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Friday, October 29, 2004
I notice the AMC Empire 25 here in New York is showing a movie called In the Face of Evil: Reagan's War in Word and Deed. Here is a description:
In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed' is a man and nation’s
This strikes me as kind of weird, but maybe it shouldn't.
posted by Mike B. at 1:22 PM 0 comments Links to this post
- Well, looks like maybe I won't need to write that book after all. Steven Johnson, who wrote Emergence, descibes his new book, Everything Bad Is Good For You: Why Today's Pop Culture Is Making Our Kids Smarter thusly:
Everything Bad is a pure work of persuasion, an old-fashioned
Of course, then again, maybe this'll provide some actual, uh, evidence for the thing I'm trying to argue. Science is good:
The critical method I've concocted for making the argument is one of my favorite
I like Steven's stuff a lot; Emergence was very good, and I learned about that via the good ol' days of Plastic. So I'm very much looking forward to this. [via bb]
- The results of Popjustice's make-your-own-Britney-album-cover contest are kind of horrifying.
- Clifford Pub is the site for the various compilations done by members of the Severed Heads list. I've got a song on the Mangled compilation, track 13, Lew et al - Mine Sweet Child (pts 1 + 2), which you may or may not be interested in hearing. It's a ukelele, samples and analogue electronics-based cover of a Guns 'n' Roses tune. Bit of a trifle. But poke around on there, all that stuff is choice.
posted by Mike B. at 11:12 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Maybe this is a bad idea, but since I've been downloading so much Pulp lately (b-sides, mainly), might as well offer a few good covers I've found.
Nick Cave - Disco 2000 A sort of loungey version, in a loose way. Not very disco. But that's OK. I guess less "loungey" and more "Nick Cavey."
Franz Ferdinand - Mis-Shapes Acoustic rave-up thingy. Funny because Alex's voice can't actually hit the high notes in the chorus. That'll teach you to do it an octave up, mate. And then there's a nice melodica/organ/harmonica/something or other bit at the end.
posted by Mike B. at 11:42 AM 0 comments Links to this post
A few little things:
- I seriously need to update the ol' links bar. What's prompting it at the moment (it's honestly been prompting me for a while--I mean, Chee-rist, I don't have Douglas or Matos or Laces or Alex Ross or a whole lot of others on there) is this, which is new, and this, which is returned from hiatus. I'm glad Paul's with me on Rilo Kiley, but uh-oh, if he didn't like the brief Bloc Party rip, he's gonna be very unhappy at the review...(which should be out next week). [I am reminded of these two things by him.]
- With blogger/blogspot being down yesterday, and with the combination of increased free time and seriously decreased productivity I was experiencing the day before, I did a lot of poking around on ILM and Dissensus. And lord but I was bored. Am I just missing something?
- You should read the Voice article on Gilmore Girls written by Joy Press. Quo Vadimus has the link. You should download both songs here, especially the Ce'cile. You should pay Flyboy a visit if you haven't lately. You should give all the unemployed bloggers a job if you can.
- I kind of want to do this, but given my schedule next month, I probably shouldn't. Then again, as someone points out on the ILM thread, you can record a solo album really quickly, much more quickly than you can write an album. I guess I did record an album in 3 hours once. So maybe I will anyway if I have a free weekend. Which I won't. I will have some downtime this month and next, though, during which I plan on finishing the BB analysis, and possibly writing a book of criticism. Riiiiight.
posted by Mike B. at 10:55 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
And then, in the midst of all this thinking about politics and music, I did an interview with a local magazine today in which I was asked about, er, politics in music. I thought it might be interesting to relate my reply. It's below.
Q: The cover of your first EP was actually a picture of a thrift shop; also, your name implies some kind of interest in "left wing" values. Music seems to have lost most of its political impact and interest in the last few decades. Do you think it’s time for activism again?
A: I've been thinking a lot about this lately. There is actually a good bit of activism going on in music right now (aside from what was always there in hardcore, underground hip-hop, etc.), and, quite frankly, it's crap. The protest songs are just horrible, the tours are embarassingly lame, and the actual political speech is like self-parody. The problem with musicians being activists is that, by and large, musicians are morons. Or, at least (or additionally), morons when it comes to thinking in any sort of political way. I mean, economic issues drive politics, but do you really want to talk economic policy with someone whose career choice was probably made on the basis of the availability of free drugs and/or sex? (Or, even worse, a mild obsession with the Smiths or Tortoise or someone.) When going to work involves arriving at a club at 5 pm and ordering a beer, you're just not going to have a whole lot of credibility talking about the kind of populist issues musicians have been trying to address lately, not anymore. And lord, the irony of people who bitch about disposable pop stars embracing music that's going to be irrelevant in two weeks, don't get me started...uh, anyway, what I'm trying to say, I guess, is that musicians should tell people who to vote for, and then shut up, at least when it comes to taking policy positions. Now, as for politics (not activism), I think music is an expression of politics at a level most people aren't willing to dig for, but let's not get into that, or this answer will be even more needlessly long.
Anyway, as for the name, yeah, it's a bit lefty, but hey, we are musicians after all. I don't want it to come off like some dumbass anti-corporate thing though--I really am interested in the idea of musical production as this mechanical process, as this corporate thing, in a positive way. But.
ADDENDUM: Article in Flagpole asking local Athens musicians about politics in music, for comparison.
posted by Mike B. at 5:21 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I wanted to follow up a bit on what Hillary and I were discussing below. What Brooks goes on and on (and ON) about amounts to a grafting of a very superficial understanding of the party system onto a macro vision of the culture, particularly middle-class culture. The result, which is a very circular one as we've all no doubt noticed by now, is that he sees both a huge cultural divide and a huge ideological divide that map directly onto one another. The problem is that this is MAYBE true for some white city dwellers, college students, and the most sheltered of evangelicals. It is not, ironically enough, true for the stereotypical middle-class person in a suburb. Brooks' argument is, of course, easy to dismantle; I understand Thomas Frank devoted a decent bit of his new book to doing just this. He's become mildly insane, or at least obsessional, unable to see anything outside of this frame, and it's just horrendously self-justifying.
What I'm trying to say is, I think, considerably different. (I hope.) I have the polar opposite of Brooks' Big View: that people really are a lot closer, both culturally and politically, than we do (or want to--or, I guess, or pundits want to) admit. This is a dead horse I've been beating for, oh, 5 or 6 years now, I reckon, but I strongly disagree with the idea that there's No American Culture (Anymore).
But I'm not really interested in mapping that onto politics disputes. I think what I was trying to say is that our political conversations are now largely cultural ones, in form more than in content, although contenty too. We don't really seem to talk about policy much anymore--and that's fine, I'm not bemoaning that necessarily. But it does seem like we talk about politics like we talk about pop culture now; conservatives take the same tone toward abortion that they did toward heavy metal or comic books, and liberals' opposition to the war or civil liberties abuses usually seems less couched in practicalities and more in an appeal to some sort of aesthetic ideal. In other words, it's not really arguing or debating, it's more just grandstanding. We're taking the most trivial aspects of our discourse about popular culture and making them into the basis of our civic dialogue. I'm all for salaciously gossiping about Britney's antics, or speculating on the way the new Usher single will impact his career, because, you know, art doesn't matter. But politics does, and when we're instead salaciously gossiping about Tom DeLay's antics, or speculating on the way the new Kerry ad will impact his career, I start to get worried.
But in contrast to what I think would be the normal approach, I don't think the way out lies along the path of avoiding cultural-type dialogue. I think the non-policy-based, non-ideological parts of our cultural dialogue, including aspects of cultural production itself, are far more political than the overt statements, and I think it's precisely those non-ideological ways of communicating that suggest a model for non-ideological (but, note, not non-political) civic discourse. I think that Eminem's "Stan" suggests a far more useful political model than Crossfire does.
I don't know if that actually clarifies anything, as I recognize a lot of this is hand-wavey, but this is merely because I've been considering this sort of question a lot lately in preparation for a possible large-scale project. Hopefully I'm conveying the gist, though.
 Which I'd love to read, as Frank's take on cultural criticism is always interesting and mainly correct, although his diagnosis of the Democrats' midwest problem was painfully ignorant, at least as he expressed it in the Salon interview, something I've wanted to break down for a while now. Ah well, maybe later.
 I don't know if I'll actually need to acronymize this or not, but hey, let's go ahead: NAC(A).
posted by Mike B. at 4:36 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Whoa. Meta-Timbaland. I feel like there's a great post to be made about this, but damn if I know what it is. It's interesting, though, the reductive, almost American Idol-ish version of the producer-hooking-up process the song's narrative portrays, with the singer hearing a Tim track, liking it, going to LA, asking Tim for a track, going into the studio where the whole group is gathered doing their various things, and getting it. Right, cause that's how it happens. It's an interesting, and maybe really effective, twist on the wish-fulfillment songs of pop acts past; in a way, it's not that different from a Backstreet Boys song about how the widely-lusted-after idols could just spy you and then you could spend the rest of your lives together. Oh sure, Tim seems highly sought-after and in-demand and, um, expensive to hire, but if you just ask, you can hang with Bubba and get a Tim track of your very own. It's willfully ignorant of biz realities but kind of charming for just that very reason. I can't quite tell how much it's winking, and I like that. I also like the way Tim processes his voice at the beginning of the song.
Oddly enough, I'm listening to this back-to-back with Pulp's "The Professional," which is actually a meta-Pulp song, so it all works out pretty well. They're both good tracks, too.
ADDENDUM: The part from 1:50-2:02 where Timbaland does vocal imitations of his own past beats is kinda mind-blowing.
posted by Mike B. at 6:11 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Sunday, October 24, 2004
Went to Coney Island again a few weekends back, this time with our friends A. and K., and A.'s 9-year-old sister, Ar. The first place Ar. wanted to go once we got off the train was the ocean, even before our customary first stop, Nathan's, which was especially amazing when you consider that hot dogs are her second-favorite food (right behind cheeseburgers and ahead of pizza--we discussed this at one point, because it is important). She had never seen the ocean before. It was regrettably a cool day in the city, the first burst of fall, and so we were neither inclined nor allowed to go swimming, but Ar.'s pant legs were rolled up and she waded in tentatively, running away from the waves with a shout as they rolled in. I, still in socks and shoes, skittered back along with her, bending down at the edge to run my fingers through the thin foam. There was almost no one there. The sky was perfectly clear.
We left after a little while and rode the Wonder Wheel. I was in front and Ar., K., and A. were in back. I expressed some terror as the metal cage slid on its rails toward the boardwalk below, as I did the last time, and later, Ar. made fun of me for this (she adamently expressed her non-terror), which was fair enough. We also rode a log flume ride, taken around a water course in a cut-out plastic boat, which terrified my companion and delighted the hell out of me. (No roller coasters please though, thanks.) Then Nathan's, eaten on a bench on the boardwalk. Ar. sat for a while on the metal railing, her feet dangling over, and a few kids of concurrent age ran up to her and took a brief look and continued running. She rejoined us and decided to have some cheese fries after all, which I felt was a good decision.
It was then decided that we were to attend the sideshow, which as it was the last show of the season, we were admitted to for a discounted price. Everyone but me was surprised to discover that the majority of its performers stood a good chance of having attended a liberal arts college at one point. (I'm unclear why this didn't surprise me, but it really didn't.) Me and my companion were actually called up on stage to assist Eek the Geek, most likely not an attendee of a liberal arts college and all the more charming for it, by standing on a board with nails driven through it placed business-end down on his very large and very tatooed stomach, while at the same time he was lying on a similar board. My companion actually fell off, which was sort of funny. He told us to examine his skin afterwards and there were little indentations on the front and I think one puncture on the back. We sat down and he lit a torch on a girl's tongue and gave a speech about bigotry and how in the real world there were no freaks, only people. He closed by encouraging us to vote. Then there was a snake dance, at the mere mention of which K. and Ar. fled the room, but Ar. returned to watch, fascinated.
After a quick stop to get cotton candy for Ar. and cola for me (I was falling asleep, this minutes after seeing a woman put a snake in her mouth--clearly I am overdosing on pop culture here), we went back to the ocean. Ar.'s pant legs were rolled up again and she ventured in again, this time with far less hestitation. My companion and I took off our footwear and rolled up, too, and we ventured farther and farther in, jumping over waves now instead of running from them and laughing as the waves got bigger and started to send drops and sprays onto our clothes. This progressed as it was naturally wont to do until my companion and I had our whole lower halves soaked and Ar., being considerably shorter and even more considerably enthusiastic about the ocean, totally 100% irrevocably soaked, and loving it. Her sister had, of course, suggested she simply strip down to underwear, but Ar. had resisted this, and now, well, now she had made a bathing suit of what she had. My companion ventured back to the beach to dry off and A. and K. stood at the edge of the surf. I stood out in the water with Ar. as she taunted the waves, crouching as they approached and then attempting to jump with them, or against them, depending on her mood, as they crashed. When she faced back towards shore, I would warn her of the approaching wave in an excited voice and jump with her; when she faced away from shore, I stood a few paces behind her, far enough behind so she could forget my presence if she desired, but not so far back that I could not help her should she encounter trouble, wanting desperately for her to fall in love with the salt water and the rocks, or to fall in love, at any rate, more deeply than she already was, to remember it forever and to associate it with her first kiss whenever it might come; wanting, at the same kind, desperately to keep her safe, although this was only the second afternoon we had spent in each other's company, wanting quietly but infinitely that she suffer no harm aside from a mild chill, that she not only be OK but better, that no harm befall her wherever she might go; I am new at this, but it feels like second nature, although I may not actually be very good at it--it feels like second nature, this balancing of allowed pleasure and carefully monitored safety, this silent, breathless observation of total joy coupled with an all-consuming desire to see the joyous one be OK forever and always, to have all good things that she might wish and to wish then for even more, to forget her troubles and to smile like this always, to throw her arms up and embrace the air like it is, well, like it is what it is: the perfect encapsulation of this surf and this beach, the weightly confulence of enjoyment.
We left the ocean after a time, left and tracked up the dirty beach to the beachouse, where Ar. washed off her sandy feet under the foot-washer as K. went and got her a new outfit. She came back with a sweatshirt and a snug-fitting pair of shorts that she told us, somewhat disturbingly, were actually adult-sized, apparently being of the "booty" variety. Out of the water and cold now, Ar.'s face fell into the expression it had taken for most of the day. It might be presumtuous or wrong-headed, but I felt familiar with her, based on that expression and my knowledge of her recent history; it was an expression I felt I myself had worn before, and maybe, sure, would again. Which is OK. But I wanted to sit with her and play Connect-4 and talk about subways and sidewalks. And maybe I will, sometime. She may be coming to stay, as might a new addition, who I will buy a ukelele for, but will take it with me when I'm not there.
Then we went home on the train, but I don't remember this so well; some people slept, no doubt, and some people were hugged, and maps were consulted, and watches were checked, and we all ended up at home, safe and sound and warm and home.
posted by Mike B. at 5:23 AM 0 comments Links to this post
A BRIEF ODE TO THE BEDROOM
Oh how I love you, home recording. The actual studio is nice, sure--it's great to have someone else there to set everything up, who knows what they're doing, someone to choose the mic and try out things you never would have thought of, someone to mix afterwards, someone to tell you if you're being retarded, or at least to slyly mix out your retarded bits later. That's all great.
But oh, for the comfort and leisure, the freedom and openness, the intimate obsessiveness, of the bedroom, of the one- or two-mic studio, the cozy corner with every instrument you own surrounding you in a semi-circle, obscure and never-documented effects chains, maybe incorporating the stereo or the VCR, chained in current-sapping tangles to power strips and Y-split 1/4" inputs. Oh that sense of possibility, of having everything there to play with, to cut and paste, to process and reverse and mix and copy and remix, to fuck with, to add an extra harmony part or a set of handclaps, to put on more reverb than would conventionally be held to be wise, to EQ out of all rationality, to delay into another channel, to pan wildly, to run percussion through a bass head, vocals through a live-miked PA, guitar through a DJ's FX unit, to pile keyboard line on top of keyboard line, to include, hell, the sound of your own amp turning on and off. Why not? You have the time, the possibility, and the amp, hey, you got that as part of a $20 package at Kay-Bee toys, and it runs on C batteries. It sounds horrible, and that's lovely.
Oh, of course it's great to sound professional, to sound like you're supposed to, especially when you sound kind of weird already. But it's also true that we judge things based on production, and new sounds come from these new production techniques, which you usually only figure out by fucking around with things yourself; that, after all, one of the most common bits of advice to people who want to be engineers or producers is just to get a four-track and to fuck around with it, to figure out what works for you. For me, that might be (in the case of the current album), something with no amp sounds on it whatsoever, where there's actually a note at one point that says "should sound more Matrix-y." Or an album where there are no drums aside from the occasional percusssion instrument. Or an album made only with acoustic instruments. Or an album made only with a sequencer. I understand why Merritt (who I'm listening to now) does it this way, still, does it in a home studio--the freedom there, the freedom to spend hours fucking around with equipment to get a neat sound, and then to record that sound directly as you've captured it, without incurring any additional charges beyond what you've already paid for the equipment, is wonderful, to have everything just there, while you're watching TV or reading, in case you get an idea, in case there's something you want to try out.
That lovely openness, that sublime sense of possibility--to look upon this table of cheap, used, partially-broken instruments and equipment you've got, and to know that you can do things with them, to know that you know how they work, you know how to make them make the best sounds, and how to make them make the worst sounds, how to make them sing or howl or whatever you want, and if you don't know yet, you will soon. (I'm looking at you, push-button accordion.) To know that it all makes sense, that it isn't a mystery, that they're just tools, just weapons, just instruments. To know that you might one day convince others to let you surround their voice and their songs with your sounds, or to sing your songs with their sentiments and their ideas. It is a lovely thing, to see all this here, simply sitting, waiting to be unleashed, and then to listen to what you've already done, and like it--a rare thing, to be true.
posted by Mike B. at 2:39 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, October 22, 2004
Huh. Mouse on Mars with Mark E. Smith. I like forward to further collaborations in this vein, such as Steve Albini with Aphex Twin doing "Mmm, Analogue" and a 10-minute Courtney Love-Mertzbow composition entitled "Where the Fuck Are My Fucking Pants?"
posted by Mike B. at 6:39 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Eh, I disagree. If anything, Eminem's new song is far less political than what came before--or, rather, it's more ideological than political. Whereas before he conjured opposites into abivalence and thereby mirrored real attitudes that weren't being portrayed elsewhere, or at least not as effectively, here he tries to will a coalition that doesn't really cohere, to try and unite opposites instead of letting them fight out like he usually does. His position makes sense, which is why he can create it in the first place, but the paradox of our current situation is that, for various reasons, it largely doesn't, at least not yet.
In some ways, I guess it's related to the rock-as-rebellion trope Mark (whose NYPLM posts have been very good lately, incidentally) brings up in the post, especially in regards to the particularly jarring messianic trope being expressed. He's trying to conjure a constituency that doesn't want to come together, trying to bring together by sheer will something that probably would exist already if the potential was there. We've been separated, all other issues aside, by culture; culture is politics now. More on this later.
The major thing that's annoying about the old hippie "rock-as-rebellion" trope, of course, is that it massively overstates the effect both music and old hippies, i.e. white dudes, actually had. There were real gains in the 60s, sure, but mainly by, er, actual minorities, and culture played a wee tiny part in that change. The rebellion of white dudes against social norms really isn't any different than the play-acted rebellion that comes across today--it was just surrounded by far more vital and important social changes. The youth vote is unimportant for any kind of measure of vitality, it's just useful for the Democratic party, so if you support them, then a higher turnout among a certain younger demographic is important, but no need to pretend like getting it or not getting it indicates something beyond good fieldwork on the part of the DNC. I half-agree with Mark when he says "MM is right and aging leftists are wrong, if they think the anger-energy isn't just as present now, latently, as it wz in 1969, overtly," but for different reasons--I think they're both basically at the same ebb they were, depending on your constituency. Energy ain't really the problem. And I think Mark's wrong when he says "There's all kinds of reasons the 'Youth Vote' went back to sleep after the 60s - one being the fact that they fought for and GOT musics (and film and TV and... ) which variously provided outlet for all kinds of lesser frustration"--aside from the fact that I think the whole idea of cultural rebellion as being a impotent outlet for possibly productive political action is as far-fetched as cold fusion, if there was a decline in youth voting (figures?), it's more attributable to the fact that they actually, um, acheived a heck of a lot of their goals. It's one of the quickest ways to take the starch out of a rebellion, and one of the reasons democracy can be such a stable-yet-equitable system.
Incidentally, I feel like Em's career arc kind of just stopped after 8 Mile, in a way sort of related to something Matthew was telling me a while ago about R.E.M. and Stipe's narrative as played out over a decade and a half of records. Eminem's acceptance and turn to seriousness neutered him in a way I didn't think it would--although, in retrospect, maybe it was the movie that did it. Maybe setting down your mythology inevitably fixes it, and thereby ends it. Eh.
 There's also, in some ways, a misunderstanding of the constituency being addressed, both here and in the Cole piece linked to--as disingenuous as it may sound, the whole white-black coherence mentioned in the song does have a fair real-world equivalent, and "rebel yell" is Billy Idol more than General Lee (either one) at this point. It's punk, downclass, trash, white trash--it's redneck culture, but via whatever odd alchemy of culture that has, I think, yet to be mapped (expressed in Kid Rock, Bubba Sparxx, as much as Eminem himself). It's not the cry of the South, it's the cry of punks, gangstas, whatever you want to call it, or yourself, realities beside the point.
UPDATE: Some reaction letters over at Juan Cole's site that are pleasantly politics-geeky. I tried to explicate the comparisons being made over in the comments to the NYLPM post, but I might as well crosspost 'em here:
I think he's just saying pessimissts v. optimists, basically--Hobbes' negative view of human nature and the need to control the beast v. Rosseau's hopefulness and Enlightenment striving. Then the baptists v. bootleggers thing expands this to the new left's tendency to try and legislate the negative aspects of human nature v. Em's (self-viewed or actual) working class audience's tendency to celebrate it and negotiate around the negative effects. Or something.
posted by Mike B. at 6:01 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, October 15, 2004
ROCK 'N' ROLL BON MOTS #022
It's kinda unfair--OK, it's totally unfair--but it's really telling to listen to some little band and then listen to, say, some of Mary J. Blige's best work. God bless Bloc Party (I guess), but while "Banquet" may be a good song, is it even in the same league as "A Family Affair" or "I'm Going Down"? No it is not.
(Incidentally, this applies to my own stuff as well--I somehow kept listening to one of my CDs followed by Matthew Sweet's 100%, and that made me feel bad, so I stopped.)
That said, I have benefited from a closer listening to the Dogs Die In Hot Cars disc--"Paul Newman's Eyes" and "Pastimes and Lifestyles," both in the second half of the album, are really good, especially the former, which I'll do a post on, oh, about when I finish up BB. Ahem.
posted by Mike B. at 5:11 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Finally got moving around 4 today and walked to the drugstore to get some supplies. Crossing 179th street, I caught a glimpse of one of the towers of the George Washington Bridge, sheathed in white plastic. So after I made my purchases I walked up a block, past the lower vehicle exit of the bus station, to the northwest corner of 179th and St. Nick. I opened my Pepsi and drank it while leaning on the metal railing in front of the solid metal fencing separating me from the Cross-Manhattan Expressway.
It was a distinctly weird sensation. Something about how, if it was the pre-auto days, there would be this herd of people passing below me, making people sounds and kicking up dust. It would feel busy and crowded. But as it was, it felt...something else. "Crowded" seems like the word because there really weren't any people around; "noisy" is accurate but not all-encompassing. Like being in a factory somehow, I guess, like standing up on top of the scaffolding and surveying the floor below, the machines all working away. I don't mean this in a negative sense, exactly. It's just that if there were no cars there, if there were just people, exposed to the elements, and all lined up, waiting to go through a major transportation nexus, I would be noticed, I guess--the guy up there, up on high, status beside the point, I would be a landmark rather than an anomaly. Now most people couldn't even see me with the roofs blocking their views, and with the choked-up tangle of offramps and bridges surrounding my vantage point, I might not have been visible anyway. It's that same sense of barenness, of somehow seeing a hidden process revealed, that I think all of us feel when we're close to a highway but not in a car. It's something I've always loved, but I don't entirely know why. On my one day off from my summer job a few years back, I spent a decent bit of it sitting by a freeway, playing with a yo-yo and watching the cars.
As much as a car can be liberating and energizing--as much as it can convey that sense of openness and possibility you might feel at the start of a journey--there's something fundamentally sad about auto travel, isn't there? Something different from traveling on a train or by foot. Sure, you might be annoyed at your fellow passengers, but they're there, right next to you. You are traveling as a group. Whereas in a car, you're cut off from the people right next to you. Technically, it makes no sense to feel alone when commuting, but we do. We feel alone when we're running errands or coming back from work in a car, in a different way than we might otherwise.
I stood there and I looked at the cars driving away from me, under my feet, and the buses coming off the precarious-looking ramps into the line-up for the bridge out of this state, off this island. I looked at the Express Service mini-buses running to the shopping center, ferrying loads of people from the bus station either to jobs or to shopping, or both. I wondered where I would go if I could, if I was free of committments and all of that. But probably nowhere. Who wants to go to New Jersey, anyway? I mostly just don't respond well to gray weather, I suppose.
Walking back I saw a girl in a plaid skirt with a backpack, coming home from school. I looked across the street and saw a library. It's all the same, isn't it? School, library, corner store, cars, roads, drugstores, video rental, bedrooms, TVs. Sure, the corner stores smell different, and the libraries are more vertical than horizontal--so's everything--and the bedrooms are smaller, and the cars are alien things now. But it's all the same, fundamentally, isn't it? Isn't it? The same as where I came from, the same as where I'm going, the same as everywhere else. Isn't it?
posted by Mike B. at 4:49 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Listening to "I've Got a Theory" from the Buffy musical episode--man, I forgot how good that song is! Xander's witches retreat, the bunnies interlude...man, that's a good song. And somewhere else in the office "Livin' On a Prayer" is playing! Life is good. And now I'm going to go buy a Black Sheep album to make up for having to buy a Godsmack album earlier. It's for work, man...
posted by Mike B. at 4:35 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Oh, also, we watched most of Father of the Pride last night, which I enjoyed, although the Seigfried & Roy sideplot wasn't quite as amusing as in the last one I saw. (Big Gulp!) Two highlights: the cub...uh, boy...uh, young male lion (pshew) who's distinctly Bobby-from-King-of-the-Hill-ish, sitting in the bathtub, listening to Tori Amos' "Silent All These Years," and an elderly monkey saying "It was as heavy as Kirstie Alley. Ah, that's not fair, she can't help herself. That joke's not right." Very nice.
Also: a very Bender-sounding gazelle, which is always nice.
posted by Mike B. at 11:18 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Apparently I've taken over the Flagpole reviews page this week, as there are 5 (!) of mine there, all of which I'm actually really happy with. A few notes on 'em:
- Still stand by my Rilo Kiley review despite their mention on Gilmore Girls last night--we all know Lane needs to evolve in her tastes a bit, god bless her. And man, inter-band dating, there's a subject fraught with more intricacies than I'm entirely sure they'll grant. That said, the goodness that is GG was just highlighted by a brief flip over to Veronica Mars afterwards, on which a boy tried to entice young Ms. Mars (I think) by offering her a ride on his boat, where he assured her "the Strokes would be blasting." Dude, so 2001. At least GG is au courant even if it is a bit gauche.
But man, another really good episode, especially in the back half, with a good speech about rockin' from Gil, the kickass cover (although, man, I wouldn't want to be in a band with Sebastian Bach, that dude's got moves, he'd upstage me every time!) with the Hendrix ("yeah, because Hendrix made it an anthem!") solo in the middle, Suki's politics-wife suit and mannerisms (which Miss Clap was immensely amused by), Jackson's concession/acceptance speech preceded by the kiss, etc. The Paris-Rory exchange near the beginning about the three-minute rule was great, too. My viewing companions pointed out that it was actually a pretty common conversation to have in college, you just never saw it on TV.
- Goddamn but I hate Northern State.
- More on Dizzee later. My only regret is that I didn't use the phrase "smells all Pollard-y."
- In listening to the Meow Meow album more (which I've been doing a lot), I realized that the song that rips off "Radio Song" actually becomes an Imperial Teen song, which is awesome.
- May not have made this clear, but I do really like that Ordinary Boys CD, although I guess I shouldn't. Eh.
posted by Mike B. at 10:37 AM 0 comments Links to this post
ROCK 'N' ROLL BON MOTS #021
This morning on the long train ride I decided to go with Blur's The Great Escape, and I decided to skip ahead a bit after "Charmless Man," as I usually listen to that disc on shorter rides and end up stopping after "Fade Away." But goddamn, the back half of that album is really good! I'd totally forgotten. Like, the lyrics in "Mr. Robinson's Quango" are kind of embarassing, but the arrangement is mind-blowing--I sort of want to make people who get all breathless about the Homosexuals listen to that more closely. And there's the chord changes in "Globe Alone," which rocks more than I'd expected, and the noises in "Dan Abnormal," the cute little Stereolabisms of "Yuko and Hiro" (although, again, kind of embarassing lyrics--Damon'd sort of ridden that train a little too far, eh? Or at least after the first four songs on the album), like that. Very nice.
Oh but also I noticed even more wonderfulness in "Country House" that maybe I'll get into later. If yer lucky. But for now I have to go...input...invoices. Awesome.
posted by Mike B. at 10:05 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, October 08, 2004
Just heard "Ignition (Remix)" for the first time in, oh, at least 6 months. I still don't really like it.
posted by Mike B. at 1:39 PM 0 comments Links to this post
If you've ever complained about American TV, you need to read this. Here, I'll quote the lede for you:
Five is heading for a new storm over dumbed down reality TV shows after
Goddamn British people.
On the other hand, if this was Britney's ex-husband, how cool would that be? Uh, OK, I guess he would still be masturbating a pig, but, you know...
(Link via Quo Vadiumus, who adds a nice visual reference.)
posted by Mike B. at 10:17 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, October 07, 2004
OK, so it's only the intro to a Pitchfork review, but it highlights a problem I have with the contemporary noise scene, I do:
Ignoring most of musical tenets of time and structure, this October 2000Look, the point about Branca--one of the things that makes him so good, and so pleasurable to listen to--is that he does work within pretty standard parameters for time and structure. What's weird about him is the tonality and the overall form. But there's still a drummer there beating out roughly familiar stuff. (If thrilling, but you know.) It was radical at the time because of where he was coming from: art music and jazz, where such rockisms as a steady beat were unusual. Put him in a pop context and we can thankfully overlook the difference for the quality. Sonic Youth's stuff has borne this out: coming from a similar place, they, like Branca, come up with stuff that sounds familiar, if still unusual. (If I was being unkind, I would say that the difference between SY and Branca is that Branca can write a singular thing that's fairly long that'll hold us rapt, whereas our Sonic friends need to break things up into sons. I would be kind of interested to hear what it would sound like, though, if Branca orchestrated "Teenage Riot," say, and extended and varied all the lines for more parts. Could be cool. Could suck. Anyway.)
But people who want to sound like Sonic Youth, or want to be "experimental," don't seem to get this. Because they come from a rock (often punk-rock) background, they think flowing tempo or time signature changes within a piece are experimental, whereas any high school orchestra student worth his or her salt considers it as a matter of course. And so we get these sort of frentic jabs swinging against slower stuff, fairly inelegantly, and unwilling to explore tonality in the same way Branca has. It just strikes me as odd, is all. I've never understood the refusal to pursue the ecstatic and the beautiful; experimentation seems valid to me only as far as it produces new sources of beauty. But maybe that's me.
posted by Mike B. at 1:53 PM 0 comments Links to this post
ROCK 'N' ROLL BON MOTS #020
Listening to Dre and Tupac's "California Love," I'm struck by how much the vocoder parts, done by two voices but melding a good bit because of the processing, mirror, especially in the little chorus/break from like 1:25-2:20, the heavily-processed ad lib backing vocals Beck had in a lot of his early stuff, especially the pitch-shifted ones--compare, say, the bit in "California Love" around 1:35 with "Yes they do" with whatever that song is on Mellow Gold where the high-pitched Beck goes "Oh my goodness." The difference is that Beck's processing was intentionally primative and showing its seams, whereas the "California Love" stuff starts from this place of smoothness, especially given that it's a vocoder, something pretty much invented to smooth vocals out. But they sneak in (it's subtle, this is the only time I've ever noticed it really) this more impromptu stuff while still seeming smooth. It's very nice.
posted by Mike B. at 1:39 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
(self-indulgent [more than usual] blog post ahoy.)
Brief review of the Gilmore Girls episode last night:
It was so good! OMG OMG OMG! The town meeting, Emily settling right in at the wake, "I did not kill that great man with my vagina, Rory." Etc. I thought Miss Clap started laughing a little prematurely at Asher's death, but we disagree! And that's OK.
posted by Mike B. at 10:19 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
Oh, the things I want to say to you, my little chickadees. I am reading this and have many things to say about it. I want to talk about the role of narrative in album sales. I want to talk about the mind-body divide. I want to talk about literalism. I want to talk about Blueberry Boat. I want to talk about Glenn Branca. I want to talk about the middle class. But all of it will have to wait a bit, I guess, although some will, I hope, trickle out, from time to time.
Music or writing, music or writing. Ah well.
posted by Mike B. at 2:20 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Little project for you all:
We're pursing a female vocalist here at the label I work for. She's, you know, Disney-style, Broadway, great chops. And we'd like to pitch some songs to her for the album she's (we hope) going to do.
So: what songs should I pitch? The things that spring immediately to my mind are "Mushaboom," Stephin Merritt's "I Think I Need a New Heart," and Yo La Tengo's "Tears Are In Your Eyes." We're looking for stuff that's interesting but not too weird (I get the feeling she won't like it otherwise), and preferably with a good dynamic range. What can you guys think of? Other Merritt stuff? I've skewed indie here, but all genres are welcome.
"Letter From An Occupant"? Hmm...
ADDENDUM: Tori Amos? Squeeze? The Cardigans? Nellie McKay? Other female artists in that kind of vein? (Fiona Apple?) Probably couldn't sell her on Elastica, sigh. Scissor Sisters?
Would this be a good thing to post on ILM?
Things I wish I could sell her on but know I can't: Candypants "I Want a Pony," Liz Phair, the Danielsen Famile, Kimya Dawson.
ADDENDUM 2: Writes a correspondant (the penultimate bit is probably the most relevant to y'all):
Emphasis mine. Because damn, that's awesome. We can work with that, yeah?
posted by Mike B. at 2:11 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, October 01, 2004
Rob pointed out the other day that the Allmusic review of Green Day's American Idiot actually compared it to the Fiery Furnaces' Blueberry Boat, which is weird and kind of interesting. They did make the comparison on the basis of "it's the only good contemporary comparison" but the main thing seems to be a love for mid-period Who and longer songforms that aren't expicitly prog or experimental. The only place I really see the Who thing in American Idiot, to be honest, is on "Homecoming," which has a pretty explicit reference or two (c.f. the acoustic guitar break around 3:30), but it's an absolutely fantastic track, full of not only lyrical but musical references to previous songs, and a really nice way of going from section to section. (The Furnaces, on the other hand, mainly took drum style, keyboard parts, and ambition from Daltry et al.)
The thing this suggests for me, though, is this, and I'm going to let y'all answer it cause I gotta go to rehearsal. If Cobain hadn't died, and when Nirvana had made their inevitable (I think) concept album, would it be more like Blueberry Boat or more like American Idiot? (Or, I guess, something else?) I wonder...
posted by Mike B. at 5:53 PM 0 comments Links to this post