clap clap blog: we have moved
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Flagpole has its best of the year issue up, and if you check out the best national albums (my picks are first), best singles (mine are second), and best sounds (mine are mixed in) categories, you can see my picks 'n' comments. Some of this may change for Pazz & Jop, I'm not sure yet (working on it now as a matter of fact) but I stand by this as of, oh, last week. Plus, comments from our own lovely Hillary Brown. Plus plus, Chris with a Strong Bad shoutout. So yeah, the last category there may be of the most interest to peoples.
posted by Mike B. at 11:32 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
BIG HUGE IMPORTANT NOTE ON THE BELOW
If anyone can mirror the MP3 files in the post below, please please please drop me a line as I'm not sure how long my server will hold out. My e-mail address is eppy at grendel d0t org.
posted by Mike B. at 2:14 PM 0 comments Links to this post
BB APPENDIX #01: CHRONOLOGICAL
Yes, in classic clap clap blog fashion, I'm giving you the appendix before I give you the conclusion. But trust me, you'll be glad I did.
So here is the actual chronological order of the album, with the non-narrative songs omitted:
16th century: "Paw Paw Tree"
17th century: "Quay Cur"
18th century: "Blancheflower" (pt. 2)
19th century: "Chris Michaels" (subcontinent section)
*1920s: "Mason City"
1970s: "Blancheflower" (pt 1)
1980s: "Chris Michaels" (pt 1)
2000s: "Blancheflower" (pt 3)
"Chris Michaels" (end)
There you go. Now for the surprise. You remember "The Godfather Chronicles," that thing a few years back that took all three Godfather movies and recut them so they were in chronological order? Well, I figured I'd have a go at doing the same for Blueberry Boat, and call it "The Blueberry Boat Chronicles." (Just for convenience's sake.) I took the major narrative songs, omitting the two starred ones above, cut them into sections, eliminated all the long instrumental bits, and then reordered them in a linear fashion. What you'll hear is just the story of the album, with almost everything extraneous omitted. This is in no way intended to be a replacement for the album, and indeed I've encoded it at 112 kbps for that reason (as well as the need to save space on my server). I've also, in the spirit of the album as well as for more common-sense concerns, not been the carefulest with the cutting, so while I could certainly do a better job, you at least get the gist.
All that disclaimed, here you go.
The Blueberry Boat Chronicles - Part 01.mp3
The Blueberry Boat Chronicles - Part 02.mp3
The Blueberry Boat Chronicles - Part 03.mp3
The Blueberry Boat Chronicles - Part 04.mp3
The Blueberry Boat Chronicles - Part 05.mp3
The Blueberry Boat Chronicles - Part 06.mp3
The Blueberry Boat Chronicles - Part 07.mp3
The Blueberry Boat Chronicles - Part 08.mp3
The Blueberry Boat Chronicles - Part 09.mp3
The Blueberry Boat Chronicles - Part 10.mp3
The Blueberry Boat Chronicles - Part 11.mp3
UPDATE: Due to server issues, these are now available as one ~25 meg zip file. Download it here.
These are cut to be placed directly back-to-back, so when you cue them up, don't do it with any gaps and it should all flow together, lord willing.
Look for all of this to be summed up shortly.
posted by Mike B. at 11:41 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, December 27, 2004
BB #07: MASON CITY
Intro, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.
They said it wouldn't happen! Uh, and by "they" I mean "me."
Another song with three very discrete sections, although they're all linked in various musical ways this time. Uh, except for the intro, which has not a damn thing to do with the rest of the song.
The song begins with a synth line that goes like this: half note->sixteenth note octave up->sixteenth note octave down->eighth note octave up->eighth note octave down->eighth note octave up->new bar with note a step down. This cycles through four times and then repeats. Under it is an organ accompaniment and a simple drumbeat (quarter-quarter-quarter-eighth-sixteenth-sixteenth). After two cycles the synthline goes from descending to ascending and the drumbeat becomes fuller, with a delay applied to it with a feedback sufficient to build instead of decay, so that after a cycle and a half the sound of the delayed drums has totally overtaken the track and you can't hear the keys very well. Then at the end of the second cycle, everything cuts out, the delay begins to decay, and the verse begins.
The first section begins with just claps, a piano playing chords in an eighth-eighth-quarter pattern, and Eleanor's double-tracked vocals. The latter in particular sound weird for some reason--they are maybe EQed with the bottom cut off to make her sound thinner, older perhaps. The reverb, too, is dusty, and overall everything has an aged feel. The chords for the verse are C-Am-F-C. A drumfill comes in at the end, and then full Moon-ish drums run through the chorus. The chords for the chorus are F-G-F-C-F-G-G-G. For the second verse, a heavily reverbed, frequency modulated synth line comes in, and this ensemble continues through the second chorus and the lackluster guitar solo, which takes adds a bass and, obviously, an electric guitar, and takes place over a verse-chorus cycle. Then for the third verse the drums and electric guitar drop out, the bass stays in, and an organ chord doubles the piano chords. This continues through the third chorus, halfway through which a totally out-of time kick-kick-snare drum part comes in that will form the basis for the next section.
The section section begins with said drumbeat, an unaccompanied piano line doubling the melody, and Matt singing single-tracked, with light chords coming in halfway through. Then for the chorus the left hand joins in on the piano more strongly and plays a counterline. Matt sings a line, then whistles a line, then sings a line, then shouts "Wait!" and the drums play along for a few bars. The piano then comes back in and plays the verse and chorus melody, with a synth line gradually being added, and more enthusiastic drums (including crashes) coming in as they move through the chorus melody. Then there's another break, and we're on to the third section.
Which starts off with Eleanor singing, what sounds like a nylon-string or baritone acoustic guitar, and a piano (the throughline on this whole song). In contrast to the previous section, which was ominous and open, this one has an immediately more upbeat feel, and soon resolves into a specifically laid-back vibe. A clean electric guitar plays along. The chords are A-F#m-D-A. (Down a third from the first section, you'll note.) After each line, a whistling synth riff plays. Everything's well-reverbed. After two lines, the guitar slides down to a third to a F#, then to an E, accompanied by piano and voice, then goes back into the regular verse progression. This time, there's a muddled, out-of-place sound in the right channel, that to my ears sounds distinctly like the bass riff from "Paw Paw Tree" passed through a bunch of filters. Then another chorus, then a noise-heavy guitar solo over a repeated A chord until the end of the song.
In chart form:
0:43-1:03 Verse 1
1:04-1:23 Chorus 1
1:24-1:44 Verse 2
1:45-2:04 Chorus 2
2:05-2:43 Guitar Solo
2:44-3:03 Verse 3
3:04-3:21 Chorus 3
4:09-4:17 Drum break
4:18-4:43 Instrumental verse
4:44-5:10 Instrumental chorus
5:11-5:21 Instrumental break
5:33-6:03 Verse 1
6:04-6:14 Chorus 1
6:15-6:52 Verse 2
6:53-7:02 Chorus 2
7:03-8:14 Guitar Solo
First off, let me just note that this entry would not have ever been written, more than likely, had not two people responded to a previous entry and sent me some thoughts about "Mason City." I'd like to recognize those people at the outset here, and they are Dan Beirne, "an occasional (read: rare) contributor to Said the Gramophone" and Hayden Childs, of The High Hat. I will reprint their thoughts after mine, but first I'll run through what I came up with, with their aid.
"Mason City" is the story of Eleanor, an old maid living with her overprotective father who has developed a career as a mail-order conman--er, con woman. As she has been shut into her house and is not allowed to leave because of past misbehavior (running around with criminal types and the like), she has been forced to turn to self-advancement by less than legal means, in this case insurance scams. Her con is to befriend lonely old men as "pen pals" and then cause them to fall in love with her. Consequently, she then takes out insurance policies on them, with their blessing, and with her as the beneficiary. Inevitably, the romance is broken off, but as she was the one corresponding with the life insurance companies, she then asks for extensions, borrows some money against this policy, and then uses this money to pay for a killer, who then offs the old man.
In this particular instance, as she's pulled this scam a few times, she's working through an intermediary, an insurance fence of a sort, who refers to herself as "the Riceville widow." The fence sends her the loan (the "kill fee" if you will) along with a self-addressed stamped envelope in which Eleanor should return the fence's share of the insurance money, 2.6%. But Eleanor has problems--after this many times (or, it being her first time--hard to tell I suppose) she's having a hard time working the scam, and can only get Aetna to give her a policy on the old man's life. Two others reject her, and she's worried about actually getting the extension. Nevertheless, she sends off for the killer, Matt, who in the second section recounts his travels to get to Chicago, where the old man lives. We do not see the killing.
In the third section we have a sort of flashback to Eleanor's golden days hanging out with the criminal element, and it seems she was actually the head of a whole con mob. It's just a bunch of slang, really, her giving a Guys-and-Dolls-ish monologue to the gang. To go line-by-line:
"How are you my nabs?"
How's it going, guys?
"Little tender footed crabs,"
You're all so inexperienced.
"Meet my knuckle duster."
Why I oughta punch your eye out!
"You geeches that gazoon's gow / tried to break into the bow"
You brought the mark all the way to the end but then took it too far and got nothing!
"go wipe your nose."
You snot-nosed brat, get on with ya.
"Prussian who got jackered,"
The German tourist you conned,
"my snapper til you knockered,"
you used my trick so much it became obvious,
"get on the snam."
so get outa here.
"The chivman wants your chip,"
The guy who keeps track of the money wants to account for your share, so where is it?
"better dummy up then go dip,"
Better go look sympathetic before you break the bad news.
"you're outa turn."
But don't shove.
"I learned that the lowest form of life is the buffer nabber,"
i.e., the jewlery thief--
"even worse than the dicer stabber"
i.e., the gambler robber--she's all pissed off at a jewlery theif for stealing her make.
Thanks to David W. Maurer's The Big Con for some of this.
Now, here are the two interpretations.
This song is about money.
The first third of the song, as sang by Eleanor, is from the point of view
The only thing is that Eleanor's character here is a precursor to, and maybe even an ancestor of, Eleanor's character in "Chris Michaels." Otherwise, the only thing it's close to in time is "1917," sorta, except that doesn't have much to do with anything else either. So it's of a piece.
posted by Mike B. at 2:11 PM 1 comments Links to this post
BLUEBERRY BOAT UPDATE
The BB project will come to a conclusion (not the conclusion, mind you) by this Thursday. This conclusion will include the following:
- An analysis of "Mason City," as two different textual ones have been provided by kind contributors;
- Two separate summations;
- At least one informational appendix; and
- Possibly a surprise or two.
Of the four songs I have not analyized, none seem to have anything to do with the overarching storyline. "1917" is about the Chicago White Sox. "Birdie Brain" I will probably analyze at some point, but does not seem to have much to do with the rest of the album. "Turning Round" only has four lines, although I will likely do an analysis of this at some point as well. "Wolf Notes" is a cute little ditty about toy instruments but, again, no plot to speak of. Of these four, the one I am most likely to also do an analysis of before I start concluding things is "Birdie Brain."
I've been listening to the album all morning, for the first time, I think, in a quiet environment, and I've been hearing things I've totally missed before, which is somewhat embarasssing. I will be making a few corrections to previous interpretations, but these will not be done retroactively, and instead will be simply incorporated into the text of the summmations, and possibly noted. So it goes with blogs.
The album still sounds very, very good.
posted by Mike B. at 1:26 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Saturday, December 25, 2004
this is called A VERY WHACKED OUT ON DAYQUIL XMAS
Because, well, because I spent it whacked out on Dayquil.
xmas eve day, manhattan
it is cold but there is no moisture whatsoever and on 17th street women load presents into car trunks wearing shorts and a sweatshirt while people walk by in full parka-and-scarf getup. i've already been to the office where I keep thinking I'm hearing people there, even though it's empty, even though I know it's empty, because it's never empty, not these days at least. i duck down to pick up the boxes and there's a chatter of something, except computers and ventilation and other things are already humming and chattering, it is a plutonium quiet, but the ghosts remain.
when the taxi pulls up to the hotel the driver pops open his trunk without even asking. a doorman lets me out and ask if I'm OK and I say yes but later I wonder what seemed to be wrong. i guess i was probably stumbling. the walk to work was normal: up a little late, maybe, but the regular train in, listening to music, the walk across 16th and up 5th, the elevator up, the whole deal. but then it was dark and quiet and then straight outside to an uncrowded street and straight into a cab and now in this covered entryway for the hotel, not even on the street but getting out of a car.
i take the elevator up 44 floors by myself, and it runs express from the 8th to the 28th, the LCD floor indicator just saying "XX" and I feel the speed in the fluid in my head and my ears pop. at my floor i get out and look down the shaft at all the lower floors and it's like a belltower, and it's quiet like a monestary, no music, muffled noise, scattered people. i deposit the boxes in the room and then back out to the non-street street where someone will get a cab for you and the family ahead of us in line is trying to talk a taxi driver into taking all 5 of them in one car, but no one will do it. a man in a cowl and a cap ushers us into the backseat of a yellow cab. my father says that they were waited on by 6 people from the time the taxi got to the hotel until the time they got to their room. it is a very room, with a good view, although maybe not as good as the one i saw from a hospital room a few weeks ago, i'm not sure. it depends what kind of things you want to see when you look outside.
at macy's there is a man in a carrot suit handing out fliers and people looking at the window displays, which cross-promote both forms of the polar express and are less creepy than the movie, probably, but still not very nice. we never get to see the phantom ones but i've seen the musical anyway so how can it compare? store windows are outmoded as spectacles, sad to say. we walk all the way through the store through the women's accessories and perfumes and cosmetics and something else and my dad says he hasn't been in here in 30 years and there are people everywhere and as we are about to catch an elevator my mom comes out of one, and we hug, and i think we take some pictures. my mom has a new coat she bought that morning because she was cold.
we take an elevator up to the eighth floor (which is going just to the eighth floor and not to anywhere else the attendants are quick and frequent to tell us, although later i will come to appreciate this level of information transparency) which opens just near santaland, where my mom had been waiting for us. we walk into the "quick peek" area which is surprisingly uncrowded (in contrast to the multilayered line that awaits santa's own personal beck & call, which fills me with a sort of sucking dread and almost makes me want to abandon the idea of this whole christmas thing entirely) and i think of david sedaris of course but i also think of how cute the little baby is, sitting there on santa, who looks very wholesome in a not creepy way, to be honest. but then on the way out i see the line again and i think, no no no.
outside we take an uptown bus and a crosstown bus and enter grand central. my mom goes straight to the tourist information booth and crowds around with a bunch of other people and asks when the laser light show will be occuring. not for a while, so we go down into the food court and eat. i am very whacked out by this point and i stumble to the bathroom and i don't really remember the bathroom, but then i'm in line for soup and i get some soup and like a pepsi and a water, and hopefully these are all things i want because they could be like vomiting in a cardboard box and giving it to me at this point and i'd be like "could i get bread with that," and then i get a table and we eat, corned beef sandwich for my dad and chicken salad for my mom and boston baked beans soup for me, with sausage. i think the soups i like best are uniformly ones with pork products in them. i like most soups pretty well, but throw some bacon or sausage or ham or whatever in there and i'm your man, sam. i take a dayquil and start to feel better. my dad goes to take pictures and my mom goes to smoke and i just look around, sorta, but i also just stare off into space a good bit.
then it's time for the laser light show! so we go up into the rotunda and lollygag around for a few minutes and then it starts. it's actually sort of silly and unimpressive but charming, somehow, although i'd enjoy it more if keeping my head elevated didn't cause dizziness. one group has the right idea and is either laying down on the floor or tilting their toddler's strollers back so they can have a direct view. a small indian girl with pigtails perched on her dad's shoulders is just going totally nuts for this, although it's unclear if this is from the lasers or the music or all the people or because she's just generally excited or what.
we tale the escalator up and walk through the lobby of the mostly deserted met-life building until we get to a small shopping concouse (featuring godiva, home of the chocolate bar that's in my jacket pocket right now!) that exits onto 45th street, and we walk through the oddly advertising-saturated pedestrian tunnel until we get to the continuance of park avenue. my dad wanders off to take a picture and my mom almost gets run over by the traffic, which she thought dead-ended at grand central. but she's OK. we walk up park and take pictures of the lights on the waldorf-astoria.
i have to pee and we can't decide where to pee until my mom looks into the lobby of sak's and goes "ooh!" and so we go in there. apparently the only men's bathroom is on the 5th floor so i head over to the elevators by myself and it's very confusing and we're all trying to push things and it's way too crowded and eventually we head up, but people keep getting on and the getting off is hard, and when it gets to my floor (which, by the way i've noticed from looking at the signs in the elevator is the only floor in the building without a women's bathroom, which should tell me something probably) no one moves enough so I have to sort of squeeze my way out, and push past this little girl who's been crying, who gives me a really mean/sad look after I get out and I feel kinda bad.
the bathroom is luckily right there but there's an attendant, which always freaks me out, so i sneak around to the end and wash my hands really quick and run out, but for some reason there aren't enough sinks or something, so there's sort of a pile-up between the urinals and the faucets, which is not pretty let me tell you. the shoeshine guy outside the bathroom looks just like me, i think, and as i'm waiting for the elevator i look at the very expensive suits and want to touch them but figure i shouldn't. back on the surprisingly small ground floor i do a lap looking for my parents and instead see all the brands have their own mini-stores: louis vitton, chanel, prada, etc. some of the people seem familiar but a lot of them, i wonder if they are from new york or new jersey or long island or somewhere else. they are dressed all wrong. no one tries to spray me with perfume, which is nice, but i'm still feeling a little woozy.
we all meet back up and hit st. pat's, across the street. my dad decides to stay out front because they yelled at him once to take off his hat, which is fair. me and my mom start in but then she worries where's the shopping bag and so we go back out and my dad has it, so we go back in, but we keep tripping over the steps, which are off in a way i can't quite pin down. inside it is annoyingly crowded and sorta pretty, but sorta not. in the far left corner is a nativity scene that has a lot of people looking at it. there is a box on one side that explains how they are all hand-carved and that if you want to donate money, please put it into the box and do not throw it at the nativity scene as it will cause damage, which people apparently need to be told, because there is the same box on the other side. i record a little bit of the sound of the church and the sound of me opening the door to the street and the change there.
we make our way back to the hotel, busing it down to 46th and then walking crosstown. my dad goes into a cigar store that is like my own personal hell. you walk into the foyer and there is a vent above your head blowing heat on you and then you walk into the store and there are like these things on top of cases blowing smoke or steam or something white and cloudy into the room, and it just smells and feels horrible and like a fever dream. me and my mom wait outside and my mom goes up to a guy on the corner and gets a flyer for free margaritas at a mexican restaurant down the street, and they have a conversation, and then we talk about getting some margaritas.
the hotel ground floor is busy and we take the long way accidentally, chasing my dad around the circular bank of elevators, trying to find the entrance, and it feels endless. there is a small girl being lead calmly by her mother except the small girl is not walking, she is dancing. we find the elevators and whoosh ourselves up to 44, and in the room i decide for some reason to take a shower, which turns out to be a fantastic idea, as the water is nice and hot and the steam makes me feel much better. who says two showers is only for summer days? not i. i try and take care of the flaking skin on my poor nose but there's nothing much to be done, so i grab a pack of cigs for the missus and take the M7 down to Union Square and walk to the restaurant, where miss clap is outside, talking to her parents, and has a hard time getting off the phone. we hug and take pictures and my dad and i go inside and wait at the bar, where he suggests we do shots, and i say ok, except apparently he was kidding, so i just get a vanilla stoli and coke instead, except it's got only the vaguest hint of brown in there when i go to take a drink, which means that a certain bartender wants me drunk on xmas eve. which normally i'd be all for, but sick as i am, this isn't such a good thing.
dinner is good and i have veal for the first time, which i like a lot, although my taste buds are not at the tip-toppiest. afterwards miss clap and i go to duane reade and get dayquil and more kleenex and take the train back home.
xmas day, brooklyn
had a hard time sleeping so i woke up early and read haroun and the sea of stories. miss clap woke up and asked me to read her some, so i did. then i read her "the santaland diaries," which she enjoyed. there also may have been a dance of some sort. we decided these would be christmas traditions, which we can because it is miss clap's first xmas, her being jewish and all. she is, as she puts it, "the kind of jew that thinks the only difference between us and christians is that we don't celebrate Christmas." but she has agreed to celebrate it with me this year, which is very nice of her although in fairness i've done two passovers already and gave her hannukah presents this year, so we're running about even.
outside it is a dull blue, a sharp morning air. we call the car service and wait outside. there is no wind. it feels exactly like something, although i don't know what. maybe standing in the middle of an airstrip. the car turns out to be an SUV, which is weird, and the two of us are all dressed up in long coats and nice shoes and sunglasses. very fancy. we roll down broadway under the jmz and lots of stores are open, but the only people we see are orthodox jews. no one is around. it is noon on a saturday. shabbat. it is deserted. this is not how broadway feels.
the restaurant, peter luger's, is similarly in a deserted area, with a cold view of the bridge, but when we go inside people are packed cheek-to-cheek in the bar, waiting for their tables. the first two names i hear called are "myers" and "green." my mom is getting a champagne and chambord at the bar so me and miss clap gets one too, and my dad gets a canadian club & ginger in honor of brooklyn, his old drink and his old home. near here is where my grandfather grew up, and my father is finishing up a book on the semipro ballteam that used to play in a stadium a few blocks away. but i still don't belong here, i suppose.
at our table there are very good onion rolls and a waiter we want to call "igor." everyone is taking pictures and we do too. i am sweating a lot although it is not hot and i take off my sweater and loosen my tie and splash water on my face in the weirdly outdated bathroom (looks like it's from a catholic school built in1963) but nothing helps very much. the food is very good, although that'll have to wait for later. as we are leaving, a large group comes in and one of them says, "oh good, our favorite table."
this time the car service car is just a regular towncar, and we all crowd in, all kind of confused. we stop off at my place first to drop off the bag o' beef (leftovers from the steaks) and then tool into the city. everywhere it is abandoned but there is no sense for the abandonment. in a storm or similar bad conditions there would be reason not to see anyone, but it is a beautiful day, even more beautiful, maybe, without all the people, because with that quietude the dust has settled and the air is clear. nothing stirs. we putter slowly through the landscape.
even in manhattan it is quiet. moving across houston or up 8th avenue feels sedate. three pm on a saturday and it's like a CNY town. the driver goes down 44th instead of 46th so we just have him drop us off at the corner, but to get back on the sidewalk and to the hotel we have to squeeze through the gap between scaffolding and a nut cart, a palpable gate, and all of a sudden we are back in new york, whatever that means, times square still being actually somewhat busy, although nowhere near as busy as usual. it feels like going through a time warp, somehow, like a transition between worlds. Is this what it's like to have money, to take cabs everywhere? To not have the stretch of ground between the subway exit and your destination absolutely memorized? To be isolated in this way, to be able to ignore all those people? Or is it just Christmas?
I think I rely on the noise of people, that particular chatter, on the way they shape the air when they're around. Human contact is nice but even anonymous and impersonal human interaction, glanceless and neutral, can serve a purpose, and I wonder if I don't need a certain amount of this to feel OK. It is a very particular kind of white noise--a flesh noise, maybe, the randomized humping and galomphing of all those souls, that can chase out other noises, that can seduce my own flesh into a unified sound. we all want to think for ourselves but there's such a thing as too much independent thought. to be slipped into this mass choir of players who do not recognize each other but harmonize nevertheless is a form of beauty.
when we read, we try to determine the story's moral point of view. for instance, haroun and the sea of stories was what rushdie wrote while he was in hiding, and it is quite clearly an allegory about certain things, and part of the pleasure of reading it is trying to figure out what stands for what, and what judgments he is making, especially given that the book itself concerns a story-within-a-story that stands as an allegory too. so if new york is a story, what is its moral point of view? with the people gone it feels like farmland, but it was once and could be again, so this is no great shakes. is new york trying to tell us something about ourselves or does it not really care? the things we have created between ourselves seem much more interesting and complex than any one of us. we are little mcnuggets of entertainment; this is the grand feast.
but what do i know? this is my first christmas in the city, and usually we don't even leave our warm, bright, carol-saturated house. and so we go up to the hotel room and open some presents, and it is very lovely and warm again. afterwards we drink some tea but we are sleepy so everyone hugs and kisses goodbye and me and miss clap take the train home in our fancy clothes, still feeling vaguely ridculous. after a while she goes back out to eat chinese food with her jewish friends and i stay in and go to bed early, and sleep well, thankful now for quiet.
merry christmas to all, and love and thanks to mom, dad, miss clap, and everyone i'm going to hit up later. (i swear.)
posted by Mike B. at 9:41 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, December 23, 2004
My friend Lori adds another piece to the LCD Soundsystem puzzle. Last night I put on "Yeah" whilst riding in Nat's big ol' pickup truck, and Lori says, "Hey, he sounds like Beck!" Huh. Yeah, kinda.
Sincere : ironic :: James Murphy : Beck???
posted by Mike B. at 1:13 PM 0 comments Links to this post
So as Hillary so delicately pointed out, comments are down. Here at clap clap central we are working to rectify that problem. In the meantime, you can e-mail me, or if you want to discuss the below post, just got over to Hillary's place and comment on her comment. Unless that makes your head explode.
UPDATE: I seem to recall an outage like this before, and the ex post facto explanation was, "Well, it was the holidays, and no one was around..." So don't hold your breath; even their website is down.
UPDATE 2: And here we are, two days later. Sigh. I'll turn on the native Blogger commenting function, even though it suxx, and even though I assume no one's commenting on Christmas, lord only know how long this'll last. Oy, maybe 8 nights!
posted by Mike B. at 10:56 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
So we were all talking a bit about that "outsider artist" Henry Darger on that list of ours, and someone brought up that old chestnut of an argument, "he wouldn't be anywhere as famous / successful / credible if it weren't for his backstory."
As someone who spends most of his time close to pop, I find this argument to be pretty silly. Well of course he wouldn't have! He would've have deserved to! An artist's personality--backstory, interview statements, day-to-day actions, articles, etc.--are half the fun, as important, if not more so, as the work itself, to the degree that a lot of the work explicitly comments on the personality (as opposed to subtly or inadvertantly in the underpop world). It is a primary source of pleasure. Indeed, this particular commenting is one way non-pop acts cross into Pop-I territory and enter that murky area you might call underpop. The White Stripes are striving for underpop because despite the numerous publicly consumed details of the Whites' lives, nothing has yet to surface about it in the music itself really, except for strained interpretations of "7 Nation Army" as a "I vant to be alone" cry. And there aren't a whole lot of Modest Mouse songs about being wrongly accused of rape last I checked. But there is a Courtney Love song called "All The Drugs in the World." (Courtney being, of course, totally Pop-I.) One doesn't have to go that far, but hiding little notices in the art can be as nice a pop touch as handclaps or oohs. I'm starting to get distracted with this tangent, though, so let's move on and maybe come back to it later.
The simple fact is that pop's pleasure derives in large part from its relentless reveal of personality, on its insistence on the total, or partial, well-rounded character-based reveal. It's like that line about Eminem being notable because he crashed into the public consciousness with a song that assumed he was already a part of said consciousness, addressing the mainstream as if he was in it already. And this is, yes, about not just speaking to your small little group, but also in insisting, in insanely believing, that everyone should be interested not only in what you have to say, but in you as you. It's insane but it's also plausible, because millions and millions of people do care about certain individuals. And they do so because it's fun.
As art, it's tied up pretty closely with Warhol and the 15 minutes thing, that as individuals we are little bite-sized nuggets of art, that the years and years we've put into crafting our personalities and lifestories are very interesting to other people, albeit only for a small period of time. But as entertainment, which is of course the far more important arena when you're talking about pop, the appeal lies in an initial creation and the sustaining and shaping of that particular narrative, which has an advantage the fact that it can be gleefully artificial, although never forced. You can track it pretty closely with other phenomenons of novelty, such as transgression--kill a puppy once, it's shocking, kill a puppy every day for a year, it starts to get boring; a Paris Hilton sex tape leaks, it's fascinating, four Paris Hilton sex tapes leak, well...
But this is a genuine pleasure, albeit arguably one of the few valid examples of a guilty pleasure, insofar as much of the pleasure is tied up with guilt--you have to regard it with a certain detachment to really get the full dose of pleasure out of it. (Much like with porn.) But there is simply no denying that the mass consumption of personality can be just as pleasing as the mass consumption of a song or a TV show, and of course in the cases of certain TV shows, is not entirely different.
Nor is Henry Darger, or anyone to whom the above objection can be posed. It is a sort of hook, a way of getting people interested, but not only that, it becomes the lens through which the work is viewed. For some people, this can be horrible, and certainly if you're not a nincompoop you'll be aware of this and try and manage your public presentation of personality accordingly. (And, indeed, if you want to advance your personality narrative, you will actively try and force a shift of this frame at some point in your career.) But it is also more than that. Your life story is interesting as a "story"; your character is interesting as a "character." That we appear as little different from fictional constructs to strangers should not be a surprise, at least when mediated the way personalities of artists usually are. And this is both OK and unchanging of actual really reality; if pressed, we are well aware that these people are real, but the detachment that allows us to find pleasure in their personalities (whether we admit it or not) takes the form here of sort of fictionalizing a real person, or allowing them to be fictionalized for us.
And yet some people still view the above argument, that an artist's success is somehow illegitimate if they are at all personally interesting, as valid and even cutting. I think objections of this type are made on moral and/or artistic grounds, i.e. either because it reduces a real person with real problems to a narrative and is thus cruel and inhuman, or because a work should stand on its own and that having personality in the equation taints it, clouds our vision. I think we've addressed the moral objection fairly well above, although I would also add that being concerned for Britney's welfare does me little good when I'm not really in a position to be giving her life advice so might as well enjoy the show while it lasts. As for the aesthetic objection, it's circular logic. The way to refute is to say, "Well, I actually don't care about the personality, I like the work for itself," to which of course the reply would be, "No, you only think you like it, but if it weren't for the backstory you would think it's shitty." Or, "I am totally unaware of the personality of the artist, I just think this is pretty," to which the response would be, "Well, you wouldn't even have been aware of it if it weren't for the backstory, so it's not fair." If there's no way to disprove an argument, well, you know, that sort of disproves it right there, doesn't it?
Look, we all know people who are talented enough to be famous, but because of some aspect of them-as-people, not them-as-artist--their appearance, their ability to network, their stage presence, their being totally batshit nuts, some weird miasma of loserdom that surrounds them at all times--it's just not going to happen. And we all can think of famous, successful people who are far less talented than the people we know, and this sucks. But the facts remain:
a) These famous, untalented people bring us just bucketloads of pleasure. I'm sure your friend's band is great and should be showered with naked humans of whatever gender is preferred (or clothed humans talking very intelligently about serious subjects, if it's that kind of band), but I've been to their shows, and dude, it's a lot more fun seeing Lindsay Lohan in a "SKINNY BITCH" shirt. (And no, not for the reason you're thinking, perv.) Plus, it takes less time!
b) I'm still unclear (and this is as someone whose life goals at this point include "rock star" and "famous writer," mind you) why the hell talented people not being famous is such a fucking crime. Dude, shut up and work a job like the rest of us. In the age of the internets, if someone wants to experirence a piece of artistic creation, they pretty much can, in some form; OK, you're not getting your ass indie-promo'd onto the radio, or pimped on a Book Club of one form or another, but so what? What makes you think you're so interesting that millions of people want to know about you? The only people that get to think that are the ones who already have millions of people interested in you. There's lots and lots of Great Art out there. If some of it falls through the cracks, and the creator is a resident of a modern democracy, they're going to be OK for themselves, and the work will be there for the future.
Now, there is another objection you could make on artistic grounds: that this is not valid as art because there's no conscious creation involved, it's just you living your life. But of course this is not true--there are countless numbers of conscious decisions involved, even before people become actively interested in your personality. Indeed, I think one of the most interesting things about this phenomenon is that anyone aware of the way this works can and does make pretty deliberate choices about what and how much people get to know. (Up until the point where they become super-famous, when from what it seems you're sort of open season--word to the wise.) I, for instance, have something about me that I'm well aware would probably garner me more notice than I'm currently getting in my pursuits, but I'm choosing to not talk about it, for various reasons. (I'm also not hiding it, if you're interested.) This is a choice I'm making. At the same time, I'm not sure how strenuously I would object if someone else came along and wanted to make hay with it. Something about me not being the one making the decision...eh, I dunno.
Well, this sort of ran out of steam. But, more later.
PRESUMABLY LENGTHY ADDENDUM: The other interesting thing in this besides mere personality is keeping track of careers and taking a certain pleasure at the way they are run--admiring, for instance, the way Madonna has reinvented herself, or the way Britney chooses producers/songs, or whatever. A certain part of me really dislikes this, and I actually used to wholly dislike it ("who the fuck cares about Madonna's brilliant career choices when the music sucks?!?!"--I was 16, you know how it goes), but I've grown to appreciate it. I think this is partially because this particular appreciation is dependent on a certain knowledge of The Way Things Work, and specifically in comparing the way X is currently running his career as compared to the way you've seen Y run their career. This is particularly highlighted in politics, I think, where unlike in art, the endproduct doesn't bring you any particular pleasure (unless my rep pushes through my long-desired Free Bacon For Everyone legislation), but sort of abstractly obserserving the moves people are making, and trying to guess their motivations or level of knowledge, the game of guessing the outcome, taking it as a kind of reference to history, this is genuinely pleasurable.
And so it is with pop. It's awfully meta, but, you know, meta is fun. It's enjoying not only the narrative but the process of creating it. It's admitting the artificiality of the whole process and then celebrating it as such. It's (and I'm sure there's a better example of this, but I just can't think of one right now) Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride dueling while also commenting on and admiring each other's technique. This is what we do. It's putting our useless knowledge to good use in pursuit of our own enjoyment.
The other day I was riding the train and listening to Gene Serene, and I thought about how different aspects of an artist's...well, let's just go ahead and call it "total package." Different aspects of said total package serve different purposes at different points. For instance, I simply downloaded "Electric Dreams" from Fluxblog and liked it, the work as itself. Then a little while later, Joe posted that flyer, and we were all like, whoa, so that's what she looks like. But the simple fact is, that look is not incidental. Without that look (or a look of some kind), it's doubtful that she would've been able to get gigs or get her records put out (and, for the record, this is just as true with male artists as it is with female ones, she's just the closest example at hand), and without that, I would not have downloaded the song in the first place and would not have been able to appreciate it separate from any context.
What I'm saying is that, regardless of all the stuff above about personality or context being an additional and sometimes superior pleasure to the work itself, even if you want to view the work as a thing isolated, you have to acknowledge that it was that dreaded context that allowed it to be seen as such in the first place, that brought it to exposure. No one should be operating under the delusion any more that "good work will always find an audience," because that's clearly not true. So if you're really bothered by backstory--if you really want to make this objection--then look at it this way: personality is what allows a work to be seen for itself, separate from anything else. If the stars align, it will be this object that will sit there, waiting to be picked up by someone with no knowledge of its context. But it has to get on the table first, if you know what I mean. Context can be a pleasure, yes, but it is also an indespensable tool.
posted by Mike B. at 5:24 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Looking at Hillary's lists, I realized that the Kelly Clarkson single is on neither Pitchfork's nor Stylus' lists. This is absolutely insane. There's no question in my mind that it's the single of the year, but if you've heard it, I don't think I need to go to the trouble of listing the singles that made those two lists that are just objectively not as good as "Since U Been Gone."
Look people. I figure at least like 60% of my readership must be Pazz & Jop voters, so know this: if that song does not even make it into the final total, let alone the top 10 where it clearly belongs, I am going to have to bust some serious heads. If you have not listened to it yet, go listen to it now. I will be happy to gmail you a copy. It was released in 2004, so if you don't vote for it now you won't really get a chance next year, and believe me, you're going to be kicking yourself in about two months if it doesn't make your list. Do not sleep on this.
posted by Mike B. at 5:06 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Hillary with a very useful compilation and averaging of the Stylus and Pitchfork singles lists. Highly informative.
posted by Mike B. at 3:42 PM 0 comments Links to this post
No reviews in Flagpole this week, but they do reprint my bedroom recording ode, with a really cool illustration! I like it a whole lot, although, for the record, I don't look like that. And the bedroom looks so nice, it looks sunny outside, there's fresh air...ah well.
Slow-dancing in the kitchen to "More Than Words" is a good way to start your morning, actually.
I am going to write at least three posts today. They will be about Dykehouse, biographism in pop, and the aesthetic of the annoying.
Look out world, here comes pretentious self-importance! I mean me.
posted by Mike B. at 11:17 AM 0 comments Links to this post
As mentioned previously, I am now apparently on mailing lists for publicists. So I've been getting a few random packages lately, and while some have been good, in the grand tradition (from what I understand) of unsolicited mailings, I've mainly been piling them in a stack awaiting some magic moment to run through them.
But one caught my eye, I guess because of the line in the press release that compared them to PJ Harvey. Well, thought I, I pretty much like anything that sounds like PJ Harvey, so why not?
I am listening to them now. They are called Bellafea.
(Do not be put off by the bio. I know it makes them sound like a pretentious White Stripes--or, er, like the White Stripes, but pretentious in a different way--but they are not even kinda. If you want to ref a non-PJ artist, try Jucifer.)
There are 6 tracks on the EP and three of them are 100% fantastic. It starts off with a 1:30-long track that's just handclaps and vocals, but doesn't sound particularly folky. It just sounds pretty and awesome and pretty awesome. ("Grood," if you will.) Then the second track comes in with feedback and then the feedback stops for a voice and a chicken-lickin' funk guitar, and then it's all whaaaaaang! and loud and yelly. And then it's quiet some more and then at the end it's really really really loud. Really, really fucking good. And the last track is very reminiscent of PJ's "The River" or "We Float," acoustic and quiet but quietly intense. Plus, the drummer has a tendency to lapse into disco beats, which makes zero sense, but which I appreciate nevertheless.
There are two tracks up on the site, neither of which are on the EP, and neither of which represent them very well, I think--"No Reply" makes them sound like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which they do not, and "Seasons," while OK, is also reminiscent of a Rosebuds b-side or something. If I get a chance, I may post the first two tracks here at some point, but, y'know, I do want to get that award someone was handing out to anyone who didn't start an MP3 blog in 2004.
The EP doesn't come out until March, but maybe I'll write a more cohesive review at some point.
posted by Mike B. at 10:46 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
This is a post I am writing in lieu of the one I was going to write, hopefully prompting me to actually, you know, write something sometime.
Did I mention I'm in a bad mood? Argh.
posted by Mike B. at 6:15 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, December 17, 2004
Doop doop doop, sitting here waiting for Zakk Wylde to call me so we can go over lyrics. He's at Dimebag's house, helping out his family with everything. Doop doop doop. This is kinda surreal. Times like this I wish I was more of a metal fan so this would be more exciting. But I more wish I could curl up somewhere with a cookie and a video game. Ooh look, a cookie.
Did I mention Zakk Wylde sent us a huge basket full of cookies? Like one of those big baskets medium-sized dogs sleep in? I like that guy. Also, he signed our piano. For reasons that are unclear. I guess when you're Zakk Wylde you just sign things. Cool.
I have a good story about Zakk Wylde and designing cover art, but it'll have to wait. Duty calls. Or, um, will call shortly.
UPDATE: "'Walk through the flames that eat your flesh, drowned in the waters that know you best...' Yeah, another one for the ladies."
Zakk endorses the crazy-asshole-angry-about-breaking-up-Pantera theory, FWIW.
posted by Mike B. at 3:49 PM 0 comments Links to this post
RESOLUTION PERTAINING TO THE FACT THAT NATIONAL TREASURE IS THE BEST MOVIE EVER MADE BY ANYONE ANYWHERE EVER
as drawn up by the Comittee for Colloquial Bathetic Enthusiasm (CCBE #1131)
posted by Mike B. at 1:27 PM 0 comments Links to this post
It's been saddeningly cold and glum in New York lately, but yesterday it brightened up a bit, so after my in-office lunch I took a little stroll. Standing for a cycle on the traffic island beside Union Square, looking up Park Avenue, I became charmed and transfixed by some sort of in-progress building a few blocks up, which has been happening with an odd frequency of late. The half-finished building near 2nd and Houston, the curvy one at Astor Place, etc. Something about the sky passing through the concrete windows, the outline of something massive. Or maybe just a break in the valley wall, like the strange feeling of wilderness the only time I visited the pit.
At any rate, so here I am, staring north, half-assedly enraptured with this building, when I look slightly to the right and see the windowless south face of a building across the street. My unfocused eye spies the color on it and it seems to be a very old ad, for dry goods or something, except then when I focus on it, it's actually a very new ad for a very new movie: Ocean's 12. And I experienced one of my very infrequent spurts of Annoyance At Advertising.
Now, there are people who seem to spend their whole lives in the midst of such a spurt, or at least experience such annoyances more frequently and more intensely. (Mine was along the lines of "Damnit, that would be all pretty if that weren't there. Oh well. What's for dessert?") I'm not really interested in critiquing that here. Instead, what I want to ask is: what would a world look like with advertising, or consumerism, under control? It can't look like that momentary glimpse of an ad-free-because-incomplete building I had, because turn your head a little and there's s'more. So what would it actually be like?
Perhaps because it's been saddeningly grey and cold lately, I've been playing a lot of Spiderman 2. (Which is pretty good, incidentally, but that's for another time.) In this game, as in most of the ones on the GTA3 model, the playing area is a fairly believable model of an actual city, and in the case of this particular game, it's explicitly New York. It's actually remarkably accurate, all things considered--you can even go over the Queensboro Bridge and stop off on Roosevelt Island! The thing that's jarring about it though, that makes it unreal (aside from the fact that everything above 135th street has been swallowed up by the Hudson, of course) is that there are no signs and no ads. It's creepy. You go down Broadway and instead of the usual run of green Chinese food awning -> yellow dry cleaner awning -> blue bodega awning -> orange chinese food awning -> Starbucks -> lightbulb-ringed bodega awning -> black car service awning, it's just...nothing. Blank buildings. Because advertisers (er, "Brand Owners") decided that, stupidly, video games have to pay them to use their ads, they're just not part of the environment. Sure, maybe in GTA you'll get made-up ads, but even then it seems unreal because there aren't that many of them, they just repeat, and they're not all-pervasive because that would get tiring. It's very insular. And then, of course, there's the Spiderman model, which is to just not have anything at all that's not directly related to Things You Can Do. And so there's actually very little.
What does this imply? For one, it says that an ad-free environment does not exist, because an ad-free environment looks unreal. I don't think this is limited to New York. Driving through a landscape without ads would just seem creepy. The world has changed along with the rise of advertising, and it all seems of a piece. Would it look good? Bad? We don't really know; we just seem to dislike what we have now, which, I dunno, seems a bit odd. Withou an ad, that dumpy forty-year-old building with a Bacardi ad would just be a dumpy forty-year-old building.
The other thing it implys is that the vision of an ad-free "public space" is a kind of utopianism. If it is acheivable only through creating an artificial environment (and even then sustained only though, ironically enough, market forces!) then it is unreal, an ideal, a pipe dream, or more kindly, just a dream. I guess you could say, yes, well, it is just an ideal, there's no need to eliminate all advertising or commercial speech, just a lot of it. Still, having utopianism at the heart of your hard-to-articulate desire seems worrisome. I think a lot of my love for commercialism comes from the particular humanity of it, the little variations behind it, the randomness, the infinite variety, the way it stinks with the heady scent of other people who I don't know. But maybe this is a kind of utopianism too.
posted by Mike B. at 1:17 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Matthew sends me the link to this interview with James Murphy with the suggestion that it could provide a lot of fodder for the blog. It probably could were my neck not now permanently disabled from the amount of nodding I did whilst reading said interview. Handclaps! Intensity without agression! Writing everything in your head including technical setups! Hating scenes! I am so with him.
And so, consequently, I don't have a lot to say about it right now. Read it, consider it backgrounder, and I'll come back to it later.
posted by Mike B. at 1:10 PM 0 comments Links to this post
1) I've never found Kim Deal particularly attrative. (Contra Dave.) She's nice and all, and certainly cute as a bug's ear, but attractive? Eh.
2) I am slowly falling in love with Mary J. Blige. Right now I am halfway between "Oh, this is why people love her" and "One day perhaps I will write her a song good enough that she was deign to give me the tiniest of smiles." It is less that she is attractive (see revelation #1) and more the beginning of the chorus of "I'm Going Down" + the end of the chorus of "I'm Going Down."
posted by Mike B. at 11:37 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Five new reviews in Flagpole. Actually, one's from last week, but who's counting? We've got Le Tigre, the Donnas, Dykehouse, DFA, and Cake, but focus on the first three if you're short on time or whatevs.
I also want to get into a bit more detail on a few of these, so, with no further ado...
Let's apply the Eminem argument to Le Tigre, i.e., there are some horrible things being said, but they are nevertheless accurately reflective of a certain culture, so you are less criticizing the things being said and more the culture itself, and do you really want to do that? Because there's no question but that there's a nearly 1:1 concordance between the worldview and sense of style being presented in Le Tigre songs and Williamsburg dyke culture (WDC). Now, there is a chicken-egg question here, given the strong relationship between the two--did Le Tigre create WDC or did WDC create Le Tigre?--but I only moved to New York 3.5 years ago and Le Tigre was released 5 years ago, so I'm not really equipped to say.
So when I'm criticizing Le Tigre, who I do genuinely find terminally grating, am I actually in turn criticizing WDC? I hope not, because I really like WDC. OK, admittedly they've stuck with the mullet thing way too long, and they're sort of painfully insular, but we can all get together and dance and drink and have a good time, which is more than I can say for a lot of people. (Indie rockers, I'm looking at you here.) They're good people as someone's else's grandmother would say. But it's undeniable that this particular culture is at the forefront of Le Tigre's music, and is a large part of what I find so annoying about them.
I implicitly try and excuse this in two ways in the article. One is by saying that the difference with Le Tigre's songs are that they concentrate this cultural personality or divide it in such a way that it's particularly offensive. I can go for weeks without having a particularly political exchange with my WD friends, and even then it's usually something along the lines of "Bush sucks" or me being bemused at this charmingly nutjob position on gay marriage, which I won't get into now. (Cultural-political speech along the lines of "we're going to this rally" doesn't count.) And obviously it's in the political arena that my disagreements with both Le Tigre and WDC are most pronounced: we both like video games, dirtbikes, hanging out, getting drunk, dancing, dance music, being silly, sleeping with girls, falling in love too easily, and talking too much about our relationships. But it's that sliver of a wedge between us on the political spectrum that ultimately becomes a divide. The difference is that with WDC, this isn't actually a problem, whereas with Le Tigre it is. I think I express my reasons for this pretty well in my comment about "Punker Plus," i.e. that it would be a great song if it focused on the personal and cultural elements rather than the political ones, because the latter is obvious and boring where the latter is interesting and vital. Re-divide it and it's fine, but as is, the annoyance at the political issues triggers my annoyance at the cultural ones as well.
The other work-around is sorta solving the chicken-egg problem by placing Le Tigre first and saying it's their particular influence that's responsible for the annoying elements. Of course, I say that they're influencing the younger generation, and I have no way of knowing if that's actually true, as the set of teenage lesbians, or even, hell, female feminists, I know is kinda small. (They're all in college now--they grow up so fast! Bless.) So it's sorta a cop-out, but I also think it cuts to the heart of why Le Tigre annoys me and WLC doesn't. Somehow it's far more understandable to be like this when you're younger; what I'm worried about is less that this will influence the ladiez and more that it'll be the ne plus ultra. Hate them though I do, I will admit that there are certainly worse things you could come across as a teen than Bikini Kill or Le Tigre. But this is reflective of a core belief: that foolishness when you are young should not only be excused, but encouraged. I don't expect anyone to really jump straight from Time magazine to Rawls--you do have to have that repulsive Chomsky stage in the middle there, and good for you for doing it. Hell, I'm sure I'm in a phase right now that I'll regard with horror and repulsion in as little as 10 years, or at least I desperately hope so. Life's not interesting if you're not moving through a series of absurd but totally comitted positions. But you also have to move out of it. Le Tigre does not wear their attitudes well; they seem, quite simply, too old to be saying what they're saying. Maybe this is unfair, but it's still true. Le Tigre are sending the message that you can still be a dumbass when you're they're age, and that's what worries me.
Uh, well, this went on for much longer than I meant it to, so Dykehouse tomorrow.
 For all I know it could be an accurate reflection of Silverlake dyke culture too, but let's stick to what I can personally verify.
 And like I said, there genuinely does seem to be a difference between this album and their earlier stuff. There's just nothing as playful and fun here as "My Metrocard." Nothing's really totally serious here (even "New Kicks" is at least a little silly, and not even unintentionally) but somehow it's not really, eh, Bis-y enough either. It's leaden and tired. Where before we had a verse like "OH FUCK Giuliani HE'S SUCH A fucking jerk SHUT DOWN All the stripbars WORKFARE Does not work" which at least acknowledges its banality and stupidity in a way that actually validates it, here we have attempts at more substantive political speech, except they're really only a notch or two elevated, which doesn't actually make them smart but does make them self-important, and that's no good.
 I'm not really very good at being friends with guys who aren't feminists, whether we use the word or not. Somehow we just don't click, you know?
 Dude, I don't believe that I'm using that correctly. Go me!
posted by Mike B. at 6:51 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Big fan of this NYT article on (deep-)frying at home. (They never use the word "deep" for reasons that are unclear to me, other than that they are pussies.) It makes a lot of good points, and while Miss Clap has banned deep fryers from the home, maybe this will talk her into it.
That said, I do have a few objections. First of all is the complaint about old oil. There's no denying that really old oil imparts even the freshest dish with a burnt flavor, and I can't deny that there's a certain very specific appeal to the first thing to come out of a fresh pot of oil--it tends to have a super-light, almost bready quality--but the simple fact is, you get your most robust frying flavors from middle-aged oil, and for that reason I strongly support saving old oil. Look at the food pictured in the article--you can tell it's done with too-fresh oil, because it looks flaccid, unfinished, thin-skinned. Those sweet potato fritters look barely singed, the fish flaky and clear rather than crispy. This is not good. While you do, of course, want to filter your oil after every use, the simple fact is that you'll get a much better dynamic contrast (so to speak) with an oil that's been around the block a few times. Your exteriors will be crispier and it will be far better at sealing in everything. The valuation of new oil is for people who don't really like frying, I think; you get much better browning with mid-period oils. That said, the point at the end about flavors getting in the oil is well-taken, and you want to apply the same philosophy to saving oil that you do to cast-iron frying pans: you want to flavor them consistently. So you might have one fish jar, one chicken jar, one veggie jar, etc. And then cook some french fries in the fish oil--mmm!
The other objection I had was to the use of oils. Really, olive oil is fine, but there's simply no beating corn oil 90% of the time. Plus it's cheap. I'm interested to try grapeseed, but I dunno, corn oil loves me and I love it back. But this is only among the vegetable oils. Where's the mention of lard? And it didn't even get into bacon fat. Hmpf.
That said, the Indian fish recipe does sound delicious, and I wouldn't mind doing some beer-batter fish as well sometime.
posted by Mike B. at 4:50 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Man, if there was ever a perfect time for my MP3 player to spit up the Pixies' "UMass," this was it. Hearing them play that the last two nights made me realize how long the first verse is, and how relatively short the second one is! It's like 32 lines to 4.
posted by Mike B. at 4:13 PM 0 comments Links to this post
"These are the parts of our terrible past. These are the things we can live without."
Joe has a post on LCD Soundsystem's "Movement" which has, besides making me focus more on the song, triggered certain thoughts and related tangents. I'll present some here.
Thought 1: based partially on that Guardian article, the narrative arc of Murphy's compositions seems less about the progress from cynicism to idealism, as Joe thinks, and more related to the Friedbergian concept of music-as-failure [tangent 1] --the word "failure" even appears in the Guardian's headline! LCD Soundsystem's songs tend to start with a sense of righteousness but inevitably reach a point of realization that the sentiment itself deserves scorn, and from this realization (synthesis, you might say if you wanted to be pretentious [tangent 2]) comes a release, not a movement, and that's where those ecstatic finales stem from. In other words, the explosion comes not from idealism, but from overcoming idealism, from realizing that the particular idealism available to you [tangent 3] contradicts everything you want to do, everything you find pleasure in. The release on "Yeah" falls into no category aside from maybe trance [tangent 4] which, as we know, is not exactly held in the highest idealistic regard by, well, anyone. And I think this short-circuiting, this disconnect, is built into the composition, whether as it goes along or in retrospect (editing being a key componant of LCD Soundsystem's compositional technique), specifically as an acknowledgement and expression of failure, of the way any pursuit of musical idealism is destined to fail. They are, to be pretentious yet again, Shinto songs, not only in the pop sense of being deliberately short-term and disposable--more concerned ultimately with providing the most effective present-tense thrill than in creating something durable and ageless--but also intended to decay as they go along, to break down [tangent 5] in real time. To produce, in other words, ecstacy via erosion, via subtraction, the aging process sped up 100 times. There is no morality in music; its removal results in freedom.
[tangent 1] Strongly in evidence on the guitar outro on "Blancheflower," which I think I'm starting to understand. It's just a horrible, horrible solo, not pleasurable to listen to on any level, and something that no one in the world would have allowed to remain if they had any say in the matter. Which they don't, of course, but the valuative point remains. And it goes on for a minute and a half! There are bits that are sort of OK, but overall it sounds exactly like someone whanging along at random, both melodically and rhythmically--just a lot of vaguely chordal runs and fast picking without any particular reason or rhyme. Structurally, the best contemporaneous comparion would be the long outro to Wilco's "At Least That's What You Said" (still the only Wilco song I'll listen to and holding strong!), except there the solo is well-structured, thrilling, and over an independently compelling chord progression. For "Blancheflower," the backing is listless and plodding, and while the little speed-up noise breaks are sorta fun, but as I suggested in my write-up, they're also pretty clearly there to cover up the lack of drumming skills. In other words, there's no aesthetic justification for this section.
But there is a theoretical one, which is actually delicious and richly rewarding, and it's precisely these sort of meta-arrangements, if you will--choices made for purely thematic reasons, that actually undermine the aesthetic impact--that I think offer the appeal that might make you able to overcome and even embrace Blueberry Boat's flaws. There is work required to fully enjoy this album, but it's a more poppy varient on the modernist concept of difficulty, one that certain writers I Do Find Wonderful embrace as well, which offers you an embarassment of hooks, of little nuggets of pleasure, while witholding enough (which mainly fall in the category of expected pleasures) to illuminate the path to a more rewarding understanding of the whole. Embracing the concept of failure, in other words--accepting that you're going to fail at your stated mission outright and admitting this--allows you to choose where you fail, and use this failures as successes, sort of. If you're going to do a just OK guitar solo, why not do a horrible one instead? Why not really fail? "Blancheflower" is ample example of all this, if you want, from the out-of-beat randomized oscillator and the wholly beatless vocals in the first section to the tripping-over-itself duet near the end. Whereas the storybook, past-tense sections are smooth, well-structured, and sensical, the closer the song gets to the present, the more chaotic it gets, the more the decay sets in. This seems not a comment on modern life so much as a reflection of the failure stylee.
[tangent 2] Synthesis! I mean it here in the Hegelian sense, of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, which I've always found a bit bullshit quite frankly--this has been you clap clap blog snap dismissal of a really compicated concept of the day!--but a) this is a pop song, and b) what do you expect from the 19th century? Heathens. So, yes, not only in that nerdy sense, but also in the equally nerdy sense of synthesized sounds, which I feel like originated with an intellectual European as well, but honestly I'm too lazy to check and it's handy for my purposes so let's say it is. Taking, say, a Moog bass patch as your synthesis, the thesis might be the oscilator and the antithesis might be the envelope and high-pass filter, and then, bing bam boom, you've got a phat bassline dawg. I like the idea of a noise as the result of an argument, or even, hey, a rational discussion. It's something your keyboard discusses with itself and then comes to a conclusion in the form of a waveform.
And but so anyway, these are gifts to us from these wacky europeans that we've synthesized in our own ways to produce things like the Fiery Furnaces and LCD Soundsystem. Electronic music has obviously undergone a very odd transformation over the course of its history, but the influence of various only-vaguely-past-tense European musicians on the sounds on offer here is clear, as well as (arguably) the influence of a particularly European kind of modernist and adventure writing on the Furnaces' album. You could also make the argument that particularly European manifestos are a big influence on Murphy's lyrics. And so here we have Europe as the kind of antithesis to American culture (going back to Joe's original post), a sort of giant subculture or source of resistence where artists can find another nodal point of view to set against what they're used to in order to ease creation through the ol' cultural uterus. And it works both ways, too--Europe often uses American culture as an antithesis, in both the Hegelian and conventional sens eof the word--but what I'm interested in here is this idea that these opposition ideas Joe see in LCD Soundsystem songs come not from within, but from an outside source, as Murphy more or less acknowledges in "Losing My Edge." The disillusionment with culture is tempered by a sense of its possibilities partially sourced by an assessment of your own possibilities, but also with a view toward what others can do with the same source materials. The music, in other words, is a constant; the variations you put on it, the attack time or oscillator speed or amount of high-pass cut and res, is what's at issue.
[tangent 3] Caveat should be highlighted as an admission of the ways Joe and I agree here. The problem is not so much idealism qua idealism as it is the particular idealisms readily available to or pre-installed in an "indie studio rat." Part of what makes LCD Soundsystem so great is that it doesn't come from an original e'd-up gangsta; Murphy came to this particular idealism in a late stage, when it was dilluted and wholly discredited, and so to revitalize it he had to combine it with elements of his existing ideology. There seems to be in no way an abandoment of indie ideals here, just a shift, a modification. Idealism here can productively serve as thesis or antithesis (incidentally, I'll stop using these terms after this post is over) but never as synthesis. What results is not an idealized state but an ecstatic non-utopianism. In the present context, I don't think it would work if it were otherwise; there's simply no way we can believe that rave morality is a productive tool in today's world. You can make an ideology out of LCD Soundsystem--indeed, I myself kinda did--but it itself does not express an ideology.
[tangent 4] Due, in my humble opinion, for a massive reevaluation, but that's for another time and place. I haven't finished analyzing a friggin' indie-rock opera yet; am I really about to embark on tracing and rehabilitating European dance-pop from the early-90s chart rave alternatives ("happy rave" etc.) through to the global trance sound that's so universally loathed by anyone with taste? Considering I would be embarking on a Marcusian making-up-my-own-story-and-totally-ignoring-the-actual-history task, no I am not. But maybe later.
[tangent 5] See tangent 2, except instead of Hegel think poets of decay and instead of emusic think James Brown.
posted by Mike B. at 2:36 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Miss Clap pointed out that apparently the Pixies have decided to take turns dressing like high school teachers during their NYC run. Examination of the evidence seems to indicate that this is correct.
Here's Saturday's show, with Frank in the sweater vest looking like my 6th grade math teacher:
And here's Sunday's show, with Kim looking like my 7th grade science teacher:
I don't have a pic from Monday's show yet, but David was wearing khakis, a button-down white shirt with a red tie, and a beige baseball cap, and looked exactly like my 9th grade social studies teacher. Link when I get it.
So, uh, if you're going tonight, look for Joey to be wearing shorts and a whistle, presumably.
posted by Mike B. at 11:30 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, December 10, 2004
- The degree to which the Knife's "Heartbeats" sounds like unwrapping the snow-coated scarf from your neck in an A train whose floor is crunchily dirty with melting salt is hard to describe. It's a wonderful song, but while there's no necessary connection there with winter, that's the evocation.
- From a very video-game intensive night at my friend Janine's place (a regualar commenter at Stereogum and other locales, but, much to our detriment, not a blog-propriator--show us some love, Janine!) I am now hooked on GTA: San Andreas. The problem is that not only do I not own said game, but I do not even own a PS2, and I'm currently pretty enmeshed in 2 other games. But it sticks in my head and I keep getting visions. (Plus it heavily influenced my answer to harm's poll.) Ah, the travails of the priviledged first-world white boy. Anyway, the point being that the music is really, really great, like a period piece almost, except since it's set in the early 90s, that doesn't really seem appropriate. But it is! Something about hearing those whistling g-funk synths while you cruise over a sun-blasted ghetto hill...
- Apropos of nothing, I found this interesting. Anyone want to reccommend a good lit or cult theory book for me?
posted by Mike B. at 11:29 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Mishearing of the day: "Jessica Biel and some coffee" instead of "Just a copy of a copy" in the Donnas' "Is That All You've Got For Me," kind of a stoned "You're No Rock 'n' Roll Fun."
posted by Mike B. at 6:12 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I was listening to a mix on the train this morning and when the Kelly Clarkson song came on, I broke out into this big grin. Problem was, I was looking directly at this girl at the time, and she saw me. So for the rest of the trip she was kind of giving me the eye, and I kept trying to hide in the corner. Yoinks. That'll teach me to make craigslist jokes, I guess.
Incidentally, there's three other good songs on that album, but nothing quite as good as "Since U Been Gone."
posted by Mike B. at 3:01 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Jay-Z heading Def Jam is all well and good historically, but business-wise, I dunno. He doesn't exactly have the best record for picking MC talent. Who's he proteged? Memphis Bleeck? Who else? I mean, he obviously has a fantastic ear for producers, but someone like Dre or Master P or Diddy has a much better track record in this regard. Plus, is he really gonna want to deal with approving marketing budgets and scrutinizing T&E expenditures and all that kind of crap? I'm doubtful.
posted by Mike B. at 2:56 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Oh sweet lord I love the Kelly Clarkson single. I love it in part, of course, because it's exactly what I've been trying to do, musically, the last few weeks, and then Max Martin goes and whips it off with a goddamn American Idol winner. (Who, admittedly, I love.) Dick. But all is forgiven when I listen to it, because when I listen to it I just close my eyes and smile and think about listening to it again, which just makes it sound sweeter.
But let's say, oh no, you've broken up with this breakup song. Or worse, the song breaks up with you! You are rejected! It has brought you so much happiness, but you were too clingy. All you wanted to do was to be with it, but you were a pest, a tagalong. The song does not need you--the song wants to go out clubbing and drinking with its friends and it doesn't want your lame ass along. It realized, quite frankly, that it was out of your league; its last date was with Chad Michael Murray, and yours was with, well, Tortoise. (It'd been a few years.) And so it has kicked you to the curb, and while you might catch a glimpse of it playing from a car radio as it speeds down Ninth Avenue, laughing gaily and slowly breaking your heart again, you will never again be able to fully revel in its charms. At least, not until you bump into each other on the street years later and maybe make plans for an awkward lunch that will never happen.
At any rate, here you are, sitting in your room, wounds smarting from the rejection. It's 7 hours and 15 days later. What's the process of coming to terms with it like?
- You think of when you first met, how for the first five seconds it could very well be Interpol; how the drums then came in and buried the guitars in the mix. You think of how that made you smile, how it promised even more good things.
- You think of its angular features, of the crispness of everything in there, the way the drums sounded trebly without being lo-fi, and the way even the bass stood out, while maintaining a good bottom end.
- You think about the little things it would do for you, the little additions that subtly shifted the arrangement. The chiming guitar in the second half of the first verse, that simple but somehow ecstatic keyboard riff that comes in at the beginning of the second verse. Was it really so wonderful? It doesn't seem like it should be. What sense does it make? Oh, you were drunk at the time. Drunk on love...
- You think about the first time you got to the chorus, how it felt even better than you thought it would--how you saw it coming but it happened all of a sudden anyway. A brief pause and then the wonderful crash. The way it was like the choruses you'd had before, but different, somehow. And then the little variation it threw in! That chord change! A little kinky, but you went for it, and how wonderful it was!
- You think about the things you always loved about it, the small details, especially the rapidly channel-switching muted distorted guitar strums that preceded the second chorus, which just filled you with happiness every time you heard them. And not just because it meant a chorus was coming! You loved them for themselves.
- You think about that breakdown, the one you, again, knew was coming, the one that slowed everything down. You knew that was good. And it sounded good. You knew everything was moving too fast, that it would be fatal. But then, goddamnit, why'd it have to bring in that guitar feedback? It was so good, so perfect. It brought you back out of that breakdown. And then the big solo with all the noise cutting out, leaving the vocals exposed and compressed within an inch of their life to an almost spiritual high, and then--oh! oh!--another chorus.
- You think about that double chorus at the end, doing it more, longer, and it was good. You didn't want it to end. You could feel it coming but you didn't want it to happen, so you held on too tight, you ended on a bad note. The song didn't, but you did.
- You think about the lyrics. The lyrics weren't really great, were they? They were pretty stupid. I mean. Really, you were too good for it anyway. It's a pop song, after all; it never would've lasted.
- You open your little black book and think about calling someone else. Sonic Youth? No, they're too busy these days. Annie? It would be nice to go for some more pop, but it wouldn't be fair; you'd just be thinking of "Since U Been Gone" the whole time. Maybe Liz Phair? Yeah, that's it. It rings and rings but no one picks up. Not even an answering machine. She must've changed her number.
- You go to Craigslist personal encounters and try and find something to soothe your wounded soul. Slunt? That sounds good. Small-time, just like you. Small-time. You know this is never a good idea, but you're gonna do it anyway.
posted by Mike B. at 1:36 PM 0 comments Links to this post