to By Night in Chile in that it is a delirious narcissistic dream rant from a sideline player in a heady cultural climate. The narrator here is a woman hiding in a fourth floor bathroom as troops occupy a university. It's unclear if the tale that unfolds is a memoir, a mad fantasy, or a brief endorphin supernova at the moment of death; in the hands of this writer, these distinctions are semantic, if they exist at all.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

[The Record Crate] Irma, Meet George

C'mon! tell me young Irma Thomas and George Jones don't make a hot couple.
Beyoncé and Walton Goggins can play them in the TV movie.

OK, so on Thursday night, within a few blocks’ radius we have Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans performing a gospel blowout at the Manship Theatre, and the finest country singer in the world George Jones performing over at the River Center. Either one alone will prove to be a rarefied musical experience, but just imagine if, in a stroke of synergistic brilliance, Irma’s people got in touch with George’s and the two led their respective throngs out into the street, intermingling "It’s Rainin" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today" into some improbable round and when the two congregations met up there on the levee at the paper clip structure, the two joined hands and broke into an old country gospel standard, maybe something from Jones’ 1972 In a Gospel Way album. "Amazing Grace" perhaps. Or take a patriotic angle and do "The Star-Spangled Banner." Anything they want to do will be fine, really. How quickly can we get fireworks on the river lined up? I understand something like this would take a lot of negotiations, but to have two singers, each the pinnacle of their genre performing practically within earshot of each other… it would be so worth it.

Should this fantasy pairing on the levee somehow not materialize, there are plenty of highly probable bookings to be excited about. Madman drummer Zach Hill will be performing with underground MC Subtle at the Spanish Moon, ripping holes in the time-space continuum. Brooklyn indie darlings Gang Gang Dance will appear there on Saturday to further confuse the works, with the unstoppable Rudy Richard tying up all the loose ends at Teddy’s Juke Joint. Quality entertainment all around. Now, somebody get to work on putting together that Irma Thomas/George Jones finale.

Wednesday, Nov. 19
Mike Foster Project at Chelsea’s
Wade Bowen at The Varsity

Thursday, Nov. 20
Irma Thomas at the Manship Theatre
George Jones at the River Center
Blue Remedy at Chelsea’s
Andy Davis and Jake Smith at The Varsity
The Stellaphonics & Murder Mystery at North Gate Tavern
Peter Simon at Boudreaux & Thibodeaux's
Steven from Waiting for Brantley at Click’s

Friday, Nov. 21
Man Plus Building and Brass Bed at Spanish Moon
The Legendary J.C.’s at Chelsea’s
Frontiers – a Tribute to Journey at The Varsity
Highlines and She Craves at North Gate Tavern
The Chris Himmel band and David Borne & Brett Smith at Boudreaux & Thibodeaux's
Stereo Reform at Click’s

Saturday, Nov. 22
Gang Gang Dance at Spanish Moon
Papa Grows Funk at Chelsea’s
The City Life at North Gate Tavern
Two If By Land at Boudreaux & Thibodeaux's
Fall from Grace and Aura at Click’s
Rudy Richard at Teddy’s Juke Joint

Sunday, Nov. 23
Robyn Helzner trio at the Manship Theatre
Selwyn Cooper at Teddy’s Juke Joint

Monday, Nov. 24
Subtle, Zach Hill & Truckasaurus at Spanish Moon
Cherryholmes Christmas at the Manship Theatre

Tuesday, Nov. 25
Devin the Dude & The Coughee Bros. at Spanish Moon
Josiah from Evangelina at Click’s

link to original

Review of Bartleby & Co. by Enrique Vila-Matas

Bartleby & Co. Bartleby & Co. by Enrique Vila-Matas

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
This book, ostensibly a collection of footnotes referring to a non-existent text about writers that choose not to write, is a decent conceptual idea, is not grabbing me. Partly because, that isn't what it is - the notes form more of a narrative than disparate references/tangents would. And I wonder if I would like it more if the convention of footnotes was removed or if it was written as actual footnotes, in small print under a dividing line at the bottom of a blank page. The structure of the book is key to the narrative though, coming up explicitly in the text and if nothing else a reminder that as a writer, I should worry less about how something is structured than what it actually says.

View all my reviews.

easily influenced by the things I read

Gil Scott-Heron Spirits (lala), <-- Living With Music: Michael J. Agovino
Chuck Klosterman - Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs (Amazon), <-- Chuck Klosterman's Killing Yourself to Live going film
Philip Glass - The Photographer (lala), <-- The Photographer (1983). Philip Glass /ladies and gentleman, leland stanford/
Barry Manilow, "Never Gonna Give You Up", <-- a music legend

[outsideleft] Lee Scratch Perry: Looney Orbiter in Dub

Lee “Scratch” Perry
Scratch Came, Scratch Saw, Scratch Conquered


Lee “Scratch” Perry has come full circle, like a junk satellite launched in the optimism of a simpler time, left to orbit a world which slowly decayed until the satellite itself succumbed to inevitable gravity, and miraculously survived the burnout that accompanies reentry. He was on the ground floor of turning sweet calypso and hip-swinging ska into the mystical elixir of reggae in his Black ark studio in the backyard of his parents’ home in the Washington Gardens neighborhood of Kingston. There, Perry infused the throbbing song of Jamaica with maddened alchemy: breaking glass worked into cymbal crashes, time and context bent forwards and back through crude but shockingly effective tape manipulations. He not only invented dub (or maybe perfected it, there are many contenders to the deed on that one) but through it helped shape punk, post-punk, world music, maybe the world. He turned other people’s mediocre reggae songs into something cosmic, conjuring seething beats lurking at the heart of party bands.

In 1979, the barking dog in Perry’s brain broke off the chain. He covered every surface in the Black Ark with cryptic writing and then burned it to the ground. The new wave era flowed into the digital techno era, and Perry rode with it, in exile in Switzerland, crafting what many, this ardent fan included, a long line of rather terrible records. But many of us true believers kept up with the old man, hoping he would somehow coax another “Blackboard Jungle” out of the spaghetti of modernity. Of all people, it was the Beastie Boys that introduced Perry to the next level. His appearance on “Dr. Lee, PhD”, a lark lurking at the tail of their 1998 technology-infused Hello Nasty, proved to the conduit through with Perry could find his footing in the modern world.

As before, not every utterance from the Upsetter has been gospel, but the point of dub is not stopping to smell the roses but to let the perfume waft up through the open window of your slow-moving train. 2002’s Jamaican E.T. offered a glimpse of our new madman, and he won a Grammy for the Best reggae Album that year; it’s the only acceptance speech I wish had been made. His albums since then have been an easy glide over sympathetic rhythm, his growled sage-meets-gibberish patter making the twisting backbone of spooky serpent music. The End of the American Dream (2007), a spectral array of Revelations and revolutions is a high water mark of Perry’s third period. Chuckling indecipherable boasts against the DNA of funk in “I Am the God of Fire” Perry emerged from his spaceship stronger than he was when he left the ground a decade and a half before.

Scratch Came, Scratch Saw, Scratch Conquered finds Perry coordinating with his American dream cohort John Saxon to similar results. Much whooping is made of his other 2008 collaborations, Repentance with Andrew W.K. and The Mighty Upsetter with Adrian Sherwood, and they are fine albums, but Came, Saw, Conquered has Scratch invoking the skeleton of Marcus Garvey on the burbling “Having a Party” and in this capacity, one of persistence rather than the reverence shown by his other collaborators, we see Perry at his peculiar best. Perry understood in his classic records that the background is actually the foreground, that we as a people have it twisted.

The assured strut of “Heavy Voodoo,” the first of two tracks on this album to feature a few tasty licks from Keith Richards, comes off like a Blaxploitation soul boiled down to the carcass, quivering in the bottom of the pot as the thick seasoned broth is extracted. Fellow babbling outworlder George Clinton pops in for tea and a chat on “Headz Gonna Roll”, cowbells and soul claps and all is right in the world. His religious songs, though arguably they are all paeans to his smiling groovy Jesus, are sweet – “Saint Selassie” is a cheery shuffle listing out locations in the Holy Land, bus stops on the way to Zion. “Rastafari Live” is more of smoldering booty call to righteousness with Scratch playing cal and response with himself.

If you come to this record, or really any of Perry’s records looking for Great Reggae Anthems, you are rolling the wrong joint. While the definition of dub has changed in Perry’s exile, he keeps at the soul of his deconstructed bliss pop. Swooning Muzack like “Ye Ha Ha Ha” and garbled transmissions “Rolling Thunder” are but new growth on that palm tree that grew outside his Black Ark studio, the very one where he once buried a microphone among its roots and beat on the trunk for a drum track. Lee “Scratch” Perry defies the notion of the pinnacle, focused more on the slow forward progression. Scratch Came, Scratch Saw, Scratch Conquered may at first seem a rather definitive name for an album that passes on through, but it also hints at a past-present-future persistence, one that will be heard again and again by the robots and cockroaches that are left to roam the Earth when Scratch’s train makes another round.

Link to original

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

[outsidleft] Fordlândia: Hubris, Art, Duty

Jóhann Jóhannsson


I am sitting in the former Senate chamber of the former Louisiana State Capitol building, awaiting the next step of jury duty to begin. The Old State Capitol is a recently restored Gothic castle on the lower Mississippi, once famously maligned in print by Mark Twain who called for its destruction due to sheer hubris. Fires and typical Louisiana boondoggles and the natural degradation of grand and beautiful things in hot climates nearly honored our National Satirist's wish, but a proud restoration plaque bearing the name Bobby Jindal, a whip-smart young Governor of Indian descent, former exorcist and plausible Republican challenger to Obama in 2012, welcomes me to its vault of polished wood and stained glass, conscious that the spectre of arch populist Huey Long is watching, though he might bear Sean Penn's drowsy grimace, where I sit and wait to do my civic duty.

This a perfect setting in which to peck out a review of Jóhann Jóhannsson's Fordlândia, an elegant suite of lush string music straddling the austere and the populist. It swoons and swells like it is quietly bolstering for something spectacular to occur, much like my fellow citizens jockeying for aisle seats in this gracious hall, more a chapel than a reasonable place of business.

The back-story behind Fordlândia fits this complicated venue. Henry Ford sought to undermine the rubber cartels of Asia, so he carved out a rubber plantation in the jungles of Brazil. Countless things led to its spectacular failure: the eschewing of botanists in favor of engineers in the planning, staggering setup costs, and the development of synthetic rubber during the Second World War. None of these proved to be more lethal to the project than was Ford's own need to solve a problem philosophically, and Nature's reliable resistance to philosophy.

As I type this, Jóhannsson's slow organ and winds and strings endlessly unfold and refold like the flag atop this building, limply signifying America in the weak breeze. The setting, the music and the congregated duty-pressed strangers has me sat in the closest thing to church in decades.

Ford built Fordlândia as a perfect slice of apple pie out in the jungle: white picket fences, strict Prohibition, 9-to-5 ethical dignity. They had Sousa marches and square dancing in the evenings. The imported engineers braved malaria for this endeavor gladly - you can swallow any man's ideology when a fat pension is at the other end - but the locals revolted. They, like any reasonable people, preferred to toil in the less taxing crepuscular hours, and to drink away the evenings. Jóhannsson's sad orchestra soars over Ford's doomed utopia like a reconnaissance glider, bearing witness to another inevitable replaying of man's folly. The jury coordinator has arrived, offering up the conditions by which we can opt of the proceedings through a tinny microphone. I just heard the first of many "I don't pay taxes for this" that will be voiced throughout the week.

Incompatible with Ford's scripted Americana, the native workers set up an island of bars and brothels upstream, luring the transplanted Industrialists to discreet Third World charms. The rubber trees proved to be just as unwilling to play the game, wilting in tight rows of shoddy soil. Unbeknown to Ford's planners, natives need prostitutes and rubber trees need to grow scattered throughout the jungle. I recognize someone in line trying to get out of jury duty because a nephew being named for him is due to be born this morning. His success in this is as likely as Ford's was in Brazil. Jóhannsson's strings are being undercut by a crying baby brought against its will into this event, while the jury coordinator cheerfully bounces it on her hip.

Never underestimate the resilience of a good plan; my friend waves his release form at me as he darts off to the hospital. The woman in front of me bookmarks her copy of The Audacity of Hope as the instructional film started. The glare from the church-like windows renders the film nearly invisible from my seat. We are told about lunch breaks, our $12/day compensation and the general judicial process. Pens are passed out, and we are informed by the video judge that we should use these pens to aid our recollection of the facts presented during the trial. "The trial is being held in search of the truth," explains the narrator.

The truth I seek is generally a looser one than that of the process in which I am engaged, but then the stakes are more real here. Jóhannsson's velveteen sadness gives the mundane process of paperwork a marked gravity. His string techniques resemble the stretched jangle of his fellow Icelanders Sigur Rós and the protracted melancholy found in the similar work by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt; layers of unabashed emotional gauze overlap until the hues become deep as blood, boundless as a dramatic cloud- choked sky. I can imagine a defendant either being set free or hauled off to jail to this music. I can see Ford's hired thugs beating the workers into submission as clapboard houses, Main Street in exile, burn to the barren ground. The higher goal of narrative art is to hover at the optimum height, one where you can see the action on the surface as well as the way the landscape becomes the horizon. In this process, this music, this place, these things converge.

We are released to wait at the library across the courtyard. As with most situations in Louisiana, the servants running the show are adorable and sweet and the served are mealy and atrocious. One introduces herself as "Miss Bobbie" and says that there is a homeless woman that frequents the library that likes to dismiss jurors, so if we don't hear it from Miss Bobbie, we are to stay put.

I love Miss Bobbie and her cheery dedication. The ring on her iPhone is a church hymn. I love that homeless woman, and hope she appears to disrupt the wheels of justice. I love those drunken, whoring natives in Brazil and even old Henry Ford, a little. In mechanizing one's philosophy and greed, the two required ingredients of true hubris, the richness of humanity still rumbles through, wrecking one thing while setting another right. And most of all, I love the way art can soar above it all, the way a stained glass castle will eventually outlive the protests of our greatest cranks, the way history cycles churns through wars and lives and all people great and small, ground everything up to convey just a little context for anyone who might be listening, the way some simple sustained tones working in concert can embody the whole of the world. It is for these things I patiently wait for my opportunity to serve.

Photo of Henry Ford from this article about Fordlândia on Damn Interesting

Frank Zappa YouTube Rampage

Freak Out!

Absolutely Free

We're Only In It For the Money

Over-Nite Sensation

punch in the gut

So elegant is Morton Feldman's music. (lala) Elegant to the point of annoyance, like you want to find a stray thread in the weave after a while, but you never do. This piece mirrors being in the actual building in Houston, voice as and stray viola wandering in and out like the subtle changes in the natural lighting due to clouds that after a while you swear you start to see a repeating sequence. It is a stunning place, but for me, the Chapel paintings are not Rothko's finest hour.

The black on dark gray Untitled No. 11 that I used to spend some time with at the Nelson-Atkins museum in Kansas City when my wife was a guard there (click on the image to get the Nelson-Atkins page, including closeups) is a more powerful expression of what I think Rothko is about that his gargantuan threnodies of blackish purple at the Chapel. The deal about Rothko is that the paintings move, inject themselves into the room , into the viewer, not necessarily by optical tricks (though that is part of it) but by blunt psychic force. His paintings are far from empty, they are just thinky populated, just like the landscape of the soul. When on the mammoth cosmic scale like in the Chapel, they gain power but lose some of their punch. Untitled No. 11 is human-sized, a formidable pugulist of a painting waiting for you to round the corner and then BLAM! you are knocked to the floor. It is the difference between being in a small boat and seeing an ocean liner come imperceptibly at you, and being punched in the gut. Either way you are hit, but in the latter, it is personal.

So after that I was overcome with a desire to hear something by Frank Zappa, if just to cleanse the palate and shake me awake, and here is the very song I had in mind

Really, "Dinah-Moe Humm" not that great a song but its got some interesting parts, which sums up how I generally feel about Frank Zappa. I once tried to make a trip-hop tape collage thing out of looping the opening percussion and bass riff. But thanks YouTube! desire fulfilled.

A subsequent stroll across campus with Elliot Lipp was just the thing to settle my restless spirit. I really wanted the rounded edges of Yellow Magic Orchestra, but I didn't have any so, and Lipp's instrumental synthe-funk subbed in nicely. If this kind of thing is too techno, I feel like I should be getting my hair styled or something; Lipp harkens back to the halcyon days of Human League when the future was in cold plastic, but songs were still songs. Truthfully, I thought I accidentally hit the "Mood Rotation" demo music that came installed on my phone, but the sunshine beat and actual guitar solo of "So Stoked" got to me a little. It transformed the passing throngs of bored trans-seasonable students into a jubilant if ill-conceived fashion show. Yes, boots work with that! All of you! Boots work with everything! You are rocking that dull gray microfleece poncho! I usually hate this kind of transparent necrophiliac disco whatever - like each song has a 4:20 run time, get it? 4:20? and the album is called Peace Love Weed 3d? Yo... - but ultimately, Lipp works it out.

Here he is at the Projekt Music Festival, should your curiosity be piqued. It's not a punch in the gut, but then, who wants to be punched in the gut all the time?