Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bassett Furniture

Your furniture store failed.

You hired people to stand at busy street corners and hold dramatic signs announcing your going out of business sale.

You drive your gas-guzzling SUV with a giant, gaudy sign on top up and down the street here, all day, week after week.

It's too bad that your business fell on hard times. I feel bad for you, I really do. I can't vouch for the quality of your product but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and say that your American-made (I think) furniture itself wasn't the problem. You were just another victim of the times. The same goes for all your neighbors: Circuit City, Tweeter, Bennigan's, Office Depot, and plenty of other franchises on this street that have closed their doors over the past year. None of those are companies that I have any special feelings toward or will ever find myself missing. However, I have come to respect the (relative) dignity they showed in their final days. What we have here, in the case of Bassett Furniture in Batavia, Illinois, is something completely different.

Is the recession over? I'll leave it to the economists to decide that but from the looks of driving on Randall Road every day, you'd think we were entering the next Great Depression. Sure, everyone hopes that we're entering a period of recovery and growth (er, almost everyone). I'm sure everyone agrees that this is going to necessitate a growth in consumer confidence/optimism/"willingness to take risks"/etc. and that the saying "perception is reality" is the sort of thing that applies here. Putting a big vinyl banner up on your building's facade announcing your "GOING OUT OF BUSINESS" sale is one thing. Disseminating this message throughout the community, taking it to the streets and assigning people the demeaning tasks of holding your day-glo signs by the side of the road in the rain, well... this isn't exactly good for the mental health of our greater retail corridor.

The worst is over, or so I hope. But the longer Bassett draws this out their campaign of psychic terrorism on their neighbors, the more their own feelings of desperation and failure will start to catch on with everyone else like a virus. Is this a new form of pollution, sewing the seeds of economic angst and panic, or is it a mild form of shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater?

I know this is a lot of fussing over nothing but I'm just so sick of these people every day and their carpet bomb-style advertising infecting my daily commute. You would be too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Belle and Sebastian - Fuck This Shit

Belle and Sebastian - "Fuck This Shit"

October 21, 2003 – Purchased used Ford Escort ZX2, 47,547 miles
vehicle price, license, documentation and tax: $7650.79

April 4, 2004 - ??,??? miles
new driver's side window

August 14, 2006 – 78,911
New transmission (reconditioned)
Torque converter
(12 months, 12,000 mile warranty)

June 2, 2008 – 105,128
Thermostat / thermostat housing
Gasket, coolant
Spark plugs, ignition coil
Plug wires
Timing belt, serpentine belt
Hood release cable
Water pump
(12 months, 12,000 mile warranty)

September 23, 2008 – 108,003
New transmission

October 7, 2008 – 108,583
Brake pads and rotors
Wiring assembly repaired

January 13, 2009 – 112,175
Battery cable end

April 28, 2009 – 116,146
Turn signal bulbs, license plate bulb
Left headlight

September 1, 2009 – 121,295
Right headlight

September 23, 2009 – 122,102
Thermostat / thermostat housing
Gasket, coolant

October 8, 2009 - 122,688 miles
Tests determine internal engine failure
General labor fees

October 21, 2003 - October 8, 2009
75,141 miles driven
(average 12,523 per year)

Not counting tires (6-8?), oil changes, coolant flushings, batteries (3?), total charge: $9,156.41 ($1,526.07 per year or $127.17 per month)

Final overall cost: $16,807.20

Friday, October 9, 2009

casual littering

A small survey of the shit people throw from their cars into the parking lot here at my apartment building. This only covers the east parking lot, none of the north or western areas or the yard out front.

1. Beer bottles

2. Energy drinks

3. Cigarette boxes

4. Condom wrappers

5. Plastic clips

on the rise: batteries, fast food cups, lighters, assorted 20 oz. drinks

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tortoise - Spiderwebbed

Tortoise - "Spiderwebbed"

Been thinking a lot about this band and what they've meant to me and to others over the past decade and a half. I didn't discover them until TNT in 1998, but that's probably been the most formative album I own, shaping my tastes and ideas about music more than any other recording. That's not to say that I became a post-rock fanboy or fancied them as one of the Greatest Bands of Our Generation or anything like that. Rather, and I realize it's become a cliché at this point, they really broke down the barriers between the worlds of rock, electronic music, jazz, etc. This was a lot more meaningful then than it sounds today.

Always held TNT in the highest regard, "DJed" housing a sick number of their best moments but not enough to raise Millions Now Living Will Never Die above it. Remixed was a landmark album and anyone who disagrees needs to have their Girl Talk and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah albums ground into powder and taken as a rectal suppository (impossible, I know, as none of these kids buy CDs anyway). Standards isn't as good as listeners thought it was when it came out. It's All Around You isn't anywhere as bad as critics said it was. And the new album is fucking great, and I say this as someone who wasn't expecting much of anything from it.

So there they are, and it's been about 11 years since I started listening to them. Despite my continuing fondness, I've tended to overlook their debut album, thinking of it more as a demo of sorts, necessary experiments they needed to take to find their "real" sound, a dense and sometimes difficult record that doesn't lend itself to the mental landscapes that further albums would paint. Now and then it's graced with a few kind words: the once-reputable Alternative Press ranking it #64 on their Greatest Albums of the 90s list/issue, Woebot placing it at #65 on his 100 Greatest Records Ever list. but since it was released in 1994, it's been eclipsed by its successors, never really lapsing into enough obscurity to ever be properly "rediscovered," maybe like Kraftwerk's Radio Activity, respected and enjoyed but seen as a stepping stone to more accessible and melodic breakthroughs, the more playable and "well-rounded" Millions and TNT.

Taking some time to return to this album now, maybe more willing to slowly absorb it than I used to be, and really feeling it for the first time this autumn. The mallet-driven Reich-isms of later albums are still in an embryonic state, melodies and cinematic flourishes not quite as distinct at this point. Later albums would conjure up sweeping Technicolor soundscapes either through the music itself or by song titles like "The Suspension Bridge at IguazĂș Falls" and album covers like this. By contrast, the debut sounds like it was recorded in a series of underground tunnels. Like the songs, some impossibly vast and open, others claustrophobically confining. The band plays with a simple and snappy dubbed-out funk on most tracks, playful (despite their reputation at the time as stoic, robo-Kraftwerk clones) but understated in a way that's unfamiliar to "indie" music or experimental rock today. What constitutes a generational gap? Is 15 years enough time? This music isn't mindblowingly difficult, inaccessible, or from all that long ago but at this point it sounds like it might as well be from another world.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

10 hiLARious things to say when you're checking into a hotel

1. At the front desk, start things off with a good old fashioned "I believe I reserved the presidential suite" joke. Laugh hysterically afterwards or condescendingly lean in to the front desk clerk and tell us "I'm just kidding!" This also works with confirming your reservation for "the penthouse."

2. If you're asked for a credit card to cover incidental charges, guffaw uncontrollably and shout "Accidental charges!?! There ain't gonna be no accidental charges!" Another variation on this popular pun is "Incidental charges? You mean accidental charges!"

3. If you're checking in with a group of people, spend the entire time shouting your room numbers back and forth with your companions. Here's a good pattern to follow:
Clerk: "Okay sir, you'll be staying in room number..."
You: "Yo Jay Dawg, what room you in?"
J-Dog: "I'm in room 223, what 'out you?"
You: "I don't know man, how do you find your way around this place?"
J-Dog: "It's like a maze, ain't it?"
You: "No shit!"
Clerk: "You'll be staying in room number 240. To get there..."
You: "I'm in room 240. Where you at?"
J-Dog: "I'm in 223."
You: "223? That's gotta be just down the hall."
J-Dog: "Cool man, hey you goin' to the bar?"
You: "Shit, I don't know. I'm so exhausted. I just gotta crash for a few hours."
J-Dog: "Damn, I could do the same. I think we're gonna hit the bar anyway, have a few brewskis, you know?
You: "I feel that. Now I just gotta find out how to get to my room. Fuck, this place is huge. Which way do I go?"
Clerk: "Well, you'll be staying in building A, room 223, and that's just down the hall over here."
You: (Pointing in the opposite direction) "Okay, so I just go down the hall over here..."
Clerk: "Actually, you're down the hall in this direction, so just head down the hall, take the elevator to level 2 and..."
J-Dog: "Yo, what's your room number?"
You: "223, just gimmie a ring when you're goin' out tonight. Hey! Which way is the bar?"
Clerk: "That's going to be out the door next to the pond, just a two minute walk..."
You: "Okay, okay. Look, I'll figure it out. Yo Jay-Dawg, wait up!"

4. Ask for a room upgrade. When you're informed of the cost, say "You mean you don't give out free upgrades to extra nice guests like me?" There are a hundred variations on this "maybe you could make an exception this time" speil. Depending on what's most comfortable for you, you can try flattering the clerk with complements or by using a vaguely threatening "look, we can do this the easy way, or maybe I'll take this to the next level if you don't catch my drift" approach. There's no line you have to worry about crossing with this routine as long as you remember to laugh it all off when the effects of your poking and prodding start to visily wear the lowly desk clerk down. This effectively turns the tables in a "what, can't you take a joke?" sort of way. You might not get your upgrade but at least you got the last laugh.

5. When you're approaching an especially well-staffed front desk, look back and forth at everyone behind the counter, do several double-takes while waving your head and hands from side to side in an exaggerated "there are so many people working, I can't decide who I'm supposed to go to!" manner. It's really hilarious.

6. In a similar situation, waltz up and snidely comment "Well, you're all looking busy!" Slap the counter for added effect and shout "chop chop!" You're on vacation, after all. Or you're on a business trip and thus, are making at least twice as much money as any of the smiling faces being paid to stand around and help you with your every need, and are inherently worth twice as much as any of us.

7. When you're checking in and providing the credit card, ask "is this in case I trash my room?" Take a break from your check-in to discuss several possible room-trashing scenarios with your companions and have a good laugh over these hypothetical, alternate universe situations. In the same way, discussing a riotous "room party" with a probable "room trashing" outcome is always a great source of laughs. No matter how many times we hear this, it never fails to bring a smile to our face.

8. "Do you ever get tired of saying the same thing over and over again?" Glad you asked. Not at all! What I love best about this job is how I'm paid to recite the same lengthy spiel at least fifty times a day. Maybe I could be utilizing my college education in a career that's slightly related to my interests and skills, or at least not completely incompatible with my personality, but I get to meet so many interesting people here every day. And give them directions to their evening reception and sign them up for bus trips to go shopping! Your convenience and comfort is my number one priority. I just want to make this stop on your fast track to being a manager (hopefully by the time you're 30!) as easy as possible. I'm here for you, and I'll be thinking about you when I'm drinking myself to sleep later tonight. What can I say? I like to lose consciousness as fast as I can, it makes the time spent waiting to come back here and do it all again tomorrow go by so much faster.

9. "Ohmigod, this place is soooo big. Can we get Segways to ride around on?" Sometimes this request will be for conveyor belts in the hallways, sometimes for golf carts to drive from building to building. It's meant as a joke roughly half the time, though more often as a jab at the sprawling size of our facilities, not as a self-deprecating comment on the part of the person asking it on how they're really a lazy and worthless fat piece of shit who can barely suffer the strain and indignity of having to walk more than 5 minutes to get somewhere.

10. "Where are we, Oklahoma*?" Laugh it up, we are pretty far away from the airport and the city. What's that you spotted out the window on your limo ride here from the airport? Fields? A farm? That's fucking hilarious. I know, we're just a bunch of hillbillies, the people you fly over, silly yokels who could never do your job or understand your jetsetting lifestyle. But enjoy your week slumming it with us and try to manage. We'll keep grinning like the dogs we are, just happy to have simple jobs and to mingle with intellectual and financial elite like yourself.

*The most common state name of choice changed here for obvious reasons. I should do more to protect myself and keep my job safe but when it comes to these things it's really hard for me to censor myself anymore than I already do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

why did I receive this in the mail?

And what happens if I'm incapacitated in a car accident tomorrow? If I fall down the stairs or slip in the shower and break my legs? Or worse? I really don't want my parents finding something like this in my apartment, or in future mail being forwarded from my address to their home.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

video #82: Mercury Rev - Butterfly's Wings

A wonderful little video from Mercury Rev. Try as I may, there doesn't seem to be any information on the Internet about who put it together, not even on the band's website. Quite a disservice to the creator(s), if you ask me. But also, you may ask: who cares? I don't know. I just don't know.

I started blogging about animated videos more than two years ago, if only just to see how many were out there as well as to deepen my knowledge of this once-rare species of video art. I certainly enjoy these things but, not having any stake in the present or the future of this form (i.e. being an animation student), I find myself at a loss for much to say about any of them anymore. Furthermore, simple exposure hasn't really enhanced my appreciation or understanding of them, so at this point I'm just kind of running through these entries without much thought or interest. I'd be of sound mind to just stop this pursuit altogether but from the beginning I had the idea that I would eventually do so once I reached 100 videos, and so it's with this same goal that I routinely press on and hope to reach it soon. With computer animation growing cheaper and more sophisticated with each passing year, there's no lack of material to cover. I still think it's an interesting topic, but the further music videos drift from prominence on television and further entrench themselves in the world of viral and disposable Internet clips, the less vital it all feels.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Closer Musik - Maria

Closer Musik - "Maria"

"Maria" might not get mentioned as a "key" Kompakt track in the way that efforts from Superpitcher ("Heroin"), Jurgen Paape ("“So Weit Wie Noch Nie"), Rex the Dog ("Frequency") or even Michael Mayer ("Lovefood") have as the legacy of the label and minimal techno in general is discussed by fans and critics these days -- each apparently eager to put all this silliness behind them and pretend that they were always into "big room" anthemic shit and sex-dripping "summer jams", but that's a different matter altogether -- but few of these "hits" can match the subtle pleasures of this song from the now kinda-legendary Total 4 compilation.

Maybe this was/could've been a club hit, but it was probably best-experienced at home, better-suited for experiences more personal or reflective than a sweaty club full of drunken hipsters. Of course, this is one of those songs that most people have just downloaded on their own and listened to on whatever speakers happen to be hooked up to their computer, thereby becoming music to "do things" to, be it writing papers, surfing the Internet, or whatever. This would probably be a good track to listen to on headphones, but it's not like anyone can be bothered to drop everything and do so anymore today than they might have back in 2002 when this was released. If it didn't set dancefloors on fire, "Maria" at least offered an alternative to the soon-to-implode laptop pop scene, proving that emotional melodies could speak volumes more than anxiety-ridden lyrics about relationships gone bad.

I guess I don't know how this track fits into any kind of greater narrative about minimal techno or the 00's, I've just always liked it and its simple, quietly restrained beauty, and I know I'm not alone.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

video #81: Moby - Pale Horses

Finding myself really tempted to buy this album, even though I only listen to Everything Is Wrong once every season or so and Play has slipped into a bi-annual rotation at best. Always rooting for Moby and when it appears that he's going back to doing what he does best, I want to support him just on principle, lest he go back to making really boring double albums and playing the role of meta-celebrity in a decade that doesn't need any more. I like this song but unfortunately I'm trying to curb my music spending and off the top of my head I could probably think of at least a hundred other CDs I'd rather buy before this. Good video, though.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nuno Canavarro - Untitled

Nuno Canavarro - "Untitled (#5)"

I'm not going to pretend that I did any heavy lifting in "discovering" this artist or his one and only album. By 2009, the legend of Nuno Canavarro has been well documented and picked over on the Internet by the electronic music cognoscenti and "beginners" alike, leaving little more to say about the man or his work. A fine review of Canavarro and his work was published by Mark Richardson in 2002 and remains the best starting point as well as what seems like the final word on the subject.

Even so, Plux Quba remains a difficult album to pin down. Its murky songpieces resisting any easy categorization, melodies fading into view and disappearing before you're even cognizant of their presence, lengthy passages of what essentially sounds like synthesizer noodling/dicking around, which is probably what the average Justice or even Aphex Twin fan* would probably think the entire album is.

Track #5 is my favorite piece on the album. It's untitled, along with seven of the other 14 tracks. That's kind of a shame not just for how it messes up my stats, but how it denies the track a sense of identity that it deserves. Then again, the titled songs on Plux Quba don't sound any more meaningful than an average Autechre tracklist, so what would be the point? As far as describing how it sounds, I'm at a loss for words that don't inadvertently paint it as knob-twiddling wankery. It's not musical in the usual sense, though certain motifs begin to emerge as it unravels over its four minutes or so, songbird-like melodies floating over some filtered, muffled voices echoing from what sounds like a distance away, reduced to sinister but subdued-sounding growls as gentle synth tones ebb and flow with the kind of rhythm of ocean waves rolling into shore. None of these elements were new to electronic music but Canavarro goes beyond the simple pleasures of new age or ambient music and builds some truly alien worlds out of them. Maybe walking through the woods with this on headphones last spring created some indelible impressions on me that won't translate to every listener, but this never fails to invoke a goofy sense of wonder in me whenever I hear it.

*I know that forcing these comparisons in order to prove my point is a lazy and misleading tactic and I'm trying to avoid it in speech, writing and thought, but you can't deny there are lots of dudes out there who still love "braindance" and think Richard D. James is "a total genius" who can do no wrong, but who'd rather listen to Squarepusher bass solos or the new Prodigy album than this.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

video #80: Ghostface Killah - Daytona 500

I've consulted a number of sources on this matter and as far as I can tell, this really was the official music video to this song, released all the way back in 1996. Then again, if Raekwon can drop references to Volton on 36 Chambers that people still love to quote, this video probably shouldn't come as a big surprise. No word on how this came to be or whether Ghostface was a closet otaku or what. I should dust off my copy of the Wu-Tang Manual one of these days and at least give it some time on my coffee table.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

TRS-80 - Fantasy Football is Stupid/Me and My Skills

TRS-80 - "Fantasy Football is Stupid"/"Me and My Skills""

I opened this entry with a 2,000+ word account of the time I was assigned to interview this band and the various misfortunes and setbacks I suffered as I struggled to complete this relatively simple task. But as I looked ahead to the end of this troubling recollection, it was clear that there wasn't going to be any real payoff for the reader or much of a point in sharing this story at all.

So then... TRS-80, IDM/breakbeat trio from Chicago formed in the late 90s, a few albums on local labels with good distribution, some good word of mouth online, reputation for interesting live shows with lots of video and other visuals... all that and $5.00 will get you a foot-long sandwich at Subway this summer! TRS-80's sample-heavy downtempo grooves, dusty found-sound samples and nostalgic and sometimes pastoral passages between tracks was a recipe that could have appealed to a wide group of listeners but never really caught on. Blame it on bad luck, the lack of any "Chicago scene" to grow in, or being signed to indie labels that either failed to generate any precious Internet buzz (File13, One Cell) or labels that catered to listeners of somewhat different interests (the industrial havens Underground Inc. and Invisible). The band was prominently hyped and promoted on the late, great, though the site never quite capitalized on the indie music goldrush of the early 00s and was eventually rendered obsolete by the rise of link-farming blogs and message boards. Its home page (presumably the rest of its content as well) remains forever trapped in the early months of 2006.

Longtime members Kent Rayhill and Deb Schimmel left the band within a year following their finest album, Shake Hands With Danger. This left drummer Jay Rajeck on his own, maybe hooking up with other musicians, maybe moving to Los Angeles... things get a little unclear after that. I comply with a request from someone at their new label to take down an old promo picture from the band's page that I'd uploaded years ago. Unfortunately, further "updating" of their web presence on their part also involved removing the old but brilliant "Community College" music video from their Youtube account. Most of the band's videos are still viewable, including many by associate Eric Fensler, best known for the now-legendary G.I. Joe PSA parodies, predating Youtube by several years but continually rediscovered by new viewers every day.

Here's a pair of tracks from their 2002 album Mr. Kickass, which wasn't necessarily their best work, but it's as good a place to start as any. If you like this then you might love their later albums. Or you could listen to Merriweather Post Pavilion for the 93rd time instead. It's up to you.

I can't help but think that the band could have used their talents to connect with (or exploit) the Adult Swim-viewing populace in the same way that MF Doom and Flying Lotus did. You've got to grab the bull by the horns if you want to get any attention these days. At least open an indie rock hot dog stand, start a blog about your own feces or talk shit about celebrities on your Twitter account, maybe then will run a feature on you.